Archive for the ‘ Christians & Culture ’ Category

On Youth, Foolishness, & Mortality

I was reading in Psalm 39 this morning and this section jumped out at me:

Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.

You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.

Thinking about my mortality has become more prominent lately. Not that I’m in bad health or anticipating an early demise, you understand, but it’s only right that someone my age—I just turned 67—should take that possibility seriously.

I reflect back on what it was like being young, that time in life when you rarely consider the end of days on this earth; after all, one’s entire life lies ahead. What great things one will do!

Teaching the current university-aged generation is also a constant reminder of the passing of the years. I could be their grandfather, which is a fairly new and sometimes startling reminder of how quickly time goes by.

Yesterday, I was teaching them about the 1960s, that woebegone era when youth believed they were charting a new course for civilization that no one had ever thought about before. How silly so many of my generation were:

Each new generation, particularly the members of it that end up in college, always seems to think it’s smarter than the previous one, and the atmosphere in which they thrive is all too often one of promoting radical change, often without real understanding:

Far too many of the current crop of students are ignorant of history, which doesn’t bode well for the future of the nation:

As that last comic intimates, many students are being indoctrinated in the latest trendy social thought more than the basic knowledge and principles they need for life.

This has come to the forefront again recently in the reaction of many students to school shootings. Adults (so-called) are prone to present the students as the wise ones, the ones we need to listen to:

I was young once. I thought I had all the answers. I was wrong. I was immature. Immaturity is a feature of being young and inexperienced. A phrase bandied about (but probably not said in these precise words by anyone in particular) is “Youth is wasted on the young.”

This post is not meant to be a slight on young people. I love my students. It’s just that I know what being young is like. I look back on some of the decisions I made, even as a young Christian, and just shake my head, asking myself, “How could I have been so foolish?”

Psalm 90:12 is a fitting final thought for today:

So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

May it be.

The Education Crisis at All Levels

I want to begin this post with a word of appreciation so I won’t be misunderstood. What do I appreciate? All those teachers who truly love the students in their classrooms and seek to do their best to expand their knowledge and understanding.

In particular, I want to commend all Christians who labor in the schools, whether public, private, or specifically Christian. A Christian teacher in a public school is a missionary, exhibiting the love of God to students. I know you all do your best to fulfill the ministry the Lord has given you.

I hope that helps with what I want to say next.

Despite all the fine teachers who are doing their best, we are in an education crisis in the nation. I see it in two ways.

First, I see a lack of basic knowledge that earlier generations would have considered mandatory. As I continue my ministry to university students, I have concluded I have to take nothing for granted. The majority of my students come to my American history survey courses with only cursory information about what has occurred in the past.

I teach those courses as if I were teaching at the secondary level simply because I see such large gaps in their knowledge. That doesn’t mean I don’t love my students; ignorance is not primarily their fault, and it can be corrected.

Second, and more disturbing, is the trend toward a kind of indoctrination in whatever trendy movement is sweeping the land. All the walkouts that stemmed from the Parkland tragedy have a distinct political bias. We’re told these are student-led but I don’t believe it. Rather, the students are being led, and from the comments I hear from student “leaders,” one thing is significantly lacking:

“Critical thinking” has become one of the trendiest clichés of our day. Yet there is little of it in evidence. All “right-thinking” people are supposed to support gun control and/or the scrapping of the Second Amendment. After all, “guns kill people.”

A recent report notes that London now has a higher murder rate than New York City. The primary weapon used in these murders? Knives. Are they going to be banned now?

Sending young people to college is supposed to be a higher education. Is that always true?

Sadly, the worldview of most college and university administrations is illustrated nicely in that comic strip. In some of those institutions, Christians and/or conservatives are being forced to go along with such things as promotion of the LGBTQ agenda. If they refuse, they are made “sensitive” to the agenda through special seminars just for them or they find they are no longer employable.

That’s not the case where I teach, and I am grateful for it.

Yet universities such as mine are in the minority now. We truly have an education crisis.

A Stunning “Paul, Apostle of Christ”

The apostle Paul has come alive to me now in a way he never did before. Yesterday, I saw the new film Paul, Apostle of Christ, and left the theater stunned at the power of cinema when used for God’s glory.

How do I begin to describe what I witnessed? I’ve seen many powerful films with messages from the heart of God, but none I’ve ever seen made me consider so deeply what it was really like for Christians facing intense persecution and the testing of their faith unto death.

Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, takes on the role of Luke, companion of Paul, who risks his own life to visit him in prison as he awaits execution. The Emperor Nero, to cover his own sin of setting fire to Rome, has accused the Christians of the act, and fingered Paul as the chief instigator.

