jasonbwatson

March 30, 2013

The Day Between

Yesterday was Good Friday; tomorrow is Easter. Yesterday we remembered the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; tomorrow we remember his resurrection, the fact that He is no longer dead, and the tomb is empty. But how often do we think about today, the day between? Today it probably has little if any major significance, but imagine what the day between must have been like for the followers of on that very first “day between.” The Gospel accounts tell us nothing of what happened that day other than that His followers “rested according to the commandment” (Luke 23:56), since Saturday was he Sabbath. Interestingly, Matthew records that the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate that day to request a guard for the tomb of Jesus “lest His disciples go and steal Him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead…'” (Matthew 27:64).

Imagine, though, what that Sabbath day was like. There was nothing the followers of Jesus could do to keep themselves busy and try to keep their minds off of the fact that Jesus was dead, because it was the Sabbath, and activity was strictly regulated, most of it forbidden. It was the day to worship God, and it must surely have been difficult to worship God the day after the One Who had proclaimed Himself to be the Son of God had been crucified on a Roman cross. Today, we can celebrate (solemnly) Good Friday because we know about Easter. The death of Jesus Christ is gruesome and horrific but also fantastic, because we know that through His death He paid the penalty for the sins of all who will ask for forgiveness and accept His free gift of salvation. It is also fantastic because Jesus died in order to conquer sin, hell and death, and we know He was not dead for long. But His followers who were sitting around on that very first “day between” had not understood that He was going to rise again, so there was no excited anticipation for Sunday morning. Instead there must have been dread, incredible sorrow, almost a loss of the will to go on living.

We know this because the Gospels record the fact that Mary and Martha prepared spices and returned to the tomb on Sunday morning, something there would have been no point doing if they knew Jesus would not be in the tomb. Luke tells us that they were “perplexed” when they found the tomb empty (24:4). The angel who appeared to them at the tomb asked them why they were seeking the living among the dead. “Remember how He told you…?” the angel asks in Luke 24:6. Verse 8 says they then did remember, but when they went and told the apostles–the very men who had spent three years living with, ministering with and learning from Jesus–the news of Jesus’ resurrection seemed to those eleven men “an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (24:11).

The hopelessness that must have gripped the followers of Christ on that first day between still grips many people today, and understandably so. After all, if there is no God, there is nothing beyond the here and now, so what difference does it all make? If Jesus was just a good moral teacher, but He died and stayed dead, there is really no difference between Jesus and many other great teachers who have lived throughout the centuries. Paul writes in I Corinthians 15:54 that if Jesus has not been raised from the dead then our faith is in vain. It is useless, worthless and pitiful.

Thank God that the day between was just that, only a day between two incredible and essential events that changed the world and made possible the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.

March 21, 2013

A “particular social group”

This story has received a fair amount of attention in select news outlets in recent weeks, so you may have heard about it already: Uwe and Hannelore Romeike have six children, five of them school age, and the came to the United States from Germany in 2008. Why? Because homeschooling is illegal in Germany, and the German authorities had threatened to take the Romeike’s children away from them because they were homeschooling. In 2010 a U.S. immigration judge granted the Romeikes political asylum because, in the opinion of the judge, the family had a legitimate fear of persecution in Germany due to homeschooling. There are documented cases of other Christian families in Germany that have been fined, imprisoned and even stripped of custody of their children for homeschooling. Why? Because, according to the Germany authorities, homeschooling families are creating “parallel societies.”

The laws in Germany are more than 80 years old. In fact, according to Aaron T. Martin’s article entitled “Homeschooling in Germany and the United States, published in the Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law in 2010, “the draconian policies that are on the books in Germany today were originally implemented by Hitler in 1938.” Why did the Nazi government abolish homeschooling? Because “Nazi leaders proceeded systematically to attack books,
music, films, and radio programs that forwarded any view of the world
inconsistent with the Third Reich’s agenda.” It was this climate in Germany that drove many of the nation’s leading intellectuals out of the country–including Albert Einstein to the United States.

One could question why Germany still has such laws on its books, and I do. In fact, interestingly enough, so do the state legislatures of Georgia and Tennessee, which both took the unusual approach in 2009 of passing resolutions calling on the German government to legalize homeschooling. Among the reasons stated in the Georgian resolution is the statement that “parents hold the fundamental responsibility and right to ensure the best quality education for their children, and parental choice and involvement are crucial to
excellence in education” and “the importance of religious liberties and the right of parents to determine their child’s upbringing and the method in which their education should be provided.” Apparently the Bundestag is unimpressed by the opinions of two states from the American south, as no action to change the law has been taken, to my knowledge. And while I agree that Germany should change their laws in this regard, I am more concerned with what the U.S. government is doing at the moment.

