“God’s foundation for the soul of every nation”

A couple of days ago I received a letter from Dennis Rainey, President of FamilyLife. In it he described his shock at seeing a billboard in Little Rock, Arkansas this past February for the web site AshleyMadison.com that included pictures of Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton. The headline on the billboard read, “Who said cheaters never prosper?”

If you do not already know this, AshleyMadison is a company, based in Canada, that exists solely to encourage and facilitate adultery. The company operates a web site that functions much like most dating sites would, I assume, by allowing users to create profiles that other uses can then peruse in order to select possible matches. The twist, of course, is that many of the users of this site are married, setting out with the specific goal of having an affair. The company’s registered trademark tag line is this: “Life is short. Have an affair.” It touts itself as “the world’s leading married dating service for discreet encounters.” The company also operates its own “Infidelity Press Room” (“proudly powered by WordPress,” it says–the same platform that hosts this blog). At the bottom of the site’s homepage it claims, “Thousands of cheating wives and cheating husbands signup everyday looking for an affair.” The site claims to have nearly 27 million members. It even offers an “affair guarantee package” through which the company guarantees users will find the perfect affair partner.

I find all of that to be pretty pathetic…and pretty sad…but not terribly surprising (other than perhaps the “affair guarantee”). The billboard Rainey was referring to, of course, was highlighting three well-known philanderers who were also presidents of the United States. The headline clearly suggested that cheating on your spouse need not be an obstacle to professional success. And therein lies the problem — the implication is that if you can commit adultery and still enjoy professional success, what difference does it make? Whether or not the behavior interferes with ones success becomes the only barometer for determining whether or not something is worth it. There is no mention of right and wrong. But then that is because there is no longer any recognition of right and wrong. Nothing is “wrong” if someone feels it is right. Everything is relative and situational…nothing is absolute. This billboard and this company are perfect evidence of the moral state of our nation.

Rainey’s point was that “the attacks on marriage and the family in America are growing bolder by the day.” I could not agree more. Rainey went on, though, to highlight why this attack is so persistent and prevalent: Satan wants to destroy the family as God designed it. We see it with the push to redefine marriage (which God designed to be between a man and a woman) and we see it with the push to destroy the boundaries of marriage (which God designed to include sexual activity between a husband and wife only). “The family is God’s foundation for the soul of every nation. Destroy it, and nations topple,” Rainey writes.

The AshleyMadison.com concept is perhaps more aggressive and in-your-face about promoting and encouraging adultery but the idea is nothing new. The internet can do wonderful things (it’s enabling you to read this blog after all!) but it can also facilitate evil. Those of us who believe in God’s design for marriage and the family must be willing to stand strong for God’s Truth. We must speak out in defense of marriage and fidelity. We must recognize Satan’s attacks for what they are and understand that we are absolutely engaged in a spiritual war each and every day. Thankfully, God has also provided His children with spiritual armor to stand against the fiery darts of the devil.

Stand firm!

Ruining the Beauty of God’s Creation

One of the beautiful realities about truth is that it is timeless. Sure, some truths are circumstantial and those will change as circumstances change. For example, last year it was true that my daughter was in fifth grade. Next year that will not be true. Those are circumstantial truths. Absolute truth, though, is unchanging (hence the use of “absolute”). God’s truth is absolute and therefore anyone writing or speaking about God’s truth is also presenting timeless truth–truth that will be just as true, just as accurate and just as relevant days, years, decades and even centuries after it was written or spoken.

More than ten years ago Ravi Zacharias wrote a book entitled Recapture the Wonder. On page 36 of the hardcover version of that book Zacharias wrote, “Anyone who thinks he or she can place the boundaries arbitrarily will either destroy the enchantment of life or else wear him- or herself into exhaustion. God’s commands are there to protect what life is truly about, not the other way around. Implementing that truth in our lives keeps us from losing the wonder.”

