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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

CrossTalk: Cross and Culture


Now, more than ever, Christian citizens are worried and distressed. The world grows increasingly hostile to our outlook and decreasingly tolerant of our way of life. This is not new, but it is on the rise. Decades ago the darkness entered into pop music; then, onto the silver screen. Next it invaded the airwaves. Worse, it has entered our classrooms and actively seeks to uproot and supplant the values that we are working to give our children. Today it practically permeates all public and political life.

It is not only that the people are corrupt. That has always been true no matter how it was formerly covered up. What has changed is that the corruption, graft, dishonesty and vice is no longer covered up. Dishonorable behaviors that formerly ended the careers of politicians, athletes and entertainers are now excused, defended and even praised. This, in turn, has degraded our culture and emboldened attacks upon Christian lives which stand as a silent witness against all carnal living.

So what are we to think of all this? Should we simply give in and give up? Shall we roll with the flow and consider this “Brave, New World” as a necessary correction that can be adopted without altering the substance of our faith? Should we adopt the underhanded tactics of our culture and use them to fight fire with fire? Or should we retreat, give up hope, and consider ourselves abandoned by God? God forbid! None of these alternatives flow out of the cross of Christ.

Rather, the crucifixion of Jesus teaches us a deeper and more lasting lesson than any of these. On that day, Jesus was manhandled and reviled. He was beaten, spit upon, and falsely accused. He was called ungodly precisely for being God. He was accused of opposing the government even while He plainly confessed that Pontius Pilate received his authority from God Himself. Even though Pilate knew him to be innocent of the charges, he subjected him to the most cruel tortures. Even though Pilate washed his hands of Jesus’ blood, he nevertheless handed him over to be crucified.

Where were the right men doing the right things? His disciples fled. Peter denied him. Those who were left to determine His fate were godless and cynical men who couldn’t care any less about doing the right thing. But God was not absent from this. In fact, quite the opposite was true. God was right in the middle of all of this injustice, corruption and vice. Not as though approving it, but rather, accomplishing His good and gracious will through it.

The very people who are most scornful of God and His ways became His own instruments to accomplish His good work. The greatest goodness that God has bestowed on the world was not done through good men doing good things, but through the enemies of God doing evil things. That is why we call that dark Friday, Good Friday.

That is why we still look upon the cross with awe and wonder and hope. There God once showed that evil events and open rebellion against God does not and cannot thwart His good will. Nor does God abandon the field in the face of evil and rebellion. Rather, God stands with His people even — and especially — where the world has become thoroughly corrupt and godless.

The cross of Jesus reminds us that God creates good even, and especially, in the midst of evil. Christians should not be worried or distressed for themselves as the world spirals into evil and rebellion. For God has not abandoned the field. “He’s by our side, upon the plain, with His good gifts and Spirit,” today, more than ever.
Published in the Uinta County Herald on November 13, 2012

Monday, November 26, 2012

Confessing the Almighty Creator

Town Hall's Shawn Mitchell recently commented on the Marco Rubio fracas in an article titled, "The Left's Newest Inquisition: Deny Your God of Be Declared Unfit."
Their game is either to force Rubio to affirm a personal belief the earth is 4.5 billion years old—disturbing some of his religious supporters--or to mock and stigmatize him and others who could harbor any delusional uncertainty—damaging him with a different part of the electorate....The pack’s position, stretched to its logical end, amounts to demanding that politicians reject belief in God’s divinity and supremacy. That is, it countenances loyalty only to a god who exercises no will or power beyond passively upholding the principles set forth in Science 101.
There is truly "nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9) This is exactly the same attack that Daniel faced 336 years before Christ. His political rivals "sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. Then these men said, 'We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.'" (Daniel 6:4-5)

Daniel response was a calm and humble confession of the Truth. Yes, this did lead to a night's stay in the Lion Motel (people go in but they don't come out). But Daniel lived to tell about it; and many in the Persian Kingdom came to see the Truth as a result.

God grant us to be Daniels in our day.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Intersection of Church and State

The Intersection of Church and State a video produced by Lutheran Hour Ministries.


In the U.S. the relationship between church and state is an energetic one. Voices and viewpoints line up across the spectrum. Some would argue from history there should be a "wall of separation" between the two. Others maintain co-existence is not only necessary and inevitable, but can lead to positive results. In real life, church and state do operate in similar spheres-both conflictingly and cooperatively. See how they interconnect in The Intersection of Church & State.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

CrossTalk: Seventyseven

Eleven years ago this morning at 8:46 in New York City, a Boeing 767 struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Eighty-one passengers were instantly killed together with unknown numbers at the point of impact. It was 6:46 AM in Evanston, fourteen minutes before sunrise and; like the dawn itself, the reality of the impact had not yet come upon us. Initial reports treated it as a tragic accident.

