jasonbwatson

July 31, 2012

Divorce

Filed under: Biblical Worldview — jbwatson @ 8:15 pm
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The subject of divorce is one that causes much disagreement in church-world. Some–like me–were raised believing that divorce is always wrong. Others believe that divorce is not only not wrong, but is sometimes even better than staying together. Our culture certainly has no problem with divorce. But my own study of this subject, sparked primarily by teaching through Matthew in a Sunday school class five years ago, has led me to a clarified understanding of biblical teaching on divorce.

Lest there be any doubt, let’s be clear: God hates divorce, as is made clear in Malachi 2:16.

Despite that, there are reasons for which divorce is allowable by God, even if not preferable or desired. It is important to keep this truth in mind when we hear of individuals who are or have been divorced.

In Matthew 19:1-6 the Pharisees ask Jesus if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife “on any grounds” (HSB) or “for any reason” (NKJV).

There were two separate groups among the Pharisees, the Hillelites (followers of Rabbi Hillel) and the Shammaites (followers of Rabbi Shammai). The Hillelites took a pragmatic approach and a loose interpretation of Moses’ writing to allow a man to divorce his wife for any reason (or even without reason).

Deuteronomy 24:1 refers to a man divorcing his wife because he has found some “uncleanness” in her (KJV and NKJV). This is also translated “some indecency” (ESV and NASB) and “something indecent” (NIV). In the original Hebrew it read “a cause of immorality,” or, more literally, “a thing of nakedness.”

The Hillelites seized on “cause” or “thing” and took it to mean that divorce was permitted for “a cause”—which could be anything that displeased the husband. Their reasoning was that Moses would have simply said “immorality,” not “a cause of immorality” if immorality were the only reason for which divorce was permitted. Accordingly, the Hillelites granted “any cause” divorces.

The Shammaites believed that Moses’ instruction in Deuteronomy allowed divorce for adultery only.

The point of the Pharisees’ question was to test Jesus, or trick Him. His answer should be understood to say that no, divorce is not allowed for just “any cause,” not that there is not any cause for which divorce is permitted. In short, Jesus was publicly stating that the Hillelites were wrong.

Some biblical scholars, most notably David Instone Brewer, hold that Exodus 21:10-11 states that there are three rights within any marriage, the rights of food, clothing and love (which we now commonly refer to in marriage vows as “love, honor and keep”).

According to Brewer Jesus did not mention in Matthew—nor did Paul mention in his writings—that these were causes for divorce because they did not need to, it was clearly stated on the marriage certificate. This would also include abuse, which is extreme neglect and a failure to love and honor.

Brewer also states that at the end of all Jewish and most Roman divorce certificates it said “you are now free to marry anyone you wish,” meaning, obviously, that remarriage was permissible and would not be considered adultery.

Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 that believers may not abandon their spouses, but if an unbelieving spouse abandons a believer then it is okay for the believer to remarry.

Furthermore, divorce and remarriage are both permissible if one partner breaks the marriage vows. While many Bible scholars hold that divorce and remarriage is only permitted by God in cases of adultery or the departure of an unbelieving spouse, abuse and neglect are likely also valid reasons for divorce and remarriage is permitted in those cases as well.

It should also be noted that any divorce prior to an individual accepting Christ is forgiven at the time of salvation, even if the divorce was for “any reason” (i.e., not a biblically permissible reason) and cannot be held against an individual even in consideration of holding a position of church leadership. The previous divorce is forgiven and forgotten just as are any and all other sins.

Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees’ question reinforces the Old Testament teaching that marriage is an all-encompassing act of unity that should not be separated by man. Marriage should never be treated irreverently or as unimportant and disposable. However, due to sin nature and the choices of individuals, marriages do sometimes dissolve.

Furthermore, Jesus’ statement in Matthew 19:9 that anyone who divorces except for reasons of immorality and remarries is committing adultery is strong language used to underscore the fact that marriage must not be taken lightly. Due to the “any cause” divorces of the first century divorce was easier and more common is Jesus’ day than it is even today. Furthermore, since only the husband could initiate or file for divorce, women were left extremely vulnerable in the society. Anyone who entered into marriages repeatedly and irreverently made a mockery out of what God designed as a holy institution. The result was tantamount to adultery.