Because Zacharias was writing about absolute truth that statement is still accurate today. Yet, we live in a world that wholeheartedly embraces the idea of placing boundaries arbitrarily–moving them whenever convenient or desirable, or even eliminating them altogether. We see this perhaps most clearly in the area of sexual behavior. There is an ongoing effort to shift or erase all God-given boundaries of sexual behavior, including God’s design for marriage (between one man and one woman), God’s design for sex (between a married man and woman) and God’s design for gender (male or female, as He created each individual). Much as they may claim to be thrilled with their behavioral choices I believe that many of those individuals who champion this boundary realignment, and/or who live their lives based on the realignment, have in fact destroyed the enchantment of life and are working themselves into exhaustion. They put so much effort into trying to convince the world that their redefinition of what God created is normal and acceptable that they cannot possibly be enchanted by life any longer.

When anyone can, with a few clicks of the mouse, see any manner of sexual activity and perversion imaginable it is nearly impossible for there to be any wonder left about sex as God designed it. When the world embraces the idea of doing whatever feels good or desirable at the moment there can be no sense of enchantment remaining.

The inside flap of Zacharias’ book includes this statement: “Our sense of wonder is a blessing from God, given so that we would be continually amazed at His beauty and creation. But for many of us, our wonder has diminished through the years, and we doubt that we’ll ever be able to experience the overwhelming sense of awe we once had as children.” I would suggest that no small part of the reason for that is that, unlike children who are discovering the world for the first time and are enchanted with each new discovery, we adults are, collectively, seeking to eliminate anything that might be undiscovered or secret or private.

Imagine, for example, if the most beautiful sunrise, or sunset, you have ever seen was available every day, any time you want to see it–and to anyone in the world, not just you. The beauty of that sunrise or sunset would begin to fade. It would gradually become less special, less awe-inspiring, less desirable. It could easily become commonplace, ho-hum or boring. That is what the world is doing, or attempting to do, to God’s design for mankind. This effort to eliminate the special, the private–the sacred, even–is painfully obvious when it comes to sex but is evident in many other areas as well.

What we need to do is return to the truth that the boundaries, “God’s commands,” have been given to us “to protect what life is truly about, not the other way around.” If the human body and sexual behavior was supposed to be open and available for anyone to see God never would have created clothing for Adam and Eve after they sinned. If sex was supposed to be whenever, wherever and with whomever, God never would have given instruction that the man and the woman were to cleave to one another and enjoy sex within the boundaries of their marriage. If sex between men or between women was perfectly acceptable God never would have called it an abomination or referred to it as abandoning the “natural” relationship between men and women. We have allowed Satan to delude us into thinking that by throwing back the curtain and openly celebrating and flaunting any and all varieties of behavior we are in fact celebrating and enjoying life. Quite simply, nothing could be further from the truth. Not only are we destroying the wonder and enchantment we are in fact ruining the beauty of God’s creation.

High crimes and misdemeanors

I have mentioned in this space on more than one occasion that President Obama has committed impeachable offenses since taking office. Apparently many in the South Dakota Republican party agree with me. Last Saturday, at their state convention, they passed a resolution calling for the House of Representatives to impeach the president. Following several paragraphs beginning with “Whereas” (in official resolution form), the resolution ends, “Therefore, be it resolved that the South Dakota Republican Party calls on our U.S. Representatives to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president of the United States.”

This resolution did not pass by a wide margin; the vote was 191-176. So close was the vote that the voice vote proved inconclusive, forcing a county-by-county roll call vote. Sadly, twenty of the state’s counties had no delegates at the convention. Whether their presence would have made a difference in the outcome of the vote I do not know, but I consider it a bad sign when nearly one-third of the state’s counties did not send delegates to the convention.

South Dakota, thanks to its small population, has only one member of the House of Representatives, Rep. Kristi Noem. While Noem is a Republican, she does not agree that impeachment is the way to go. Her spokesperson, Brittany Comins, said, “The congresswoman currently believes the best way for Congress to hold the president accountable is to continue aggressive committee oversight and investigations into the administration’s actions like the ongoing VA scandal, the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS, Benghazi, and the recent Taliban prisoner exchange.” With respect to the congresswoman, I would have to disagree. The committee oversight seems to be doing little if anything to effect any change in the way that the Obama administration goes about its business. While the committee oversight process is an appropriate part of the checks-and-balances in the U.S. federal government, when it proves ineffective it is necessary to take stronger action. Thus far I would have to put the effectiveness of the congressional committee oversight of the Obama administration on par with the effectiveness of U.N. sanctions on power-hungry dictators.

