Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Sunday, September 18, 2016

My Brush with the Josh Harris Kerfuffle

Every once in a while, several things converge on me at the same time.  At this point I'm not talking about too much to do, though for a "retired" guy that does seem to happen fairly often.  What I am talking about is when information from different sources comes my way that seems to point to one particular concern that I have.  That's happening right now concerning Joshua Harris.

Before I go any farther, let me give a couple of disclaimers:

  • I've never been a follower of, promoter of, or critic of Joshua Harris.  To me, he has been like a lot of writers and speakers in the Evangelical world.  He has said some things that have been of some help to some people.  He has also said some things with which I didn't and don't agree.  That's OK, I'm sure I've said things he disagrees with.
  • I don't have time to do one of those thorough investigation pieces that cause people to go "Ohh, Aaww," and then re-post the article contributing to its viral-osity.  I'm writing this with limited time, for a limited audience, with a limited purpose in mind.
Back in the 90s Joshua Harris wrote a book that had a profound, somewhat lasting, and, some would say negative, impact on the Evangelical World, especially the homeschooling segment of that world.  I Kissed Dating Good-Bye landed in the my world when we were battling hard against the erosion of standards of sexual-purity and marital-faithfulness that was going on not only all around us but within our own ranks.  As a father of two sons and the pastor of a church where I had influence on, and responsibility for a number of teens and parents of teens I was interested.  I read the book.  As far as I know, I haven't read it since.  I'll share my thoughts about IKDG in a bit. In the last twenty years I have seen various references to Harris's work, some for and some against.  I'm not going to go back and re-read IKDG.  My comments are about generalities and what I remember.  If I have Harris mixed up with other proponents of the courtship movement, I apologize.
Since reading IKDG, I really didn't pay much attention to Harris until a few months ago.  I'm teaching a course on Marriage and Family in a Christian College.  When I asked those who had taught the class before me, I found that they had used another book by Harris as one of the course texts, Sex Isn't the Problem, Lust Is.  I'm not one of those people who can sit down and read a book in fifteen minutes so I looked through the book and couldn't see any reason not to follow the lead of those more experienced than I and use the book.  After reading the book, especially considering the backgrounds of the students we work with, I'm glad I made that decision.  It is a readable book that makes some good points.  More later. About the third week into the class I became aware of, what appears to me to be, a fairly big controversy concerning Harris and IKDG.  Maybe I'm paranoid, but I'm afraid that someone may come across the controversy, and then connect the dots--dots aren't always connected correctly--and conclude that the class I'm teaching is based on a faulty foundation.  Thus this post.  (If you have another reason to continue reading, I'll just consider that collateral benefit.)    

Joshua Harris was only 21 when He wrote IKDG, yet his book had great impact.  It propelled him to instant fame and moved the courtship movement into the mainstream Evangelical conversation.  His book struck a responsive chord in the hearts of many parents and teens.  The trajectory toward the "hook-up" non-relationships of the present had already begun.  Often teen girls (though some guys were hurt as well) were the victims of the dating culture.  A number of these young women didn't want to be dropped on their heart again, others were convinced vicariously, and while there were guys who were convinced for more noble reasons, most guys who became a part of the courtship movement had to join--all of the women in their pool of eligibles had kissed dating good-bye and become entry-level courtship devotees.  I always kind of figure that a lot of those young women wished Josh would come to court them, and not a few guys were upset that he had upset a system that was often rigged in their favor.  There were other advocates of the courtship movement, but Joshua Harris's name became almost synonymous with it.  If you aren't familiar with the courtship movement you can see its basic concepts here.
You can decide in a moment whether I had ulterior motives, but my reaction then (which continues to be my thinking) is summarized below:

I think Harris (and some other courtship advocates) addressed some areas that needed attention.  His winsome presentation of sexual purity and the dedication he expressed were refreshing.  The fact that he was one of the young adults who wanted to get married, and yet endorsed this "novel" approach was convincing, for some even convicting.  He wasn't an old guy telling young folk how to live their lives.  He was a young adult challenging other young adults, "Let's do this better."  His pointing to the problem of dating as just another form of recreation was and is something that needs to be put forth.  As I have often pointed out, "To play football you need a football.  To date (in the usual sense of the word) you need another person.  If we are using another human being like we use a piece of sports equipment, we have a problem."  His emphasis on parental involvement in mate selection is one that needed to be heard, and still does.  While I never signed up for the movement he promoted, I was glad he started, or amplified, the conversation.

