jasonbwatson

April 30, 2014

Being Stupid Isn’t Against the Law

I suppose I shall weigh in on the Donald Sterling fiasco if for no other reason than that I have been asked by a few people what I think about it.

Honestly, I am not going to say too much because I think this topic is being addressed at length by plenty of other people. I am not a fan of the NBA, by the way, but I do not think that really has any bearing on this issue. What it comes down to ultimately, I believe, is an issue of freedom of speech, freedom of belief and right to property ownership.

I have not read the entirety of what Mr. Sterling said in his recorded conversation with his girlfriend. I have read enough to know that what he said was racist, offensive and indefensible. However, various individuals from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Allen West, have pointed out that (1) Sterling’s views did not just suddenly come to light, and (2) the recording that sparked this firestorm was apparently made illegally.

Abdul-Jabbar states in his opinion column posted on TIME’s web site on April 28 that there has plenty of evidence of Stirling’s racism before this recording emerged. In fact, he suggests that the outrage over these recent comments is absurd given that they do not reveal anything new. “What bothers me about this whole Donald Sterling affair isn’t just his racism,” he wrote. “I’m bothered that everyone acts as if it’s a huge surprise. Now there’s all this dramatic and very public rending of clothing about whether they should keep their expensive Clippers season tickets. Really? All this other stuff…has been going on for years and this ridiculous conversation with his girlfriend is what puts you over the edge? That’s the smoking gun?”

Both Abdul-Jabbar and West, in a post on his web site posted today, highlight that the outrage over Sterling’s comments has thus-far vastly outweighed the fact that the recording containing these comments was apparently made illegally. “Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizen’s privacy in such an un-American way?” asks Abdul-Jabbar. “The national outrage against Mr. Sterling has come from an act that could be illegal and inadmissible in a court of law. Nevertheless, the court of public opinion has tried and convicted Mr. Sterling of being a jerk,” writes West. According to West, “the taping of a conversation without consent of the other party is illegal under California statute.” I do not know if Stirling knew he was being recorded or not, but I highly doubt it.

All of above, however, is not my biggest concern in all of this. If Sterling is a racist and the jerk that he appears to be based on the recording then I find that sad and even reprehensible, but I believe we have the right to think and say what we want in this country. Should people who are offended by it make their voice heard by boycotting Sterling or his team? Sure. That’s another great right we have. Should sponsors pull their support for the Clippers because of Sterling’s comments? Again, entirely within their rights. Should Sterling be banned from the NBA for life, as was announced yesterday by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver? I could even support that decision. I have a serious problem, however, with the effort Silver intends to make to force Sterling to sell the team.

According to the AP report issues yesterday, “NBA Commissioner Adam Silver delivered the swiftest, strongest penalty he could, then called on NBA owners to force Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to sell the team for making racist comments that hurt the league. … If three-fourths of the other 29 owners agree to Silver’s recommendation, Sterling will be forced to sell the team he has owned since 1981.”

The Declaration of Independence says that there are inalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. John Locke, whose writing heavily influenced the Founders, originally wrote of life, liberty and property. There are many legal protections for the right to own property. If Silver and the other NBA owners are successful in their stated aim to force Sterling to sell the team–in essence, taking his property from him by force–I think we have a real problem. There are plenty of ways for Sterling to be influenced and even pressured to sell the team, and if the boycotts and loss of sponsorships and other pressures are used properly he will, if he is a shrewd businessman, recognize the wisdom in selling. But force him to sell? As West asks in his column, “have we come to a point in America where being a jerk is grounds for confiscation of a private property?” If so, I think there are a lot more people in trouble than Donald Sterling…and you or I could be next!

My understanding is that Sterling was at home when he made the comments that have sparked this outrage. My understanding is that he thought he was having a private conversation. If Adam Silver, the other owners of the NBA teams, or any other person or group of persons in the United States can strip any individual of private property because of comments made at home in private–and said comments are not even criminal–then we are in serious trouble. The very rights we hold dear will slip through our fingers like sand. If anyone has a right to free, unfiltered speech anywhere–regardless of how ugly, offensive or stupid it may be–it should be in the privacy of their own home. After all, being stupid still isn’t against the law.

April 28, 2014

Much Appreciated

Filed under: Uncategorized — jbwatson @ 8:02 pm
Tags: , ,

One of the “five love languages” famously developed by Dr. Gary Chapman is “words of affirmation.” This “love language” communicates love to others through words–words that encourage, edify, affirm, compliment, congratulate, thank… You get the idea. For whatever reason (really, I don’t know) I have had several people ask lately (either my wife or me) what my love language is. Interestingly enough, I don’t know. I have read several of Chapman’s books, I have taken the love language inventories…and I know what love language I most like to use (giving gifts, in case you’re wondering), but I am not sure what love language I most prefer to have “spoken” to me. The tests haven’t helped me any, either. I could probably spend a fair amount of time trying to analyze that but that isn’t really the purpose of this post (plus, I doubt you really care!)

