jasonbwatson

August 19, 2016

Would you like a receipt?

I have a pet peeve. More than one probably (like most people), but one of my biggest is when I use the “pay at the pump” feature at a gas station, select “yes” when it asks if I want a receipt, and then there is no paper to print the receipt. Sometimes nothing happens, sometimes the screen says something like “Clerk has receipt.” Either way, the result is that I have to walk into the gas station if I want my receipt. And I almost always want my receipt–either because I used a debit card and I need to remember the amount to deduct it later and/or I want to make sure the charge was correct. The entire purpose of paying at the pump, however, is avoiding having to go inside. In the grand scheme of life, this is really not a big deal, but it does irritate me.

One day not too long ago I had one of these experinces at a local gas station. I think I may have already been perturbed about something else anyway, but when the machine failed to print my receipt I was walking toward the building to get it, muttering to myself and vowing that I was going to let my irritation be known. “You know me having to come in here comepltely defeats the point of having a pay at the pump option!” I planned to say. “Would it be that hard to go out there and put mor ereceipt paper in the machine?!”

When I walked inside, though, I took one look at the lady working behind the counter and recognized her as someone who attends the same church I do. Immediately my irritation and planned tirade was replaced by the realization that I had to smile, ask how she was doing and say thank you when she handed me the receipt–for two reasons. One, she knew who I was and knew other people I know, so I had to be civil lest she tell other people what a jerk I was and what a rotten attitude I had when I came into the store, thus damaging my reputation. Two, she also knows I profess to be a Christian, so I needed to maintain decent behavior in order to avoiding tarnishing my reputation and/or the reputation of the ministry where I serve.

All of this went through my head in less than a second but I pondered it more later and realized how absurd it is to straighten up and behave myself because I am interacting with someone I know, yet I was fully prepared to unload both barrels if the person behind the counter was a stranger to me. For one thing, it would be quite possible that they knew who I was even if I did not know them; I have found this to be a regular phenomenon in the samll community in which we live. I am recognized frequently, either by name or by my position at the school. So, the two reasons identified above were still possibilities.

Even if the worker did not know me, though, my responsibility as a Christian is to show love, kindness, patience, gentleness and self-control to everyone I meet. I may, frankly, be even more important when interacting with non-Christians, since my attitude and behavior, if they find out I am a Christian, could taint their opinion of all Christians–and of Christ. Jesus made it clear in Matthew 5 that His followers are to be salt and light. When I act in a way that is not consistent with how Christ has called me to live I lose my saltiness, I hide my light under a bushel or a bowl. Jesus said such salt is good for nothing butto trampled under foot. I am to let my light shine so that others can see my good deeds and glorify God. My interactions with others–every one of them–are opportunities to spread salt and light in a dark and rotting world. Being polite-even kind–to a strenger may make his or her day, may provide some encouragement, may be the only posiitve interaction they have that day (especially if they work at a gas station and the pump printer is out of receipt paper and there are other customers who get as irritated by that as I do!). Too, being kind and polite may not do any of those things. The stranger may not even notice, or may be grumpy in response for whatever reason. It really doesn’t matter. We are not called to be salt and light only to other Christians or only when there is paper in the pump printer (in other words, only when things are going our way). Instead, we are called to be salt and light, to demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit, all the time to everyone–because that is what Christ calls us to do.

August 11, 2016

Evaluating Donald Trump–and Why Hillary Clinton Cannot be an Option

This is, by far, my longest post ever. It also includes far more links that I usually include so that you can read the thoughts of others for yourself if you wish. This post’s length reflects two important things, I think. One, this is an incredibly important issue. Two, it does not have an easy answer and trying to make sense of it is difficult at best. This is my best effort at doing that and, if you stick with me to the end, I thank you for your endurance.

Whether or not Christians should vote for Donald Trump is a question that is getting a lot of attention these days—and rightly so. Voting is a privilege and a responsibility, and Christians have a specific responsibility, I believe, to stand for biblical values and truth in a secular society—which includes through the ballot box. Accordingly, the question of whether or not to vote for Trump—or Hillary Clinton—is a valid one and one that is worthy of serious contemplation. No one should vote blindly or ignorantly, nor should anyone cast his vote based solely on the letter that appears after the candidate’s name (party affiliation). Individuals far more well known that me, far more educated than me and with far larger followings than me have already weighed in on this question and will no doubt continue to do so…but I see no reason for that to deter me from sharing my opinion!

On July 28 Wayne Grudem posted his thoughts on Townhall in an editorial entitled “Why Voting for Donald Trump is a Morally Good Choice.” He starts his thoughts by saying that many Christians have told him that when faced with choosing between two evils the right thing to do is to choose neither, meaning that a vote for Trump is not an option. These folks, says Grudem, advocate a vote for a write-in or third party candidate. To that, Grudem responds that, with his 39 years of experience teaching Christian ethics, he believes that “voting for a Trump is a morally good choice” now that Trump is indeed the Republican nominee. Before giving his specific reasons why he thinks this, Grudem states the following:

American citizens need patience with each other in this difficult political season. Close friends are inevitably going to make different decisions about the election. We still need to respect each other and thank God that we live in a democracy with freedom to differ about politics. And we need to keep talking with each other – because democracies function best when thoughtful citizens can calmly and patiently dialog about the reasons for their differences.

I agree with Grudem about that, and, just as his post was his effort at contributing to the discussion, this is mine. If you discuss politics with family and friends at all, or look at a Facebook feed every now and then, you are no doubt baffled, frustrated or just downright upset with the political inclinations of some people you know right now. Me too. The challenge on that front is to respectfully express our differences, kindly try to persuade, but, in the end, still have love and respect for those people even when they disagree with us. So it is not my desire here to denigrate anyone, but I do think this is a discussion worth having.

Grudem says that voting for a flawed candidate is not morally wrong if you think that candidate will do more good for the nation than will his opponent. I would agree with that and would suggest that we all do. After all, if you are a Christian and you believe in the sin nature of man, then you must recognize that there is no such thing as a candidate who is not flawed. If we could only vote for candidates who were not flawed then we would never be able to vote.

In a paragraph enumerating Trump’s flaws Grudem begins with this sentence: “He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash.” Certainly true. At the conclusion of that paragraph, which includes reference to Trump’s marital infidelity, he writes, “These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.” Now I do not know, and to my knowledge Grudem has not said, but it would seem to me that the words this election are crucial in that sentence. In other words, it would seem to me that Grudem is stating that while the flaws of Trump—which are, admittedly, greater than the flaws of many other candidates who ran in this election and who have been nominated in the past—would disqualify him from consideration in any other election, the fact that Trump and Clinton are the only major candidates left now makes this situation different. Grudem explained that he spoke against a Trump candidacy just six months ago, but his position has now changed. That causes me to think that when there were a dozen other candidates to consider, Grudem did not think Trump was a good moral choice.

That does beg the question of whether or not someone who is not an acceptable candidate at one time can become an acceptable candidate later when said candidate has not changed at all but the environment in which he is running has changed and the options have diminished. Is the acceptability of a candidate subjective or not?

Back in April Andy Naselli wrote a post on his web site entitled “Can You Vote for Donald Trump with a Clear Conscience?” Naselli had just coauthored a book on the conscience, so this was a relevant subject for him to address. Like Grudem, he began by enumerating Trump’s flaws and failures. He made it clear that Trump is not a man of good character. “A presidential candidate does not need to sign off on my church’s doctrinal statement to earn my vote,” he wrote. “But character matters immensely for leaders. If a presidential candidate is not trustworthy in other areas, how can we entrust him with the most influential governmental position in the world?” There is really no debate over many of the points Naselli makes, including that Trump brags about his adultery, mocks and disrespects women and those with disabilities, is shamelessly proud and so on. His conclusion? “Trump is not morally qualified to lead a Boy Scout troop.”

In his article, Grudem explains that be believes Christians have a responsibility to seek the good of the nation in which they live, and I agree. He cites Jeremiah 29:7 as support for that position: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (ESV). I think there are ample other passages that can also be used to support the importance of Christians seeking to influence for good the community, state, nation and even world in which they live. John MacArthur wrote a book a number of years ago entitled Why Government Can’t Save You. I do not agree with everything he wrote there, but I certainly agree that government cannot save anyone, nor should seeking to influence the public good through government ever replace the importance of seeking to lead lost souls to salvation. But I think Grudem would agree with that.

Naselli writes, “If you vote for a presidential candidate in America’s democratic republic, it does not mean that you fully endorse all of that person’s policies or that you think that person’s character is stellar.” He says there are two basic voting strategies—voting for “the least bad candidate who has the best chance of winning” and voting “for the best (or least bad) candidate, even if that person has a low chance of winning” (italics his). Naselli says he has employed the first option to this point in his life but questions now whether or not there is a limit on the application of that principle. “Can the most viable candidates be so bad that you cannot dignify either of them with your vote?” he asks.

He goes on to use an example of an election between Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. If they were the two most viable candidates, Naselli asks, would someone really feel obligated to vote for the lesser of the two evils? “The strategy to vote for the lesser of two evils breaks down at some point. You must draw the line somewhere. The question is where to draw that line.” I agree that there does come a tipping point, but I think it is also necessary to bear in mind the notion of taking the course that will do the most good for the nation within the available options—and I will address that later using Naselli’s hypothetical as an excellent example.

It is precisely because of the responsibility to vote for the person who will do the most good for the nation that Grudem says voting for Trump is the moral thing to do. In his estimation, a vote for someone other than Trump, such as a write-in or third party candidate, is a de facto vote for Clinton, since it reduces the number of votes Clinton needs to win. Historically, there is significant evidence of a third party candidate making a difference in some elections, so that is a legitimate concern. Grudem’s point is that by not voting for Trump someone would be in essence supporting Clinton; in other words, voting for someone other than Trump and Clinton is as effective as voting for Mickey Mouse…or not voting at all.

Accordingly, the real question Grudem asks is, “Can I in good conscience act in a way that helps a liberal like Hillary Clinton win the presidency?” That is a very fair question. I think Grudem goes too far, however, in claiming James 4:17 as reason to support Trump; I do not think it is reasonable or accurate to say that voting for someone other than Trump is sin because of the fact that it could result in helping Clinton.

Grudem goes through a long list of topics that should matter to Christians and that will be adversely affected of Clinton wins in November. These topics include sanctity of life, religious liberty, freedom of speech and, most importantly, the makeup of the Supreme Court. He also addresses issues like taxes, minorities, the military, terrorism, Israel, energy and health care.

In response to the rhetorical question “Does character matter?” Grudem answers,I believe that character does matter, but I think Trump’s character is far better than what is portrayed by much current political mud-slinging, and far better than his opponent’s character.” I am really not so sure that his character is better than it is portrayed. Does the media seem to relish in portraying his worst moments and most ridiculous statements? Of course. But that does not change the fact that they are there. In other words, the way his character is portrayed, even in the left-wing media, is usually not completely fabricated. Is his character better than Clinton’s? I suspect it may be, but that still goes back to the “choosing between two evils” conundrum.

Alex Chediak, also on Townhall.com, responded to Grudem’s essay on August 1. He wrote, of Trump’s claim that he entered the political arena to defend those who cannot defend themselves against the powerful who continue to beat up on them, that in actuality “we see [from Trump’s track record] the picture of a fundamentally arrogant, selfish, and greedy man, who will do or say anything to beat his rivals. This is a man who glories in a kind of self-exaltation that most of us would find shameful.”

Grudem says those who reduce their decision on whom to vote for solely to character are guilty of reductionism, but I would disagree. A person’s character will determine how he or she will handle all of the other issues that matter. During one of the presidential debates John Kasich responded to an answer Ted Cruz gave regarding his philosophies by saying, “You don’t run anything with philosophy.” Kasich’s point was that actually having done something is more meaningful. The truth, though, is that one’s philosophy will dictate how he or she will run something. Trump’s character and philosophy indicates that he has usually been out to do what is best for him and his personal bottom line. He made it clear during the debates that he is proud of all the money he made in Atlantic City and the fact that he got out before most other casino owners, but the record of his operations in Atlantic City is not flattering.

Chediak says he agrees with Grudem that character cannot be the only factor to consider, but he also says that there comes a point where poor character makes it a necessary consideration. Writes Chediak,

But there is a character threshold that we should expect any candidate to meet. A man who owns his vices as if they were virtues, who talks proudly about “going after the families” of suspected terrorists, who has profited from strip clubs, who is by all accounts a pathological liar, who disparaged a disabled journalist, who insulted POWs, who criticized the looks of a rival’s wife, is unworthy of the office of president.

I agree with most of what Chediak said there. I have to ask though, who is worthy of the office of president? How do we determine that? Who gets to decide is us—we the people. That means, by default, that anyone who gets elected is “worthy.” When we are the losing side of the equation we probably do not like that, but we would not really want any alternative. If we were to suggest that some group of people should get to determine who is worthy or eligible to be the president we would only like it as long as we were in that group. That’s the great—and terrible—thing about democratic government; the majority will sometimes choose a candidate that we feel is completely wrong for the job, either by his positions and/or by his character. James Madison famously wrote, in The Federalist #51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” Men are not angels, and angels do not govern men, which is why we have to take seriously our responsibility as voters. In Christianity Today Russell Moore wrote, “In our system, citizen is an office; we too bear responsibility for the actions of the government.” That is also why, by the way, not voting is really not an option in my opinion. Even if a candidate lacking character—a candidate we feel is “unworthy of the office of president”—wins the office, we must be diligent to do all that we can within the system to keep him or her accountable through the checks and balances within our system. We have not done a good job of that in recent years, with a Congress that has allowed the president to usurp his constitutional powers on multiple occasions without calling him on it in any meaningful way and with a judicial branch that has created rights that do not exist and laws that were not voted on without holding those judges accountable either.

