Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Controversy that Keeps on Controverting:

My mother's name was Irene, Maybe that's why I aspire to be irenic. I try.
I felt bad, when I read the other day that Eugene Peterson had said in an interview that he would do a gay wedding  My negative reaction was not only that another well known influential Christian leader had announced himself to be in favor of something I, together with most of Christian thinking for two millennia, find to be not in alignment with God's word, it was that Jonathan Merritt felt compelled to ask the question. I mean, come on, Peterson is eighty-four years old. As far as I know, he's never been a culture warrior. Couldn't he have gotten a pass on this one? Of course, he could have taken a pass. Just because a question is asked it doesn't mean that an answer must be given. But again, he's not as young as he once was. Is he as sharp as he used to be? In another article released the next day, Peterson said, "When put on the spot by this particular interviewer, I said yes in the moment." He went on to say, "I would like to retract that. That’s not something I would do out of respect to the congregation, the larger church body, and the historic biblical Christian view and teaching on marriage."
One's position on gay-marriage is the "Gotcha Question" of the hour. It's obvious that Merritt's piece is not long enough to add anything to the extensive discussion that has gone on for the past five, ten years, or longer. No attempt is made in Merritt's piece to differentiate between gay in the sense of homo-erotic desire, the way Wesley Hill describes it in his book Washed and Waiting, or the way the term is commonly used in our culture as both desire and practice. One can make the point that the introduction of marriage clearly implies the latter, but was Peterson keeping up?  Is that distinction recognized by everyone who reads the article? Maybe his mind is as sharp as my Uncle's pocket knife, but I know that as soon as that question came up he either had to shut it down or start juggling several balls at once. Shutting down the conversation isn't free either. Do a web search on "refuses to answer question on gay marriage," and note what comes up. It's tough. Exegetes will parse your words, culture warriors from both sides will take aim, and, this is where it really hurts, people we love may get hurt. I want to speak the truth, but I want to choose when and how. In todays omni-connected world I never who is listening/reading, and I can't assume that someone isn't.
As hard as it is, Peterson should have said, "No comment."
Better, Merritt, knowing that his interview wasn't going to contribute anything to an important discussion, and realizing that asking the question would just cause a good guy grief, should have asked no question.
The next day Peterson released the article I mentioned above. It is an attempt to put toothpaste back in the tube. You can't do it. You just make a mess trying. Today I saw on my Facebook feed that some folk couldn't resist pointing out that Peterson had white goo all over him. Jake Meador wrote a piece that appeared under the "Christianity Today" banner. Actually, I think it is a good article, except . . . Meador could have made his point without kicking a guy while he is down. I guess I'm just naive. I don't move in the circle of those who publish books and have a huge international following, but I don't see why the ethics, or the importance of kindness, mercy and restraint are any different in that world than in the world I can see as I peer out through my keyhole. At the risk of being judgmental, the only reason I see for using Peterson's name in the otherwise worthwhile article is using the name of the famous author and Bible translator, caught with his foot in his mouth and toothpaste on his shirt, would increase C.T. and Meador's reach. The condemnation of one failure should not be built on a platform of failure to show love and respect to a brother, especially one at the end of a productive life.
A wise man who has been a member of the church I pastored all my adult life said on several occasions, "The more you stir in it, the worse it smells." Guys, let's quit stirring in this one.

(For what it's worth if you type in, or click on, some of the key words in the search engine on this blog, you'll find that I've wrestled and written several times on gender issues. Since I'm not always careful to use labels there are probably more. If you find some let me know. I'll add the labels. My other reader will appreciate it.)

