Who’s Responsible?

A man goes to a baseball field and shoots up the place where congressmen and their staffers are practicing for a charity baseball game. First, he asks one of the congressmen who is leaving whether the ones practicing are Democrats or Republicans. Glad to hear they are Republicans, whom he has castigated on social media and seeks to wipe off the face of America, he opens fire, spraying the field and wounding four; one congressman remains in critical condition.

The man who perpetrated the crime finally is taken down by police and dies shortly after at the hospital. Then the blame game begins.

Who is responsible for what this man did? Since he was a socialist and a follower of Bernie Sanders, is Sanders to blame? After all, Sanders has said some pretty harsh things about Republicans. Since the man hated Trump so much, perhaps Trump is the one who should be responsible because he “triggered” the man with his policies?

What’s the Biblical position?

Personal responsibility is an overwhelming theme in Scripture. We are responsible for the choices we make in life. No one forces us to make those choices. There can be influences upon us, things that push us in a certain direction, but when it comes down to choosing, that’s all on us.

There were influences on the man who decided to target Republicans. Some of those influences were way over the top in bitterness and hatred. There are people who are saying Republicans want everyone to die because they want to take away their healthcare. That’s one of the middle-of-the-road accusations. I won’t repeat the worst ones.

Yet those were influences only; he had to decide whether to follow through on them with a terrible deed. He died in his own sins; he’s responsible for what he did, regardless of what others said that might have egged him on.

However, there remains some culpability whenever anyone descends into hateful diatribes. God holds them accountable for that.

There is a difference, though, between vicious, hateful speech and truth-telling. As Christians, we are to speak the truth in love and we are called, as far as it depends on us, to be at peace with all men.

What’s the difference between truth-telling and hateful speech? Are we never, in our truth-telling, allowed to point out the real nature of certain philosophies and/or individuals who promote those philosophies?

Did I sin in numerous blogs when I disagreed with virtually everything Barack Obama stands for and how he conducted himself? Am I sinning now when I take Donald Trump to task for his character?

Have you ever looked carefully at Matthew 23? It’s a fascinating chapter wherein Jesus takes on the Pharisees in no uncertain terms. As you peruse that chapter, you find Him saying the following about them:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Was Jesus over the top when He referred to them as hypocrites? Notice that He even said they were not entering into heaven. Was that an unjust judgment?

Further down in the chapter, He calls them “a child of hell,” “blind guides,” “blind fools,” and “a brood of vipers.”

My particular favorite is his characterization of them as “whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” They appear to be righteous but are really “full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

I gather from Jesus’s own example that we don’t have to pull our punches when pointing out sin. But here’s the catch: we can’t be hypocrites when we do so and we have to honestly seek to redeem those who are erring (check out chapter 7 of Matthew on proper judging). If we ever take satisfaction in merely telling people off and get a smug attitude about being right, then we’ve violated the spirit in which we are allowed to point out sin.

We all need to be willing to be truth-tellers, yet, at the same time, we must continually guard our hearts so that we carry it out in the proper spirit.

Each person is responsible for his/her own actions, whether in carrying out an evil deed or in using extreme language that might influence a person toward that deed.

So I’m Immoral & Pharisaical?

There is no question in my mind that Hillary Clinton is not only unqualified to be president but that putting her in the office will only continue the destructive policies of Barack Obama.

Job Opening

She is following in the footsteps of her husband as one of the most corrupt politicians of the current era. The charitable foundation they established is nothing more than a front for enriching themselves.

Clinton Foundation

I believe she deserves to be indicted for crimes and should never be allowed near the levers of power. Her baggage is of monumental proportions.

It's Her Baggage

Consequently, I’m told by a large number of conservatives and Republicans (they are not necessarily synonymous) that I have no choice but to vote for Donald Trump. After all, at least he’s not Hillary Clinton.

The ante has been upped recently. Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham have said that if people like me who are opposed to Trump don’t vote for him, we are downright immoral. Another accusation floating around the internet now is that anyone who opposes Trump, especially anyone calling himself a Christian, is a Pharisee.

Oh, yes, Trump has his flaws, we’re told. Everyone is a sinner. Lower your expectations. All Trump does is say silly things sometimes. Hillary has a record we can see; Trump is someone we might distrust, but we should take a chance. Maybe we can just alter the logo somewhat:

What He Meant

So I’m immoral if I don’t vote for him. So I’m a Pharisee if I point out his “flaws.”

I’m sorry, but that narrative just doesn’t work.

Trump has more than “flaws.” He also has a record. As I’ve documented countless times, his entire life is an open book with a multitude of sins, hypocrisies, and support for the same policies advocated by Hillary. He still thinks Planned Parenthood does good things.

Trump even was a major donor to her and the Clinton Crime Family Foundation and said—you can see this on video—that she was a great secretary of state and would be a fine president.

Why has he changed his tune now? Only because he is running against her. He has no integrity, whether we’re talking about his relationships (adulteries, divorces), his business deals (Trump University was a classic scam), or his declared Christian faith (hasn’t done anything for which he needs to ask forgiveness). He operates on the principle (?) that one never should admit an error or mistake and never should express regret or sorrow over past actions.

I don’t have the heart to try to go through all of the reasons today why I will not support Donald Trump. It would take far too long. It is sufficient to say that I simply see no real difference between these two unqualified, incompetent, dishonest candidates. Both will do irreparable harm to the nation.