David Wheeler, a delegate to the convention from Beadle County, opposed the resolution, saying, “I believe we should not use the power of impeachment for political purposes. By doing this, we would look petty, like we can’t achieve our political goals through the political process.” The reality, however, is that the impeachment is not about politics or political goals. If it were, I would absolutely not be in favor of impeachment. Impeachment should absolutely not be used for vindictiveness or pettiness or as a means of achieving political objectives. President Obama, however, has broken the law and has violated his constitutional oath of office. These are grounds for impeachment.

I do not know if anything will come of this resolution or not. Frankly, I tend to doubt it. It seems Rep. Noem is not likely to act on it, and I doubt any other House members are going to pay much attention to a resolution passed by the South Dakota State Republican Convention. However, I commend those at the convention for their willingness to take a public stand and call on the House to exercise its constitutional prerogative–and duty–to impeach a president who has indeed committed high crimes and misdemeanors.

“The fragrance of spiritual devoutness”

George Müller died in 1898. Arthur Pierson died in 1911. Pierson wrote a biography of Müller, entitled George Müller of Bristol, an excellent book. In the book he shared a concern about the education of children of Christian parents. More than one hundred years later that concern has proven to be incredibly prescient. Here is what Pierson wrote…

Many Christian parents have made the fatal mistake of entrusting their children’s education to those whose gifts were wholly intellectual and not spiritual, and who have misled the young pupils entrusted in their care into an irreligious or infidel life, or, at best, a career of mere intellectualism and worldly ambition. In not a few instances, all the influences of a pious home have been counteracted by the atmosphere of a school which, if not godless, has been without the fragrance of spiritual devoutness and consecration which is indispensable to the true training of impressionable children during the plastic years when character is forming for eternity.

Solomon write, in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “there is nothing new under the sun.” That is certainly true in this instance. Pierson could easily have written that rebuke yesterday and it would have been just as accurate, if not more so, as when he wrote it.

It is not my intention here to attack Christian parents who send their children to public schools, but it is my intention to offer a word of caution. It is my hope that perhaps those parents will take time to reflect on the decisions they have made regarding the education of their children and perhaps prompt them to reconsider.

I know that there are some very good public schools in the United States, schools that are safe, staffed by competent and even caring individuals and that provide students with a top-notch academic education. There are certainly public schools with fantastic facilities. Despite those perks, there are real problems with even the very best public schools. It simply is not possible for an educational setting to be morally neutral or for any teacher to teach in a morally neutral fashion. Every person (and therefore every teacher) has a worldview. Every public school has rules which prevent the inclusion of some things and require the inclusion of others. Often those things which are excluded are the very things Christian parents should desire for their children while those things which are included are the very things Christian parents would likely desire that their students not be exposed to or influenced by.

Quite simply, there is not–and in the current climate of the United States cannot be–a public school that contains “the fragrance of spiritual devoutness and consecration which is indispensable to the true training of impressionable children during the plastic years when character is forming for eternity.” Parents need to carefully and prayerfully consider the atmosphere and environment in which they are placing their children. Between kindergarten and high school graduation a student will spend some fifteen thousand hours in school. That’s nearly two full years of life if the child were in school 24/7.

The character of children is being formed for eternity and in many instances that character is firmly established by the time the child leaves home. What influences are shaping the character of your child?

False Lights

My favorite vacation spot is the Outer Banks of North Carolina. These barrier islands are historically significant for several reasons. On Roanoke Island Sir Walter Raleigh attempted to establish the first permanent English colony in the New World. The colony disappeared, and is now commonly known as the “Lost Colony.” Several hundred years later the Wright Brothers went to the Outer Banks to fly their plane–the wind and sand creating ideal conditions for flight and safe landings. In between, the islands were a great spot for pirates to hide or rest. Ocracoke Island was the “home base” of the notorious Black Beard.

One of the towns, or villages, on the island is named Nags Head. Legend has it that “wreckers” would hang lanterns around the necks of mules – colloquially called “nags” – and walk them very slowly up and down the beach. The intent was that ships at sea would see the light from the lantern and interpret it to be ships at rest or at anchor, hopefully prompting them to turn in seeking a place of rest. Instead they would run aground and then be plundered by the wreckers on shore.

