Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"Bo Duke" on Christianity

Today, the Fox News website's entertainment section had an interview posted with John Schneider, best known for playing Bo Duke on "The Dukes of Hazzard," and for being Clark Kent's dad in "Smallville." In the interview, he makes some remarks on his version of the Christian faith that are not only revealing, but serve to perfectly illustrate what's wrong with much of professing Christianity within the United States.

In the interview, Mr. Schneider speaks of still being "born again," and that one doesn't get "un-born again." That is certainly a true statement, assuming one has been TRULY born again. But here's the elephant in the room in these kinds of interviews. You can say you're saved or born again. But your life and obedience to the Lord are barometers of your true spiritual condition. You go on to read that John doesn't go to church much, and that his faith—and how he practices it—is no one else's business. He says that other Christians don't like him because he drinks whisky etc. His statements cause me concern, but not over the whisky. It goes deeper than that.

Drinking whisky has nothing to do with whether or not you're born again. While there are many evangelical churches who preach and teach total abstinence from alcohol, I cannot agree with them because the biblical record does not bear that out. The Bible condemns drunkenness, it does not condemn alcohol consumption. (And please, spare me the comments, cuts and pastes, and arguments - I've been there, done that, and I won't argue about it. Core salvific doctrine? Yes, I'll go to the mat on that. But these days, I have little energy to waste arguing over secondary doctrinal issues such as alcohol, smoking, etc. One's salvation does not hang on these matters. And please, don't take that to mean I am endorsing hitting the bars and taking up tobacco. There are very wise reasons to avoid both, namely one's health. But let's not go beyond Scripture and put conditions on salvation that are not there. As you grow in your faith in Christ, you may well elect to eschew alcohol and tobacco through the process of sanctification. But that's another subject for another time.

Having said all that, there is the issue of obedience to Christ, and how one views the Word of God. For true, saved Christians, the Bible is the revealed Word of God to His people, and it is our final authority in faith and practice. Whether the Bible's commands come directly from the mouth of God Himself—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—or via the mouths of His apostles and prophets (the doctrine of plenary inspiration), Christians are to be obedient to Christ, and to the commands laid down in the New Testament. We are not SAVED by commandment-keeping, but our willingness to be obedient to the commands of Christ is a clear indicator that we ARE saved. Jesus Himself declared, "If you love Me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15).

We are told in Scripture that we are ambassadors of Christ to a fallen world. We are commanded not to forsake assembling together as believers (Hebrews 10:25). Matthew 18 and Matthew 5 make it clear that we are accountable to God, and to other believers, for our behavior. The Apostle Paul in his letters to Corinth, Ephesus and Colossae couldn't be any clearer that our behavior matters. Our behavior is an indicator of our love for the Lord. If we don't think our behavior matters, and that our walk with Christ is not the business of the church corporate, we are sadly deceived. In fact, we are commanded to subject ourselves to the authority structure in the church—even being subject to one another. If there is one thing that Christianity is NOT, it is NOT a solo "auto-pilot" type of faith. It is relationship to God, and relationship to one another within the church. We cannot "go it alone." Period.

But this is the spirit of the age. Antinomianism is alive and well, much to the sorrow of the Lord and to discerning Christian believers. It's especially a problem in the United States because of our history. We have fought so hard for the freedom of the individual, and in one respect, that is a wonderful thing. But that does not cross over into the church, where believers are to be accountable.

I would encourage those who have adopted Mr. Schneider's view to think again, prayerfully, in light of the revealed truth of God's Word, and return to obedience. Our lives matter, and our behavior's impact on others matters. With our lives, words, and deeds, we bring the Lord either glory or shame. Let's live to bring Him glory, and to realize that we are not on this earth to serve ourselves.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Keep the Feds Out of Newsrooms!

If you read my blog much, you'll know that I believe in a free press. Pretty natural for an ex-radio guy. You'll also know that I get pretty angered by media bias. I was trained "old school," in that you report news objectively, leave your own opinion out of it, and let people make up their own minds.

The exception is the editorial, print or broadcast. If you're doing an editorial, then you may give your own opinion. So-called "advocacy journalism" belongs on the editorial page, not in the news report itself.

All this to say, I am very bothered by this report on the FCC's latest move. And Jay Sekulow's ACLJ isn't the only group bothered by it. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal expressing concern about this move by the Obama Administration.

