Thursday, February 18, 2016

Trump and the Pope: What's Really Christian?

What a dustup today between Donald Trump and Pope Francis. My view? They're both wrong. 

There are several levels here, and the media doesn't help much in separating these levels and articulating the differences. It doesn't help that a good chunk of the professed church is biblically and doctrinally illiterate. But we'll try anyway. One level is theological. One level is political. As a Bible teacher, my MAIN concern is theological, and for a true Christian, your theology has bearing on everything else including your politics. I draw the "true" distinction because I must. Jesus Himself said that not everyone who says "Lord, Lord" is really His disciple. There are false teachers and false brethren who cause untold division in the body of Christ. 

The pope was wrong to say (provided he is being quoted accurately) that building a wall to stem the tide of illegal immigration is not Christian, or being a proponent of this makes someone not Christian. What defines a true Christian is something else entirely. True, saved Christians can and do disagree on how to handle illegal immigration. It would have been closer to accuracy if the pope had said, "I do not judge Mr. Trump's heart, but in my view as the head of the Catholic Church, I believe the ACTIONS he proposes are not Christian actions." There, you separate the act from the heart. But he did not do this. 

There are many errors mixed in this subject, and it's not just the pope making the errors. I don't have time to list them all. Many Protestant churches are seriously confused. Many do not divide Scripture rightly. They take things out of the Law of Moses - intended for national Israel AT THAT TIME in biblical history - and try to apply them to the church. The church is NOT under the Law of Moses. 

In addition, they take instructions intended for us as individual believers and try to use them to create coercive government policy. That's not to say government should be immoral or operate in an ungodly way. But when Scripture tells me to be charitable and to be a generous giver, that is a command for me as a believer to be generous with what He has given me, NOT a command to allow a government to forcibly take as much as it pleases from individuals' paychecks to achieve its Utopian ideals. 

I add to this that neither the pope or anyone else can look into the HEARTS of people and judge their motivations. We're commanded by the Lord not to do that. However, IN THE CHURCH, we can judge BEHAVIOR (including speech) and whether it measures up to what the Lord commands and expects in Scripture. When brothers and sisters in Christ fall into sin, they are to be confronted with it, and if they refuse to repent, that is where church discipline enters in, and possible removal from fellowship until proper repentance is shown. In Trump's case, he can certainly be called out on his behavior by Christian leaders, but responsibility for discipline lies in his church fellowship, assuming it's not apostate and still believes the Bible. There is a branch of Presbyterianism that has pretty much chucked biblical doctrine out the window. My friend Dr. Ron Gleason will bear me out here - he is a Presbyterian pastor with multiple earned degrees. 

Donald Trump is wrong when he says that a Christian leader/pastor/elder/theologian/teacher has "no right" to judge someone else's faith. Oh, yes they do. They have not only the right, but the DUTY to do so to protect the flock. They're not judging motivations, but are judging with "righteous judgment" as Jesus Himself commanded. They're evaluating whether the fruit of the professed believer matches what comes out of their mouths. The yardstick of measure is Scripture. When Donald Trump vociferously identifies himself as Christian and proud of it, well, words mean things. Ideas have consequences. If you identify as a Christian, certain things (including behavior) follow from that profession. Donald neither speaks or acts in Christian ways, and in fact, approaches near blasphemy at times. Speaking of the Lord's Supper as "eating my little cracker" is a flippant reference to a very serious event, and his statements on theology reveal that he really has little clue about even core Christian doctrine. His profane, at times obscene mouth and his ugly abusiveness of others who disagree with him does not reflect Christian behavior. There are grounds to ask questions about this, especially when Trump is USING Christianity to appeal for votes. Discernment, folks, DISCERNMENT!! 

it should go without saying, but the above is not intended to suggest that true Christians never sin, or never say things they shouldn't, or harbor attitudes they shouldn't harbor. As long as we are under this sun, in this body of flesh, we will wrestle with the "old man," or the "old nature." We can and do stumble in many ways (James). But a true Christian, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, will not be able to consistently LIVE this way - to live HABITUALLY like an unbeliever. When a true Christian sins, the conviction of the Holy Spirit sets in, and He is relentless. A true Christian is not going to sluff off the Christian life, dismiss God's Word, call evil good and call good evil, live in sin, and stay there like nothing's wrong. The Bible says PLAINLY that there are false brothers and sisters, and when they prove to be or if they will not repent of their sin, we are to "remove the wicked from among ourselves." (1 Cor 5) A true Christian from the heart seeks to love the Lord and love one another, and seeks to obey the Lord in all things for His glory. 

