Finney: No “Little” Sins

Revival LecturesIs there any such thing as an inconsequential sin? A sin that doesn’t really matter all that much? Charles Finney didn’t think so, and here’s his rationale in his Revival Lectures:

There are multitudes of such things by which the Spirit of God is grieved. People call them “little” sins, but God will not call them little.

I was struck with this thought when I saw a little notice in The Evangelist. The publishers stated that they had many thousands of dollars in the hands of subscribers, which sums were justly due, but that it would cost them as much as it was worth to send an agent to collect the money. I suppose it is so with other religious papers, that subscribers either put the publisher to the trouble and expense of sending an agent to collect his due, or else they cheat him out of it.

There is, doubtless, a large amount of money held back in this way by professors of religion, just because it is in such small sums, or because they are so far off that they cannot be sued. And yet these people will pray, and appear very pious, and wonder why they do not “enjoy” religion, and have the Spirit of God!

It is this looseness of moral principle, this want of conscience about little matters, that grieves away the Holy Ghost.

The world is watching the Christians. What do they see? Each of us will have to give an account before God for the faithfulness of our testimony. Hypocrisy is never a small thing.

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.

The Finney-Robertson Message Is the Gospel Message

Finney's Systematic TheologyHow do I combine Phil Robertson and Charles Finney? Rather easily. Robertson spoke clearly on the nature of sin, yet also said we had to love everyone, even those caught up in sin. Finney, in his Systematic Theology, puts it this way:

The command is, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 19:19). This says nothing about the character of my neighbor. It is the value of His [God’s] interests, of His well-being, that the law requires me to regard. It does not require me to love my righteous neighbor merely, nor to love my righteous neighbor better than I do my wicked neighbor. It is my neighbor that I am to love. . . .

But while the law requires that this should be willed to all . . . irrespective of character, it cannot, and does not require us to will that . . . any moral agent in particular, shall be actually blessed but upon condition that he be holy. Our obligation to the unholy is to will that they might be holy, and perfectly blessed.

While we are to desire the best for all, we need to recognize the basic Gospel truth that sin must be done away with first. No one who remains in sin can receive the ultimate blessing of God. Sin separates from God; only through repentance and faith in the work of Christ on the Cross can any of us enter into His kingdom. That’s Finney’s message, and it’s Robertson’s message as well. But more than that, it’s the Biblical message.

Duck Dynasty & the Homofascist Gaystapo

I don’t hunt. I don’t fish. Skinning an animal or cleaning fish are not on my bucket list. I don’t concoct ingenious, makeshift contraptions to make things work. I’d make a lousy redneck. Yet I absolutely love Duck Dynasty. I resisted it for over two years, but so many people were referencing it, and I heard that the Robertson family are Christians, so I finally succumbed to watching an episode. I was hooked from the start.

Duck Dynasty

The writing is clever, the humor sometimes subtle; in fact, I’m not sure how much of what the characters say is scripted, since much of it seems so freewheeling. At the center of the family is the patriarch, Phil Robertson. Although I like all the characters, his little quips are my favorites. His wry sarcasm is one of the highlights of the program. Yet he’s also approachable beneath his gruff exterior. At the end of most shows, he leads the family in prayer around the dinner table, and he often uses the name of Jesus specifically. Robertson’s life was a mess for a long time, and his marriage was endangered, until he repented of his sins and turned his life over to Christ. One of his goals with Duck Dynasty is to showcase genuine Christian faith in whatever ways he can. The A&E network has tried to put roadblocks in his way, but he doesn’t compromise on what he believes.

Why am I writing about this today? Robertson sat down with a writer from GQ magazine for an interview. Part of that interview dealt with his faith and how he views society through the lens of Christianity. He spoke about sin, and specifically mentioned homosexuality, along with other sexual actions outside of a man-woman marriage, as a sin. He went on to paraphrase pretty accurately a passage from I Corinthians, chapter 6. When asked what he considered sinful behavior, here’s what Robertson said specifically, according to the interviewer:

Phil RobertsonStart with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.

Nothing he said in that statement was outside orthodox Christian belief. Millions of us—and I do mean “us”—believe the same thing and are distressed that our society has degenerated to the point where we have legalized a sexual act that will ultimately destroy not only the person caught up in it, but the families that will be decimated, the children growing up without a stable home, and a moral civilization overall.

His remarks created a firestorm. All the homosexual groups were outraged and demanded that A&E cut ties with the Robertsons. They accused him of hate speech (I knew when we began to introduce that concept into American law that we had started down a slippery slope) and pretty much read him out of the human race. The network issued a statement of its own, which included a decision:

His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.

At least they are honest as to where they stand. They don’t simply allow pro-homosexual talk, but they champion that whole lifestyle. From my perspective then, they have declared themselves as active promoters of sinfulness. Phil Robertson has ostensibly been taken out of the program, although the next season’s episodes are already filmed.