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Church, Messy As It Is, It's God's Plan, For Now, And For The Future

After a lifetime of pastoral ministry in a small town church, I'm called on to teach a class on theEcclesiology: after four decades +  of preaching, counseling, marrying, burying, weeping, rejoicing, seeing people leave for wonderful reasons--as in Great Commission--and dealing with others who left for all sorts of bad reasons, working through Mondays when I wanted to leave, and enjoying other times when I couldn't imagine ever doing anything else (obviously, the latter pretty much won), I need to figure how to incorporate that experience into a few class sessions, without allowing who I am to hijack what I'm tasked to do--actually teach ecclesiology, not talk about the old days. As I look back on my real-life experience, work through what I'm doing now--getting ready to teach a class at Pacific Islands University--and look forward to what is next--the second half of the class is eschatology (last things)--I find myself again thinking, "The church is this world's last best hope."
church and last things, some 8,000 miles from home.
As I was working on the syllabus for the class, my daughter-in-law, a pastor's wife, sent me this article. Especially, if you are part of the leadership of a church, I encourage you to read it. (If you're old enough to remember the song, don't let the title discourage you.)
Ephesians 5 tells us that God's plan for the Bride of Christ, the church, is to make her a "church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless" (Eph 5:27).  I can assure you, whether you look at the church as a worldwide entity, or you evaluate any local assembly of Christ-followers, she ain't there yet. Don't be discouraged, though. The Church is still the tool God is using to accomplish His purpose. She is an essential part of guiding this world, and each of us, to the destiny God has planned.
The Church: it's what God is doing in the here and now, leading to making all of creation what it ought to be. That's worth thinking about. If you can, I invite you to enroll as a student or auditor in THEO 302, June 26-August 11, Write me at the address below and I can get in touch with people who can help you do that. I know that for most of you, showing up in Mangilao Guam three times a week is going to be kind of hard. If you would like, though, I'll give you some reading you can do so you can study on your own. (Some of it will involve buying some books. Some will be handouts that I'll send you for free. Begin with the article linked below. It's part of my introduction.) If you are interested, send me a note at

Pray for your church, your pastor(s), the church; and I'd appreciate you praying for Pacific Islands University, and for me and my students as we work through THEO 302.

Love the One You’re With

In spite of a couple of horribly run-on sentences, no English teachers were actually harmed in the production of this blog post.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Review of Roger Olson's book, The Essentials of Christian Thought

Roger Olson will be familiar to many readers through his blog on Patheos. This is where I came to know him. You can read more of his biographical data there. It will suffice to say here that Olson grew up in a staunchly Christian home, and kept what is best from that background. He describes himself as "a Christian theologian of the evangelical Baptist persuasion.  I am also a proud Arminian!  And I’m influenced by Pietism."  While I often disagree with Olson, I find his passion for ordering life and scholarship on a right understanding of the Bible refreshing.  When I read that his book on Christian thought was soon to be published (here), I was intrigued. I'm glad I purchased a copy, and I recommend it.

As a small town pastor, I didn't use the word "metaphysics" often, yet, in the way that Olson uses the word in Essentials, I was constantly dealing with the concept. "This book proposes to help especially Christians devoted to the Bible as God’s Word understand its implicit philosophy of reality— what is really real behind and beyond appearances. And it proposes to help them distinguish between the Bible’s implicit vision of reality and competing ones— some of which are sometimes even labeled “Christian” or “compatible with Christianity” (p, 9). Those of you who know my recent history will understand why Olson's secondary purpose intrigued me. "A secondary purpose of this book is to provide administrators and faculty members of Christian institutions of higher education with a relatively simple elucidation of the “faith” part of “faith-learning integration”— a central reason for such institutions’ existence" (p. 9). 

Olson frequently mentions a line from Alfred North Whitehead, "Christianity is a religion seeking a metaphysic. . . ." Olson is not alone in observing that over the past two millennia Christian thinkers have borrowed metaphysical systems from various schools of philosophy. Olson's contention is that while the Bible does not present a metaphysical system in a direct systematic way, the text of scripture is infused with a clear view of what ultimate reality is.

