Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Christmas Readers Theater

Christmas Eve day afforded our family an wonderful opportunity to gather in our home for conversation, a meal together, and opening presents.  A additional special treat for me was to watch our daughter Mindy Salyers with her husband, Steve, their son, Caleb, and older daughter, Kiara present a readers theater based on the draft of a script I had composed and invited them to present.  I have included the words below for your own reading, and will send you as a PDF the readers version of it arranged for four readers if you would like to request a copy by e-mailing me at silviusj@gmail.com.

Readers theater by members of the Steve Salyers family.
May the names and themes highlighted in this short script point your attention to God’s greatest Gift to us, leading you to worship and praise Him as you celebrate the amazing birth of Jesus Christ, “the Word become flesh.”

Christmas!
Celebration
Traditions.
Gifts!

God's Gift!
God so loved the world
that He gave.
Gave His only Son.

And the Word became flesh:

Born of a virgin,
Born of Mary,
Born in Jerusalem.

The Word became flesh
and dwelt among us.
Emmanuel:
"God with us."

The Law came through Moses.
The Law exposed our sin.
We fall short.
We die.
Grace and truth came through Jesus.

He came…
not to judge the world,
but that all who believe might be saved.

“The people who live in darkness
Have seen a great Light.”
The Light of the world,
The Light of Christmas.

Jesus!!
Jesus is the true Light
that lights our way.
Jesus!!

The gift!
The gift of God.
The Gift!
For all who will believe in Him,
The Gift!
For all who will receive Him,
The Gift!

"And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us..." John 1:14
Jesus!!
Wonderful Counsellor,
to guide us.
Almighty God,
to help us.
Everlasting Father,
to comfort us.
Prince of Peace,
to calm us.
Emmanuel:
"God with us."

Joy to the World!!
The Lord is come!!
Let us sing!
Let heaven and nature sing!
O come!!
O come, Emmanuel!!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Life as It Ought to Be - Part 1: Set Free…to Serve

 Overview:  Here we begin a series of articles on the theme of “Life as It Ought to Be.” First we look at what it means to be "set free" in Christ.  Then, we will consider how a Christ-centered worldview can illuminate our understanding of science-related issues like climate change, the origin of life, and the science of human behavior.
The future is uncertain, but it's not the first time.

Christmas 2016 comes as we near the end of another tumultuous year.  America has weathered a most unusual presidential election that seems unlikely to heal a very divided nation.  America’s divisions are rooted in deep disagreements over moral issues including the rights of the unborn, how to address the plight of the poor and the alien among us, and how to respond to the cries from minorities with respect to ethnicity and gender.  Besides these tensions, Americans live daily in the threat of expanding war abroad combined with violence and terror in the homeland. 

More and more Americans are seeking freedom from their pain and despair by turning to alcohol, drugs, and violence; even suicide.  Many are entering the Christmas season with little hope that things will get better.   Yet as in many dark periods of history, the clear message of Christmas still rings with the promise of hope across a dark, cold landscape.
Jesus our Savior: Born to die, to set us captives free.
On that first Christmas night, the message of the angel to the lonely shepherds of Bethlehem was a message of hope for us today:  Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2: 10-11)Several months earlier, the angel had said to Joseph concerning Mary who would soon be his wife, She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1: 21)

When He became a man, Jesus fulfilled these prophecies about His coming as a Savior.  In fact, Jesus Himself stood in the synagogue at the beginning of His ministry and read Isaiah’s prophecy foretelling His coming: The spirit of the lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed(Isaiah 61: 1; Luke 4:18).   Yes, Jesus Christ came into the world to “set free the oppressed.” But Christ came not only to “save us from the consequences of our sins” but to empower us to serve God the way we were created to serve.

But how is it that people “set free” become “servants?”  Seems contradictory, doesn’t it?  And how is it possible that true fulfillment in life can only be reached when we understand that God has set us free to serve? 

The answer lies in the fundamental truth that God loves His creation including mankind.  He created humankind to love and serve Him.  We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).  The love of God within us then spills out as we love and serve our neighbor and the creation (the physical world in which we live).  These relationships are possible because God is personal and created us with a “personality” and with “free will” to make moral choices.  When we are in right moral relationship with God, we are free to worship our Creator by serving Him, our neighbor, and creation.  This responsibility is best described as stewardship (Gr. oikonomia (οἰκονομία), oy-kon-om-ee'-ah).

“Okay, so I am set free…to serve.”  But, you ask, “Set free from what?”  We are set free from the human tendency to serve other masters and not God.  God created us to love and serve Him above all other masters.  Jesus taught us in His “Sermon on the Mount,” No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth (Matthew 6: 24).  Notice Jesus didn’t say, “don’t serve two masters.” Rather, He states, “You cannot serve two masters.” We are simply unable to do this.  In fact, our futility in attempting to serve both God and our own selfish pursuits of material possessions, personal fame, or power will be evident to God, to us, and to others.  It is precisely from this frustration that God can free us.

When we serve God as stewards, we offer back to God the provisions He has granted to us; namely, our talent, time, and treasures.  We become devoted and constrained by His love and power through the help of His abiding Spirit.  The Apostle Paul wrote that the love of God controls us (2 Corinthians 5:14).  The psalmist testifies that his God satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness (Psalm 107: 9).  The person who has known and experienced this kind of love relationship to his or her Creator knows what it means to be free.

But the Bible also teaches that our freedom in Christ does not automatically come prepackaged along with us when we are born.  The psalmist David writes in Psalm 51: 5 as if to say, “Hear this!  I was born a rebel from God!  My very nature is to go the opposite direction from God (Isaiah 53:6) to serve my own interests and not God’s will.”  Soon after God created them as the first humans, Adam and Eve chose to reject God and serve another master, the Tempter, named Satan (Genesis 3).  Since then, all of Adam’s offspring carry his rebellious nature and by default will choose to follow the priorities of Satan’s kingdom.  Satan’s nature spills out of those enslaved to him in the form of lust for possessions, power, and pleasure. But, while these pursuits can bring satisfaction for a season, Satan’s subjects experience emptiness, despair, and ultimately eternal death--separation from God eternally.


Pilgrim is set free from burden of sin at the cross
It is from the enslavement of the sin nature we inherited from Adam that we have an inclination to serve Satan’s priorities.  But God through Christ has set us free!  If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature, not just reformed, but transformed--…old things have passed away, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5: 17).  For…the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so… (Romans 8: 7).  It is only when God’s Spirit gives us the conviction that we are enslaved by sin (Romans 6: 12), dead in sin (Ephesians 2: 1), hostile to God, and must die to sin (Romans 6: 11) that we cry out to God for His forgiveness and His righteousness through faith in Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf.  The Apostle Paul declares …having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life (Romans 6: 22).

Practically speaking, how does a sinner who still lives in a fleshly body capable of sin against God but who is set free from the slavery to the sin nature act as a servant of God?  Here are a few traits that I have found helpful in my discipline to live free as a steward in service to God:

1.   I must forget past failings while forging ahead with a lighter load.  I must apply what Paul wrote in Philippians 3: 13-14:   I do not regard myself as having laid hold of [perfection] yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  We press on victoriously by laying aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and [running] with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…(Hebrews 12: 1-2).   But, although Christ has set me free, at times I can still hear Satan accusing me of past sins of which I have repented.  Yes, even sins placed under the cleansing blood of the Cross.  In order to continue to live free as a steward of God’s forgiveness, there is another trait I must cultivate.

