Monday, January 19, 2015

Thinking About Harmony and Discord on Martin Luther King Day

Moody Bible Institute Symphonic Band at West Hill Baptist
Yesterday, the eve of Martin Luther King Day, our church, West Hill Baptist Church, hosted the Moody Bible Institute Symphonic Band under the direction of David Gauger II.  We were treated to 45 minutes of classical music from a variety of composers including Bach, Strauss, Haydn, and Wagner.  Early in the performance, the conductor introduced the audience to the unique musical quality of each instrument by having one student musician for each instrument play a few familiar bars.  Although it was a treat to listen as each artist highlighted their particular instrument, the beautiful symphonies we heard later in the evening were only possible because each artist and instrument within the various categories--strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion—contributed in harmony toward the whole.  Sister Joan Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, explains this relationship between the uniqueness of each individual artist and the beauty of the symphony that is produced when each artist is faithfully committed to the whole score.

Each instrument of the orchestra has its own voice but plays in harmony with the whole. Despite the size or power of an instrumental section, no one group lords it over the others. Each needs the other because no one group incarnates the full meaning of the composition.

As we listened to Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, BWV 1048, by Johann Sebastian Bach, the contribution of each instrument in seemingly perfect harmony touched the depths of my soul as if spiraling down from heaven itself.  I imagined how it might be if the Perfection and Glory of heaven were to descend to Earth and sweep away all of the present disharmony, disunity, and strife. Then, I was reminded that as an expression of Bach’s profession of faith, his aim was to give “Glory to God Alone” as signified by his practice of writing Soli Deo Gloria on his finished manuscripts.  My faith was renewed in God Who has gifted men like Bach and Handel to make it their purpose to bring glory to Him by their beautiful and moving musical compositions.

Steven Spielberg & Liam Neeson on set of "Schindler's List"
After completing the classical music portion of their concert, the Moody Symphonic Band provided another 45 minutes or so of sacred hymns and “contemporary hymns” including “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend.  However, the performance that spoke to me the most out of this second part of the concert was “Three Pieces from ‘Schindler’s List.”  As I listened, the sad beauty of the music reminded me of having watched the movie, Schindler’s List, the true story of Oskar Schindler who rescued over 1,000 Jews from Adolf Hitler’s gas chambers at Auschwitz.  As I thought of this horrible tragedy, born out of the sinful and deceitful heart of humankind, I wondered how men could take such divergent paths—some like Bach and Hayden who used their time, energy, and talent to bless our ears and hearts with heavens harmonies; whereas, others like Hitler and Stalin used their power to compose the dreadful discordant sound of feet marching to mass executions.

As I listened to the conclusion of “Three Pieces from ‘Schindler’s List,” I remembered the many parallels between the Nazi holocaust and the current “American holocaust” which has taken the lives of over 57 million unborn human beings since the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court ruling in 1973.  Truly, the abortion of these innocent lives is one of the greatest tragedies of human history.  However, I was encouraged by an experience I had had earlier on this Lord’s Day. 

A few hours earlier I had honored an earlier invitation of the Wayne-Holmes Right to Life (WHRTL) Chapter to attend an afternoon worship service in celebration of God’s gift of life as part of their annual Sanctity of Human Life Sunday program.  I was encouraged to hear Ohio Right to Life Trustee, Scott Wiggham relate the progress of the Pro-Life Movement in Ohio, and then to join with these folks in praying.   We prayed (in part) as follows:

Lord, have mercy!  We ask You, God, to hold these little ones in your arms.  Bless and protect them.  May they know love and contentment in Your presence.  Bless mothers who are with child; may they never resort to abortion.  Forgive those who have had, performed, or encouraged abortions.  Turn their hearts away from sin and help them to see the sanctity of ALL life that is created in your image.

Alone this morning, I reflected once again on the heavenly harmonies that were provided by the Moody Symphonic Band yesterday evening, and the harmony of Christian brothers and sisters who gathered yesterday afternoon to praise our Creator for the gift of life.  As has been my habit, I read the Psalm appointed for today, January 19, which was Psalm 139.  In it, David reflects on God’s omniscience, even to the point of knowing all about David while he was as yet unborn:

My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.  – Psalm  139: 15-16

My frame was not hidden from You, God
What an amazing revelation from Scripture: God sees us and knows us as a person even before we are fully formed by the expression of genes we obtained from our parents at conception.  Biology reveals to us what David didn’t know, but God knew because He designed the whole process; namely, soon after conception and as the tiny embryo of a new generation is implanted in the uterine lining, he or she produces and sends into the mother’s bloodstream a message in the form of a hormone (Chorionic Gonadotropin, or CG). 