Yet I saw in Harris's work (and the movement he represented) things that I found problematic:
  • He seemed to take dating at its worst and compare it to an idealized courtship.  Many of us are guilty of using that paradigm in making our arguments.
  • At least some of it appeared to me to come down to a matter of semantics.  Some of what he called courtship sounded a lot like dating.  At least that was the way it came out when others tried to apply what he wrote.
  • He had made an error that is incredibly common with those of us who try to apply and help others apply the truth of scripture.  He saw some things in scripture that needed to be applied in our culture--in particular in the Evangelical culture of the day.  He arrived at what was a way of obeying these precepts.  Then he communicated his message in a way that made it seem like his was the only way of conforming to the Biblical standard.  Harris basically admit this here.
  • Others who were part of the movement for which Harris became the poster-boy, and some of his followers took his ideas as Gospel truth and carried them to extremes that he may not have intended.
  • There is one more.  When I dated and courted (if there was a courtship movement in the late 60s and early 70s, I didn't know anything about it, so I use the word "court" in a more general way) my wife, I did so over the objection of her father.  He did finally give his blessing to our marriage, but if IKDG had been around 30 years before and had Kathy and I followed its guidance we never would have made it to the ring buying time.  I had struggled with the principles Harris presented in his book--you can listen to my story here (warning: this won't win me a prize for video production, but it has pictures), or read it here (no pictures)--and had obviously come to a different conclusion than Harris.  I thought when I was going through it, when I considered it two decades later, and I still think that I was honoring the scriptures in my decision making.
Just the other day I became aware that Josh Harris is publicly repudiating at least parts of IKDG.  It is clear that he is sorry for the pain that the application (misapplication) of his book has caused. I walked into a conversation that was already going on, but here it is in basic outline.
  • As is often the case in today's world, news of this first showed up on Twitter.  Harris said "I'm sorry."
  • Along the way there have been quite a few complaints posted--maybe my first bullet wasn't where it first showed up--about how IKDG, and the "purity culture" in general had harmed people.  
  • This article takes these "whiners" to task, but in doing so provides enough information to bring you up to speed, maybe more speed than you want.
  • That was followed-up a day or two later with a piece--either written by one of those speed readers I talked about, or a guy with a great memory--that basically told the anti-whiner to quit complaining; the whiners of the first part really do have a case.
I'm sure you can find a whole bunch more on this, but, as I said, I'm short on time, so I kissed looking up articles about IKDG good-bye.  (Sorry, I just couldn't resist.)

Which brings me to Harris's book that we are using in my class.  I'm told you can get it for free, but you can do your own searching.  The book was written a few years after IKDG and it's follow-up Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship.  At the time of writing Harris was working with Pastor C. J. Mahaney.  A short time later Harris would take over leadership of the sizable and influential church where Mahaney was pastor.  
I read the Sex is not . . . before I was aware of the controversy.

A ministry of Moody Church had this to say about the book: "It’s hard to find a Christian book on sexual purity that strikes a biblical balance. Some books are too vague. . . . Others are too specific . . . [or] . . .loaded with specific lists of “dos” and “don’ts” and unintentionally promote legalism. . . . If you’re a college-age young adult desiring Christ-centered purity in your life, I strongly recommend you give this short but powerful book a read!"

Tim Callies blogged about Sin is not. . . "Harris holds out lust as a problem, but provides the gospel as a solution. And that isn’t even a fair fight. An excellent little book that is easy to read, easy to digest, and suitable for all audiences, I recommend Sex is not the Problem (Lust Is) without hesitation."

In my websearch I found frequent complaints about damage (I'm giving the critics the benefit of the doubt here) caused by Harris's first two books, but not Sin is not . . . .  That in itself proves little, but when I read the book, I noticed that the author appeared different than the one I remembered in IKDG.  Clearly, as some other reviewers point out, Harris exhibits a remarkable level of transparency.  He begins the book with what amounts to a confession and then goes on to state, quoting C. J. Mahaney, "Legalism is seeking to achieve forgiveness from God and acceptance by God through my obedience to God" (49).  The name of the chapter is "You can't save yourself."  The tone of the entire book is not a dependence on some sure-fire formula, but a reliance on God's grace, and a grasping of the resources He provides.
I can't read minds, but it looks like Harris was already moving toward the maturity that I think his Twitter apology indicates.