Then, at 10:03 a second airplane with 56 passengers aboard, impacted the South Tower. In a brilliant flash of clarity, we all understood the deliberate act of destruction. And with that dawning, our perception of the world changed.

Evil dawned on America's east as it never had in the previous 225 years of our existence. The poignant pictures of people falling to their deaths prevented all attempts to dehumanize the destruction. As much as we might wish to see it as airplanes attacking towers, it was not that.

Rather, hundreds of innocent passengers were violently turned into human missiles directed at thousands more people who were guilty of nothing more than going to work. Secretaries, book-keepers, assistants and executives, janitors, firefighters, maintenance workers... these are the real victims of evil -- not buildings and airplanes, nations and religions. Evil cannot be wished away, nor, on that day, it could not be ignored.

Policemen, firefighters, and governments in general are established to defend us from evil. They valiantly strove to do so on that day, and they are still striving to do so. But despite their best and most heroic efforts, they cannot protect you from everyone who would do evil to you. And so, there is still more to be learned.

Not only do we need to identify evil for what it is, resisting every attempt to soft-peddle it, we also need to know how to answer it when it breaks through every line of defense to strike us personally. Here too, God has a lesson in 9-11. Look again at the time of the two impacts: 8:46 and 10:03. Amid all the variables of flight delays, ground speed, navigational choices and wind currents, there were exactly 77 minutes between the first impact and the second.

I don't believe in coincidence. I know that God is never absent from our world--not even from its darkest moments. Even in the midst of evil events and evil intent, the One who gave Himself to the world on a darkened Friday always leaves His footprints in the sands of time.

These seventy-seven minutes, lead us to recalls a conversation between Jesus and Peter: “Peter came up and said to [Jesus], "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

Forgiveness conquers evil. Right in the middle of the unfathomable evil of 9-11, Jesus reminds us of His unfathomable forgiveness. This same forgiveness is for you: for the forgiveness of your evils, and for your forgiveness of others’. Even the victims of the worst physical evil are not doomed to the fate of becoming evil in response. Jesus frees us from that; and the seventy-seven minutes reminds us of that.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The H.H.S. Mandate will Strangle the Church

Reprinted from The Brothers of St. John the Steadfast

As a church historian, I feel compelled to remind my fellow Christians in America of a dire threat to their religious freedom, which freedom is supposed to be guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That threat is the Health and Human Services Mandate (hereafter H.H.S. Mandate) within the “Affordable Care Act.” This Mandate requires charitable and educational church agencies to offer abortion-causing drugs to their employees or face stiff financial penalties.

I cannot judge how or why this Mandate was developed. I am a church historian, not a political insider in Washington. What I know as a church historian is that the most effective strategy used by the enemies of the Christian church has been that of “strangulation” through stiff financial penalties and the suppression of its charitable and educational agencies. The H.H.S Mandate imposes stiff financial penalties on the Christian church’s charitable and educational agencies, if they refuse to accept its abortion policies. This is a policy of “strangulation,” whether or not it was intended as such, and it needs to be resisted by all Christian churches in America.

The policy of “strangulation” was first developed by the Islamic religion in its conquests in the Middle East and the Mediterranean world. “People of the Book” (Arabic: “Ahl al-Kitab”), i.e., Jews and Christians, who have lived in Moslem countries have always had the status of second-class citizens (Arabic: “dhimmi”). Dhimmis are allowed to retain their religion, but are subject to certain legal restrictions mostly in social and economic life. These restrictions and penalties have varied in harshness and the extent to which they are applied. The official levy of dhimmis is the poll “tax” (Arabic: “jizya”), which was often heavy (see Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church [London: Penguin Books, 1964], 97-98). The intent of dhimmi status was to induce Christians and Jews to convert to the Islamic faith, or to leave the country, which policy has proved to be quite effective through the centuries.

