Categories
The End of Many Books

Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos

The only time it would be better to read this book than RIGHT NOW is to have read it long before now. The text is a few hundred years old, but the biblical principles for recognizing tyrants and then how to resist them as Christians are evergreen and ever needed. If the church, and her shepherds, and her members, understood this book perhaps our republic wouldn’t be crashing so hard.

Living in 2021 requires wisdom, and courage, and this is a book that is protein for building those kinds of muscles.

4 of 5 stars

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

This Is Your Vote

There must be a way for an ostrich not only to not bury her head in the sand but even to enjoy the ocean. Ostriches apparently don’t hang out at the ocean, but since they are always burying their head in the sand, work with me for sake of the illustration. Think of how much she’d miss if she buried her head every time a wave came to shore. That’s what waves do. Sometimes you need to move your stuff so it doesn’t get soaked. Most of the time, once you have a little experience under your beach towel, you realize that you don’t need to freak out. You can enjoy enjoy the swells.

Like an ostrich I suppose, part of me would prefer to talk about other things, because there are other things. Yet also I don’t want to ignore this day (as in, bury my head in the sand), because this is the day the Lord has given.

Life is more than politics, and it is wearisome to be told every four years that “this is THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION OF OUR LIFETIMES! But for real this time! I mean it!”

Let me confess to you my default sin, as I can see it, when political seasons rush toward the shore, and then exhort you to confess your sins, whatever they may be.

My go-to sin is self-righteousness, followed closely by lazy hope.

Christians are the ones who have a standard by which to criticize, and you’d think criticism was a spiritual gift based on how clever we present our criticisms to be. Unbelievers criticize, but they have to borrow values from somewhere. Yet the same standards that Christians apply toward candidates (and legislative issues) in an election season also tell us how to behave, as in, don’t fear, and don’t judge your brothers. Don’t snuggle into your blanket throwing snark from the bleachers against how everyone on the field is doing it WRONG.

Perhaps you’ve seen the political post by John Piper last week, or any number of the responses to his post. I am very thankful to God for His use of Piper in my life, especially for sake of my affections as a disciple of Christ. And I’m not judging his convictions, but his argument is worth examining.

He is baffled at Christians who claim you can never vote for a Democrat with sin like Biden, and admonishes those Christians for supporting/promoting, or at the least ignoring, a Republican with sin like Trump. Piper points out that arrogance kills people, even if it looks different than how abortion kills people.

And yes, Nebuchadnezzar took credit for his kingdom and God judged him for it. I could vote for Trump, and if the day after his second inauguration, let’s say, God punished the President with a few years in the wilderness growing long fingernails and eating grass like a beast, I could also acknowledge that judgment as just.

But urging people not to vote for those who applaud abortion and applaud same sex marriage and applaud gender transitions for eight year-olds, all positions typically within the Democratic party, does not mean supporting all the Republican behaviors.

Piper concludes that he won’t vote for either Biden or Trump. That’s fine. But then, in a word to pastors, he asks the following:

“Have you been cultivating real Christians who see the beauty and the worth of the Son of God? Have you faithfully unfolded and heralded “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8)? Are you raising up generations of those who say with Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8)?

“Have you shown them that they are “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11), and that their “citizenship is in heaven,” from which they “await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20)? Do they feel in their bones that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21)?

“Or have you neglected these greatest of all realities and repeatedly diverted their attention onto the strategies of politics? Have you inadvertently created the mindset that the greatest issue in life is saving America and its earthly benefits? Or have you shown your people that the greatest issue is exalting Christ with or without America? Have you shown them that the people who do the most good for the greatest number for the longest time (including America!) are people who have the aroma of another world with another King?

I highlight these paragraphs not only because they stood out to me, but because others have also called them “the most important section.” And while they are, in many ways, good questions, they also promote a binary assumption. Piper doesn’t like being pushed to choose between either Biden or Trump. But I don’t like being pushed to choose between caring about spiritual things or voting for the good of my family, my neighbor, and nation. Piper doesn’t like two-party assumptions, I don’t like dualism. Isn’t it possible to cultivate “real Christians who see the beauty and the worth of the Son of God,” Christians “who have the aroma of another world with another King,” who then are the very disciples who honor Christ in this world and through their stewardship of political opportunity, rather than burying their heads in (supposed heavenly) sand?