Jesus was likely using strong words in this passage to emphasize the importance of marriage as God intended it. I do not believe, however, that anyone who has been divorced for biblically acceptable reasons is living in adultery by remarrying. Even an individual who has divorced for wrong reasons can repent of the choices that they made and be forgiven.

The disciples responded to Jesus’ teaching about the sanctity of marriage and how seriously such a commitment should be taken by stating that if that was how marriage was supposed to be it would be better just to not get married at all (Matthew 19:10). Jesus responded to that by saying that not everyone can accept that, meaning that not everyone can accept being single. Some were born unable to engage in sexual activity, some were made that way by man (i.e., the forced castration of eunuchs), and others who choose to remain single “because of the kingdom of heaven,” meaning that sometimes being single is a part of God’s plan for an individual’s life.

For additional insight, see also David Instone Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church (InterVarsity Press) and “What God Has Joined,” Christianity Today, October 2007, pp. 26-29.

July 30, 2012

Let’s Be Fair

Like millions of others, I have been watching a lot of Olympic events since Friday’s opening ceremony. And last night, like many others, I empathized with US gymnast Jordyn Wieber as she realized that she will not be going to the All Around competition because of a bizarre rule which restricts qualifiers for the finals to not more than two per country.

Wieber is the reigning world champion, and was a favorite for medal contention at these Olympic games. Yet, due to the strength of the US women’s gymnastics team, she was edged out by teammates Alexandra Raisman and Gabby Douglas for one of the two finalist positions from the US.

(Completely as an aside, I watched all of the floor routines by the US gymnasts last night, and, though certainly not a qualified or trained observer of gymnastics competition, I fail to see how, in a sport where tenths and hundredths of points really matter, Raisman’s floor exercises earned a score of .659 points higher than Weiber’s… But like I said, that’s not the point).

In reality, what the IOC rule does is attempt to create a level of “fairness” that pure competition may not–and last night, did not–create on its own. Apparently the powers that be feel that it is important to ensure that as many countries as possible are represented in the finals. The relevant portion of the rule reads, “The best 24 individual gymnasts (maximum two from each country) go through to the Individual All-Around final, where gymnasts compete on all apparatus.” Shortly thereafter, it continues, “Each apparatus is judged for difficulty and execution, with the highest scoring athlete the winner.”

The problem is–or should be–clearly evident in the very wording of this rule. First, it contradicts itself by saying that the “best 24 individual gymnasts” will go on to the AA finals, but then clarifies that by restricting it to not more than two per country. Therefore, it is inaccurate to say that the best 24 will go on, as last night’s competition clearly revealed. The rule then contradicts itself again by saying that the highest scoring athlete is the winner, because Jordyn Wieber scored higher than all but three other athletes in the qualifying round, but I am quite certain she does not feel like she won…because she did not. Though her scores qualified her for the AA finals, the bizarre attempt at leveling the playing field will deny her that opportunity.

According to the Olympics web site (london2012.com) there were 60 competitors in the All Around Individual qualifying round. Jordyn Wieber scored higher than 56 of them. Not only that, she was one of only four gymnasts to achieve a total score higher than 60. Yet, because two of the other three that scored above 60 are Wieber’s teammates from USA, Wieber will not advance to the finals.

I need to point out, as well, that Wieber is not the only gymnast who will suffer from this two-per-county limit. The combination of that facts that she is from the USA, is the reigning world champion, and scored so high will mean that she gets the majority of the attention, but Russia’s Anastasia Grishina (12th overall), Great Britain’s Jennifer Pinches (21st overall) and China’s Jinnan Yao (22nd overall) also scored in the top 24 but will not make the finals because they were the third-highest finishers from their respective countries. Perhaps adding insult to injury, Wieber is not even one of the four reserves for final competition because of the two-per-country rule.

Now, I certainly have no grudge or ill-will toward France’s Aurelie Malaussena, Poland’s Marta Pihan-Kulesza, Japan’s Rie Tanaka, or Australia’s Ashleigh Brennan, but these gymnasts–at least in last night’s competition–were not among “the best 24 individual gymnasts.” Yet they will be in the AA finals.

I think I have sufficiently set the stage and established that I think this particular IOC rule is absurd. However, this entire scenario serves only to highlight the impact of any attempts to create artificial “fairness.” Every attempt to force fairness at the expense of the outcomes of real competition results in some level of unfairness, whether in athletics, academics or economics.