The policy of “strangulation” was developed in a different way by the communists in the Soviet Union. Starting in 1917, the communists in Russia executed over 12,000 priests, as well as uncounted numbers of laypeople for their steadfast Christian witness (see Ware, 156-157). What is generally not known about the communist policy is that many church buildings were allowed to remain open for worship services. The Church could worship in the Soviet Union, but it could not maintain charitable or social work. It could train a certain number of candidates for the priesthood, but it was otherwise forbidden to engage in educational activities (see Ware, 152-154, 166-169, 170). In other countries that were under communist control after World War II, the same policy of prohibiting the church’s educational and charitable work was followed, with the hope that this would “strangle” the church in a generation or two (see Ware, 174).

The H.H.S Mandate makes it a crime, punishable by law and heavy “tax” penalties, for a church agency to refuse to comply with the Mandate’s abortion policies. Christian churches that are worthy of the name “Christian” cannot, in good conscience, concur with abortion-on-demand. Until the 20th century, the Christian churches have always opposed abortion-on-demand and have done so on biblical bases. Even the traditional physician’s Oath of Hippocrates (460-357 B.C.) included a promise not to perform an abortion; although abortion was common among pagans by the first century A.D. (see Michael J. Gorman, Abortion and the Early Church [Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1982). Now in 2012, Christian church agencies in the United States will be heavily fined with “tax” penalties, if they do not offer abortion-causing-drugs to their employees.

What can you do? Representatives of the majority of American Christian churches, and their agencies, have signed a fine letter in opposition to the H.H.S. Mandate titled “Free Exercise of Religion” (see this document). All of the American Catholic bishops have spoken against the Mandate and their official conference is taking many steps to oppose it (see this website). President Matthew Harrison has spoken against the Mandate and his office offers many resources for Lutherans concerned about it (see lcms.org/hhsmandate).

All this “official” church action won’t do a whole lot of good, if the people of the church and their friends don’t take this issue to their elected representatives through letters and through other legal and appropriate means. The Christian churches, and all those concerned about religious liberty, want all candidates for office in November to make clear their position on the H.H.S Mandate, because it will indicate whether they are in favor of “strangling” the Church or not.

August 16th, 2012 Post by

Sunday, July 29, 2012

No Excuse

One week ago this morning (July 22, 7:00am EDT) the church of college football preached a sermon without words. At Penn State University a work crew fenced off, covered, and  then removed a life-sized statue of the winningest coach in the history of college football. Next day, we learned that the removal of this icon of Joe Paterno's achievements foretold the removal of the achievements themselves. In an unprecedented step, the NCAA expunged  fourteen years of his coaching career from the record books. 111 wins are no longer wins. They are, rather, failures. Failure to defend children too weak to defend themselves.

What did Paterno do to deserve such a draconian punishment? Not enough. That's the problem.

Paterno is not a sexual predator by any account. No doubt he would be utterly appalled to learn the results of his inactivity. But that matters nothing to Sandusky's victims. The Louis Freeh Report is unequivocal.
The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims... Four of the most powerful people at the Pennsylvania State University -- President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President-Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno -- failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade. (p. 14)
As a result, their lives were damaged in irrevocable ways.

By the removal of an icon, the message was articulate and clear. You ARE your brother's keeper. And this silent sermon resonates in every human heart. The propriety of the punishment is still under debate. But the outrage itself is beyond debate. The right thing was left undone. It should have been done. There is no excuse.

All of us are truly saddened. All of us truly hope and pray that the sanctions of the NCAA might help these victims heal a little bit. Finally their screams have been heard. Finally someone stood  up to acknowledge their existence and the pain they have endured in silence. Finally someone has  publicly said: You needed our protection. You deserved our care. We could have protected you. But we  did not. I pray God's peace and blessings on their recovery.

All of us are also looking toward Penn State University. We want them, and college football generally, to learn an important lesson. No entity, no program, no way of life is so important as to absolve  you of your responsibilities to even the smallest person. Mark Emmert, President of the NCAA, made  this plain: “Our goal is to not be just punitive, but to make sure that the university establishes an athletic culture and daily mindset in which football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing, and protecting young people” (Press Conference, July 23).

All of us should also be looking to ourselves. This lesson is not only for programs and institutions. It is a lesson for each and every one of us. You are your brother’s keeper. When your brother needs protection, no social program, no political loyalty, no peer pressure is a legitimate reason to fail him. Whatever the cost, whatever the inconvenience, whatever the sacrifice to success, reputation, friendship or social standing, every human being, no matter how small, is your brother; and you are your brother's keeper.