Whether or not this legend is true, it provides an excellent illustration of what the devil is up to in our world today and indeed has been up to ever since the very first sin. He loves to try to lure us with “false lights” that seem to be very attractive, appearing to offer us safety or success.

I am also a fan of lighthouses. There are several of them on the Outer Banks and I have enjoyed climbing to the top of three of them. But they are great illustrations of what Christians are to be in the world.

They are also a great example of what Jesus Christ is. In John 8:12, of course, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” Interestingly, in Matthew 5:14, Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” So lighthouses are a great illustration of both Jesus Christ and Christians.

Satan, on the other hand, is characterized by darkness. Darkness is not attractive. The Bible says men love darkness rather than light, of course, because in our sin nature we enjoy the supposed-secrecy that darkness allows. But when we are looking for something, trying to find our way, we look for the light. The light can guide us out of darkness. It can direct us to safety. It can reveal dangers. Satan has no light to offer – so he imitates light in an effort to cause us to wreck, just like the wreckers at Nags Head.

There are many examples in our world of false lights. The reality is, they all follow the same pattern as Satan’s very first temptation of Eve. He asked her, “Did God really say not to eat of this tree?” And Eve said, “Yes, we cannot eat of it or touch it or we will die.” And Satan said to her, “You will not surely die. You will become like God!”

Satan takes the truth, perverts it and tries to make it appear attractive, like something to be desired – just like the wreckers at Nags Head used a light to appear attractive, but really was designed to lure the ships into running aground in order to plunder them.

We could no doubt think of many contemporary examples of Satan’s lies masquerading as truth…

• Homosexuality is just an alternate lifestyle, people are born that way, God created them that way, or it is just a sexual preference;
• Abortion is not the killing of baby; it is just a clump of cells or it is just a woman making a private decision about her body;
• Gender is arbitrary, it just depends on whether you feel like a man or a woman, not on the anatomy you were born with;
• Marriage does not have to be between a man and a woman – it could be a man and a man or a woman and a woman (or many other redefinitions which are soon to come);
• Premarital sex is not wrong, it is just part of growing up or part of exploring your sexuality;
• Marijuana is not dangerous (see previous post for more on this one);
• Integrity just depends on the situation – if you really need a good grade and you didn’t have time to study just copy off someone else’s paper or, better yet, just plagiarize it (as just one example);
• You don’t have to obey your parents when they are old and not with it.

We could go on, but what it comes down to is, Do what makes you happy! That is the mantra of the world in which we live.

The concepts of right and wrong have changed radically even just within my lifetime…and I am not that old!

This is the world in which we live. This is a bleak and depressing picture. Yet it provides the backdrop for why God’s Truth is so very important today. We have to hold firmly and diligently to God’s truth because it does not change. The world around us is nothing but shifting sand. There is no stability! On the other hand, Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” There is no changing with God!

The Truth – genuine light – does not change. Jesus said He is the light of the world; He does not change, His light does not change. He also said, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” There’s no change there, no debate, no question, no alternate pathway.

There is a classic story that no doubt some of you have heard before, but it fits well with what I am trying to get at here.

Max Lucado quotes Frank Koch telling this story:

Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.

Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing reported, “Light, bearing on the starboard bow.”

“Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain called out.

The lookout replied, “Steady, Captain,” which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.

The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: ‘We are on a collision course, advise you change course twenty degrees.'”

Back came the signal, “Advisable for you to change course twenty degrees.”

The captain said, “Send: “I’m a captain, change course twenty degrees.'”

“I’m a seaman second-class,” came the reply. “You had better change course twenty degrees.”

By that time the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send: ‘I’m a battleship. Change course twenty degrees.'”

Back came the flashing light, “I’m a lighthouse.”

We changed course.

The light from lighthouses provides direction for safe passage and also warns of danger. God’s truth does exactly the same thing. We must learn and be familiar with God’s truth in order to identify dangers and stay on the right path. It is through God-given discernment (the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives) that we can differentiate between false lights and the true Light.