So, how to wrap this up?
  • My intent in posting this is to let the students in my class, and others who may read the stuff posted in regard to my class, know that, yes, I am aware of the controversy, and, no, I don't think it makes the book we are using useless. On the contrary.  I think it is a useful little book.
  • In fact I don't think I Kissed Dating Good-bye is useless.  If one reads it as one should, as the writing of a young adult attempting to address real problems by offering what he sees as solutions consistent with Scripture, then the book has value.  If one takes it, as many did, as a Thus saith the Lord formula, it can lead to problems.
  • I think this is a good fight.  It shouldn't be avoided.  Being clobbered with a strong argument,even with a well-aimed emotional tirade often has a mind-clearing effect.  
  • My intent was not to defend Joshua Harris, though I hope he comes out of this a better man.  He has gifts that the body of Christ needs in this day.  I have great sympathy for any who were sincerely trying to follow the Lord in their relationships, and were led astray by the courtship-movement.  Often when when pendulums swing they do so like a wrecking ball.  Folk get hurt.  Those of us who claim to speak for God need to do so with care and humility.  Rather than take any pleasure in the "come-up-ance" that has come to a guy who gained to much influence to soon, we should all realize that we are but clay pots.  Let's be humble as dispense the message.  On the other side, we all need to resist the urge to follow the latest trend, especially a trend that reinforces our own, previously held, conclusions.  
  • As is often the case with my blog posts, this has helped me to think through the matter.  If it has been any help to you, to God be the glory.  If you have further thoughts I welcome them.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Deer Hunting and a Book on Marriage, It's About Hitting the Target

I live in an area where real men kill deer.  One of the lessons I learned early on as the pastor of a church full of deer hunters is to not plan anything special during deer season.  If you can't beat 'em . . . I tried hunting for a while.  The problem is I lack patience.  To be a good deer hunter you have to put in time learning to think like a deer, you have to get up early, and you need to be quiet.  I'm not good at any of that, and I wasn't dedicated enough to learn.
Oh, and there is one more thing.  I don't shoot very well, so on those rare occasions when I did see a deer, and let the lead fly, I generally missed.  I figure I didn't miss by much, but as the saying is, "An inch is as good as a mile."

I was reminded about my ability to propel a 30/30 bullet right by a deer, without damaging so much as a hair, right after I read a book by John Piper, This Momentary Marriage.  We Evangelicals have talked a lot about marriage in the last few years.  Though we have thrown a lot of words at the issue, I fear that our aim is like mine on those cold November mornings.  We have focused a lot of attention on making clear what marriage isn't--it's not a relationship between two people of the same sex.  We haven't paid enough attention to what marriage is.  I'm concerned that in our zeal to protect marriage we, by our failure to hit the mark--truth be told we haven't even aimed at it--have actually weakened our culture's commitment to what marriage really is.  I found Pastor John Piper's little book to be a much needed lesson on straight shooting.
For a long time I've had this feeling in my bones that we Evangelicals were really giving the same-sex-marriage crowd some excellent arguments to support their cause.  The average man or woman in the pew, especially among the younger set within the church, describes heterosexual marriage about the same way as our dominant culture does.  It is roses, and candlelight, and wine, and soul-mate, and earth-moving sex.  I'm not saying that Evangelicals are selfish, some are, but we have done a pretty good job emphasizing that marriage is not about me using someone else for my own pleasure.  It is about me giving myself for and pleasing my mate.  I'll leave aside for the moment the difficult reality that we must wrestle with, that one gains the greatest satisfaction when one gives the most.  Screwtape, and even Wormwood, can play you with that one like a yo-yo in a windstorm, but, as I say, I'll save that one for another day.  The problem is when we make marriage all about pleasing our spouse--putting her or him in first place--we almost hit the target.  Almost.
In his introduction Piper admits the strangeness of beginning a book on marriage with the tragic stories of three martyrs--four really.  When Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hung by the Nazis he was engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer.  John and Betty Stam were young missionaries with a baby to raise when they were beheaded by the Chinese Communists.  Strange though it may be to use martyrs to introduce a book on marriage it is effective.
The aim of this book is to enlarge your vision of what marriage is. As Bonhoeffer says, it is more than your love for each other. Vastly more. Its meaning is infinitely great. I say that with care. The meaning of marriage is the display of the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his people.  (15)
If the pastor from Minnesota begins his book in an unorthodox manner, he proceeds to what is regarded in our culture as madness.  It's right there in the title of the first chapter, "Staying Married is not about Staying in Love."
I pray that this book might be used by God to help set you free from small, worldly, culturally contaminated, self-centered, Christ-ignoring, God-neglecting, romance-intoxicated, unbiblical views of marriage.
The most foundational thing to see from the Bible about marriage is that it is God’s doing. And the ultimate thing to see from the Bible about marriage is that it is for God’s glory.  (21)
Marriage is God's doing, and it is for His glory.   "Marriage was designed from the beginning to display the new covenant between Christ and the church."  (33)  Marriage is the doing of God, and the display of God--in particular the marvelous covenant love between Christ and His bride, the church.  That is why we should do marriage well.  Displaying such a grand theme is a high and holy calling.  We ought to do it well.
In the middle section of the book Piper helps us explore how to do it well.  He deals with issues like forgiveness and forbearance, the role of husband and wife, and the unique calling of singleness.  I particularly appreciated his framing of childbearing.
[T]he meaning of marriage normally includes giving birth to children, this is not absolute. . . . The decision about whether to conceive children is not ultimately a decision about what is natural, but about what will magnify the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. . . . Marriage is not absolutely for making children; but it is absolutely for making children followers of Jesus.  (140-141)
Piper's last two chapters give his view of divorce and remarriage.  While I disagree with his position that remarriage after divorce is always wrong, I do appreciate the fact that he continues with his theme of what marriage is really about.  "Keep your marriage vows in such a way as to tell the truth about the unbreakable covenant love of Christ."  (164)