Grudem said that people’s concern that Trump will not be the president he has promised to be is a moot point because “all of American presidential history shows that that result is unlikely, and it is ethically fallacious reasoning to base a decision on assuming a result that is unlikely to happen.” I don’t agree with that either. That’s akin to saying that because everyone lies we should not care if one individual person lies. To use the faults of the whole to justify or excuse the faults of the one is ethically fallacious, too. I hesitate to start a debate with an ethics professor on ethical fallacies but this particular assertion by Grudem is an example of appeal to probability. Grudem says it is ethically fallacious to base a decision on the assumption that a result is unlikely to happen but it is just as fallacious to base it on a result that is likely to happen. Trump probably won’t do what he has said he will is a fallacious argument Grudem says, but opposing that by arguing that no one does what they say they will is also fallacious. Grudem is committing a fallacy of his own, saying that history tells us that candidates rarely do govern as they promise, so of course Trump is unlikely to as well.

Of course Grudem is not the only person whose writing is getting attention on this question. Though not nearly as prominent a voice as Grudem, a blogger named Shannon Dingle posted, on July 31, her opinion on the matter. It was entitled “I’m pro-life. And I’m voting for Hillary. Here’s why.” She says her opposition to abortion has not changed, but the Republican track record has caused her to come to the conclusion that she is “not sure we can hold that voting Republican is the best thing for abortion rates in this country.”

According to Dingle, “abortion rates rose under Reagan, rose under the first Bush, dropped under Clinton, held steady under the second Bush, and have been dropping under Obama.” However, I am not sure where received her information or on what she is basing that assertion. The National Right to Life Education Foundation reports, on nrlc.org, that the U.S. abortion rate (measured as the number of abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44) was lower when Regan left office than when he entered, lower when the first Bush left office than when he entered, was lower when Clinton left office than when he entered, was lower when Bush 43 left office than when he entered, and has also declined under Obama.

Perhaps Dingle misspoke and she meant the abortion ratio. That is the number of abortions per 100 births ending in live births or abortion. However, that number reached its peak in 1983 but had dropped markedly by the time Reagan left office. When Bush 41 left office it was slightly higher than when he entered, but then the ratio fell during the Clinton and Bush 43, and has also fallen under Obama. These are not NRLC numbers, either; they come from the Centers for Disease Control and the Guttmacher Institute. The NRLC did comment, however, that while the abortion rate is declining, the number of abortions from RU-486 and other similar means were up.

Dingle goes on to say that Trump has no political track record and therefore all we can go by are his words. Those words, she says, are “are inconsistent, unreliable, and highly subject to change based on what’s politically convenient for him.” I don’t disagree with that at all. She says he has a “newly minted pro-life stance,” and I do not disagree with that either. (That was also true of Mitt Romney, by the way). At the same time, Hillary Clinton has a political track record, and it is one firmly committed to the pro-abortion position. Just a few months ago she made the news with her comments on Meet the Press in which she said that unborn children do not have constitutional rights. She also said that the absence of those rights does not negate the responsibility to do whatever can be done medically to help the unborn child of a “mother who…wants to make sure that the child will be healthy.” Those words are significant because the imply Clinton’s well-known position that the medical community should also do whatever is necessary to end the life of an unborn child when the mother does not want that child. Here is an excerpt of Clinton’s response to Chuck Todd’s question, “When or if does an unborn child have constitutional rights?”

Well, under our laws currently, that is not something that exists. The unborn person doesn’t have constitutional rights. Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t do everything we possibly can in the vast majority of instances to, you know, help a mother who is carrying a child and wants to make sure that child will be healthy, to have appropriate medical support. It doesn’t mean that you don’t do everything possible to try to fulfill your obligations. But it does not include sacrificing the woman’s right to make decisions.

Dingle continues on to say that abortion—while deeply important to her—is not the only issue she is considered. She also makes it clear that she is voting for Clinton because she agrees with Clinton on enough issues to warrant her vote. If she did not, she says, she would abstain from voting or would vote for a third party candidate because she does not believe in voting against someone. Wrote Dingle, “I find enough I can affirm and identify with in the positions and record of Hillary Clinton.… Aside for abortion – which I do care about deeply – I see the Democrats as the party that champions other pro-life issues more effectively and consistently.”

Quite frankly, that statement blows my mind, so I found it very interesting to explore Dingle’s rationale. And she did not hold back, believe me. She enumerated ten ways in which she feels Clinton is a more pro-life candidate than Trump (and Republicans in general). Her first example is the lives of people with disabilities. Donald Trump has a hideous record of statements and insults directed toward and about individuals with disabilities and there is no defense for those statements. Clinton has a more admirable record of statements made about the still-existing need to provide more help and greater access for individuals with disabilities. So I will let Dingle have this point, but I do want to mention that the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed by a Republican president (Bush 41) and Republicans Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin, among others, have rock-solid records on the issue of individuals with disabilities, due in no small part to their own experience as parents of children with disabilities (and their position that parents who are told their child will have a disability should not have the right to abort that child—a position Clinton does not hold).

Dingle’s second point is on the matter of women who would otherwise get abortions. She suggests that “empowering poor and low-income women can make a difference in overall pregnancy termination rates.” I find the word empowering to be trite and therefore almost devoid of meaning, but Dingle specifically mentions family supports—especially for single mothers, increased educational access and frank conversations about the issue of rape. Dingle says Clinton started the first rape crisis hotline in Arkansas and was “considered a leading advocate for abused and neglected children” shortly after leaving law school. That’s commendable, but it does not ignore the fact that Clinton only advocates for the rights of children who are already born—while simultaneously advocating for a woman’s right kill that child before it is born for no other reason than the fact that she does not want the child. In a 1995 speech at the UN women’s conference in Beijing Clinton made a gutsy statement, given the location of the conference. She said, “It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls….” That’s absolutely true. But let us not forget that Clinton supports the right of a woman to have a doctor do those exact same things to a baby before it leaves the womb. While Marco Rubio’s assertion earlier this year that Clinton supports abortion even up to the due date of the child may be a small stretch, Clinton said on Meet the Press Daily on September 28, 2015, “”There can be restrictions in the very end of the third trimester, but they have to take into account the life and health of the mother.” Note the key words—very end of the third trimester.

Dingle writes, “As the mother of children who one day might benefit from any or all of these policies [that can benefit women who might otherwise have an abortion], I can’t look them in the eye, say I value them deeply, and then justify a vote for Trump. As someone who believes the best anti-abortion policies prevent abortions rather than ban them, I can’t say I’m pro-life and say I’m with him. I can’t.”

To that I would ask Dingle, Could you look those same children in the eye and say you voted for a woman who believes you had the right to kill them before they were born if you had wished to do so?

I am not going to take the time to discuss all of Dingle’s points because I do not feel they all need to be discussed. It is true that Hillary Clinton has a more admirable record on some issues than does Donald Trump. There is no defending Trump’s treatment of, and comments about, women. Wrote Chediak,

Trump has directly profited from the debasement of women. Trump was the first to put a strip club in a casino in 2013, the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. Trump was a frequent guest on the Howard Stern show, where the two men regularly objectified women in the most degrading of ways. When we combine this record with Trump’s boasts of marital unfaithfulness and (more recently) his grotesque remarks about Megyn Kelly and the looks of Carly Fiorina and Heidi Cruz, it’s hard to argue that accusations of misogyny are unjustified.  (emphasis mine)

But Dingle seems to lose her grasp of reality when she says Clinton will be a better candidate for the lives of our armed forces. After admitting that Clinton made a complete mess of Benghazi, Dingle writes, “but I do think Hillary learned from the grievous errors leading up to and following that horrible day.” Really? Based on what? When questioned by Congress she said, notoriously, “what difference does it make now?” I do not think that shows any lessons learned. Dingle cites James Comey’s failure to indict Clinton over her use of a private e-mail server as an example only of poor judgment. I think, despite Comey’s statement, that conclusion is erroneous. There is evidence that Clinton knew exactly what she was doing, and continued to do it intentionally—if for no other reason than to avoid future FOIA requests. Her behavior would have resulted in an indictment for anyone else.

Dingle says she was “I was astounded by the number of military leaders speaking at the DNC…vouching Hillary as the best choice for our troops and most knowledgeable in this area of policy.” I wonder if she has checked out the number of military leaders who have said that Clinton is absolutely not the best choice for our troops? I think she would be even more astounded.

In an article in WORLD Mindy Belz wrote, referring in part to a number of pieces the magazine has run exposing connections between the Clintons and rogue Nigerians,

Our reporting uncovered multiple ties between the Clinton Foundation, Hillary herself, and Nigerian business interests who benefited from the United States not cracking down on terror in Nigeria. It’s a small anecdote. But it fits a pattern of cover-up; of Clinton denying shady practices plain for all to see; of her dealing with rogues, defying the law in plain sight, and daring anyone to catch her. A nuclear arsenal and the world’s best army won’t be in trustworthy hands on her watch.

In November 2015 Rasmussen Reports reported that a “RallyPoint/Rasmussen Reports national survey of active and retired military personnel finds that only 15% have a favorable opinion of Clinton, with just three percent (3%) who view the former secretary of State Very Favorably. Clinton is seen unfavorably by 81%, including 69% who share a Very Unfavorable impression of her.”

In March of this year, on americanthinker.com, retired Air Force Colonel Chris J. Krisinger wrote, “If polling is any indicator, Mrs. Clinton has few fans in the military. … Given the military’s performance-based ethos, coupled with the ideals and standards U.S. military members are held to account for, it seems increasingly likely that few among them would publicly offer up their names and professional reputations for her political fortunes.” So there may be plenty of military personnel who oppose the notion of Donald Trump as Commander in Chief, but there are no doubt just as many who oppose Clinton for that position. And she, by the way, has a track record on which to base such opposition.

Near the end of her post Dingle writes, “One reason I’m voting for Hillary is that I know what and who I’m voting for.” That, in my mind, is exactly why I could not vote for Clinton. I know what I am voting for and I could never in good conscience lend my support or endorsement to Clinton’s past or promises for the future.

A different take on Clinton comes from a (much shorter) blog post by Helen Wickert on courageousmotherhood.net and entitled “An Open Letter to Hillary Clinton.” Having stated that she would love to be able to celebrate with her daughter the first nomination of a woman for president by a major political party, Wickert writes that she cannot. “Sadly, Mrs. Clinton, you have shown not only my daughter but all daughters—and not only in this country but globally—that in order to, in your words, ‘shatter the gla’ you have to lie, cheat, abuse, insult, bully and ignore.”

Wickert writes, “Mrs. Clinton, how can I possibly tell my daughter to follow you as an example after you allowed your husband to assault and demean multiple women throughout his political career?” Good question—especially since Dingle says that one of the reasons she is supporting Clinton is Trump’s abysmal record toward women. Trump demeans women with his words and actions, Dingle says. No argument from me on that one. But has not Clinton done the same? In January of this year the New York Times ran an article that enumerated a number of instances of Clinton’s attitude toward the women who accused Bill Clinton of sexual harassment or of having affairs with them. According to George Stephanopoulos Clinton said “We have to destroy her story” when Connie Hamzy came forward against Bill Clinton in 1991. The article also references Clinton’s approach toward Gennifer Flowers and quotes “one of her closest confidantes” as saying that Clinton called Monica Lewinsky “a narcissistic loony toon.” You can read the article for yourself if you want to know more.

Wickert also asks,

How can you get up and speak about income equality and then pay your own male executives considerably more than your female staff? How can you receive donations from countries that publicly abuse, shame and even execute their own women? Yet you continue to boast about how you stand for women’s rights. Double standard?

I have nothing to add to that, but it would be interesting to know how Dingle would respond. Wickert also raises the issue of Clinton’s $12,000 jackets she often speaks in and the six-figure speaking fees she collects. How do those facts contribute to Clinton’s ability or desire to help women who are struggling?

Wickert wasn’t through though; she also writes this:

You have the interests of only one woman in mind here: your own. You have done nothing to bring the United States together. Quite the contrary—you have done your best to divide, and you have succeeded. Congratulations. You crave power, and you will do whatever it takes to get it. You have lied, cheated and let down your own country.

Now it would be difficult to suggest that Trump has done much to bring the country together either. I am not suggesting that he has. But I am suggesting that Dingle’s assertions about Clinton being the better candidate really do not make much sense when you truly compare the two candidates.

This is already long and is only getting longer, so the time has come to begin moving toward a conclusion.

I said earlier that I would come back to Naselli’s example of an election between Hitler and Stalin. Obviously that would be an extremely undesirable choice to have to make, and if there really were a U.S. election with two such candidates it would be quite tempting to abstain or vote for a third party candidate. However, I said this was a perfect example because if we reflect back to World War II we see that the United States actually did choose Stalin over Hitler—just long enough to defeat Hitler. Very few people, if any, in the U.S. liked the idea of working together with the Soviets, but it was a temporary necessity in order to defeat Nazi Germany, which was an even worse evil at that time. History bears out that there are times when the adage is indeed true that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” In the 2016 presidential race, Donald Trump is the enemy of Hillary Clinton.

Dingle writes that she has changed her mind about support for abortion being a deal breaker position. I cannot agree with her. Instead, I side with John Piper, who wrote back in 1995, “I believe that the endorsement of the right to kill unborn children disqualifies a person from any position of public office.” Now I should clarify that, supporting the freedoms which make our country the great country that it is prevent me from saying that I actually believe that such a position disqualifies a person from running for or holding that office, but I do believe that it disqualifies me from ever voting for such a person—and I think it should have the same impact for anyone who claims to be pro-life. Writing on The Gospel Coalition web site, Thomas Kidd wrote earlier this month, “Just what we know about her views on abortion and the rights of conscience should disqualify her, in my opinion, as a political option for Christians.” Despite Dingle’s best efforts, there is simply no way to claim to be pro-life and support a person who passionately defends a woman’s right to choose abortion.

Back in April Naselli wrote that if Trump and Clinton ended up being the nominees there would basically be four options for voters: (1) Don’t vote; (2) vote for Clinton; (3) vote for Trump; or (4) “vote for someone else who has no chance to win.”