James Faulkner, an actor I thought I’d never seen before, but have since discovered appeared in such dramas as Downton Abbey, is absolutely gripping as Paul. From now on, whenever I’m reading one of Paul’s letters, I will have the image of the Paul offered in this movie.

At the end, as Paul was beheaded and then awoke in eternal life to see all those he had persecuted before his salvation come to greet him, I couldn’t hold back tears. There are no over-the-top performances throughout this film; all are real and genuine.

Combined with an excellent supporting cast, superb cinematography, the truth of key Biblical passages, and a clear explanation of the Gospel, this film is of the highest quality.

Paul, Apostle of Christ, in an earlier time in American history, would be a candidate for many awards. Sadly, I believe the era of Ben Hur and Chariots of Fire may now be ended. Hollywood won’t want to reward, or even acknowledge, this positive portrayal of genuine Christianity.

But that’s okay. I’m convinced that Paul, Apostle of Christ, will be used by God for the ultimate reward—that of leading many people into relationship with Him. Helping sinners recognize their sin, showing them the meaning of repentance, and how the love of God has overcome the breach between God and man is a far greater accomplishment.

While a Best Film Oscar would be nice, faithfully proclaiming God’s truth is the ultimate reward.

The Horror of the Same Old Thing

Every Wednesday evening since early January, I’ve had the joy of teaching a class on C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. A local Episcopal church invited me to do so, and I accepted the offer with relish. A group of eager learners comprises this class (approximately fifty each week), which has made it one of the highlights of this new year for me.

I’d read Screwtape a number of times over the years. Lewis himself famously commented that a really good book should never be read only once. Yet I’ve never had to dissect Screwtape in this manner before. If I’m going to explain anything to a class, I need to go beyond an outline and provide depth of understanding.

Along with a deeper understanding of a book such as this one comes the conviction of the Holy Spirit, as He shows me areas in my life that need to be solidified in righteousness.

One caution for all Christians occurs in Letter 25, which I will be teaching about in a couple of weeks. It deals with the concepts of “Christianity And . . .” and “The Same Old Thing.”

Screwtape—the senior devil—instructs junior tempter Wormwood to lead his “patient” away from mere Christianity (where he will flourish) into something else:

What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call “Christianity And.” You know—Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform.

If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian coloring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.

How often do we take our natural interest in something else, link it with our Christian faith, and then allow that other thing to become more important than the faith itself?

In American history, one example I can use is the very worthy cause, prior to the Civil War, of abolishing slavery. The cause was good. Many prosecuted it in the name of Christian faith, as they should have. Yet I am aware of some abolitionists for which the cause of abolition became primary and the faith merely a vehicle for attaining it.

Anytime we subordinate the faith to the cause it inspired, we miss the mark.

Lewis, through Screwtape, is asserting that we are drawn to this error through our desire to spice up, shall we say, the basic Christian faith, as if it is not enough inherently. Hell loves this attitude, as Screwtape explains:

The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart—an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship.

Man’s quest for novelty, which is not a bad thing, can become a very bad thing indeed when novelty takes on an exalted status: it must be “new” and “fresh” or it will be boring. And boredom must be a sin, right?

Change is not synonymous with progress. It depends what that change actually is.

Screwtape again:

Once they [the humans] knew that some changes were for the better, and others for the worse, and others again indifferent. We have largely removed this knowledge. For the descriptive adjective “unchanged” we have substituted the emotional adjective “stagnant.”

There are some things that never should change—eternal right and wrong, for instance—and Someone who never will. Change is not always good. Yet if those who seek change that isn’t for the better can win the semantic war—“let’s call it stagnant instead”—the perceptions of an entire society can be altered.

I’ll leave it for you to make application to the culture in which we live today.

Where Are the Nathans?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the prophet Nathan. If that name escapes you, it’s understandable. He’s not prominent like Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel, who wrote down their prophetic messages. He’s not well known like Elijah, who, although he wrote nothing, did some rather remarkable things through the power of God.

But Nathan is important.

He comes to prominence in 2 Samuel, chapter 12. King David, the anointed one of the Lord, committed adultery and then had the woman’s husband put at the front of a battle to ensure he was killed. He got his wish and the man’s widow.

After all, he was the Lord’s anointed. He could do whatever he wanted.

Nathan comes to speak to David one day and tells him a story about a rich man who takes a poor man’s pet lamb and butchers it for a meal. David is incensed by the story. That evil man, says David, must make compensation four times the lamb’s worth.