Because of the brevity of the book, 192 pages, Piper is selective in choosing the particular aspects of marriage that support his theme.  In the broadest sense, this is a book about what marriage is, and why we should pursue the lofty goal of doing marriage well.  While there are ideas that husbands, wives, and singles will find helpful, this is not primarily a how-to book.

Some of the conclusions that Piper draws are not based on interpretation of scripture, but inference from scripture.  His conclusion that having children is not absolute is based on an extrapolation of the Bible's teaching on singleness.  While I agree with his conclusion, I wasn't impressed with how he got there.

I have already made known that I disagree with his perceived prohibition on remarriage, though I give him credit for humility and grace in admitting that others have come to differing conclusions on this.

Piper begins each chapter with a quotation from Bonhoeffer's writings from Tegel Prison.  These are well chosen and give power to the points Piper makes in each chapter.

The great value of the book is the encouragement it gives us to aim better as we address the issue of marriage.  I wonder if Satan is as pleased with Evangelicals defense of marriage as he is with the attacks that elicit the defense.  When the marriage we defend is a marriage that is about human pleasure--mine and/or my spouses--our argument contains the key points needed to refute what we say.  Why should others be denied the privilege of giving and receiving pleasure?  I fear we have wasted too much ammunition shooting at the who-should-marry target, and failed to hit the Who-marriage-is-about bulls-eye.

Like most of Piper's writings, you can read This Momentary Marriage for free.  Click on the link


(Oh, and about the deer hunting,  I gave it up, and worked on looking pitiful.  Apparently I do that much better than I can shoot.  Thanks to skillful and generous hunters, who are impressed with my hungry look, Kathy and I generally have all the venison we want.}

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Thoughts following the murder of Father Jacques Hamel:

This post was sent out and posted as a Something to Think About article.  I am posting it here because it is bit more serious, and hopefully far-reaching than some of what I put on STTA.  I think it is something worthy of consideration particularly for those of you who share my background, or for others trying to figure us out.  This wasn't the first time a Christian leader was martyred, and it won't be the last.

Standing with Those Who Stand for Christ

 

Ask not for whom the bell tolls:

The Institute on Religion & Democracy calls it Jihad on the church.
Father Jacques Hamel, an 86 year old Roman Catholic Priest was leading worship when two Muslim extremists, burst into the church in Normandy France, shouting, "Allah Akbar," and slit the cleric's throat.  ISIS issued a statement that two of its soldiers had carried out the attack.
The murder took place in a country other than mine, in a church that is different than mine, and it was perpetrated against a pastor whose Theology and practice are not my own.  What I, and others like me need to realize is what made Father Jacques Hamel a target of terrorism is something that is absolutely true about me.  He died as a representative of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died in our place, and arose victorious.  In no sense was it one of them who died in this cowardly, ugly attack.  Father Jacques was/is one of us.

So, how do I react?
My branch of Christendom--Evangelicalism, Conservative Evangelicalism, The movement formerly known as Fundamental, Historical Fundamentalists, I don't know what to call my kind--suffers serious division on how to answer this question.  At the risk of creating further divide, but in hopes of moving us toward sanity, I make the following suggestions:
  • My kind has a history of "coming out from among them."  I was taught the virtues of separation.  Not so much the value of unity.  This is a time to link arms, to embrace.  We may disagree on the definition of what it means to be a Christian, certainly we have a variety of answers to the question of how we do Christianity, but let us not forget.  Father Jacques was not killed because of what he believed about the mass he was performing, or because of his allegiance to the Roman Catholic hierarchy.  His throat was cut because he was a follower of Christ, and because he was leading others to follow Christ.  He and I are the same.  No "buts."
  • We have to walk spiritually, and chew gum politically at the same time.  One of the terrorists who attacked the church in Normandy was a known terrorist.  The church was known to be on a hit list.  One of the tasks of governments, perhapsTHE task, is to keep order, to keep the citizens of a land, and others within its borders, from killing each other.  I need to be disciplined enough to give the same answer when the attack is by "Christians" on a group of Muslim worshipers.   My nation, the United States, has a history of protecting freedom of worship.  That value seems consistent with the teaching of Scripture.  The Bible presents a balance and a tension between a personal response that is characterized by charity and forgiveness, and a governmental policy of security and justice.  Having police armed with Glocks is not contradictory with the response of the members of Emmanuel A.M.E. church in forgiving the murderer of their pastor and fellow-church members (here).
    Christians who emphasize the importance of forgiveness are right.  Likewise those who stress law and order are on solid ground.  Those who exclude one or the other are wrong.
  • We need to eliminate from our thinking any notion that this business of standing up and speaking for the Lord is safe.  It isn't.  That distortion has been perpetuated because we, my kind, have been living in an anomalous time and place.  Christians always and everywhere have been called to a Romans 12:1dedication.  It's just getting clearer, now.
    We do not stand for Christ because it is easy or safe.  We do so based on this calculation:  
 