2.  I must feed regularly on God’s Word to foster a lifestyle of repentance.  Remember Jesus’ challenge to Satan from the Old Testament, in Deuteronomy 8: 3, Man shall not live on bread alone.  (Luke 4: 4).  Just as I must regularly nourish my material body with food, so I must “feed” my inner man on the “Bread of Life” through God’s Word.  I do so when I read, study, meditate, and memorize Scripture.  Then, God’s love and grace assures me of my freedom like an echo of the heavy chains that fell off when Christ set me free.  That echo reminds me of the great price Jesus paid to set me free; and, it drowns out the accusing voice of Satan.  But it also reminds me that I still have a sin nature that wages war against the Spirit within me (Romans 7: 23).  So, God prompts me to apply another trait of a free man in Christ—prayer.

3.   I must find regular times for communion with God in prayer.  When I am convicted of my sin, the Spirit of God through His Word urges me to confess my sin, repent (turn from) my sin, determine to avoid the situations that caused me to sin (1 John 1: 9), and accept God’s cleansing from unrighteousness.  Knowing my depravity and cultivating a sense of poverty of spirit (Matthew 5: 3) can create a “lifestyle of repentance.”  Far from being morose or despairing of life, such a lifestyle draws me closer to the precious bosom of God Who longs to walk in fellowship with me.  Freedom in Christ spurs us to offer adoration, thanksgiving, supplication, and intercession to God in Spirit-led, Scripture-fed prayer.

4.  I must fellowship with other believers on a regular basis.  The assembly of believers, the church, is God’s prescription and plan for His Great Commission (Matthew 28: 18-20; Acts 1:8). When we assemble together we benefit from teaching, edification, accountability, and corporate worship (Hebrews 10: 25).  We do well to join a church in which Scripture is the authority for faith and practice, and in which the spiritual disciplines outlined above are encouraged.

In Part 2 of “Life as It Ought to Be” we will consider traits of those who “Walk in Humility.”  In order to realize a sense of poverty of spirit and cultivate a spirit of utter dependence on my Father in Heaven, I must, as Paul said, “die daily”  and accept Jesus’ invitation to die to self and take up His cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9: 23). 

For now, I close with a very meaningful poem I found in A.W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy (Harper) that expresses what it means to be free in Christ with free access to our Father in Heaven—all made possible through the Gift of His Son, born that first Christmas in a stable in a Roman colony, and then crucified on a Roman Cross in order to set us free:

Arise, my soul, arise;
     Shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding Sacrifice
     In my behalf appears:
Before the throne my Surety stands,
My name is written on His bands.

My God is reconciled;
     His pardoning voice I bear:
     He owns me for His child;
     I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And "Father, Abba, Father," cry.
                                 --  Charles Wesley

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Let's Value the Team…and Our Opponent

Today is Saturday, but not just any Saturday in November.  Today is “Game Day” in one of America’s greatest football rivalries.  To the Michigan Woverines and Ohio State Buckeyes, and their fans across the nation and world, this is “the Game.”  The Michigan-OSU rivalry is immense not only because of the yearly anticipation but because of the long history that includes great coaching on both sides of the Michigan-Ohio border.  Who can forget the days of Woody Hayes (OSU, 1951-1978) and his former assistant coach, Bo Schembechler (U of M, 1969-1989), who became archrival head coaches when Bo crossed the line into Michigan to coach the Wolverines, in 1969?

Bo Schembechler, Michigan Head Coach,  1969-1989
On this Game Day, 2016, less than an hour to kickoff, Buckeye Head Coach Urban Meyer, and Wolverine Head Coach Jim Harbaugh are each probably giving their last minute challenges to their respective teams.   This morning, our son, Brad reminded me of another great motivational speech, now called “The Team Speech” given by Coach Schembechler to his Michigan Wolverines during the 1983 football season.  Here is an excerpt:

No man is more important than The Team. No coach is more important than The Team. The Team, The Team, The Team, and if we think that way, all of us, everything that you do, you take into consideration what effect does it have on my Team? Because you can go into professional football, you can go anywhere you want to play after you leave here. You will never play for a Team again. You’ll play for a contract. You’ll play for this. You’ll play for that. You’ll play for everything except the team, and think what a great thing it is to be a part of something that is, The Team.

As Brad noted, Schembechler’s words still ring true and valuable to us not only for sports teams, but for success in every human endeavor including marriage, family, the corporate world, government, and the military.  One of the great values of competitive sports is that it prepares men and women to be “team players” for life.

But there is a second great value from rivalries such as the Michigan-OSU rivalry.  There can be no rivalry without a team—and its rival opponent.   It’s “the Team, the Team, the Team,” for team success; but, each team and its fans must also respect the rival team and its fans.  Just as each individual player on a successful team must surrender his or her individual rights to the good of the team as a whole, so each of the rival teams and fans must recognize and defer to the hopes and dreams of the rival players and fans.



With son, Brad, and gandson, Caleb, 2009
One of the great memories I have shared with Brad was when we walked to the Big House, in Ann Arbor, to watch the Michigan-OSU game, in 2009.  We were accompanied by my grandson and Brad’s nephew, Caleb Salyers; and, by our mutual friend, Brian Flora.  What made it so special was not who won (OSU was the victor), but the fact that we as Wolverine fans could stand (Who could sit down?) next to Buckeye fans and treat one another with respect and have enjoyable conversation during an exciting game.

There is a lesson we can learn from respectful engagement between strong rivals in sports.  Just as healthy rivalries make better teams and better individuals, so respectful disagreements can strengthen marriages, family, the academic world, the corporate world, and the realm of politics.  Those who disagree with us are to be valued, not silenced, rejected, or destroyed.  We need to learn from the sports world how to have respectful disagreement in our homes, at work, at school, and in politics.  Those who respectfully disagree in a democratic society make is better citizens.

When we forget the importance of civility in political discourse.

University administrators who are providing “safe zones” for their students to protect them from “hate speech” may need to revisit the mission statement of their institution.  Of course "hate speech" ought to be addressed, but unfortunately many administrators seem   to be ignorant of even basic biblical principles like "love thy neighbor." Most mission statements will include words like community, commitment, exploration, ideas, critical thinking, academic, and freedom.  However, it seems that political correctness has overtaken polite consideration of differing opinions and ideas raised in a spirit of civility.   The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5: 15,

See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.

In conclusion, I thank Brad for “tossing me the morsel” about the importance of “the Team concept” in sports, but also in our respective marriages and in other areas of life. Thanks, Brad, and with that I will conclude lest I follow my tendency to write a too-long blog. 

It’s time for kick-off!   Go BLUE!  And to my Buckeye friends, I hope you enjoy the game.