After the immigration judge granted asylum to the Romeikes in 2010 the government immediately began backtracking, concerned that the European Union would be offended and that key European allies would consider the decision an affront to their national sovereignty. The Department of Homeland Security disputed the decision, and last May the Board of Immigration Appeals sided with the government. Now the Romeikes await a decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on an appeal filed on their behalf by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).

Attorney General Eric Holder has argued that Germany’s ban on homeschooling does not violate the “fundamental rights” of the Romeikes. He further argues that homeschoolers who are persecuted for homeschooling their children do not constitute a “particular social group” requiring protection from the United States. What kinds of people do make up groups warranting asylum? Well, the United States has granted asylum to torture victims and victims of religious persecution, as well as to some political dissidents. According to an article by Mary Jackson in WORLD Magazine, the U.S. has also expanded asylum status over the last decade to include “several hundred harassed homosexuals.”

HSLDA Founder and Chairman Michael Farris wrote on the HSLDA web site on February 11 that “The Supreme Court of Germany declared that the purpose of the German ban on homeschooling was to ‘counteract the development of religious and philosophically motivated parallel societies.’ This sounds elegant, perhaps, but at its core it is a frightening concept. This means that the German government wants to prohibit people who think differently from the government (on religious or philosophical grounds) from growing and developing into a force in society.” For those reasons, and the fact that the U.S. Attorney General’s office is arguing that such a ban does not constitute the persecution of a “particular people group,” Farris believes that the “argument revealed some very dangerous views of our own government toward our freedom.” I have to agree. If the United States government is willing to deport a family that entered the U.S. legally, followed the rules to obtain asylum, and–to my knowledge–have been law abiding residents of the United States for nearly five years because the government does not think that the right to homeschool one’s children is a “fundamental right” then we have a serious problem, and we better be on the lookout. What’s next?

March 16, 2013

A sad, unfortunate and poorly timed reversal

If you follow the news you have probably already heard that Ohio Senator Rob Portman has very publicly changed his position regarding gay marriage in recent days. Portman has always been a staunch opponent of gay marriage; in 1996, as a member of the House of Representatives, he was a cosponsor of the Defense of Marriage Act; in 1999 he voted for a measure that would have prohibited same-sex couples in Washington state from adopting children; in 2011 hundreds of students at the University of Michigan protested having Portman speak at the school’s graduation ceremony because of his position on gay marriage. In response to that protest, Portman’s spokesman said, “Rob believes marriage is a sacred bond between one man and one woman.”

So what changed? Well, two things. One, Portman’s son “came out,” informing his parents in 2011 that he is gay. Two, this revelation caused Portman to “think of this issue from a new perspective,” he told Ohio reporters.

Senator’s Portman’s son’s sexuality is none of my business; it is a private matter–or at least it was, until his father brought it into the public square to explain his own sad, unfortunate and poorly timed reversal on the issue of gay marriage. And I do not choose those descriptors lightly. Allow me to explain….

The reversal is sad because, based on his own explanations, Portman has allowed the circumstances of his life to cause him to reinterpret Scripture, and to do so inaccurately. Here’s how it worked: Portman believed the Bible was clear in its opposition to homosexuality and its teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman (he was right on both counts); Portman’s son informed his parents he is gay; Portman loves his son; Portman faces moral dilemma; Portman solves moral dilemma by deciding Scripture means something different than what it does, and what he had previously believed it did.

The reversal is sad because Portman decided that it was easier to embrace a false understanding of the very Word of God than it would be to stand firm in his convictions. It is easier to say God is love, and must surely want people to be happy than it is for Portman to tell his son that he loves him, but he hates his sin.

Yesterday Portman wrote a commentary in The Columbus Dispatch. In it he states that his son’s announcement has caused him to think about this issue in “a much deeper way.” Translation: I was opposed to gay marriage until I found out my son is gay, but my love for my son trumps my adherence to the Word of God. Portman writes that his son told him that “his sexual orientation wasn’t something he chose; it is simply a part of who he is.” I am sure Portman’s son may believe that, and Portman may believe it, too. I have written here before about the issue of “homosexual orientation,” and I am not going to rehash that now. (Desire and Deceit, an excellent book on the subject by Albert Mohler addresses this issue, too). According to Portman, “At the time, my position on marriage for same-sex couples was rooted in my faith tradition that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman. Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love, a blessing Jane and I have shared for 26 years.”