We believe that Christ died for all,
we also believe that we have all died to our old life.
He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves.
Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.
(2 Corinthians 5:14–15, NLT)
  • The prayer requests that the Apostle Paul offered in the First Century make a great deal of sense in our world.
    ". . . pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified . . . and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith" (2 Thessalonians 3:1–2).
    ". . . pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak" (Ephesians 6:19–20).
    One missions leader, for a period of time, forbid the people in his office from praying for the safety of the personnel they represented.  Prayers for safety were taking up all the air in the room.  Prayers for boldness and effectiveness need to be offered, as well.
So, I close this STTA with prayer.

Lord, I pray for those who love Father Jacques; May they know your comfort and peace.  Grant that they will respond with the grace that is becoming to those of us who bear your name.
I ask that the authorities in France, the US, and around the world will act with justice and appropriate firmness.  I pray that all--even those whose worship is a lie--will have freedom to worship in safety.
As the Lord of the harvest, I ask that You will send forth laborers into the harvest, even the parts of the field that are not safe.  I pray that those who represent you in dangerous places will be effective witnesses.  As your servant, the Apostle Paul observed, that might be by life, or by death.
I pray that Your will be done down here in this messy world, and, Lord, I yield myself, dedicate myself, to that task.
I long for Your Kingdom to come.
Amen.
  
 
It’s STTA.
 

You can read more about the life-changing Good News, that gives us something worth dying for,  here.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Is This The Best We Can Do?

I just read Al Mohler's blog-post of a couple of weeks ago.  I found Mohler's reasoning and conclusions to be helpful.  Central in his piece is the conviction that character does matter.  His observation agrees with mine.  Evidence--and that is all we can go on--indicates a serious lack of a solid moral base in both major presidential candidates.

Mrs. Clinton simply doesn't seem to care about truth and integrity.  The recent announcement by the FBI, though indicating that the former Secretary of State would not be indited, was hardly an indication that she is a person of character.  She is clearly dedicated to the "We will absolutely not ever interfere with any abortion." position of the the Democrat party.  I cannot say whether her position is one of personal commitment or political expediency.  Either way it is a serious ethical flaw.  On one hand it represents a disrespect for human life, on the other it displays a glaring lack of integrity,  While a case can be made that she is was the victim of her husband's adultery, and her willingness to work through those issues and preserve her family is admirable, I have not heard her offer an apology to "The vast right wing conspiracy" since it became clear that, indeed, her husband did have "sex with that woman."

Recently, Evangelical (former) leader James Dobson announced that he believed that Donald Trump is born again.  The report, based on what he heard, indicates that Paula White led the presumptive Republican candidate to faith in Jesus.  I will gladly lead the rejoicing should such a report turn out to be true, but the fact is, I have no idea whether it is true or not.  I am struck with the convenience of floating this story at a time when Republican strategists are desperate to gain Evangelical support for their candidate.  In a subsequent statement Dobson speaks with greater caution.  Like me, it now appears that he is hopeful, but agnostic on the matter.  More to the point, the reality or fiction of the reports about Trump's conversion are irrelevant to the decision before me.  I know many folk--I would probably put myself in the group--who clearly are trusting the Gospel of Christ for life and eternity, who would make horrible presidents.  It is in a different realm, but the concept is relevant.  Paul, passing on counsel to his younger delegate, Timothy, cautions him to “not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others." (1 Timothy 5:22, NASB95)  When looking for someone to lead the church the standard was not, "Is he reported to be born again?" but, does he exhibit the necessary character?"  (See 1 Timothy 3) Though such character flows from a heart changed by "grace, through faith," it takes time to be seen.  We haven't had, and we won't have, the time to inspect the fruit.