Lower IQ and Brain Damage

It is no secret that several states in the U.S. have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. It still violates federal law, and federal law trumps state law when there is a conflict…but that’s not what I really want to write about today so I won’t go down that path. What I want to write about is that the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana is an excellent example of what can happen when laws are changed to allow people to do what they want whether doing so is a good idea or not…especially when the long-term effects are either not known or indicate that allowing it is not a good idea.

There have long been those who argue that marijuana is not addictive even though you can find plenty of people who will you from first hand experience that it is. There have long been those who argue that there are no serious side effects or marijuana use even though there is plenty of anecdotal and scientific evidence to say otherwise. It has long been known that marijuana functions as a gateway drug, often paving the way for users to move on to harder drugs.

Additionally, there are a number of scientific studies suggesting that the regular use of marijuana does indeed have serious and lasting consequences. In the April issue of The Journal of Neuroscience contains a study conducted by researches from Northwestern University in Illinois, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital on the effects of marijuana use on the brain. The researchers used MRI to measure “the volume, shape and density of the amygdala and nucleus accumbens, two brain structures related to emotion, reward and motivation” according to an article by Daniel James Devine. What did the MRI scans reveal? That smoking marijuana at least weekly produces abnormalities in these parts of the brain.

In the words of Hans Breiter, one of the co-authors of the study, “People think a little recreational use shouldn’t cause a problem, if someone is doing OK with work or school. Our data directly says this is not the case.”

This study is but one of several scientific studies showing the damage that marijuana can do to the brain. There is one study that indicates that people who begin smoking marijuana heavily as teenagers will lost an average of eight IQ points by age 38. Other studies indicate that there are fewer brain connections in the regions of the brain responsible for memory and learning among marijuana users.

Despite this evidence, Washington and Colorado are now allowing the legal use of marijuana for recreational purposes and the trend is likely to continue. It saddens me to say that I know a young man who moved from the east cost to Colorado specifically because he could use marijuana legally there. There are twenty-one states that allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes but none of us are naive enough to believe that it is used only for medicinal purposes and only by those with legitimate medical need for it.

One of the problems with the legalization of marijuana is that teenagers in particular will see that as proof that using it is perfectly safe, even harmless. The same article by Daniel James Devine reports a December 2013 study by the Department of Health and Human Services indicates that only 40% of high school seniors believe regular marijuana use is harmful and 25% of seniors have smoked marijuana in the past month (with 7% reportedly smoking it daily).

I can recall sitting in a seminar a number of years ago in which one of the nation’s leading experts on working with youth who had stabbed or shot an adult described the reality that most of the medications being prescribed for behavioral disorders (including, but certainly not limited to, ADD/ADHD) were developed for and tested on adults and there was absolutely no indication of what the long-term effects of the use of these drugs by children would be. I think in many ways we are still waiting to find out. In this instance–the recreational use of marijuana–it seems that we do know what the long-term effects will be: lower IQ and brain damage.

Are we being responsible as a society when we allow the legalization of something known to cause these results? Should the will of the people be followed even when what they want is not in their own best interest? Interesting questions which could yield a healthy and vigorous debate, no doubt.

Of course, one might argue–somewhat tongue in cheek–that those who use, or want to use, marijuana regularly already have brain damage and/or low IQs. Perhaps that’s all the more reason to “just say no”–they don’t have any brain cells to spare.

Wrong time, wrong place

Just to prove I am an equal opportunity critiquer (and yes, I did just make up that word), today I am going to offer some criticism of one of the conservative right’s most revered figures, Dr. James Dobson.

On May 1 Dobson used the platform of the National Day of Prayer to criticize President Barack Obama. If you read this blog you are well aware that I am not opposed to criticizing President Obama when appropriate. Furthermore, given that this space is my own personal blog, I can say whatever I want here. Anyone who wants to read it is welcome to and anyone who would rather not is welcome to skip it. Dr. Dobson has plenty of vehicles for sharing his thoughts about the president, and I am not opposed to the fact that he criticized Obama or even, actually, what he said. Dr. Dobson, however, chose an inappropriate time and venue to make his comments.