I do not think number one or number two are real options for believers—or for anyone who believes that there are responsibilities that come along with being a citizen of the United States (and a citizen of heaven, for those in the “believer” category).  That leaves three and four. There are arguments to made for and against voting for Trump. I have discussed some of them already, and I will share just a couple of more thoughts from Russell Moore.

Again, in Christianity Today, Moore wrote this:

For starters, unless Jesus of Nazareth is on the ballot, any election forces us to choose the lesser of evils. Across every party and platform, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Still, the question is a valid one. Believing in human depravity doesn’t negate our sense of responsibility.

Moore also wrote this:

Can a candidate make promises about issues then do something different in office? Yes. Can a candidate present a sense of good character in public then later be revealed to be a fraud? Sure. The same happens with pastors, spouses, employees, and in virtually every other relationship. But that sense of surprise and disappointment is not the same as knowingly delegating our authority to someone with poor character or wicked public stances. Doing so makes us as voters culpable. Saying, “the alternative would be worse” is no valid excuse.

That is why, bottom line, I do not believe a Christian can vote for Hillary Clinton. Neither can someone who does not profess Christianity but does claim to be pro-life. Such a vote would be, in Moore’s words, “knowingly delegating our authority” to someone who has said she defends the right of women to kill their unborn children.

That still leaves the question of whether or not to vote for Trump.

There are plenty of intelligent arguments being made both for and against doing so. Many people I respect are passionately in favor of supporting Trump. Many others I respect are passionately opposed. Several months ago I said myself that I did not know how anyone who professes to be a Christian could support Donald Trump for president. At the time I said that there were other Republican candidates still in the race, but if I felt that way then can I change that position now? Should I? That brings me back to the question I asked near the beginning of this lengthy piece, “whether or not someone who is not an acceptable candidate at one time can become an acceptable candidate later when said candidate has not changed at all but the environment in which he is running has changed and the options have diminished.” As I said, I think that is Grudem’s position. I just need to determine whether or not it is mine.

Chediak suggests that voting for a third candidate—whether a proclaimed candidate or a write-in—is the appropriate choice. “By voting for neither Trump nor Clinton, we do not participate in our country’s decline. We lay the groundwork for a brighter day to come,” he says. David French, writing for National Review, says, “It is hard to face the fact that — on balance — Trump is no better than Hillary Clinton. Hillary is a dreadful politician, and Republicans have waited for years for a great candidate to take her on. They’re still waiting. It’s Democrat versus Democrat for president, and no amount of wishful thinking can change that sad reality.” And Matthew Franck, writing on thepublicdiscourse.com, a web site of The Witherspoon Institute, said this of Trump:

Was there ever a candidate more obviously unqualified for high public office, as measured by his dearth of relevant knowledge and experience, his willfulness and self-absorption, his compulsive lying and inconsistency, his manipulative using of other people, his smash-mouth rhetoric and low character? For anyone professing conservative principles, the first problem with Trump is that he is not one of us, has never been one of us, shows no sign or capacity of becoming one of us, and hardly cares to pretend to be one of us. Even “what about the Supreme Court?” has no grip on my conscience when I try to imagine Donald Trump in the Oval Office. I cannot trust him to choose judicial nominees wisely, and there are other things whose cumulative weight is greater even than this variable.

We haven’t even the consolation of thinking of Trump as a certain kind of Republican who is not actually conservative but who at least recognizes our vocabulary when he hears it. No, Trump would not know a conservative principle if it kicked him in the shins. This is a nominee who, in my estimation, cannot earn my vote even as a “lesser evil” or an “at least he’s not Hillary” candidate. I waver between believing that his defeat would be the worst thing to happen to our country and believing that his victory would be.

At the beginning of his piece Franck sets the stage by recounting being asked this: “If your vote were the deciding one in the election, with either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump becoming president on the basis of your vote alone, for which one would you vote?” No one is ever actually in that position, of course, a fact that Franck acknowledges, and which leads him to his ultimate conclusion:

Vote as if your ballot determines nothing whatsoever—except the shape of your own character. Vote as if the public consequences of your action weigh nothing next to the private consequences. The country will go whither it will go, when all the votes are counted. What should matter the most to you is whither you will go, on and after this November’s election day.

I understand Franck’s point and I think one’s own character and conscience certainly must be factors in how to vote. At the same time, loving God necessarily entails loving each other, and I do not feel it can be justified biblically to act in a way that could result in contributing to Hillary Clinton becoming the president. That means that Naselli’s fourth option—voting for someone who has no chance to win—is not an option at all if voting for that person will have the resulting impact of helping Clinton win. (See again Grudem’s point that voting for such a candidate is in essence a vote for Clinton).

Tony Reinke, by the way, added a few more options to the four voting choices Naselli presented. One of those was, “Vote utilitarian by choosing a major candidate based on who would appoint the best SCOTUS judges.” This argument is consistent with what Eric Metaxas said in a recent interview: “We need to take seriously the realization that the wrong people in the Supreme Court can effectively end our form of government. That’s why, for all the shortcomings, I would say we have no choice but to vote for Trump.” Reinke is not persuaded by this argument, though, saying “it remains difficult to know how many SCOTUS judges will be selected in the next four years, maybe only one (to fill Scalia’s vacancy). After last summer I have a hard time believing SCOTUS, in any forms, is little more than a codifier of public opinion.” I think that’s unlikely. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is probably not going to be able to serve another four years. Anthony Kennedy is 80 and Stephen Breyer will be 78 next week. So there is a high probability than the next president will appoint more than one justice to the court.

The lasting influence of SCOTUS justices is undeniable. It is no coincidence that the average age of the last four appointees—Roberts, Alito, Sotomayor and Kagan—was just shy of 53. A Supreme Court justice can easily serve thirty years—longer than seven presidential terms. So this has to be a serious consideration.

That is why, combined with everything else I have said here, I believe that voting for Donald Trump is the right thing to do for voters who live in a state that is not a sure thing for Trump to win. There are plenty of states where the vote is going to be very close, and these states are likely to determine the outcome of the election. Recent elections have all been close in electoral votes. Some states, though, are not really “up for grabs.” I live in South Dakota, for example, and it was last won by the Democratic nominee in 1964. In 2012 Obama received only 40% of the vote in the state. California, on the other hand, has not voted Republican since 1988 and is highly unlikely to do so this year. But if you live in a state that could go either way—Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia among others—I believe voting for Trump is the right thing to do. I could vote for Trump with a clear conscience if I lived in one of those states because it would be the most effective step I could take to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming president. It would, in other words, be me loving my neighbor by doing what I could to ensure that the worst candidate did not win the election. I am not certain that makes Trump a good candidate, but if doing what is best for the nation as a whole—which is another way of saying loving my neighbor—is what Grudem means by Trump being a good moral choice then I agree—within the confines of what I stated above.

For those, like me, who live in states where the outcome is unlikely to be a real race, though, I think voting your conscience is the right thing to do. Notice I did not say not voting is the right thing to do, because I do not see that ever being the appropriate choice, but voting for a third party candidate or a write-in candidate is justifiable in those situations, and if it will ease your conscience or help you sleep better, then it is definitely the right choice. In fact, perhaps even more than that, I think it is the right choice because it communicates effectively that you are concerned about this country—enough to be an involved citizen—and are not pleased with either of the two major party candidates that were nominated this year. If there is enough of that kind of voting there may well be attention paid. There is no way, though, that a third party candidate is going to win the election this November (assuming nothing drastic changes between now and then) and doing anything other than whatever you can do to prevent Hillary Clinton from winning simply cannot be an option.

August 1, 2016

Unsustainable

In last week’s post Identifying Reality I cited a New York Times article pointing out that younger people, especially ages 18-24, are more comfortable with transgender identities at least in part as a result of a greater awareness of such a thing. Another incredibly frightening example of acceptance bred by familiarity can be found in the February 2016 issue of Cosmopolitan. That issue includes an article by Taffy Brodesser-Akner entitled “The Swing Set.” The article’s subtitle reads, “Monogamy is seen as the gold standard, but other relationship models–throuples, quads!–are emerging from the sidelines and shedding their stigma.” The four-page article is on the topic of polyamory, something I have warned about in at least three previous posts. Unfortunately, it is not going away. In fact, it is, if you can believe what you read is Cosmo, only becoming more prevalent–and I have no reason right now to think that it will not continue to do so.

The article begins with an introduction of Jane and Carlos. They love to have a good time, and if you are fond of a good time and you are “low drama” then “they might be interested in having sex with you. Or a relationship with you. Either way, they’re looking to add to what they have going on with each other. It could also be you and your boyfriend…or your girlfriend.” In other words, any combination is fine. Anything that is pleasurable is acceptable. The only condition Jane and Carlos have, apparently, is this: “[Y]ou’d better mean it, because they’re not really into one-night stands.”

Brodesser-Akner goes on to introduce others into the polyamory lifestyle. Lexi is only 18 years old, but says she loves and cares too much–too much for just one recipient, apparently. Accordingly, “she wants to spread that love over more than one person, maybe you and your boyfriend or you and your girlfriend.” She has one requirement, too: “I just want to be accepted for who I am.” After all, if we accept everyone for who they are, if we let everyone do whatever makes them happy, if we just all get along, then everything will be fine, right? We do not need to have all of these confining rules and boundaries that prevent people from doing whatever it is that makes them happy. If Lexi wants to sleep with multiple partners, males and females, what difference should that make to the rest of us so long as it is all consensual? Why should we tell Lexi that she should only have sex with one person, and that person should be a man and be within the confines of a marriage relationship?

Stephen has a girlfriend who already has a child and she has two other lovers. Since she has other lovers, Stephen may want to have others, too. Apparently he has stated as much in his profile on a website specifically designed to help “nonmonogamous people find one another.” Since I have zero interest in spreading awareness of this site I am not going to name it but it cannot come as any surprise that such a site exists. After all, there was another prominent site that was designed specifically to connect married individuals who wanted to have an affair–something no one seemed to balk at until the site was hacked and names were released. And it is not as if the site were operating under the radar; it had been prominently featured in national news outlets.

Brodesser-Akner raises a very interested point in the early paragraphs of her article. Specifically, she writes,

You can’t move forward into thinking about all the very new (and sometimes very old) alternatives to monogamy if you don’t first confront your own feelings on the topic. Like, why do you think your relationship should be just two people? Where in your brain and heart did you first start to find it startling that two people, once united, would ever want to stray from each other or include other people in their union? At what point did your upbringing–possibly Judeo-Christian and/or puritanical–dictate your ideals so absolutely?

I am, for the most part, going to ignore the implication that Judeo-Christian principles are puritanical. Brodesser-Akner’s use of the “and/or” leaves open the possibility that someone could have puritanical principles that were not rooted in Judeo-Christian beliefs but I think her point is clear. Many people do feel that Judeo-Christian beliefs include a severe set of rules that are designed specifically to minimize pleasure. A professor of mine in college used to joke that a Puritan was someone who lived in constant fear that someone, somewhere was having fun. That was a bit of hyperbole, of course, but as is usually the case there was an element of truth. “Puritanical” means, by definition, “very strict in moral or religious matters, often excessively so.” Excessively so means beyond what is reasonable. The suggestion, then, is that monogamy may well be unreasonable. There may be no good reason to suggest or believe that monogamy is the way to go other than subscribing to outlandish, over-the-top restrictions on personal freedom. Interestingly, by the way, polygamy was not uncommon in the ancient Judeo-Christian world….

Anyway, Brodesser-Akner’s question is a valid one. Where does the idea that relationships should be just two people come from? And if it came solely from strict upbringing based on puritanical ideas, then why not cast off such constraints? The “rules” of Judeo-Christianity state that a marriage is to be between one man and one woman and adultery is wrong. But why? What is monogamy gets boring? A comedian was once reading a list of humorous things kids say and included this one: “Marriage is between one man and one woman. This is called monotony.” Hahahaha, roared the audience. But deep down inside don’t we feel that way sometimes? Wouldn’t we like to know what else is out there? Wouldn’t we like to add some spice and excitement to our romantic relationships? That is Brodesser-Akner’s suggestion. She goes on to write that there are many ways to practice “consensual nonmonogamy” and the variety is precisely the point. “This is people making it up as they go along so that their relationships stay fulfilling,” she writes.

Despite any wish we may have to think this is a weird, fringe movement among a minute portion of society we cannot turn a blind eye to this. Cosmopolitan bills itself as a publication that “Targets contemporary women, featuring beauty, fashion, career and sex advice.” According to its own media kit, Cosmo is a force to be reckoned with. There are an average of 6.88 readers per issue of the magazine, and these include single (45.3%), married (38.1%) and divorced or separated women (16.6%). More than 52% of primary women readers who responded to a survey about popular women’s magazines indicated that Cosmo is one of their favorites and said they spend an average of 75 minutes with each issue–tops, by far, for both categories. College Store Executive, the industry magazine for college bookstores, reported in its 30th anniversary issue that Cosmopolitan has been the best-selling magazine in college bookstores for 25 years. It leads the way in just about every category for women readers, but is far and away the top magazine among women 18-34 years of age. That is significant because that is precisely the group of people who will become more comfortable with things like polyamory and will, at the same time they are becoming more comfortable with it, become more influential in politics and decision-making positions that will shape the future of our nation. Not only our nation, by the way; Cosmo is distributed in 110 countries and published in 64 international issues.