A bit more on the "right" of Christians to insist on truth in labeling. The church reserves the right to define itself, and that definition is clearly set forth in the Word of God. If someone from a pseudo-Christian cult (and there are many out there) comes out and identifies themselves as Christian, orthodox true Christians have EVERY right to call them out and warn others against them. Sun Myung Moon is not the second Christ. Jesus Christ is not the spirit brother of Lucifer or Michael the Archangel. The Apostle John describes the spirit of Antichrist and how to identify it. "Indeed, there are many antichrists now." Word of God said it. Not me. 

Now, will any of this be discussed in the media and on the talk shows? Not likely. They'll be sure to stay as superficial as possible and talk from as much ignorance as they can muster. And we will continue to be ill served as an electorate.

Friday, January 15, 2016

"Debates" - Media Misses the Point Again

First, a confession. I skipped last night's Republican debate. I watched all the other ones, and my long-standing complaint remains. These are not debates. They are glorified press conferences governed and controlled by the media. The media ask the questions THEY want to ask, and after it's all over, in their reporting they usually focus on the stupidest, most irrelevant moment of the night and make that the story for days if not weeks.

Case in point: The exchange between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz over New York City. Ted got asked a question about what he meant by saying "New York values." The questioner (Maria Bartilomo of Fox Business) is from New York, so she had a personal interest in the question. Anyone with a brain knows precisely what Ted was talking about, and even Maria herself this morning in a separate interview acknowledged that Ted meant the liberal social values of the "coasts" are far different than what gets derisively called "fly-over country" by the coastal elites. But they made it sound like Ted was attacking all New Yorkers when his intent was to talk about the difference between conservatism and liberalism. Ted should probably have not specifically said "New York" because that left an opening for attack, and you KNEW Trump would counter it with an emotional appeal to the events of 9/11.

September 11 had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH THE HEART OF THE ISSUE—CONSERVATISM VS. LIBERALISM. But it was an emotional appeal, and logical fallacy though it is, it tends to work. Naturally, the media loves this stupid stuff over substance, so this is all they'll talk about now for weeks and make it sound like conservatives hate New Yorkers. Sheer idiocy.

From what I have read and the clips I've seen, I've heard that the actual course of the debate did have some substance being discussed. I'm glad. It's too bad that most people won't hear about that. They'll just hear that Ted Cruz "attacked New York" and that Trump "handled it brilliantly."

I'll say it again and keep saying it. Get the media out of the debate business, and get a few college/university debate teachers to moderate all debates. Hold several of them, and have each one focus on one or two specific issues. Hold them according to classic debate rules, and let the candidates actually DEBATE ISSUES. Air them on C-SPAN, with C-SPAN holding all the rights to the audio and video. Release soundbite clips where they're exchanging on issues, and refuse to release the moments where one of them says a gaffe or makes a statement that everyone knows was not articulated well or conveys a meaning that the candidate did not intend. Because I guarantee you. The media will not play the substance. They'll always go for the flash point because it makes good TV and boosts ratings. Even worse, those moments make most people angry to the point that they can't hear the most important things being said by the candidates, and the media makes sure they'll hear them over and over again.

We get the leaders we deserve, I'm afraid. Perhaps its time that the American people begin doing due diligence and demanding better. Perhaps its time the American people convey a message to the media, especially business owners who have advertising accounts. Demand better. Demand a debate where we can hear detail and substance.

