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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.

Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President,

I was watching “Morning Joe” yesterday and saw Mika Brzezinski make a rather snarky joke about the fake Time Magazine picture with you on the cover that you had made and hung up in your various properties.  I commented to my wife at the time that I felt the joke was tasteless and mean.

Three hours later I saw your answering tweets insulting both Brzezinski and her co-host that definitely were examples of what your wife said that “when [my] husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder.”  Since that time you have had to put up with widespread disapproval, including many members of your own party.  I am sure that is annoying.

To be sure, many of your stalwart supporters have rushed to your defense using variations of the “she started it” strategy; a defense that ceased to be effective for me sometime around first grade.  We will see how it works for you.

I know you’ve had a lot of advice, input and comments since then, some of it well-meaning but much of it angry, and I don’t want to trouble your busy day.  But I would like to share a bit of advice from someone I think is wise beyond all others and who has never let me down:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”

I’m pretty sure Vice President Pence knows the guy who said that too.  Ask him about it.

Sincerely,

Someone who prays for you daily

A Simple Test

I have a charismatic friend who has been telling me for months that the American political scene has come under demonic control.  He cites the attitudes and pronouncements of our political leaders in both parties as being so far from Christian values that only demonic possession can explain it.  When I was reluctant to agree he said there was a little test that could show he was right and challenged me to try it.

His test was a simple two-step process.  Step one was that, once I had ascertained the political leaning of whoever I was talking to, I should tell that person that I was worried that politicians, commentators and media pundits on the other side were under demonic control.  I would find that they would quickly agree with that assertion or, at the least, commiserate with why I thought this was so.  In either case I would find happy, even joyous, responses of agreement.

But there was a step two as well.  In this case, once I knew the political leaning of the person I was talking to, I should tell that person that I worried that politicians, commentators and media pundits on their side were under demonic control.  He assured me that I would find that the response would be furious outrage.  He warned me that it would probably include heated disparaging comments about both my intelligence and my morality.

His summary was that only demonic possession could account for this.  Well, for past two weeks or so I’ve been doing as he asked and found that he was right – at least insofar as his predictions as to how people reacted.  My Baptist/Reformed/Free Church background makes me hesitant to jump on board with the whole demon thing.  But overwhelmingly people all but jumped for joy when I was pointing at “the other side” and sputtered with rage when I was talking about those they agreed with.

So how do I account for this?  What do you think?  Demons?  Or what?  I can’t help but think that Jesus is a lot less concerned about these American cultural wars than we are.

Jesus, Peter and us

I came home from Bible study last night to find my wife watching a “breaking news” report from Montana.  I was a bit surprised as most New Yorkers have only have a vague notion that Montana exists somewhere “out west.”  What could be bringing Montana to the news here?

I learned that there was to be a special election for Montana’s one and only congressional district and last night, on the eve of the election, the Republican candidate had apparently decked a reporter who was asking him questions he didn’t want to answer.  The reporter’s take was that he was just doing his job when he was “body slammed.”   The candidate’s version was that the reporter had “aggressively” put his microphone in his face and he was just pushing it away when the reporter grabbed his wrist and pulled the hapless candidate down on him.  In addition the reporter was a “liberal” which I assume was seen as a mitigating circumstance.

As it turns out there was another news team in the room and they later issued a statement that seemed to basically support the reporter.  In an ironic twist they were from Fox News.  It was gratifying to see left-wingers so enthusiastic about a Fox News report.

By this morning there was an inspiring united reaction of outrage among left-wing and right-wing sources.  Who says we can never be unified?  Of course the left was outraged by what the candidate did while the right was outraged at what the reporter did but I suppose being outraged together is a step in the right direction.

I’m not sure what I am supposed to believe about this but I would have to admit that reporters probably can be obnoxious and are also much more likely to be obnoxious to Republicans than Democrats.  Having said that it is probably not a good idea to beat them up, that won’t end well.  But for some reason the whole matter has me thinking of Jesus and Peter in the garden of Gethsemane on the night before the crucifixion.

They both see Judas coming toward them leading a gang of armed men. Jesus sees Judas in the middle of the pack but his only reaction is to say, without a hint of sarcasm.  “Friend.  Do what you came here to do.”  He does not try to take control; does not hint at retaliation.  Love would rather be seized, than to seize.

But then there is Peter, the impulsive, hot-headed disciple.  He is not going to take it meekly.  He, like so many of us, is a practical man, and needs to do something; to fight against the chaos around him.  Instinctively, he grabs his sword and swings it at a man named Malchus, a servant of the high priest, hacking off his ear.  The man screams in terror as the blood runs down and the ear lies on the ground.

Then Jesus speaks.  “Put away your sword.  For those who live by the sword, die by the sword.  Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”  He then presses his hands against the bloody hole in the side of Malchus’ head.  He removes his hands, Malchus ceases to be in pain and all stare in awe.   A follower of Jesus had choosen to cut rather than heal and Jesus had to come behind him to clean up the mess made by one of his own.  He’s been doing it with all of us ever since.

Peter was well-intentioned.  He was both angry and afraid.  He wanted to protect Jesus and protect himself.  But Jesus, with legions of angels at his beck and call had no need of protection.  Today we followers of Jesus feel we are in a war too; a culture war. We too can sense the enemy coming.  We too feel angry and afraid.   But Jesus has no need of our passionate displays of angry piety.  Jesus is not looking for anyone to stand up for him.

Jesus’ humble response in the garden shows us the way of the kingdom.  Peter’s act of anger and fear shows us the way of the kingdoms of this world.  One is the way of vulnerability, humility and sacrifice, the other is the way of violence, retaliation and retribution.  One says “friend, do what you came here to do.” the other takes matters into its own hands.  One is the way of the kingdom, the other is the way of the world.

