Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Will Sharia Law Replace America’s Moral Laxness?

This week, LinkedIn discussion groups under “The Teaching Professor” include one entitled, Class Discussion: Are we on our own path to Sharia Law?   According to the introduction, “Surveys show one in three Americans are worried about Sharia Law coming to the U.S.A.”  One responder, Howard Doughty, criticized the deplorable example America has set for the world through its interference in the Middle East and concluded, “Forget Sharia Law (which is no threat to America) and look in the mirror.”

I disagree with Doughty’s claim that Sharia Law is no threat.  America has prospered because most of her people individually exercise respect for the rule of law out of an ingrained moral conscience.  Therefore, it would be hard to envision how current quality of life would be sustained or improved if moral behavior were instead coerced by the state.  Even the liberal Huffington Post is quoted as saying about Sharia Law, “Some Islamic scholars argue that true Islamic belief cannot be coerced by the state, and therefore belief in Shariah should only come from the individual and not be codified by the state.”

Having emphasized the importance of moral convictions as a basis for obeying laws, I do agree with Howard Doughty that Sharia law is not a “DIRECT threat to America."  Instead, I believe a more direct threat is coming from within America’s (dissolving) borders.  The direct threat is from failure of those in positions of leadership in Washington and on down through our state and local governments, churches, schools, civic organizations, and families to believe and exercise leadership out of a belief in moral absolutes.  How often do you hear a courageous leader stand and speak with a voice of moral clarity?

America’s founders recognized the fallibility of mankind and the existence of God as Creator and Giver of the moral code as summarized in the "Golden Rule" and Ten Commandments.  These moral standards provided the foundation and structure within which western civilization could prosper.  Crucial to this success was the belief that rights are from God Who is worthy of our praise and worship; and, the belief that freedom depends upon individual obligation to love our neighbor.  Americans elected leaders in every sphere of authority from federal government to local communities, and generally, these leaders challenged us with a voice of moral clarity and the character to back up their words based on Judeo-Christian principles.

Dial forward to 2015, and it is clear that Christianity has relinquished its influence through compromise, hypocrisy, and disrespectful words and actions that are not winsome to an increasingly secular culture.  Consequently, many have dismissed the relevance and value of Christianity.  Increasing numbers deny God and the moral absolutes that had distinguished America as "exceptional" and "good."  Instead, America is being led and influenced by moral relativism and liberal progressivism that spews its own inconsistencies and much hypocrisy--pressing for women's rights in America while refusing to condemn Islamic enslavement of women wherever it becomes dominant; pressing for rights of the defenselessness while condoning the abortion and mutilation of babies and sale of body parts; pressing for the rights of minorities while ridiculing members of minorities like Ben Carson who demonstrate that even the poorest can succeed when individual moral responsibility is exercised.  Instead of ridiculing those who succeed as examples of how life could be, liberals cower in fear of losing a voting constituency.  Not to be excused, many conservatives are complicit in this scenario of moral laxness. Although at least some conservatives profess to operate from the moral high ground, yet for fear of being disliked, many lack the moral backbone to be a voice of moral clarity or to stand up for the Constitution.

So, I am not nearly as concerned about Sharia law as I am about the current moral decay in our nation.  Our leaders lack moral resolve and courage, refuse to enforce the laws of the land, and even undermine the respect and authority of our men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line to deter crime on our streets.  God help us! 

In agreement with Howard Doughty, we SHOULD look into the mirror, and remember that God is looking at us and our actions as well.  Let us pursue God’s Word and rely on the Holy Spirit’s power to discipline the person we face in the mirror every day (James 1: 23-25).  And, based on our own growing moral character and desire to please God, let us study to identify and elect leaders who will speak and act in ways that uphold the U.S. Constitution.  And let us hold our leaders accountable through regular communication (e-mail, social media) to uphold state and local laws supportive of strong families and supportive of the poor and minorities who seek to improve their lives through honest efforts.  Only in these ways will God honor America and help us preserve individual freedom against threats of coercion from within and from beyond our borders.  If America is in danger of falling under Sharia Law or something more oppressive, it is because we are failing to maintain the moral provisions that have preserved and united our nation through many difficult storms.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Can Big Government Stop “Bullying?”

Today is Spirit Day, sponsored by GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation).  We are invited to wear purple to demonstrate that we “stand against bullying and show [our] support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth.”  Okay, but by my definition of “tolerance”  I look at each group and cause to see what they are against.  In this case, they are against much more than bullying.  But let me digress to give some history to explain why I believe we need to do more than wear purple, and why big government isn't the one to stop the bullying.