So, who exactly needs your protecting? Every reader of this column will be able to name certain people smaller, younger, more vulnerable than you. Their cries for help move you to action. There are also the nameless and voiceless. Every day 3500 new victims - people - are killed without being able to scream for help. Ignorance of their names and inability to hear their screams does not lessen our responsibilities. Nor do your personal feelings about abortion matter to the victims. Powerless victims are not helped by your affirmations. They need your voice. They need your care. They need your protection.

When a decade of coaching achievements are counted as nothing, it is a sermon we all must take to heart. To paraphrase Mark Emmert: "Our goal is not to be just punitive, but to make sure that our society establishes a culture and daily mindset in which partisan politics, personal ambition, or peer pressure will never again be placed ahead of defending, caring for, and protecting even the weakest of people."

For Sandusky’s victims, it is too late. Opportunities lost can never be regained. But, by God’s grace, this tragedy can open our eyes to the countless opportunities still before us. It is not too late for these people. We have our voice, we have Jesus’ compassion and, now, we have this lesson to spur us on. Today we see with the clarity of hindsight: Those unable to defend themselves must be defended by those who can. The right thing can be done. It should be done. We have no excuse.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

CrossTalk: The Joy of Meaning

Without meaning, life is unbearable. That's a fact. No matter how strong, healthy, rich or popular you are, without purpose life is depressing, painful and profoundly sad. More than money, more than material, more than a mood change, the most joyful gift that a person can receive is the gift of meaning.

Apart from a God who directly creates your life, meaning is hard to come by. If our life is nothing but the result of chance, it is impossible to find any lasting meaning. Some might live for the pleasures of today. But that only works until tomorrow comes. Then, yesterday's self-centered choices become today's overwhelming problems. Others live for the future fulfillments of health and wealth. But these, too, pass into meaninglessness in the hour of death.

When, on the other hand, your life is directly because of the will of God, it is inherently meaningful. The very fact that you exist means something to God. This fact alone, changes everything. All at once, you have both a responsibility and a freedom. You are responsible to live as one created by God. You are free from the burden of meaninglessness. This is the joyous state of the Christian. This is the joy of a creature before its Creator.

But even here joy is elusive. Even believing in the God of creation, feelings of meaninglessness plague us. How can this be? What causes this sadness?

The problem here is that many people think that for life to have meaning we must see the big picture. We want to see how our daily drudgeries have meaning in the great scheme of things. Why must I do this? Why do I have to endure that? It all seems so meaningless.

Jesus came not only to give an ultimate meaning for the end of life. But Jesus came to redeem each and every event of your life from the morass of meaninglessness. He took the most common events of life and invested them eternal meaning. By His many miracles, Jesus proclaimed meaning in the simplest things of life: weddings, walking, seeing, talking, fishing, eating, serving and worshipping,

So, whether you are at work or at home, you are not simply marking time and waiting for something meaningful to happen in the future. Christians are not only waiting for the last day. Rather, your life right now, today, has eternal, cosmic importance because it is the life that God has given to you. It is the place where God has put you. Here Christ is at work. Here Christ is doing for you what He does best -- creating, shaping, renewing, and cleansing you. In short, here God is loving you.

Life received from God is not random but brimming with meaning. Circumstances redeemed by Christ are not hopeless but God's gracious gift to you. Every moment sanctified by the Holy Spirit is not a delay of salvation but a moment of eternity. “For this is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

What will persecution look like in the modern West?

It won't be lions in amphitheaters and certainly won't be incense and the genius Caesaris.

The devil and the world have all they need already to inflict persecution on the Church through bureaucratic busybodies and zoning laws...


All of us in the increasing bureaucratic West play along to get along as much as we can. We seek to live quiet, peaceable lives which means attempting to keep all the bureaucratic regulations for the sake of peace and good order. But when is it time for churchmen to say enough is enough? When is it time for the Church to speak up for the 7th Commandment and property rights seeing as how they directly affect the Church's ability to due her work?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Eternal Realities in the Public Square


...To insist that the question of marriage is a matter of civil law and not first of all a religious matter does not take us very far. After all, the argument is about what government ought to do...  ...this debate is about whether the law that now defines marriage is itself good or bad, right or wrong. And to join that debate one must appeal, by moral argument, to grounds that transcend the law as it now exists. In that regard, the question of marriage is not about a civil right at all. It is about the nature of reality and interpretations of reality that precede the law.
Same Sex "Marriage" Is Not a Civil Right
 


James  W. Skillen's thoughtful article at the Center for Public Justice is worth reading in its entirety.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

One Small Devotion - The Naked Truth

You've heard the expression "the naked truth."  Now hear the story.