Jesus doesn’t ask us to stand up for him, but to stand with him.  Jesus, who stood between the accused and the accuser when the men came for the woman who had been caught in adultery; stood with despised tax collectors, challenges us to do likewise.  Jesus is in no danger.  But people on the margins of our societies are in danger indeed.

We continually need choose between the way of the king and the way of the kingdoms of this world.  It is easy to use the language of piety, devotion, self-righteousness, common sense, and self-protection when we are angry and afraid.  We add a dash of blame-casting and scapegoating of someone who is “the other” and it even feels righteous.  But it is a righteousness at someone else’s expense.

Peter was angry and afraid so he lashed out.  We can be the same.  We too can face our version of obnoxious reporters.  But lashing out is exactly what Jesus’ perfect love came to cast out.

Is it just me?

Well, someone who I had thought was a friend just sent me two links that has me wondering if he really likes me.

The first is an article by somebody named Riley Dennis entitled “Are genital preferences transphobic?”  My never having heard of Ms. Dennis, who is, no doubt, an earnest young woman eager to help us all, probably says more about my being hopelessly out of touch than it does about her.  I dutifully read the article which is apparently one of many Ms. Dennis has written to help us navigate the sexual universe without being judgmental.  I did discover that I have a near-hopeless case of cissexism and the very fact I have no what that means tells me I am a bad person.

But the second link was even more interesting.  It was from some kind of a Netflix based show called “Bill Nye Saves the World.” which once again I have never heard of, although – frankly – if I was going to choose someone to save the world Mr. Nye is not high on my list.   Anyway, the clip sent to me was of a song and dance from the show entitled “My Sex Junk.”  It was an upbeat, preachy little tune that told me in no uncertain terms that I had no business judging how, when and with whom she, err, used the aforementioned junk.  Okay.

I guess my primary puzzlement came from the clear, if unspoken, message that now, after thousands of years, these heroic young people have had an Aha! moment that will lead us out of centuries of sexual ignorance.  They seem blissfully unaware that sex, in all it’s how, when and with whom glory, has been an obsession of the human race forever.  What is permissible and what is erotic has swung wildly back and forth across cultures and across the centuries.  Frankly, we Christians, in our own way have always been just as obsessed with sex and just as prone to preachy lectures on it as these young people and Bill Nye.

What surprised me however was that, as a slogged through the article and the video, my primary reaction was not shock or dismay but rather was how boring they made the subject of sex sound.  There was no mystery, no sizzle; just a sort of “who cares what, just do it and don’t bother me” tone to their moralizing message.

Now, I realize that I could sound as if I am moralizing about their moralizing and I don’t want to do that; even as they seem to moralize about what is wrong with my morals.  The foundation of Christianity is that I am a sinner and there is nothing within me that can do anything about that.  But I can’t shake the feeling that as these earnest people blaze the trail toward total sexual freedom they may find, if they ever get there, that it wasn’t worth the trip.

What Christians can learn from Bill O’Reilly’s departure.

Last night at our men’s Bible study we had a brief discussion about the departure of long-time media powerhouse Bill O’Reilly from FOX News.  Some who had been faithfully following his program for years were dismayed and sorry.  One or two were angry, saying that “the left” had sabotaged him.  Nobody expressed satisfaction that he had been shoved out.  Neither did anyone comment on the reason – allegations of a history of sexual abuse – that triggered the move.

I have no idea as to what O’Reilly did or did not do and, as most of the allegations against him are sealed as part of court settlements, I doubt I will ever know.  Nobody else, except for O’Reilly and his accusers, knows either but that has not stopped a flood or angry or smug commentators from weighing in.

The subject reminded me of a comment made a few months ago by a well-respected Christian woman who has been in the business world (in her case Wall Street) for decades.  In a discussion about another alleged abuser (Trump) she just grimaced, shrugged and said “When I started in business constantly hearing crude and lewd comments or being subjected to off-color jokes just sort of went with the territory.”  Her comment was a simple statement of fact, not an accusation, not a justification.  There was no more emotion in her statement than if she had said “back then we didn’t have the internet and smart phones.”

But what she had pointed out was that a shift in cultural morality has taken place.  When we Christians rail against “our immoral culture” we are missing an important point.  What O’Reilly found out, and we need to realize, is that in many ways the culture is every bit as moral, if not more so, than it was in the mythical golden age of national morality back when people my age were young.  Women today are, more and more, coming to understand that, no; crude and lewd comments do not need to go with the territory.

Frankly, as Christians, we should applaud this particular shift.  It moves culture closer to, not away from, the morality we have believed all along.  To be sure, in many ways our culture has drifted (one might say run) away from Christian morality.  When Christians say, as one did today, “This would never happen if these women had been ‘keepers at home’ as God intended.” it dismays me to no end.  So here are a few O’Reilly-based ideas for Christians:

  1. Women are in the workplace whether you like it or not. This trend will only increase.  Get over it.
  2. We should be the loudest and clearest voices to say, with no qualifications, that all workplace abuse is wrong. We should NEVER blame the victim.
  3. In a sea of moral changes that disturb us this is a golden opportunity; a place where cultural morality has shifted toward Christian ethics. Just imagine the look on the face of the secular feminist when she finds you standing shoulder-to-shoulder with her striving for the protection of women in the workplace.
  4. Situations like workplace abuse are great times to ask yourself what Jesus would actually do. You might well find that our Savior; who dined with sinners, spoke to “fallen women,” touched the sick, spoke with compassion to people who Jews despised and so much more will give you opportunities to do the same.