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Martin Luther tells me so

As we get closer to October 31st, the 500th anniversary of the day Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg cathedral which has been tagged as the start of Reformation, I’ve been reading internet articles about Luther and the other reformers.   It has been interesting to find three schools of thought:

  1. Calls for adulation for Luther, his courage and convictions, and urgings to honor him.
  2. All but ignoring Luther as they praise Calvin and others in the reformed tradition.
  3. Pleas to treat Luther as despicable for such things as his treatment of Jews, women, Anabaptists and just about anyone he disagreed with.

On the other hand, there is the tongue-in-cheek version of option 3 in this website which will cheerfully give you a chance to be on the receiving end of some of Luther’s most interesting insults.  When I opened the page today the first one that came up for me was “You are a crude ass, and an ass you will remain!”  Perhaps he is right.

Surely Luther is a complex character.  What I read about him affirms a theory I have.  Over the years I have had the privilege to get to know a number of Christians who have led ministries and are highly acclaimed.  I’ve come to think that God seems to give glaring feet of clay to those he intends to use greatly.  Abraham and David are perhaps two biblical examples of this reality.

In my readings I also found this quote from Luther that has me thinking:

“Whenever the devil harasses you, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you: do not drink, answer him: I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.”

In other words, to resist the devil we should party, drink and “sin a little.”  I can’t say I recall advice like that in any sermon I’ve heard.  Indeed, admonitions to refrain from sinning are a cornerstone of the evangelicalism I’ve been raised in.  Yet Luther seems to advise us that trying not to sin is somehow dangerous.

Yet the more I thought about it the more I came to see that he had a point.  Perhaps he is just using a brash way of telling us that we need to trust Jesus and the justification by faith that is ours.  Our depravity isn’t going to go away because we are trying hard to be righteous.  Maybe the knowledge that our righteousness is nothing but filthy rags is not a call to relentless self-examination but a call to rest without hesitation in the joy of grace.

I wonder if I should celebrate this insight by having a beer.  No, I think I will settle for the “joke and talk nonsense” part of his advice.

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Oh say can you see

Let me start by saying that, when attending events where the national anthem was being played, I have always stood and I expect to continue doing so.  I say this in a, probably futile, attempt to keep people from being furious with me for sharing my thoughts on the NFL/national anthem controversy.  But here goes:

I don’t have a serious problem with players protesting by kneeling during the anthem.

Now, for some, that last sentence by itself was enough to lump me in with the evil protestors but let me give others who might still be reading some reasons why I feel that way.

  1. Despite the repeated statements by many that this is “not about race” it is clear that those taking part in the kneeling are overwhelmingly black and those who are furious about it are even more overwhelmingly white.  The kneeling has a purpose, to highlight racial injustice.  I fear the reality that this injustice exists is not being taken seriously by the furious.  Do we want to end the protests?  Perhaps the best way is to end systematic racism.
  2. It is not generally known that for many years the NFL and other sports have benefited from “paid patriotism.” This report from Senators McCain and Flake goes into great detail of how the Department of Defense has paid sports teams over 6.8 million dollars of taxpayer money for patriotic sports displays at their games.  To be sure, not all such displays are paid (and the NFL last year called to end this practice) but you can see why players thought this was an appropriate way to express their opinions.
  3. This is primarily an employer/employee issue. Most employers have rules on employee expression of opinions.  The NFL does too.  I am not sure why, as outsiders, you and I have a say in these decisions.  I don’t see this as any different than employers who regulate whether employees can say “Merry Christmas.”  If we have an issue, it is with the owners, not the players.
  4. I personally think peaceful protest is noble and should not be discouraged. America is not a totalitarian regime where ideological compliance is required.  It should be noted that we have not, as part of this protest, heard one word from the kneeling athletes that disrespects our country, our troops or our flag.

In the meantime, for those who are outraged by kneeling players my advice is that the next time you are watching a game be sure to get up off your couch and stand for the anthem.  Think of the example this will give your kids;much more real than what is coming through the TV screen.

Nashville Cats

This week the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released their Nashville Statement that focuses on human sexuality and, in particular, speaks to the issues of homosexuality and transgenderism.  As might be expected it has received widespread praise and even more widespread condemnation.

In reading the statement it appeared to me that, for the most part, there was not much new here.  My sense is that these points, which are given in 14 affirm/deny pairs, are essentially the same things most evangelicals have believed for quite some time.  Further, there is virtually no surprise with the lists of people who are overjoyed or outraged by the statement.  The only reaction that struck me as interesting was from Megan Barry, the Mayor of Nashville, who seemed quite furious to find her city’s name on the statement.

