Thursday, September 21, 2017

Are There Lessons for America from the 1950’s?

Reminders of the era of the 1950's.
I am a member of the “baby boomers,” representing children born from roughly the end of World War II to the period of the early 1960’s.  While American culture in this era was not without need of moral and spiritual revival, many would consider the 1940’s and 1950’s as one of the most favorable times in which to grow up as a child in America.   For the sake of brevity, I will refer to this era, which encompassed my elementary school years, as “the 1950’s.”

So, I was interested to learn that two university professors have published an op-ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer entitled, “Paying the price for breakdown of the country's bourgeois culture.”  Amy Wax is the Robert Mundheim professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School; and, Larry Alexander is the Warren distinguished professor at the University of San Diego School of Law.

Wax and Alexander open their article with what many of us would agree is a pretty accurate summary of the current state of socio-economic affairs in America today:

Too few Americans are qualified for the jobs available. Male working-age labor-force participation is at Depression-era lows. Opioid abuse is widespread. Homicidal violence plagues inner cities. Almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers. Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries. 

"I don't shrink from the word 'superior'." -- Dr. Amy Wax 
The authors admit that the ”causes of these phenomena are multiple and complex, but implicated in these and other maladies is the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture.”  Although the term “bourgeois” generally means “middle class,” it can also suggest values of materialism, pro-capitalism, and anti-communism.  Wax and Alexander may be using the term “bourgeois” in their title to grab attention, but their intent is to call readers to consider the merits of “1950’s middle-class values” which they outline as follows:

Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.
Evidence of moral decline in America.

According to the two law professors, these cultural values “reigned” in the era of the 1950’s for two reasons.  They “could be followed by people of all backgrounds and abilities,” and they were “backed up by almost universal endorsement.”  The principle assertion of the authors is that adherence to these values and disciplines “was a major contributor to the productivity, educational gains, and social coherence of that period.”

As if to anticipate the skepticism and pessimism of our divided culture, Wax and Alexander quickly admit that not everyone of the 1950’s era adhered to these values: 

There are always rebels--and hypocrites, those who publicly endorse the norms but transgress them. But…even the deviants rarely disavowed or openly disparaged the prevailing expectations.  Was everything perfect during the period of bourgeois cultural hegemony?  Of course not.  There was racial discrimination, limited sex roles, and pockets of anti-Semitism.  However, steady improvements for women and minorities were underway even when bourgeois norms reigned.  Banishing discrimination and expanding opportunity does not require the demise of bourgeois culture.  Quite the opposite: The loss of bourgeois habits seriously impeded the progress of disadvantaged groups.  That trend also accelerated the destructive consequences of the growing welfare state, which, by taking over financial support of families, reduced the need for two parents.  A strong pro-marriage norm might have blunted this effect. Instead, the number of single parents grew astronomically, producing children more prone to academic failure, addiction, idleness, crime, and poverty.

Whether or not you agree with Wax and Alexander, most readers will not be surprised at the harsh manner in which their article was received.  And if it were not enough for the authors to laud the values the values of the 1950’s, they also claim that “All cultures are not equal. Or at least they are not equal in preparing people to be productive in an advanced economy.” 

Note that the authors are not saying one culture is better than another--only better at preparing human beings to have productive lives in the cultural context within which they will live.  Nevertheless, in several articles, including articles in the U. Penn student newspaper, the Daily Pennsylvanian, the authors are accused of using “hate speech” and preaching “white supremacy.”  One of these articles, entitled “Notions of 'bourgeois' cultural superiority are based on bad history,” was written by five of Amy Wax’s own law faculty colleagues at U. Penn.  Imagine that occurring to you as a professor at the beginning of a new academic year. 

Professor Dorothy E. Roberts and colleagues consider Wax and Alexander’s “nostalgia for the 1950’s ‘bourgeois’ culture” to be “bad history” and compare it to a defense of Confederate statues that promote white supremacy.   They add that, “nostalgia for 1950’s ‘bourgeois’ culture erases its historical context and serves as a thinly veiled argument for… Anglo-Protestant superiority….”

In defense of Amy Wax and “1950’s values,” Heather Mac Donald, asks readers of National Review:

Were you planning to instruct your child about the value of hard work and civility?  Not so fast!  According to a current uproar at the University of Pennsylvania, advocacy of such bourgeois virtues is “hate speech.”  

Mac Donald then points out the flawed and biased approach of Roberts et al and other liberal progressives who view “1950’s values” with disdain and who accuse Wax and Alexander of promoting cultural bias and racial supremacy.  Mac Donald summarizes by putting her finger on what she calls the “primary sin” of Wax and Alexander—the need to change human behavior with emphasis on individual responsibility:

The op-ed’s primary sin was to talk about behavior. The founding idea of contemporary progressivism is that structural and individual racism lies behind socioeconomic inequalities. Discussing bad behavioral choices and maladaptive culture is out of bounds and will be punished mercilessly by slinging at the offender the usual fusillade of “isms” (to be supplemented, post-Charlottesville, with frequent mentions of “white supremacy”).  The fact that underclass behaviors are increasingly common among lower-class whites, and not at all limited to poor blacks and Hispanics, might have made it possible to address personal responsibility.  That does not appear to be the case.

Some of my readers will question the notion that America ought to consider returning to the values of the 1950’s.  Questioning is a good thing--if accompanied by an objective analysis.  I hope my article does not discourage readers from doing just that. 