The hormone, CG, is the tiny embryo’s way of making his or her first “cry” to mom, saying, “Mother, I am here.  I hope you won’t have your monthly period.  Instead, I want you to protect and nourish me while God’s wonderful plan works in harmony between us like a symphony to unfold in proper order each of my bodily systems.  Soon, my nervous system, and before a month is passed, then my heart will be beating.  Before you know it, you will feel me moving inside of you and I will begin to hear your voice and become acquainted with your movements.”

Do you see the Earth-shattering contrast between the harmony of God’s creation and the discord introduced by the fall of man in the Garden and the subsequent rebellion, pride, and violent acts?  The harmony, or Shalom, of God’s creation includes the development of a human life beginning at conception and leading through a seamless path forward toward birth like a symphony performed without flaw by an orchestra.  Yet, the sinful discord of abortion continues to interrupt this harmony in all too many instances like a meteor blast into an auditorium during symphony orchestra performance.

Marchers in Support of Sanctity of Human Life
Many of us deeply regret the Nazi holocaust while others find it hard to believe it could have even come about in a civilized world.  Likewise, many of us regret the American holocaust, and many are active in bringing it to an end.  But I wonder how many human tragedies like this it will take before we are humbled before God to realize that there is no hope for us without confession of our sins and surrendering to God’s forgiveness through the sacrifice of His sinless Son, Jesus Christ.  We have absolutely no reason to trust human reason apart from the searching light of God’s Word.  As Psalm 139, quoted above ends, David realizes his need for God to search his heart, try his thoughts, and lead him in the everlasting way.

M.L. King Jr. & niece, Alveda King, civil & Pro-Life leader
After meditating on Psalm 139 this morning, we were blessed to awaken our granddaughters Kiara Maetta and Della Rose who had spent the night in our home because their schools were closed to observe Martin Luther King Day.  After breakfast, Kiara and I watched a YouTube video recording of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”  Once again, I was reminded of the contrast between the symphonic harmony and the discordant outcomes from sinful mankind.  Through His grace and mercy, God had provided a man with a vision to see past the discord of hate and racial discrimination to a day when God’s love and harmony would characterize life in America:

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.  – Martin Luther King, Jr.  (1963)

Prayer:   Father in Heaven, thank you for Your encouragement through the heavenly harmonies of a symphonic band and the blessed fellowship of fellow Christians praying on Sanctity of Life Sunday; and then today, to reflect on the efforts of Dr. King and the peaceful protests He led on behalf of human rights which contributed much to the progress in reconciliation among racial groups in America.  Remind me continually of my own double-mindedness.  You’ve made me walk with You in peace and to enjoy harmony all around me; but, my heart is deceitful and tends to promote discord.   Remind me of my constant need of repentance from sin and refilling with your Holy Spirit.  And would you also bring revival to America, a nation so capable of great accomplishments for good; but, like me, so prone to deception and discord.  Renew within me a commitment to do my part in sharing the Gospel of repentance, reconciliation and revival in an America—for her only hope lies in whether individuals and families will respond to Your call through your people full of the love of Christ and His Holy Spirit—the very Source of truth, justice, mercy—and harmony.   Amen.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Faith, Virtue, and Freedom—When Government Can No Longer Govern

Is there a possibility that the government of nations may fall into the hands of men who teach the most disconsolate of all creeds: that men are but fireflies and this is all without a father?” --John Adams (1805

When asked if we have arrived at this point in history, Os Guinness replied, “What Adams gloomily foresaw, we’ve arrived at.”  In a recent WORLD Magazine interview, Guinness, a Christian journalist, scholar, and author of A Free People’s Suicide:  Sustainable Freedom and the American Future (IVP, 2012), opined that our post-modern philosophies are eroding the “foundation for human dignity.”  According to Guinness, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution believed that freedom was possible and that it could be sustained only if it has three “legs” like a stool (emphasis mine):

...and secure the Blessings of Liberty
to ourselves and our Posterity…
Freedom requires VIRTUE
, leg one. Virtue requires FAITH, leg two. Faith of any sort requires FREEDOM…[and] ad infinitum, a recycling triangle, a brilliant, daring suggestion as to how freedom can be sustained. 