There are plenty of people who argue for forced fairness in economics, through higher levels of taxation on higher earners in order to redistribute the wealth “more fairly.” There are those who argue that there should be only a certain percentage of students in any class who receive A’s, a certain percentage who receive B’s, the highest percentage who receive C’s, and so on. Such “forced fairness” is anything but. Competition–unfettered, uninterrupted, unadjusted, and completely clean and legal–will, by itself, produce the fairest results every time. No assistance or interference is needed. The problem is, those who aren’t among the “winners” start to cry about it not being fair, and then someone gets the brilliant idea to try to make it fair artificially.

I am a baseball fan, and an Orioles fan specifically. Thus, I am just about required to dislike the Yankees and Red Sox. However, I would never think of suggesting that the Yankees and Red Sox have won the division, the pennant, and/or the World Series enough recently and the Orioles deserve their turn to win. That would be ridiculous! The Orioles only deserve to win if and when they can field the best team and thereby earn the title(s). No true competitor would want a title that came to them just because it was their turn. Such victory would seem hollow…fake. And that’s because that is exactly what it would be.

The fact is, though, the limitation of qualifiers to only two per country is but the beginning of a slide down a slippery slope of forced “fairness.” See, if–to be fair–we have to make sure that no country has more than two competitors in the final 24, it is only a matter of time before someone decides that still is not fair. What if, even with that restriction, there are still countries that do not make it into the finals year after year? After all, if my quick perusal of the competitor’s national flags is correct, Greece, Brazil, Croatia, Chile, Israel and others will not have a competitor in the AA finals. How many years can that be allowed to happen before we need to restrict the finals to one competitor per country so that more countries get to be included? But wait, that might not be far enough either, eventually. After all, there are some countries that have never won an Olympic medal in any event, ever. Surely we cannot allow such inequality. Perhaps there should be a rule created that will allow for medals to be more evenly distributed.

I hope you can see where I am going. Interference of any kind with competition serves only to destroy competition. Attempts at creating equality of opportunity (i.e., no more than two finalists per country) eventually leads to attempts to create equality of results. And while Jordyn Wieber and the Olympic gymnastics competition has served as a prime example of the problem, it is a problem that is much more prevalent, much more far-reaching, and, indeed, much more serious than Olympic competition. So, let’s be fair, and stop meddling with the outcomes.

July 27, 2012

Old Friends

Filed under: Uncategorized — jbwatson @ 8:54 pm
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I mentioned in a recent post that my family and I were on vacation last week. During that vacation we visited two of my oldest friends, both of whom I have known since high school. I have stayed in touch with both of these friends since my graduation, despite the fact that I did not go to the same college as either of them, and we have not resided even remotely close to each other until this past year (though I am still six hours by car from either of them). For a number of years I did not even live on the same continent as one of them!

Until last week’s visit I had not seen one of these friends for five years, and the other for eight. Much has happened over that time period! In the instance of the friend that I had not seen in eight years, my daughter was not yet one the last time we saw each other, and my friend had no children. Now I have a son, as well, and my friend has three children. As for the other friend, my son was but a few months old last time we met, and my friend was not only not married, but was not even seeing anyone (as far as I know…). Now that friend is married and has a child.

Technology has its flaws, but it is a wonderful thing in many ways, too–not least of which is the way in which it has simplified keeping in touch with others. See, even though I had not seen my friends in years, we have exchanged scores of e-mails over those years, not to mention Facebook messages, birthday and Christmas cards (and yes, even the occasional pen-and-paper letter!). Though we have not been physically close, these two friends have known more about my life than many people I have had much closer proximity to during that same period. I can share any need or struggle with either friend, and I know that both of them will pray for the situation and, when appropriate, offer advice or encouragement.

The Bible talks in many passages about friends, but perhaps the verse that comes to mind immediately is Proverbs 17:17, that says, “A friend loves at all times….” I can say that is true for both of the friends I visited last week.

I am also reminded of the words of a gospel song entitled, “Old Friends.” It is a short, whimsical little tune, but it includes some poignant words, among which are these: “old friends, what a find, what a priceless treasure, old friends, like a rare piece of gold…” and these: “Now God must have known, there’d be days on our own, we would lose the will to go on, that’s why he sent, friends like you along,” and, finally, these: “Old friends, you’ve always been there….”