The concern is not just the potential influence of Cosmo, though. Brodesser-Akner’s article reports that a University of Michigan professor who is “a prominent researcher in the field of consensual nonmonogamy” has found that “up to 5% of people may be in some sort of nonmonogamous relationship.” If that is true, that is higher than the number of Americans who self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender; it was widely reported in 2015 that a Gallup survey found that fewer than 4% of Americans so identify.In July 2014 the Washington Post reported that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Interview Survey found that 96.6% of U.S. adults identify as straight. That survey found only 1.6% identified as gay or lesbian and 0.7% as bisexual. But look at all of the changes in laws, in public accommodations, and more, than have stemmed from that tiny group of people. Last week’s post on transgender issues included a New York Times report than the transgender population of the U.S. was maybe 0.6% of the total–but look at the insanity surrounding that, from school district guidelines to athletic competition rules and so on. If 5% of the population really is involved in polyamory then we have to expect that there will soon be a movement to recognize the legitimacy of such relationships.The Cosmo article also reports that recent data indicates as may as 16% of U.S. men and 31% of men report an openness to trying a nonmonogamous relationship. And the website I referenced earlier that is designed to connect these people? It had 8,500 registered users in April 2015 and 152,000 by September of that year–with 75% of them “paying and active users.”

The reality, of course, is that, despite the happiness and contentment that many people in these kinds of relationships claim to experience, there are real risks. The Cosmo article mentions Sophie and Luke who have this rule for their relationship: “They’re allowed to hook up with whomever they want to, and they both prefer advance warning. They don’t like to go into too many details afterward.” I wonder that might be? No doubt it is because, whether we like it or not, we are “wired” to now that sleeping around is wrong. When we have a deeply intimate relationship with someone else and care deeply for that person, we are not really okay with that person going out at getting from someone else what they should be getting from us. I heard someone say jokingly one time that he married his wife because he was tired of shaking her hand. That was a lighthearted means of referring to the elements of a marriage relationship that have, traditionally, been recognized as only appropriate within a marriage–and which is only and always supposed to be monogamous.

Interestingly, Brodesser-Akner provides Oneida, New York as an example of polyamory having “been around for a while.” She writes that Oneida was “one of the first documented examples of polyamory in the U.S.” and that it existed from the 1840s to 1880, “rejecting monogamy in search of a utopian ideal.” That’s true. But if you know anything about the Oneida community–and I include it every year in the U.S. History class I teach–then you also know it was a failure. Believe it or not, Ellen Wayland-Smith, who is a Professor of Writing at the University of Southern California and received her Ph.D. in comparative literature from Princeton University–and also a descendant of John Humphrey Noyes, who founded the Oneida community–published a book in May of this year on the Oneida community. In the opening chapter of the book she writes that brainchild of Noyes “would blend a utopian ethic of total selflessness, communism of property, and divinely sanctioned free love into one of the most baroque interpretations of Jesus ‘everlasting gospel’ ever attempted.” It would have been more accurate to say “broken interpretations.” Nevertheless, you can read the book for yourself, or just Google the Oneida community, and it will not take long for you to discover that the free love Noyes championed did not result in happiness for all. Indeed, quite the opposite is true, as it led to plenty of problems.

Equally interesting is that Brodesser-Akner goes on to say, after referencing Oneida, that Mormon and Muslim polygamists, when men marry multiple wives, are “not what we’re talking about here, since those choices are mired in religious belief and patriarchal ideology.” Clearly, though, Noyes’s ideas of free love were also “mired in religious belief.” And religion does not necessarily mean something pertaining to a belief about God, a god or any kind of divine being. Part of the dictionary.com definition of religion reads this way: “a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects.” Just two days ago the Washington Post reported on the possible creation of After School Satan Clubs. According to the article, the Satanic Temple “rejects all forms of supernaturalism and is committed to the view that scientific rationality provides the best measure of reality.” The head of the Temple’s Utah chapter said, “We think it’s important for kids to be able to see multiple points of view, to reason things through, to have empathy and feelings of benevolence for their fellow human beings.” The co-founder and spokesman of the Satanic Temple, Lucien Greaves, said that the group will use the same arguments used by Liberty Counsel to allow Good News Clubs to meet with students after school. “We would like to thank the Liberty Counsel specifically for opening the doors to the After School Satan Clubs through their dedication to religious liberty.” In other words, a committed view to scientific rationality and the notion that empathy for all human beings is good is a religion.  Even Atheism is a religion. But all of this is a topic for another post.

Nonmonogamy does not work. Not really. Brodesser-Akner reports, “All the people I interviewed have sets of rules. So many rules that their rules have rules.” Yet, a woman named Kate that she spoke to was, by her own admission, “cheating on her nonmonogamous relationship” because she was doing things that broke the rules she and her husband had agreed upon, including sleeping regularly with the same guy (which broke a rule) and said guy was on their agreed-upon list of people she could not sleep with (because he was an ex-boyfriend). And why do they have such rules anyway? “To protect them from having anything more than a sexual relationship with the other person.” In other words, to be sure that they do not develop relationships with anyone else. This is all a result of the false notion that sex is nothing more than a physical act. But God designed it to be far more than that. Sex is a wonderful thing within a marriage because that is the way the Designer intended it to be enjoyed. Sex is not just a physical act; it is an intimate act that involves much more than physical interaction. There is a reason why multiple studies report that those with the greatest sex lives are those within monogamous marriages.

Brodesser-Akner ends her article quoting the research professor saying that “society has decided that monogamy is best, even though there are many monogamous couples who aren’t happy that way.” That’s actually disingenuous, as there are no doubt polyamorous couples who are not happy that way, either. Examples of people unhappy in a specific arrangement does not mean that the arrangement is wrong. That would be akin to suggesting that because David Ortiz floundered during his stint with the Minnesota Twins to the extent that he was cut by the team means that he was not a very good baseball player. Millions of Red Sox fans would disagree with that conclusion. You cannot argue for something based solely on examples of the anti-something not working. Brodesser-Akner’s own conclusion that the people in these polyamorous relationships are “willing to do anything possible…in order to find a sustainable way to love and be loved. In that regard, we are all the same.” The same in wanting to love and be loved, perhaps, but the use of the term “sustainable” is careless. Look throughout history and you will not find any sustainable polyamorous societies. Oneida is only one example of their failure. Regardless, we must be alert; now that homosexual marriage has been legalized, the push for legal recognition of polyamory is just around the corner.

July 28, 2016

Battling Porn

This post contains mature content that may be offensive to some readers. Reader discretion is advised.

Pornography is not topic that many people are comfortable talking about in an honest and forthright manner. Many people do not like to talk about it at all–at least not many people outside of a locker room or frat house gathering. For many years the church was not willing to take about it at all in any constructive manner, by which I mean saying anything beyond “it’s bad, don’t do it” (or something even more directly threatening and minimally helpful). That has changed some in recent years with Stephen Arterburn’s The Every Man Series of books, Clay Crosse’s honesty in his 2005 book I Surrender All: Rebuilding a Marriage Broken by Pornography and others. In my November 6, 2015 post Not-So-Good News I explained that the announcement that Playboy would no longer publish nude images in its magazine was good news but actually indicative of the ease with which nudity and all manner of sexual activity is now available to just about anyone just about anywhere thanks to the internet. That post also addressed some of the high costs of pornography.

In April 2016 TIME ran a cover story on the subject entitled “PORN,” with the “o” depicted as a red circle with an X in the middle of it. Belinda Luscombe’s article was subtitled “Why young men who grew up with Internet porn are becoming advocates for turning it off.” The article consumed five-and-a-half pages of the magazine (not including a two-page photo and headline introducing the story) and included a graph showing that there were 58 million monthly U.S. visitors to adult internet sites in February 2006, which equated to 34.7% of all U.S. internet users. Broadband internet had just reached 50% of Americans that year. in January 2016 there were 107 million monthly visitors to adult internet sites, accounting for 41.3% of all U.S. internet users. The graph also showed that in 2009 there were 22.3 billion video views on the adult video-sharing site Pornhub. In 2015 that number was 87.8 billion. In 2016 Pornhub launched a virtual reality channel.

I already told you what TIME‘s cover said for the April 11 issue. The cover page of the article, though, reads this way:

Porn and the threat to virility.” The subtitle says, “The first generation of men who grew up with unlimited online porn sound the alarm.” The lead to the story introduces Noah Church, “a 26-year-old part-time wildland firefighter in Portland, Ore. When he was 9, he found naked pictures on the Internet. he learned how to download explicit videos. When he was 15, streaming videos arrived, and he watched those. Often. Several times a day, doing that which people often do while watching that genre by themselves.

The article then informs the reader that it did not take too long before those videos no longer aroused Church as much as they used to, “so he moved on to different configurations, sometimes involving just women, sometimes involving one woman and several guys, sometimes even an unwilling woman.” Church stated that he could find anything he could imagine as well as plenty that he could not imagine. Eventually the appeal and arousal from those diminished as well, and “he moved on ot the next level, more intense, often more violent.”

This is a truth that has been too often ignored over the years–that pornography is like a drug. Plenty of studies show that it has a similar effect on the brain as drug use and that, over time, the effect is diminished, requiring the user to find something stronger and more arousing in order to get the same result achieved previously. In other words, porn works just like gateway drugs which progress to stronger and more dangerous ones. Can use of porn eventually result in death, like a drug overdose? No. It could, I imagine, result in the user killing someone else as a result of acting out what was seen in the pornography or seeking to achieve a thrill by making what was fantasy a reality. I think there are a number of such stories that could be found with little effort.

The TIME article goes on to explain that when Church finally had the opportunity to “have actual sex” during his twelfth-grade year, his body would not respond. “There was a disconnect between what I wanted in my mind and how by body reacted,” he said. That was the segue into the article’s discussion of PIED–porn-induced erectile dysfunction. I had never before heard of this term or condition but, unlike some new medical diagnoses that seem to be fancy made-up terms that serve as excuses for something that is simply a matter of a lack of discipline or some other easily-corrected behavioral issue, this seems to be legitimate. I can easily imagine how regular, increasingly-graphic and extreme exposure to pornography can have a very real impact on the brain and, thus, on the rest of the body.

Luscombe describes the PIED progression like this:

A growing number of young men are convinced that their sexual responses have been sabotaged because their brains were virtually marinated in porn when they were adolescents. Their generation has consumed explicit content in quantities and varieties never before possible, on devices designed to deliver content swiftly and privately, all at an age when their brains were more plastic–more prone to permanent change–than in later life. These young men feel like unwitting guinea pigs in a largely unmonitored decade-long experiment in sexual conditioning. The results of the experiment, they claim, are literally a downer.

While there are more publications–Christian and secular–openly addressing the dangers of pornography now, there is still confusion and conflicting information. The increasing availability of studies and professionals willing to address the dangers of porn are countered by plenty of studies and professionals willing to state the opposite. Just last November, for example, Dr. Sandra LaMorgese posted a blog on The Huffington Post that included the following:

Studies have shown no increase in rape or other sexual deviance due to porn viewing. There is also no apparent connection between excessive porn viewing and sex addiction. In fact, it might be good for you if used properly: a 2008 Danish study found that moderate porn watching gave viewers some benefits. Both men and women who did so said they had more satisfying sex lives and healthier attitudes towards sex and the opposite gender. One interesting find was that the more hardcore the videos were, the more positive the person’s view on sex tended to be.

Now, LaMorgese’s byline includes the, shall we say interesting, description that she is “Author, Podcast Host, Sexpert, Metaphysician, Keynote Speaker, Holistic Practitioner, Ordained Reverend” so maybe her thoughts on The Huffington Post are not the best source. Fair enough. How about this from TheHealthSite.com in February 2014:

In the last decade or so, it’s become quite fashionable for people to throw around big words like dopamine addiction and blame everything from the rise of sex crime to erectile dysfunction on porn. However, research suggests that sex addiction is not similar to cocaine or alcohol addiction, in fact there’s no proof that it reflects any unique brain-related issue at all. A study which looked to prove sex addiction was an illness, actually found the opposite. A new study claims that there really is no such thing as porn addiction and those who say it actually ignore the positive benefits of porn. The study has found very little scientific data to suggest that porn actually even causes any negative side-effects. ‘There was no sign that use of pornography is connected to erectile dysfunction or that it causes any changes to the brains of users,’ explained David Ley, a clinical psychologist and executive director of New Mexico Solutions – a large behavioural health programme.

In a 2010 post on the Psychology Today web site entitled “Pornography: Beneficial or Detrimental?” the findings of a 2008 paper written by Gert Martin Hald and Neil M. Malamuth are summarized like this:

In their survey of 688 young Danish adults (men = 316; women = 372), Hald and Malamuth found that respondents construed the viewing of hardcore pornography as beneficial to their sex lives, their attitudes towards sex, their perceptions and attitudes towards members of the opposite sex, toward life in general, and over all. The obtained beneficial effects were statistically significant for all but one measure across both sexes. Now here is the kicker: A positive correlation was obtained between the amount of hardcore pornography that was viewed and the impact of the benefits reaped. This positive correlation was found for both sexes. In other words, the more that one watched porn, the stronger the benefits (for both sexes)!

And, in a 2012 opinion piece for The New York Times Candida Royalle began with the statement “Watching pornography is not inherently harmful to men or women.” She went on to provide some potential benefits derived from the use of pornography before also saying of sex or porn addiction, “I don’t believe in it.” In the same online debate in which Royalle offered her opinion, Ana Bridges, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Arkansas played Tevye by writing, “Can pornography harm users? Yes, in some cases it can, but in the vast majority of cases it does not. Can pornography be beneficial? Absolutely, but many times it is not.” In the same debate, Mireille Miller-Young, an associate professor of feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, headlined her opinion piece “Pornography Can Be Empowering to Women Onscreen.”

I mention all of this to make sure that we understand that, despite the increasing prevalence of voices opposing porn and exposing its negative effects, there still are–and always will be–those who say that’s all a bunch of baloney and porn is harmless and worst and beneficial at best. We can never hope that the world is going to reach the conclusion that something that sin is sin. In my previous blog post linked above I stated that “only a heart change can cause someone to realize that genuine relationships with real people are more meaningful and more satisfying than the fake interactions made possible through porn.” That remains true. There may be movements within the world that oppose porn and offer solutions for porn addictions, and those can be beneficial. Luscombe’s article provides a number of examples, describing “online community groups, smartphone apps and educational videos to help men quit porn” all of which are being created by men who have traditionally been “from the same demographic as [porn’s] most enthusiastic customers.” Noah Church, with whom Luscombe led her article, now “devoted about 20 hours a week to trying to help others eliminate porn from their lives.” Such efforts are admirable. Porn is not going to go away, and if you are a firm believer in free speech you may have a hard time even arguing that it should, but there are still reasonable means for limiting its availability. Luscombe describes one such effort coming from Utah state senator Todd Weiler, who said, “We’ve changed how we’ve approached tobacco, not by banning it but by putting reasonable restrictions in place.” There are reasonable ways to limit the access of pornography from public places and to minimize the exposure of children and teenagers to pornography.