More than one person has suggested that my love language must be words of affirmation. Why? Because, they say, I use it well. I have developed a habit of sorts of writing little notes of encouragement to people from time to time. Ironically, perhaps, that is not because I crave words of affirmation. In fact, the fact that I receive any commendation for using them is the result of an intentional effort on my part to use them (and I’m still better at doing so in writing than verbally, though I’m striving to improve in that regard, too). I do not remember receiving many words of affirmation growing up and I do not remember ever really feeling like I needed words of affirmation. At the same time, I have the Type-A tendency to spot things that could be improved or that have not been done well. I am far more likely to comment on areas in need of improvement than I am on areas of commendation. So I have made a point to be more complimentary, more positive, more encouraging. I still don’t feel like I need words of affirmation myself, though.

However, I have also found that I do appreciate them. Twice in recent weeks I have been reminded that even if I do not need them, I am encouraged by them when they come along. Last week a former student e-mailed me with a letter attached to his message that he had addressed to the faculty and staff of the school where I serve. He asked me to share it with everyone. In the letter he said that one of his professors had recently mentioned how encouraging letters of appreciation from former students can be to teachers, so this student decided to take the time to write such a letter to his former teachers. It was a welcome discovery to find it in my e-mail and I know that it was an encouragement to many people.

A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with a current high school junior. She had initiated the conversation and at one point she told me that she wanted me to know that she really respects me. She followed that up by saying, “I know that probably doesn’t mean much coming from a teenager but I do.” I had to tell her that, on the contrary, it means a great deal coming from a teenager. It meant a lot to me for two reasons. One, many teenagers tend not to have a whole lot of deeply-held respect for most adults, so when one does, and takes the time to express it, that is huge. Two, I have found that teenagers are really very good at seeing through any facades we may try to put up and to see us adults for who we really are–especially if we spend much time with them. So for this young lady to both see something worth respecting and to take the time to share it meant a great deal to me and I told her that I appreciated her telling me that.

So I’m really just sharing with you a personal lesson that I have learned…and am learning. Whether I need them or not, whether it is the love language with which I am most comfortable or not, words of affirmation do go a long way. Maybe they are just words…but those words can be the boost someone needs to keep going, the encouragement they need when they are down, the confirmation they need when they are doubting… Words may not cost us anything, but they sure do have value.

April 22, 2014

Heaven IS For Real

I’m going to go ahead and tell you right up front…this post is going to offend some people. There are going to be some individuals who tend to agree with on most anything else who will disagree with me on this. I’m prepared for that. This is, after all, my own opinion and conviction and I certainly respect the right of others to hold opinions and convictions that differ from mine and be just as confident that they are right.

There is a “major motion picture” out right now based on the best-selling book Heaven Is For Real, by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent. The book tells the story of Burpo’s son Colton visiting heaven when he was four years old after a burst appendix resulted in emergency surgery and nearly took Colton’s life. This book is perhaps the most well-known, but is but one of a multitude of books that have been released in recent years purporting to provide first-person accounts of what heaven is really like.

In the interest of full disclosure I need to tell you that I have not read Burpo’s book or any of the others that are out there. That I have not read them is probably of interest to you but it is not a factor in the fact that I do not believe these books are true. Indeed, I find it quite appropriate that the author of one of these books has the last name “Malarkey,” because in my mind that is what most of these books are. Here are but a few of the many books out there…

* Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into the Afterlife, by Eben Alexander
* To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again: A True Story, by Mary C. Neal, MD
* 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life, by Don Piper
* My Journey to Heaven: What I Saw and How it Changed My Life, by Marvin Besteman
* The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven: A Remarkable Account of Miracles, Angels, and Life beyond This World, by Kevin and Alex Malarkey
* Waking Up in Heaven: A True Story of Brokenness, Heaven, and Life Again, by Crystal McVea with Alex Tresniowski
* My Time in Heaven: A True Story of Dying…and Coming Back, by Richard Sigmund

There are others. There are also, by the way, books about individuals who claim to have gone the other direction and had first-person glimpses of what hell is like. (I feel the same way about those books).

So why, having not read any of the books mentioned above, am I so confident that the books are not true? The primary reason I do not believe them is because I find no biblical evidence to support their validity. At the same time, I find plenty of biblical support for questioning these accounts. Here are a few reasons…

In John 3 Jesus is having a conversation with Nicodemus. In the course of that conversation Jesus says this: “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (verses 12 and 13). I can see no reason to believe that if no one had ascended into heaven when Jesus was talking to Nicodemus that multiple people are doing so now.

Another problem I have is with the inconsistency of these modern accounts of heaven when compared to what the Bible does tell us. The Apostle Paul had a vision of heaven and he wrote that he could not even describe what he had seen. Indeed Paul did not even refer directly to himself when describing this vision; instead, he said he knew a man… Of what heaven was like Paul writes that he “heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Corinthians 12:4). The biblical writers who do describe visions of heaven focus almost exclusively on the glory of God and they try mightily to present what they saw in terms humans can understand but their accounts are full of the word “like”–that what they had seen was “like” something humans can relate to. I believe that is because heaven will be unlike anything we can understand in our finite human minds.

In a column he wrote last month on this phenomenon John MacArthur points out that there are several biblical accounts of individuals being raised from the dead, including the widow’s son raised by Elijah, Lazarus and others raised by Jesus and Eutychus raised by Paul. Interestingly, there is no account from any of these individuals about “the afterlife,” about anything that they saw or experienced while their bodies were dead. “Not one biblical person ever gave any recorded account of his or her postmortem experience in the realm of departed souls,” MacArthur wrote.