In case it isn't clear, what I'm saying is I don't see either of the major candidates to be somebody I am for. As far as it goes, that is a sentiment that I hear from a number of Evangelicals.  They aren't for either candidate, however they are more, not-for, one candidate, and so they will, therefore, vote for the other.  One reason I appreciated Mohler's article is that he doesn't make that case.  Fairly early on Russel Moore wrote on that line of reasoning.  "Should we vote for the lesser of two evils?"  I admire the clarity of his conclusion.
Our primary concern is not the election night victory party, but the Judgment Seat of Christ.
When Christians face two clearly immoral options, we cannot rationalize a vote for immorality or injustice just because we deem the alternative to be worse. The Bible tells us we will be held accountable not only for the evil deeds we do but also when we “give approval to those who practice them” (Rom. 1:32).
This side of the New Jerusalem, we will never have a perfect candidate. But we cannot vote for evil, even if it’s our only option.
 During my pastoral career I avoided endorsing candidates.  I'm not doing that now.  If anything I'm saying that I don't see either of the major candidates as worthy of my vote.  That's bipartisan, folks.  What will I do on November 8?  I don't yet know.  I am trying to approach this mess in such a way that my integrity will be intact on the other side.  I know that many of you will disagree with me on one or more of my points.  I have little interest in arguing.  I'd rather encourage.  Do what is right; at least try.
 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Thoughts Following the Tragedy in Dallas:

Earlier this morning I posted a piece about the recent rash of shootings involving police.  In two incidents civilians were shot by police officers.  In the third, five officers were killed in an ambush attack, in Dallas Texas.  If you read this article in your email, or at STTA (http://sttaspots.blogspot.com/), you'll probably want to scroll down past the article, below.  If you haven't read it, you should.  The rest of this post is based on what is found there.

 

John the Baptist, & Jesus Christ comment on our current situation:

I was already aware of the shootings that took place in Minnesota and Louisiana.  My son spoke eloquently about the mood of our nation.  
Jesus we need you We need grace. We need wisdom. We need the gospel. All solutions fall short of the gospel."
I hurt for the state of 2016 America. I hurt for the pressure to pick a side over complex social issues. I hurt for Alton Sterling and his family. I hurt for the officers and their families. I hurt that in 2016 we will judge all parties from both sides on a passerby's 40sec cellphone video.
I say, "Amen!" to Chad's words.  After awaking to the news from Dallas I find them even more relevant.

This is not the first time that some who are responsible to keep the law have failed to do so, or have enforced the law without respect for the people they should have been protecting.  I don't think I have to convince you that the Roman legionnaires assigned to serve in far off conquered lands sometimes did so with harshness and disregard for basic human dignity.  Perhaps some soldiers had been assigned to make sure that the crowds who thronged to hear John the Baptist didn't get out of hand, or maybe they, like so many others, were simply curious about this camel-hair clad prophet.  At any rate they approached the preacher of repentance.  "Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?”  (Luke 3:14). John's reply retains its relevance.  “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with yourwages.”  (Luke 3:14)  If any readers are police chaplains, John's three exhortations provide great material for men and women in Blue to consider.  For we civilians, especially those of us who live in lands where we have input in our government, this gives a fair description of what we should expect from those who keep the peace.
In His best known sermon Jesus spoke to the conquered.  If a reporter had circulated through the crowd, assembled on a hill in Galilee, she/he would have had no problem identifying stories of abuse of power.  A photographer would have been able to snap grizzly pictures of backs that had been beaten, and of wounds needlessly inflicted by over-zealous Roman soldiers--those who paid no heed to John the Baptist's counsel.    Unlike preachers like me, Jesus knew precisely the situation of the people before Him; He knew, and cared, about the contents of their hearts.  When Jesus told the people, “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two."(Matthew 5:41)  He was referring to the right that Roman soldiers had to conscript civilians to carry their equipment.  The law said they could require you to carry their baggage for one mile.  Jesus said to go beyond the requirement into the realm of kindness.  Carry it the extra mile.
Check back later at my blog .  I'll share some ideas about how to apply this.  In the mean time . . .

It’s STTA.


So, what do we do about this?
Some time ago, Hollywood produced a rather dark view of the future.  Things had become so bad that the heavy-handed government looked to technology to enfor
Robocop
ce the law.  Last night, less than twenty years after Robocop was on the screen, a police robot was sent in to deal with the sniper.  The machine doesn't look anything like the cop in the movie, but, unfortunately, the concept is similar.  Inhuman conditions motivate enforcers to adopt nonhuman resources, which then leads to even more inhuman conditions.  
A friend, who is now with the Lord, was a small town police chief.  His real life policing practices often bore a resemblance to Andy Taylor's of the fictional town of Mayberry.  How far that is from the armor-clad technology equipped police forces of our day.  In the article above I quote from Jesus, and His forerunner, John the Baptist.  I believe their counsel is relevant to us, two millennia later.  It leads toward the Mayberry-ish good-will policing of my friend, and away from the overwhelming force scene in the bad dreams of movie-makers.

