Thursday, January 19, 2006

Remembering Two Great Americans

You probably won't find anything special printed on your calendar for the 19th and 21st of January. In case you are wondering, those are the respective birthdays of Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.

As a nation we have already honored Martin Luther King, Jr., and will commemorate the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln next month, but Lee and Jackson are especially dear to my heart. They were great men who embodied the inspiring courage, uncompromising honesty, principled conviction and moral fortitude we no longer see in our leaders today.

Both Lee and Jackson were men of action who fought valiantly to defend their homes and families. Jackson made it clear that if it were up to him, the South would "raise the black flag" and show no quarter to the enemy invading their homeland. They realized that while war was sometimes necessary, it should never be entered into lightly. As Lee put it, "It is good that war is so terrible, else we should grow too fond of it."

Lee and Jackson were Southern gents through and through. Consider Lee's Definition of a Gentleman:
    The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman.

    The power which the strong have over the weak, the employer over the employed, the educated over the unlettered, the experienced over the confiding, even the clever over the silly—the forbearing or inoffensive use of all this power or authority, or a total abstinence from it when the case admits it, will show the gentleman in a plain light.

    The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past.

    A true man of Honor feels humble himself when he cannot help humbling others.
Jackson's wife, Mary Anna, wrote of her husband that he "was a great advocate for marriage, appreciating the gentler sex so highly that whenever he met one of the 'unappropriated blessings' under the type of truest womanhood, he would wish that one of his bachelor friends could be fortunate to win her."

Both Lee and Jackson believed in principle over pragmatism. Lee once said, "I think it better to do right, even if we suffer in so doing, than to incur the reproach of our consciences and posterity." Jackson summed it up this way: "Duty is ours; consequences are God's."

Jackson never lived to see the fall of his beloved South, but Lee was gracious even in defeat. When approached by those who wished to remain bitter after surrendering he said, "Abandon your animosities and make your sons Americans." It was his position that "we must forgive our enemies. I can truly say that not a day has passed since the war began that I have not prayed for them."

Above all, Lee and Jackson were men of God. Lee loved to pray. He would be sure to let people know that he was praying for them, and he felt encouraged when he was remembered in their prayers. Once, upon hearing that others had been praying for him, he remarked, "I sincerely thank you for that, and I can only say that I am a poor sinner, trusting in Christ alone, and that I need all the prayers you can offer for me."

Jackson was the epitome of a life devoted to prayer. No matter was too insignificant that it did not warrant communion with the Father: "I have so fixed the habit in my mind that I never raise a glass of water to my lips without asking God's blessing, never seal a letter without putting a word of prayer under the seal, never take a letter from the post without a brief sending of my thoughts heavenward. I never change my classes in the lecture room without a minute's petition for the cadets who go out and for those who come in."

Jackson had an intimate knowledge of the sovereignty of God and rested in the promises of his Heavenly Father. Following the loss of his first wife, Ellie, who died almost immediately after giving birth to a stillborn son, he wrote to his sister-in-law, "I have been called to pass through the deep waters of affliction, but all has been satisfied. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord. … I can willingly submit to anything if God strengthens me." It was this unshakeable faith that taught him "to feel as safe in battle as in bed."

The more I see what passes for leadership today in our government, in our churches and in our homes, the more I am convinced that we need men like Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. Jackson. I guess it's time for me to watch Gods and Generals again.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Homecoming

Dave and BeckyLynn Black have returned from Ethiopia. From his blog:
    Wednesday, January 18

    9:17 AM
    We're back. Plopped into bed this morning at 1:00 am after a 34 hour journey. The Lord put us to sleep with the patter of rain on our roof. We're weary but happy. Had a wonderful trip in every way. The Lord did "above and beyond," as usual. You will simply not believe what we witnessed and experienced. As soon as we unpack and get caught up on emails I'll begin my reports. You can expect lots of pictures.

    We felt your prayers each and every day. Thank you.
Welcome home!

Monday, January 09, 2006

The "Gospel" According to Schuller

I am continually amazed at what passes for Christian teaching these days. Now, I'm sure that Robert Schuller has read the Bible (or portions of it) at some point in his life, but I have yet to hear him convey accurately the truth it contains.

The following is an excerpt from his latest "sermon." (FYI, the emphasis is Schuller's):
    What is the number one problem in the human race? I've thought about it, I've written a lot of books, I've met and listened to some of the most profound thinkers in the world. I have studied under Viktor Frankl, I have an immense collection of what I have been taught and heard and I conclude that the number one problem in the human family is boredom. Yes, even more than guilt, because boredom produces activity that generates guilt. Boredom comes first. This means that the single deepest need in every human being is stimulation...excitement. And that is what the Christian faith offers.

    When the stimulation and excitement is offered to you by secularism, how do they do that? Through something that works through your glands, maybe a pill, maybe a drink, maybe sexual activity. All these will do you more harm than good. Stimulation through secularism is not the answer.

    The answer comes through a spiritual faith. How does that work? Spirituality through the Christian faith alone provides stimulation from boredom, through salvation from guilt...and that delivers self esteem, dignity and self respect, to do God's dream for your life. Now you are truly stimulated!

    I'm talking about the deepest human need that will never go away, not in one thousand years—not in ten thousand years. The human being needs to be stimulated or he will be bored and that is the road to hell. To be stimulated, you need salvation. What holds us back more than anything else is lack of internal harmony, which we call salvation? Yes, get rid of a thing called guilt because next to boredom it is guilt that holds the human being back. When your internal emotions and spiritual system is in harmony, and not internally conflicted, then you'll end up with self esteem, self respect, and dignity. Live that way! Then, "You can come to the end of your life with pride behind you, love around you and hope ahead of you." (I delivered these lines at Senator Hubert Humphrey’s funeral in 1978.)