I don't care what side of the political fence you're on. Journalists, news directors, television and radio stations alike should all object loudly to this. The government does have a legitimate interest in the public airwaves to make sure that certain public services are provided by broadcast stations. But they have NO business regulating content of news reports whatsoever. If Uncle Charlie starts this, I'd say toss him out of the station and litigate it later.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Pray for Ukraine!

Protesters face off against Ukrainian riot police in Kiev
For someone who has been to the former Soviet Union and has spent time fellowshipping with Christian believers there, watching the tragic events unfolding in Kiev is very difficult to watch.

Slavic Gospel Association has posted an update on the situation there, containing a prayer call and information from church leaders there. Please join me in praying for peace and calm to return to Kiev and other Ukrainian cities, and for the protection of our brothers and sisters there. Pray also that these events will lead to opportunities for Ukrainian churches to share the love, peace, and reconciliation only possible through saving faith in Christ.

Monday, February 17, 2014

GWB and the Troops

I know that the picture on the right depicting former President George W. Bush with returning troops has made the rounds, but I wanted to put it up here without making some of the political comments that get made when it's posted. (I know, you're all surprised) :)

But seriously, I love this picture. To me, it shows the measure of the man. All the more so because by all accounts, GWB was the same way with the troops when cameras were absent. To this day, he continues to go visit injured troops in Veterans' Hospitals and other locations, quietly and without fanfare. I believe he genuinely cares, and takes to heart what can happen when you have to give the order to send men and women into harm's way.

So on this President's Day, I pay tribute to George W. Bush, and his genuine love and compassion for those in America's armed forces.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Are You a "Son of Encouragement?"

Note: I borrowed the picture to the right from Compass Church because it fit so clearly the brief comment I wanted to make for tonight's post.

I've been convicted lately by some of the attitudes I carry inside—mainly displeasure with how things have gone over the past few months in my life. It's an interesting situation, because I verbally really try to be a Barnabas-like character, whom Luke describes in Acts 9. Barnabas was actually a nickname with the meaning, "Son of Encouragement." So many people, even within the Christian community, walk around these days carrying such heavy personal burdens. We need encouragement, but what if we were to compare how much encouragement we offer vs. complaints, criticism, nit-picking, if not downright hostility or resentment.

That makes me doubly annoyed with myself, because while I am encouraging verbally to others who need it, on the inside I am anything BUT feeling encouraged of late. I know better, and know first and foremost what the solution is. But to kick oneself in the pants and follow through...

We find our joy in the Lord Himself and in His indwelling Holy Spirit, and in the sure promises contained in His Word. Our joy shouldn't be tied to our personal circumstances, but it so often is. And how is it when I offer up encouraging words that may not be springing forth from the well of joy and encouragement in my own heart, because I am nursing a bad attitude.

I have to get my attitude adjusted. The key to overcoming this rather poison mindset is recalling thanksgiving and praise for what God has done for me. When one has a thankful heart, it's hard to be a glowerpuss. And when one overflows with thanksgiving, it is easier to hold someone up who is downcast, and reassure them that God has not forgotten them, that their circumstances do not limit the power of God to move in their lives, and to accomplish great things even though we might not see them right away.

We all have such power in our mouths. We can lift up, bring cheer, comfort, peace, admonishment, and yes, encouragement. Or we can bring the opposite qualities, which is being disobedient and untrusting of the Lord.

We have great examples in Scripture of character to emulate, and character to avoid. The world is a darkening place, and the light of the Gospel is needed more than ever. May it begin with a prayer and an encouraging word. Lift someone up, and remind them of just how loved they are by the Creator of the Universe.

Sometimes even words aren't necessary. Just a hug, a pat on the hand, even sitting silently beside a troubled one just listening. And then lifting them up in prayer, knowing that the prayer of a righteous man avails much.

None of this, of course, discounts the necessity that exists in the church from time to time of confronting and rebuking sin, and dealing with difficult subjects through the light of God's Word. But let's not forget that encouragement is also a ministry within the church. We need to engage in more of it, walking in the great, eternal, and everlasting compassion of Christ.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Little Country Church

Tonight's post is one of my little "musing" type comments based on the sight of a photo I took (to the right) and a fun old song.

