I Will Not Be Ashamed

I was at an early morning Bible study last Friday when a certain Scripture passage burned its way into my spirit. It’s not that it was a new passage to me, but the Lord has a way of taking a verse one has read hundreds of times and turning it into His Word of the Day. That’s what he did for me that morning.

It’s found in the gospel of Mark, chapter 8, verse 38:

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.

What stood out to me specifically was the “adulterous and sinful generation” phrase. That description was so apt. It’s what I see all around us, and the sinfulness of our society seems to be increasing. Sinful behavior has always been with us, but whenever a society begins to excuse sinful behavior and declares it to be somehow virtuous, it has turned a corner.

The personal application in the verse was whether I was shrinking back from God’s truths due to pressure from the world. In my heart, I don’t believe that is so, but the warning was like a light flashing in my eyes as I read the verse: Is there any way in which I am ashamed to stand up and say this is God’s truth regardless of what others may think of me?

I knew that a similar passage could be found in Matthew and Luke as well, so I then turned to those to see the shades of difference that might be discovered. While the Luke passage is very similar, the one in Matthew 10:32-33 adds another dimension:

Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.

Slightly different words, but with the same poignant meaning. In this passage, the word “deny” stood out. As I read it, I felt a deep sense of sadness and how devastated I would be if Jesus would publicly deny that I belong to Him. Again, I don’t believe I would ever deny Him, but the very hint that I could do so, and the resulting denial of me by Him, sent a shiver into my soul.

America in 2017 is in the process of dismissing Biblical truth at a rapid pace. Abortion is the law of the land. Homosexuality is considered just fine, even to the point of legalizing same-sex marriage—which is actually no marriage at all.

Some who have stood firm for Biblical morality, particularly on the issue of homosexuality, have been prosecuted in their businesses. Some have lost their businesses because they have kept the faith.

Christian organizations, including institutions of higher learning, are being pressured to bow to the new cultural norms or face the prospect of being shut down.

God seems to be asking me, “How will you respond to all of this?”

My answer will be, and must be, that I will continue to speak the truth in love.

I will be faithful to Him regardless of the threats.

I will seek His grace at all times to strengthen me in whatever trials I may face.

I will keep in mind that this world, ultimately, is not my final home. There is a new day coming in which every knee will finally have to bow and every tongue will be forced to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

And on that day, I don’t want my Lord to be ashamed of me and have to deny me before His Father and all the holy angels.

Thank you, Lord, for the challenge, and for the strength to meet it.

Why Sin Is So Sinful

I’m contemplating the nature of sin this morning. It’s not that sin is suddenly abounding in the world in a way it never has before. Sin is sin; it’s always been the problem ever since the Garden.

But when I think about the nature of sin, the complete and utter selfishness of every sinful thought and action is what comes to the forefront in my contemplation. Self-centeredness—the absurd perspective that places what we want above what God desires for us—is the height of stupidity.

We take all the potential blessings God has given us—our ability to reason, to feel, to choose—and we twist and distort those potential blessings into something horrid and destructive.

C. S. Lewis, in his Letters to Malcolm, follows this line of reasoning as well, except that he puts it in much clearer terms than I can ever hope to do:

The only way in which I can make real to myself what theology teaches about the heinousness of sin is to remember that every sin is a distortion of an energy breathed into us—an energy which, if not thus distorted, would have blossomed into one of those holy acts whereof “God did it” and “I did it” are both true descriptions.

We poison the wine as He decants it into us; murder a melody He would play with us as the instrument. We caricature the self-portrait He would paint. Hence all sin, whatever else it is, is sacrilege.

We take what is meant for our good and turn it into an abomination. Nearly every sin I can think of is the abuse and misuse of of what a loving God has given us.

That’s what makes sin so sinful.

If not for the amazing mercy extended to us through the Cross, we would be without hope. Why should God care so much for us? We don’t deserve His love. It truly is unfathomable.

Yet I accept it with an eternal gratitude, and I now want my life, and all the gifts God has bestowed, to be a testament to His love. May we all have that response.