Even then, though, there will be real work for the church to do. There will still be a need for candor and uncomfortable conversations. There will still be a need to find ways to help those struggling with porn be willing to acknowledge that and work through it. There will need to be a change from the judgment and condemnation that has traditionally been associated with any discussion of this topic.

The articles in the August 2016 issue of Tabletalk magazine are devoted to the topic of addiction. They are not dealing specifically with porn addiction, but the principles and recommendations in the articles are relevant. The first article is by Ed Welch and is titled “Addictions and Idolatry.” His article begins like this:

“I want”–addictions start here. Then, though small steps, want becomes need. There is no recognized definition of addiction, but most of its proposed definitions share a common core. Addictions are compulsive searches for a desired object or state of mind that are generally unresponsive to the inevitable harmful consequences of those compulsive searches. Most definitions also include how addictive behaviors change underlying brain patterns.

That explains why porn is so prevalent and is not going away. The word says that sexual pleasure brings happiness and satisfaction and porn is one way to achieve that “desired object or state of mind.” Welch later writes that “We are able in Christ to do battle with old slavemasters rather than succumb to the inevitable.” Heath Lambert, in another article in the Tabletalk issue, writes, “God has made provision for enslaved addicts to follow a better master who brings freedom from slavery.” In yet another article, Michael Morales writes, “God’s Word calls us to flee our natural lusts, which would shackle us again, and to make every effort to progress in sanctification.” He goes on to explain, “The ‘putting off’ aspect relates to deliberate and disciplined mortification of sin, requiring both vigorous effort and sacrifice,” while “the ‘putting on’ aspect relates to training in godliness, the intentional replacement of corrupt habits with God-honoring behavior.” My post Besetting Sins from earlier this month talks about these issues as well, and includes discussion about how to overcome sin.

May we who profess the name of Christ become bold in our willingness to acknowledge and confront issues like pornography and do it in a loving but uncompromising manner. May God grant us the willingness and surrenderedness to defeat sins like porn addiction and replace such “compulsive searches for a desired object or state” with “training in godliness” and “the intentional replacement of corrupt habits with God-honoring behavior.”

July 27, 2016

Identifying reality

In the July 9, 2016 issue of WORLD Katie Gualtney had an article entitled “Showdown in Cowtown.” The topic of the article is transgender student guidelines created in Fort Worth, TX. Those guidelines apparently clarify, or add to, a previously-existing anti-discrimination statement the school district issued in 2011 by adding that students can use the restroom or locker room of their choice “based on their own, self-perceived gender identity without ‘medical or mental health diagnosis.'” That means, of course, that there is absolutely no barrier to any student claiming to identify with one gender or another, regardless of his or her biology, and for whatever reason. If a guy wants to go in the girls locker room, all he has to do is say he identifies as a girl that day. If no diagnosis is required and actions are dictated solely by self-perceived gender identity then said identity can change on a whim without limit, I assume.

Gualtney also writes that the Fort Worth school district also supports “self-designated-gender participation in athletics.” There again, this would mean, I assume, that a student could identify as a girl to play on the volleyball team and then as a guy to play basketball before identifying as a girl again for track season. Actually, if it is all self-designated anyway, what’s to stop a student from claiming to be bi-gendered and playing on both the girls and guys basketball teams? After all, we have bisexuals now, why not bi-gendered individuals? And if someone is bi-gendered it would surely be wrong for us to make them pick one gender or the other, would it not?

It gets worse, though, believe it or not. Gualtney reports that teachers “must use the pronoun and name preferred by the student, regardless of the student’s legal name or parents’ permission, and they are not to tell parents about their children’s gender confusion.” Any student, just to be a jerk and irritate a teacher, could therefore insist on being called a different name or referred to by a different pronoun–and the teacher could do nothing about it. Not even talk to the student’s parent. Surely, therefore, this could not be a behavior deserving of a consequence or reprimand of any kind from the school because how could a school discipline a student for something that has already been defined as being purely up to the “self-perceived” and “self-designated” gender of the student? Schools have to have permission to give out headache medicine but apparently there is no need to talk over serious matters like gender identity with the parent. After all, we should let everyone make up their own minds in this area, free from the cumbersome interference of their parents. (Yes, that’s sarcasm again–lest anyone pull that quote out and use it completely out of context).

If you have read this space much you likely know that I have a like/dislike relationship with the writings of WORLD columnist Janie B. Cheaney. In more than fifteen years of reading WORLD, Cheaney has authored some of the more ridiculous things I have ever read as well as some of the more thought-provoking. Her column in the July 23, 2016 issue is one of the latter. It is also one of the first mainstream journalism articles I have come across to articulate the point I have been making here for a while–that when we throw open the door for self-perception and self-designation, we throw open a door we really cannot then close. We cannot, after all, decide to allow individuals to decide for themselves whether or not marriage is only between a man and a woman, or whether or not they are a man or a woman, and then tell them that cannot decide whether or not marriage is limited to two people or whether or not they are red, yellow, black or white.

Chaney references a video made by the Family Policy Institute of Washington–which I have not seen–in which an interviewer questions students at the University of Washington about transgender issues. “None of the young adults who appear on the video have a problem with Backholm [the interviewer] hypothetically identifying as a woman, but they squirm a bit when he suggests he might be Chinese, or 7 years old (‘What if I wanted to enroll in first grade?’), or 6 feet 5 inches tall.” They squirm because we know, inherently, that an adult is not seven years old and that a white guy is not a Chinese woman. Or do we? After all, we used to know, too, that marriage was between a man and a woman and we knew who was a male or female within seconds of their birth (if not before).

If we can no longer take for granted what used to be obvious and uncontested then we can no longer put any weight or merit on those characteristics. That means there can be no real limit on when students have to start school or be finished with school, there can be no age limit on when someone must come off their parent’s insurance, there can be no quotas for interviewing, hiring or admitting individuals of certain racial or ethnic identities… I rather liked high school. Maybe I’ll go back and do it again, claiming to only be 16.

On vacation recently my family spent a day at a water park. I do not remember what prompted this thought in my mind but it occurred to me at some point–probably because we were in California and my wife and I were far more attentive to the issue of using public bathrooms and changing rooms than we ever had been before–that a biological woman could walk around the park topless and no one could do anything about it if, when questioned, she said she was a man. “That’s ridiculous,” you say. “It would be obvious she was a woman in that scenario.” Really? Based on what? There is nothing obvious about self-perception or self-identity. There is no standard, no metric, no objective basis on which to make a decision, develop a rule or make an evaluation.

That is why some congressmen recently sponsored legislation to the effect of making all men and women register with Selective Service upon turning 18. Partially, anyway. Their point was that if women will be allowed to participate fully in the Armed Forces, as Ash Carter has decided, and if homosexual and transgender individuals are allowed to participate fully in the Armed Forces, then why should men be required to serve if drafted but not women? The point was you cannot pursue something–total equality within the Armed Forces for women, homosexual and transgender individuals–without there being consequences to that pursuit. They were aiming specifically at the full combat participation of women, but the principle is the same in every area. When we eliminate standards and objective realities we have to eliminate all of the results that stemmed from those standards and objective realities that previously existed.

By the way, the absurdity of both the amount of attention being given to transgender issues and the accommodations being foisted upon the rest of us to allow these individuals to do and claim to be whatever they want is made only more absurd when we truly consider the number of people we are talking about. By their own estimate, according to Gualtney’s article, the Fort Worth school district has 0.0001% of their 86,000 students identifying as transgender. A June 30, 2016 issue in the New York Times reported that the transgender population in the United States was actually double what previous reports had indicated–actually 0.6% of the population instead of 0.3%.

Despite these still-miniscule numbers, the Times went on to state that this apparent doubling of numbers “is likely to raise questions about the sufficiency of services to support a population that may be larger than many policy makers assumed.” Really? Even if the number doubled, just over one-half of one percent of the nation now identifies as transgender. And we are worried about the sufficiency of services to support them? Maybe we should improve the support services to our veterans first–I think there somewhere between thirty and forty times more of them than there are individuals identifying as transgender. Maybe we should worry about unemployment, those living below the poverty level, those who cannot read or those struggling with other disabilities should be addressed first–the numbers for all of those groups is much higher than the number of identifying transgender people. There are no doubt many, many categories of people we could come up with in greater numbers than the 0.6% of the U.S. population identifying as transgender. In the study cited by the Times article the states with the highest percentage of identifying as transgender still had only 0.78% and 0.76% and 0.75%–Hawaii, California and Georgia respectively. Interesting, isn’t it, how “the 1%”–the wealthiest of Americans–are often targeted as needing to be taxed more, to sacrifice more of their income for the greater good, to have more of their money taken away to pay for the services the government provides for everyone else. Yet, “the less-than-1%” need additional support services and ridiculous accommodations and allowances that interfere with common sense living for the rest of us? There are more Americans with Autism and celiac disease then there are identifying transgender people. There are about sixty times more Americans with diabetes than there are with transgender identities. Need I go on?

The Times article also states, “Noting that younger adults ages 18 to 24 were more likely than older ones to say they were transgender, researchers said that the new estimates reflected in part a growing awareness of transgender identity.” I agree, but not in the way “the researches” intended. I agree only because people are now aware that there is this thing that they can claim that no one can do anything about or say is or is not so, so of course more people are claiming it. Almost any time there is some dramatic change–like transgender identity or gay marriage–there will be more young people identifying, agreeing or supporting than there will be older people.

Ultimately, there is only one solution for this stupidity and it is the recognition that there is an objective standard and an absolute truth. Cheaney notes that “[t]his is a level of confusion that…goes down to the very rejection of being. Identity, as it’s understood today is not being. Identity begins with choice, even if that choice seems unavoidable. Being begins with birth. … The agonizing confusion some people experience about gender and sexuality is not the problem. It’s a symptom. The solution is not crafting an identity, but centering ourselves in our Creator.” And I say Amen to that.

By the way, before I go, let me draw your attention to something that happened just over a year ago. A woman named Rachel Dolezal was all over the news because she had been serving as the head of the Spokane NAACP and claiming to be black. She resigned amidst the charges that she had lied about her race. Despite the fact that she was born to two white parents, she had been labeled at various times a transracial, biracial and black. What did she say amidst all the hubbub on June 16, 2015? “I identify as black.”

Hmmm….

July 26, 2016

Defining Modesty

In the June 28, 2016 issue of USA Today Maria Puente had a lead story in the Life section entitled “‘Modest Fashion’ Has You Covered.” There were three large photos above the fold, including Melanie Elturk, who founded Haute Hijab, Duchess Kate, whom the caption said “has long been a model of modesty,” and a bridesmaids dress from Dainty Jewells. I do not think I have ever devoted a post to women’s fashion, and I have no reason to think it will become a regular addition to my topics of comment, but several things about this article struck me. Perhaps it is because I am an administrator of a Christian school and dress code is always topic of discussion and debate. Perhaps it is because my own daughter is on the verge of entering her teenage years and is more attentive to her own clothing choices now. Primarily I think it was a third reason, which I will elaborate on shortly.

Puente’s article begins like this: “Sooner or later, every American woman with an eye on fashion has to make a conscious decision, based on factors such as religion, personal preference, work rules, age or shape: Who do I want to dress like–Bella Hadid or Kate Middleton?” I think that is an interesting lead for a couple of reasons. First, because Puente listed religion as the first factor that women have to take into consideration. As much as I would like to think that is because “religion” is a significant factor in the decision making of most Americans on whatever the subject of consideration may be, I think it speaks more to the increasing number of Americans who are part of religions with strict dress codes–specifically Muslims. The second reason Puente’s intro is interesting is that she presents Middleton and Hadid as if they are the only choices. In reality, they are more like two points on a spectrum, with Hadid firmly on the one end and Middleton to the modest side of center but certainly not at the extreme.

Puente states that “more women are choosing to wear ‘modest fashion'” these days, and that Middleton is one of their icons. She goes on to say that that is not a “slam against the young-and-lithe Hadid, 19, who last month at Cannes grabbed eyeballs and camera flashes ‘dressed’ in an Alexandre Vauthier silk gown that amounted to a large red scarf artfully draped around her underwear-less frame.” Next to this statement is a picture of Hadid at Cannes. Now, I was not familiar with Hadid before reading this article so I did not want to make a broad stroke assumption based on this one example. A quick Google images search , however, revealed a plethora of images, precious few of which could even come close to being described as modest. That is part of the reason why I think Puente’s intro creates a false dichotomy; a woman could dress with far more threads on her body than Hadid usually sports and still not be modest. By the way, some of those image results reveal–literally–that it is possible to be “covered” with material while still leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. This is part of why defining dress code is such a joy *sarcasm* for those of us who have to do it regularly. The sheer, lace and burnt out fashions of today mean a girl or woman can leave very little skin uncovered yet still leave very little hidden. Similarly, Middleton is a great example of a woman who dresses tastefully and fashionably yet still does not go so far as some would require in order to accomplish modesty. The photo accompanying the Puente story, for example, shows Middleton in a dress that stops just above her knee. It is a dress I would be more than happy for my wife or daughter to wear but that many would say is too short. And while I was familiar with Middleton and her well-known modest fashion before reading Puente’s article, I wanted to be fair. A Google image search for Kate Middleton revealed plenty of images, and none of the initial results I viewed were what I would call immodest, but above-the-knee dresses and skirts are common and a few necklines are plunging.