According to the National Day of Prayer’s own web site, “The National Day of Prayer is an annual observance held on the first Thursday of May, inviting people of all faiths to pray for the nation. … It stands as a call for us to humbly come before God, seeking His guidance for our leaders and His grace upon us as a people.” The site goes on to state that the National Day of Prayer unites “Americans from all socio-economic, political and ethnic backgrounds in prayer for our nation.” Quite simply, the National Day of Prayer is to be a non-partisan event wherein political differences are put aside so that those from anywhere along the political spectrum who believe in the God of the Bible can join together in seeking His wisdom, guidance and blessing for America. The National Day of Prayer is intended to be, in a word, nonpartisan.

During his remarks this year, however, Dr. Dobson said, “Before [Obama] was elected, he made it very clear that he wanted to be the abortion president. He didn’t make any bones about it, that this is something that he was really going to promote and support. And he has done that. And in a sense, he is the abortion president.”

Even if you agree with Dobson’s comments–and as I said above, I do–it is clear based on the description of the National Day of Prayer that this was neither the time nor the place for Dobson to make this statement. If the gathering is truly supposed to welcome those from all political backgrounds this is an offensive statement. California Democratic Representative Janice Hahn walked out of the gathering because of Dobson’s remarks. To my knowledge she is the only one who did so, and Dobson seized on this fact to legitimize and defend his remarks.

According to an article on ChristianPost.com, Dobson “told [FOX News’ Megyn] Kelly that, in his speech, he wasn’t only referencing Obama, but was also talking about people’s response to the mandate and abortion, in general. ‘It’s very difficult for people who aren’t part of the sanctity of life movement to understand just how intensely we feel the issue of the killing of babies.'” I feel intensely about the killing of babies, too. There is probably no issue on which I feel more intensely. But the National Day of Prayer is not the place to make the remark Dobson made and, try though he might, there is no way to interpret his remarks to mean anything other than a direct attack on Barack Obama.

Hahn told Roll Call, “We have this annual, national day of prayer, which is supposed to bring the whole country together to pray for our nation, and typically you put politics aside and you come together. Dr. Dobson just absolutely violated that, and I really think he did damage to what we try to do up here in Washington, D.C.” I may have never said this before and may never say it again, I don’t know, but I agree with Rep. Hahn.

Dobson told Megyn Kelly, “One person chose to walk out, as far as we know, and that’s what everybody focuses on. But the people who were there were with me 100 percent, because they also believe in the sanctity of human life.” If it is not hyperbole that is an incredibly bold assertion to make. I find it difficult to believe that Dobson knows what everyone in the room thinks about the sanctity of life. Even if he did, and even if everyone in the room not only defends the sanctity of life but believes that Obama is the “abortion president,” it was still not the right time for Dobson to make his statement.

In April, when the National Day of Prayer was highly criticized for being a “searingly sectarian event” that promoted evangelical beliefs, John Bornschein, the vice chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, said that the event was nonsectarian and was “purely about prayer and praying for our leadership and asking for God’s wisdom and blessing over our leaders.” That is indeed what the event should be. As Rep. Hahn said, however, James Dobson “hijacked” the event to promote his own views. There are plenty of ways in which the sanctity of life could have been supported and defended without specifically attacking the president. If Dobson wanted to go after the president specifically he could have followed up on his comments at the event with additional comments later on, adding the attack on Obama. After all, it is not as if Dobson has ever had a hard time attracting media attention.

Do Christians need to take a public stand in defense of the sanctity of life? Absolutely. They must not do it, though, at events that are advertised and promoted as being nonsectarian and nonpartisan. This is deceptive, inappropriate and, in my opinion, harms the testimony of the Church.

Endangering American Lives

Though it may be hard for some of you to believe I actually do not seek out opportunities to blast President Obama. Regardless of how seldom I may agree with his political agenda I believe that it is my responsibility as a follower of Christ to respect and pray for the president. I also believe, however, that the citizens of the United States have a responsibility to hold our elected officials responsible for their actions and to expect that they follow the law.

Unless you live under a rock you know that the United States recently traded five al-Qaida and Taliban operatives for U.S. Army soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held captive in Afghanistan. This trade is troubling on many levels in my mind and in the minds of many others. Senator Lindsey Graham reportedly commented on the trade by saying, “The five terrorists released were the hardest of the hard-core.”