Probably won't happen. We're used to "bread and circuses" now, and too preoccupied with our own lives to really pay attention until it's too late.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Conservatives Beware of Trump

Taking my personal political hat off for the moment and putting on the objective analytical. And I'll probably shock my fellow conservatives for being critical of Fox News Channel, but I call it like I see it.
I find it curious that FNC head Roger Ailes and several FNC commentators have expressed alarm over Donald Trump. Why do I find it curious? I'm glad you asked!
In my humble opinion, Trump's candidacy is nearly entirely a Fox News promoted creation. I have a memory, folks. For several years - before this political silly season ever started - Donald Trump was a guest every Monday morning on Fox & Friends to opine on the deep things of the universe. He was also a frequent guest on Greta Van Susteren's show at night (Greta is or was a registered Democrat, BTW). The Donald has gotten A LOT of airtime through the years.
When the political season got closer, the talking heads interviewing him began asking him about the presidency and eventually the question, "Donald, are you going to run? Donald, why don't you run?" Yada yada. So he finally tosses his hat in the ring and if you believe the polls, he's running away with the ship. And now the FNC folks find it alarming? Come on. Seriously?
I know many of my friends - people I love and respect - are on board with Donald and are backing him. That does not change my love and respect for you. You have the right to back whomever you like. But I spent years in the media watching and covering this stuff. I've been a news and politics junkie for decades. Donald is running himself as the savior of the Republican Party and the conservative movement. I do not believe that he is. He is a chameleon. A very gifted chameleon who knows how to play the media game, but a chameleon nonetheless. His "conversion" to conservative principles has come all too recent for my comfort level. I honestly believe that A: if he wins the GOP primary, Hillary Clinton will be the next president, and B: if he wins the presidency, he will deeply disappoint the conservatives who trusted him and voted for him. He is NOT a movement conservative.
One other thought - for those thinking Hillary Clinton might be forced out of the race over her emails, Benghazi, or any other skeletons? Forget it. Not happening. Attorney General Loretta Lynch will never indict Hillary, even if the FBI steps forward and says she ought to be indicted. Remember the Clinton machine has long tentacles, and they are very adept at collecting compromising material on their opponents/would-be opponents.
I do hope and pray Election 2016 has a better outcome than the grim one I expect. That can happen if we as a nation obey Chronicles and repent.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Police Under the Gun

I wade into the subject of police shootings very reluctantly. But since I haven't waded into anything on the blog in more than a month, it might be a good idea to say something.

This is one of those "no win" subjects, from what I've been able to discern from the various media I've watched, read, etc. People have their viewpoints on this one, and they're not likely to be swayed by much I'd say. Especially those who have a personal, vested interest in the issue.

Police are human beings who have families and loved ones. The ones who get shot by police (or the ones who shoot at and sometimes hit/kill an officer have families and loved ones. There's plenty of grief to go around.

It should go without saying that we all know that, like any human institution, there are "bad apples" and bad characters. But with that given, most police officers I have known (and I've known some quite well and are personal friends) are dedicated to their professions. They hit the road every day and night never knowing for certain if they'll come home again. Their wives, husbands, and children know it too.

When someone gets shot and killed, it's a tragedy all the way around. If a police officer is forced to draw a weapon and fire, it's a tragedy. When someone does an "I shot the sheriff," it's a tragedy. But as tragic as these tragedies are, there is one factor that incenses me, and it always has. It's the individuals and activist groups - professional agitators - who have a vested interest in keeping gasoline on the fire. Instead of trying to calm things down, to bring peace and work things out in a rational balanced manner, they instead use the grief and anger of other people to make money, to get their faces on television, and use the issue as a bludgeon to get their way on a host of other matters. And they're usually left-wing matters.