If you remember the pioneering Christian country-rock band Love Song, you'll remember Little Country Church, originally recorded in 1972. The linked version is from their 1977 live concert tour album called "Feel the Love." I've had the privilege of seeing Love Song live on one of their sporadic reunions, and they did this particular song when I saw them.

What got me musing was looking again at the picture of this "little country church" a mile or so up the road from me. I've been a guest preacher there, and the pastor is one of the kindest, most tender-hearted elderly men I've ever known. I haven't seen him for a while, but he really sets a Christian example. His wife has been quite ill for several years and, the last I knew, was largely uncommunicative and could move very little. Yet even at his advanced age, he tenderly and compassionately cared for her at home while also shepherding his small congregation out in the rural Illinois boonies. His church is not a megachurch. Not even close. Most have probably never heard of it. Yet he faithfully goes on day in and day out in his ministry, loving the flock God has placed in his charge. He's not on television. He's not on radio. Outside of this little rural community and outside of his denominational fellowship, not many probably know his name. But I suspect his reward in heaven will be great.

Don't get me wrong. I don't intend to knock large churches. Nor do I think it necessarily wrong or a bad thing that a church has enough resources to reach out through radio or television. Having been a part of some megachurches in the past (before I moved out to the boonies), there are times when I wonder if spending all the money that gets spent on buildings and such could be put to better, more spiritually fruitful use, but that's a discussion that has gone on for years—internally and externally. But my point is—don't knock the little places. Don't sneer at the little white building with a tall steeple, a bell that gets rung every Sunday morning, with a small cemetery off to the side where rural families have laid their members to rest for generations. Real ministry happens in these little churches—wood painted white or any other color, brick, stucco, it doesn't matter. The true church isn't a building anyway. It's a spiritual building made up of saved, forgiven, reborn people with Christ at the head. Yet in these little out of the way Hallmark card, Norman Rockwell-scene church buildings, glorious things happen. Real people have real encounters with God. Lives are changed for eternity, even when no one hears about it or sees it on the news.

But our God who sees in secret will reward openly and generously, in His perfect time. So carry on, faithful pastor in your faithful small church. Let your light shine. Out in the rural darkness, it can shine very brightly!

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Alas, the Poor Olympics!

The 2014 Winter Olympics begin this week in the Russian resort city of Sochi. And sadly, it looks again like the Games will be the center of political spats instead of amateur athletes from many nations competing peacefully in the joy of sport.

First, here's a BBC story about the US banning toothpaste tubes and liquids on flights back and forth. Other news today included an American diplomat caught on tape dropping the F-bomb disparaging the EU, and I believe that was linked with the dispute between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine. Sounds like the Cold War all over again, doesn't it?

Terrorist thugs seem to like to ruin the Olympics in addition to politicians. I remember all too well when the Israeli athletic team was murdered in Munich in 1972 by the late Yasser Arafat's thugs. More recently, terrorists set off bombs in the Russian city of Volgograd, about 400 miles from Sochi—no doubt to make a political point and try to stir the pot prior to the beginning of the Olympics. If they had their way, they'd pull something off during the Games and within Sochi. By God's grace, any such plots will fail. Sad. Evil. Wicked. I could use a whole lot of adjectives. But I'm comforted by knowing God is still on His throne, and His justice will not be escaped.

One other thing I'd like to note before the Games begin. I really dislike the fact that professional athletes are being allowed to compete. The whole POINT behind the Olympic Games is that it was for AMATEUR athletes—the best of the best from participating countries. Why in the world the rules were relaxed to allow professionals to engage escapes me. It robs the Games of their specialness in my humble opinion.

I know that the Olympics being the circle of political intrigue is nothing new. During the Cold War, there was always a fight over U.S. and Russian judges scoring each other's athletes lower. In the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Adolf Hitler had a hissy fit when African-American Jesse Owens' star shone brightly and put a dent in Hitler's Aryan supremacy notions.

But it's sad. I'm an idealist, and I wish the Olympic Games could be held with and to the IDEAL behind them in their origin. Maybe someday.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Impeach, or Not Impeach?

I knew that President Barack Obama's State of the Union address would provoke a lot of comment and punditry. I didn't watch it this year. I just couldn't bring myself to sit through it, knowing fully what to expect, and in reading reviews of the speech, my predictions proved correct.