Heaven is absolutely real–as is hell. But God did not deem it necessary for us to know the particulars of what they will be like. The natural curiosity of humans causes us to want to know what eternity will be like, and I do not see there being any problem with wondering. Questions like, “Do you think there will be _________ in heaven?” are not wrong. (You can fill in the blank with whatever it is that makes you happy and you cannot imagine heaven without). There is nothing wrong with being “heavenly minded.” Indeed, it is probably a good thing! But if we were meant to know what heaven is really like God would have told us. That He did not means that we must not need to know.

Here’s another reason why I think the accounts of heaven contained in the books described above are not legitimate: I do not think that any of the details of the physical beauty of heaven or the activities taking place there are going to be our focus. I suspect all of that will pale in comparison to the glory and majesty of Holy God.

John MacArthur is known for being blunt, and he did not disappoint in his March column. Here is what he has to say about these accounts: “Readers not only get a twisted, unbiblical picture of heaven; they also imbibe a subjective, superstitious, shallow brand of spirituality. Studying mystical accounts of supposed journeys into the afterlife yields nothing but confusion, contradiction, false hope, bad doctrine and a host of similar evils.” That may be worded stronger than I would have said it but, frankly, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Yes, heaven is for real…but I doubt all these accounts of visiting it are real.

April 20, 2014

The Day Between

These days there is not much notice or attention generally given to the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Many churches hold Good Friday services to remember the death of Jesus on the cross. Communion is often a part of this service. Oftentimes these services are solemn, which is appropriate given the event they commemorate, but they also include–and tend to end with–a note of hope, looking forward to the service on Sunday when we celebrate Christ’s resurrection. It is because we know Christ rose again that we can both commemorate Good Friday with gladness and appreciation and that we can, for all intents and purposes, ignore Saturday, “the day between” Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Imagine, though, what that day between was like between the very first “Good Friday” (surely no one then considered it good, with the possible exception of the Pharisees) and Easter Sunday. That Saturday was the Sabbath day, and we know from Luke 23 that the women who would be the first on the scene on Sunday, to discover the empty tomb, rested according to the Sabbath tradition (indeed, the Law). I imagine it was an incredibly sad day, though. There likely would have been no motivation for anyone who had followed Jesus to do anything. They had probably had trouble going to sleep, thinking about the horrible events of the preceding days, and once they had drifted off they are unlikely to have slept peacefully. One the dawn broke and sunlight pierced the room there was probably no desire to get up. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary did get up early and go to the tomb to take the spices they had prepared because they loved Jesus so and wanted to be sure that His body was properly dressed. But they surely walked through tears and with heavy hearts. Apparently none of Jesus’ other followers ventured out because Luke 24:9 tells us that when the women returned from the tomb they told “the eleven…and all the rest” about what they had seen and heard.

As everyone who is familiar with the Gospel accounts knows, however, no one believed the women. Luke tells us that “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” We know that Peter and John then ran to the tomb to see for themselves but we also know from Luke that Peter then returned to the group “marveling at what had happened.” I like the way The Living Bible presents this verse; it says Peter returned “wondering what had happened.” The Message says Peter “walked away puzzled, shaking his head.” In other words, despite the fact that he had seen the empty tomb for himself, Peter still did not remember that Jesus had told him, and all His followers, that He would rise again on the third day. Either that or he just did not believe it.

In I Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul writes that if Christ has not been raised from the dead our faith is futile. Easter, Christ’s resurrection, is the event on which the entire Christian faith hinges. It is the defining moment, the difference maker. Christ’s sinless life, the miracles He performed and His death on the cross would have all been incredible but meaningless if He had not risen from the dead. The futility, the hopelessness, that defeatism is exactly what Peter and the other followers of Christ were feeling on that very first “day between.”

Today, however, because we know the rest of the story, the day between is of little consequence. It is just another day. We do not fear it, we do not mourn, we do not dread getting out of bed or wonder what may happen to us if we venture out. That’s because…and only because…we know that Easter is coming tomorrow. We know Christ rose from the dead. And because we know, we have hope, and our hope is not in vain.

April 19, 2014

Jesus Paid It All

Today is Good Friday. I know I am not the only one who has ever pondered why it is called “good” Friday when it is a day of remembering the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus was sinless yet He bore the sins of every person who ever lived and suffered an agonizing death to pay a price that no one else could pay. It was God’s love that caused Him to send His Son to earth as a human baby, knowing full well He would die on the cross. It was Jesus’ obedience to the Father and His own love for humanity that motivated Him to go through with God’s plan despite His desire to avoid it if there was any other way. As He prayed in the garden asking the Father to take the cup away from Him He also yielded and told God, “Not my will but thine be done.” The death of Christ is horrific and entirely unfair, but it is also incredibly wonderful. Only because Christ died…and rose again…can any of us have any hope of eternal life.

Elvina Hall’s 1865 hymn “Jesus Paid It All” is one of my favorite hymns, if not my favorite. The words of the refrain are simple yet profound. The sum up completely the fact that the penalty of sin was paid in full by Christ’s death and resurrection. The refrain says this:

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

Jesus did indeed pay it all, and I do owe Him all. Interestingly, though, my all will never come anywhere close to what He paid. I do owe Him all but even if I were able to give Him all my earthly wealth and live a life full of good deeds I would still never come close to being able to repay Him.