Speaking Truth to a Sinful Culture

I was born in the 1950s, became aware of the larger world and moral issues in the 1960s (subjected as we all were during that era to the so-called sexual revolution), solidified my Christian faith in the early-to-mid 1970s, slipped away from Christian reality for a while after that, only to return to faith in the late 1980s with supreme gratitude to God for His patience and willingness to forgive my stupidity.

I was blessed to be brought back from the brink of spiritual destruction. As a result, I speak earnestly and forcefully (with love, I trust) about the need to hold fast to His truth and not allow slippage to occur, both in the individuals I have the opportunity to influence (students, in particular) and in my ongoing concern for the Christian church’s witness to the world.

When the church—which is comprised of all those who have come to the foot of the Cross, repented of sin, and received the forgiveness and grace only offered there—stops being the voice of God on moral issues, the culture degrades in proportion to the church’s apostasy.

This hasn’t happened on all issues. Take abortion, for instance. Despite the efforts of those who want to see abortion accepted as normal, great strides have been made by Christians in our nation to stem that tide. Regardless of the government’s promotion of abortion via the Supreme Court, the attitude of Americans on that issue is shifting more and more toward rejection of that horrific act.

Not so with homosexuality, unfortunately. This has become the primary issue now with the government and the culture in general (entertainment media, especially) in an attempt to overthrow Biblical morality.

Those of us who grew up in the 1950s-1970s era look around us and almost can’t believe what we see. What was once considered abnormal and not even to be mentioned publicly has become a celebration of “diversity.” Those who oppose the gay agenda are singled out as “haters,” “bigots,” and “narrow-minded.”

Same-sex marriage, from a Biblical standpoint, is an absurdity. Probably more than 90% of Americans would have said the same thing a mere twenty years ago. Now, even Republicans—you know, the “conservatives”—are on the verge of accepting it as normal. A recent poll revealed that nearly 50% of Republican voters no longer have a problem with it.

While that certainly concerns me as a conservative, the more pressing problem is the change occurring with those who claim to be Christians. The shift within the supposed Christian community is disheartening.

One Christian professor at a Baptist seminary has come up with a sad, yet from my perspective, accurate description of what is happening. He sees evangelicals moving toward the same acceptance of same-sex marriage as the overall culture.

Here are the stages he outlines.

(1) Oppose gay-marriage: Every evangelical starts here, or at the very least they appear to start here.

(2) Oppose taking a stand on the question: Persons in this stage are becoming aware of how offensive the traditional view is to those outside the church. Their initial remedy is to avoid that conflict by not talking about the Bible’s teaching on this subject. In Brian McLaren‘s case, he urged evangelicals to observe a 5-year moratorium on talking about gay marriage. For Jen Hatmaker, she advocated going “into the basement,” where we don’t talk about these things but just love people. Choosing to avoid the question is never a final answer for anyone in this stage.

(3) Affirm gay marriage: At some point during the “we’re not talking about this anymore” stage, those who used to oppose gay marriage find grounds to affirm it. Some do it by questioning the Bible’s truthfulness. Others do through revisionist interpretations of the Biblical text. In either case, proponents end up affirming what the Bible forbids.

(4) Vilify traditional marriage proponents: Persons in this stage not only affirm gay marriage. They also view traditional marriage supporters as supporting invidious discrimination against gay people. They will adopt the rhetoric of Christianity’s fiercest critics to describe believers who hold to the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality.

The professor then goes on to state that while it may take some time for people to go from stage 2 to stage 3, once they hit stage 3, they quite often go rapidly into stage 4.

I teach at an evangelical university. During the Obama presidency, we, along with other evangelical universities, experienced pressure to change our public stand on this issue or else our students would be cut off from getting education loans and our accreditation might be withdrawn over time.

Some may think that just because we presently have a Republican Congress and a president who curries favor with evangelicals that we are “safe.” Believing that all is back to “normal” would be the height of wishful thinking.

It is crucial for those who truly know what it means to be brought out of the pit of sinful destruction and receive the mercy and grace of God to stand firm at this time on Biblical teaching about sin.