Every parent wants–or at least should want–their children to love “happy, meaningful lives.” But part of tough love–in other words, part of being a parent–means standing firm when the way in which a child wants to live that life is contrary to what is God-honoring. Portman’s reasoning is exactly the same as that that I have challenged here repeatedly regarding the slippery slope that is the issue of gay marriage. Portman wants his son to be happy, Portman’s son is gay, so gay marriage should be okay? That’s absurd. What do we do when someone’s else’s son claims that what makes him happy is having sex with children? What do we do when someone’s daughter says that what makes her happy is the challenge of stealing and exploiting someone’s identity? What do we do when someone’s child says that what makes him or her happy is taking the lives of other humans whom they find to be unattractive, undesirable, or just plain irritating? Yes, yes, I know…those are not the same things, many will say. They are not the same actions, true–but they are all choices people make.

Portman continues, “I wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for Will to have the same opportunities to pursue happiness and fulfillment as his brother and sister. Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.” There’s nothing wrong with such a wrestling match. What is wrong is realizing that the two cannot be reconciled and so deciding that the “Christian faith” should be reinterpreted in order to make it work out alright in the end. Does the Bible have an overarching theme of love and compassion? Yes. But only because the Bible also has an overarching theme of justice and holiness. We cannot accurately understand the love of God without accurately understanding the justice and holiness of God. Because He is a God of holiness, He cannot tolerate sin or have it in His presence. Because He is a God of justice, sin has a penalty that must be paid. Once we understand that, we can understand God’s love–His incredible, indescribable, truly awesome love that caused Him to send His only Son to pay the price for the sins of humanity because none of us can pay it ourselves. What the Bible clearly does not teach, Senator Portman, is that God’s love and compassion means God wants us to do whatever makes us happy. Are we all the children of God? In so far as He made us all, yes. In so far as we will all go to heaven? Not even close.

As far as I know all three of Portman’s children are grown, but can you imagine sitting down to tell them that what they had been taught and raised to believe was God’s Truth was actually wrong? “Well kids, your mom and I made a mistake. So did the pastor, and the Sunday school teacher, and, well, most of the Bible teachers we have respected over the years. Remember what we taught you about homosexuality? Turns out we were wrong. See, your brother is gay. Yes…that’s right. Your brother…our son. And he surely did not choose to be that way. It is just the way he is. It is the way God made Him, apparently. So, we have been wrong. Now that we know your brother is gay we can see it all clearly. We just never understood before. But gay people really love each other, and they deserve to happy just like everyone else. Just because your brother is attracted to men does not mean that he should be denied the right to marry when he finally finds the man he wants to spend the rest of his life with…..” You get the idea. Do you see it, though? Portman is saying that because his son is gay, God must surely think it’s okay.

Portman goes on to make one of the more idiotic statements on gay marriage I have ever heard: “One way to look at it is that gay couples’ desire to marry doesn’t amount to a threat but rather a tribute to marriage, and a potential source of renewed strength for the institution.” Uh, yeah…that’s one way to look at it alright. One very wrong, misguided, and–sorry, Senator–stupid way to look at it.

Portman’s lack of conviction (lack of spine?) is further evidenced in the following paragraph of his commentary, when he writes this: “Around the country, family members, friends, neighbors and coworkers have discussed and debated this issue, with the result that today twice as many people support marriage for same-sex couples as when the Defense of Marriage Act was signed into law 17 years ago by President Bill Clinton, who now opposes it. With the overwhelming majority of young people in support of allowing gay couples to marry, in some respects the issue has become more generational than partisan.” So, since most people think the idea is okay, it must be okay then. Sure. Another ridiculous argument. God’s Word does not fluctuate with the opinions of the people in America (or anywhere else). God’s Word is the same yesterday, today and forever, and it is absolutely clear on the fact that homosexuality is sin, it is an abomination. Of course, we do live in a representative democracy in the U.S., so the opinions of the people can change the law. If that does happen it will not make it right, though, and Bible-believers need to do everything we can to oppose such a change.

And herein is why Portman’s reversal is so poorly timed: the Supreme Court will soon be hearing arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act, and Portman joins the rising throng of people advocating it being overturned. The only thing Portman gets right in his commentary is his suggestion that the courts, and right now the Supreme Court in particular, should not decide this issue. “I believe change should come about through the democratic process in the states. Judicial intervention from Washington would circumvent that process as it’s moving in the direction of recognizing marriage for same-sex couples. An expansive court ruling would run the risk of deepening divisions rather than resolving them.” I agree with that statement. The Supreme Court needs to find only that the Defense of Marriage Act was passed lawfully and is constitutional, and leave the rest up to “we the people.” The Supreme Court must not legislate from the bench and declare gay marriage to be constitutional.

March 15, 2013

Lukewarm

Filed under: Biblical Worldview,Spiritual Growth — jbwatson @ 10:59 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Heads up…the basis for this post is a bodily function that most people (myself included) find disgusting. So be forewarned….