Latest Terminator

I have made it clear in earlier posts that I understand why some have chosen to vote for Trump anyway, thinking that a Hillary presidency is so reprehensible that almost anything else would have to be an improvement.

While I disagree with that assessment, I have never called anyone who has chosen that path “immoral” or a Pharisee. I have strongly urged everyone to reconsider such a decision because it will forever be a taint on one’s Christian witness. I firmly believe that if one supports Trump, one must then repent of criticizing Bill Clinton for his sexual misdeeds, etc. After all, we must be consistent.

I can’t take that step.

Ben ShapiroI agree with what conservative commentator Ben Shapiro wrote recently:

I have never made and will never make the argument that it is immoral for people to vote for Trump to stop Hillary. I understand that argument completely, and sympathize with it.

But lying for Trump is immoral. Pretending his boo-boos aren’t boo-boos is immoral. Pretending he’s something he’s not, and lying to your audience about it – that’s immoral. And most of all, pretending that those who make a different risk-reward calculation from yours are immoral – even while those people hold supposedly similar principles – is immoral.

Vote for Trump if you feel you must, but don’t become a shill for him. That will only damage your credibility over the long run.

And please don’t try to convince me to violate my conscience by laying a guilt trip on me, telling me I’m a “Pharisee” for standing by my convictions. Those convictions, I believe, are based on God’s standards, and I will not compromise those.

Lewis on Gnat-Straining & Camel-Swallowing

I’m not a seminary-trained theologian. Everything I’ve learned about Scripture is the result of deep personal interest inspired by a desire to get closer to the One behind the Scripture. That’s why, as a young man just out of college (with a degree in radio, TV, and film production), I spent countless hours with a cassette-based course learning Koine Greek. (Anybody remember cassettes?)

Some might say that I shouldn’t be so theological in my commentary because I don’t have the official stamp of approval from an institution that grants degrees in religion. I prefer C. S. Lewis’s perspective when he noted, “One is sometimes (not often) glad not to be a great theologian; one might so easily mistake it for being a good Christian.”

C. S. Lewis 8Knowledge about theology is not the same as knowledge of God. Lewis details the temptations that can come to those who feel they have attained some type of exalted status:

The temptations to which a great philologist or a great chemist is exposed are trivial in comparison. When the subject is sacred, proud and clever men may come to think that the outsiders who don’t know it are not merely inferior to them in skill but lower in God’s eyes; as the priests said (John 7:49), “All that rabble who are not experts in the Torah are accursed.”

How ironic that devotion to learning about the God of love and unrivaled humility should lead us to the opposite end of the spectrum. Lewis notes that “as this pride increases, the ‘subject’ or study which confers such privilege will grow more and more complicated.” He goes on:

The list of things forbidden will increase, till to get through a single day without supposed sin becomes like an elaborate step-dance, and this horrible network breeds self-righteousness in some and haunting anxiety in others.

PhariseesThose who consider themselves the elite theologians, like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, will burden people down with externals, ignoring the essence of the faith. Lewis concludes:

Meanwhile the “weightier matters of the Law,” righteousness itself, shrinks into insignificance under this vast overgrowth, so that the legalists strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.

We do this gnat-straining and camel-swallowing in other areas of life as well, such as in politics. I see it all the time in that realm. To avoid that, we need to look at ourselves and make sure we are putting first things first, being careful to make loving God and mirroring His character our primary goal.

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

Al Gore’s New Green Money Initiative

Yesterday’s post emphasized the liberal/secular/progressive bias inherent within the news media, particularly with respect to the portrayal of anything connected to evangelical Christianity and/or conservative politics. One news outlet I didn’t mention was Current TV, whose founder and owner is Al Gore. One reason for not giving Current a prominent place in the commentary is the miniscule audience it draws. Apparently, it hasn’t been doing too well financially because Gore just found a buyer to take it off his hands—Al Jazeera.

If you can’t quite recall who or what Al Jazeera is, let me remind you. It’s an Arab-language news network that is solidly anti-Israel and pro-Islamist. Some try to say its English-language spinoff is not as bad, but those are the same people who think MSNBC offers straightforward news.

Even the liberal Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz says, “There is something highly unusual—OK, just plain weird—about a former vice president of the United States doing this deal with the emir of Qatar.” Kurtz actually began his column this way:

So Al Gore starts a liberal cable network, which turns into a complete and utter flop, then sells it to a Middle East potentate in a deal that will bring him an estimated $70 million. Is America a great country or what?

Keep in mind that Gore is the most prominent agitator for the belief the earth is in environmental freefall, largely due to reliance on oil. He then sells to the oil-rich emir who probably should be public enemy number one, from Gore’s perspective. It’s nice to be principled, isn’t it?

Nearly as juicy as that hypocrisy is the impetus for trying to sell it now, as quickly as possible—he hoped to avoid the tax increases that hit at the beginning of this year, tax increases he presumably supports as they are part of the Obama agenda. He didn’t quite make the deadline, so he’s going to lose more than he hoped. I really feel for him.

Why does the following Scripture passage seem so relevant today?

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

Woe to you, blind guides, who say, “Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated. . . .

You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they  are full of robbery and self-indulgence. . . .

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too,  outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

I’ve never considered Al Gore to be any kind of guide, but many have. Be careful when you choose a role model. Men judge by outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.