Related Article:   Sports without Spirit

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Transformation of Trump…and All of Us

Thank you very much, everybody.
Sorry to keep you waiting.
Complicated business.
Complicated
.              – President-Elect Donald Trump

With those words, the man who will likely become the 45th president of the United States publically greeted his staff and supporters in the early morning hours following Election Day, 2016.  Donald Trump’s acceptance speech signaled the end of one phase of his “complicated business” of leading what he calls a “great movement” to “Make America Great Again.”  Meanwhile, his opponent, Sec. Hillary Clinton, her many supporters and many others across the nation were in stunned amazement at the reports of what Trump had just accomplished with no prior experience in public office.


President-Elect Donald J. Trump and VP-Elect, Mike Pence
A very cheery Donald Trump addressed positive words of assurance to our wounded and divided nation following the bitter campaign.  As if he was speaking into the heart of every American, he promised to serve well as their president, saying,

I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be President for all of Americans, and this is so important to me. For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I'm reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.

With a much smaller budget for his campaign and with a much less elaborate “ground game,” Donald Trump accomplished what few believed he could do.  Trump’s key to success was that he understood the outcry of many Americans who want less government and a humble, servant spirit from those in Washington.  Trump addressed this fact with the following words:

As I've said from the beginning, ours was not a campaign but rather an incredible and great movement, made up of millions of hard-working men and women who love their country and want a better, brighter future for themselves and for their family.

Having witnessed the lack of hope and the frustration on so many faces of Americans across the country, and now this night suddenly realizing that his shoulders will soon bear the weight of presidential responsibilities, Trump renewed his commitment to the American people (emphasis mine),

It is a movement comprised of Americans from all races, religions, backgrounds, and beliefs, who want and expect our government to serve the people -- and serve the people it will. … I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be President for all of Americans, and this is so important to me.

This afternoon when I heard these recorded words from President-Elect Trump, I was much encouraged by his vision for the federal government—“a government to serve the people.”  My immediate response was to ask myself whether this often brash, unpredictable man can be a “servant leader” or “steward-leader”—one who can exercise stewardship of the power and privilege entrusted to him by the citizens he serves, and ultimately entrusted by God to Whom all power belongs.  Only time will tell.  But for now, we should thank God for allowing the uncontested selection of our next president, and for allowing the respectful acknowledgement of Trump’s victory by his opponent.  Both of these processes will aid in the reuniting of our country.

If Donald Trump is to be an effective steward leader he will need the prayers of Christ-followers across our land and the world who acknowledge that all power comes from God.  Christians should remember that true steward leadership grows from humility.  A humble leader serves the people well and does not abuse his power.  He or she remembers his own puniness and depravity in the presence of Almighty God.  Or in the words of Vice President-Elect Mike Pence whom I respect as a proven servant leader we must regularly “bend the knee and bow the head” in prayer to God.  We can continue pray that God will spiritually transform Donald Trump through his association with godly men of proven character like Mike Pence, Mike Huckabee, Franklin Graham, and Ben Carson.

In a 2012 article, Character Qualities of a Steward-Leader, I referred to President Ronald Reagan as an example of one whose leadership was successful because he acknowledged the sovereignty of God in the affairs of nations.  Reagan also demonstrated godly character in his dealings with others and through his respect for the spiritual heritage of America.  Speaking at a prayer breakfast shortly after his election as governor of California, in 1967, Reagan said,

Faith in God is absolutely essential if a person is to do his best.  Sometimes we’re afraid to let people know that we rely on God.  Belief in the dependence on God is essential to our state and nation.  This will be an integral part of our state as long as I have anything to do with it.

King Solomon also recognized the supreme authority of God over his rule and acknowledged his desperate need of God’s wisdom and strength.  At the beginning of his administration, Solomon prayed,

Now, O LORD my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in…So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?  It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord. – King Solomon (1 Kings 3: 7, 9, 10)

Could it be that God has bestowed the Presidency of the United States upon Donald Trump so that, in the words of pagan King Nebuchadnezzar,

…the living may know
that the Most High [God] is Ruler
over the realm of mankind,
and bestows it on whom He wishes,
and sets over it the lowliest of men
. – Daniel 4: 17

Neither Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan, or King Solomon were born with exemplary moral character.  However, throughout history God has graciously worked in the lives of men and women to prepare them to be godly leaders.  The Apostle Paul, in Ephesians 2: 10 writes,  We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

If you are a Christ-follower, please pray that God will transform the life of Donald Trump as he senses the full weight of responsibility that is about to be on his shoulders.  Pray that Trump will humbly respond to God’s call in his life through circumstances, through godly mentors, and through the prayers and encouragement of God’s people that we will recognize and exercise our responsibility to pray for our next president, his family, and those he will choose to serve with him.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Help and Hope for Weary Voters

Election 2016 is tomorrow, and the presidential race is neck-and-neck.  Polling suggests that Americans are divided in their choice of whether to support Clinton-Kaine or Trump-Pence.  This division in voter choice mirrors the ongoing division that exists in America regarding a host of moral and socio-economic issues.  But most Americans on both sides of this divide agree that the choice is between two of the most undeserving, unqualified people that have ever run for the presidency of the United States.  How then should Christ-followers1 exercise their freedom and responsibility to vote in this presidential election?


In recent weeks, I have been blogging about the presidential election in Oikonomia (See links below).  Here are my final pre-election points to consider before voting. I am writing this within 48 hours of the time when my wife and I plan to cast our votes.  I hope and pray that you will interpret my words as coming from a spirit of humility, respect, and careful thought, soaked in prayer over the past few months—prayers for the candidates and for our country at this crucial time.  At the risk of being too simplistic or confusing, I will be brief and invite comments in reply if you wish to question or add your thoughts.

1.   Pray – Spirit-led, Scripture fed prayer2 is the most essential lifeline for the voting follower of Christ.  By prayer, we offer to our Father in Heaven our adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication (A-C-T-S).  In return, God assures the Christ-follower that He (God) is the Ruler of the Universe Who is in sovereign control, and that we can trust Him for wisdom and guidance.  Our most fervent prayer and study of Scripture will not reveal all that God knows about the election and all the candidates. But as we pray in the spirit of “The Lord’s Prayer,” Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven, we are supplicating God to align our thoughts and decisions in such a way that they reflect the principles of His emerging kingdom on Earth.  More basically, if God’s kingdom is to be evident on Earth, we as Christ followers must heed the Apostle Paul’s command to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love…(Ephesians 4: 1-2).  Above all, as Christ-followers we must exercise humility and respect for brothers and sisters in Christ and toward those who do not yet walk in newness of Life daily with Christ, regardless of whether or not we agree on how to vote or even whether to vote.