Some of you who may be skeptical of the Wax-Alexander assertions are not “baby boomers.” Others, like me were not yet adults during the 1950’s.  I was an elementary schoolboy who had seen little of the wider world outside my rural, farm community.  I have great memories of those years, but I was not immune from learning of moral and ethical transgressions within our family and our community.  Thankfully, God was already showing me His provision through Christ to forgive my sin, make me His child, and teach me to understand the world and His plan for me.

So, let no reader think that I look back on the 1950’s with a fog of nostalgia or with colored glasses.  Rather, I believe the articles I have cited and others are affording our nation with the opportunity to have a polite discussion and debate about what is good and redeemable about American culture of past and present, and where changes are needed.  I hope you will read the assertions of the Wax-Alexander article and of opposing articles such as Roberts et al; and, critiques such as that of Mac Donald.  I am not optimistic that a “polite discussion” will or even can happen without a moral and spiritual revival.  As long as we choose to view our history with an arrogant disdain that refuses to acknowledge the importance of individual responsibility for moral and ethical choices, there is little hope.

The Book of Proverbs teaches the connection between wise discernment by the individual and the corporate benefit of individual righteousness to the nation as a whole:

Wisdom rests in the heart of the discerning;
 it is known even in the heart of fools.
Righteousness exalts a nation,
but sin is a disgrace to any people
                               Prov. 14: 33-34 (NET Bible)

We must realize that “individual righteousness” is not “self-righteousness.”  The Bible says that all of our self-righteousness is but filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6).  Therefore, God instructs us in Titus 2:  12-14 to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us [give us right standing before a Holy God] from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.”

Heather Mac Donald does not offer much optimism for American culture.  She concludes her article asking,

What if the progressive analysis of inequality is wrong, however, and a cultural analysis is closest to the truth?  If confronting the need to change behavior is punishable “hate speech,” then it is hard to see how the country can resolve its social problems.

When I read the progressive liberal critique that considers  the mention of timeless, multicultural values like hard work, moral uprightness, and civility as “hate speech,” I am reminded of the Prophet Isaiah’s warning of coming judgment:

Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge;
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
                                                        -- Isaiah 5: 13a, 20

What About You?   Do you have good memories of the 1950’s or of reading about that era?  Do you agree with authors Amy Wax and Larry Alexander that America would benefit if we were to return to some of the values the 1950’s?   What is your answer to the hope for America as a nation, and more broadly for human civilization?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Faith at Work in a Hurricane-Ravaged America

Irma flooding in Charleston, SC
Many Americans who have been concerned about and praying for hurricane-ravaged areas in TX, LA, and FL are encouraged to see whole neighborhoods, churches, and local and federal agencies coming together as never before to provide assistance. Faith-based groups have exercised a particularly large role in the recovery effort in Texas and Louisiana. According to the The Daily Caller, “Faith-based relief groups are responsible for providing nearly 80 percent of the aid delivered thus far to communities with homes devastated by the recent hurricanes.”

I was surprised to see that the contribution from people of faith was this large. Even though televised news has provided accounts of how Christian and other faiths are working heroically, much of the attention seems to center on government agencies, particularly FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).   Josh Gill, writing for the The Daily Caller, uses the dominant role of faith-based groups to make the point that once again the private sector is outdoing the government.  Gill writes, “Christian non-profit organizations have outdone FEMA and provided the vast majority of the relief aid to victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.”

While statistics may support Gill’s opening statement to his article, I was glad to read in Gill’s article that the real issue is not competition between private sector and big government or between faith-based and secular groups.  Instead, Gill emphasizes the cooperation between these groups in a wonderful, complementary relationship that reflects the evidence that the Spirit of Christ is at work in these acts of compassion, generosity, and sacrifice.

Still, it is easy for those of us who consider ourselves political and social conservatives to relish stories that demonstrate how private enterprise outdoes big government.  Cheryl K. Chumley of the The Washington Times writes that “…people who put God first, people who are committed to serving Jesus, people who are driven by a moral compass that comes from above, are the real doers and shakers and movers — the ones who see a need and respond.  The Big Government types?  They see a need and dial their lawmaker — call for a committee hearing — petition for a study.  It’s only after they navigate the hoops, and fill out the proper forms, they respond.”

While Chumley’s contrast between Christ-followers and “Big Government types” can be supported by comparisons of amount given to charitable causes, I am more encouraged by the fact that the hurricanes are providing opportunity for Americans of all persuasions to strive for understanding and cooperation.  On the one hand, there is no doubt that God means what He says in His Word  that “without faith, it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11: 6).  This truth means that if Christ were to return today while Christ-followers are working alongside Christ-denier’s at a hurricane recovery site, only the Christ-followers by their faith in Christ's shed blood “…will be caught up together with [other Christ-followers] in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air… (v. 17).”  But on the other hand, this promise of sins forgiven and assurance of eternity with God ought to make the believer all the more Christ-like toward other believers and toward unbelievers as they serve together in needy neighborhoods.

In this spirit of unity, purpose, and compassion, Christ-followers who work cooperatively among unbelievers or people of other faiths can be the salt and light that Christ calls us to be (Matthew 5: 13-16).  Chumley explains how this biblical principle has influenced true Christ-followers and in so doing, has made America great in years past:

America’s greatness was, is and always will be rooted in the fact that our rights come from God, not government. With that, comes a responsibility — that we conduct ourselves on an individual basis as if we believe in God. Bluntly put, it’s what the founders believed; it’s how they envisioned a moral and limited government not just shaping, but staying around a while. Happily, it’s what a large portion of America’s population today still believes.