Two men, Truth and Falsehood, went swimming.  Falsehood stole Truth's clothes, and Truth, rather than lower himself to wear Falsehood's clothes, chose to go without.  Falsehood, in the guise of Truth, goes about deceiving mankind to this day.*

Abortion, to name one big, giant example, goes about dressed as health care, freedom, choice, and right.  It comes to "help" in family planning and in reducing the number of unwanted children and poverty.  It appears almost saintly.

Paul, in dealing with the problem of false apostles, says that we should not be surprised, "for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14).

"Truth" is a key Biblical word and especially in the Gospel of John.  Jesus says on the eve of His crucifixion, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).  And then we learn that He hung on the cross without His garments and clothing (John 19:23-24).  The naked Truth.

Ask yourself whether your church and pastor teach the naked truth about sin and the punishment we deserve, as well as about Christ who came and took our sin and suffered the punishment in our place.

And become a voice of the naked truth, adorned only with love.

*story told by Richard Wurmbrand


Reposted from "www.onesmalldevotion.com"

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

CrossTalk: Human Freedom


Shin Dong-Hyuk was born in prison. Not just an ordinary prison, he was born in a North Korean political prison, a labor camp, a death camp. These places are designed for one purpose: to destroy human beings. An estimated 200,000 people live there in perpetual, gnawing hunger, squalid filth and numbing cold. They do hard labor 18 hours a day, 7 days a week until they die at an astonishingly young age.

But as horrible as these conditions are for the human body, the real design is to break the human spirit. Privileges and beatings are used to condition every mind and heart to see itself as totally alone. Fellow prisoners are viewed as competition for food and as snitches when you break the rules. You are trained from birth to take and hoard for yourself and earn favors by accusing fellow inmates, to view all, even your own parents, siblings and children, as enemies. It is this attitude, more than the filthy conditions, that turns human beings into animals.

Shin’s story is told in a newly published book by Blaine Harden: "Escape from Camp 14." It is difficult to read this story, but impossible to put down. For it is a profound lesson in the meaning of freedom and the meaning of humanity. It gave special meaning to my Memorial Day weekend and the Festival of Pentecost which we marked last Sunday.

On Memorial Day, we gathered with family and friends to remember the 1,343,812 American soldiers who gave their lives in defense of the inalienable rights endowed upon all by their Creator. In the exact opposite of selfishness, these brave human beings gave their very lives to spare you from the conditions that Shin and so many others in places like Korea, Germany, Japan and Russia experienced. I hope that this memory leads you to go out of your way and thank a soldier for his selflessness and willingness to pay the ultimate price not for himself but for you.

I also hope that thoughts of selflessness lead you to see more clearly than ever that human freedom is never a freedom to live for self. Rather, it is the freedom to live for others. To be a human being is to care for others. It is for this you were created, for this you were born. When God created Adam out of the dust of the ground, he remained a mere shell of a man until God breathed into him His life-giving Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit of the God who gives what makes you unique and different from an animal.

Examine your own actions and feelings honestly and you will find plenty of examples of the kind of selfishness that takes from others and accuses others for your own gain. These attitudes and actions reveal our own great need to be freed. Even as our bodies are free to be human, our minds still linger in that captivity which makes us like animals, living apart from and against the Spirit of the Living God.

Today the Church celebrates "Pentecost Tuesday." Today we rejoice that Christ has made His Spirit available to all the world through the voice of His Church. This voice of Christ calls us back to true humanity, the selflessness of God Himself. And this voice is more than a demand. Through it, Christ actually gives the freedom that His own death has bought us. It is the freedom to live as vessels of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus says to all who hear and receive Him, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." (John 10:10).

Monday, May 28, 2012

Welfare State as Spiritual Temptation - James R. Rogers

One difference between liberal Christians and conservative Christians is how much weight each places on the violence inherent in government action. While authorized for “the good,” according to St. Paul in Romans 13, the magistrate nonetheless “bears the sword.” While God-ordained, Paul paints us a realist picture of the human basis for the magistrate’s power: It is violence or, more usually, the threat of violence.

As Christians think about social obligations—obligations to others—I think this distinction between the means by which the church operates and the means by which the magistrate operates matters. This doesn’t mean that the government should never transfer wealth. But it does mean that the conditions under which the government transfers wealth are different than the conditions under which the church transfers wealth.