You not only get to vote for governor and president (and more), but you get to vote, so to speak, for who you want to be. Discernment is good, and yet it can be used as a cover for all sorts of smug attitudes and lazy-righteousness. Wisdom is a skill for living, not a skill just for lazily laughing at the lazy. This is your life. Don’t you want to be known for more than how quickly you can see the problem with everything?

I would like to default to doing hopefully rather than to deriding. This is my life. I want to try to be wise and do something and be joyful and trust God and love my brothers at the same time. This is my “vote.” It’s easier to appear clever with critical words rather than hopeful ones. I want to vote for being hopeful.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, all those who practice it have good understanding” (Psalm 111:10). Let’s be those who practice it.

Categories
Every Thumb's Width

Trump Is Not Teflon

In the summer of 2016 the four elders at our church had a public discussion about the presidential election. I was an unswerving #NeverTrumper. This was not because I found Mrs. Clinton more appealing; both were appalling. I planned to (and did) write in my vote that November.

Nothing tempted me to appreciate Mr. Trump. I believe that good leadership requires good character, and, at that time, there were as many reasons to trust Trump as there were reasons to keep watching The Apprentice, meaning, none. His brash, 3rd grade playground vocabulary, his boasting in immorality and adulteries, combined with his lack of understanding of various policies shown in the Republican debates and his willingness to mock and berate his competition gave me quite enough evidence to commit to not give him any support.

Now, four years later, I have been very surprised by, and grateful for, God’s use of President Trump. While I think Trump has promoted noxious patterns of political discourse (and tweeting) that are likely to be tolerated for generations, he has also turned out to be the most pro-life president we’ve had, in public and by policy. He appears to have rolled back more government regulations with his power and provided a little more breathing room for free-ish capitalism. He’s come out in favor of school choices, and even talked about churches as essential.

He has also survived, if not thrived, through virtually every accusation thrown at him. It is not because he’s teflon.

A teflon coating makes it harder for the egg-guts to stick. A leader with integrity may be likened to a teflon pan; slander doesn’t cling, at least not as easily. Some accusations against some men are just hard to believe. Charges against them slide off into the draining dishwater. Vice President Mike Pence seems to be more like this.

But, if Mr. Pence was trying to accomplish something, would he be able to survive the relentless rotten scum that our modern media is committed to pitch? The Kavanaugh hearing gave a picture of the skeletons that reporters and politicians are diligent to invent. These stories/lies cause damage because they gain traction, they gain traction because they are interesting, and they are interesting because men who care about not being canceled have to fight.

Trump is much more like a cast-iron skillet: the more grease the better. He seems to like the grease. He almost begs for it.

Who cares any more about his personal scandals? It’s not because there aren’t any, Trump just doesn’t seem bothered, and where’s the fun in that? Fake news has upped their fiction levels to international intrigue, but Trump just thanks them for providing another reason for him to talk into the microphone.

Here is a serious question for my Christian friends: what person in a “high position” (1 Timothy 2:2) has been used by God to bring about this many common grace blessings for a “Christian” nation, while appearing to turn more conservative amidst the accusations? Who do we know that could handle not just the scrutiny, but the slander of the liberal media, and still keep cooking the bacon?

Maybe, and I mean maybe, Kanye? Ha.

This is very humbling for Christians. God is protecting the remnants of our liberties through a man that is happy to lie and cheat, or at least BS, his way to whatever he wants, and we keep being blessed.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Important Elections

It’s exciting that it’s almost time for elections. Our state’s primary voting is due Tuesday, and there’s a sense of optimism that maybe enough of “the people” are exasperated enough to vote for change.

Our republic system of government, wherein we have the opportunity (in most cases) to elect our leaders, is a fruit of freedom, and that freedom is a fruit of free men, and free men are a fruit of the gospel. It’s not that voting is a Christian principle per se, but representative authority is God’s own idea.

Plus, to be able to participate in the election of those representatives, and persuading others to vote, may feel a little less futile. There is a sense of possibility for better among us on the cusp of elections. Of course, it seems likely that some of the reason why it’s so crazy is because some powerful people are trying to mess with the elections. Apart from repentance, we certainly deserve more judgment, no matter how we vote.

But the two most important elections occurred before our lifetimes. If you are a believer, God elected You to salvation. Who can bring a charge against you now (Romans 8:33)? The governor can only ruin your business, and your breathing, but he can’t ruin your eternal reward and inheritance. The most important election is when God elected His Son to the throne. Loud voices declare the reality in Revelation 11:15, and God’s people have been singing about it ever since Psalm 2.