Those who live by this kind of faith in God, understand the importance of a complementary relationship between faith-based groups and government.  Rev. Jamie Johnson, director of the Department of Homeland Security's Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships understands this principle.   The Daily Caller’s Joshua Gill quotes Johnson as follows: “FEMA cannot do what it does so well without the cooperation of faith-based non-profit organizations and churches.  It's a beautiful relationship between government and the private sector and it is something to behold."  According to Johnson, as Gill writes, “FEMA does not assign work to the state agencies or the faith-based groups.”  Rather, according to Johnson, "we affirm the work that they are already doing ... FEMA brings the groups into its national command center to work with us because they have their people on the ground."

Samaritan's Purse praised FEMA for its excellent cooperation.
Luther Harrison, vice president of North American Ministries at Samaritan’s Purse, said in USA Today, “FEMA, they have been a big blessing to us, they’re an assistance to us. For Hurricane Irma, the majority of our equipment has already been dispatched to Texas ... so our office in Canada is bringing their equipment across the border and FEMA was instrumental in helping us clear that with customs and getting all the paperwork done."

In the midst of the upended communities, flooded homes, and scattered rubble we can see a blessed unity of purpose among people of all persuasions.  After all, the grace of God is present in all human beings, and at times like these humans sometimes rise to show the character of the One Who made us and died to redeem us.  

As we remember those in hurricane-ravaged areas along our southern coast, we pray that God will protect lives and restore the material infrastructure of homes and communities.  In the process of restoration, may God bring spiritual revival to many individuals, families, communities, and our nation through the witness of people of faith serving on behalf of those in great need.  As the Apostle Peter so aptly wrote,” But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess (1 Peter 3: 15 NET).

What About You?   Comments are always welcome.  If you are considering material donation to assist hurricane recovery efforts, I would recommend Samaritan's Purse whose website is 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Extreme Protests 2: Racism as "Corporate Evil"

Thanks to those who responded through Facebook to my article, "Extreme Protests: A Monumental Opportunity."  What follows is my response, intended particularly for my friends, Stu Zaharek and Necia Fanton Bishop from whom I have learned.  I also thank my friend and former colleague, Mark Gathany for his comment and important reference to a message by Pastor Tim Keller, referenced below.

Perhaps like those who have responded, I am asking myself what kind of response a review of human history ought to evoke in me as a sinner saved by the grace and challenged to live as a Christ-follower. As such, let me add a few thoughts that reflect what I am learning from this discussion. 

There is much about world history and American history that we can be thankful for (even be “proud of”) and from which we can all learn.  But, there is much in our history that reveals the acts of sinful individuals expressed in every generation through systemic corruption and evil.  I tried to address this in my original article when I wrote:

Dismantling of a monument to Gen. Robert E. Lee 
Some of the protesters have the false hope of producing atonement, a “perfect oneness and unity,” that only God can provide.  Perhaps they believe that if they can only get all human pride, hate, and bigotry out on the public square, including all names, symbols, and monuments they associate with them, they can somehow make atonement.  Yet even well meaning efforts to rectify a history of human sin and depravity are an affront to a Holy God.  When people refuse to repent and bow before the Cross of Christ, everything else in human history becomes an unbearable weight.  What can wash away my sin?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus. 

What I was not able to see clearly in this context seems more clear to me after hearing the message of Pastor Tim Keller, which Mark Gathany added to our discussion.  It is entitled,
“Racism and Corporate Evil: A White Guy’s Perspective.”

By applying Tim Keller’s message to American history we can see that although the Founders made a noble effort to launch “the American experiment” based heavily on Judeo-Christian theism, they did not include in the U.S. Constitution the abolition of slavery. They chose not to eradicate this “corporate evil” that had fastened its hold on American morality and culture.  Yet, there was considerable anguish of soul among prominent men and women on both sides of the slavery issue, and also a sense of helplessness when they considered the immensity of the tangled web that the institution of slavery had woven, nationally and internationally.  Tim Stafford, Senior Writer for Christianity Today Magazine, has written,  “Slavery was important to the economy, both North and South.   Americans North and South also profoundly feared freeing millions of slaves. Most Americans were frankly racist; they believed Africans to be not only inferior but also dangerous if not strictly controlled.”

Most people in both the North and South wore cotton near their hearts and were therefore directly or indirectly complicit in support of slavery—what Pastor Tim Keller considers an example of “corporate evil.”  But not all Americans felt the sweat of the Negro slave against their skin when they "put on cotton."  It took the Second Great Awakening of the early 1800’s to sharpen the national conscience in regard to the evil of racism and human slavery. In spite of spiritual awakening, many people of faith in the North and South feared that Abolition was so controversial that it would tear their churches apart.  Therefore, I believe God especially prepared men in both the North and South; and among both Whites and Blacks—e.g. Lincoln and Douglass; Stowe and Tubman--who would stand in the gap in their time to lead both churches and our nation toward repentance and confession of sin, and to call for repentance and willingness to address "corporate sin."

It has been helpful for me to revisit the sin of racism and what should be done with historic monuments. Necia presented a graph of monument-building from 1870 to 1980 which has been attributed to the rise and fall of efforts to intimidate Black Americans.  Even though we know that correlation does not prove cause-and-effect, it is likely that at least some of the construction was done with intimidation in mind. However, I believe some monument construction was an expression of a nation trying find solace and reconciliation through the memory of some people and places in an otherwise painful history.  Whatever the motives of monument building, if we acknowledge the significant role of systemic or corporate sin in the history of slavery, we may also realize that truly addressing racial reconciliation requires a much deeper national effort than either erecting or destroying monuments.