But the “legs” of freedom are under attack today as it has been throughout American history.  Indeed, the attack on freedom is rooted in spiritual warfare that dates back to the beginning of creation.  Our Constitution was drafted by those who held to at least a basic understanding of the Bible as a sacred and Divine revelation, man’s depravity, and the importance of the disciplined life of faith and virtue.  But today, a shrinking proportion of Americans acknowledge the authority of the Bible and its revelation of human origin, the curse of sin, resultant human depravity and the need for salvation through Christ.  Perhaps even fewer Americans recognize God’s principles for daily living—the importance of the Spirit-filled life, the sanctity of human life, the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, the fundamental role of family, a respect for parental authority, and the function of government to protect human freedom through an objective system of laws and their just enforcement.   Is it any wonder many Americans view the Constitution as being outmoded and deny the exceptional nature of American life and the culture it has provided for over two centuries.

President John Adams highlighted the necessity of religious virtue in maintaining moral and civil order under the Constitution when he spoke these sobering words to the Massachusetts militia, in 1798:

…we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.  Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net.  Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.   It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

Almost daily we see evidence that the “cords of our Constitution” are being broken by the deterioration of institutions in which faith and virtue are nurtured.  The traditional family unit is being torn apart by court rulings and legislation that undermine traditional marriage and parental responsibility.  Declining church attendance coincides with a weakening of moral leadership and teaching in the home. Meanwhile the media promotes distorted views of family life and disrespect for parental authority.   At the same time, Judeo-Christian teachings are banned from our public schools leaving behind an environment in which our teachers and students are no longer safe from violence.  Many of our youth graduate without learning the moral and ethical disciplines necessary to contribute to American society.  Absent in the home, local churches, and in our schools and colleges are the necessary disciplines for adult living.  Until recently, young adults who lacked the disciplines for life could learn them in the armed services—or, of last resort, by harsh penalties issued by our judicial and law enforcement systems. However, now even the armed forces and law enforcement system are being weakened and have begun to reflect the moral corruption present in our society at large.

Police in riot gear and vehicle in Ferguson, MO
The fruits of a crumbling moral and ethical foundation once maintained by strong family, schools, churches, and law enforcement are the increasing reports of violence in each of these spheres of authority.  Need I mention Sandy Hook Elementary, Ferguson, and Fort Hood to name a few?  And sadly, instead of respecting the ancient moral and ethical “boundary” (See Proverbs 22:28 and “Stewardship of Creation and ‘Natural Law” ), we are being encouraged by our government to surrender our firearms while our government is stockpiling ammunition and rifles (I wonder why.).  Meanwhile, we watch our police departments enforce order with armored vehicles and riot gear.  Clearly, John Adams was correct:  Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.   It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. 

While faith, virtue, and freedom steadily decline, Americans increasingly turn to science and human reason for answers to life’s questions.  But science and reason have provided amazing technology that has run far ahead of our stunted morality and ethics needed to govern the use of technology.   Consequently, our society is being transformed by the emergence of lawless behavior coupled to a technological revolution that equips the lawlessness with new tools for their trade.  Advancements in computer technology are affecting the capacity of our democratic government to maintain order.  At issue is the increasing role of computer and information technology in transforming the landscape of political power through the control of access to and dissemination of information.  A few current news stories will illustrate.

3-D Printed Metal Gun by Solid Concepts
Have you heard that 3-D printers can now be used to manufacture guns?  Three years ago, Glenn Beck demonstrated on the air how to make 3-D objects like child’s toys with a 3-D printer and predicted this technology would soon churn out more serious items.  Within the same year, the first 3-D plastic gun was printed.  Today, you can visit the website of
Defense Distributed (DD) and read the historical account of the release of durable printed guns and standard capacity magazines.  

Although President Obama and many in Congress want to severely restrict access to hand guns, the world is undergoing a sea change around them.  Now that 3-D printing technology enables individuals to manufacture firearms illegally, our government will be powerless to restrict gun access from anyone except law abiding citizens who willingly subject themselves to governing authority.  That is, “rule of government” will only apply to those who consent to be governed.  It will not apply to those who wish to arm themselves to oppose it.  The words of John Adams ring true that our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people...[and it] is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

Reported screenshot of message
posted on Sony employees' computer screens
ust as exploding 3-D printing technology threatens government regulation of firearms, so also advances in information technology threaten to expose private information to the public eye.  Computer capabilities have multiplied our capacity to collect, store, and disseminate information.  It follows that those who gain access to either classified government information or to the personal information of private citizens have “power.”  A case in point occurred in December, 2014 when hackers stole terabytes of private information from the network of Sony Pictures Entertainment.  Then, they used the information to enforce terror threats against movie theaters that show, The Interview, produced by Sony.  Since then, social media accounts, including accounts of U.S. Central Command personnel, have been hacked with subsequent threats allegedly coming from Islamic State militants.