When I was learning what it is to be a man, my parents and teachers were "there for me" to teach me to "love my neighbor" regardless of his or her behavior or preferences.  Although I did not fully understand the concept of homosexuality, it was not uncommon for m to hear the labels like “homo” and “queer.” (“gay” didn’t enter my hearing until the mid- to late 60’s).   I soon learned that it was wrong to mistreat people who looked and acted differently.  In particular, I learned to accept both racial minorities and religious minorities (Amish) in our neighborhood because my parents and teachers set a good example by their attitudes and behavior, and occasionally applied forceful discipline to us when we needed it.  

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)
Now we have politicians in Washington like Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown teaching us to define "classes of people" (LGBT..., black, white, rich, poor, etc.) that we aren’t supposed to bully.  While Sen. Brown and other liberal progressives teach us to "divide," they directly or indirectly encourage minority classes of people to stand up and be counted because “their lives matter.”  Meanwhile, progressives undermine the very institutions (family, church, police, military, etc.) that are ordained by God to provide moral clarity, personal integrity, order, and structure for our society and for those who will inherit positions of leadership tomorrow.  

Having contributed to the disruption of the key social institutions noted above, they act as if they have compassion on the increasing numbers of people who are deprived of a mother's love, a father's love, a loving church, or protection by honest law enforcement.   Is it any wonder young people are struggling to know who they are, what purpose there is for living, and how to make correct moral judgments?

M.L. King had it right when he emphasized the importance of the "content of character" over the "color of skin" [or should I say, "color of one’s clothes?"]  Why should we single out groups and factions to "treat equally" when in fact, "all lives matter!"  This truth ought to be obvious for those who simply open their Bible and read God's Loving Word to ALL mankind, a love letter that explains how He predicted, then sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross as a holy and perfect sacrifice for all of our sins (e.g. our hate, jealousy, greed, covetousness, immorality, and idolatry).  Jesus suffered and died so that we might have the power to obey two simple commands from God that He gave to us for our own good; namely, love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and, love your neighbor as yourself. 

I am thankful for Sen. Brown and others who are elected to serve our country.  But, we can't expect organizations like GLAAD or politicians of any stripe to do what only God can do--to change hearts from hate to love. We must submit to God so that He can transform our hearts as we take in His Word with the help of His Holy Spirit.  Then, we will WANT to keep the golden rule-- love God, and love thy neighbor. 

Meanwhile, we need government to do what it can do best:  protect America’s borders from invasion while defining and allowing legitimate immigration; uphold the U.S. Constitution through just laws and effective enforcement of the laws of the land, including laws that protect biblical marriage, families, churches, the marketplace, and effective schools and institutions of higher learning. 

Senator Brown, you and your colleagues have a lot of good work to do.  Check out what God says about the value of diversity in the human population and how we should all treat them as much  more than a constituency.  Then, roll up your sleeves, wear purple if you like, and help our government do what it can do best.  Leave the rest to the other equally important institutions.

Recognizing Loved Ones in Heaven

I decided to let you in on a long letter to my pastor in response to his recent sermon on the resurrection.  I want to be sure he agrees with my application of God’s natural revelation in creation and His special revelation in the Bible.  If not, I hope he will graciously provide correction.

Thank you, Pastor Dan Wingate, for your Oct. 11, 2015 message on “The Resurrection Body” at West Hill Baptist Church.  Like many of your messages, this one stimulated me toward further thought and study of the Scriptures.  I studied 1 Corinthians 15: 35-41 and context to understand more of what the Apostle Paul and the Spirit meant by saying that we will be “sown a natural body…raised a spiritual body.”  In particular, my question was, “Even though we will all be changed (1 Corinthians 15: 51), will we still be individually and personally recognizable in our new spiritual bodies?”

I believe Scripture supports the notion that God uses both the natural revelation in creation and a consistent line of reason from His special revelation to teach that our resurrection bodies will retain qualities that enable recognition of one another in heaven.  Let’s consider what we can learn from the natural revelation first.  

Note how Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15: 39-41, highlights the great diversity in God’s creation, both biologically and astrologically:

"That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies.."
All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish.  There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another.  There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

Pastor Dan, you explained this so clearly by the simple “taxonomy” you used for all of us to understand; namely, that there is diversity of “kinds” among plants--flowers (herbs), trees, and shrubs.  Each is distinct from the others.  Likewise, Paul uses plants we call “grain” (e.g. wheat or rye) to point out that a seed that is sown has a different body from the one that will eventually spring up from the ground (v.  37).   Furthermore, the body of the seed that is sown must die in order for the body of the new plant to spring up from the ground (v. 36).  The biological knowledge God has given me brings this latter truth into new light.  The seed literally has to “die to” its original form, “give up” its nature as a seed, and surrender its nutrients and food reserves—all of this for the good of the “new body” that now sprouts up from the soil as it freely uses the seed resources surrendered by the “dying seed.” 