Scripture says that Jesus is a friend that sticks closer than a brother, and I am surely thankful for Him. No human friendship can ever compare to the closeness and faithfulness of Jesus. Because I am human, and prone to error, I have surely failed my earthly friends, just as I have failed Jesus. There have been earthly friendships that have come and gone, some which have faded to passing acquaintances. But I am thankful for my few close friends…especially the two I was fortunate enough to spend time with last week. If you have been blessed with close friends, do not take them for granted. Thank God for them. Thank them, too…for being your friend.

July 26, 2012

Tolerance (again)

Perhaps the trouble with taking a week-plus off from blogging is that when I get back to it there are so many different things I want to blog about that I don’t know where to start!

The recent media frenzy over Chick-fil-A–specifically the company’s support of “traditional marriage”–and the resulting cries on the one side for boycotts and on the other for increased business and shows of support has served to bring a glaring spotlight once again onto the subject of tolerance.

As I have discussed here before, it is amazing how our country, or at least the majority of the mass media market and professional mouthpieces, seem to love talking about tolerance when doing so means supporting liberal, non-traditional, and even rebellious speech, beliefs or positions, yet those same folks seem to lose all sense of “tolerance” and even respect for the first amendment when the position being taken is in support of conservative, traditional, or so-called “fundamentalist religious” beliefs.

It is not news that Truett Cathy is a Christian, that his son and current Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy is a Christian, or that they built the Chick-fil-A business endeavoring to be true to biblical principles. It is not news that the Cathys support the biblical definition of marriage and family. It is not news that they therefore also oppose the movement to legalize homosexual marriage.

Not too long ago Chick-fil-A was receiving a lot of negative media attention for providing free food to a conference that supported the biblical definitions of marriage and family. That was ridiculous enough. Now, the uproar has resumes because Dan Cathy, in an interview with Baptist Press, reiterated that position. In his words, Chick-fil-A is, “guilty as charged.” Cathy went on to say that, “We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”

I for one am thankful for the Cathy’s consistent adherence to biblical principles and their willingness to take a public stand in defense of them.

Thanks to the freedoms that we have in this country, any person can believe as he or she wishes and can share his or her beliefs or positions freely. That is a huge part of what makes America America. I have the right to disagree with you, and you have the right to disagree with me. How sad that we cannot have respectful public discourse about such disagreements!

This atmosphere of toxic language is evident in the media, in politics, in entertainment… And I am well aware of the fact that it is not exclusively one-sided. While the media at large definitely has a tilt toward the left, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and others are plenty guilty of using over-the-top, insulting and ridiculous language at times in their attacks on the left/support of the right. I suppose hoping for rational, respectful, well-reasoned debates is asking a bit much. After all, looking back at American history reveals that propaganda and extreme rhetoric has been part of our culture from the very beginning.

In an article in the Washington Post, Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign (a group that supports homosexual marriage), said of Chick-fil-A, “While they may have been in neutral, kicking this fight into overdrive now allows fair-minded consumers to make up their own minds whether they want to support an openly discriminatory company. As the country moves toward inclusion, Chick-fil-A has staked out a decidedly stuck-in-the-past mentality.”

I disagree with Mr. Griffin politically and morally, but I appreciate his statement in that he clearly enunciates his position, explains that consumers have a choice of whether or not to support/eat at Chick-fil-A. That’s all quite true. The same is true regarding Target, JC Penney, General Mills, of the Muppets–all open supporters of homosexual marriage. I have a choice as to whether or not I wish to patronize those companies. I may disagree with their position on this issue (I do), but I do not see any good coming from calling them names. Mr. Griffin strayed a bit further than I would prefer; his use of the terms “openly discriminatory” and “stuck-in-the-past” are clearly intended to be condescending. But the truth is, we all discriminate. That word has a very negative connotation, for sure, but the act of discriminating is really nothing more than deciding between two things. When I had breakfast this morning, I discriminated against the orange juice and in favor of the coffee, against the cereal, in favor of the waffles. And I suspect that Chick-fil-A is more than happy to be “stuck in the past” when that means adherence to biblical principles and traditional definitions of marriage and family.