2.   Participate in the democratic process of the election.  There are multiple reasons for the Christ-follower to vote.  First, voting is a privilege of very few nations on Earth.  Our privilege has been earned and protected at the cost of the lives of many Americans and the friends of America.  Second, many wise evangelical pastors and leaders have been urging eligible Americans to vote.  However, other evangelical leaders such as Albert Mohler have refused to vote for either major presidential candidate for the sake of conscience. In the blog, Bereans @ The Gate, my colleague, Dr. Tom Mach, Professor of History at Cedarville University, addresses the matter of “conscience voting” in light of the moral failings of both candidates:


I appreciate the talk I hear from Evangelicals about the problem of conscience.  I get that and would not want to squelch it.  I would provide a few cautions, however.   First, we should not fall into the cultural practice of ranking sins.  Sin is sin, and frankly I do not see how anyone can argue that one candidate in this election is more pristine than the other.  Second, we do not have the luxury of standing aloof, washing our hands of this mess, or saying, “well, at least I kept my conscience clear.”  I would like to be able to do so, but we cannot for the reason… [that]… Evangelicals not voting or voting for a third party candidate are, in effect, providing benefit to Sec. Clinton’s bid.

Dr. Mach is saying that we ARE, in effect, “voting” whether or not we cast our vote.  Not all readers will agree, but there is evidence that the low participation of Christian voters in the past has had a large negative impact.  
Senator Ted Cruz has claimed that as many as 50% of born again Christians did not vote in the 2012 presidential election between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.  If this is true, over 29 million votes were not cast, in 2012!  Based on the known distribution of the Christian vote between the Republican and Democrat candidates in recent presidential elections, approximately 75% of these, or at least 21 million would have gone to Mitt Romney, in 2012--enough to have allowed him to easily defeat President Obama.  We can further speculate that, like it or not, the resultant level of discontent with President Obama’s leadership since 2012 is at least partly responsible for the emergence of the “Trump Train.”  I will address another reason for voting in my third point.


Beyonce and Jay Z--Voices for "Black Lives Matter"
3.  Promises of candidates Trump and Clinton should weigh heavily into how a Christ-follower votes.  Specifically, their campaign promises suggest that they have very different visions of the role of the Supreme Court.  Trump promises to appoint justices who strictly interpret the U.S. Constitution, while Clinton envisions a Supreme Court that will more closely represent (legislate?) the will of the people.  Therefore, we must consider which vision for the Supreme Court we wish to be in place when it rules on moral issues like the sanctity of human life, sanctity of marriage, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, immigration and border control, health care and end of life rulings, and the future of our free market economy.  It seems clear to me that a Christ-following voter has no choice but to vote in favor of human life, sanctity of marriage as defined in Scripture, and the fundamental freedom of speech and religion.  I have personally decided that I want no part in the “promise” of further moral decline in America.  I acknowledge that some refuse to vote because of the untrustworthiness or unpreparedness of either candidate to lead as president.

4.  Prideful and Power-Hungry describe the two choices for president in Election 2016.  I respect those who refuse to vote for either candidate because of their character flaws even thought Clinton and Trump promise very different visions for America. Given their flawed character, how can we trust either one to keep their promises?   I have decided to vote for the Trump-Pence ticket with two considerations that add much comfort in spite of Trump’s flaws.  First, as I have previously written in several articles (links below) including ”Pondering and Praying, then Picking a President,” I believe Christ-followers should pray, then participate, and then trust not in the “promises” of a candidate, but in the Promises of God that He is at work in the affairs of nations and in the hearts of rulers.  God can transform the heart of either candidate, and with my vote for Trump, I’m banking that Mr. Trump’s heart is already responding to the sovereign call of God at work through the godly men in his inner circle—e.g. Mike Pence and Ben Carson.

 God is already speaking to their hearts.

Second, even if the life of a “President Trump” is not transformed by God’s Spirit, I can trust that God will still work through Trump’s vision for America as he is held accountable by the checks and balances of the legislative branch and the Supreme Court.  Those who don’t trust Donald Trump to make good on his promises, including those noted above, may be right in the end.  And they’d be in good company because our Founding Fathers, under the influence of a biblical view of the depravity of mankind, also placed little trust in elected officials.  Marvin Olasky paraphrased the words of James Madison who studied at Princeton under Presbyterian minister and signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Witherspoon:

Since men aren’t angels, we need government. Since governors aren’t angels, we need tight controls over government. We are, in two words, intrinsically disordered.

Donald Trump is no angel, and who among us really knows what he would do as president?  But the same has been true of any past president or elected official.  Yet, in the past several decades, well meaning Christ-followers have sought to assume control of a whole political party, the Republican Party, and have tried to offer “Christian candidates” and a “Christian platform” as if a political party, not the Church, is God’s ultimate plan for the redemption of society and the world.   Dr. Bert Wheeler, Professor of Economics at Cedarville University, writes in “Donald Trump--Poster Child”  that Christians have been mistaken in assuming that our nation is like a local church.  Instead of realizing that everyone in the United States is a person created in the image of God to be treated with respect and dignity; people on the religious right acted as though everyone...was also a Christ-follower.  Wheeler outlines a correct model for participation of Christ-followers in government:


Rather than relating to the political arena as a being populated by people created in the image of God…to be treated with respect and dignity…the Religious Right treated the political arena like it was a local church.  We attempted to use political means to create behaviors that ideally come from believers being conformed to the image of Christ.  The nation is not our church.  Human behavior is influenced by laws and regulations created by government…[whereas] …Christian behavioral change happens when transformation leads to the fruit of the Spirit…. [Christ-followers] …should be salt and light, but should not expect non-Christians in the United States in general to believe or behave exactly the way we would expect fellow Christians to believe an behave.


I must remember that I am not electing angels or pastor-shepherds, but sinners like myself to serve in a government that is “intrinsically disordered” and needs “tight controls.”  Therefore, it is my duty to vote—not only at the presidential level but just as importantly, for candidates down the ticket who will hopefully provide accountability to the president and to one another.


5.  Prayer and Providence will triumph regardless of the outcome of Election 2016.  If you haven’t already done so, plan to vote on Election Day.  If you are a Christ-follower, give attention to your daily walk with Christ so that you are ready to be good salt and light toward your neighbor (Matthew 5: 13).  Stay informed even after Election Day and do your part to participate in government, holding elected officials morally and fiscally accountable at every level.  In the words of pollster Scott Rasmussen (emphasis added), …it’s that self-governing step of recognizing that the actions you take as an individual, the actions you take in contributing to your community, are more important in terms of where our society is going than any of the things we do in the political sphere.3

In summary, please pray, participate wisely as a voter, and then trust in God’s providence to revive and unite America again as one nation under God where Christ-followers can be salt and light who sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts, being always ready to give an answer to those who ask for a reason for the hope that is within us, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3: 16).

----------------------------
1  Definition of a Christ-follower (Christian):  A person who responds to the “call” of God’s Spirit through God’s Word (Romans 10: 17), and who is convicted of his or her spiritual poverty in light of God’s holiness (Matthew 5: 3), and who dies to his or her own works (efforts to meet God’s standards), and is “born again” in Christ (Romans 6; Ephesians 2: 8-9), and who now “dies daily” (1 Corinthians 15: 31) by allowing their own wills to be conformed to God’s will, and their minds to be renewed by God’s Spirit and His Word (Romans 12: 1-2).

2 Definition of Scripture-fed, Spirit-led prayer:  Prayer that occurs when a Christ-follower (“child of God,” John 1: 12-13) seeks quiet communion and conversation with his or her Heavenly Father, aided by the reading of and meditation on Scripture that allows God’s Spirit and His Word to speak to his or her mind and will, resulting in worship and thanksgiving as well as reproof, correction, and training in righteousness; so that the… [Christ-follower]…may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 2: 15).