Earlier this week I was sick. I don’t mean I wasn’t feeling well or my tummy hurt; I was sick. Violently sick. And, as suggested above, it was disgusting. As I was lying in bed contemplating the reality of my situation, two things went through my mind. One, it boggles my mind to think that there are people who voluntarily and intentionally put themselves through that regularly by drinking too much. Any pleasure or good-feeling that comes from drinking a lot would surely be negated by the time spent over the toilet, in my opinion. Two, Scripture makes it clear that lukewarm Christians make God want to vomit, and that should provoke some serious thought and self-reflection.

In the early chapters of Revelation John presents his vision of the churches and the message for those churches from God. While those churches are in literal places, they are also examples, I believe, of the statuses churches today might be in, and since churches are made up of people, the messages to the churches are also messages to believers. Specifically, to the church in Laodicea, in Revelation 3:15-16, John writes, “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth'” (ESV). Most translations use the more acceptable words “spit” or “spew,” but the Holman Christian Standard Bible uses “vomit.” The Message presents it this way: “You make me want to vomit!” The Voice also uses “vomit.” The Message and The Voice, of course, are not translations; they present the ideas of Scripture in every day easy-to-understand language but are not particularly concerned with maintaining accuracy with the original wording. Young’s Literal Translation, however, also uses “vomit”: “So — because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to vomit thee out of my mouth.”

So what would cause God to want to vomit? John made it clear; being lukewarm. God does not have any tolerance for Christians who are trying to be godly and worldy. John stated clearly that God would prefer cold to lukewarm; why? Because at least those who are cold have made a commitment and are not faking it. The way I read and understand John 3 is that the church at Laodicea probably said all the right things and went through all the right motions and probably looked quite spiffy to anyone who was watching, but it was mostly just for show. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, they were white-washed sepulchers. Their religion was, as James wrote in James 1:26, “worthless.” Their services were probably well attended and well scripted and impressive. If they had a church bulletin it was probably full of all of “the right stuff.” But when they were away from the church, those Laodiceans were much like the world, doing their thing, doing what worked or was convenient or made them happy. They probably had strong words for those they encountered who were “cold” toward God, and probably considered themselves to be “hot,” at least on Sunday mornings. But the reality is, in God’s eyes they were disgusting, and they made him want to throw up.

Unfortunately, I can think of something even more disgusting than that…and that’s just how often the term “Laodicean” might be accurately be applied to me.

March 8, 2013

Think!

I know it is not original to me, but I have always said that the best thing a teacher can do for his or her students is teach them to think. Unfortunately, while it would seem that this should be a given, it is not always. Far too much “education” these days is in the form of pumping the heads of students full of facts and figures long enough for them to pour it back out for the test. After that, who cares? As long as the scores are high enough on the standardized tests and the school makes “adequate yearly progress” that’s all that matters.

I was reminded of the importance of thinking recently when I saw an ad for Reformed Theological Seminary. A picture of young man gazing intently into a star-filled sky was beneath the headline “If you long to know the mind of God, you must learn to use your own.” Near the bottom of the ad is this statement: “[A] faith that’s truly mature requires a mind that’s well-informed.” I am not particularly familiar with RTS, but based solely on this ad I am convinced that someone there “gets it” (even if only someone in the marketing department).

Dorothy Sayers wrote an essay entitled The Lost Tools of Learning that is well respected among many educators, especially those within the field of classical education. My favorite statement in her well-written essay is this: “Is not the great defect of our education today–a defect traceable through all the disquieting symptoms of trouble that I have mentioned–that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils ‘subjects,’ we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning.” And that was written some sixty-five years ago; how much worse is it now?!?

Unfortunately the dearth of thinking goes far beyond institutions of formal education. Sadly, it tends to be a mark of the church, as well. Far too many Christians fail to engage their minds, somehow afraid to wrestle with the practical application of their faith to their everyday lives, throwing their mind in neutral at church. John Piper wrote a book entitled Think, and Ravi Zacharias has radio broadcasts entitled Let My People Think and Just Thinking. They have built their ministries at least in part around stimulating the believer to engage the mind as well as the heart when it comes to spirituality.

Dictionary.com begins its eighteen definitions of the word “think” with these two: “to have a conscious mind, to some extent of reasoning, remembering experiences, making rational decisions, etc.; to employ one’s mind rationally and objectively in evaluating or dealing with a given situation.” The Bible is full of instructions on the use of the mind and the importance of thinking; why have so many believers allowed their minds to become intellectually flabby? Why are so many churches failing to stimulate thinking and intellectual rigor?

Jesus Himself said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind….” Can we really love Him with all our mind if we refuse to think?

I dare say incredible things would happen if Christians would start thinking seriously about the Word of God and about using its power to impact our world.

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