I accept the preferential option for the poor (consistent with the biblical admonition not to be “partial to a poor man in his dispute”). But I worry about the church inviting a multiplication of state-sanctioned violence against others when it is the church’s failure to live up to her mission that prompts a good part of the need for that violence. Let me explain.

The New Testament instructs Christians to use our resources to take care of our pastors and to take care of the needy. But the average Protestant donates a paltry estimated 2.5 percent of after-tax income, and Catholics less than that.

Of this 2.5 percent for Protestants, I’d guess that the largest proportion of those funds go to support services provided to the congregation itself—to the meeting of the congregations’ own needs rather than the charitable assistance of those outside it. First, there is pastoral support. St. Paul, again always the realist, notes that pastors must make their living from the Gospel. Most pastors are undercompensated relative to the important responsibilities they bear. Then there are mortgages, building upkeep, and the like. (Not that I’m opposed to beautiful church buildings.) That leaves a small residual of the 2.5 percent to go to the needy.

In such a case, how could anyone object to churches asking the state to step in and help the poor? What if the numbers of poor are so great that even a generous church could not take care of them all?

The problem is that when church officials petition the government for increased government assistance to the needy, the claim implicit in these petitions is that, because the Christian laity is, on average, so miserly, the government needs to step into to provide for the poor whom the church neglects. Rather than a lecture on social justice from church officials aimed at government officials, I’d prefer to hear a humble acknowledgement of sin and failure for the lamentable aggregate level of the church’s charitable work. We’re asking the civil government to increase its efforts because the church cannot or will not.

That said, I see few problems with church leaders going to a city council, or state legislature, or even Congress, and testifying that that the needs of the poor are so great that the government needs to do something to help. Yet it is at least an embarrassment for church leaders to petition political power—even in the name of “social justice”—when the Christian house is in such dismal shape.

While it is a shame, the move to soliciting political authority is understandable. Church leaders and concerned Christians face time and resource constraints as do the rest of us. “Rent seeking” is not limited to corporations seeking to make a profit through government largesse rather than through making a better product. For churches, it is easier and more effective to aid the poor by asking the government to coerce money out of one’s congregants (and non-Christians as well) than it is to inspire lay folk to embrace the new humanity that Jesus Christ has created in us.

But consider: Holding current church expenditures constant, increasing contributions from church members to eight percent or even ten percent of income would generate huge sums that could be devoted to the needy.

Ginning up donations, however, is the hard road. Given the imperative that the needy should be fed, how much easier it is to step around the church and the power of the Gospel, and instead to make a friend of violence. It’s all in service of a good cause, after all. With the magisterial sword, no need to change hearts and actions. We only need to threaten. What a temptation it is to call on magisterial violence to accomplish God’s work. I am not a pacifist, and therefore do not object to the sword in principle. But as with war, I think that use of the magisterial sword needs justification.

There is also the impact on the church. Once the move is made to the domain of the civil sword, it’s difficult for the church to go back. If the church has ceded responsibility for the needy to the state, then what’s the point of increasing contributions to the church? To be sure, there will always be interstices in government welfare, but filling in the cracks of the welfare state is hardly a stirring call.

There are other ventures—like international missions and other domestic ministries—to which a generous church in a welfare state could attend. But our practices shape our thinking. Once we get used to having civil authority take the lead in responsibility for an issue, then we start to think of it as the natural state of affairs. The cost for the church is that the ease with which civil authority gets results becomes a temptation, and so we look to the state’s coercion for the answers rather than to the Gospel. And that impoverishes the church, as well as society more generally.

I do not at all suggest no role for the civil authority. In noting that the magistrate carries the sword, Paul does not run away from its role in providing for “the good.” But understanding the role of the state to be filling in the interstices left by a generous church is quite different than what we have today. Even more so, because the civil authority necessarily uses violence, or its implicit threat, to implement its goals, I would suggest that there is a different threshold for state action relative to ecclesiastical action. In particular, the church needs to be concerned about her witness when she advocates coercing non-Christians to achieve her distinctively Christian vision of the good that can be reasonably obtained in this world.