3 From video, “A City on a Hill,” by Gingrich Productions, 2011

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Does America “Have a Prayer?”

I’m just one among many Americans who are disappointed with the presidential candidates of both parties in Election 2016.  I’m also just one among those who have chosen not to vote early and who are praying for specific evidence that God will move in the hearts of both the American people and the candidates.  I have expressed some thoughts on the election in two previous articles in Oikonomia (See links below.).

Perhaps you are also disappointed and discouraged about the candidates.  It will not be the first time that we’ve had a choice between candidates that have been alleged to have had immoral relationships.  Both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson come to mind.  Nor will it be the first time that presidential campaigns have conducted unlawful acts to favor their election chances and then lied about it.  Both Richard Nixon and Barack Obama come to mind.  I should hasten to say that the misdeeds of previous presidential candidates is no justification for excusing the character flaws of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  However, today Abby and I were blessed to attend a rally featuring a political leader who appears to have passed the character quality standards of all who know him well.


Vice Presidential Candidate, Mike Pence, in Ashland, Ohio
Speaking at a campaign rally at Ashland University, Ashland, OH, Indiana’s Governor Mike Pence, Vice Presidential candidate and running mate of Donald Trump, must have observed the expressions of concern and yet of hope on the faces of the over 700 people who had come to hear him speak.  Pence’s words were intended to encourage voters:  I encourage you to have faith. Have faith in the American people.

Then, Pence quoted Donald Trump’s words spoken earlier this week in Gettysburg, PA:  We need to rise above the noise and clutter of our broken politics and embrace the great faith and optimism that has always been central to the American character.

It seems that both Pence and Trump have been thinking much about faith.  But we were especially encouraged when the VP candidate addressed faith with these words:

If you have a mind to, exercise that other kind of faith.  You know, I recognize this is a challenging time in the life of our country.  It seems like we are more divided today than any time in my lifetime.  Seems there are so few great causes that unite us as they once did.  But, in much more challenging times, the American people have gone to a well to draw strength, and I think we ought to be going there again.


After a rousing applause, Pence gave a more personal appeal that seemed to resonate from deep in his own heart of faith:

So, if you are inclined to bow the head and bend the knee now, the next fourteen days is a good time to do it.  I’m grateful that some of the sweetest words I ever hear are when people say, “I’m praying for you.”  And, some of the sweetest words Donald Trump ever hears. 

Then, as if to answer a question in the minds of many in his audience and in the American electorate; namely, “How should we pray?” Mike Pence added:

But let me say, I’m not so much talking about praying for people or praying for an outcome.  I rather like what Abraham Lincoln said so many years ago during his time of trials when he was asked if he thought God was on his side.  He said I’d rather concern myself with whether we’re on God’s side as opposed to whether He is on our side. 

As if he understood another faith question that many Americans have today; namely, “Will our prayers make a difference?”  Pence continued:

So pray for our country, pray for this great nation, this last best hope of Earth [as Lincoln called America].  All the world looks with hope and aspiration to America.

What followed in Pence’s speech explains both his solid character and how his qualities as an American leader are nurtured through a strong faith in God, and in communion with God through prayer and through Scripture:

[And pray] for our strength for this time of decision.  And, when you do, pray with confidence.    Because what has been true for thousands of years is still true today—that if His people who are called by His name will humble themselves and pray, He’ll do like He has always done in much more challenging times, He’ll hear from heaven, and He’ll heal this land--this one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

Moral issues at stake in Election 2016
In conclusion, Mike Pence’s stump speech was devoted heavily to addressing issues that are crucial to the future direction of America and which demonstrate that Trump-Pence has a very different view of what America ought to become than Clinton-Kaine.  Many of these differences touch issues that are deeply rooted in the moral and ethical foundation of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures as explained by a voter guide prepared by the Ohio Christian Alliance.  

While it is true that both Trump and Clinton have raised questions in our minds as to their qualification for president, it is heartening to know that Governor Mike Pence is a man of solid faith and moral character.  It is also encouraging that both Pence and Trump are aware (perhaps becoming more aware each day) of the importance of faith in our nation’s affairs. And with these facts, we ought to be encouraged that in spite of our moral failings as Americans and as a nation, God is still working in the lives of at least some American leaders that are worthy of our respect, and even our vote in Election 2016.


How About You?  I welcome your "Comment."  Here are links to earlier articles on Election 2016:

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Unrighteous Indignation in Election 2016

Can we expect any more surprises and craziness from Election 2016 than we’ve seen already?  Most surprising to me recently is the reversal of roles between social conservatives and liberal progressives.  Secular progressives follow an evolution-based humanism in which humankind is steadily evolving to a higher plain of perfection.  As a result, progressives are rejecting the supposed worn-out moral standards from the Judeo-Christian era--restrictions such as abstaining from sex outside of marriage and a social code in which men honor women, and women treat men with respect by dressing like ladies.


GOP Candidates, Mike Pence and Donald Trump
But then Donald Trump appears with a resume marked by disrespectful and immoral treatment of women, a resume that merely reflects the culture that birthed him.  Trump’s alleged immoral behavior is predictably problematic for evangelical Christians.  But the reaction of liberal progressives is most amazing!  They have suddenly become the defenders of Judeo-Christian values as they condemn Donald Trump.  From their high perch, Trump is simply a deplorable, unredeemable reprobate.

Cultural and political commentator, D.C. McAllister, in her October 8 article, “America, You Have No Right to Judge Donald Trump” points out the inconsistency and hypocrisy in the recent tramping of Trump by our secular culture:

The fact of the matter is that Judeo-Christian ethics have been driven from our culture and declared a dinosaur from an ancient past. Right and wrong, virtue, morality, goodness—these have been rejected in pop culture, our education system, the media, and politics. We have been told repeatedly that character doesn't matter because everyone's values are different. All that matters is an ideological agenda and the power that goes with it.

According to McAllister, it logically follows that,
If morality is relative to each individual—a purely subjective experience—by what standard are they judging Trump?  Obviously, in such a secular climate, there can’t even be a “standard.”

Rebecca Teti, in her article entitled “On the Lewdness of Donald Trump,” takes a more direct approach to condemning the hypocrisy of those pointing fingers from within the secular crowd:

I hate this gross culture that demeans women and sex. It makes me feel sick to my stomach when I think about young men steeped in this sick culture going anywhere near my daughter, who is the most beautiful soul on earth—or anyone else’s daughter. For that matter, I hate the idea of my sons being surrounded by people who can’t behold them as persons, but only dissect them for parts.  But I hate even more the even grosser culture of The Lie where someone like Hillary Clinton or people like the editorialists at the Washington Post and the Formerly Grey Lady get to point their fingers and pretend they didn’t create and celebrate the culture in which Trump merely partakes.