The thesis of this book is that, while philosophy can be helpful for answering questions the Bible does not answer, two considerations must be made. First, the Bible is not devoid of any metaphysical vision of ultimate reality; it implies one and that is easily discernable if one does not approach the Bible with a wrong assumption (e.g., that narrative cannot imply a metaphysic). Second, discerning that biblical metaphysic is a matter of looking behind the narrative at what it assumes about ultimate reality. There a clear vision of ultimate reality is apparent to any discerning reader looking for it. That clear biblical vision of ultimate reality is, as already expressed, the supernatural, personal (but not human) God of Israel and of Jesus Christ. . . . (p. 140-41)
In Essentials Olson points out where this borrowing has led to what he regards as pollution of the stream of Christian thought. Quoting from one of his "guides," Edmond La Beaume Cherbonnier, "aspects of extrabiblical philosophy have crept into and corrupted Christian theology over the centuries and still does so today" (pp. 88-89). Olson also briefly articulates his view of what the Bible presents as the ultimate view of reality. He compares this Biblical view with other popular views. And, though he denies that his is a book of apologetics, he upholds the Biblical view as superior over all the alternatives. In the later endeavor, Olson makes use of a word coined by Emil Brunner, "eristics." He gives a brief, practical definition on page 106, "[W]hen set alongside alternative worldviews, Christian philosophy is superior."

As pointed out at the beginning of this article, Olson is Arminian in his theology. Another of his books is Against Calvinism. As is to be expected, his Theological orientation comes through in Essentials. While those of a Calvinist persuasion will find some of Olson's thoughts along these lines troubling, perhaps even provoking, in the end, they are worth considering. Olson does not merely bluster about his Theological orientation, he raises thoughtful observations and questions. Even those of us who end up disagreeing with Olson concerning parts of his presentation will find ourselves sharper for the experience. I found Olson's book to be less a lecture, and more a long conversation over coffee. Not only did I find it intellectually stimulating, I enjoyed the read.
Toward the later part of the book a key theme began to be clear to me. Rather than try to put it in my words, I'll let Olson state it himself.
The biblical narrative . . . implies that God’s sovereignty . . . permits room for human free will as the power of alternative choice— the ability to do otherwise than God wishes. Everywhere God blames people for their sins, not himself. Their hardness of heart is their own doing, not God’s. Reason not only strains to accept the paradox offered up by divine determinists; it breaks apart when attempting to embrace both absolute, all-controlling divine sovereignty and human responsibility for sin. Also, extreme versions of God’s sovereignty such as divine determinism cannot avoid verging close to pantheism or what some philosophers call theopanism— the idea that God is all there really is; all is merely an extension of God. Without some degree of creaturely autonomy and freedom the ontological interval between God and creation so crucial to Christian metaphysics threatens to close. (p. 229)
. . . God’s freely chosen creation of free cocreators.  This is a paradox but not a contradiction.  It implies risk on God’s part. . . . this is all based on God’s voluntary self-limitation or self-restriction of power as explained earlier. . . . [T]he Bible and the best of Christian thought view history as an “unpredictable invention of two separate liberties bound together in a common enterprise.” (p. 231)
To interject a bit of my own musings for a moment, that concept of God taking a risk, exists at the far edge of my thinking about things Divine. Yet it is unmistakeable that such concepts--perhaps anthropomorphic, something Olson denies--do exist in Scripture. "Because of sin, then, human freedom must be understood as power of contrary choice granted by God in an act of awful love and risk— for the sake of fellowship" (p. 232). At this point Olson is close to Open Theism, a view that he in another place rejects. This is one of the "I need to think about this some more." points that abound in this book. It is one of the reasons that I plan to read it again.

I read the Kindle version of Essentials of Christian Thinking. I found it easy to read. The search feature in the Kindle version is useful. I don't know whether the print version has an index. The Kindle version does not. If my review is not sufficient to persuade you to purchase the book--something I find hard to believe--and you find yourself at a Christian bookstore, or you have opportunity to look at a friend's copy, I would encourage you to read the appendix (p. 235). It will enable you to see whether you want to read the book or not.