Right now, the pundits and politicians (mostly on the conservative side of the fence, but to their credit, SOME Democrats), have been mouthing the "I" word because of Obama's threat to use executive orders to bypass Congress when Congress won't give him his way. Let's look at the reality. A Bill Clinton redux.

Times have changed since 1974, when we had a Republican president threatened with impeachment, but Richard Nixon's actions while in office were so egregious that even Republicans felt it necessary to confront the president, telling him that he had lost their support, and if he didn't resign, he would be impeached and removed from office. Yes, the Democrats were enemies of Nixon, but there was enough love of the country left then that both parties recognized that something had to be done. Nixon was a Republican, but the Republicans did the right thing and for the good of the country, they pulled their support forcing Nixon's resignation.

Things have changed today. The country has become completely polarized, and all that matters these days is political expediency, power, and advantage. A Republican House of Representatives could very well pass articles of impeachment. But the Senate is in Democratic hands, and there is just no way that a conviction would ever happen in the Senate—not with the current makeup and number dynamics. Which is a crying shame, because you would think that Congressional Democrats would recognize the threat to their own Constitutional powers, and would yank the Executive Branch back into line. But no. All they see before them is political expediency. Obama is advancing goals that the Democrats have held for a long time, and they're hell bent on seeing them enacted, Constitutional procedure and rule of law be damned. (Note: this will eventually come back to bite them, as will Harry Reid's push-through of the "nuclear option," doing away with the 60-vote majority needed to move legislation past a filibuster.)

Yes, the House could impeach as they did Bill Clinton, and yes, it would be a mark on Obama's presidency. But this crop of political office-holders, especially Democrats, don't seem concerned at all about black marks. The end justifies the means. Impeachment would accomplish nothing unless removal from office would follow. That and that alone would rap the Executive Branch on the snout and rein them in. But it won't happen, so why bother?

I hope Republican majorities get elected in the 2014 mid terms. But I have a concern there also. The party establishment has taken to bashing the base—which they've really always held in contempt. They need our votes, but they don't want us really having any impact on their gentlemen's club in Washington. John McCain, Olympia Snowe, and Susan Collins are good examples of this mindset, and I am afraid, so is John Boehner. They will talk conservative, and vote conservative, until something really vital to the conservative cause comes to a vote and then they switch and vote with the Democrats. "Too extreme," you see. That is why so many of us thus far faithful, Republican voters are disenchanted, and are no longer considering ourselves Republicans, but conservative independents. We are TIRED of having our votes taken for granted, and then being kicked out of the table when the election's been won. We do not want to see the Bob Micheliszation of the party resurrected, when the GOP was a happy, content permanent minority that could cluck its tongue at the Democrats on occasion, but really pushing an issue to win? Oh, no. "That's unseemly and ungentlemanly. The Country Club would disapprove. These hillrod rubes need to follow our directions." And all the while, the liberal agenda follows the dialectic full force. Three steps forward, two steps back. Three steps forward, two steps back. But all the while, the liberal agenda advances steadily and ultimately unstoppably.

Can this change? Yes. But it will take a miracle. We'd better begin praying for one.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Where Have I Been?

As you no doubt notice, Joel hasn't blogged a lot in the past couple of years. While I make no money with The Seventh Sola—and recognize that it's been more of a personal amusement, hobby, and editorial outlet—I have always been of the mindset that once you begin something, you finish the project, carry on with it, or end it. I don't want to end The Seventh Sola, as there are numerous projects that I'd like to do someday using that name—not just the blog. I've hinted around there and there when I've had long absences from the blog, but haven't gone into a lot of detail. I do think it's only fair to the few readers I have left that I explain the sporadic nature of my posts in recent years. It wasn't what I intended when I first began blogging.

I have had several tell me that this blog could generate a lot more readership if I would do A, B, C, and D. It starts with keeping new content coming, promoting it aggressively, etc—and that is probably the biggest hindrance of all. The Seventh Sola blog has always been—more than anything else—a periodic hobby despite future dreams. When I first began in 2005, I wrote quite often. I've toyed with the idea of going through it and gleaning the "best" posts and turning it into a book. It hasn't happened thus far. Since 2008, various personal circumstances have led to me not having a whole lot of energy for blogging. In honesty, I have had "time" to blog, but the inspiration and energy has been lacking, unless something happens in the news that sparks me. That seems to be getting rarer with time.