Teti also expands on the depiction of immoral behavior and demeaning of women in music and the media, all of which is glorified by influential people on the Left and supported by significant numbers of professing Christians:

Rap lyrics celebrate the assault of women all day long, and our pop stars twerk for the precise purpose of attracting lewd attention, and some of these artists are fêted at the White House and elsewhere as role models for young people. My friends—even some of my pious Christian friends—watch and celebrate Game of Thrones, which if I understand correctly, features graphic depictions of the demeaning of women and everyone else.

 Nor does the Republican Party get a free pass.  McAllister notes that condemnation of Trump’s alleged moral failings is ironic coming from a Republican political elite that has told its religious base that social and moral issues don't matter in politics. "It's all about the economy, stupid. Leave your morals in the church but don't voice them in the public square."

Is Donald Trump a "Changed Man?"
So, while the liberal progressives have taken up the banner of unrighteous indignation traditionally born by conservative evangelicals, many evangelicals are supportive of Donald Trump.  Some evangelicals support Trump in spite of his past misdeeds because they give higher priority to his policies—i.e. promise to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices, support for law and order, commitment to strengthen education, and strong national defense.  Others maintain their support because they believe Trump genuinely has become a “changed man” who has both apologized for and rejected his past speech and behavior.  Trump has stated,

I've traveled the country talking about change for America but my travels have also changed me… I have gotten to know the great people of our country and I've been humbled by the faith they've placed in me…I pledge to be a better man tomorrow and will never ever let you down.

As of this writing, Donald Trump still has the support of key evangelical leaders such as Jerry Falwell, Jr., James Dobson, and Eric MetaxesFranklin Graham supports Trump’s condemnation of President Obama’s failed policies in the Middle East but has not formally endorsed Trump’s candidacy. 
Franklin Graham and Donald Trump
Evangelical leaders risk having their credibility for Christ tarnished by Election2016.  After all, even the moral relativism of the secular world accepts the absolute truth that “to whom more is given, more is expected (e.g. James 3:1).”  Election2016 has upped the stakes for evangelicals to avoid diminishing the credibility of their Christian witness, or compromising the clear message of the Gospel and misrepresenting the role of the Church in politics.  We regret, perhaps to our shame that evangelicals may now be reaping the unfortunate harvest of having refused to vote for several morally solid candidates in the primary season.  Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and Marco Rubio come to mind.

Although WORLD Magazine does not endorse political candidates, the editorial staff of WORLD has called for Donald Trump to step aside.  These editors reason that, to be consistent, they must apply the same moral standards to the candidacy of Donald Trump in 2016 that they did  when calling for Bill Clinton’s resignation, in 1998.

And so, Campaign 2016 continues to be crazy.  Both supporters of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have enough reasons to wish for a more moral and upright candidate.  The Republican establishment is stuck with a candidate who has brought many into the party with his strong stand for fiscal responsibility and foreign relations.  But now the GOP leadership aligns with many of the very social conservatives they formerly disdained in order to condemn Trump’s alleged immoral behavior.  And liberal progressives who have championed women’s rights must turn a blind eye to Hillary’s past abuse of women who were involved with her husband’s White House escapades.  They must also dismiss her cozying up to Islamic nations where women are oppressed and even brutalized.

So, it seems that the mudslinging has brought splatters onto all of our faces, making it all the more essential that America awaken to its utter need of repentance and revival.   Proverbs 14: 34 states, Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a disgrace to any people.  While many Americans of all stripes are evaluating Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, several things are certain.  First, Donald Trump has appointed several godly people that are having a positive spiritual impact upon him.  Christians need to pray for Trump’s spiritual transformation in response to the Gospel which hopefully being presented to him in word and in deed.

Second, it is likely that God is already bringing a refiner’s fire upon America as His nostrils fill with the stench of moral and political corruption at every level, the rejection and distortion of objective truth, and the degradation of His creation including the disruption of the human family, churches, schools, and even precious human life in the mother’s womb.  Regardless of who wins the presidential election, Americans need to prepare for life in a culture that is increasingly hostile toward individual freedom, morality, decency, and the expression of Christian virtues in the public square.

WORLD Magazine’s conclusion to their article calling for Mr. Trump’s resignation provides a fitting conclusion here:

We don’t know if God will rescue our nation from the pit into which our politics have fallen.  We don’t know if He will rescue WORLD from the ire some Trump supporters will feel.  We hope and pray that He will—but if He doesn’t, He is still God, holding the future of individuals and nations in His hands. May His name be praised forever and ever.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Tim Kaine Offers Trump a Key to Victory

While most vice-presidential debates have made little more than a small ripple among raging waves of a presidential election year, history may record that last night’s debate between Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Governor Mike Pence (R-IN) was a major exception.  Most of the 90-minute match produced the typical bantering back and forth involving punches and counterpunches aimed at the qualifications of their presidential running mates—Hillary Clinton (D) and Donald Trump (R).
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Gov.  Mike Pence (R-IN)
Governor Pence pointed to the lack of candidate Clinton’s qualifications based on her failed policies as Secretary of State under President Obama regarding Syria, Libya, Iran, and Russia; and the fact that she was handling classified information on an e-mail server housed in a basement while using the Clinton Foundation in a “pay for play” with influential world leaders.   Senator Kaine countered with accusations that Trump must be hiding fraudulent tax returns and would conduct his presidency discriminating against Muslims whom he views as evil without exception, against ethnic minorities whom he views as lawbreakers, rapists, etc., and against women who apparently Trump doesn’t trust to make decisions about their bodies.

Were the above accusations and rebuttals the entire substance of this vice-presidential debate, I think nothing historic will have come from it.   However, the Kaine-Pence debate was unique in that each candidate chose to invoke the authority of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures on at least one occasion to question the ethics and character of their opponent’s running mate.

Governor Pence challenged the American electorate to consider what kind of nation we have become when we continue to refuse the right of unborn babies to live.  Pence questioned how Senator Kaine who is pro-life could compromise his own stand against abortion by agreeing to run on the ticket with Secretary Clinton.  Clinton supports late-term abortion up until the time when birth is imminent.  Her campaign also calls for repeal of the Hyde Amendment that respects the moral conscience of those who defend the unborn.  Hyde opposes the use of taxpayer funds for abortion services.  In his opposition to abortion, Pence criticized the Democrat party’s pro-abortion platform by appealing to the authority of the Bible which teaches that unborn babies are already persons with rights.  He stated:

I would tell you that for me the sanctity of life proceeds out of the belief that -- that ancient principle that -- where God says, ‘before you were formed in the womb, I knew you,’ and so from my first time in public life, I sought to stand with great compassion for the sanctity of life. Pence added:  Society will be judged by how it defends its most vulnerable – the aged, the infirm, the disabled, and the unborn.

Sen. Kaine countered that Gov. Pence and Donald Trump have no regard for women’s right to choose, and that they would reinstate laws that would punish women who seek abortion.  However, Pence denied this charge by saying,

The state of Indiana has also sought to make sure that we expand alternatives in health care counseling for women, non-abortion alternatives. I'm also very pleased at the fact we're well on our way in Indiana to becoming the most pro-adoption state in America. I think if you're going to be pro-life, you should -- you should be pro- adoption.