The first verse of the hymn says,

I hear the Savior say,
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”

My strength is small. It is infinitesimally small, in fact–not even worth mentioning or attempting to measure. Yet, Christ made possible incredible assurance and blessing through His sacrifice and He has offered it freely to all who believe. In Him I can find my all in all. The second verse reinforces the message of the refrain that I owe Him all yet there is nothing I could hope to do to repay Him. It reads,

For nothing good have I
Whereby Thy grace to claim;
I’ll wash my garments white
In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.

There is truly nothing I have that is of any value. As the Apostle Paul wrote, any human accomplishments I may have are worth nothing more than dung in comparison to what Christ has done for me…and for all who believe.

There are four more verses to the hymn, some more well known than others…

And now complete in Him,
My robe, His righteousness,
Close sheltered ’neath His side,
I am divinely blest.

Lord, now indeed I find
Thy pow’r, and Thine alone,
Can change the leper’s spots
And melt the heart of stone.

When from my dying bed
My ransomed soul shall rise,
“Jesus died my soul to save,”
Shall rend the vaulted skies.

And when before the throne
I stand in Him complete,
I’ll lay my trophies down,
All down at Jesus’ feet.

I learned that last stanza with a different ending and I am not sure which is the one Hall originally wrote. I learned it ending with “Jesus died my soul to save My lips shall still repeat.” Since that’s the way I learned it I suppose it is the one I prefer, but both endings are beautiful and accurate. I will lay down any trophies I may have; another classic hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross,” mentions this too when it says, “My trophies at last I lay down.” And I suspect I will spend eternity continuing to repeat that Jesus died for my soul…praising and thanking Him for His wondrous love.

Great hymns are great not so much because of their beautiful melodies–though some of them are indeed wonderful. Rather, they are great because they contain great theology; they are are easily-memorable, portable pieces of biblical truth. I think God loves to hear us sing about His love, to praise Him for His goodness, His mercy and His gift of salvation.

And ultimately this is why Good Friday is good…because Jesus did pay it all.

April 17, 2014

The Uselessness of Stigma

An interesting article appeared recently on the web site of The Atlantic. The article, written by Conor Friedersdorf, was posted on the morning of April 10 and is entitled “Why Gay Marriage Opponents Should Not Be Treated Like Racists.” It was interesting both because of the way in which it addressed this issue and because of where it was published. I am not a regular reader of The Atlantic but I have certainly read its pages numerous times over the years and I have to confess I was a bit surprised–pleasantly–to find this article there.

Friedersdorf begins his article this way: “Liberals generally think of themselves as proponents of tolerance, pluralism, and diversity. Some liberals are also eager to stigmatize and punish opponents of gay marriage.” He then asks if this stigmatization is a betrayal of liberal values. Excellent question, that. In response, Friedersdorf writes that if it is a betrayal it is one that most liberals find justified, one that “is no more problematic than the decision to exclude white supremacists from polite society.”

In support of this position Friedersdorf cites an e-mail correspondent who said that objecting to a boycott of a company whose CEO gave financial support to California’s Proposition 8 (which defined marriage as between a man and a woman) was akin to finding the Montgomery bus boycott objectionable. Friedersdorf went on to cite Will Oremus who said, in Slate, “Opposing gay marriage in America today is not akin to opposing tax hikes or even the war in Afghanistan. It’s more akin to opposing interracial marriage: It bespeaks a conviction that some people do not deserve the same basic rights as others.”

Interestingly, Friedersdorf agrees with Oremus that homosexuals should have the right to marry. He disagrees with him, however, in the comparison of gay and interracial marriage. Why? “Opposition to interracial marriage was all but synonymous with a belief in the superiority of one race and the inferiority of another,” Friedersdorf writes. But, he continues, “Opposition to gay marriage can be rooted in the insidious belief that gays are inferior, but it’s also commonly rooted in the much-less-problematic belief that marriage is a procreative institution, not one meant to join couples for love and companionship alone.” The end of that sentence is followed by an asterisk which refers to this footnote: “One thing I’ve noticed in this debate is how unfamiliar proponents of stigma are with thoughtful orthodox Christians—that is to say, they haven’t interacted with them personally, critiqued the best version of their arguments, or even been exposed to the most sophisticated version of their reasoning, which I find to be obviously earnest, if ultimately unpersuasive.”

Now it will not come as surprise to anyone who has read my opinions on this issue before that I absolutely disagree with Friedersdorf on the matter of gay marriage. I am wholeheartedly opposed to allowing marriage to be defined as anything other than the union of one man and one woman. I appreciate Friedersdorf’s recognition, though, of the fact that homosexual marriage is not a civil rights issue and is certainly not akin to segregation of public buses in Montgomery or interracial marriage. Friedersdorf believes just as passionately as I do that I am wrong, as are those who think like I do. Refreshingly, though, he recognizes that we can disagree for legitimately held beliefs and we can disagree without calling each other names. Referring to those who believe as I do he writes, “But it’s not credible to argue that they’re in the same moral category as the bigots who sustained Jim Crow, or that the narrow right they’d withhold has done similar harm and thus warrants the same response (even if you believe, as I do, that withholding the name marriage is wrong and harmful).”