ZONDERVAN The Essentials of Christian Thought Copyright © 2017 by Roger E. Olson

Olson, Roger E.; Olson, Roger E.. The Essentials of Christian Thought: Seeing Reality through the Biblical Story. Zondervan. Kindle Edition.


Introduction: Why This Book

  1. Knowing Christianly: Seeing Reality through the Biblical Story Interlude 1 [Modernity/Postmodernity]
  2. Ultimate Reality Is Supernatural and Personal (But Not Human)
    Interlude 2 [Clearing up some misconceptions]
  3. The Biblical Vision of Ultimate Reality Retrieved
    Interlude 3 [Philosophy, Apologetics, Paradox]
  4. Non-Biblical, Non-Christian Views of Reality
    Interlude 4 [". . . the generic Greek philosophy of the educated elite of the Roman Empire . . . is the metaphysical philosophy that has most often and most profoundly influenced Christian thought"]
  5. The Biblical-Christian View of Ultimate Reality: God
    Interlude 5 ["If Yahweh God, the Lord, is ultimate, absolute reality upon which everything else, outside of God, is dependent, how can God be conditioned or limited in any way? How can the metaphysical ultimate reality be vulnerable?"] 
  6. The Biblical-Christian Perspective on the World
    Interlude 6 ["Has science replaced metaphysics in the modern world?"]
  7. Biblical-Christian Humanism
    Interlude 7 [Questions of Freedom and Sin]
  8. Appendix: A Model for the Integration of Faith and Learning

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Insuring the Citizens of "X"

(Normally, I'm not very political here. My intention today is not primarily to put forth a political position, but to encourage a civil, sensible conversation. No doubt the ruminations of my mythical king, and my thoughts that follow, leave much out. That's what the comment box is for. If the comments are civil, and based on sound thinking--not only emotion--I'll be glad to post them even if I disagree. After all there is the remote possibility that I could be wrong.)

Let us suppose that I am King of the Kingdom of X. The latest population census indicates that there are ten citizens in my kingdom. Six of my citizens are married. Two lovely couples are still childless. The other husband and wife have grown children who have gone out of our kingdom. They live in Y, Z, or somewhere. There is a widow and widower, lovely older folk. I won't be surprised to be asked to preside over another wedding. The grand matriarch of the kingdom is one-hundred and seventeen. She gave up mountain climbing last year. After she returns from a bike trek to the neighboring kingdoms, she will return to her job as librarian of the Kingdom. Some folk tell me she is getting to be a bit forgetful. Perhaps in five or ten years we'll need to build a nursing home for her.
Then there is Jack the Tenth. He drinks, a lot. He insists on riding his big Howard Davidson motorcycle without wearing a helmet. When he goes down the road there is more smoke that comes from his cigarette than from his bike. Sometimes he smokes some weed that he buys in the Kingdom of Colorado. He says it makes his rides prettier. The kingdom just bought its first ambulance, just in case.
As a benevolent sovereign I want to make sure that my subjects are well cared for, so I'm going to provide what the Kingdom of C calls Universal health care. My kingdom isn't rich--we are still making payments on that ambulance--so I have to figure out a way to pay for it.
My Royal Accountant tells me that we could easily cover eight of our citizens for $10/month. If they all pay. If we knew for sure that Sarah the Matriarch would die in her sleep at home, we could do the same for her, but, there is that nursing home. Then there is Jack the 10th.
"I'm consulting with Count Adrenaline of the Kingdom of Chaos, to come up with an estimate for him. It ain't gonna be cheap or pretty, though."
Bob, one of the young husbands in my kingdom is a sharp lad. He approached me the other day. He
wants to start an insurance company. He might even sell policies in Y & Z. He said for folk like Sam & Sally, the other young couple, he could provide complete coverage for $8/month including agreeing to pay for costs related to the birth of their child, which is about a sure thing. While we were talking the smell of burnt fuel and tobacco wafted through the window, accompanied by the roar of the Howie.
"Him? . . . wouldn't touch him with a ten-foot pencil, no matter how sharp."