Kiss the Son lest He be angry. He will inherit the nations. God elects everything that happens, and this is good news. Worship Him in His sovereignty, and continue to put your hope in Him, even as you put the marks on your ballot.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Just Say No

It is not cute when a two year-old tells his mom, No! Whether the theater is around the dinner table with only family to watch, or in Walmart with all the other customers in the frozen food aisle, resistance to his mom is wrong.

It is also not cute when a parent won’t say, No! I don’t necessarily mean when a mom won’t say no to her toddler, or teenager, but when mom won’t say no to herself, her bitterness or her gossip. I don’t necessarily mean when a husband won’t say no to his wife, though all these things are connected. I am mainly referring to when the man of the house barely controls himself, his lusts or his anger, let alone his dependents.

Though it comes at the end of the list, self-control is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Self-control is required to run in order to receive the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Without self-denial there is no way to follow Christ.

We are talking on this Lord’s day about our Christian responsibilities when it comes to our civil neighbors (with a sermon from Psalm 2 and a seminar on politics in the afternoon). We need maturity and wisdom, for sure. There are large problems that challenge simplistic solutions. But we will not be capable of policy decisions and laws until we can say No to our own flesh. We must say no to our lusts, no to our envy, no to our greed, no to our discontent.

[T]hose who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24)

In 1798 John Adams said that “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Those morals include knowing when to say yes and when, and to whom, to say no. Only those kind of people know when to make a law, when to laugh at one and get rid of it.

Categories
The End of Many Books

Antifragile

by Nassim Taleb

I heard about this book from Doug Wilson’s recommendation, and I recommend that recommendation. As for the book itself, I loved it. I might say I needed it even. 

The categories of Fragile, Robust, and Antifragile are a worldview trifecta. Life on earth is volatile. Volatility is unavoidable and often unpredictable, especially when it comes to worst cases. Either a man will fear, prepare to survive, or look forward to the volatility (up to a point, of course) in order to get better. 

“You want to be the fire and wish for the wind.” 

There are some technical formulas I didn’t follow, and maybe Taleb likes charts a bit much for my taste. He also believes in, and resents the brutality of, evolution. Evolution doesn’t bother me, at least on the macro level, because I don’t think it’s true. Taleb also gets snarky at times. That doesnt’ bother me either because, well, I like snark. 

But the “nonsissy concept of antifragility” is wisdom gold. It applies to emotions, health/medicine/exercise/food, money/economics, education/schools, politics/government, technology, suffering, discipleship/pastoral ministry and counseling. I’ve already started a second read of the book with the elders at our church.

5 of 5 stars

Categories
Bring Them Up

Fiction as a Political Weapon

The second Raggant Fiction Festival is less than two weeks away. This year’s theme is: Fiction as a Political Weapon

I get to lead off the day comparing two dystopian imaginations, That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis and 1984 by George Orwell. There’s a new children’s track this year for kids ages 3-10. I wrote a short story that I’m going to read for them in the afternoon. Check out the festival page for the full schedule and titles of the talks. Registration closes next Monday.

Categories
Every Thumb's Width

Well, is it or not?

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, at least for myself to reference in the future. It’s from Wayne Grudem’s book, Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture, pages 64-65.


IS THE UNITED STATES A CHRISTIAN NATION?

(1) Is Christian teaching the primary religious system that influenced the founding of the United States? Yes, it is.


(2) Were the majority of the Founding Fathers of the United States Christians who generally believed in the truth of the Bible? Yes, they were.


(3) Is Christianity (of various sorts) the largest religion in the United States? Yes, it is.


(4) Did Christian beliefs provide the intellectual background that led to many of the cultural values still held by Americans today? (These would include things such as respect for the individual, protection of individual rights, respect for personal freedom, the value of hard work, the need for a strong national defense, the need to show care for the poor and weak, the value of generosity, the value of giving aid to other nations, and respect for the rule of law.) Yes, Christian beliefs have provided much of the intellectual background for many of these and other cultural values.