FIRST THINGS
James R. Rogers is department head and associate professor of political science at Texas A&M University. He leads the “New Man” prison ministry at the Hamilton Unit in Bryan, Texas, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Texas District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Coming Struggle


“This commandment, that we should love our enemies and forgo revenge will grow even more urgent in the holy struggle which lies before us (in which we partly have already been engaged for years.) In it love and hate engage in mortal combat. It is the urgent duty of every Christian soul to prepare itself for it. The time is coming when the confession of the living God will incur not only the hatred and fury of the world, for on the whole it has come to that already, but complete ostracism from 'human society,' as they call it. The Christians will be hounded from place to place, subjected to physical assault, maltreatment and death of every kind.  We are approaching and age of widespread persecution. Therein lies the true significance of all the movements and conflicts of our age. Our adversaries seek to root out the Christian Church and the Christian faith because they cannot live side by side with us, because they see in every word we utter, and every deed we do, even when they are not specifically directed against them, a condemnation of their own words and deeds. And they are not far wrong. They suspect, too, that we are indifferent to their condemnation. Indeed, they must admit that it is utterly futile to condemn us. We do not reciprocate their hatred and contention, although they would like it better if we did, and so sink to their own level.

“And how is the batter to be fought? Soon the time will come when we shall pray not as isolated individuals, but as a corporate body, a congregation, a Church: we shall pray in multitudes (albeit relatively small multitudes) and among the thousands and thousands of apostates we shall loudly praise and confess the Lord who was crucified and is risen and shall come again. And what prayer, what confession, what hymn of praise shall it be? It will be the prayer of earnest love for these very sons of perdition who stand around and gaze at us with eyes aflame with hatred, and who perhaps have already raised their hands to kill us. It will be a prayer for the peace of these erring, devastated and bewildered souls, a prayer for the same love and peace that we enjoy, a prayer which will penetrate to the depth of their souls and rend their hearts more grievously than anything they can do to us. Yes, the Church which is really waiting for its Lord, and which discerns the signs of the times of decision, must fling itself with its utmost power and with the panoply of its holy life into this prayer of love.”
A. F. C. Vilmar, 1880

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

CrossTalk: I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body

One of the curious ironies of our time, is the more information that is made available, the more misinformation is swallowed hook, line and sinker. Urban legends and Internet hoaxes abound. Email boxes are flooded with believable-sounding stories from seeming authorities which have absolutely no grounding in the truth. Nor is it only the internet to blame. Politicized scientific increasingly touts the number of scientists who believe something rather than at the number of facts that actually prove it.

In every day life, we don't think that way. If you ask me if the sky is blue, I wouldn't consult the experts or look in a book. I would just look up and see. You don't believe the sky is blue because others say it is. You believe it because it is.

This is what Christians also mean when we speak of faith. God never expects that you will believe things to be true on the basis of human authorities -- parents, church leaders, scientists, philosophers, or books. Rather, He calls forth faith simply in what is. This is the kind of faith that God calls forth in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Don't believe it or disbelieve it based on what others say. Investigate for yourself. Learn the facts for yourself.

At first you may shrug your shoulders and say: how could I possibly know something that happened nearly 2000 years ago! But you don't think this way about the Roman Empire, the Greeks or even the ancient Egyptians. And Jesus' resurrection is by far the most talked about and documented fact in the history of the world.

Look at the reports and you will see not only the claim that it happened. You will also see dates and places. You can go and visit these places today. You can study history and verify that Herod and Pilate and Jesus were all in Jerusalem in 30 A.D.

Read about Jesus' appearances after He rose from the dead and you will find that he did not appear as a mere apparition or hallucination. Rather, He appeared in a variety of places doing a variety of different things. Jesus eats (Luke 24:41-43). Jesus walks (Luke 24:15). Jesus cooks (John 21:9-10). Jesus speaks (John 20:15). He even allows people to poke around in His wounds (John 20:27).

And how do we know about all these appearances? Not merely from a one-time flash appearance. Nor from a small and secretive cabal of true believers. Rather, from a huge group of eyewitnesses through the course of over six weeks and across scores of miles of territory (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). Most of these eyewitnesses lived long lives and were questioned and cross examined many, many times over decades. Their stories were checked out. They were compared with the stories of others for inconsistencies. Many of them were tested by fire, wild beasts and torture to see how sincere they were. They sat in the pew with fellow believers for decades after the resurrection of Jesus and their stories were written down so that you could know all this.

Look into these facts yourself. A good place to start is: <http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2011/04/23/risen-indeed-3/>. But wherever you start, you will wind up with the same facts. The next step is to ask what it means and how it changes your life.