OK, my fairy-tale has gone far enough. In the real world not only are the numbers of citizens far greater, the complexity of issues is exponentially greater. Having said that, though, can't we just admit that there are several elephants in the room.

  • Some people are a far greater risk than others. Much of that divide lines up with the divide of old and young.
  • If everyone is going to be insured, the healthy, at least for a time, are going to have to put more in the system, probably much more, than they take out.
  • If there is a government mandate--that means the government can punish you if you don't participate--then those who choose a healthy lifestyle are forced to subsidize those who live foolishfully, or dare I say it, "evil-ly."
  • For an insurance company to say I can insure these healthy, young people for $X, but if I include these unhealthy old people it will cost $X x Y, is not necessarily cruel or a sign of callousness. It is reality.
  • If there is a blanket mandate that anyone can sign up for insurance at anytime without consideration for pre-existing conditions, how is that different than allowing someone to buy a car insurance policy ten minutes after the wreck?
    Compassion and common sense have to have an intelligent conversation on this one.
  • Whether the coverage is single-payer, or as it used to be called "socialized medicine," or provided by businesses, the reality is, it is still a form of insurance. Somehow sufficient money must be collected to pay for what is spent for the care people need. Deciding whether government or business can do it best is a conversation that needs to take place. 
  • There is a limit to how much we can squeeze health-care providers. If fixing plumbing in bathrooms pays better than fixing the plumbing in our chests, guess which career the best and brightest will choose.
Our new President has already begun to "dismantle" the Affordable Care Act. The rhetoric is about to get deeper than the pile of bills one gets after a major surgery. It's important not only that we play nice, but that our conversation be governed by clear thinking.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

When Was Jesus Born?

A Facebook post reminded me of the question that comes up every year.  When was Jesus really born?
It is more complicated than we think.
About ten years ago I did some research on the subject for a message series we were doing.  I slightly cleaned up my notes:

(At this time my son and his family lived in Kazahkstan.) In a short time when my grandson asks his mom and dad, “When is Christmas?” the answer could be quite complicated.  Many of Nancy & Chris’s new neighbors will recognize Christmas as being on January 7, while those who have been more influenced by the West will go with December 25.  A friend of mine who lives in Ukraine tells me that many of his Ukrainian friends celebrate both days.  That would be an option that I’m sure Kira & Silas would find attractive.

So, what is the right day? 
            Both, neither, either, whatever.

Have you ever wondered when you looked at a calendar, who figured all this out and made it work?
Well, in 46 BC good old Julius Caesar introduced a calendar that became known as the Julian Calendar.  In order to get things to work out right, the year 46 BC, or as the Romans reckoned time it was the year 708—they began counting time from the founding of Rome--was 445 days long.  Julius’s calendar actually began in 709/45.
The problem with the Julian Calendar is that they figured that a year was 365
1/4 days long.  That is just a little too long.  Under the Julian calendar there were 100 leap years every 400 years.  In our system there are only 97.  As far as you getting to work on time tomorrow, none of this matters, but when you are talking a couple of millennia it adds up.
Some astronomers  recognized the problem and in 1582 Pope—keep that title in mind—Gregory the XIII decreed the new Gregorian calendar.  Various countries adopted the new calendar at different times.
*      Our ancestors here in America, continued to use the Julian Calendar until 1752, Wednesday, Sept. 2 was followed by Thurs. Sept. 14, just to get things to work out.
*      When we bought Alaska from the Russians, they were still using the old calendar, so folk there in the snowy north went to bed on Friday Oct. 6, and woke up on Friday Oct. 18.
*      Greece was the last country in the world to adopt the "Gregorian" Calendar, in 1923.

Though the nations of the world finally agreed on what day it is, the churches still haven’t.   You remember it was Pope Gregory who . . .