Senator Tim Kaine, who considers himself a devout Catholic, also appealed to the Scriptures when he questioned the character of Donald Trump.  Kaine’s criticism of Trump’s character came following repeated quotations of derogatory statements Trump has made toward women including Hillary Clinton, and toward Muslims, Hispanics, and individuals who Trump deems unworthy of his respect.  Kaine said, there is “a great line from the gospel of Matthew. From the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks.  By referring to this tiny quote from Matthew 12: 34, in my estimation, Tim Kaine earned the prize for one of the greatest zingers of any presidential debate in American history.

The Judeo-Christian Scriptures reinforce in many passages this principle that our mouth reveals the nature of our hearts, or our character.  Proverbs 23:7 states, For as he thinks within himself, so he is.  Luke 6: 45 expands on Matthew 12: 34 quoted by Tim Kaine,  The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.  Matthew 7: 16-17 records a claim of Jesus followed by His question, and then an application in regard to the character of false prophets:

You will know them by their fruits.
Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?

So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.

Donald Trump and Mike Pence
Whether or not candidate Kaine understood the power of his use of the Scriptures in last night’s vice-presidential debate, I believe he placed his finger on the key to the success (or failure) of the man, Donald Trump, in his bid for the presidency of the United States.  I believe Donald Trump’s greatest opponent both in years past and during the entire 2016 presidential race has been none other than himself.  Trump’s biography is laced with rude and downright immoral expressions that are indefensible.  Even while his running mate was defending many of Trump’s utterances last night, Trump himself was busily tweeting additional words that do not represent him well as a presidential candidate.

But, the truth is that you will know a person by his or her fruit.  The real problem is not Trump’s tongue.  It is his heart.  Nor can any of us be expected to “bear grapes” if our DNA matches that of a “thorn bush” (Matthew 7:16).   None of us can bring forth good treasures with our tongues if our hearts are plagued by evil.

Thankfully, there is hope for Donald Trump just as there is hope for all who, according to Romans 3: 23, …have sinned and fall short of the glory of GodThere is none righteous, no not one, Romans 3: 10 adds.  But, God has not ceased in His pursuit of us.   Centuries before God sent His Son, full of grace and truth (John 1:14) to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10), He spoke through the prophet that He would send a Savior.  In Ezekiel 36:26, God promised He would change our hearts so that we can personally know Him and bear the fruit of His righteousness, and not the bad fruit of our own self-righteousness. 

Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel is speaking of the transformation that is possible thanks to the incarnation, sinless life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ Who opened the way for salvation from sin and the new birth of Christ’s life within.  Romans 10: 17 states, So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ, and verses 9 and 10, just prior, explain that if you

confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.


Although we are all concerned about Election 2016, and many wonder which candidate is most qualified, there is a more important “election” that all of us must consider.  Not by our own righteousness, but by putting aside our pride and looking to the cross of Christ where God gave His very life to redeem us from the slavery of sin and death (separation from God). 

And so, we ought to pray for our nation, and pray for the candidates.  For reasons I have written
elsewhere, I am leaning toward voting for Donald Trump.  But, more importantly, I am now praying that he will grasp onto the “key truth from Scripture” quoted by Senator Kaine.  I pray that Trump will take to heart his need to surrender in repentance to God and receive the gift of a new heart and…a new spirit.  From such a heart, godly character can grow, and it is such character that America now needs in leadership like never before.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Did LeBron Miss a Critical Shot?

In his recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president, LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers basketball superstar wrote:

LeBron James uses his success for the benefit of others.
As a kid, I didn't have much money. It was just my mom and me, and things were rough at times. But I had basketball. That gave me a family, a community, and an education. That’s more than a lot of children in Akron can say. There are a lot of people who want to tell kids who grew up like me and looked like me that they just don’t have anything to look forward to.


I respect LeBron James for his character and generous commitment to helping disadvantaged children through the LeBron James Family Foundation.  But, with all due respect, I wonder if will disappointed by Mrs. Clinton and her Democrat party if she is elected.  Although it may sound very partisan of me, the statistics are very clear--major US cities that have fallen into corruption, loss of jobs, failing schools, and (most recently) undermining of law and order have been managed by Democrat mayors for decades.

My hat is off to LeBron and many formerly disadvantaged people like him who nonetheless succeeded in spite of having grown up in many cases in a single-parent family in a ravaged inner city.  However, LeBron credits his success to the support from family and his local community, and not from Washington politicians.

What is needed from Washington is not more failed policies or neglect.  Instead, what is needed is competent local leadership in support of inner city communities so that children can live safely, find quality education through school choice, and live in homes with parents who are employed in adequately paying jobs.  In many cities, there will need to be a deliberate effort to rebuild the infrastructure of family and community, including transportation, education, and social services that respect the dignity of mankind.  Perhaps Mrs. Clinton can accomplish these if given the presidency, but I have yet to learn of a significant positive accomplishment by her as either US Senator or Sec. of State.  On the other hand, candidate Trump promises safety for inner cities through wise enforcement of law and order, education through school choice, better employment opportunities, lower taxes, better health care, and better child care for working parents.

As I have written earlier in Oikonomia, I am disappointed that America doesn't have a better choice of candidate for president. However, I believe a President Trump would be superior in defending the Constitution, providing sound Supreme Court nominees, protecting America globally, protecting our borders without which America will cease to be a nation, lifting the federal government out of the basement of inefficiency and corruption, improving American education through school choice and teacher accountability, and promoting economic growth through wise investment in infrastructure and appropriate technology.

I cannot vote today; and for that I am glad.  But for now, I am praying that Mr. Trump, Mrs. Clinton, and all of our elected officials will realize that unless they come to believe, speak out boldly, and make decisions from a strong moral foundation, America will not be able to address the forces from abroad and within our borders that threaten to undermine our nation.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

“Out, Damn Spot!”-- Injustice in America


Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick, second string quarterback for the San Francisco 49’ers, has been protesting police injustice toward minorities by remaining seated for the playing of the National Anthem prior to the opening of each preseason game.   In August, Kaepernick said in an interview with NFL Media:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.  To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

Of course, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution affords Mr. Kaepernick the right to freedom of expression.  The Constitution affords the same right to a growing number of NFL players and high school football players who are following in step with Kaepernick’s protest.

Marcus Peters raises fist in protest.
As I have watched the news reports and commentaries, I am reminded of the long history of protests against civil authorities and unjust practices in America.  Seeing Marcus Peters of the Kansas City Chiefs raise his fist during the National Anthem, on September 11, reminded me of how I felt upon seeing the raised fists of sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the 1968 Olympics as they stood on the blocks after receiving their medals.

American Olympians  vs. America, 1968
The headline-grabbing protests of recent years and my study of American history remind me that nonviolent protests have had a significant and positive role in drawing attention to injustices. The nonviolent protests led by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. on behalf of minority rights transformed America in a positive way.  But
Dr. King's leadership as a Baptist minister of the Gospel was based on his commitment to the teachings of Jesus Christ, especially His fundamental command to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 19: 19) and when necessary, to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5: 39).  Dr. King’s focus on Christian love, character, and individual responsibility was an essential ingredient in the success of the civil rights movement.  