I watched two news programs on Fox last night—Megyn Kelly and Sean Hannity—to see how they would handle this situation. Both had panels to which they asked questions about Robertson’s right to say what he believed. Kelly’s panel included a rabid homosexual activist who practically foamed at the mouth, vitriolically accusing Robertson of spreading vitriol. The other two, and Kelly herself, gave only tepid endorsement of Robertson’s First Amendment protections. Normally, Kelly is the best of interviewers and doesn’t let guests get away with dominating a conversation and speaking over the top of others. Last night, she seemed to back off and let the activist say whatever he wanted, practically giving him the last word. Why the change? Is she afraid of the LGBT lobby, which has become poisonous to anyone who dares criticize the homosexual lifestyle?

Hannity loves Duck Dynasty and knows the Robertsons. One of his guests, rather inexplicably, said this was not a religious liberty issue. Nothing Robertson said, he opined, was religious in nature. Huh? The one constant on both panels is that even conservatives fear to tread into this issue. Too many conservatives may consider themselves Christian, but they are mostly cultural Christians, which is not the same thing as the real deal.

What is occurring in our society is an all-out attack on Biblical standards of morality. Those who say it’s a figment of evangelicals’ imagination are not paying attention. The goal will be to outlaw any public expression of Christian belief that directly contradicts newly accepted societal norms. I’ve heard words like “homofascist” and “Gaystapo” to describe the militant attitude of the homosexual activists. They seem apropos to me. Tolerance has taken a whole new twist, and it’s anything but tolerant:

 Value Judgments 1

Value Judgments 2

Value Judgments 3

Value Judgments 4

Value Judgments 5

Christians who believe that homosexuality is sinful also hold out the hope that all sin can be repented of and forgiven. There’s nothing hateful about the proper Christian approach here: identify the sin so that we can help people get free of it. That will never happen if we refuse to acknowledge the sin in the first place.

There will be persecution on this issue. Where will the church stand? Will we cower in fear and avoid talking about it? Worse, will we adopt the world’s views? A shaking is taking place. Only those who are grounded on Scripture will come through this with their faith intact.

Finney: Man Can Obey God

One reason Charles Finney was so successful as an evangelist was his insistence that all people are accountable for their actions. Finney didn’t allow excuses; in his view, too many people would hide behind a theology that said they couldn’t obey God. He considered that illogical and dangerous to one’s spiritual state. In his Revival Lectures, he is quite blunt:

Revival LecturesWe, as moral agents, have the power to obey God, and are perfectly bound to obey; and the reason that we do not is, that we are unwilling. The influences of the Spirit are wholly a matter of grace. If they were indispensable to enable us to perform duty, the bestowment of them would not be a gracious act, but a mere matter of common justice.

Sinners are not bound to repent because they have the Spirit’s influence, or because they can obtain it, but because they are moral agents, and have the powers which God requires them to exercise. So in the case of Christians. . . .

When God commands us to do a thing, it is the highest possible evidence that we can do it. For God to command is equivalent to an oath that we can do it. He has no right to command, unless we have the power to obey. There is no stopping short of the conclusion that God is tyrannical, if He commands that which is impracticable.

The children of Israel were told in Deuteronomy, chapter 30, that they were capable of obeying God:

For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?” . . . But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.

I’m also reminded what the apostle John says in chapter 5 of his first letter:

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.

We are called to lives of obedience, and He’s given us the ability to be obedient. It’s time we stop making excuses for sin.

The Narcissistic President

It takes a special kind of narcissism—a particularly virulent strain—to see the awful effects of one’s policies and continue not only to spout falsehoods about how wonderful those policies are, but to keep blaming someone else for the problems one has caused. Barack Obama has practically created his own brand of narcissism, a malady seldom seen in this strength.

Narcissism is really just another name for supreme selfishness, which is the root of all sin. The medical field, though, shies away from explosive terms like “sin”; that clear-eyed perspective is replaced with non-judgmental descriptions. If you turn something into a disease rather than a choice for which one is truly responsible, it eases the blame. You see, it’s not selfishness; it’s a “narcissistic personality disorder.” Yet even when they try to soften the blow, the description from the Mayo Clinic site is still pretty startling:

Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. They believe that they are superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence, they are vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

The site goes on to say that treatment for this “disorder” centers on psychotherapy. God has a different remedy: recognition of sin, repentance, and forgiveness through the ultimate sacrifice of His own Son.