Friedersdorf–again, refreshingly–also makes the point that the idea “that some people do not deserve the same basic rights as others” is a position held by many people based on many factors and characteristics yet somehow only those who oppose gay marriage seem to be vilified by the political left. Why?

As he wraps up his column Friedersdorf makes a couple of very astute observations about the use of stigma as a strategy in what should be intelligent debate. First, “What I think, in fact, is that stigma is an overrated tool for effecting change, because once you’ve gotten to a threshold within a community where lots of powerful people will stigmatize a behavior, the point had already been reached where it would be defeated without stigma.” I don’t know that I agree with him that the behavior in this case–the opposition to homosexual marriage–would be defeated without stigmatizing it but I certainly agree that stigmatizing is not an effective means of achieving meaningful change. What I think is that stigma tends to be used most often and most loudly when there is no legitimate and coherent argument to be made in opposition. Thumper famously said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” Those who wield stigma tend to abide by a different adage, one that goes like this: “If you can’t say something logical and effective to counter their argument, call them names and compare them to horrible people of the past instead.”

Second, Friedersdorf writes, “Those who rely on stigma are tied to a tactic that is employed most when needed least, often against groups already marginalized within a community; no wonder stigma is correlated more strongly with signaling self-righteousness than effecting change. That isn’t to say stigma is never appropriate—just that engagement and persuasion is almost always the better option, as it is on gay marriage.” Again, I disagree with Friedersdorf that those who oppose gay marriage are “already marginalized” but I agree entirely that engagement and persuasion is the better option. Not just with gay marriage, either. You will see the stigma attack unleashed by liberals in the evolution versus creation debate, too, among other examples.

So…what’s the bottom line? Conor Friedersdorf and I completely disagree on the issue of gay marriage. But we disagree respectfully and without calling each other names or attaching stigma. We might even, if we had a sit-down face-to-face chat, find other areas in which we agree. One thing we definitely do agree on is this: stigma is a wimpy weapon, one that brings nothing valuable to any discussion and, in fact, does more to demean and belittle those who employ it than those again whom it is being employed.

April 14, 2014

Good Gifts

Filed under: Biblical Worldview,Spiritual Growth — jbwatson @ 7:42 pm
Tags: , , ,

I like to give gifts. It is something I enjoy in general, but when it comes to my wife and my children I tend to take particular delight in it. My wife thinks it is my love language–the one I use the most, not the one I necessarily need or prefer for myself. One of the inherent elements of giving gifts, though, is giving something that the other person desires or will appreciate. We’ve all the old adage “it’s the thought that counts,” and sure, that’s true to an extent. But if we’re honest we can all think of gifts we’ve received that we would have preferred not to receive! Sometimes those gifts came as a result of the giver being aloof or uninformed. Sometimes it is the result of an erroneous assumption. Sometimes the giver likes the item being given and assumes the recipient must also therefore like it. I can remember times as a child when various relatives would give baseball cards to my brother and me as gifts. I loved baseball cards. My brother, on the other hand, could not have cared less. In a way I liked it because he always ended up giving his cards to me, but I felt bad too, because I knew he would have preferred to receive something he actually liked.

The Bible talks about God giving us gifts. Of course the greatest gift that God ever gave was His Son. John 3:16 tells us just how great a gift that was, and if you’d like to read more about that see my post from February 14 of this year. There are many other gifts that God gives us, though. Indeed, James 1:17 tell us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

In Matthew 7 there is a familiar passage about seeking and finding. In verses 7 and 8 Jesus says, “‘Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.'” We like those verses because, at first glance, it sounds like God will give us whatever we want. It doesn’t work that way, though. Jesus goes on to say, in the next three verses, “‘Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!'” Jesus uses examples to demonstrate that no earthly father would give dangerous or harmful gifts to his children and surely God would not either. God delights to give us those things that we ask Him for when they are within His will. This is an important qualifier. I do not give my children everything they ask me for. Sometimes I say no. I never give them things that are dangerous or harmful; I would never feed them something poisonous when they thought I was giving them something nutritious. Sometimes, though, they ask for something that I decide they do not need or something I do not think it is a good idea for them to have. God delights in giving us good gifts like wisdom, discernment, patience and more. But there are times when he says no, too.

James addresses that issue, as well. James 4:3 says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” When we ask God for things that are purely selfish desires He does not give those to us. I would love to have a Porsche, but I am not going to get one anytime soon if I ask God for one because I do not need one. It would not be practical for one thing–I could not even fit my whole family in it unless I got one of the four-door Porsches (which still just seems wrong to me). It would not be cost effective. I do not need one. If I had one it would spend most of the time sitting in the garage; asking God for a Porsche would be purely the result of yielding to my own passions and fleshly desires.

As disappointing as it may be sometimes to receive gifts we do not really want–like my brother receiving baseball cards–or not receiving gifts we really do want–like a Porsche, perhaps–we can take comfort in knowing that God gives us good gifts. He gives us what we need, when we need it. His ways are perfect.

April 9, 2014

Do Not Grow Weary

It’s fairly common for teachers to begin to feel weary around this time of the year. The end of the school year is in sight, the weather is getting warmer, the students are ready to be done, all of the year-end activities are piling up…these are the ingredients for weariness! Christian school teachers are by no means exempt from this feeling. The Bible, however, has something to say about that. Specifically, Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (ESV). This instruction/admonition is not targeted at Christian school teachers. The thoughts I am going to share here were originally shared with the faculty and staff of a Christian school, but I trust it will be encouraging to anyone who is tempted to let weariness creep in.