I know how police are trained. When you are told to do something by a police officer, you do it. If there is an issue or rights violation of some kind, there are right, legal channels to address it later. But you comply. If you do not comply, it is THEIR JOB AND THEIR TRAINING to force compliance. That means if they have to take you down hard, they will take you down hard. And most of all, if you dare draw a weapon on them - gun, knife, baseball bat, anything else, your chances of being fatally shot just went up exponentially. This applies to any person, and ethnic makeup is irrelevant. I can guarantee you - if I were to pull a gun or a knife on a police officer, they would respond to the threat accordingly and do what they have to do to bring me under control or end the threat. Again, THAT IS THEIR TRAINING.

Outside of the "bad apples," whom I believe are a minority, most officers will do their best to try and de-escalate a situation and get it under control. They do not want to have to use their gun, their taser, their batons, tear gas, etc. They simply want you to comply with what you are told to do. Comply, and in the vast majority of cases there will be no problem.

I watch some of these very sad shooting incidents. Some of them have been genuine police abuse and that needs to be addressed. I'd say it often is addressed and the officers in question are fired and charged when warranted. In other cases, the eventual investigation vindicates the police, except to those who already have a ginned up ax to grind, and no exculpatory evidence will matter. They're in full lung protest mode and they won't stop screeching until they get their way. Nothing will satisfy them. Nothing.

How about teaching your children and teenagers NOT to pull firearms on a police officer? How about not rioting and setting businesses on fire? How about not going after police with a baseball bat or other weapons when they get called to your neighborhood because of some commotion? Good parenting and insisting your children obey the law would really help. Keeping families together and having a father and mother in the home and IN CONTROL would help.

The police need to examine and re-examine some things also. What are their policies about deadly use of force? What about when they are confronting a situation when a subject may have a mental issue? What methods short of lethal force can be used to bring the subject into custody for treatment or other adjudication? Police yourselves, and if you know you have a bad apple or two on your force, get them out of there. Now.

Now the elephant in the room. So much of this of late has been tied to racism. I've heard more of racism in the last seven years of the Obama Administration than I've heard in my life. And it angers me. At HIM. Instead of being a healer and a unifying figure, which we all wanted him to be and that he could have done so easily, he instead cannonballed right into his agitating, Alinskyite, "community organizing" methods and ripped the country up. He pitted people against each other instead of bringing them together.

I know I'll probably have the racist epithet thrown at me. Don't bother. I ignore it with the contempt it deserves. Even though I am a conservative and did not vote for Obama because of that - it was his far left liberalism that turned me off, not his race - I did have high hopes at first for his presidency. I was proud that America had made so much progress and elected an African-American to the highest office in the land. I didn't expect to agree with everything he did, but I had hoped that he would prove to be a moderating, unifying figure. On that, along with much else, he disappointed. His presidency is more of a tragedy for the African-American community than they realize. He's been such a disaster that there may be great reluctance to vote for another. Unless of course, minority demographics overrule and growing minorities vote for one SIMPLY BECAUSE they are a minority rather than whether they'll be a good president and good for the country.

I could vote for Dr. Thomas Sowell. I could vote for Dr. Ben Carson. I could vote for Clarence Thomas should he leave the Supreme Court and run for president. I could vote for Herman Cain. There are a number of great African-American leaders out there who would want more than anything else to heal the land and be a unifier. But instead, we got a radical activist with a pen and a phone who has done very little but agitate and be as divisive as he possibly could.

Barack Obama might be able to spend some of that energy he spends on attacking his opponents and wanting to rob people of their firearm rights and do some work dealing with the issues in the African-American community that are the root of many of the problems that exist. The breakdown of the family. High crime. Unemployment. And you can find quite a few African-American pastors and other leaders who will say that. These thoughts didn't originate with an ex-media occasional political and social commentator.

My heart just breaks tonight. For the black families who lost loved ones. For the police officers out there who have been falsely charged, and have to pay the price because one or two of their number proved to be unworthy of their badges. It breaks for the country because we continue to be torn apart.

Ultimately the Gospel is the answer. Repentance is the answer. Forgiveness is the answer. But that is a message more and more people don't want to hear. It will take a miracle of God to save this country. And this country may well have run out of the sand in its hourglass.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Christian Music Wars: Reprise?