Newton's life: Example of Repentance and Forgiveness
As a nation, and as individuals, we have a choice.  We can either continue our pattern of bantering back and forth, or we can recognize that racism is an expression of individual and corporate sin from which we must repent.  The prayer of Daniel (Daniel 9), referenced by Tim Keller, conveys the sincere, repentant heart of the Prophet Daniel who identified himself with the “corporate evil” embedded within the nation Israel.  Today, I believe God would have us begin anew by asking Him to give us the contrite, repentant spirit of Daniel—praying for God’s Spirit to shine the light of His Word on our individual lives and give us willingness to confess our sins; then, to recommit to love and obey God; and, love our neighbor, spouse, family, church, community, and those in authority over us.  As James wrote (5: 17),

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. 

Greater and more lasting progress than erecting or destroying monuments must begin in quiet communion with the God of HIS-story, and the God of our eternal future.  I believe this claim is consistent with what Abraham Lincoln came to realize; namely, that racism and its expression through the corporate evil of a slave-based economy must be owned and payed for by both the North and the South. If this is true, then our only hope as a nation is to own up to and confess to the fact that we are all part of the systemic, corporate evil of racism, and other evils such as malice, envy, and greed; all of which can only be abolished by the blood of Christ's cross.

The following are Lincoln's words, spoken toward the end of his second inaugural address only a few days before his own death by an assassin's bullet:

Both [North and South] 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. Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.  If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

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.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Extremist Protests: A Monumental Opportunity

Most people who have been following national news for the past two decades agree that America has become deeply divided morally and politically.  Last week’s violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia sparked yet another angry reaction, this time between white nationalists and those who oppose the notion of white supremacy.  This disturbing series of events poses both a challenge and an opportunity for Christians.

Making history, yet ignorant of its lessons.
The challenge of the Church is to respond in truth and in love because true Christ-followers live in daily awareness of the grace and forgiveness of God.  If the Church is to be “salt and light” (Matthew 5: 13) in this troubled world, Christ-followers must remember both human history and His-story (God’s inspired account of creation, human corruption, and redemption recorded in inspired Scripture).

Ignorance of Human History

Both far-right white supremacists and the far-left opposition (the “Antifa” or “anti-fascists”) are acting as if they are ignorant of the history of America and of Christianity.  Racial discrimination and slavery have been a blot on American history and have involved not only Black Americans but Native Americans, Orientals, Hispanics, et cetera.  American history is stained with blood spilled over enslavement, particularly of African people and their descendants, culminating in the Civil War.  The war opened the way to emancipation followed by another century of slow progress toward federal legislation of civil rights for ethnic minorities in America.
Abraham Lincoln, 186

But street protesters on the extreme right and left seem to recognize neither the costly loss of human life in the Civil War nor the role of Christianity in the healing of America that began under the leadership of men and women on both sides at the end of the conflict.  All Americans ought to re-read Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address including the following excerpt (emphasis mine), 

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.

Memorials are intended to remind us of our history so we can learn from both our triumphs and mistakes. Destruction of memorials to men like Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee ignores how much both men contributed to the unifying of the United States of America?  Although General Lee led the military campaign of the confederate Army of Northern Virginia, he was a devout Christian and was instrumental in agreeing to a rightful surrender at Appomattox, Virginia.  R. David Cox, in The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee (Eerdmans, 2017) writes, according to Marvin Olasky in WORLD, that Lee’s “strong belief in God’s sovereignty… influenced his strong opposition to confederate Gen. Edward Alexander when this subordinate suggested the army “’scatter like rabbits & partridges in the woods’ and begin guerilla warfare.”  Lee challenged Alexander with these words

Robert E. Lee
God has given the victory to the Yankees…As Christian men, Gen. Alexander, you & I have no right to think for one moment of our personal feelings or affairs.  We must consider only the effect which our actions will have upon the country at large...

The extremists of the Antifa who have destroyed monuments to General Lee seemingly wish to erase the memory this man of great integrity.  Lee wrote that slavery is “a moral and political evil” and said he would gladly give up his slaves to avoid civil war. 

Protesting extremists may also be ignorant of 20th century history.  Prior to the middle of that century, many allied nations fought in World War II to deliver the world from Nazism and Fascism.  They may also be unaware that racism and the philosophy of white supremacy are rooted in a false belief in naturalistic evolution which suggests that humans, particularly whites, occupy the top rung of an “evolutionary ladder” as a result of random changes through mutations and natural selection.  For more discussion of the connection between Darwinian evolution and Nazi Germany’s eugenics experiments aimed at exterminating Jews in favor the Aryan race, please consult a previous article, “
World History Without HIS Story.” 

Today, “scientific racism,” the notion that science affirms the existence of racial superiority, is denied by most scientists even though the theory that all of life originated by evolution is still viewed as “settled science.”  Yet, if all humans originated simply by random material processes and not by divinely ordered creation, then our moral standards are baseless and civil law is seen as arbitrary.  The outcome of this logic is evident in the crumbling institutions of marriage and family, the growing disrespect for law and order, and the acceptance of abortion which is partly justified by those who support human eugenics in the tradition of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood.