This verse contains a promise – we will reap if we do not give up. But it also contains a warning – it is possible to grow weary in the work of the Lord and possibly even give up and stop our ministry if we allow weariness to overtake us. Why might we grow weary? After giving it some thought and reading a few messages and commentaries on the subject I came up with a list of several possible reasons…

Sometimes it could be caused by a lack of devotion to the Lord. If you look at Revelation 2:2-5, you see that the church at Ephesus was commended for its work, its labor and its patience – but its passion and fervor for Christ had become cold. They were doing all the right things but it was just mechanical – they were just going through the motions. It is possible for us to be doing things for the Lord but to let our motivation die.

It could be a lack of prayer – Luke 18:1 says, “Men ought always to pray and not to faint.” If we neglect our prayer lives we are ignoring a vital ingredient of the successful Christian life.

It could a physical matter – a lack of proper nutrition and rest. Our physical well-being is essential to effective Christian service. We are not going to be able to serve the Lord effectively if we are too tired to see clearly or if our diet is unhealthy. Many individuals in Christian service just keep giving and doing. None of us, though, are the Energizer bunny and we cannot keep “going and going and going….” Eventually we will become exhausted if we do not maintain proper diet and get enough rest.

It could be the apathy and/or idleness of others. Sometimes it seems like we’re doing more than our fair share and we grow tired of it – especially when it seems like others are not pulling their weight or are simply sitting around doing nothing.

It could be criticism. That can certainly make anyone weary. No one likes to be criticized. I find that effective servants and leaders are receptive to constructive criticism, but if all we ever hear about are the things we are doing wrong or the areas we need to work on we will surely become discouraged.

It could certainly be our own expectations. I cannot tell you how many times I have had my own idea of how something should go or how something should turn out. More often than not those are probably purely a result of my own selfishness, of wanting things done my own way. When they do not go according to my plan I might get miffed. I might be tempted to “take my ball and go home,” so to speak.

Finally – and I think this may be the biggest challenge of all – it could the lack of observable results. In almost any endeavor in life we can see how we’re doing. In sports you have the scoreboard. In painting you can see what you’ve put on the canvas. In cooking you can smell, see, touch and taste what you’ve made. You get the point. When it comes to working with people, though, there are not always evident results of our efforts, and that can be frustrating.

The reality is that we are called to sow the seed; eventually we will reap, but we do not know when. Only the Lord knows. Our task is to remain faithful to His call and to continue doing what He has asked us to do.

On that note, by the way, I do not consider it coincidental that Galatians 6:9 comes very shortly after the list of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Those fruits are what we are to be living out and demonstrating in our lives; they are no small part of the good that we are to be doing. It is not enough for us to do good when things are easy, when others are also doing good to us or when we “feel like” doing good. That would, quite frankly, make us no different from most of the rest of the world. Instead, we must persevere and continue to do good always.

Persevere means “to persist in anything undertaken; to maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles or discouragement; to continue steadfastly.” That does not happen by accident. It takes intentionality and persistence. We live in a day of instant gratification; we want what we want and we want it now. As a result, very few people persevere when the going really gets tough. Farming is a great example. At the risk of sounding like I am criticizing the Bible, though, I do not think farming is a perfect example because even in farming the farmer has an idea of when the harvest will come. He may not know how bountiful the harvest will be, but he is not left wondering, “Will it be this year or next year when we see results?” With people, though, you truly have no idea. The observable results may be years down the road – or they may never been seen this side of heaven.

I actually like the way The Message presents the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23:

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart…. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

That is exactly what we need to be doing. That is how we can avoid growing weary in doing good. Let us seek to develop that willingness to stick with things and to direct our energies wisely in a way that honors the Lord.

April 8, 2014

Again with Common Core!

Within the past week I have had two different individuals ask me about Common Core. What is it? What does it mean for schools? The perspective in both instances was that Common Core is evil, the result of some corrupt attempt by politicians and bureaucrats to manipulate the public and to force cookie cutter educational standards on every child in the United States. In both instances I have been able to explain what Common Core is — and is not — and hopefully allay some of the fears that these individuals possessed. I cannot have a face to face conversation with everyone who has heard the horror stories about Common Core, though.

Just a few minutes ago I finished watching a film created by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) called Building the Machine. The film is available online; just Google the title or “Common Core movie” and you will have no trouble finding it. Here is how the web site for the film describes the movie: “Building the Machine introduces the public to the Common Core States Standards Initiative (CCSSI) and its effects on our children’s education. The documentary compiles interviews from leading educational experts, including members of the Common Core Validation Committee. Parents, officials, and the American public should be involved in this national decision regardless of their political persuasion.” There is nothing inaccurate there and I certainly agree that the American public should be involved in making decisions about education in America.

The web site goes on to describe Common Core this way: “The Common Core is the largest systemic reform of American public education in recent history. What started as a collaboration between the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to reevaluate and nationalize America’s education standards has become one of the most controversial—and yet, unheard of—issues in the American public.” I would question the assertion that it is unheard of; sometimes it seems like I hear about nothing else but Common Core!