Peunte’s article states that among the reasons women are choosing modesty these days, “often it’s to comply with religious traditions and laws for women to dress modestly, as among Muslims, Orthodox Jews, Mormons and conservative Protestants and Catholics.” That statement by itself, of course, reveals the vast range of what may be considered modest. After all, using only the images accompanying the story, Elturk is revealing nothing but her face and hands, while Middleton’s face, neck, arms from above the elbows and legs from just above the knees are visible. Many Muslims would consider Middelton’s attire quite immodest. Even Orthodox Jewish dress, with ankle-length skirts, neck-high tops and a head covering would be considered immodest by strict Muslims. Yet, many conservative Protestants and Mormons would consider Orthodox Jewish dress more conservative than necessary and the Muslim hijab and accompanying dress to be so far beyond what is appropriate as to be almost ridiculous.

Puente quotes Zahra Aljabri, a former attorney and the co-founder of Mode-sty, an online shopping site providing modest clothing choices for women, as saying, “It takes intestinal fortitude to go against the culture. Consciously dressing modestly every day means you really have to believe in it. And before, you weren’t always happy getting dressed.” The tag line on the Mode-sty site is “style + modesty. no compromise.” A quick peek at some of the sites offerings reveals clothes I would happily purchase for my wife or daughter as well as options I would consider more “modest” than I would prefer or find necessary. The site does include a link entitled “How do you define modesty? Read our definition.” Following that link takes you to a 2013 blog post with this excellent question and answer:

So what does it mean to be a modest dresser? That answer depends on who you ask. What you may consider a modest outfit may not be to others. While everyone may agree that a strapless cutout mini dress doesn’t qualify as modest, defining what does isn’t as clear cut.

We’ve found that modest dressing is really a continuum comprised of many factors, and we’ve identified ten. Your view on each of the following factors determines your personal definition of what is a modest look.

The ten factors fit, shoulders and arms, upper chest, hem length, pants, style, color/print, shoes, hair and make-up. The commentary on the subject of pants provides an insightful look into the range of what can be considered modest:

When it comes to pants or jeans some women do not consider them modest and will not wear them in public. Other women will wear pants or jeans as long as they are loose so as not to show the shape of the leg. For other women as long as your legs are covered it doesn’t matter how tight the pants are. Still other women will wear tight pants as long as they are wearing a long top that hits at least mid-thigh.

This fits with my statement above about the ability to be covered with material and still not be hiding much. It also acknowledges that there can be significant differences about what is modest. For example, loose-fitting pants will reveal very little and most people would not consider them inappropriate at all. Yet, still others find them immodest by default; it would not matter who loose they are, because they are pants, and pants are unacceptable. Period. It does not take walking around in a crowded public area for very long to realize that it is true the some women do not care how tight their “pants” are–and I put that in quotation marks because I am not certain that what some women wear as pants are really pants at all. This is an appropriate moment to point out, as well, that it is entirely possible to wear something that is simultaneously modest and immodest. Maxi skirts are quite popular these days. Length-wise, they are certainly modest, as they come just about to the floor. I have seen more than a few of them, however, that are not modest in the seat area. The fit and fabric are loose down the leg but very, shall we say “snug” around the seat. Likewise, some of the geometric or “Aztec” pattered pants that many women are wearing these days are loose and modest everywhere but the seat, which is quite form-fitting.

Puente’s article describes a number of women who are creating web sites to explore modest fashion, pointing others to sites or stores that provide tastefully, fashionably modest choices or actually creating their own clothing lines to provide the same. Mimi Hecht and Mushky Notik are Orthodox Jewish sisters-in-law who created Mimu Maxi. Of the growing number of women who dress modestly Hecht says, “People are seeing that covering up can be super-fashionable. It doesn’t mean dowdy or your fifth-grade teacher or dressing biblically.”

That leads to my third reason, that I said I would elaborate on later. Hecht’s statement goes far beyond fashion and reinforces a truth that I always am struck by and find fascinating, and that is that the world is continually “discovering” ideas and beliefs and facts that the Bible has said all along and acts like it is a fantastic new notion. Is it possible for women to dress modestly without having a biblical motive? Certainly. Does that mean modest dressing is not biblical? No it doesn’t. What, by the way, would dressing “biblically” mean? Is Hecht referring to the dress styles of the ancient Israelites? I do not know. I would call that ancient rather than biblical. Dressing biblically would mean, to me, dressing in a manner consistent with the teachings and principles of the Bible. That leaves, by the way, plenty of room for personal discretion and style. It also leaves plenty of room for disagreement. I am an Evangelical Protestant, and there are plenty of varying opinions within that group of people on what modest dress means, from the fit and length of shorts to whether or not bikinis are acceptable; from whether or not women can ever wear pants to whether or not bare legs are acceptable with skirts and dresses. What the Bible definitely makes clear, however, is that women are not to dress in a manner that is immodest (1 Timothy 2:9). There is plenty of room for discussion about what immodest looks like exactly, and there will never be uniformity of opinion or conviction. It is usually much easier to agree on what is definitely immodest, though–something like “a large red scarf artfully draped around her underwear-less frame.”

If you’re a school administrator like me, there will always be the necessity of creating a definition of acceptable attire in order to minimize conflict and daily headache. But if you are a parent, a Sunday school teacher, a pastor, recognize that modesty does not have a nice neat definition. Recognize that there is room for disagreement and difference of opinion and that someone can be dressed in a way you would not approve of or prefer if it were up to you and still be modest. At the same time, do not be afraid to have conversations about dress. It is an extremely important part of self-expression and it is something that does impact attitudes, thoughts and actions–among the wearer and the viewer. It is irresponsible for parents and church leaders to ignore the topic of fashion and modesty but it is equally irresponsible to just create black and white rules and say “that’s just the way it is.” That means these will be hard conversations, because there are no easy answers. If we allow that to keep us from ever having them, though, we will be letting the world have great influence. And while Kate Middelton or–Ivanka Trump, since we was in the news so much last week–will influence some women, Bella Hadid and others will no doubt continue to go more attention from the major media and will surely influence more women to dress immodestly.

July 14, 2016

Besetting Sins

This past Tuesday, Major League Baseball held its annual Midsummer Classic, the All Star Game. I am a big baseball fan and I love watching the ASG. This year the game was played in San Diego, so there was understandably a lot of celebrating the life of Tony Gwynn, often called Mr. Padre. Gwynn played his entire career with the Padres and then, after retirement, was the baseball coach at San Diego State University, his alma mater. He was a (relatively) local guy (born in LA) who became a hero for the local team. Gwynn was well-liked, a fierce but clean competitor who worked hard and gave his best. He was a 15-time All Star and an eight-time batting champion, ending his career with a lifetime average of .338 and 3,141 hits. Perhaps most amazing of all–he never struck out more than forty times in a season over his twenty-year career. By all accounts he was also a devoted family man. He was a first-ballot inductee into the Hall of Fame, receiving over 97% of the vote. When he was inducted in 2007 I was in the crowd–because he went in with my favorite player, Cal Ripken, Jr. Both Gwynn and Ripken had clean images, clean careers and played their entire careers for their local team. Derek Jeter may well become the last player to be join the HOF having played his entire career with one team when he is inducted, but I can just about guarantee that there will never again be two players inducted in the same year who played their entire careers for one team.

I wanted to give Gwynn his just due, but this is not really about Gwynn ultimately. Instead it is about the example that Gwynn sadly left–an an example that was clearly described in a USA TODAY article in the July 11, 2016 issue. In it, Gwynn’s 2014 death from salivary gland cancer is described. His daughter Anisha is quoted in the article saying, “We tried so hard over the years to get him to quit [using chewing tobacco].” Their efforts were in vain, however. According to the article,Gwynn’s last days were unpleasant to say the least:

Gwynn had growths removed from his cheek in 2001 and 2007 and was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. He had surgery, only for the cancer to return two years later. Again in 2013, the cycle of tumors, surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy treatments started anew. Then came the seizures. Ultimately, Tony Gwynn Jr. said, there was an inoperable brain tumor.

Gwynn was in and out of the hospital for the last two months…the right side of his face paralyzed, his right eye taped shut at night so he could sleep and a walker required for him to leave the house….

Still, the article also states this: “Gwynn refused to listen, still dipping after all the tumors, seizures and radiation treatments, up until the day he died.”

As someone who has never smoked or used tobacco in any way that was hard for me to imagine when I read it. Then. though, I began to think about how I am the same way–as are so many of us. We have a natural tendency to keep doing those things we like even when we know we should not. That is really what sin is, after all–behavior from which we, for whatever reason, derive happiness, contentment, pleasure or satisfaction.By definition sin is coming short of God’s perfect standard of holiness and righteousness. Sin is missing the mark. We sin, though, because we want to. Sin is a choice we make, and it stems from pride, from wanting to do things our own way even when we know we should not. The first sin was committed when Satan tempted Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit by telling her that it would make her like God. That was a lie, of course, but Eve thought yielding to the temptation would result in pleasure or satisfaction that would not come by obeying God’s command. And that, whether we like it or not, is why we all sin today.

Thanks to the sin of Adam and Eve we are all born with a sin nature, and when we behave in the natural we do things our own way–read, not God’s way. Everyone one of us is guilty of sin; the Bible makes that explicitly clear. Thankfully, God loves humankind enough that He sent His Son Jesus to pay the just penalty for our sin, and that forgiveness is available to all who accept His sacrifice in their place. Then, sin is forgiven and bondage to sin is severed. Some people like their sin too much, though; they do not want to repent of their sin and give it up because they think that the benefits of the sin are worth it–the pleasure and satisfaction sin provides outweighs the consequences they think. Or maybe they simply deny that the consequences of sin exist, though I assure you they do. God told Adam that if he and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit they would die and they did. They died spiritually immediately and physically eventually–and death entered the world.

Still, some–sorry, all–who accept Christ continue to sin. The frequency and severity of that sin should diminish over time but it will never go away completely. Even the apostle Paul described, in Romans 7, that he continued to do those things he did not want to do and did not do those things that he did want to do. I did not know Tony Gwynn, but I suspect it would be true that he wanted to stop chewing tobacco in a rational, detached way but he could not do it because he was hooked. Like a fish jerked from the water by a hook implanted firmly in its cheek, Gwynn was hooked on tobacco. Whether it was the flavor of it, the feeling it provided or just the act of doing it, Gwynn could not stop. In an of ourselves, none of us can. Sometimes, even when we know in a rational, detached manner that we should, we keep doing it anyway.

So what do we do about this persistent sin?

In a 2008 column in Christianity Today Kevin Miller wrote that God can still work through our “unconquerable imperfections.” Pondered Miller, “Could it be that our frustratingly persistent sins, which abound, lead us to a greater awareness of God’s grace, which so much more abounds?” Sure, that could be. However, Paul also made it abundantly clear (in Romans 6) that we are not to continue sinning in order to produce more of God’s grace. The fact that God will forgive our sins is not permission to keep committing them.

Miller also suggested that persistent sin can produce humility. “So when struggling with persistent sin, take heart. God is at work, and even your persistent failings may work to your good and his glory. Let yourself be humbled by your falls.” That, too, is true; when we keep doing those things we do not want to do we should be humbled by it, frustrated by it and grieved by it. “Wretched man that I am!” Paul laments in Romans 7:24.

This past May Gavin Ortlund wrote, on the Desiring God web site, the following:

Many Christians struggle with “nagging sins” — those entrenched, persistent, difficult-to-dislodge sins that continually entangle us in our efforts to follow Christ. Sometimes we struggle for decades, with bouts of backsliding and despair recurring. Most godly Christians, who have made true progress in their pursuit of holiness, can sing with feeling “prone to wander, Lord I feel it,” or share the lament of Augustine: “I have learned to love you too late!”

I appreciate the way Ortlund stated this because he reminds us that even godly Christians struggle with sin. Like Paul did. Ortlund does not leave it at that, however. He goes on to provide four steps for eliminating those nagging sins from our lives. The first of those steps is simple: hate it.

I have no reason to believe that Tony Gwynn hated chewing tobacco. Quite the contrary, in fact. I have no reason to believe that Lot hated the sin he was surrounded by in Sodom and Gomorrah. In fact, until his angelic visitors were in danger of being gang raped by an angry crowd we have no indication that he hated their sin at all. Even then Lot offered his virgin daughters to the mob. And when the time came for Lot to get out of town before its destruction, Lot “lingered” according to Genesis 19:16. Even after Lot and his family are dragged from the city by angels Lot pleads with them to let him go to the little city of Zoar rather than flee to the hills, and more than a few scholars and commentators think Lot was referring to the fact that Zoar’s sin was not as great as that of Sodom and Gomorrah. We are all good at rationalizing sin and thinking it is not as bad as someone else’s or some other sin we could commit.

The next thing Miller said must be done is to starve sin. Gwynn kept dipping. That means, necessarily, that he kept acquiring it, keeping it handy, having it at the ready when he wanted it. We do ourselves no favors when we say we want to stop a specific sin but we keep putting ourselves in situations to yield. Recovering alcoholics don’t hang out in bars, for example. Matthew 18:9 says that if the eye causes on to stumble the eye should be gouged out. That is a dramatic and unquestionably clear reiteration of the idea of starving sin.

Ortlund goes on to talk about cornering sin and overwhelming sin. That last part, thankfully, we need not do on our own. In fact, we cannot do it on our own. In Romans 7:18 Paul writes, “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Bad news… The good news is in the previous chapter, where Paul writes, “But you have been set free from sin…” (6:22).

The point of this is not to pick on Tony Gwynn. I am just like him. To my knowledge he was not a believer. But his life, which ended with him continuing to use the product that killed him right up until the day that it killed him, is an excellent example of where we will go if we try to live life in our own strength. We will continue to do that which harms us, trading the ultimate consequence for the temporary pleasure. May Gwynn’s demise be a lesson to us that we must hate and starve our sin, yield to the work of the Savior in our lives and overwhelm that sin which so easily besets us.