This is a subject on which I've touched before, and wade into again with some reluctance. Among many things that will raise ire very quickly in church circles is the subject of music. And it doesn't have to be just music within the walls of the church building during the worship service to get a flame war started.

I first got a taste of the ugly side of Christian music when at a secular station of all things - a station where there was a Southern Gospel program that aired from midnight to 6 a.m. Since I had to do the shift on weekends and programming was pretty much left up to the person on air overnight within limits, I decided that at least one night a week ought to be given to what was then called "Jesus rock," "Jesus music," "Contemporary Christian, etc. Judging from the first couple of times I played any (and we're talking Keith Green, Second Chapter of Acts, Phil Keaggy, Love Song, etc - hardly heavy metal/Black Sabbath type stuff. It was all really rather tame) - oh, my. To some callers who expressed themselves with voices throbbing with outrage, you might have thought I WAS playing Black Sabbath! Burn this radio announcer heretic at the stake! Doesn't he know that only fiddles, steel guitars, and quartets are biblically anointed! For shame!

Get over into the church world, and you'll find the worship wars are alive and well, sadly. Rather than bringing the body of Christ together, recognizing we're all made differently and wired differently, people feud over what kind of music style is done during the service. The main focus of course should be worshipping and glorifying God, not our own desires and tastes, but you wouldn't know that by the snits some people can have. I long ago decided that I'm not going to waste what precious time and breath I have arguing over music style. It's a stupid argument (and don't waste my time quoting Bill Gothard - I do not agree with him. End of story). There are different music styles and have been since human beings strolled the planet. God isn't concerned about style. He's concerned about message and truth. And that actually brings me to my real subject.

I find as I get older my music tastes—which have always been rather eclectic—are broadening out. I had never been much of a country fan (with the exception of instrumental bluegrass). Southern Gospel quartets were not at all my cup of tea. I am appreciating and even enjoying them now, even as I can still pop on DeGarmo and Key's "Straight On" album and rock out. Again, the style isn't the issue to me and never has been. It's the message.

For the time being, I'm going to withhold names, but I've been watching a lot of Southern Gospel stuff with Mom lately. And as I've gotten interested in the groups, I have done some reading online including The Singing News, various websites devoted to the genre, etc. I've also seen a lot of different artists up sharing the same stage singing great old hymns together. And that's where some of the heated controversy is at the moment.

Some are very bothered by the fact that there are artists participating who, to put it kindly, don't seem to evince much of a Christian testimony in their daily lives. Their normal music on the country charts can be pretty raw from a moral/biblical point of view. But they share the stage and sing along with those who, from what I can tell, DO make every effort to live what they say they believe and keep a good testimony before a fallen world. The ones who are bothered say so, and sometimes in a very ugly spirit.

Others are concerned over doctrinal matters. And for me (and anyone who knows me knows this) - biblical truth is ALWAYS my first concern. The rule of thumb for me is that there are core, non-negotiable doctrines of the faith, and then there are secondary doctrinal matters where salvation is not an issue. But some make these secondary matters tests of fellowship.

One side says that they are "grace Christians," and that doctrine doesn't matter. Doctrine divides. Just love everybody and pay no attention to biblical truth. Hey, we're all singing about Jesus, aren't we?

The other extreme are "law, fire and brimstone Christians." They'll fight over anything and everything if it doesn't meet their particular test. You see, hear, and feel very little if any love or grace out of them. It's all judgment and condemnation. And between the two camps, it's a take no prisoners, ugly war of words and self-righteousness.

Where am I in all of it? I hope I strike a true, biblical balance. I believe in grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. I believe in the power of God to change lives through the Gospel—any life. The prodigal can still come home in repentance and find love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

But. However. And you knew that was coming, didn't you? Extremes tend to go too far in both directions. A disturbing trend (it's been largely in the Contemporary Christian camp but in recent years has become an issue in Southern Gospel) has been toward the heresy called antinomianism. Things go so far over on the grace side that no repentance is expected or even desired. Lifestyle and speech doesn't matter. Live anyway you want and talk anyway you want. Just as long as you "love," behavior doesn't matter. Doctrine doesn't matter. Just unify and get together. Unity at any price. Unity over truth. No way, Jose.