For answering these questions, the risen Jesus has given the one, holy Christian Church. There you will learn how the event of the resurrection is the center of all history. But most of all, you will learn that it was especially for you. Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

Friday, April 6, 2012

The spread of fatal, self-centered thinking in the West

How come after 56 million legal abortions since Roe v. Wade in 1973, even conservative pundits reproach Santorum for giving priority to “social issues”? For starters, this term is a diabolical misnomer for mass killing. A social issue might be whether you wear a tuxedo or tails at a glamorous ball; whether you, a commoner, should court a princess or, on a different level, whether workers should be given three or four weeks vacations per year. There’s nothing “social” about depriving an unborn baby of his or her chance to ever be social in the sense of interacting with other human beings. The genocides perpetrated against millions of kulaks in the Soviet Union, Jews in Germany, Cambodians in Cambodia and Tutsis in Africa were not “social issues”; so by what right should the annual annihilation of more than one million fetuses be euphemistically reduced to a bagatelle in such a hypocritical manner?
Uwe Simon-Netto is a Lutheran columnist from Germany.

The rest of his article may be read here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

CrossTalk: Observing Lent

Since tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, what better time is there to talk about Lent? Let’s start by defining the word. “Lent” is Latin for “spring.” It is the time of the year when the days grow longer and warmer and tulips bloom. Lent is as unavoidable as spring itself. It just happens. So it’s not really a matter of whether you will observe it. It is rather a question of how you will observe it.

When Christians observe spring, they always remember Jesus’ resurrection. Both Scripture and history testify that Jesus was crucified and rose during the first month of spring. That’s why spring (Lent) has become a time to prepare for the annual festival of Jesus’ resurrection.

While many prepare for Easter with decorations, chocolate eggs and marshmallow bunnies, Christians have found it more helpful to prepare the heart than to decorate the home. And for help in preparing the heart, we have turned to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1-21). There Jesus teaches how giving, praying, and fasting can train the heart to receive what the Lord gives by His life and death and resurrection.

Know first, that Lent is not just a “once a year” observance. In fact, early on, Christians held seasons of giving, praying and fasting not only in the spring but also in summer, fall, and winter. More than that, Christians know that the mere external “doing” of these things is not at all helpful apart from the Risen Lord who makes it a permanent way of being and does not only confine it to a few weeks each year.

Most importantly, we need to be clear about the true purpose and direction of fasting, praying and giving.  These are spiritual disciplines. Disciplines are teachers, not punishments. They are a way of learning from God, not being punished by Him. God forbids that we should fast with the idea that we are proving to God how self-denying we can be! We must not pray in order to demonstrate our religiosity either to God or to others. We do not give charity either because God needs it or because it feeds our self-righteousness. Rather, giving, praying and fasting are given to turn your eyes to the Risen Lord, who is Himself, your very life.

God teaches, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” When, in the midst of hunger and need, we turn our attention to Jesus, the Eternal Word of the Father, we learn by experience that He is the true Bread of Life (John 6:35).

Nature and reason teach that all we have is received from God. Not only does my life come to me without my having any say over it, but every kind of food comes from living plants or animals—life which I cannot generate but only cultivate in holy wonder. But while we know this in our heads, prayer brings it into the heart. Every need that you name in prayer before God is no longer taken for granted, but received as God’s gift.

While we are learning the lessons of fasting and prayer, Satan and worldly opinions conspire to turn our eyes away from the Lord who gives; and focus instead on the things that He gave. We pile up a stash for tomorrow in the desperate attempt to feel secure, but this drive for future security is not only futile but fruitless. It hampers our ability to be humane. It robs us of the joy of loving others with the material abundance that God has given. And so, God teaches us to give joyfully and charitably to those in need without fear of our own future. And in the giving, God blesses faith with the joy of life and a certain hope in His eternal giving, rather than our constantly dwindling stores.

What better teaching could there be to prepare for the festival of Jesus’ resurrection, for He is the Man who gave everything that He is and everything that He has to you. He started this giving by prayer in the garden. Thus He went to the cross joyfully, not grudgingly. He refused human comforts and lived by the Word and will of God. On the third day, He was raised again by the glory of the Father—as are all those who come to the Feast of the Resurrection by being buried with Him (Romans 6:4-5). May you thus have a blessed spring.

Friday, February 17, 2012

President Harrison Testifies at Hearing

On Thursday, February 16, the President of the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod was invited to present the views of our church body before the House Oversight Committee. His Opening Statment was 5:20 long and is well worth your time to hear.

As the committee followed up with questions for the panel, there were several other significant exchanges which are worth the listen.

By the way...

Notice the tattered blue book on the table in front of him? That is his Greek New Testament, falling apart from use.