Jesus words, and the context of scripture clearly tell us that we citizens are to be submissive to and respectful of those who are given the authority to keep order.  In addition to His words in Matthew 5:41, Jesus said to "Render unto Caesar what Caesar is due,"  (Luke 20:25)  The Apostles Paul and Peter--both of who endured their share of rough treatment at the hands of governmental authorities--built on Jesus words in passages like Romans 13, and 1 Peter 2:13-17.  I draw from these Biblical passages some points of application that I think will serve us well today.
  • The authority of the government and its agents is not dependent on the perfect behavior of those who wield that authority.  John, Jesus, Paul, and Peter all spoke at a time in which the forces in power left much to be desired, yet they counselled submission to them.
  • Exploring this is not the purpose of this post, but the threshold of civil disobedience is quite high.  Check out the experience of Daniel and his friends in the book of Daniel, or that of the Apostle and other Christians in the early chapters of Acts.
  • Even imperfect governments, like that of the Romans, provide valuable services to their subjects.  That is clearly implied in Jesus words about rendering to Caesar what he is due, and Paul's observation that the governmental authorities are God's agents, "Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same"  (Romans 13:3).  Observation of the world scene bears this out.  Seldom, if ever, is the chaos that ensues from lawlessness, better than the oppression that preceded it under corrupt governments.  We can debate another day whether or not we Americans just celebrated a legitimate over-throw of our English lords.  It is clear that the best of our patriots were not merely anarchists interested in nothing more than disruption and over-throw.  Our Declaration of Independence, and Constitution (though it took a while to get there) indicate that they had a far more detailed plan than do the snipers of Dallas, or the opportunistic looters who tend to swarm in after all disturbances.  Working with, on, and through, the problems of bad government is the price we pay for the maintenance of peace in this fallen world.
  • This is just my opinion, but it is an opinion that comes after a lifetime of considering such matters, attempting to behave responsibly, and teach helpfully on these issues.  With great respect to fellow-citizens of color, our situation in the United States does not merit any kind of armed resistance, much less ambush style attacks on police.  I was encouraging to hear respected spokesmen from the Black community condemn what took place in Dallas.  We need to hear again the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, 
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, 
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. 
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar, 
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. 
Through violence you may murder the hater, 
but you do not murder hate. 
In fact, violence merely increases hate. 
So it goes. 
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, 
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. 
Darkness cannot drive out darkness: 
only light can do that. 
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Those of us who are in groups that are not as likely to be the subjects of police over-kill--that would be me--must, and I repeat, must, in our words, behavior, and input into our government make clear that how our police treat those in public must not be based on the color of a person's skin, or the part of town where they live.  The matter of "profiling" is not a simple issue.  If a criminal is reported as being a gray-haired man about six feet tall, I shouldn't be offended if the police stop and question me.  On the other hand those repeatedly pulled over for "Driving while Black," have a legitimate beef.  It should be responsibly addressed.
  • Finally to my friends who are in law enforcement.  Over my career as pastor I often would check a box on a form indicating that my profession is "minister."  Really, though, that is a job that God has given you.  Romans 13 tells us that those who bear the sword, the symbol and the tool of authority are "the minister[s] of God . . . for good" (v. 4).  I go back to those three words of counsel that John the Baptist shared with some Roman soldiers honest enough to ask a question that could have an answer they wouldn't like.  Underneath John's answer is the tendency that power has to corrupt.  Resist that tendency.  If you know the Lord, resist it in His power.
I hope this post will bring about some profitable discussion.  If your comments are helpful and respectful, I'll be glad to post them.

Before we go, let's pray together.

"Lord, we pray for those who are grieving today.  We pray for wisdom for police, mayors, governors, and our President.  We ask for self-control on the part of police.  For pastors, community leaders, parents, and other people of influence, we ask that they would speak words of peace, not incite violence.  We acknowledge, Lord, that you are the Prince of Peace.  We ask that Your will would be done, and Your kingdom would come.  As your servants, Lord, we dedicate ourselves to seeing that happen.
Amen."