Many will twist my words, saying they are hateful. They are just the opposite. I want everyone caught in a sinful life to be set free. I needed that in my life at one point and God graciously gave me a new life. I seek the same for others.

All sin—homosexuality included—leads to chains that bind us. When we are in those chains, we get used to them and our consciences become seared. The Christian’s responsibility is, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, to break through that seared conscience with the twin weapons of Truth and Love so that those caught in the trap will see their need and respond to God’s mercy through Christ.

To be faithful to God’s truth and to speak to our society about that truth is the most loving thing we can do.

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.

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.

Cheap Grace, Cheap Politics

Bad theology always leads to bad application in life. One of the worst theological mistakes is something called “cheap grace,” and this year we have seen the cheap grace theology rear its ugly head in the promotion of “cheap politics.”

What is meant by cheap grace? The apostle Paul, in the book of Romans, in chapter 5, lays out the wonderful news that God’s grace has abounded even in the midst of sin. Where sin increased, he informs us, grace has increased all the more.

But lest he be misunderstood, in what we now call chapter 6, he went on to warn against what he knew would be one obvious misunderstanding:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? . . .

Our old self was crucified with Him . . . so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

Many Christians then use chapter 7 of the same book to bolster the idea that Christians continue to sin all the time. I don’t agree with that interpretation. I believe Paul is speaking about his past life and the state of all men before becoming Christians.

Why do I believe that? At the end of that chapter, he declares, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Read chapter 8 and you will see that he goes on to talk about the victorious Christian life.

cheap-graceEven if you disagree with my interpretation, are you really going to promote the idea that Christians can constantly sin and that a transformation of life is not necessary? That is bad theology indeed.

I believe God calls us to holiness. I believe we are to have compassion on those caught in sin, but must at the same time hold up the moral standard and call people to faith in Christ to achieve that standard.

I don’t believe we should put people in positions of authority whose lives are walking testaments to supreme egotism and selfishness.

When I hear Christians say about political candidates, “Well, no one is perfect and Jesus isn’t running for president this year,” my spirit sinks when I contemplate the low moral bar we are so willing to accept.

Because I maintain that there are levels of imperfection in candidates and that some have crossed the line to the extent that we should never support them, I’ve been called a Pharisee, full of pride, and a Hillary supporter. Never mind that I hold Hillary to the same standard as Trump, and they both fail the test.

Whenever I’m accused of being a Clinton advocate, I simply remind people of the book I published back in 2001 that dealt with Bill Clinton’s impeachment. In that book, Mission: Impeachable, I gave the Republican congressmen who argued for his removal from office a platform to make their case. I have long been aware of the moral turpitude surrounding both Clintons. I have been writing and speaking about their multiple lies and corruption for years.

no-case-here

So please spare me the insult that I somehow want this woman in the White House.

I’ve also been ridiculed as someone who uses conscience as an excuse. Well, excuse me, but I will not willingly violate what I believe God is speaking to my conscience. It’s not an excuse; it’s a conviction.

This goes further. Throughout this campaign, people like me have had to constantly endure the disdain of those who lecture us that we have to choose the “lesser of two evils.”

Well, excuse me again. I have never, throughout my lifetime voting experience, ever chosen the lesser of two evils. I have never deliberately, knowingly voted for evil.

The first presidential election I voted in was in 1972, having reached the ripe age of 21. Some might say I voted for evil because I cast my ballot for Richard Nixon. Keep in mind, though, that this was prior to all the Watergate revelations.

In all succeeding elections, not only at the presidential level, but at the state and local levels as well, I have sought to vote for the better candidate without a thought that the person I was voting for was a “lesser of two evils.”

In 2008, I cast my vote for John McCain. He was not my first choice, and I considered him a less desirable nominee than some of the other Republican candidates, but I never thought he was evil.

The same can be said for my 2012 vote for Mitt Romney. I had qualms about some of his policy positions in the past, but I didn’t perceive him as an evil person. His character stood the test for me.