So what is the big deal here?  I can’t imagine a single person who reads this statement will change his or her mind.  At best it appears to me that the statement will just pour a little more gasoline on the already flaming culture war fires.  I read the statement multiple times looking for a reason, any reason, that the statement served any purpose other than trying to make the gaps in our cultural differences wider.

I finally concluded that there is a distinct purpose here.  It rests in the “deny” portion of article ten which reads like this:

“We deny that the approval of homosexuality and transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.”

Setting aside the snide implication that those who differ with the CBMW suffer from “moral indifference” the critical point is essentially this:  Unless you agree with the CBMW you are not a faithful Christian.  They make themselves arbitrators of who is and is not a Christian.  I’ve even seen a few supporting statements saying this is a “gospel issue.”

It’s not.  The gospel is not about human sexuality. The gospel is not about gender roles. The gospel is not legalism or rules. The gospel is the truth that Jesus Christ lived, died, was resurrected, and will return. And we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. We are not saved by our views on human sexuality, or male authority, or baptism, or eschatology, or anything else under the sun.

God has not given me the job of gatekeeper for the gates of heaven.  And he hasn’t given the job to the CBMW either.

 

Who is God mad at?

As we follow the horrific flooding rains in Texas, and in particular the Houston area, I’ve been puzzled by one thing.  I’ve yet to find a Christian commentator telling me why God caused and/or allowed this unprecedented flooding.  Or in other words just who is God mad at?

The U.S. has a long and storied history of Christian pronouncements on why God is is using storms to punish us for something.  Here are a few:

Year                       Historic Storm                                                    Cause

  1. 1780                 The Great Hurricane of 1780                       Witches
  2. 1900                Galveston Hurricane                                       liquor
  3. 1926                Miami Hurricane                                             jazz music
  4. 1928               Okeechobee Flood                                            flappers
  5. 1935               Labor Day Hurricane                                      communism
  6. 1938              New England Hurricane                                  social security
  7. 1969               Hurricane Camille                                            hippies
  8. 1992               Hurricane Andrew                                           gays
  9. 2004               Hurricane Charley                                            gays
  10. 2005               Hurricane Katrina                                            gays
  11. 2012               Super Storm Sandy                                          Obama

Of course it can’t be possible that since we have a Republican President and a Republican Congress and since Texas is a Republican state that we refuse to believe God could be mad at us.  Could it?

The Great American Eclipse

Well, the day of the “great American eclipse” has come.  Unfortunately I am going to miss it.  For one, I am in NY where I am told the sun will be 70% covered and, at best, unless you are paying close attention (and we’ve received zillions of warnings not to look to closely) the day will just temporarily seem a little less bright for a few minutes.  In addition I’ve committed to taking both my sister and my wife’s aunt to their doctors today so I will probably be too busy to even notice.  Oh well.

I’ve seen a lot of articles lately quoting Christians, most of whom I never heard of, explaining that this eclipse is some sort of sign of God’s displeasure with us. Some are rather convoluted in their reasoning.  One indicated that since the eclipse starts in Oregon, which was the 33rd state, an ends in South Carolina, which is located on the 33rd parallel, that we need to read chapter 33 in Ezekiel and…ta da…God will be judging us!  Others aren’t quite as lucid.  Several cite the next “American” eclipse in 2024 and point out that the two paths of the two eclipses create a big “X” on our country which proves, well, I am not sure but it proves something.  And then there is Jim Bakker’s take:

“God came to me in a dream and said I should tell the world that I am plunging the world into darkness to remind people I’m still mad at the Obama years.  Obama legalized witchcraft, sexual deviants getting married and schools started teaching transgenderism.”

So there.  The eclipse is Obama’s fault.

Two thoughts come out of these many prophetic articles.  The first is that such predictions come from a tiny fringe of the Christian community.  I can’t find a single argument from a respected Christian leader that supports that sort of nonsense.  But, secondly, the media loves to look for articles from the fringe that makes our faith look stupid.  This is dishonest reporting.  Writers at the New York Times and other sources know darn well that the vast majority of us don’t buy that nonsense.

So to the vast majority of American Christians, particularly those who live in or have found their way to the path of totality, I say take time to marvel in the wonder of God’s universe.

To Jim Bakker and others who spout or buy into this sort of stuff I say – could you be more America-centric?  There is an eclipse somewhere in the world every 18 months or so.  What would make you believe that, because this one is seen from America, it is some sort of divine sign?