What troubles me more than anything is the outrageous name calling, threats, and wishes for harm. No surprise here, but Roseanne Barr has (once again) provided a clear example of the kind of rhetoric that adds absolutely nothing to the debate and serves, really, only to highlight her own bigotry and hatred for those who believe differently than she does. Yesterday Barr tweeted, “anyone who eats S— Fil-A deserves to get the cancer that is sure to come from eating antibiotic filled tortured chickens 4Christ.” In a follow-up, after her comment received plenty of attention, Barr said, “christian liars: i never wished cancer on you at all-jesus will punish u 4 ur deceit-I said processed foods cause cancer- #chickfilA.” Did she say that the “antibiotic filled tortured chickens” cause cancer? Yes. She did not say that she wishes that Christians will get cancer. But the implication is also clear in her tweet that she thinks eating at Chick-fil-A will result in cancer, and she has no qualms about Christians getting cancer because they eat there. Her implication about cancer, and her insulting twist of the company’s name, not to mention her follow-up attack on Christians as liars, are unhelpful, silly, and, quite frankly, stupid. The debate has not been enhanced by her contribution.

Chick-fil-A issued a statement after the hoopla began, saying, “The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect — regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.” There you have it, and I am sure that is true. I have never heard any mention of a Chick-fil-A refusing to serve anyone. Thus, the uproar is all about Truett and Dan Cathy having an opinion and a belief. (And Chick-fil-A is a privately-owned company, by the way!)

So here’s a thought, for Roseanne, for Rush, and for everyone in between: how about exercising some real tolerance? Why not have a fair and objective attitude “toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own”? Do I think we should all agree? No way. Do I think we should keep our opinions and beliefs to ourselves? Nope. But it would be pretty neat to see us all try to speak respectfully to and about those with whom we disagree. An intelligent, well-reasoned, and articulately-stated position might even prompt someone on the other side of the issue to…gasp!…listen to what we have to say. I think that’s what they used to call “civil discourse.”

July 24, 2012

Vacation

Filed under: Biblical Worldview — jbwatson @ 8:41 pm

It has been more than a week since my last post, and that is because I have been on vacation. Dictionary.com defines “vacation” as, “a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel.” That pretty well hits it on the head, too, because that’s what I did. I suspended work activities, except for a few times that I logged in to check e-mails. I did rest, I did travel, and I did recreate.

Some people have a hard time taking a vacation. They just cannot let go of their responsibilities–usually at work–and relax. Some people might call these folks workaholics, others might call them Type A personalities, still others may refer to them as control freaks or overachievers. I know, because I am one…and I have been called all of the above.

I have gotten better, I think. In fact, spending a total of one hour or less on work-related activities over an eight day period may be a record for me, I don’t know. I do know that that has not always been the norm. I used to justify my inability to disconnect from work by using my position as an excuse. After all, as the one who was “in charge,” there was some danger in letting others handle everything without me, right? I mean, I have to be in the know, and I need to make decisions, and…and…and….

I’m not advocating a dereliction of duty by any means, but it turns out things can usually keep chugging along just fine without me for a while. Especially when the other members of the team are capable and competent. Yes, there are still some things that only I can do, but I have found that those things do not have to be done every day. Sure, there is some catch up I have to do when I do get back to work, but it doesn’t really take all that long, and the time off is far more important.

Vacation allows for rest, and our bodies need to rest. So do our minds. Vacation comes from the root word “vacate” because usually when we take a vacation we vacate our jobs and our homes and we go “somewhere else.” And while that is certainly my favorite kind of vacation, it is not required to go somewhere to take a break. In fact, God designed the calendar for us to take a vacation of sorts once a week. God Himself rested after six days of creating the universe, and He instructs us in His word to do the same. We need to suspend work, relax, rest, take a nap…. If God thought it wise to take a rest, how arrogant of me to think I don’t need to take one.

At the same time, I surely am thankful that when God does rest, He is not disconnected. Things do not pile up while God is resting, waiting for Him to catch up when He gets back to overseeing the universe. God rested after six days of creation, and I do not know of anything in Scripture to suggest that God does not still rest from time to time. But God’s rest is not like my rest. I like to go somewhere, ignore my cell phone, and have limited interaction with my computer. I rarely if ever check voice mails on my office phone when I am on vacation. God does not operate that way. He does not stop hearing prayers; we do not have to leave a message, and hope that God will attend to our concerns when He returns. Nothing happens in the world without God knowing it or allowing it; we do not have to wonder if He was on a trip when natural disasters or shooting sprees take place. I don’t know how it works exactly; as someone with a finite mind I certainly cannot imagine what it must be like to be omnipresent and omniscient. But God is those things, and I am glad that He is.