I have addressed Common Core in this space at length in the past so I am going to attempt to avoid restating that which has already been said. I do want to make a few comments on specific things in the HSLDA movie, though.

First of all, the film laments the fact that there was no “public comment” on the development of the Common Core standards. This statement is questionable in and of itself. However, even if it were true, it is not necessarily cause for concern. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were not developed by a an elected board of education or any such body. The CCSS were, however, developed by groups that included elected officials (such as the National Governor’s Association). One commentator in the HSLDS movie compared the supposedly-secret development of the CCSS to the development of state standards in Massachusetts. He said that in Massachusetts the process took years to select texts, etc. That was no doubt appropriate for standards being developed within a state and by a state board of education. Furthermore, the CCSS do not dictate texts to be used, so there was no need for the review of texts. (The CCSS do include recommended texts or exemplars of texts that may help meet the standards, but the adoption of any specific texts is up to states and/or local boards of education). Oddly enough, one individual on the movie even went so far as to assert that the fact that elected governors were included in the process of developing the CCSS, and developing the process for the creation of the CCSS, does not mean that the voices of the people were represented. Really? I was under the impression that that was exactly how representative democracy worked….

At one point in the movie one of the “experts” stated that the federal government “played a major role in incentivizing states to adopt Common Core.” That’s true. But that’s exactly how the government works. It offered money to states that adopted the CCSS — or developed their own equally rigorous standards. It was up to the states to decide to adopt them, however. The movie continued with experts suggesting that many states blindly signed off on Race to the Top grant requests which committed the states to the CCSS. If true, that may well warrant investigation but it is a problem with the elected officials and/or the funding process — not with the CCSS themselves.

Sandra Strotsky is one of the experts heard from frequently in the film. She was on the CCSS validation committee and decided she could not endorse the standards as developed. That’s fine; it is certainly her prerogative. She stated in the movie, though, that the CCSS diminish the importance and use of literary texts in English classes in favor of technical texts. Having reviewed the lists of text exemplars I do not agree. The lists include novels, works of non-fiction and so-called technical texts (which are often speeches and other first-person or primary source documents that effective teachers include anyway, such as the Gettysburg Address or Patrick Henry’s speech to the Virginia Convention).

Another point emphasized in the movie is that the CCSS do not prepare students for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs or selective colleges. Would you imagine for a moment if they did, please? Imagine the uproar that would have ensued had standards been adopted that were designed to ensure that every student would meet the admissions expectations of the nation’s top colleges and STEM programs! High school diplomas have always been a statement that minimum standards have been met by the students receiving them. Some states offer various kinds of diplomas, such as advanced, standard and general. That’s fine if they want to do that, and there is nothing in the CCSS that prevents them from continuing to do that. But the CCSS themselves are a statement of what every student should know as he progresses through a K-12 education.

Michael Farris, the chancellor of Patrick Henry College and the chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association, describes in the movie a conversation that he had with David Coleman, the lead writer of the CCSS. Farris indicated that Coleman has some good ideas for public schools and Farris thinks he has some good ideas for home schooling. The difference between them, Farris said, is that Coleman is “trying to use the force of law to require everybody to implement his good ideas.” Again, this assertion is simply not true. Coleman may want every state to adopt the CCSS but he cannot require that and neither, I might add, can the federal government! Any state that has adopted the CCSS has done so of its own accord and by its own choice.

Texas is one well-known state that has not adopted CCSS. Indiana was an early adopter but has since decided to opt out. Indiana must now develop its own standards in order to retain funding from the federal government. If Indiana feels this is the best move for its students then good for Indiana. Let me reiterate that I am not necessarily for the CCSS. My concern is simply that so much of what is being said about the Common Core is inaccurate.

If you watch Building the Machine you will no doubt notice a counter at the top of the screen prominently displaying how many times it has been viewed. When I was watching it had been viewed more than 118,000 times. That’s great. I’m sure the HSLDA is tickled pink. But my hope is that individuals who are truly concerned about the education of children will research the facts for themselves. Watching Building the Machine can be an important part of that process but it is only that — a part of the process. Do not swallow whole the perspectives or statements of any individual or group (including me!). Check it out for yourself.

Building the Machine ends with the statement that the single most important element in an effective education is parental involvement. That is absolutely correct and a statement on which I imagine we can all agree. Like the Common Core or hate it, it is not a magic potion that will miraculously produce brilliant kids. Parents still need to be involved.

April 7, 2014

Speaking Out

Back in January WORLD Magazine published its annual issue focused on right to life issues. One of the articles in that issue was titled “Still-silent shepherds.” The article, by Joe Maxwell and Stephen Hall, begins with this editor’s note: “In 1994, WORLD published “Silence of the shepherds,” an article addressing the reticence of many evangelical pastors to preach on abortion. Two decades later, a WORLD survey shows that many are still silent.”

Just that caveat by itself should be enough to spark outrage among anyone who believes that the Bible is absolutely clear on the subject of the sanctity of life. The article begins by explaining that John Piper did not preach on the subject of abortion until the late 1980s. A change came over him then, though: “It was a combination of seeing other people taking it seriously and then beginning to check my own soul, and God just mercifully taking away some blind spots, showing me in the Scriptures all kinds of reasons for standing up and defending these little ones,” Piper said. Since that time Piper has preached more than twenty sermons on the subject of abortion and has become so active in defending life that he was arrested in a sit-in. “I don’t regret it,” he said. The article goes on to quote Piper saying that pastors need to take abortion seriously and they need to address it biblically, including from the pulpit.