Other concerns include the fact that Bergdahl allegedly walked away from his unit in Afghanistan and sought out the Taliban, who gladly took him prisoner when their paths crossed. Bergdahl was held captive for five years and I certainly am not going to suggest that that is insignificant or was in any way deserved. However, there are allegations that he taught bomb-making techniques to the Taliban while he was being held. All the way back in 2010 the Daily Mail reported that Bergdahl was ” training Taliban fighters bomb-making and ambush skills” and, according to one of his captors, had converted to Islam and had taken a Muslim name.

Several of Bergdahl’s platoon mates have publicly stated that Bergdahl should absolutely not be called or considered a hero because he voluntarily left his unit and six U.S. soldiers died looking for him. “We all served together and we were all in it together over there and he broke that bond by leaving us,” Army Sgt. Josh Korder said on NBC’s TODAY show. Interestingly, the TODAY web site has a survey allowing readers to vote yes or no as to whether the U.S. trade for Bergdahl was the right thing to do. Fully 85% of the more than 16,000 voters have responded “no.” Not all that long ago the United States Army shot deserters. It still imprisons them. It certainly has not traded high level military prisoners in order to get deserters back.

Ultimately, it is none of the above–troubling though all of that is–that is the biggest problem. The biggest problem, and the one that should alarm every citizen if the United States, is that President Obama broke the law in the Bergdahl swap. U.S. law requires the president to give Congress thirty days notice before releasing any prisoner from Guantanamo Bay, where the five prisoners traded for Bergdahl had been held. President Obama did not do that. Apparently Obama informed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid but that was all. Neither Speaker of the House John Boehner nor Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein were informed in advance. On Tuesday Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken called Feinstein to apologize, Feinstein told reporters.

According to a report in TIME the swap occurred over the objections of members of the Pentagon and the intelligence community who had serious concerns about the dangers of releasing the five men. The explanation for the swift action in making the trade that was offered by National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden is absurd. Frankly, I think Ms. Hayden should have been embarrassed to make the statement. Here’s what she said:

Delaying the transfer in order to provide the 30-day notice would interfere with the Executive’s performance of two related functions that the Constitution assigns to the President: protecting the lives of Americans abroad and protecting U.S. soldiers. Because such interference would significantly alter the balance between Congress and the President, and could even raise constitutional concerns, we believe it is fair to conclude that Congress did not intend that the Administration would be barred from taking the action it did in these circumstances.

Therein lies no small part of the problem with the Obama Administration: it believes that it has the right to “conclude” whatever it wants about what Congress intends and to play fast and loose with the law when following it would get in the way of the president doing what he wants.

It stretches my imagination to contemplate how waiting thirty days for Congress to be notified of the swap in accordance with the law could possibly jeopardize the lives of Americans abroad or U.S. soldiers, particularly given that Bergdahl had already been held for five years. A further concern is that the U.S. did not make this swap with another sovereign nation but with a terrorist group. The reality is that making this trade put the safety of Americans abroad and U.S. soldiers at risk but communicating clearly to the world that the United States is willing to negotiate with terrorists and even to make a five-for-one trade in order to get back a deserter. If we’ll trade five major terrorist prisoners for one deserter what will the asking price be for an actual military hero? Or a diplomat? What about for the families of U.S. officials serving abroad?

At the end of the day, despite the rationalizations and press conferences and defenses of their actions, the Obama administration both violated the letter of the law and the spirit of the Constitution. The president takes an oath to serve, protect and defend the Constitution. No matter how revisionist you may want to be in your reading or interpretation of it, there is no way to make that fit with breaking the law or endangering American lives.

Get out of the way

I remember hearing Joe Stowell speak several years ago and him telling those of us in the audience that he wanted us to listen to God during the weekend’s sessions. “You can stop listening to me anytime you want,” he said, “but don’t stop listening to God!” He went on to share that sometimes people will come up to him after he has spoken and tell him how encouraged or challenged or blessed they were by something he said and, after they share what it was, he cannot remember even saying that. “So do I tell them, ‘I didn’t say that! Forget the blessing!”? he asked. Of course he does not do that. His point was that sometimes the Lord, through the Holy Spirit, pricks our hearts or our consciences and speaks to us beyond the actual words we are hearing.