June 13, 2016

ὑστερέω

Back in 1992 I was thinking I was pretty big stuff. I was starting to drive and I was making some money. I had a paper route that I did with my brother, rising far earlier than any other kids I knew at school so that I could deliver my papers, get home, shower, watch SportsCenter and get to school in time for my early bird classes–a voluntary class period offered before the start of the regular school day. I also did some yard work for a few customers, mostly mowing, and seized other opportunities that came along to make some extra money. Then I got a part-time job working at the local drug store, which I did in addition to all of the above. My expenses were minimal and I had a goal in mind.

I wanted my own car. Not just any car, mind you. Despite not really being much of a “car guy”–when it came to the mechanics of an automobile I knew very little and even basic auto maintenance was beyond me–I had somehow developed a fondness for Porsche cars. I do not remember where that originated, or even when, but I knew I liked them. On the rare occasions when I would see one on the road it always caught my eye. I knew what I wanted and I was going to work hard and get it.

After a few years of the paper route, innumerable miles walked behind a lawn mower, driveways shoveled after snow storms and lots of change counted back to customers at the drug store I had accumulated a nice savings account. On top of that, I was a well-behaved young man, earned excellent grades and spent most of my free time playing sports or reading books. The most trouble I had ever been in was a police officer telling me I had to obey all traffic laws after I had failed to stop my 10-speed bicycle at a Stop sign coming home from work one day.

So, shortly after I turned 16, I went to the bank and withdrew my hard-earned $4,296.17 (including interest earned for letting it sit there!). I borrowed the family’s Chevy station wagon–you know, the one with the lining of the ceiling held up with thumb tacks–and set off for the Porsche dealer. There was not one in our town so I had to drive a ways to the big city to get there. I got a few looks when my dark blue wagon pulled onto the lot, but I didn’t care; I knew I would soon be saying goodbye to that car forever.

I walked into the showroom and there is was: a beautiful 911 Turbo S. It was a metallic navy blue, shiny chrome on the wheels and the spoiler was up, just how I liked it. I walked around the car and admired it from every angle. I think I avoided having drool spill out of the corner of my mouth, but it had to have been close. This was the car I had dreamed of and here it was. Behind me a sharply dressed man approached and said, less politely than I would have imagined from a Porsche salesman, “Can I help you?”

“I expect so,” I responded. “I am here to buy this car.”

“Is that right?” he said, the less-than-polite tone seeming to become even less polite, yet somehow mixed with a bit of incredulity.

“Yes it is,” I responded. “I have been dreaming of this car for a few years now, and I have worked hard and I am ready to make it mine.”

“Young man,” he said, “do you know how much money it would take to buy this car?”

“No I don’t,” I said. “I thought that was why you’re here.”

He smiled, but not a friendly smile. More of a you think that’s cute, kid? smile. “The list price on this car,” he then said in measured words, “is $118,935.”

I had been smiling up to this point, I am sure. Ear-to-ear smiling probably. But the smile disappeared in an instant. Somehow this caused his smile to grow wider. “Not quite what you have with you?” he asked, clearly condescending now.

“No,” I replied. “Not even close. But I have worked extremely hard for what I have. I have earned excellent grades in school, I have stayed out of trouble and I have saved every penny I could because I want this car. I have Porsche posters on the wall of my bedroom and pictures of Porsches in my locker. My favorite t-shirt has the Porsche logo on it and look,” I said, pulling it out of my back pocket, “so does my wallet.”

“That’s all very nice,” the man said, “but none of that matters much. We do appreciate your affinity for our automobiles, of course, but that does not entitle you to drive one.”

“But I have been telling everyone about this Porsche,” I told him. “Everyone! I can tell you the length of it, the wheel base, the horsepower! I know the name of the engineer who designed the original engine. I have been waiting, hoping and longing for this day. Anytime someone asked me I told them I was going to buy a Porsche! I have worked as hard as I can to save this money–almost $4,300. You can’t send me away without that car…”

“I’m afraid I can,” the man replied. “The money you have there is far short of what is required. You would need about twenty-five times more money than you have there to purchase this car. Your efforts are commendable, I suppose, but you’ve simply come up short. Waaaayyy short. Now I’ll have to ask you to leave.”

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The story above is just that–a story. There are elements of truth to it; I really did have those jobs, for example, and I really did have a police officer fuss at me for not stopping my bike at a Stop sign. I also am not a car guy, yet I do have a fondness for a Porsche 911 Turbo–especially with the spoiler up. But I am wise enough to know that I could never purchase one with forty-three hundred dollars. The point of the story is to (inadequately, I acknowledge) illustrate the meaning of ὑστερέω. That is a Greek word, rendered hustereó in English, that means “to fall short.” HELPS Word Studies says “This state of lack (insufficiency, privation) naturally results when a person misses out on what is vital.” I my story above I had missed out on the vital realization of exactly how much a Porsche would cost. But that same word appears in Romans 3:23, which says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (ESV).

The Voice paraphrases the verse this way: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” The standard God has is perfection. Absolute holiness and righteousness. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden we have all been born in sin and, try though we might, we cannot ever come close–not even one twenty-fifth as in my story above–of that standard. It does not matter how good we are, how hard we may work, how many people we tell about God, how many t-shirts or car magnets or wrist bands we have with crosses or fish symbols or John 3:16 on them. All of that combined and multiplied exponentially would still leave us infinitely short of God’s standard. Of our very best efforts the Bible uses some very vivid language–and not in a complimentary way, either! The cleaned up, suitable for polite conversation version says that all of our efforts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

Romans 6:23 tells us that the just due for our sin is death–eternal separation from God. The good news is that that same verse tells us that the gift of God–the free gift which no one deserves but which all can receive–is the eternal life. In other words, God has set an impossible standard that none of us can meet, but He has also provided a way for it to be met for us. He did that through His Son Jesus, who died on the cross in our place as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23, KJV).

That would be, by way of pathetic example, as if the salesman in the story above looked at my savings and said, “You’re not even close to being able to pay for this car. However, because I love you, I will give it to you.”

God has looked at each and every human being and said, “You are ὑστερέω. You are not even close. You could do your very best from now until you die but you will be no closer then than you are now. You simply cannot do it. It is not possible. However, I love you. And if you will accept my love, acknowledge your own inadequacy and fallenness, and accept the sacrifice of my Son on your behalf, I will give you eternal life anyway. You cannot earn it, and you do not deserve it, but I will give it to you…because I love you.”

That is the wonder of God’s love.

May 30, 2016

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a day set aside in the United States to remember those who have given their lives in service to our country—who have served in the Armed Forces to protect the freedoms that we enjoy as citizens of the United States of America. It is, to borrow words from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”

I grew up just a few miles outside of Washington, D.C., and as someone who loves politics and U.S. history I have always loved much of what that city has to over. I have taken my children into D.C. several times, and they enjoyed it too, for the most part, though they did grow tired of all the walking. Most anyone who visits Washington, D.C. will see several of the most recognizable monuments in the city: the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial and the World War II Memorial. There are many others in D.C. and in other places around the country—particularly in places of historical significance. Visiting these monuments with my children provided me with an opportunity to tell my children about why the monuments had been erected, about the people and events they were there to remember and honor and about the freedoms we enjoy because of them. That, of course, is exactly why the monuments are there.

I am not going to write about the monuments to important events in our nation’s history, however, nor about the sacrifice that has been paid by the men and women who have served in our military and given their lives in defense of our nation. Instead, I want to talk to you about a spiritual memorial day of sorts.

I want to first take a look at several examples of monuments or memorials that God used in Scripture to remind His people of important truths or promises–to help them to remember those things because we are, in the natural, quite prone to forget. After we look at these examples I want to identify for you three areas where I think we should be creating memorials or reminders for ourselves and for our children.

First, the biblical examples:

* Perhaps the most prominent example is the rainbow. See Genesis 9:8-17 and note the repetition of “sign” and “remember”
* Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River and God instructed him to take twelve stones and create a monument specifically so that future children would be prompted to ask about them, thus giving parents an opportunity to tell their children what God had done. See Joshua 4:1-3, 6-7, 21-24
* The Passover was designed to create a memorial for the Israelites to remember how God had spared His people and led them out of captivity. See Exodus 12:14
* Easter, as well as the fact that Christians worship on Sunday rather than Saturday, are memorials to the resurrection of Christ, which is the most important event in the Christian faith
* Communion, or The Lord’s Supper, is designed to cause partakers to remember the love of God, manifested in the gift of His Son who died in our place. See 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Now, those are five biblical examples of memorials or monuments whereby God provided direction for remembering important events and promises. It is quite fair to say, then, that the use of symbols and monuments is appropriate and that they are not dishonoring to God in any way. (Provided, of course, that they do not become idols). Take, for example, the cross. Here is what Max Lucado has written about the cross:

The cross. Can you turn any direction without seeing one? Perched atop a chapel. Carved into a graveyard headstone. Engraved in a ring or suspended on a chain. The cross is the universal symbol of Christianity. An odd choice, don’t you think? Strange that a tool of torture would come to embody a movement of hope. The symbols of other faiths are more upbeat: the six-pointed star of David, the crescent moon of Islam, a lotus blossom for Buddhism. Yet a cross for Christianity? An instrument of execution?
Would you wear a tiny electric chair around your neck? Suspend a gold-plated hangman’s noose on the wall? Would you print a picture of a firing squad on a business card? Yet we do so with the cross. Many even make the sign of the cross as they pray. Would we make the sign of, say, a guillotine? Instead of the triangular touch on the forehead and shoulders, how about a karate chop on the palm? Doesn’t quite have the same feel, does it?

Why is the cross the symbol of our faith? To find the answer look no farther than the cross itself. Its design couldn’t be simpler. One beam horizontal—the other vertical. One reaches out—like God’s love. The other reaches up—as does God’s holiness. One represents the width of his love; the other reflects the height of his holiness. The cross is the intersection. The cross is where God forgave his children without lowering his standards.

How could he do this? In a sentence: God put our sin on his Son and punished it there.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The cross, then, is a monument, a memorial, a symbol that reminds us the God loves us—that He loved us enough to send His only begotten Son to pay the penalty of sin in our place that we could never pay. We do not, by the way, use a crucifix, because we know Jesus is alive. Yes, His death is significant and meaningful, but I He had died on that cross and stayed dead, we would be without hope.

So, I said I was going to share three areas where I think we should be creating memorials or reminders for ourselves and our children. The first is the one I just shared–the love of God, the gift of His Son, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. We cannot overemphasize that love or that atoning sacrifice. I am not suggesting that you must wear a cross necklace or hang crosses in your home or anything else, but I am suggesting that we have a responsibility to remind ourselves and—if we are parents, to remind our children—regularly of the love of God and the gift of His Son.
In an article published just before Valentine’s Day 2015, entitled “Remembering the Unquantifiable Love of God,” Christina Fox wrote,

But real love isn’t something you can measure. The love God has for us is beyond numbers and can’t be tallied. When God promised to bless Abraham with countless children, he used the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore as a metaphor. These are things people simply cannot count. Paul described the love of Christ as surpassing knowledge (Ephesians 3:19). And the psalmist wrote, “Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” (Psalm 36:5).

God’s love for us goes farther than even time itself, into the deep recesses of eternity past. It stretched all the way from forever, forward to the cross, and will continue into eternity future. “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:4–5).
His love for us is a love that doesn’t hold back. His love gives everything, to the point of sacrificing his very own Son. At the cross, the perfect eternal love of the triune God was shown most vividly as the Son bore all our sins for us. This is unquantifiable, immeasurable love.

We have opportunities at church, opportunities with communion, opportunities when we forgive, when we explain justice and mercy-—we have opportunities around us all the time, every day, to recognize, remember and celebrate the love of God.

The second area where we need to conscious of creating reminders or memorials is in what God has done in our lives. Each of us has stories and instances of God working in our lives, through the circumstances we have experiences, the trials we have endured, the valleys we have passed through, to see God at work and to experience His grace, His comfort, His mercy, His strength, His patience, His faithfulness. We need to be intentional about remembering those instances—and willing to tell others about them.

In Luke 8 Jesus heals a man indwelt by many demons—so many that they call themselves Legion. He casts them out of the man and into a herd of pigs. In verse 38 of that chapter we read that man who had been freed of the demons begged Jesus that he might stay with Him. But Jesus sent him away, and in verse 39 it says that Jesus said to him, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And what happened next? The verse finishes, “And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.”

Now, you probably do not have a testimony so fantastic as being freed of a legion of demons. Neither do I. And frankly, for a long time, I thought that my story, my testimony, any examples of what God had done for me, were pretty boring. But that’s simply not true. Any of us—all of us—can tell others of what Jesus has done for us. It may not be dramatic, it may not incredible, it may not be the stuff of a made-for-TV movie, but the simple reality is that if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you have a miraculous testimony. The almighty, sovereign God of the universe gave His Son to die in your place, and you are now forgiven, set free from sin, and destined to spend eternity in heaven with Him. That is miraculous!

Stephen Altrogge wrote an article entitled, “If you don’t have a dramatic testimony.” In it, he recounts feeling the same way I did—that his testimony is nothing exciting. He grew up in a loving family, was a pretty good and did not do anything terrible from which, or out of which God saved Him. That may make your life story less exciting from a human standpoint, but it is really all the more reason to be grateful and thankful to God. Altrogge writes:

Don’t be disappointed that you don’t have a gripping, over-the-top testimony. Don’t feel like you somehow missed out. Will you get to tell your story in front of large audiences? Probably not. But that’s a good thing. Be grateful that God spared you from the heart-breaking, soul-wrenching consequences of some sins. Be grateful that God saved you before you could wreck your life. Be grateful that you’re not carrying years of baggage around with you.