July 11, 2012

God’s All Stars

I am a big baseball fan, meaning that yesterday was an exciting day for me, since it was Major League Baseball’s annual All Star Game. To the best of my recollection I have not missed an All Star Game since I started paying attention to baseball in 1986. Last night, like there is just about every year, there were stories that made the game special. For instance, the youngest position player ever to play in an MLB All Star Game played last night–the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper, who is just 19 years old. The Atlanta Braves’ Chipper Jones, who is 40, played in his last All Star Game, since he will be retiring at the end of this season. The New York Mets’ R.A. Dickey played in his first All Star Game at age 37.

It seems that every year the All Star Game features some perennial All Stars–players who always appear in the mid-summer classic, both because of their outstanding skill and the fans’ appreciation of their efforts. My all-time favorite baseball player, Cal Ripken, Jr., for example, played in nineteen straight All Star games. Yet, each year’s game also includes players who appear in their first All Star Game–and for some of them their first and only.

As I was thinking about this I was reminded of Hebrews 11, the passage that many have called the Hall of Faith. In that chapter the writer of Hebrews describes several Bible characters who obeyed God in faith. Those mentioned in this chapter (with the possible exceptions of Barak and Jephthah) would probably fall into the category of God’s perennial All Stars–the men whose stories are well known, often referenced, and stand among the great stories of obedient faith.

What these men did certainly qualifies for a “Hall of Faith,” too, in my opinion. Abraham, for example, “was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. He went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8, ESV). There have been plenty of times in my own life when it was difficult to follow God even when I knew where I was going; to pack up everything and strike out trusting the God would lead the way is certainly an example of great faith! Or Noah, who verse 7 says obeyed God regarding events “as yet unseen.” Noah was supposed to build an ark, though he lived nowhere near a body of water, because God said he would destroy the world with a great flood, which no one had ever seen or imagined. Noah not only did this, but he worked at consistently and faithfully for one hundred years! It seems sometimes I cannot spare 100 minutes for God, much less stick with something He has asked me to do for 100 days. One hundred years of faithful obedience because of events unseen or unheard of is tremendous faith!

At the same time, the Bible is full of many other heroes of the faith. Some of them receive only one short mention in Scripture and are not heard of again. Some played small roles in history, but demonstrated tremendous faith in the one moment for which their story has been recorded.

One of the fun things about the MLB All Star Game is voting. Fans all over the world can vote for their favorites, for the players that they want to see or believe are deserving to be on the teams. Who would be on your list of God’s All Stars?

July 9, 2012

God Will Provide

Filed under: Christian Education — jbwatson @ 6:18 pm
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As part of a professional network of which I am a member I was recently among a group of Christian school teachers and administrators who were asked about our experiences with funding from the state and federal government. Programs such as IDEA and ESEA, among others, provide funding from the government for various educational purposes, ranging from professional development to textbook purchases to services for students with disabilities.

Sadly, in my opinion, more and more Christian schools are looking for, finding, and utilizing government funds for parts of the services that they provide. There is even at least one internationally recognized Christian school association that encourages this.

My opinion, based on my own experience with federal/state funding of any kind is “stay away from it.” I have had experience in Christian ministries in both the residential childcare and Christian education fields, and in both settings I dealt with state regulations for licensing/accreditation, and in both settings I/we had the opportunity to “tap in” to funding streams from the state and federal governments. The temptation is strong for ministries that rarely if ever have any extra money and are always struggling to find ways to pay for much needed benefits or services. But the reality is that state/federal funding always comes with strings attached. We (collectively) have probably perfected the art of justifying our acceptance of such funds in one way or another–typically by saying the funding will go directly to a SPED provider not to the school, for example; that it will be used to pay for textbooks that we would have purchased anyway; or that it will enable us to provide services to students–or potential students–that we otherwise could not have provided (particularly in the area of IDEA).