I understood Stowell’s point when I heard it, and I probably even thought to myself that I had experienced that or could imagine experiencing that, but in the past few months two specific instances have brought Stowell’s point vividly to the forefront of my mind.

In the first instance someone told me after a church service in which I delivered the sermon that they found one particular phrase so neat and meaningful that they had written it down. Only the phrase was one I did not even remember saying! It got me to thinking, so later I went back and looked at my notes and it was indeed something I said; it was part of a quote I shared from someone else, actually.

Then, just this past Sunday, I had the experience that all speakers and preachers dread. In the very midst of my message I felt as if I was really struggling. Though I did not let it show (I hope) there were times in the back of my mind that I was literally thinking, “This is terrible. It isn’t making any sense. You’re just floundering up here. There’s no excuse for this!” Needless to say, when I sat down I was not feeling real good about the message. Interestingly, several people approached me afterwards to comment (positively) on the message and to discuss specific things that were meaningful to them. One of these individuals was a gentlemen who never says anything after my messages other than basic platitudes or polite comments–things like, “Thank you” or “That was a good message.” Funny, isn’t it, how the one message I felt did not go well at all was the one that was meaningful enough to prompt him to say something deeper than he usually does…

Stowell’s point, and mine in writing this post, is that we humans are the instruments through which the Lord chooses to work, and when we have that privilege we should be grateful for the opportunity. However, we must never allow ourselves to believe that anything we may have to say is particularly impressive or important. Never should we allow ourselves to get focused on or caught up in our own accomplishments or oratorical skills or pleasing turn of phrase. Instead, we must seek to remain true to God’s Word, to share it as accurately as we can and then, quite simply, to do our very best to just get out of the way.

As Joe Stowell said, you can stop listening to me anytime. After all, nothing I have to say is all that important anyway.

Spoiled Milk

The contradictory position of the U.S. government on matters of “tolerance” and “equal rights” was made–yet again–abundantly clear when the U.S. Postal Service released a new stamp with the likeness of Harvey Milk in late May.

The description of Milk on the USPS web site says that he was “one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States.” It goes on to state that Milk was an effective and popular leader because he was committed to serving a broad constituency, built coalitions between various diverse groups and believed that government should represent all citizens.

That’s interesting, because the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee of the USPS is tasked with evaluating the many subjects suggested to appear on postage stamps each year. According to the USPS, the “primary goal [of the committee] is to select a good balance of subjects appealing to a broad audience for recommendation to the Postmaster General.” Furthermore, the site states, “Stamp selections are made with all postal customers in mind….” As part of the evaluation process, the CSAC considers eleven criteria. The tenth one on that list states, in part, “Stamps or stationery items shall not be issued to honor religious institutions or individuals whose principal achievements are associated with religious undertakings or beliefs.”

I would imagine I am not the only one who sees a contradiction here. First, the CSAC has a stated desire of selecting subjects that will appeal to a broad audience. I doubt seriously that Harvey Milk will appeal to a broad audience. In fact, I suspect the audience to which he will appeal will be rather narrow. The American Family Association has gone so far as to encourage its supporters to not only refuse to purchase the stamps but to refuse to accept any mail bearing the stamp.

Second, the CSAC has an established policy that it will not honor individuals or institutions whose primary achievements are “religious.” Yet, it apparently has no issue honoring an individual whose primary accomplishments are promoting the homosexual agenda. That one is unacceptable and the other is apparently just fine is crystal clear evidence of the intolerance that the government and the political left so often espouse.

A third problem is the fact that, as the New York Daily News reported, Milk was selected for honor on a stamp because he was “a civil rights icon.” That is nothing short of ridiculous. As I have argued here repeatedly, homosexual “rights” are not civil rights.

Fourth, there seems to be ample evidence that Milk was an “ephebophile,” a word made up to distinguish between those sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children and those attracted to teenagers. Milk was apparently 33 years old when he began a relationship with a 16 year old run away named Jack McKinley.

There is plenty of information out there on Harvey Milk, so I will refrain from going into any further detail. The simple fact is, the United States government, in the form of the U.S. Postal Service, has chosen to honor a homosexual activist who carried on a sexual relationship with an underage male. I fail to see anything about that that is honorable.