The Eastern Orthodox churches who had split from the Catholic Church or was it the other way around—actually they excommunicated each other—weren’t about to  . . .
So to this day they continue to follow the Julian Calendar, at least in part.  (You can find out more than you want to know, here & here.)   
Actually in church history there are several dates that have been considered the appropriate dates for the recognition of Christ’s birth:
*      Clement of Alexandria suggesting the 20th of May
*      Later, in 243, the official feast calendar of the time, De Pascha Computus, places the date of Christ's birth as March 28.
*      Other dates suggested were April 2 and November 18.
*      You can find articles claiming September 11 or 29.

Well, you say, we don’t know the day or maybe even the month, but at least we know the year.  It was zero, right?
BC goes backward up to Jesus birth, and AD starts counting forward after His birth, so Jesus was born at zero.

No, there is no year zero . . .
. . . It’s not even the year one.

Have you ever needed to time something, but you forgot to start your watch when the event began?
So you started your watch when you thought of it and then kind of estimated how much time had already passed.  So you had an accurate count, plus an estimate.  No matter how accurate your time is since you started the stopwatch, your over all timing is only as good as the estimate you made.

It might seem obvious that Jesus was born in the year 1 (of the Christian era, AD, Anno Domini). However, the Christian calendar was only developed around 500 years later, and it took another 500 years before it was generally accepted. As it happens, the Monk (named Dionysius Exiguus) who developed the concept, was apparently off in his calculations by around 4 years, as to exactly when Jesus was born. This results in the fact that Jesus was apparently born in around 4 BC, an odd statement!

The actual calendar that was used during Jesus' life was the Roman calendar. His family would have described His birth to have occurred in (probably/about) 750 AUC.  (This website published by the Roman Catholic Church gives a good summary.)

The fact is there really is no definitive statement.  Conclusions are drawn from various pieces of evidence:
The death of Herod the Great & an eclipse that is mentioned in association with his death.
The beginning of the building of the Great Temple in Jerusalem.
Astronomical phenomena, etc.
The evidence leads to somewhere between 4 & 6BC.

While we may not be able to name the date of Jesus birthday, we do know when it was in a far more significant way.

Look at Gal. 4:4
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, Galatians 4:4

So what is the answer to the question, “When was Jesus born?”  He was born in the fullness of time—when the time was right.  

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Is Perception Reality? A Question for our current situation:

I have been following the reports of demonstrations, riots, emotional distress, etc. that has come an aftermath of the recent election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence.  I've also read and heard a good bit of reaction to these events.  For any who don't know me, I need to let you know that I'm in the heart of the demographic that is being talked about in many of these stories.  I'm White, conservative, Christian, straight, and from the Bible belt.  I'll try to not be scary.
Some of those who live in my cultural neighborhood have responded to the post-election reports with a combination of law-and-order rhetoric, and counsel that basically amounts to "just grow up."  I haven't been without my opinions, especially about looting and/or destruction of property, but I have tried to do something that I think all of us need to do more of--I'm trying to listen.
Sitting in my warm and comfortable living room this morning it occurs to me that a mantra that I have been reciting concerning a ministry I'm involved in probably has some relevance in the current situation in my world:


Now I'm not getting all New Age-y here.  For one thing the "New Age" is old enough to be on Medicare (and since it is sick it needs to be).  I have railed against concepts like, "If you can dream it you can do it."  I know there is a certain motivational factor to this kind of statement, but I have been around long enough to also see the truth behind this cynical view from
What I mean when I say "Perception is Reality," is if I am going to build any kind of positive relationship with people who have a different view of what is going on around us than I do, I need to grant their view a measure of legitimacy.  Say I'm having a pretty good day.  My caffeine intake is about right.  I haven't gotten any audit notices from the IRS, and the sun is shining.  In my bliss, perhaps ignorant bliss, I greet my friend, "Hi.  How are you?"  My friend clearly doesn't get that my question was a courtesy, a greeting more than a request for information, and proceeds to spew forth a stream of that witch is dark and painful.  At this point let's assume that I really do care about my friend.  I really would like to have a relationship with him going forward.  How will that best be achieved?
  • By immediately pointing out why I think his view of reality is utterly wrong?
  • By questioning his maturity, intelligence, and/or spirituality?
  • By uttering some feel-good platitude?  (The cartoon is offered tongue in cheek, but it make a point.)  Or,
  • Taking a moment to listen to my friend.
In the end I may conclude that my friend is utterly wrong, or I may totally understand why my friend has such a dark view on such a sunny day.  Either way, if I start by listening, I have laid a foundation that could lead to productive conversation.  I can tell you by experience--experience in which I am the bad-guy--that the other three responses don't lead to that opportunity.  At least they aren't likely to.
The way others perceive reality, is the reality that has to be dealt with in getting along with those
others.  When others see reality in the same way I do, that appears to be non-problematic.  I say "appears" because our world is becoming more and more a series of echo-chambers, side by side, each surrounded by totally sound proof walls.  We hear only those who say the same thing we say.  Too often, when we venture out of the realm where all is agreeable, all we do is shout what is constantly said in our group.  We are like kids throwing at rocks at each other.  Most miss, or hit us somewhere that causes little pain, but there is a scar, somewhere under the little hair I have left, that bears witness to the reality that they don't all miss.  Some draw blood.  My Granny was right to discipline my cousin and me, not just because she hit me--boy that girl could throw--but because throwing rocks at each other is not something civilized people do.  Neither is a lot of what I see on the news, or read on Facebook.
Don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying that we should surrender our intellect and act as if things that matter don't.  What I am saying is that out of the things that matter it is difficult to find anything that matters any more than another human being.  Listen to James, again.

. . . the tongue [I think we can extend this other forms  of communication].
It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.
Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father,
and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. . .
blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth.
Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!
(James 3:8–10, NLT)

So, I've been working hard to stay out of the mudslinging business.

It doesn't help.  It just muddies things up.  I'm trying to hear.  I've read articles that forced me to my dictionary, and compelled me to go back and read paragraphs again.  I've read stuff that took pages to say, "I don't like this!"--the election, the demonstrations, etc..  I often don't agree with either--at least not completely.  I am, however, working to hear those on all sides.  I'm not saying that each of us
can create our own reality, but in the realm of, to quote that great philosopher Rodney King, just getting along, I have to start with the reality that at this moment what my friend is saying is reality as he sees it.
Like Frasier, I'm listening.  Or, at least I'm trying.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Historic Election: Now What?

In our nation this morning, you can hear a collective “Wow!” 

"The most stunning political upset in American history."
That's how ABC News commentator George Stephanopoulos described Donald Trump's victory.