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Questions, Seeking Answers: Our Current Political Situation



I have been watching the US political drama--as in soap opera--from afar. The nation of Palau, where I spent the last four months has a close relationship with the United States. For four decades following World War 2 Palau was part of a trust territory overseen by the United States. Since Palau became the fourth smallest nation in the world, Palau continues to maintain close ties with its big brother. Palauans can serve in the United States military, can go in and out of US borders with the same freedom as US citizens, are eligible to receive educational assistance, and the nation's only post office has a US zip code, 96940. Much of the island nation's government structure is modeled after America's.

A few weeks ago I had an interesting conversation. A friend and I had gone to a modest, but nice,
restaurant for lunch. It is owned by one of Palau's former presidents. As we were finishing out meal, Former President Nakamura, sat down at our table. He and my friend are well acquainted. He proceeded to introduce himself to me, and an interesting conversation ensued. Before long a question came up. "How," Mr. Nakamura wanted to know, "did the greatest nation on earth and two of the greatest political parties on earth come to this?" The "this" he referred to was the unfolding presidential campaign. The question is even more pointed now that what was only possible a few weeks ago has become all but a sure thing.

Just about every time I watch a news cast, or read a political article I see the statesman from the other side of the world looking at me with a gentle smile. His question haunts me. Indeed, how did we come to this state of affairs? The question would be troubling enough if I lived in a land ruled by a king, where the succession of leadership is determined by who is born to whom and when. In my land however, since I am involved in the choice of those who lead my nation, I have too admit that the current state of the state is not just an interesting point for discussion. It is a matter of personal responsibility.

Following the past few election cycles, I've seen bumper-stickers that proclaim, "Don't blame me. I didn't vote for ______." I suppose I could adopt that philosophy. "I'm right; if only people would have followed my example. . . ." Yes, in my land I am not only the ruled; when I go to the polling place I am the ruler. I do need to cast that vote responsibly, but is that all? How active should I be in politics? Is our current situation a confirmation of Burke's famous pronouncement? It would appear that evil will triumph in the current election cycle--the only question is which flavor of evil. Is the explanation that good men have done nothing? Am I one of those good men who spent too much time sitting on their hands?

I have a number of questions, and few answers, maybe we can help each other. I welcome your comments.

  • Some have adopted an attitude of fatalism. A friend recently posted an article by a friend of his that began, "The fact is, and this is a biblical fact...If Donald Trump is our next President, he will be there because the hand of God is on him to put him there." The same can be said about Hilary or, for that matter, we could just as well say, if the Ayatollah of Iran successfully seizes power over the USA and establishes a new caliphate it will have taken place within the sphere of God's sovereignty. Existentialist Albert Camus, in The Plague, sets up a dilemma. A plague had come. The priest in the story concluded that the plague had come has a result of God's judgment. Therefore to oppose the plague was to oppose God.
    In Old Testament Israel a particularly unscrupulous king murdered his way into power, I ask myself, "Why did God allow Jehu to become King?" My answer is, "Because Israel deserved to have Jehu for her king." (2 Kings 9-10) Still if Jehu had been running for office instead of riding in on a reign of terror, I wouldn't have voted for him. It is not right to choose evil.
  • What are the limits of what one can do with a clear conscious. I am told that Hitler was nice to little children. Is that virtue sufficient to earn my vote. Even those candidates who are very admirable are not perfect. Is there ever a mortal who is worthy of my vote. Theologian Andy Naselli thinks out loud on this one. His thoughts are worth considering. http://andynaselli.com/can-you-vote-for-donald-trump-with-a-clear-conscience
  • Russel Moore takes on the question that seems to dominate the conservative end of the current political discussion. Should a Christian vote for the lesser of two evils? You should read his thoughts, but in brief his answer is "No."  
    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/march-web-only/should-christians-vote-for-lesser-of-two-evils.html
  • It is a bit more general but Steve Cornell has some thoughts on Christians engaging with culture. Clearly how we vote is one of those points where our Christian worldview stands toe-to-toe with the culture where we live.
    https://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2016/05/06/four-reactions-to-culture/
  • Sometimes when things are bad it is good to remind yourself of some conclusions you came to when things weren't quite so bad. I reread this old piece and I think the me that is wondering what to do today needs to hear the me that spoke a while ago.
    http://howardmerrell.blogspot.com/2012/08/politics-lets-let-church-be-church.html 
I'm still thinking about the President's question.  I add another one:  What am I going to do about it?

I look forward to hearing from you.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God?

An excellent series of articles came my way.  The Occasional Bulletin is a publication that is generally only available to Evangelical Missiological Society.  Because of its broad relevance EMS made this edition available to the general public.  I'm thankful that they did.  I think anyone will profit from this discussion.  For those of us involved in any way in missions it is must read stuff.
https://www.emsweb.org/publications/occasional-bulletin  Click on the download button.