Both the illegal manufacture of firearms using 3-D printers and the manufacture of life-threatening situations through improper use of stolen personal information are expressions of flagrant disregard for civil and international laws.  Such actions within the cyber world are increasingly difficult if not impossible to anticipate and stop.  If they are not stopped, the results may include loss of financial assets, ruined personal reputations, loss of human lives, and even larger scale economic and political chaos.  As Glenn Beck has stated, “All secrets are going to be gone. That’s a good thing unless you like secrets.”

By now, you are no doubt quite depressed.  Indeed, the news about America’s future and the future of our families is not good.  What events do you see on the horizon?  Total chaos?  Totalitarian government?  Could our Founding Fathers have anticipated the America of 2015?  I say a hearty, “Yes.”  They not only believed human freedom under the U.S. Constitution would be threatened, they also understood the root cause of the threat—the innate depravity of mankind.  Remember John Adams’ words? 

Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.   It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

Adams and many of our Founders recognized the moral and spiritual battle that would determine the longevity of the American government under the Constitution—the struggle within every individual to grow in faith and virtue by disciplined living while daily facing the human tendencies driven by passions and greed.  We long for the taste of power; and power intoxicates us into actions to gain more power.  But there is good news.  John Adams believed that our human bent toward evil could be harnessed by a decentralized government with checks and balances.   He explains as follows:

There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.   -- Notes for an oration at Braintree (1772)

Here, Adams words are aligned with the truth claims of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures concerning the human passions and depravity of mankind unless bridled by morality and religion.

There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for god;
All have turned aside,
Together they have become useless;
There is none who does good, not even one.
Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,
The poison of asps is under their lips;
Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness;
Their feet are swift to shed blood,
Destruction and misery are in their paths,
And the path of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of god before their eyes
.   -- Romans 3: 10-18

The clear message of this New Testament Scripture drawn from the Old Testament books of Psalms and Isaiah is that all of us are guilty rebels against God.  And the Apostle Paul names the root cause of human pride and rebellion:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3: 2).  Then, in Romans 6: 23, he explains the “wages” (penalty) we have earned for our sin; namely death; but the free gift of God is Eternal Life through faith in Jesus Christ Who paid our penalty on His cross and rose again in victory over His death for us.

In conclusion, I have explained that the “legs of the stool” of freedom have been severely weakened.  We have reached the point where the behavior of a large proportion of the American people is no longer under the discipline of a personal code of ethics.  Without individual self-control, they will not be controllable by government no matter how many more laws are passed or how much our law enforcement and justice system is beefed up to oppose them.

Is Os Guinness correct that we have arrived in a Post-Christian era in which the “foundation of human dignity” has been eroded?  Is it too late for America as we have known it?  Interestingly, the nation of Israel was described by the writer of the Judges in the Old Testament--
In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes
(Judges 17:6).  I believe there is hope for America if each individual will turn from pride, selfishness, and greed and submit to God out of recognition that we are to be stewards of the freedoms allowed under God and under the U.S. Constitution.  Os Guinness has it right, and I close with his answer to the question, ‘What can we do as Christians?’ 

As Christians, our challenge is to go back as close as we can to the gospel and truly to be the church.  Increasingly, we’re likely to be a counter-culture.  As that happens, we will the last great defenders of reason, of truth, of human dignity, with the task of defending not just theoretically, in apologetics, but practically—as the early church did—hospitals, orphanages, and so on,  Our privilege will be to repeat that story in our time.

What is your prediction for America in the next five years?  How specifically are you praying-- and actively involved?

Related Articles:

Oikonomia:  "Dealing with Dangerous Weapons--Guns, Cell Phones...What Else?  Dec. 28, 2013
  “The Disintegration of the United States of America”  August 17, 2012
WORLD Magazine:  “An Election Day Homily” Marvin Olasky, Nov. 1, 2014  “The Great American Worldview Test—The 2012 Election,” September 6, 2012