This year has been entirely different. Both Hillary and Trump are on the other side of that moral dividing line, in my opinion. Trump is no less a liar than Hillary, and his character should have been a disqualification from the start.

path-to-270

What’s interesting is that most evangelicals agreed with my assessment for many months. Then something changed.

My blog is not widely known. I’m not a big name in the nation (for which I am actually grateful). The highest number of “likes” I had ever received for a blog prior to this year was 811 back during the controversy over Phil Robertson’s comments on homosexuality.

Then, this year, right after the South Carolina Republican primary, which Trump won apparently with evangelical support, I wrote about how that was incongruous with Christian faith. That particular blog post blew all others out of the water, amassing more than 4,500 “likes.” If you want to go back to that one to see what I said, click on February 22, 2016, on the calendar to the right of this page.

I was encouraged after writing that post because it seemed as if evangelicals were united in decrying the type of candidate we had in Trump.

Then Trump won the nomination and I’ve been assailed ever since for staying the course with my views on his unsuitability for public office, especially an office as significant as the presidency.

good-evilA survey of evangelicals now shows that 72% have no issue with an immoral politician holding this high office. That number used to be 30%.

Oh, for the good old days of Bill Clinton when evangelicals actually cared about character. I see hypocrisy all around. What was decried and condemned in a former president on the Democrat side of politics is now excused in a candidate with a similar character only because he has an “R” by his name and he is running against another Clinton.

Some Christians are proclaiming that Trump is God’s anointed. One even told anti-Trumper Erick Erickson that his wife has cancer because he has spoken against Trump, and she would be healed if only he would change his mind.

We’re told Trump is the new Cyrus who will be God’s chosen vessel. I like Erickson’s response to that when he quoted Scripture himself, noting that Paul warned,

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.

Get rid of that itch, please. Even if you believe you have no other option but to vote for Donald Trump, don’t be his cheerleader, and don’t twist Scripture to try to rationalize that he’s God’s anointed.

If you are going to vote for him, please do it with eyes wide open to who he really is, and could you do it with some measure of reluctance? That would be at least one step closer to the Biblical standard we are all called to uphold.

Those who are true Christians at heart (not just the cultural kind) need to reject cheap grace and the cheap politics that comes along with it.

One Excuse I Forgot

In yesterday’s post, I attempted to catalogue the main excuses and rationalizations I’ve been reading and hearing to absolve Donald Trump of his many sins. This morning, I realized I omitted one very prominent excuse. Let me make amends for that.

The video was from 2005–it’s old news, he’s changed

Probably the only people who can believe that whopper are those who haven’t watched Trump in action for the last year and a half. Changed? Really?

Well, he apologized for what he said in the video. Did you pay attention to that “apology”? It was the typical sorry-I-got-caught non-apology that has become the hallmark of politicians of both parties. What I saw was a defiant Trump trying to deflect from his own sins by pointing to the sins of others and promising to highlight the sins of the Clintons.

King David sinned horribly and God continued to use him, we’re told. Yes, David did sin horribly: adultery compounded by placing the woman’s husband in the line of fire in a battle, thus ensuring his death.

David, though, was then confronted by the prophet Nathan who pointed the finger of accusation at him for his sins. Scripture then records that David repented from the heart. Consequences from his sins followed, but he didn’t blame anyone else nor God. He understood that consequences follow our sins.

david-nathan

He then put his repentance into a psalm that has come down to us as #51:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.

Is that really the attitude we currently see in Donald Trump?

David continued,

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Does Trump truly have a desire for a pure heart? Who are you to judge his heart, I can already hear some saying. It’s out of the heart that a man’s actions spring. I’m looking at his actions, which are a showcase into the heart.

God uses sinful people to do His will, we’re told. If He has to, sure. But do you vote for a blatantly unrepentant person for that reason? If so, keep in mind that admonition also applies to the other side. Hillary Clinton is a blatantly unrepentant person as well. Maybe God wants to use her.

Faced with two blatantly unrepentant persons who have no heart for the moral standards in God’s Word, I will vote for neither and trust God either to judge the nation for its sins or to show mercy, which we hardly deserve because we are a people steeped in our own rebellion against Him.

There are consequences for our collective sins as well.