(5) Was there a Supreme Court decision at one time that affirmed that the United States is a Christian nation? Yes, there was, but that wasn’t the issue that was under dispute in the case. It was in an 1892 decision, Church of the Holy Trinity v. the United States, 143 US 457 (1892). The ruling established that a church had the right to hire a minister from a foreign nation (England), and thus the church was not in violation of an 1885 law that had prohibited hiring “foreigners and aliens … to perform labor in the United States.” The court’s argument was that there was so much evidence showing the dominant “Christian” character of this nation that Congress could not have intended to prohibit churches from hiring Christian ministers from other countries. It seems to me that here the Supreme Court was arguing that the United States is a “Christian nation” according to meanings (3) and (4) above. There is a long history of significant Christian influence on the United States.


(6) Are a majority of people in the United States Bible-believing, evangelical, born-again Christians? No, I do not think they are. Estimates range from 18 to 42% of the US population who are evangelical Christians, and I suspect a number around 20% is probably more nearly correct. In a 2005 poll, Gallup, after doing a survey designed to find how many Americans had true evangelical beliefs, came up with a figure of 22%. In addition, there are many conservative Roman Catholics who take the Bible plus the official teachings of the Catholic Church as a guide for life, and a significant number of them have a personal trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. But even if these groups are added together, it does not constitute a majority of people in the United States.


(7) Is belief in Christian values the dominant perspective promoted by the United States government, the media, and universities in the United States today? No, it is not.


(8) Does the United States government promote Christianity as the national religion? No, it does not.


(9) Does a person have to profess Christian faith in order to become a US citizen or to have equal rights under the law in the United States? No, certainly not. This has never been true. In fact, the Constitution itself explicitly prohibits any religious test for public office:

No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States (Article VI, section 3).

In conclusion, how can we answer the question, “Is the United States a Christian nation?” It all depends on what someone means by “a Christian nation.” In five possible meanings, the answer is yes. In four other possible meanings, the answer is no. Because there are that many possible meanings in people’s minds (and possibly more that I have not thought of), I do not think the question is very helpful in current political conversations. It just leads to arguments, misunderstanding, and confusion.

Categories
Every Thumb's Width

This Election Is a Disaster (so far)

I already tweeted a link to this, but “Two Kinds of Voting, Two Kinds of Disruption, and Two Kinds of Unrighteousness” should be read in its entirety. Here’s just one of many fantastic points:

the act of voting is also a civic duty that tells people what we think America means, what we want to teach our kids about moral leadership, what face we want America to present to the world, and what sort of candidates we want more of in coming years.

Senator Sasse is dangerously close to getting my write-in vote whether he wants it or not.

Categories
Every Thumb's Width

Mr. and Mrs. Grumpybottoms

Yesterday I wrote that the sins in our culture are not worse than the original sin in the Garden of Eden. That said, our sins are bad and getting worse, or they at least have better marketing. What can we do? Are we supposed to do anything? Who is the “we”? The church? Individual Christians? American citizens? Pastors? Parents?

Within the first twenty-four hours after the Supreme ruining on marriage, the most common response I saw among evangelical Christians went something such as, “We don’t care about politics, we still have the gospel.” Of course, if we really didn’t care about politics, why do we need to encourage ourselves that we don’t care? Is it because we lost? If the vote had been 5-4 the other way, would we care then? Would we have praised God for the (temporary) victory…inappropriately? Were we wrong to be praying for the decision before it was made? Are we not supposed to pray for our political representatives and judges, or are we just to pray that they would get saved? Even that requires care, though, because if God did save them, wouldn’t we expect them to leave their non-gospel jobs so that they could pray more…like us?

If Genesis 1-3 is true, then it is a false dilemma to say that we can only care about the gospel or we can care about our relationships and responsibilities on earth. We are not supposed to trust politics or politicians to save us, but neither do we trust gospel presentations to save us. We trust in Christ, presented to us in the gospel. And if a group of people trusted Christ, wouldn’t they want to interact with one another in a way that honors Christ? Isn’t that fundamental to government and law, that we will be rewarded or punished according to how we love one another?

Gospel and government are not an either/or. Christians put them in opposition because they don’t understand either of them. Gospel and government are a both/and, or better, a first then second, or better yet, a first and fifth (with family and work and church spheres in between). My investment in the gospel is an investment in government (though not always immediately visible, just as my investment in breakfast for my kids is an investment in my grandkids, though it’ll take some time for that to work out), and my investment in government is only worth what I’ve gotten from the gospel. I want a man to confess that Jesus is Lord. That has consequences that include his house, and his local court house, and the White House.