My considered and strong opinion, however, is that accepting government money of any kind is a definite step on to an extremely slippery slope. Such a step will inevitably result in (1) relaxing some standards/requirements/convictions that we held in order to allow ourselves to accept the “necessary” funding, and/or (2) will result in us getting so comfortable with/dependent upon that funding that if and when the day comes that we must refuse it because the conditions for accepting it have finally gone too far, we will be scrambling to make up for that funding or will suddenly have to make major cuts to services or spending. The usual reality, though, is much like like the frog in boiling water–we would jump out immediately if thrust into boiling water, but when we get in and the water feels fine, we tend to stay put as the temperature is gradually increased until it’s too late and we have boiled to death.

Christian schools should absolutely endeavor to provide services that are as comprehenive and far-reaching as possible in order to serve as many students as God has called them to serve. That will look different for different schools, of course. At the end of the day, though, if God calls a school to do it, He will provide the funds necessary to accomplish it.

July 6, 2012

Watch Your Step

Filed under: Biblical Worldview,Spiritual Growth — jbwatson @ 2:30 pm

Last weekend my family and I went camping on the edge of the Badlands along with a number of friends. Several times during the weekend we hiked down into the Badlands. Because of the combination of the grade which we were sometimes walking down (or up) and the nature of the Badlands–very dry sedimentary rocks that break easily, resulting in being rather slippery at times–it was important to watch our steps carefully to avoid slipping and taking what would, at times, have been a potentially lengthy–and probably unpleasant–slide down the terrain.

As important as watching ones step while hiking may be, it is even more important to watch our steps as we walk through life. Proverbs 4:26 says, “Carefully consider the path for your feet, and all your ways will be established” (HCSB).

During our hikes last weekend there were times when I walked casually along, confident that I was on firm and stable ground. During these times I did not even need to look down at the path I was walking very often, because I knew it was safe. I was free to look around me, to enjoy the spectacular scenery of a very unique part of God’s creation.

Other times, though, I looked nowhere but at the path. At times, I would stand still and carefully evaluate the path before me to determine exactly where best to place my next step in order to ensure safe and tumble-free progress along the way.

Life is very much like that. There are times in life when I am safely located in the midst of God’s will and the path before me is clear and stable. At these times I need to be aware of my path, and to look down now and then, but I am also free to be more aware of what else is going on around me. There are other times, though, when I may be faced with choices and decisions, or I may find myself in unfamiliar and uncertain places, not quite sure what I am supposed to do next, that I need to pause to carefully consider each step. I need to do so for my own well-being, and to be sure that I am seeking–and following–God’s will for my life.

Scripture uses the illustration of a path frequently to refer to life in the world and the choices we make as we walk life’s journey. Consistent among these passages are the reminders that (1) God will direct our paths if we will let Him, (2) there are consequences for taking the wrong path or failing to watch our steps–whether intentionally or carelessly, and (3) there are rewards for remaining on the right path.

Just a few examples…

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11 (ESV)

“My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.” Psalm 17:5 (ESV)

“Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.” Psalm 25:4 (ESV)

“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:6 (ESV)

“Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil.” Proverbs 4:14 (ESV)

“[S]he does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it.” Proverbs 5:6 (ESV)

“Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.” Proverbs 10:17 (ESV)

“The path of the righteous is level; you make level the way of the righteous.” Isaiah 26:7 (ESV)

So, just a reminder…watch your step!

July 4, 2012

July 4

Filed under: Politics/Current Events — jbwatson @ 6:00 pm

July 4. The birthday of America. I love early American history. I have for as long as I can remember, and every time I read more about it I find myself more and more fascinated by the people and events that crafted this nation. The collective brilliance and foresight of the Founding Fathers was incredible.

America is an amazing nation, beginning with its formation as an independent country, and continuing throughout its history. The freedoms that we have should never be forgotten, ignored or taken for granted. Nor should we allow those freedoms to be infringed upon or taken away, by any of the three branches of the federal government or any of the state or local governments.

Writing to his wife Abigail, John Adams predicted how July 4 would be celebrated–or should be celebrated–way back in 1776:

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.

(All spellings original; found at http://www1.american.edu/heintze/Adams.htm.)