The current Obamacare debacle has brought Obama’s narcissism to the foreground for all to see. First, he refuses to acknowledge the long-term problem it causes for the economy:

Economy

Then there are the tragic consequences for individuals, consequences for which he doesn’t seem able to “feel” their pain. He’s “sorry” they are experiencing problems, but he can’t bring himself to take full responsibility. His so-called apology a couple of weeks ago was no apology at all. He has never, throughout his administration, shown any willingness to accept accountability for his actions. Even as his key piece of legislation is ready to crash, he continues to believe it can fly. As in the ancient Greek fable of Icarus, he heeds no warnings :

Crash

Then, when all evidence mounts that disaster is looming, he comes up with a quick fix, designed only for one purpose—to help his party retain control of Congress in the next election cycle. What is this fix? Bullying insurance companies to restore policies that he was responsible for canceling in the first place. Again, it’s not his fault; blame the insurance companies who were coerced into his plan. All experts in the field say this cannot be done, especially since it’s only a one-year fix, merely a delay of the inevitable:

The Fix

Then yesterday, at a meeting with CEOs, he gave his most bizarre explanation yet for why his landmark legislation is having so many problems: it’s those darn Republicans! How can one make any progress when they oppose his wise policies? Somehow, in his mind, Republicans are the reason why his website was a joke, why young people don’t want to pay double for insurance premiums, and why the entire program is simply unworkable. There’s really only one prize Obamacare ought to win, and it’s appropriate for the season:

Top Turkey

The president, meanwhile, lives in his alternate world, ignoring reality, and refusing to see any culpability on his part. This is not some disorder; this is just the self-centeredness that has been the hallmark of mankind since the Garden. Unfortunately, when the presumed leader of the free world is neck-deep in it, everyone suffers the consequences.

The God of the Second Chance: A Personal Testimony

I was a young man on fire for the Lord. At age 22, just after graduation from college, I became part of the ministry of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). As an on-air radio announcer, I played contemporary Christian music and offered whatever spiritual insights a 22-year-old could possibly offer.

Then my church started a Christian school and looked around for someone with a degree of some kind to become its headmaster. My radio, television, and film degree seemed to qualify at that point. I was also eager to take on the task.

A longer story made much shorter: I was too young, too inexperienced, and too immature to handle that responsibility. For various reasons, I wandered away from the Lord and eventually left that position.

Too many testimonies spend far too much time highlighting the sins of one’s former life. I don’t wish to do that. Suffice to say I was angry with God, filled with ingratitude for what He had given me in life, and looking for some reason to abandon Him entirely. In short, I was in open rebellion.

At the height of this rebellion, I decided to go back to college to earn a doctorate in history, which had been my minor in my undergraduate years. This decision was made without seeking God’s leading; I really didn’t care what He thought, if He was even there at all. What I hoped was that these degrees, and all the learning I would imbibe along the way, would provide a meaning for my life that now was missing.

I applied myself to higher education with all my being, completing my master’s degree in one year, then moving on to the doctorate. Two years later, I had finished everything necessary for the degree except the doctoral dissertation. After three strenuous years of reading, researching, writing, and test-taking, I was almost exhausted.

What was even worse was I had come no closer to genuine meaning for my life than when I had started. When you come to the end of yourself, that’s where you will find the Lord patiently waiting for you.

EcclesiastesI began to read the Bible again and slowly came to the realization that I had been a fool. One particular passage stood out to me one day, found in Ecclesiastes 12:11-14:

The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd. But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

It would have been difficult to find a more appropriate passage to speak to my condition. I had wearied myself with devotion to books. What I needed was to once again fear God and keep His commandments.

I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to finish my doctoral degree. After all, I hadn’t asked God about it in the first place. Yet He opened up time for me to do so, with an assurance that somehow He could use this degree for His kingdom. When an opportunity came to teach as an adjunct faculty at Regent University, I gladly accepted it.

Regent was a three-hour drive from my home, so I would travel there once a week to teach a couple of master’s-level courses. I still struggled, though, with whether I was completely forgiven by God for all those wasted years and the damage I had done with my bad attitudes and other sins during that time.

One day, in January 1989, as I was making that trek to Regent, I was listening to music as I drove. The song was an old hymn of the church, It Is Well with My Soul. When I listened to the second verse, it came alive:

My sin, oh the joy of that glorious thought, my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh, my soul.

As soon as those words filled my mind, something else filled my mind: a voice spoke, declaring, “That’s for you.”

As I recall it now, I can’t say for sure if it was an audible voice, but it was so real, and the Source was so obvious, that I was swept away by the love of God. He was telling me I had a fresh start. I could put aside my past sins and move onward for Him. I was so overwhelmed; the tears flowed; driving on I-95 became rather dangerous. But the presence of God and His love filled my being.

The reality of that voice has stayed with me to this day, and God has fulfilled those words in my life. I’ve been able to put the past behind and move forward. Shortly after that divine intervention, a door opened for my first fulltime teaching position as a professor. I’ve now been in this ministry for 25 years.

In those early days after “the voice,” I began referring to the Lord as “the God of the Second Chance.” I still believe that, and I remain eternally grateful for the second chance He has given me. Never would I dream now of throwing away the blessing and the honor of serving Him.

Ecclesiastes 12