Finally, white supremacists seem to be ignorant or have forgotten the great progress of the civil rights movement and the preaching of Martin L. King who said,

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Ignorance of His-story, “God’s Story”

Those who are ignorant of human history are in even greater danger if they are ignorant of “God’s story” of the creation and redemption of mankind.  According to the Bible, God loves all of His creation.  His love extends especially to humans of all ethnic backgrounds because he made man and woman in His image with unique rational and emotional capacities to share relationships with one another and with Him.

The Bible has been called “God’s love letter” to mankind.  Beginning in Genesis following the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, God promised a Savior Who would one day come and “bruise the head of Satan” the tempter (Genesis 3: 15).  Although the Bible teaches that all have all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3: 23), and that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6: 23a), the good news (“the Gospel”) is that the free gift of God is eternal life (by faith) in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6: 23b).  

Amazingly, God did not simply send His “love gift.”  God came as that gift as prophesied centuries earlier (see Isaiah 9: 1-7) through His own incarnation when a Jewish girl named Mary conceived and gave birth to Jesus Christ.  Christ, the Savior of mankind, had been promised centuries earlier when God spoke to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, saying (emphasis mine),
I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.  And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12: 3).

God had chosen to reveal His salvation through the Jewish nation, Israel.  To avoid their being drawn away by heathen gods, God warned His “chosen people” not to intermarry with “foreigners.” But, it was never God’s intention to limit his forgiveness of sin to the Jews alone.  The Old Testament records many instances in which God’s mercy was extended to “foreigners.”  Indeed, the human lineage of Jesus beginning from Abraham, includes several ethnic groups.  Two examples are Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute (Joshua 6) and mother of Boaz who married Ruth, a Moabite woman, who became the great-grandmother of King David (Ruth 4:13-22). 

How fitting that the blood of Jesus shed from His cross which takes away the sin of the world (John 1: 29; Colossians 1: 20) should have a multi-ethnic lineage.  Yet, as God promised to Abraham, salvation would come through the Jews.  Jesus’ earthly ministry as well as His instructions to His disciples during their training focused on His countrymen and the Samaritans who were half-Jews (John 4: 4).

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, His instruction to His disciples was to wait in Jerusalem for the fulfillment of His promise that the Holy Spirit would come.  He said (emphasis mine), but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1: 8).  The Apostle Peter’s Spirit-empowered sermon on the Day of Pentecost was supernaturally translated into the languages of over a dozen different ethnic groups representing Asia, Mesopotamia, and Africa (Acts 2: 9-11).  Within weeks, one of the original deacons, Philip, was commanded to go to the desert where he met an Ethiopian on his way back to Africa.  The Ethiopian’s conversion likely allowed him to be among the first to spread the Gospel of Christ into Africa. 

Within a relatively few years after Christ’s resurrection, the Gospel had spread across much of Asia, northern Africa, and Europe.  The accounts of the New Testament provide clear evidence that Jesus Christ is Savior of the world, and not just whites or other specific ethnic groups.  The closing book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation (5:9), points to a future scene in heaven in which multitudes of the redeemed are worshiping Jesus Christ, singing (emphasis mine),

Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals;
for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood
men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

God’s aim is that members of every tribe and tongue and people and nation be redeemed from sin through faith in Christ.  The redeemed in Christ are united as one into His body, the Church, by faith in His shed blood.  Therefore, the philosophy of human supremacy based on blood lines or ethnicity is in direct opposition to God’s plan to unite people from every tribe into One (atonement) by faith in Christ’s blood.  To claim ethnic superiority in the Name of Christ, is false, idolatrous, and even blasphemous.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has written an article published in the Washington Post entitled, “White supremacy angers Jesus, but does it anger his church?
”  He writes,

White supremacy does not merely attack our society (though it does) and the ideals of our nation (though it does); white supremacy attacks the image of Jesus Christ himself. White supremacy exalts the creature over the Creator, and the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against it. Later Moore concludes,

The church should call white supremacy what it is: terrorism, but more than terrorism. White supremacy is Satanism. Even worse, white supremacy is a devil-worship that often pretends that it is speaking for God.  White supremacy angers Jesus of Nazareth. The question is: Does it anger his church?

How Will Christians Respond?

Although I agree with the case Moore makes for “the wrath of God” against acts of hate, evil, and lawlessness, I question his notion of an “angry Jesus.” I disagree that God’s redeemed people should beangry at white supremacists and the Antifa, or angry at any sinner for that matter.  Granted, the white supremacists and their opponents have seemingly forgotten their history and His-story (God’s story) of man’s creation, corruption, and regeneration.  But, while Christ-followers ought to be deeply concerned, the deep divisions in America and the destructions of institutions and monuments should be no surprise.  For decades, we witnessed efforts to remove spiritual monuments like The Ten Commandments and Christian crosses from public display. Regardless of whether the freedom to display these monuments continues, Christ-followers have no reason to be overcome with evil, but rather, to overcome evil with good (Romans 12: 21).   Yes, Truth and Good will triumph over Error and Evil.

Here we should pause--you and I.  Chew it over and over—“meditate” on what I have just written.  If you are a Christ-follower, meditate on the amazing Truth that you and I are God’s children by faith (John 1: 12).  And, even our faith to believe is a gift of God (Ephesians 2: 8).  By faith, I look through my “mind’s eye” upon the Cross, that monument to the utter depravity of humankind of every tribe and nation.   The Cross of Christ is a monument to the horror of what humans did to the perfect Lamb of God.  Centuries before Christ was slain on that Roman cross, the Prophet Isaiah described sinful mankind (me included) and how “God’s Lamb” would respond to the weight of all human sin (mine included) heaped upon Him on that dark day outside Jerusalem (Isaiah 53: 6-7):

All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. 
He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep
that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.