Then Nathan points a finger directly at David: “You are the man!”

Immediately, because David normally has a heart for God, he recognizes the enormity of his sin and repents deeply over what he did. Yet there are consequences: the child born of the adulterous relationship dies and one of David’s own sons tries to take the kingdom away from him. Many more die in the process.

Proverbs 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.”

It was just and right for Nathan to confront David, even though he was God’s anointed. It was more than just and right; it was essential for the spiritual health of the nation.

How should this apply today?

No leader—political, spiritual, or otherwise—should be spared direct confrontation. The goal of such confrontation is to lead to a recognition of sin, a heartfelt repentance, and a restored relationship with God.

That’s always the goal.

It’s not “hate” to point out sins in a leader. Even if that leader is nowhere near being a Christian, there are still standards—God’s standards—to which everyone will have to answer. Christians are tasked with doing whatever they can, with God’s guidance, to bring a nation more in line with what God expects of a people.

In January 2017, when Donald Trump took the oath of office as president, I publicly, in this blog, stated that I would support him in any way I could. Despite  my firm conviction that a man of his character should have been rejected from the start when he entered the primaries, I would try to be fair and balanced toward him.

I believe I have been faithful to that commitment. If you were to check back in my blog posts, you would find a number of times I’ve agreed with his policies. Yet, I didn’t neglect to note when his character undermined not only those very policies but the integrity of the government.

Every time I dared to mention anything negative, a chorus of people arose to tell me I was judgmental.

At the beginning of this present year, I determined to minimize my political commentary because I was drawn more to other matters that I found more edifying.

Again, if you search my blog posts for 2018, I believe you will have to admit that Trump has shown up irregularly, and that I’ve been far more focused on positive messages on C. S. Lewis and moments from history from which we can learn important principles.

But whenever I venture to critique the president’s actions (or those of his supporters), the chorus returns.

It’s difficult to say anything anymore that even hints at criticism of Trump’s rhetoric or actions without an immediate and emotional reaction.

What has disturbed me most is that those who should understand sin, repentance, faith, and holiness better than others have decided to look the other way when it comes to the president.

Where are the Nathans?

Trump has an evangelical advisory group. Maybe they are doing a good job. Only God knows. But what I read and hear from people like Rev. Robert Jeffress is backtracking from Biblical morality in Trump’s case. He’s our man, so we’re not going to say anything negative. He’s God anointed; don’t touch him.

I toyed with the idea last night as I went to bed that I might just shut down my blog, remove myself from Facebook, walk away from Twitter, and generally get myself out of the line of fire. I’m tired of this.

It’s easy to make bad decisions based on emotion. In the light of this morning, I’ve decided that’s not the solution.

What I will do, though, is scale back even more from making political commentary—at least about Trump. No one who is devoted to him is going to listen to what I have to say. Minds are made up. Every excuse imaginable for why he shouldn’t be criticized is dredged up.

So what’s the point anymore?

That doesn’t mean I won’t write about government and the principles I believe God wants us to follow. And it’s not an absolute moratorium on Trump. To pledge that I will never mention him again would be foolish; I would undoubtedly break that pledge.

But I will never back away from the Biblical truth that righteousness exalts a nation and sin is a disgrace to any people.

And I will continue to pray that other Christians will take that seriously, considering the dangerous and increasingly anti-Christian times in which we live.

I will also continue to pray that more Nathans—those who are called by God to point out sin for the purpose of ultimate redemption—will come to the forefront.

A Witness, Not a Testimony

The most fascinating autobiography of the 20th century was Whittaker Chambers’s Witness. I’ve re-read it numerous times, particularly in tandem with the course I teach on him and his writings.

Why did Chambers decide to call his book Witness? His testimony before HUAC was an accounting of what he knew about the underground—but that is all a testimony is. It tells what happened; it provides facts. Chambers saw what he was doing as something more, something deeper. A witness is someone who goes beyond simply providing testimony. He describes it in this way:

A witness, in the sense that I am using the word, is a man whose life and faith are so completely one that when the challenge comes to step out and testify for his faith, he does so, disregarding all risks, accepting all consequences.

With his mouth, a man testifies; with his life, he makes a witness.

The opening section of Witness was slightly unorthodox, but that kind of thing could be expected from Chambers. He chose to begin with his own foreword that he called “A Letter to My Children.” Family was the highest priority for him. That was why he bought Pipe Creek Farm. It was why he sought to shield his children from everything connected to his past for as long as possible. The Hiss Case changed that; now he wanted to leave them a personal witness as a prelude to the rest of the book.