Those with incredible testimonies may have greater opportunities to tell their stories to larger audiences, but everyone one of us can tell others about what God has done for us. The story of our salvation itself may not be dramatic but every believer has a story of how God has worked in our lives, of how God has provided peace, provided direction, provided comfort…

Let me ask you a question—–could yousay that one or more of these describes you or where you have been at some point in your life: By the grace of God you still alive; delivered from committing suicide; delivered from addictions; no purpose in life—-felt hopeless, lost, no meaning; in the midst of incredible despair, turmoil or uncertainty and you had no idea what was happening or why, but God sustained you and brought you through; you thought you had everything figured out and God told you to do something else that made no sense from an earthly standpoint; you found strength and peace in the midst of incredible physical, mental or financial difficulty… If any of those are true of you then you have a story, you are a monument, a memorial to the faithfulness and goodness of God, and you can and should tell others what God has done in and through and for you.

The third and final area in which we need to create memorials and reminders is the way that God has worked in and through others. The Scripture is full of stories of how God has done marvelous things in the lives of those who follow Him. Look what He did with Job, with Moses, with Noah, with Daniel, with Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego, of Gideon, of Esther, of David, of Peter, or Paul, of so many others—those are encouraging to us because they are examples of how God works in and through fallen, fallible human beings in order to shape us to be who and what He wants us to be and to do what He wants us to do. We should study and know those stories because they are reminders to us.

At the same time, there are many other examples post-Bible times, of how God has worked in incredible ways through very ordinary people. Some of the great individuals of Christian history–Wycliffe, Tyndale, Luther, George Muller, William Carey, Jonathan Edwards, William Wilberforce, Hudson Taylor, Charles Spurgeon, Amy Carmichael, D.L. Moody, Corrie Ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jim Elliot, Joni Eareckson Tada, Chuck Colson, and so many more. In the day and age in which we live, there are people being persecuted for Christ every day-—and we can pray for them, we can know their stories, we can find encouragement and strength and courage and hope in their willingness to stand firm in their faith even when doing so costs them their life. In Hebrews 11 we see a long list of individuals who accomplished great things for God because they obeyed “in faith.” Paul often referenced other believers in his writings. It is not the purpose of Paul or the writer of Hebrews to hold those people themselves out as examples, but rather to serve as reminders–as monuments or memorials–of what God can do in and through ordinary, fallen individuals who get out of their own way and obey God, following His direction and leading in their lives.

For the child of God, every day can be–every day should be–memorial day.

March 21, 2016

The Triumphal Entry

Today is the day on the calendar that we call Palm Sunday. It marks the beginning of what is often referred to as Holy Week or Passion Week, and it is the day on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to the cheers and accolades of the masses. It is often recognized with excitement and celebration—but I would suggest to you that it really was not. The ultimate end of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem would be cause for excitement and celebration, because the ultimate end would be, one week later, when He rose from the grave having defeated sin and death. For that reason we can recognize this day with celebration. On the day in question, however, only Jesus understood that that was what was coming. If we look at the triumphal entry from the perspectives of the various groups of people who were present on that day we will actually come away with a feeling quite unlike excitement and celebration. And frankly, when we really look at those various groups of people, we may find ourselves staring face to face with ourselves—or at least ourselves as we are and act at various times in our lives.

So we will unpack that idea more momentarily. Let us begin by setting the scene for what takes place on Palm Sunday. We could dwell on many aspects of this text but I am going to skip over some of them because they are beyond the points I want to examine here. John 12:1-2 tells us that six days before the Passover Jesus and His disciples arrive in Bethany. This was the hometown of Mary, Martha and Lazarus and it was very close to Jerusalem—two miles or so. This was where Jesus had performed perhaps His most famous miracle—raising Lazarus from the dead. They had a meal for Jesus here and Lazarus was one of those individuals reclining with Jesus at the table.

Jump to verse 9. Here we see that word got out that Jesus was in town and a large crowd flocked to see Him—and to see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. Now John says that the people wanted to see Jesus and Lazarus, but I think it stands to reason that the real appeal was to see them together. This was where Lazarus lived, so if the crowds wanted to see him in particular they could have done so almost any time. But now Jesus, the man who raised Lazarus, is in town again and the opportunity presents itself to see both the miracle and the miracle worker.

Verses 10 and 11 tell us that the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death because, verse 11, “on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.” Now what about this word believe that we have here? This sounds like a wonderful thing, right—Jews by the dozens are flocking to Jesus and believing in Him. I would suggest to you that this is not as wonderful as it appears. The Greek word is pisteuó, and it means “to believe or have faith in.” However, the HELPS Word Studies explains this important detail: the word is “used of persuading oneself (= human believing) and with the sacred significance of being persuaded by the Lord (= faith-believing). Only the context indicates whether pisteúō (“believe”) is self-serving (without sacred meaning), or the believing that leads to/proceeds from God’s inbirthing of faith.” I think, based on what is about to happen in the following verses, that many of those who were “believing” in Jesus at this time were doing so in the self-serving sense. They recognized a man who could do incredible things—literally, miracles—and they wanted to be on His side. They also, no doubt, wanted what He could do for them.

Just a few chapters earlier, in John 6, we see Jesus feeding the 5,000 and then walking on water. The people were thrilled and wanted to make Him their king. But in verse 35 of that chapter Jesus says, “I am the bread of life,” and proceeds to explain the plan of salvation. What happens then? In verse 42 we read, “They said, ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I came down from heaven”’?” Jesus proceeds to teach them further and then, in verse 66, we read, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Why did they no longer follow Him? The phrase translated “from this time” means, basically, “as a result of.” In other words, because of what Jesus said, they said, “Forget this. I’ve had enough of this. This is not what I had in mind.” They were following Jesus because of what He could do for them and because of their earthly Messianic hopes, which involved defeating Rome and returning Israel to the Jews.

Now, go back to John 12 and look at verses 17 and 18. Here we see that those who had seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead were still talking about and spreading the word and, as a result, verse 18 says, the crowd went to meet Him—or to see Him. There was a procession now, with Jesus coming into town riding on a donkey, and the crowds wanted to see Him. These people were impressed by the idea that Jesus could raise someone from the dead. No doubt they had also heard of many of His other miracles, including healing the sick, the blind, the lame; of feeding the massive crowds of people with a handful of food. This, they thought, could be the one who was going to lead them out of their Roman captivity!

The people, as Jesus entered Jerusalem on Sunday, began waving palm branches and carpeting the road with branches and their own clothing. The palm branches were plentiful in the area and they were often used at festivals and celebrations as a symbol of joy and victory. The people were thrilled that Jesus was coming. Now, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey. The most important significance of this is that it fulfilled specific Old Testament prophecy saying that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem on a colt. There may be other significance, primarily symbolic—with the colt being a symbol of peace rather than a horse, which would more likely represent a military conqueror.

The people wanted something more like a military conqueror because they wanted a Messiah who would free them Roman oppression. But that was not Jesus. The people were shouting “Hosanna!” which literally means, in English, “Save now.” The salvation they had in mind, though, was temporal and material, not spiritual and eternal. We know the “belief” of most of these people was not sincere because, within just a few days, their cries of “Hosanna!” will be replaced instead with cries of “Crucify Him!”

Now, let’s look at a second group, the religious leaders of the day. These individuals were furious with Jesus and determined to put Him to death. Why? Because they were losing their power and their influence. Look back at John 12:9-11. We see here that because so many people were flocking to Jesus the leaders determined to put Lazarus to death as well—meaning they were planning to kill Lazarus and Jesus. In verse 19 we see the attitude, the revealed heart, of the Pharisees—they are lamenting that “the whole world has gone after Him.” This implies that there were masses of people going to celebrate the entry of Jesus and therefore leaving the leadership and influence of the Pharisees—and they found this unacceptable. They were realizing that they should have followed the advice of Caiaphas. Look back at chapter 11, verses 45-53. The words of Caiaphas here seem to allude to the death of one man—Jesus—saving a people or a nation, and therefore alluding to the salvation made possible through the death of Christ. That, however, is not what he had in mind at all. He was expressing that Jesus—whom the Pharisees viewed as stirring up sedition and anti-Roman thoughts among the people—should die so that He did not succeed in leading a rebellion which may result in the Roman army killing all of the Jews in response and, more practically for Caiaphas, in the Pharisees losing their power and influence.

This second group of people is perhaps the group with which we are most familiar and the group whose motives are easiest to discern from a first reading of the text.

Let us look at one last group of people in John 12:42-43. Apparently there were those, even among the Jewish leaders, who truly did believe on Jesus. We know, of course of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, but they did not reveal publicly their faith until after Jesus had died. What we see in these verses is that they remained silent about their faith because they feared the response and retaliation from the other Jews. They loved the position, the power and the influence they had and they were unwilling to give that up. Back in John 9:22 we see that the rulers had determined that anyone who acknowledged Jesus would be excommunicated, thrown out of the synagogue. These leaders knew the truth, and the accepted it apparently, but at this point only secretly.

So we see three groups of people among the crowds on the first Palm Sunday. We see those who were impressed by what Jesus could do and were following Him because of what they thought they could get out of it. They imagined free food, free health care, a throwing off of the Roman oppression. Reflect on your own life for a moment. Are you ever guilty of following Jesus or of seeking Jesus just for your own benefit? Do you look to Him only when you want or need something, expecting that He will come through and provide what you want, when you want it, but you ignore or reject the hard parts of His teaching, the parts about dying to self and serving others?

Next, we looked at two different groups of leaders responded differently to Jesus but for the same reasons. The majority of the religious leaders were so mad that the people, who had always been under their influence and control, were leaving them to go follow Jesus that they wanted to kill Him. If they could just get rid of Jesus they could continue to live life the way they wanted, to do things the way they wanted. There are many people in the world today, and have been many people throughout history, who have denied God, wished Him dead or claimed He was no longer relevant, because then there would be no one to whom they were accountable and they could do whatever they wanted to do—especially if they were ones in power and positions of influence and control.

The second group of religious leaders accepted Jesus, but they would not tell anyone because of what they thought it would cost them. They already had the prominence, the position, the influence that the world could offer and they did not want to give it up. They wanted to keep the riches and glories of this world while also claiming those of the world to come, of the heavenly kingdom. Take a moment to reflect. How many times do you—do I—not speak up and claim the name of Christ because we are afraid of what others will think? Because we are concerned about the social, political or professional repercussions of being known as “one of them”? Jesus Himself said, recorded in several of the gospels, “What good will it do for a man to gain the whole world yet lose his soul?” There is nothing that this world has to offer us that could possibly come close to the promise of what is waiting for us in eternity if we know Christ as our Savior. We must not allow the fear of man to keep us quiet about Him!

Interestingly, those religious leaders who wanted to kill Jesus were the most honest of the three groups we have seen here. They were opposed to Jesus and they were completely upfront about it. The first group professed to follow Jesus but their following was self-centered and not sincere. The third group believed Jesus but would not admit that they did. It was a sincere but silent and secret faith. There are many today who fit those two groups. Many who profess to be Christians are following after Jesus only because of what they think they can get out of it—because of what they think He can do for them. Many others may have a sincere belief in what the Bible teaches about Jesus, about sin and salvation, but they believe in silence, preferring to keep their faith to themselves so as not to reap unpleasant consequences of making that belief known. Scripture makes it clear that God is not pleased with that kind of faith.

There was a fourth group of people present that day, and that was those who truly were followers and disciples of Jesus. Even many of them, however, were unaware of what was really happening. In verse 16 we see that explained to us, as John writes, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him and had been done to Him.”

Here is why the Triumphal Entry is such good news, despite the mixed bag of people who were present that day. It is good news because Jesus knew exactly what was coming…and He went anyway. Luke 19 tells us that as Jesus approached and saw the city of Jerusalem He wept over it. Why? Because He knew the response of the people that was coming. Despite the fact that they were about to welcome Him with shouts of adoration and celebration, he knew that they would reject Him. As they were celebrating the Passover feast, remembering the escape from physical death for those who had applied the blood to their doorposts when the angel of death passed over Egypt, they were preparing to reject that sacrificial lamb who would free them from eternal death and separation from God. He was weeping because, as Scripture tells us, He is not willing that any should perish. He knew both that most of those in Jerusalem were about to reject Him, and He knew that many throughout history would reject Him, refusing to accept the free gift of salvation made possible through His obedience to God’s plan, His death on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, and His resurrection from the grave, proving victory over hell, death and sin.

Jesus knew what was coming and He went into Jerusalem anyway. Look at the end of John 12 – verses 44-50. Verse 44 says that Jesus cried out. This implies that He was making a public proclamation in a loud voice, likely addressed to the crowd that had followed Him. In the preceding verses we see that the people’s unbelief was revealed. Jesus is now proclaiming the consequences of believing in Him and of rejecting Him. Jesus makes it clear that believing in Him, or rejecting Him, was believing in, or rejecting, God the Father. He makes it inexplicably clear that they are one. These few verses seem, really, to be Jesus summing up all that He had done during His earthly ministry. He explains that He has done what He has done, and taught what He has taught, because it is what God the Father determined for Him to do. The audience hearing Him here was left without excuse. He made clear to them, unmistakably clear to them, that He was the Son of God and that believing in Him brings light and life, rejecting Him brings death and darkness.

We too are without excuse. Indeed, Romans 1 tells us that all humankind is without excuse. Of the groups of people we have seen here, which are you? Are you following Jesus just because of what you think He can do for you? Are you following Him but keeping it yourself, fearful of what others may think or what the consequences may be if your faith is known? Have you rejected Him, preferring to do your own thing and live your own life how you want? Or have you truly accepted Him, received the gift of salvation made possible through His life, death and resurrection? My hope and my prayer is that you are in that fourth group. If you are not, I urge you to examine your heart and your life and to get right with God. Verse 48 of John 12 says, “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” You have received the truth and you are now accountable for it. You are without excuse.

For those who have accepted Christ, Palm Sunday truly is a celebratory day because we know that Jesus, recognizing and knowing full well what was before Him and the painful death He was about to endure, went ahead anyway. He obeyed. He entered Jerusalem to give His life for you and for me.

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