It seems unfortunate to a seed that its role is only realized by its death and surrender to support the needs of the seedling.  However, this relationship does illustrate that each of us as believers find our purpose and joy only to the extent that we deny ourselves in order to take up our cross and follow Jesus (Luke 9: 23).  Of direct pertinence to our eventual physical death, when our life on Earth reaches its end, our bodies will be changed as we are destined for an even more glorious body.

But there is a second attribute of God’s biological creation that lends insight into our resurrection bodies.  Although the body of the seed is distinct from the body of the seedling, it is also true that God has given “to each of the seeds a body of its own (v. 38).”  Therefore, as verses 39-41 elaborate, each “kind” of plant (or animal, planet, and star) is distinct among the great diversity of plants (or animals and celestial bodies).  But in the midst of this great diversity, there is also “continuity.” 

It is true that each “kind” of seed dies and disintegrates when it surrenders its form and resources to support the growth of the seedling.  Yet the seed determines what “kind” of seedling will result (through the DNA contained in the embryo of the seed which grows into the new body of the seedling).  This means, although as you suggested, we can identify each distinct “kind” of seed among a whole variety of seeds in a container—they each have their distinct traits—corn, wheat, oats, etc.  But, it is also true that the body of the seedling that results from each of the different “kinds” of seeds, while a different body from the seed, does express predictable traits that enable us to identify it as having been associated with the “old body” of the seed from which it sprouted. 

I would like to believe that God intends by this “seed-seedling analogy” to teach us that our new resurrection bodies, though different from our earthly bodies because they are “spiritual bodies” will nonetheless have recognizable traits.  Very likely, our appearance along with behavioral (or voice?) traits, will enable us to be recognized for who we are individually.

If my application of the “seed-seedling analogy” above is accurate, then we can say that God’s natural revelation in creation tells us much about the relationship between our earthly bodies and our future spiritual bodies.  However, we must rely on God’s special revelation for additional support for the claim that we will recognize our loved ones and friends, including Bible personalities we’ve never met, when we get to heaven.  There are three kinds of supporting evidence from Scripture:

a.   The disciples recognized Jesus in His resurrection body.  John 21: 1-14 records that “Jesus was manifested (rendered apparent) to the disciples” and that he ate breakfast with them.  Based on this account, we will also be distinctly recognizable in our resurrection bodies because the Scripture says, “Christ [is] the first fruits, after that, those who are Christ's at His coming... (1 Cor. 15: 23).”   It is also recorded that Thomas who doubted that Jesus was alive following His crucifixion also eventually recognized Jesus (John 20: 24-29).  Finally, Luke 24 says about Jesus followers on the road to Emmaus, “their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him (v. 16)… [until] their eyes       were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight (v. 31).

b.   Three of Jesus’ disciples recognized Moses and Elijah on the mount of transfiguration      even though they had never met them, suggesting that there must be other aspects of  our bodies after death that distinguish us as individuals.  See Luke 9: 29-33.

I thank God for my local church.
c.   How are we comforted unless we recognize our loved ones?  In 1 Thessalonians 4: 14-18, Paul comforts his Christian readers with the truth that we will meet our loved ones again.  Much of this comfort is found in the promise that one day, we will recognize our loved ones as distinct persons we once knew and loved.  Thanks be to God, we can have the hope of this great reunion, much more blessed than is possible here on Earth.   Amen. Come, Lord Jesus (Revelation 22: 20).

How about you?  Thank you for reading this article.  Perhaps you disagree, or have additional questions about your future.  Jesus said in John 3: 18, speaking of Himself, He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  The Bible throughout makes it clear that those who reject God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and His perfect, atoning sacrifice for sin will not inherit spiritual bodies and will not live eternally in the new heaven and new earth.  Romans 3: 23 makes it clear that ALL of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  If you do not have the assurance that your sins have been forgiven, please let me know, or follow up with a trusted Christian friend or pastor (see link below).  The Gospel of John in the New Testament of the Bible from which the above verse was taken is a great place to become acquainted with Jesus and His life-saving message.  For those who have trusted Christ for forgiveness and a victorious walk with God through the armor and power of His Spirit, the following passage is a fitting encouragement:

Beloved, now we are children of God,
and it has not appeared as yet what we will be.
We know that when He appears, we will be like Him,
because we will see Him just as He is.
And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him
purifies himself, just as He is pure.
 – 1 John 3: 2-3
To listen to this or other messages of Pastor Dan Wingate, and for other messages and resources from West Hill Baptist Church, Wooster, Ohio, click HERE.