I will admit to responding at times with resentment and anger.  But, when I remember the Cross and the Empty Tomb as two much greater monuments of God’s love, forgiveness, and hope, I can begin to view the hate-filled mob in a different light.
Granted, some rioters overcome with hate and evil.  But I see others who have joined in the mob with well meaning intentions.  Some of the protesters have the false hope of producing atonement, a “perfect oneness and unity,” that only God can provide.  Perhaps they believe that if they can only get all human pride, hate, and bigotry out on the public square, including all names, symbols, and monuments they associate with them, they can somehow make atonement.  Yet even well meaning efforts to rectify a history of human sin and depravity are an affront to a Holy God.  When people refuse to repent and bow before the Cross of Christ, everything else in human history becomes an unbearable weight.  What can wash away my sin?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

In the light of the Cross and Empty Tomb, this dark hour can be a time of great opportunity for the Body of Christ.  As the Apostle Peter teaches, repentance and obedience must begin with the household of God (1 Peter 4: 17).  Christians must heed the challenge of Christ’s half-brother, James, who challenges lukewarm and carnal Christians to humbly pursue heavenly wisdom, not earthly, demonic wisdom (James 3: 14-16; 4: 6-10):

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing…

But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE." Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

How will we respond as God’s blood-bought children, to the divisions in America, most recently evident in Charlottesville and elsewhere?  When I remember how Christians around the world are courageously responding to hatred and evil, I am ashamed of how I sometimes tend to react.  Then, I remember the verse from 2 Chronicles 7:14 that Christ-followers have been increasingly turning to in recent years.   May these words of be our unfailing guide:

and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

God’s Sweet Provision in Our Old Age

I have been thinking much about the passage of time now that my life has entered its 70th year.  It seems only yesterday that, as a much younger man, I had read Psalm 71: 17-19 and did not appreciate its depth of meaning.  Now, as I am growing old and gray, I find great comfort and assurance when I offer prayers of reverence and praise to God through the inspiration of His Holy Spirit Who stirs my soul with the message of these verses:

O God, You have taught me from my youth,
And I still declare Your wondrous deeds.
And even when I am old and gray,
O God, do not forsake me,
Until I declare Your strength to this generation,
Your power to all who are to come.
For Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens,
You who have done great things;
O God, who is like You?

I am especially blessed when I see evidence of God at work fulfilling His promises before my very eyes in the lives of my elders.  What a privilege to spend time with people who still declare God’s strength, His righteousness, and the fact that He has done great things.  Recently, my elderly friend and brother in Christ, George McFadden, who is nearing the end of his life in a battle with leukemia, said with a twinkle in his eyes while referring to His faithful God, “I am so thankful that I have a good ‘Undertaker’.”

Surely you too have been blessed to spend time with men and women who are in their 80’s and 90’s.  What an encouragement we can receive from our elders who have retained their gracious, thoughtful, and witty habits.  They demonstrate that they can still be overcomers in spite of having lost their youthful energy, some of their privacy and formality, most or all of their hair, and perhaps even most of their ability to recognize loved ones when they visit.  Nevertheless, they seem to radiate a confidence and peace that echoes with the psalmist (v. 7), I have become a marvel to many, for You [God] are my strong refuge.

Happy 91st Birthday, Grandma Moser, from
 Abby (center rear), Della Rose (L) and  Kiara (R).
While writing the above introduction, I thought of my mother-by-marriage, Marietta Moser. Marietta  has been "Mom” to seven daughters and seven son-in-laws.  Following her strokes, in 2011, she now lives in the Golden Age Retreat, in Carrollton, Ohio.  Today is her 91st birthday and we were privileged to visit her along with our two granddaughters, Kiara (15) and Della Rose (9), daughters of our daughter, Melinda, and son-in-law, Steve Salyers. 

Both girls show evidence that they have a growing faith in the God Who has done great things. During our recent visit, the girls joined their “Grandma Abby” and I to sing “Happy Birthday” to their Great-Grandma, Marietta Moser.  Marietta’s smile of appreciation as she looked up at them spoke volumes to all of us.  But when Marietta recited with me Psalm 23, the “Good Shepherd Psalm,” I think we all realized the truth of God’s promise that even when I am old and gray, O God, [You will] not forsake me—[No, not] until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come.

Marietta Moser (2011) and Seven Daughters
While we visited with Marietta, we also witnessed God’s grace and provision to her through the staff members of Golden Age Retreat, ladies who shower their love and care upon her.  Our thanks and appreciation is due to these dear people who labor hard to make Golden Age a safe and pleasant “retreat” for its residents.

 After playing a game of Dominoes with her and enjoying more of Marietta’s lovely smile and witty humor, we thanked God for speaking so clearly to us that we need not fear growing old and facing the uncertainties of our future, because

By You, I have been sustained from my birth;
You are He who took me from my mother's womb;
My praise is continually of You.