Although nonviolent protests have seldom been without at least some violence, several recent protests have boiled over into demonstrations of hate and mob rule.  For example, movements like Black Lives Matter claim that “Black lives matter” but fail to conduct themselves in a way that both respects all human life and property and presents a vision (e.g. Dr. King’s “dream”) for a better society.   Instead, there seems to be an unawareness or ignorance of the gains we have made in civil rights and racial reconciliation in America.  Protesters stir up social unrest by bringing up past injustices while interfering with the justice system by prejudging police actions. 

It is obvious that injustices exist in America.  But it is also true that many who make headlines through protest have been poorly educated in American history.  From elementary school upward, many of our children have been taught to view America through the lens of liberal progressivism.  The educational experience for many occurs within a constant stream of “news” provided by a liberal-dominated media that uses every opportunity to emphasize inequality.  Dissatisfaction among the poor and middle classes is fueled by the message that they have been mistreated by a system that favors the rich and dishonest.  While many press for “social justice” they ignore the fact that the disintegration of the American family hinders proper development of character which causes poor educational performance.   The result is a lack of competitiveness in the job market, resulting in unemployment, poverty, and proneness to join movements that foment protest.

Family breakdown and poor education impacts future generations.  Increasing numbers of poorly educated Americans become helpless pawns in a system that emphasizes groupthink instead of individual responsibility and accountability.  Instead of emphasizing human dignity, hope, and a pathway to achievement of joy and happiness as expressed in America’s founding documents, the liberal progressive message is, “See what you’re missing-- you’ve been cheated.  Look what you could have--just vote us into power.”

Janie Cheaney, in a WORLD article this month entitled, “Free and Equal,” writes,
Equality and inequality sound like complementary opposites, but they’re driven by non-complementary impulses.  Equality is about climbing up—a political principle written into our founding documents. It’s the theme when people feel empowered, or find empowerment within their grasp. Its primary emotion is hope.

Cheaney continues:
“I’m as good as you” backs up demands for equality: It may reveal a chip on the shoulder, but could also indicate a healthy desire to improve one’s condition. The complementary statement “You’re no better than me” hints at smoldering resentment. Inequality is about tearing down
.

Cheaney concludes that, Few if any political figures today are calling for more equality. Instead, they rail against inequality.  In the name of social justice they not only highlight contemporary inequality, but also condemn America because of the injustices she committed against minorities and the powerless throughout our history.   Social justice purveyors condemn the failures of the past based on current norms as if no moral gains have been made in respect to the rights of minorities.  Charles Krauthammer, conservative columnist, condemns this presentism, the practice of applying contemporary moral standards to actions committed in the past, and then posthumously condemning all who were involved.  For example, Colin Kaepernick’s protest has led some to condemn both Francis Scott Key and  our National Anthem, the lyrics of which he wrote, because Key was a slaveholder.


The events surrounding slavery and the Civil War represent a dark time in American history, and perhaps removal of all vestiges of the Confederate Flag is a respectful practice.  But as Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth learned, none of the attempts no matter how well meaning will purge away the “damn spot” represented in each sinful act of the past.   How then should America proceed in the midst of an era of media bias, misrepresentation of history, presentism, and collective guilt over past sins?

First, there is a great need for honest and accurate reporting by those responsible for conveying each day’s news and commentary.  And, we as watchers and listeners, and users of social media need to seek out all sides of the story.  We need to recognize the difference between news and commentary, and between objective journalists and political water boys or girls.



When we fail to get accurately reported news and perhaps are hampered by having only an elementary understanding of American history we end up like Colin Caepernick.  The 49ers quarterback and those who follow in his steps do not seem to have an accurate picture of either American history or of the current statistics on police actions toward young black men.  According to Charles Campisi, author of Blue on Blue: An Insider’s Story of Good Cops Catching Bad Cops, “In [New York City] a city of 8.4 million people…NYPD officers shot and killed 8 people in 2013—all males, all of whom were carrying guns or knives, 7 of whom had criminal histories….”  These statistics are not atypical of many of our cities.  Nor do they justify Kaepernick’s claim that police are oppressing black people and people of color…[while] …getting paid leave and getting away with murder.  People who wish to lead protests must have their facts straight—both from American history and from current events.



Second, we must recognize that no amount of group protest, collective condemnation of historical personalities and their unjust actions, or purging of our landscape and history books of names and symbols will atone for past sins.  There is only one way to account for past injustices.  That way requires that we recognize the Truth of the Christian Gospel (Good News) which does not deal primarily in group consensus or actions of either the past or present.  Our founding fathers understood that freedom and the pursuit of happiness can only flourish in a nation which recognizes that God is the Giver of opportunity.  Each individual is responsible for how he or she uses the opportunities God affords—i.e. exercises stewardship of the time, talents, and treasures entrusted to him or her.   The great commandments to love God with all of our being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10: 27) are the basis for a moral code.  The injustices throughout human history and up until our present day result when individuals fall short of these standards—i.e. what God calls sin.  How then should we respond?

The social justice approach is to point out injustices and then enlist followers into the business of correcting the injustice through protests, court actions, legislation, and coercion.  But social groups and governments do not sin.  Nor are these groups of well meaning individuals able to rid our nation of the “spots” left from past history or current injustice.  It is the individual who sins.  According to the Bible, no individual can make amends or atone for his or her own sins; or the sins of others.  In Psalm 49: 8-9 we read,

No man can by any means redeem his brother Or give to God a ransom for him--
For the redemption of his soul is costly, And he should cease trying forever--

Romans 3: 23 adds that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…  Romans 6: 23 explains how God, not mankind, has made provision for each sinner who recognizes his sin,  confesses, repents, and receives God’s Gift of atonement through faith in the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ:  The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Jesus Christ is the only Way to rid our souls of the “spots” of sin.  He said, …if the Son [Jesus] makes you free, you will be free indeed (John 8: 36).

Suppose we allow that Colin Kaepernick means well in protesting injustices of police toward black men.  Still, it doesn’t appear that he has either his present facts or past history correct.  Nor does he appear to realize that we are all plagued by sin, the tendency to rebel against God’s plan for true freedom and justice.  Furthermore, does Kaepernick know that each individual including himself needs a new heart through Christ’s atoning work on the cross.  God’s forgiveness and empowering through His Holy Spirit can help us put away the anger, resentment, envy, and a host of other sins that plague our souls.  The Apostle Paul admonishes Christians to live by this command:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Only God can transform lives and set individuals free.  These individuals have opportunity and inspiration to love God and their neighbor and contribute toward building strong families, schools, communities, and civil government.   But if Americans continue to reject God’s justice and mercy, and refuse to own up to our individual responsibility for sin, we will continue to wander blindly about, biting and devouring one another.  On the other hand, if Americans realize that laws and their enforcers are for our good, and if punishment is justly given and received, then the guilty can be placed on a path to redemption, forgiveness, and freedom.

Although it is easy to point to the Kaepernick’s and other protesters of this world, I must first be sure that God’s justice and righteousness does its work in my own heart.  If you and I are  “born again” believers, this closing challenge is for us and for all who claim faith in Christ:

For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, [then we may ask] what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? -- 1 Peter_4:17