Adams was off by two days, as we now know. July 2 was the day that the resolution for independence was approved in Congress, but it was July 4 that appears on the Declaration of Independence, and it is that day that has been celebrated ever since. As insignificant as it is in the grand scheme of things it is incredible that even Adams’ predictions for how the day would be celebrated have held true. Or almost held true anyway; more often than not we–myself included–fail to commemorate the day with “solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”

We should, though. We should remember that while it was amazing courage on the parts of thousands of British colonists, willing to sacrifice everything up to and including their lives, that brought independence from England, it was ultimately God who oversaw the events of American independence, just as He oversees, and allows, all events throughout history. And however we may feel about current events in America, we should never forget to give thanks to God for His blessings, provision and grace on America.

That is why we must also remember that–again, however we may feel at any given time about current events–it is not a great country or any political policy or action that will save us. We have abundant blessings and opportunity as a result of the country in which we live, but without God that is not enough. I am reminded of something Sean Hannity wrote, and since I do not have it in front of me this may not be verbatim, but this is pretty close: “What will it benefit our kids to grow up in the greatest, freest, coolest country on earth, only to be spiritually lost and adrift in this world without an anchor for their souls?”

So, Happy Birthday, America. I appreciate my country, and I think that it is “the greatest, freest, coolest country on earth.” I thank God that I am an American. I also, however, thank God that I have an anchor for my soul, and that regardless of whether or not America continues to stray from many of the principles on which it was founded and to continually chip away at the rights and religious freedoms that made this country great, God is in control.

July 3, 2012

So Long, Andy

Filed under: Politics/Current Events — jbwatson @ 5:10 pm
Tags: , ,

This morning Andy Griffith passed away at his home in Dare County, North Carolina. And even though I am a generation younger than those who grew up watching “The Andy Griffith Show,” I too have many fond memories of Andy, Opie, Barney and Aunt Bea. Thanks to syndication the show was on–and still is, I think–just about every day. It was my dad’s favorite show, and I developed a fondness for it, too. In fact, I now own every episode on DVD, and the show never fails to make me smile. Like just about anyone else who ever saw the show I can whistle the theme song from memory and clearly picture Andy and Opie strolling along with their fishing poles.

I also became a big fan of “Matlock,” Griffith’s legal-mystery show from the late-eighties and early-nineties. Even as a child I enjoyed legal dramas–“Perry Mason” was a favorite–and the combination of a legal drama and Andy Griffith proved a dream come true. For a long time the “Matlock” theme song was the ring tone on my cell phone.

I think what resonates with me and so many others about “The Andy Griffith Show” is the lifestyle that it represents. In Mayberry people get along, for the most part, treat each other as they would like to be treated, and help out those in need. Community matters, and church attendance is the norm. Andy’s homespun wisdom reflected genuine insight into the human condition, and the way in which he handled matters–whether with Opie or lawbreakers–that required correction and discipline was gracious yet effective. I am aware that Bible study curriculum has been created based on the show. I think that may be a bit of a stretch, but the life lessons contained in each episode are certainly worth taking to heart.

“The Andy Griffith Show” also showed–and still shows–that a show can be uproariously funny without even coming close to being indecent, inappropriate or offensive. No one uttered a bad word, there was no sex, there was no mocking the government–and yet every episode brought laughter. Many of today’s half-hour comedies contain plenty of language, sex and mockery and completely fail to produce real laughter. It seems there is a lesson in there somewhere, too.

I never met Andy Griffith in person, so I don’t know what he was like. Because he lived on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which is my favorite vacation spot, I always hoped I might see him sometime, but I never did. Depending on who you talked to locally (and, I guess, their experiences with him) he was a friendly neighbor or a grouchy old man. I know that he was married three times, but I don’t know why or what caused the end of his first two marriages. I know that he endorsed some politicians and political policies later in life that I did/do not agree with or support, and I know that he starred in some movies in which he played roles in which he did everything I just commended “The Andy Griffith Show” for not doing (i.e., Play the Game).

I also know, though, that he recorded several CDs of gospel songs, hymns and a Christmas album. I own them, and enjoy them. Andy loved to sing–he managed to work singing into all of his television shows–and to tell stories.

Regardless of any differences I may have had with Andy Griffith personally, I will always appreciate his contributions to American culture, and television specifically. I will remember him fondly. And I hope that the message of those gospel songs he sang in his trademark voice were understood by Andy, that he believed them, and that he accepted Christ as his Savior…because then he can play and sing for eternity.

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