One commentator speaking about how we—the talking heads on TV—got it so wrong, said, “Pollilng broken.”  Indeed as we look at not only the two candidates in this contentious campaign, but the methodology behind them, it shows clearly that, in spite of our best efforts, we are not nearly so in control as we would like to think.  The losing campaign was powered by an incredibly sophisticated data-driven, computer aided, algorithm guided, scientific process.  The winning campaign was run by a man’s gut.  (No pun intended, but if a bit of humor helps, go with it.)  It kind of reminds me of the John Henry statue a few miles from where I sit.  On this night, man beat machine.  Since most of us had already accepted that the machine couldn’t be beaten, we find it a bit un-nerving.
Just this past Monday I was talking to a fellow pastor.  Like me, he sees the man who is now our President-elect as a flawed individual.  He articulated his support, not of this candidate, but of the platform that he represents.  He articulated why he would vote for Donald Trump.  He articulated about seven points—prolife concerns, gender issues, a desire to see a proper respect for law, etc.—all had to do with matters concerning which God’s word speaks; none had to do with prejudice or ill-will toward any group of people.  My friend wanted the outcome that has come to pass, but toward the end of our conversation he said, “I really feel that Secretary Clinton is going to win.”  Then there are those who were so invested in a Clinton-Kaine victory that they couldn’t imagine any other outcome.  As I listen to the morning-after commentary words like shock, seismic, bomb-shell, and greatest-upset dominate the reports.  How should we as God’s people be God’s people in this critical time?
From my position I heard from fellow-Christians over the past few months who were, on the one hand, clearly in favor of a Trump victory, and other—equally Godly, in-love-with-Jesus—sisters and brothers who rather passionately were opposed.  Many of my friends concluded that they could vote for neither of the two leading candidates.  I won’t be surprised to find out that my name was written-in somewhere.  Because of the computer-driven ability to track and crunch numbers, we not only know the big, important, number—who has the most Electoral College votes—but all kinds of other statistics.  As a result we see the deep divisions that exist within our nation more clearly than ever.  There is a knee-jerk reaction to this kind of shocking outcome.  On the one hand those on the winning side can have a tendency to look at those groups who “opposed this historic victory” and seek ways to make them pay.  On the other hand, it is easy for those who did not win the day to be on the “See, I told you so.” watch.  A recent “60 Minutes” piece fleshes out the observation that 82% of Americans were disgusted with the recent political campaign.  (I warn you, in speaking frankly, some of the folk in this focus group express themselves using words of which I don’t approve.)  Frank Luntz’s words, especially what he said at the end of the piece, are worth considering.  Far more eloquent than the pollster, are the words of Abraham Lincoln at his second inaugural.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations” (Lincoln).

This is true about us as a nation.  It is absolutely indisputable for us who are part of the body of Christ.  Many of us—others with far more eloquence than me--have said for months, now, that we need to remember—no, we need to militantly cling to the reality—that all of us who by God’s grace have been made new creatures in Christ have something in common that supersedes anything that might divide us.  Scott McKnight, on this historic morning, stood to lead us in prayer.  I encourage you to join him.
There is a low spot in the bed.  Unless we resist we’ll roll into it.  The tendency is abundantly clear in the 60 Minutes excerpt above.  We tend to look for what is worst in the motives of those on the other side.  I heard it come out clearly in some of the comments that were made by dedicated Hillary/Kaine supporters as it became clear that they were not going to win the day.  “I guess there are more people who support bigotry and xenophobia, than there are who support the dignity of all people”  (That is not an exact quotation, but an honest attempt to capture what I heard.).  I know John MacArthur is, himself, a polarizing person.  I ask you to set that aside for a moment.  I was surprised that he spoke with a clarity with which I was not comfortable, even as a former pastor.  He does, however, articulate the carefully parsed reasoning that entered into not only his decision, but a great many Christians’.  I don’t doubt that such people are out there, but I will say clearly that I did not hear any supporters say anything remotely like, “I support Donald Trump because I hate ______,” or, “because I want to see ______, put down, discriminated against, etc.”  Likewise I heard none of the Hillary/Kaine supporters say, “I want to kill babies.”  Sure, the ideas that each candidate espoused—indeed, the ideas that motivate each of us—have consequences, and it is entirely appropriate for us to point where the way one thinks leads, it is, however, very important that we avoid rhetoric that enflames, and rather seek to engage in conversation that enlightens.

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt,
 so that you may know how you ought to answer each person”
(Col 4:6, ESV).

Let’s be careful about how we talk in the days ahead.  Like David, let’s pray that God will guard our speech.  “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3)
Let me again quote from our Sixteenth president.

“Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.” 

God has His own purposes, and, I add, His purposes are not necessarily ours, and we don’t have them figured out.  (Read Romans 11:34-36.)
Let me close what is a fairly gloomy post with an invitation to watch a beautiful sunrise.  No, what I speak of has nothing to do with which candidate or which party prevailed yesterday; it has to do with the end of the Bible.  I read the end of the book, and God wins.  This is one of those times when it is easier than on other occasions to believe God’s sovereignty.  I find myself clinging to that reality, this morning, like a person grasps a piece of flotsam after a shipwreck. 

Hold on tightly, child of God.  He will not forsake His own.