I have been a lifelong bachelor and used to solitude. That changed in 2001 when my elderly mother and stepfather moved in with me. They were both in reasonably good health at the time, but having people in the house with you when you're used to being alone changes your dynamics. Our house burned down in 2003, and we rebuilt new, but that was a traumatic experience. Nevertheless, I carried on blogging. Then people began dying.

In 2008, I lost a beloved aunt in Arkansas. The following year, there was a change at my office where we lost the vice president of my division. He was not replaced, and I assumed a good chunk of that position's day-to-day responsibilities. In 2009, I lost my closest uncle and fishing buddy. There were other deaths in my family in this same time period. (Note: my family hails from the South, and Southern families in my mother and father's generation tended to be very large. Both families have longevity within them, except in the male line of my father's family, which tended to smoke and drink itself to death.)

In 2010, we lost my stepfather. In 2011, my radio co-host and best friend began getting ill, and my now 90-year-old mother began getting sick after my stepdad's passing. In the subsequent months, she had to have two pacemaker procedures (the first one was botched), she developed shingles, pneumonia, and a host of other maladies. I finally had to step down from doing my weekly radio program because I didn't want Mom left alone at night. Next, my radio co-host's family (very close to me) fell apart, there was a divorce, and he finally passed away this past May of kidney and heart failure. No doubt, a broken heart was a contributing factor. There have been other tragedies. I lost two more aunts, a cousin, and now another uncle and a cousin are battling cancer. All on Mom's side of the family. At Mom's age, she is sort of the "matriarch" of the rest of our bunch, and all these aunts, uncles, and cousins are like her children. When we lose one of them, I have my hands full keeping Mom's spirits up. She is a woman of great faith, but she (common with Depression era Southern women) tends to be very melancholic and of a worrying nature. She struggles with continuing to remain alive, when all these people she took care of as children are dying. I tell her that the Lord keeps her here for a reason, for His glory, but it doesn't change the real hurt and emotion she feels.

Add all this up together, and it's quite a lot. My day never really ends. My last real "vacation" was in 2007—my last fishing trip in Arkansas before I lost my uncle. And even those "vacations" really aren't, because the nature of what I do requires me to be plugged into my office. I say all this without intending complaint or "whining," and accept it as reality. I am thankful to have employment, and that my employment is connected with sharing Christ's love. I can be in ministry, and that's for what I live. With Mom, she is with me and I am caring for her, with the help of my neighbors. I wouldn't have it any other way. It is a privilege to give back to Mom for caring for me as a child. I am hopeful the Lord returns before I have to suffer the pain of losing her, even though I know that I will see her again in Heaven. But if and when she does go to be with the Lord, I will know that I have done my best to make her last years as comfortable and happy as I can make them.

But I am tired. Very tired. Overstretched, and it is a concern to me that being overstretched manifests in my work and relationships with others. My memory is taxed, and I forget a lot of things in the course of a week that need to be remembered, which others rightfully find frustrating. But so it is, and so it goes. It will not change in the immediate future. The Lord is allowing this for a purpose, and it's a good purpose. He is completing the work He began in me for His glory. That never was promised to be easy, it was never promised that it would be a rose garden. But I covet the prayers of my brothers and sisters as I walk through these uncertain days.

Someday, I hope to blog more and then turn these nine years of chicken scratching into book material. I want to record some music. I want to write on theological matters, and continue preaching and teaching Bible as God affords the opportunity. Someday. But for now, you will hear from me sporadically. I thank those of you who have hung in there thru the years, and kept watching for posts day by day. Tomorrow, Lord willing, I am going to comment on the subject of Barack Obama and the subject of impeachment, if my plans don't go awry.

In closing, I have read the biographies of C.S. Lewis. People romanticize great authors, and imagine them having sort of a fairytale life. In truth, Jack Lewis' home life was not an easy one. Yet God used this rumpled Oxford scholar—a former atheist—to have tremendous impact in the field of Christian apologetics, even though there are things in Lewis' personal theology with which I don't agree. We're all human in the end, in need of a loving, gracious, righteous Savior who died on the cross for our sins, and rose again from the dead for our justification. What we go through in this life helps prepare us for glory, and He is conforming us into His image.

Knowing that makes it worth it all.