But of course I could be wrong.  If this eclipse ushers in the tribulation or some other horror I will apologize; assuming I am not the first one to get struck down by divine judgement for writing this.

Way to go, John!

I’ve always been somewhat conflicted about John MacArthur.  Several years ago I was given a signed copy of his MacArthur Study Bible and it is still a prized possession.  I’ve admired and agreed with many of his doctrinal interpretations.  But I have also differed with some of his stances that have struck me as harsh, most particularly with his comments on charismatics.

But today I saw a statement of his that cheered me greatly.  He was in a panel discussion and was asked if it was sinful for a Christian business person to make a product for a same sex wedding.  This was his answer:

“No, it’s not sinful for a cake maker to make a cake for a gay wedding any more than its sinful for a guy who runs a restaurant to serve dinner to somebody who is gay, sits in a booth and eats the food, or goes to the market and buys a loaf of bread and you own the market.”

He went on to say: “What the issue is, is not whether that’s sinful, it’s whether the federal government can demand that people do certain things, which goes against their Christian conscience.”  He identified this as “more of a political governmental issue.”

He is 100% correct.  The issue of government regulations is not a Christian issue, it is an issue of balancing the rights granted to all of us in our country that sometimes conflict with each other.  The Bible never promises us religious freedom; indeed you can make a better case to say it promises us we won’t have it.

Romans 14 makes it clear that we must respect brothers whose conscience make them uneasy about issues like the cake-baking one.  It does however identify such brothers as “weaker” while we tend to see them as “courageously taking a stand.”  My beef with those who make such a stand is not whether they are weak or courageous but that they seem to want no consequences when they take such stances.  Taking a stand can never be cost-free.

MacArthur then concludes with his personal recommendation: “I actually think that we need to show love to everyone and particularly, we need to do good to all those that are outside the kingdom, as well as inside the kingdom, as much as possible….”

All I can say is way to go, John!  This is a great challenge to be bold when we “do good to all those that are outside the kingdom.”

Good Christian Anger

A few days ago Eugene Peterson got himself in trouble.  The 84-year-old Peterson, best known for his translation of the Bible – The Message –  a man who has written dozens of other Christian books, was giving an interview, one of many on sort of a farewell tour, touting the releasing his last book.  In the middle of this interview he gave this response to a question about gay marriage:

“I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.”

This semi-tepid acceptance of gay marriage was not well received by many Christians.  Later, after reflection and prayer, he said his answer had been hasty, and he retracted some of this statement. This was not good enough for the dozens of self-appointed Guardians of the Galaxy Orthodoxy. They are still slandering and tearing down the man in the harshest of ways.

Now, admittedly, I was not particularly enthusiastic about Peterson’s statement.  In the same way, I sometimes have concerns about his translations in The Message.  (This coming from a man who has never translated a single sentence of Scripture.)  But it was dismaying to see the anger vented on an 84-year-old man who has dedicated his life to serving God.

This is the latest example of what I call (tongue-in-cheek) “good Christian anger,” the all too frequent way we rip into each other over doctrinal issues.  I’ve sat in a number of Bible studies that result in shouting matches over minor doctrinal points.  Church meetings do the same on trivial issues too.  It makes me wonder, why are so many of us so angry so often?

We justify our anger by pointing out that Jesus and Paul both expressed anger.  Well, yes.  Jesus was clearly angry when the Pharisees twisted Scripture to impose a self-serving, hypocritical, legalistic view of faith on others.  Paul blew his top with the Galatians, and to some extent the Corinthians, when they distorted the message of grace.  So, yes, sometimes anger over core issues is needed.  But Christian anger should be rare and we should hate being angry; frequent “Christian” anger might well be a sign that something is wrong with our own walk with Christ.

I think that most of our anger is fear-based.  We are afraid of cultural changes we don’t like and can’t stop.  We are afraid that, if our doctrinal stances on even one out of dozens of secondary subjects is wrong, than we can’t be confident in anything.  I have a friend who repeatedly says “If you don’t believe Genesis 1, you can’t believe John 3:16.”  But what he really means is if he allows that there may be people out there who differ on interpretation and remain Christians it frightens him; makes him unsure.

God is able to defend and grow the church without our anger. Our anger is not a sign of our doctrinal orthodoxy. Attacking people out of anger and fear does nothing to win over those who think differently. It does nothing to guarantee the purity of our doctrine and our churches.  There has to be a better way to show God (and others) how faithful we are then being angry.