Shortly thereafter, however, the article provides a perspective from the other side. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, does not address abortion from the pulpit and that is by design. The article quotes an article Keller wrote for Leadership Journal in 1999: “Pushing moral behaviors before we lift up Christ is religion. …Jesus himself warned us to be wary of it, and not to mistake a call for virtue for the good news of God’s salvation.” The WORLD article includes the story of a woman who was approached several years ago by a woman who thanked him for not addressing abortion from his pulpit, saying, “If I had seen any literature or reference to the ‘pro-life’ movement, I would not have stayed through the first service.” Later she accepted Christ and asked Keller if he thought abortion was wrong. He said yes, and the woman–who has had three abortions–said that she was coming to see that perhaps it is wrong.

I think that’s a great story and a good example of the transformation that occurs when someone accepts Christ — the “renewing of the mind.” However, it is not, in my opinion, a justification for not addressing the issue of abortion in church and from the pulpit. Abortion is, plain and simple, the murder of a human being, albeit one that has not yet been born. Would any pastor argue that churches should avoid speaking out against murder? Of course not. Why, then, allow the culture’s pervasive efforts to define abortion as something other than murder to influence our willingness to stand firmly on the Scripture and state unequivocally that abortion is wrong? Billy Graham apparently once told Larry King, “I don’t get into these things like abortion,” suggesting that doing so might interfere with his main message of salvation. Of course salvation is the main message, and of course salvation will, hopefully, bring the renewing of the mind that caused the woman in Keller’s story to reexamine her previous beliefs about abortion, but that does not mean that we keep mum on the subject until after salvation. Franklin Roosevelt was unwilling to take a stand on civil rights issues during his presidency because he feared it would undermine the support he needed for his economic policies. Was that a reasonable justification for keeping silent on the discrimination that African Americans were facing? I think not.

WORLD‘s article reports that it conducted a random survey of forty pastors from seven different denominations within the National Association of Evangelicals. Interestingly, all forty said that life begins at conception and that pastors should preach against abortion. Despite that unanimous response, eighteen of the forty pastors had not preached on abortion in the past year and five more had never done so! Many of the pastors surveyed indicated that their churches work with or fund crisis pregnancy centers, provide pro-life information within their churches, participate in Right to Life marches or even–in 10% of the churches–picket abortion providers. That is all well and good but it is no substitute for addressing abortion from the pulpit.

One reason suggested within the WORLD article for the reluctance of pastors to address abortion is the impact it may have on giving within their churches. Another reason is the possibility of offending influential church members. Might I respectfully point out that the Bible itself is offensive? R.C. Sproul recounts creating materials to help pastors and churches address abortion several years ago. The response Sproul received was overwhelmingly consistent, he says. “It was like a broken record. Pastors said, ‘I can’t use this material. It will split our church.'”

Interestingly, those pastors who refuse to address abortion from their pulpits are ignoring a subject that an overwhelming number of Americans already believe is immoral. According to an August 2013 Pew study 85% of Americans believe that abortion is immoral. So why would pastors shy away from addressing it? The reasons WORLD received could be divided into four categories according to the article: (1) it might make some church members uncomfortable or “hurt women in congregations who’ve had abortions”; (2) addressing abortion should not be handled in an issue-specific manner, especially if expository preaching is the church’s focus; (3) addressing abortion might politicize the pastor or the pulpit and could scare off seekers; and (4) speaking out on abortion might be “uncool or anti-intellectual.”

If I may, I’d like to state in no uncertain terms that I find those four reasons ridiculous. There are very few subjects in the Bible that will not make someone in the church uncomfortable. When churches refuse to address those topics they cease to become biblical churches and instead become feel-good gatherings and support groups. There is no reason that abortion can not be addressed in a way that also extends forgiveness, love and support to women who have experienced abortions. Given that abortion is explicitly addressed in the Bible I disagree that it could politicize the pastor or the church. If it did, though, I would consider that a cost worth paying for taking a stand. If any pastor fears being uncool he better get out of the ministry now, because the Bible was never intended to be cool. In this increasingly hostile world there will never be a time when preaching the truth of God’s Word will be “cool.” The only one of the four reasons that even comes close to being legitimate in my mind is the second one, but even that is a stretch and is, in my opinion, a flimsy excuse for ducking the issue.

Mike Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor and Republican presidential candidate, provides some of the best comments on the issue of abortion being addressed in the church that I have seen. As to the possibility of addressing abortion being divisive, Huckabee asks, “How can you claim to proclaim a gospel that turns its back on the slaughter of innocent babies?” He accurately addresses the concern about hurting women who have had abortions, too: “We need to be careful and offer grace to people who’ve made bad decisions and give the gospel to them, while at the same time drawing a line in the sand and saying, ‘This is not something that can be acceptable.’ It’s forgivable, but not morally acceptable.”

To that I say simply, “Amen.” If your pastor speaks out against abortion from the pulpit, thank him. If he does not, ask him why, and challenge him to step up and defend life. There is simply no excuse to not do so.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.