    Only the Christian faith can deliver this kind of a life...stimulation, salvation and self-esteem!
Having trouble finding the nuggets of biblical truth in Schuller's message? That's because there aren't any.

Rather than talk about man's sinful nature, Christ's atoning sacrifice and the need for faith and repentance, he talks about things like "boredom," "guilt" and "self esteem." Has it ever occurred to him that human beings feel bored because we are not rejoicing in the promises of our Heavenly Father? Could it be that we feel guilty because we are guilty? We have all violated God's law, but Schuller's concept of sin centers around our failure to be positive and our failure to engage in what he calls "possibility thinking."

Schuller goes on to say that one of the reasons he is stepping down as president of the "ministry" at Crystal Cathedral—he's passing the torch to (who else?) his son—is that he wants to focus more on writing: "I have theological concepts that have never been written and I think I need to write them." Here's a tip: Anytime someone starts talking about a "new" theological concept, what they are really talking about is an "extra-biblical" theological concept. As Solomon wrote, "There is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

It is sad that we can no longer expect even a rudimentary presentation of the gospel in most churches today. Thankfully, the rock of our salvation is not Robert Schuller but Jesus Christ, and our guide for living is not a book of inane, post-modern psycho-babble but the living Word of God. Perhaps it's time we got back to basics.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Appeasement of Judicial Tyranny

For 189 years, the Indiana legislature has started each legislative session with an invocation to the Almighty. But in November, U.S. District Judge David F. Hamilton ruled that legislative prayers could not invoke "Christ's name or title or any other denominational appeal."

In his November ruling, Hamilton cited various precedents from the U.S. Supreme Court and several lower courts, ruling that the Constitution's establishment clause precludes one religious denomination from being officially preferred over another.

OK, so let's get a few facts straight before continuing. Judge Hamilton studied available prayers from the 2005 Indiana legislative session. As the grandson of a Methodist minister, Judge Hamilton is quite obviously an astute theologian of the first order. Thus, I will accept at face value his conclusion that a substantial majority of prayers offered during the session were "explicitly Christian in content." He said they represent "a clear endorsement of Christianity, sending the message to others that they are outsiders and the message to Christians that they are favored insiders."

According to the esteemed Philosopher King, Judge Hamilton, the establishment clause says that "one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another." But what does the so-called “establishment clause” actually say? The First Amendment says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." That's it, folks. "CONGRESS shall make no law." When the constitution was ratified, nine states had taxpayer supported state churches. While Jefferson may have concluded that such was an offense against mankind, the overwhelming majority of Americans had little sympathy for the mythical wall of separation dividing God and government. Moreover, the last time I checked, the Indiana legislature was not the congress of the United States, but as I have neither the time nor the inclination to get into a discussion of the incorporation doctrine, substantive and procedural due process, etc., I’m going to leave that issue alone for now. Maybe some other time (If you are interested in my essay on abortion and judicial supremacy, click here).

So what was the response of elected leaders in Indiana? Feigned outrage. House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican, said, "We will continue to fight this order by every constitutional means available until it is overturned." Democratic leader Patrick Bauer compared the ruling to totalitarianism. "I see where religions were forbidden in other countries. In communist countries. In totalitarian countries. I think this smacks of that," said Bauer.

Judge Hamilton decreed that Bosma act as a theological traffic cop, approving prayers of clergyman before they were delivered. Hamilton was not effectively ordering that prayers cease. Rather, he was demanding syncretism. Bland prayers lifted heavenward to an ethereal entity of one sort or another. That Bosma refused to take that step is admirable, but too timid in my view.

Yesterday, as the legislature met for the first time since Hamilton's ruling, Bosma, Bauer and the rest could have followed the example of Andy Jackson, who said of the Marshall Court, "The Supreme Court has made it's decision, now let them enforce it." Had they resisted, would Judge Hamilton have had them arrested? If so, he should be impeached.

But instead, they caved. According to the Indianapolis Star, rather than defying black-robed tyranny masquerading as law, legislators opted instead to have a prayer huddle in the back of the House chamber minutes before the opening gavel.

Much can be said about civil disobedience, suffice to say for now that only in extreme circumstances, after large amounts of prayer, reflection, and counting the costs, should Christians openly rebel against the State.

However, there are times when civil disobedience is justified, nay, demanded by Scripture. In Ex. 1:18-21 we read the account of Pharaoh commanding the Israelite midwives to kill every Jewish boy. They disobeyed and were counted blessed by God. In II Kings we read of the high priest Jehoiada leading a coup against Athaliah. Daniel 3 gives the account of Shadrach, Meschach and Aded-Nego, who defied Nebuchadnezzar. When the disciples were arrested for preaching the Gospel, Peter’s reply recorded in Acts 5:29 was, "We ought to obey God rather than men." Needless to say, they continued to preach (Acts 4:18-31, Acts 5:17-29). What of Daniel’s defiance of King Darius’ decree (Daniel 6:1-17) or Rahab’s deceit in protecting Israel’s spies? Sometimes we must say "No," and perhaps the time has come to cry "Enough."

Friday, January 06, 2006

Pray for John Piper

We have just learned that our pastor, John Piper, has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Click here to read his letter to the congregation at Bethlehem Baptist.

His response to this news is encouraging and reaffirms the hope we have in Christ.

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