I disagree. Vehemently. TRUTH is what unifies. The ones sowing division are the ones bringing in false doctrine and teaching. Pay close attention now. What is the greatest commandment in Scripture? Loving God. The second greatest commandment is loving one another. What qualities does biblical love of God and one another have? The answer is in 1 Corinthians 13. "Love does no wrong." In other words, if I love God, I will not want to sin against Him. If I love others, I will not want to sin against them or lead them into sin, or tell them a lie about biblical truth. True biblical love and the kindness of God leads us to REPENTANCE. Turning the old life behind, and walking forward into newness of life. "Shall we sin that grace may abound? God forbid!" (That's Bible talking there)

A faith and a belief without repentance is not a genuine faith. When you believe the biblical Gospel—that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and rose again from the dead for your justification—it changes your life forever. That is not to say you won't battle the old nature. You sure will, and will continue to battle it until glory. But the new nature created in you at salvation (with the indwelling Holy Spirit) wants to lead you into a deeper walk with Christ, and sanctification - OUT of sinful lifestyles and behaviors that grieve the Lord. You do not WANT to live and talk in ways that grieve the Lord or compromise our witness.

Above all, we dare not compromise the Gospel. If we are in Christian music ministry, and we are unequally yoked to anyone who denies the biblical Gospel, its a problem. A big one. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone, and to God alone be the glory. Any "gospel" that adds human works to salvation is a false Gospel. And if we give false doctrine a public platform or seem chummy with those who espouse it in a ministry setting, we will be held accountable for it.

It gets a bit knottier when we mix the secular and sacred. I have never thought that being a Christian meant that you couldn't do secular music or enjoy secular music. You do, however, need to be selective about your listening choices. A Christian musician is not mandated to HAVE to only do Christian music. We need lights in the world, and I rejoice that many are out there. Christian singer David Phelps put it well, that the older we get, we realize the "secular" and "sacred" are more intertwined than we realize. Martin Luther and John Calvin realized that centuries ago too.

But what about those who are actually in Christian music, and use their music as a platform for ministry and reaching others for Christ? It is there that you really have to evaluate what you are doing and why. It is there that you have to be certain you are not compromising the truth, and giving "hearty approval" to things that Scripture condemns (Romans 1).

The big driver in all of this ought to be love. Real, biblical love. Love for truth. Love for God. Love for one another. And if the love we exhibit is real, it will not be the type willing to leave people in sin or sluff it off. Sooner or later, we're going to have to get to the Gospel and the need for a Savior. And that means that the sin issue and lost state of those who do not know Christ will have to come up. Eventually the claims of Christ on everyone must be faced and answered. If we do not end up on that road, in essence we are wasting the talents God gave us for a purpose.

I can hear the comments now. "You won't win anyone by condemnation! You can only win people by 'loving' them!" People want the warm, fuzzy, friendly Jesus who carries lambs, not the Alpha and Omega Jesus who will return one day as Judge. We can't pick what divine characteristics of Jesus we like and ditch the rest like a smorgasbord. We must take Him as He revealed Himself to be.

To be sure, if all people hear out of us is law, condemnation, death, and salivating over Hell, it will be a turnoff. They need to see our love, our kindness, our good deeds. They need to see Christ's love in action in us and through us. And that actually helps give us the opening and right to speak, although I hate using the word "right." We have the right already because we've been commissioned by the Master. I'm talking about the practical application of that right. People will know we are Christians by the love we demonstrate toward one another. But that is only one side of the coin.

Let's strive for obedience. Let's strive to be fully orbed believers who tell the whole truth, not just part of it. In the right heart and in the right spirit. Be a Daniel. Do not compromise. But let your love show in what you do and say. Otherwise, all we are leaving is cotton candy, which tastes sweet at first, but melts fast and leaves a bad aftertaste.