[You will] not cast me off in the time of old age;
[Nor] forsake me when my strength fails.  – Psalm 71: 6, 9

Friday, July 21, 2017

Bike Trail to a National Treasure

This room is real, Ben. And that means the treasure is real. We're in the company of some of the most brilliant minds in history because you found what they left behind for us to find, and understood the meaning of it. You did it, Ben, for all of us - your grandfather, and all of us. And I've never been so happy to be proven wrong.  -- Patrick Henry Gates, in National Treasure

Scene from the movie, National Treasure (2004)

Patrick Henry Gates, fictitious treasure-hunter, played by Jon Voight, congratulates his son, Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage), in a climactic scene of the 2004 movie, National Treasure.  The pursuit of the “national treasure” requires decoding of a series of clues, including one written on the back of the Declaration of Independence.  Maybe you saw this movie and remember the scene.

Patrick Gates’ exclamation to Ben was an invitation to movie viewers to imagine their excitement upon finding such a treasure.  But, notice that the excitement was not focused entirely on the monetary value of the treasure.  Instead, Patrick wants Ben (and the viewers) to “treasure” the experience of being there…in the company of some of the most brilliant minds in history because you found what they left behind for us to find, and understood the meaning of it.  The exciting moment, framed by Patrick’s passionate words captures for me the excitement and interest you and l ought to have when we visit a historic place, or handle an artifact and try to understand the meaning of it.

In this blog article, my aim is to interest you in joining three co-leaders and me on another kind of “national treasure” hunt.  If you decide to join us, bring your bicycle and plan to meet at the Prairie Grass Trailhead, 280 W. High St., London, Ohio, at 8:00 am, Saturday, July 29, 2017.  This annual Prairie Appreciation Bike Ride is sponsored by the Friends of Madison Co. Parks and Trails, and the Madison Soil and Water Conservation District.  You can ride at your preferred pace and distance, and we will stop along the way to observe what I will call “national botanical treasures”—prairie wildflowers and grasses that are descendants of historic plant populations that once covered large tracts of SW Ohio, the Midwest, and Great Plains.
Prairie Coneflower in a SW Ohio prairie remnant.
Bring your imaginations and be ready to ride back into history.  Get ready to imagine while you stand along the Prairie Grass Trail Bikeway in the quiet freshness of a summer morning that this was once part of an expansive Tallgrass Prairie.  Then, after the railroad tracks were laid two centuries ago, this remaining, narrow stretch of rails, ties, slag, and prairie became a protected haven from the plow, agricultural weeds, and pesticides.  But, they were not protected from regular fires ignited by either lightning or sparks from the trains that whistled by.  Fires were just what the prairie plants needed since they were well adapted to survive fire, unlike many of the woody shrubs and trees that have now invaded these “remnant prairies” now that the railroad is gone.
Royal Catchfly, a rare prairie wildflower is restricted to only
a few locations along the narrow Prairie Grass Trail
So, bring your observation skills, your imagination, and your questions. Invite friends and neighbors, and bring your children—junior age and older often ask the best questions. You will observe some of our attempts to manage these “national treasures” like Royal Catchfly and Prairie Coneflower.  Learn how you can grow and incorporate these or other nectar-rich plants like the Milkweeds into your own flower gardens.  And, learn how local organizations and industry partners are expanding their commitment to land stewardship around our country.

Hope to see you next Saturday, July 29.  If you live too far from SW Ohio to attend, you may want to “visit” several of the websites below.  Or better yet, maybe you can locate and join a conservation or land stewardship group in your area.  Chances are you will find new friends who have become interested in “national botanical treasures” located in “natural areas” as refuges for native plant and animal species.
Wayne Roberts, Exec Dir., FMCPT with co-leaders
Julie Cumming, Matt Silveira, and Karen Stombaugh
And, for all of us, may our interest in the historical and biological heritage of our neighborhoods and of our nation increase.  May we and our children be able to say, we have found what they left behind for us to find, and [we are willing to learn] the meaning of it--and to value it enough to be good stewards or “keepers” of it as we are commanded to do in the Dominion-Stewardship Mandate in the Book of Genesis:

Then the LORD God took the man
and put him into the garden of Eden
to cultivate
(serve) it and keep (preserve) it.
                                              – Genesis 2: 15

Botany Along the Prairie Grass Trail
Fundamentals of Conservation, Part 2 "Serving with" Creation
Fundamentals of Conservation, Part 3 "Serving with Our Neighbor"

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Celebrate July 4th! Learn from History!

This weekend, Americans pause to celebrate the Fourth of July, or Independence Day.  Many patriotic Americans associate “the 4th” with the beginning of the great American experiment in constitutional, democratic government—an experiment the likes of which the world had never seen.

Fittingly, in celebration of our great nation at this time of year, Abby and I have just finished reading The American Miracle: Divine Providence in the Rise of the Republic, by Michael Medved.   In it, Medved argues along the lines of the famous thesis of one of the Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin.  You may recall some of Franklin’s words when, in 1787, he challenged a deadlocked Constitutional Convention to consider having a session of prayer.  Here is part of Franklin’s call to humility, prayer, and dependence upon Divine Providence (emphasis mine):

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments be Human Wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.

Michael Medved’s book details several major turning points in America’s history from Washington to Lincoln in which  the fate of America hung in the balance but was allowed to move forward with no seeming explanation other than the hand of Divine Providence.  Medved makes a strong case for “American exceptionalism,” a term that is heavily debated these days.  He writes,

For nearly four hundred years, Americans nourished the notion that God maintained an intimate, protective connection to their singular nation.  Only recently, with the emphasis on guilt over gratitude in our teaching of American history, has the public grown uncomfortable with the idea that fate favors American endeavors.