His Time associate Craig Thompson had seen him the day after his first testimony before HUAC. ‘“Boy,’ I said, ‘you’ve sure dropped an A-bomb this time.’ For once he couldn’t even grin. ‘Yes,’ he said heavily, ‘And now I’m going home to see what my children think of me.’” His “Letter” was intended as a guidepost for them:

My children, as long as you live, the shadow of the Hiss Case will brush you. In every pair of eyes that rests on you, you will see pass, like a cloud passing behind a woods in winter, the memory of your father—dissembled in friendly eyes, lurking in unfriendly eyes.

Sometimes you will wonder which is harder to bear: friendly forgiveness or forthright hate. In time, therefore, when the sum of your experience of life gives you authority, you will ask yourselves the question: What was my father?

I will give you an answer: I was a witness.

The foreword is powerful as a concise essay on what to expect in the rest of the book: the two irreconcilable faiths; the commitment of the communists to their cause; the communist vision of man without God; the proper way to break with communism; the need for the West to renew its faith in God or be destroyed.

“There has never been a society or a nation without God,” Chambers instructed. “But history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations that became indifferent to God and died.” The “Letter” ends with a highly personal passage:

My children, when you were little, we used sometimes to go for walks in our pine woods. In the open fields, you would run along by yourselves. But you used instinctively to give me your hands as we entered those woods, where it was darker, lonelier, and in the stillness our voices sounded loud and frightening.

In this book I am again giving you my hands. I am leading you, not through cool pine woods, but up and up a narrow defile between bare and steep rocks from which in shadow things uncoil and slither away. It will be dark. But, in the end, if I have led you aright, you will make out three crosses, from two of which hang thieves. I will have brought you to Golgotha—the place of skulls.

This is the meaning of the journey. Before you understand, I may not be there, my hands may have slipped from yours. It will not matter. For when you understand what you see, you will no longer be children. You will know that life is pain, that each of us hangs always upon the cross of himself. And when you know that this is true of every man, woman and child on earth, you will be wise.

I was deeply moved by the elegance of the writing the first time I read Witness. That emotional connection with the book has never left me. It’s why I want to introduce students to it. I want them to grasp—as a generation seemingly removed from the grip of the Cold War and the threat of communism—the eternal truths Chambers enunciates.

Just because the outward expression of the conflict, the Cold War, has ended, that doesn’t mean the conflict is over. It’s never over, precisely because the conflict is not simply between two political or economic systems; rather, it’s the age-old conflict of faith in God vs. faith in man. That one never ends.

I highly recommend reading Chambers’s Witness. You also can get a significant part of it in my book, The Witness and the President: Whittaker Chambers, Ronald Reagan, and the Future of Freedom, from which this excerpt is taken.

What Has Changed?

In a society like ours, which now tends to view all things through a political lens and thinks there are legislative solutions for all problems, we focus on making external changes—gun control being one of those.

Pass a new law, we’re told, and we will wipe out the problem. Of course, that cry ignores the reality that we already have laws on the books that supposedly will stop shootings—but they don’t.

Whenever we think that tinkering with laws will save us, we are looking past the the real influences that cater to our sinfulness.

Guns have been around throughout all of American history. Only recently have we experienced tragedies like what occurred at the Parkland school. What’s changed? How about what we consider “normal” for entertainment? How about the rejection of the absolute laws of eternal right and wrong?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t take external precautions against man’s sinfulness. That doesn’t necessarily mean arming all teachers, but there can be a deterrence if evil men know they will be met with more-than-equal force if they attempt something.

At my university, we have an arrangement with local law enforcement that allows individuals on the campus to be trained in the use of firearms in a shooter situation. No one knows which individuals have that training; we don’t know where the guns are located, but we have an assurance that if a situation should arise, we don’t have to wait for the police to arrive before taking steps to counter the evil.

I like that assurance. It values human life. It is a proper, Biblical concept of self-defense. And it can make a potential killer think twice before acting.

Gun-free zones are an open invitation to violence, not a preventative.

I also want us to keep some perspective:

While we should be concerned about all incidents of violence that lead to the death of innocents, I have a hard time taking anyone seriously who doesn’t see the greatest violence of all against the innocent.

Many people posturing about gun control and displaying angst over the fate of our children in the schools have nothing at all to say about abortion, the biggest killer of all. Some are even strident supporters of abortion while simultaneously, and sanctimoniously, decrying violence toward others.

We have drifted so far from God’s moral law that it is no wonder we are suffering now. Neither would it be unjust of God to bring judgment for our callousness.