On the other hand, many Americans argue that America is not exceptional and are quick to point out America’s “dark side.”  Our history classes rightly include the deplorable treatment of Native Americans, American support for the institution of slavery, and other injustices of the past.  Medved admits that these actions were inexcusable, but counters with the following argument:

The idea of America’s higher purpose didn’t produce the instances of obvious injustice in the Republic’s past, nor did it excuse them, but it has inevitably motivated efforts to correct those crimes and to mitigate their negative and unjust impacts.   Medved adds:  Every nation on Earth flagrantly mistreated indigenous peoples and participated at some point in ruthless systems of slavery.  But the American desire to deserve God’s special blessing inspired movements to do better than the rest of the world and to overcome the cruelty—however halting and imperfect those attempts might have been.

On this Fourth of July, America is once again divided over many issues from health care to immigration.  Most of the disagreements stem from a basic disagreement about who is ultimately responsible for the affairs of mankind and of our nation.  About half of Americans seem to believe that we are the masters of our fate and therefore responsible to engineer a more perfect society.  And, roughly the other half of Americans believe we must turn to God “from Whom all blessings flow” for wisdom to bring guidance necessary for healing of a divided America.

Fortunately, our nation is still blessed with men and women of integrity and who are committed to serve their constituents in the true sense of being “public servants.”  To this human resource we can add another blessed benefit of the Founding Fathers.  Not long after Benjamin Franklin’s reminder of the importance of acknowledging the Providence of God, the Constitutional Convention successfully resolved their impasse regarding the balance of power between the federal government and the individual states.  As a result of the birth of “The United States,” we now have the benefit of fifty “laboratories” in which the American genius of government can continue to adjust to our changing times and the demands of our people.  The citizens of each state can elect a governor and legislators who then lead by crafting policies that work best for that state.
Two states take markedly different fiscal paths.  Lesson?
Sometimes, one state's successes can provide a model or a lesson for the other states to follow.  For example, consider the current fiscal situation in the two neighboring states, Illinois and Wisconsin.  What might current Illinois residents and the residents of many other states learn from the “experiment” currently running in Wisconsin?  And, more importantly, what could all Americans, particularly the generation now populating social studies classes in our schools and colleges learn?  Let’s visit the “laboratories” housed within the borders of Illinois and Wisconsin.

In 2010, both Illinois and Wisconsin were suffering under a huge debt burden after many years of liberal political leadership. But that year, the two states took dramatically different paths. Illinois continued with pretty much the status quo which has led to its current debt to the tune of $14 billion dollars.  This week, Illinois has been reported to be on the verge of bankruptcy.  Years of financial irresponsibility under liberal, progressive policies at the state level and particularly in the City of Chicago have apparently led to a day of reckoning. 
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker

On the other hand, a majority of Wisconsin voters wisely chose to do something about their state’s mounting debt following years of irresponsible liberal policies.  Badger state voters elected a Republican legislature and a conservative governor, Scott Walker.  Governor Walker immediately instituted conservative fiscal policies and was excoriated by the liberal establishment through state house demonstrations bolstered by bused-in demonstrators that made national news.  Walker overcame an attempt to oust him as governor by winning re-election and his policies are working.  Unemployment rate has dropped from 9.2 percent in 2009 to the current 6.1 percent; and Wisconsin can boast a projected $977 million surplus which Governor Walker proposes using to assist technical colleges and reduce income taxes by $98 million.  According to The Blaze, “The end result would be a $131 reduction a median home’s tax bill this December and $46 in annual income tax savings for the average worker.”

Since the successes of Wisconsin have become nationally publicized, voters in other states have elected conservative governors and legislators.  Unfortunately, Illinois has not learned a lesson from its neighbor to the north, and now its fiscal status hangs in the balance.  Similarly, our nation has suffered many  setbacks in the past because we failed to learn our history lessons.  Today, many Americans are ignorant of our history.  Public schools and colleges often deemphasize American history and government.  In many cases, history is ignored or “revised” because true American history is so rich with “His-story”—God’s story.

On this Fourth of July, I am concerned that more and more Americans are suffering from historical amnesia.  At a time when access to historical information has never been greater, parents in our homes and teachers in our schools have every opportunity to enrich the next generation by exposing young people to American history in creative ways.  As already mentioned above, Michael Medved makes a strong case for the powerful hand of God in the rise of our nation.  Another great resource is Gov. Mike Huckabee’s Learn Our History Series on DVD.   Or, simply take time to read and discuss our founding documents and recommit to your faith in God as our Creator and the Source of our “inalienable rights” as outlined in the Declaration of Independence.  As the Declaration states,

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness….
Abraham Lincoln reunited America in reliance on God's mercy.

When we study American history, our need for great heroes can be satisfied.  At the same time, our lives are enriched by great heroes of faith like George Washington, John Adams, Harriet Tubman, and Abraham Lincoln.  Each of these Americans were flawed human beings who served in a divided, tumultuous culture of their time.  But, they succeeded because they exercised faith in God and cultivated a personal relationship with the greatest Christian Hero of all time, Jesus Christ. 

May the faith commitment of these great Americans remind us and our divided nation today that the God Who used these heroes to raise up a great nation is the God Who can unite Americans once again and heal our land.  As in the great American revivals of the past, we must humble ourselves before God, repent of our pervasive sinfulness, pray for our president and other public servants, and follow Christ’s example of firmness in His convictions seasoned with humility and selfless service toward others.