It isn’t the church’s job (or authority) to run everything. A pastor shouldn’t be the President or be the boss of the President. But it is the church’s job to worship God, and worship changes people. It is the church’s job to make disciples with dual citizenship who love their responsibilities to both countries. As those disciples are going, they should see all the world under the rule of Christ. Disciples should think and vote and tweet and talk with their neighbors. If a disciple made a disciple, and both of them were being transformed as they worshiped Christ, and then one of those disciples became a Senator or a Judge or a President, then that disciple should do his work under Christ and for Christ.

So we should do something. What should we do?

We should see fit to acknowledge God.

This is the first thing that the Bible teaches us to do in Genesis 1-3. This is the first problem Paul listed about a crumbling culture in Romans 1. We don’t work backwards from the fruit to the root, in our case, pouring all our energy into appealing to reverse the Supreme Court’s hauteur. When we see that the fruit is bad we need to get down to the root.

Christians have failed to acknowledge God everywhere. Unbelievers don’t, sure. But believers certainly should. We acknowledge God for a couple hours on Sunday morning, and maybe for a few devotional minutes during the week. But we tend to acknowledge Him as Lord of the Church, not the Lord of heaven and earth. We still tend to ignore the antithesis and accept neutral spaces. For example, the most subtle yet despicable part of my public schooling was the constantly unspoken lesson: who cares if God is there? But anyone who does not see fit to acknowledge God loses his mind (is given over to a “debased mind”). This can’t help but make a mess of business, family, education, and government. Believers must continue to be transformed by the renewal of their minds.

The root of homosexuality, and the root of our cultural loss of common sense, is unbelief. Unbelief doesn’t just affect personal morals, it affects public enforcement of morals. Christians are the first ones who need to believe that believing in God affects everything.

We should adorn the doctrine of God.

Paul wrote this phrase about adorning the doctrine of God our savior in Titus 2 to slaves.

Bondservants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. (Titus 2:9–10)

The message of the chapter up to this exhortation to slaves has been about doctrine. Starting in verse 1, Paul exhorted Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine.” Then in verse 10 he describes a life purpose to “adorn the doctrine.” Doctrine ought to be beautified by behavior. Decorate the doctrine by your deeds. The following paragraph reasons further about what the doctrine of grace does.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11–14)

Grace trains us for living godly lives, grace purifies a people, grace makes us zealous for good works. In light of verses 1-10, those “good works” include older men having character, older women teaching younger women about being wives and mothers, younger men being self-controlled. It’s largely an in-house, among family work. Even slaves should slave in such a way to make the doctrine look good.

There was a time when more people in our country identified themselves as Christians. But, while many have been faithful, many others have not made the gospel look good. How many kids have grown up in “Christian” homes wanting to get away from, not be like, their parents? Instead of seeing that the problem is sin, they misdiagnose the problem to be “traditional” marriage.

If we do not want to be Mr. and Mrs. Grumpybottoms, the conservative cranks who always rain on Rainbow Parades (there is irony there, right? And you saw the picture of the White House lit up with the colors of the rainbow, not even realizing how the symbol they’ve chosen commemorates the fact that God promised not to flood the earth for such debauchery), then we must have something in addition to showing sinners that sinfulness is wrong. We must tell and show them how obedience to God is better. We are not saying No for No’s sake. We are saying No for Yes’s sake, but God gets to decide what is No for sake of Yes, something He started to do in the Garden. We ought to be able to give an account for our criticism beyond the fact that we are good at being critical Christians. Unless we give an account of God’s world from our joy in it, we are just condemning others for not following our course of unhappiness.

One of the observations about the dark lunacy of homosexual “marriage” is that it cannot reproduce itself. That’s obvious. Homosexual partners still want to be considered a family, and even do “family” things such as raise children. Where are those children going to come from? Heterosexual spouses, and some Christian spouses included, have made it so that it will be a long time before demand surpasses the supply of available kids. There will be plenty to adopt because we won’t live and love righteously as man and woman. Men have taken dominion to fight the physical pains of labor but not the spiritual judgment that keeps parents from caring about, or being able to care for, offspring. Homosexuals don’t care about where kids will come from because they know that we don’t care.

Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cynics. You are campaigning for the laws of the next generation, and you are more effective, one way or another, than any marketing guru could dream.

We should announce the good news of forgiveness and freedom in Jesus Christ.

Were it not for grace, we would have more obvious sins than we do, whatever they might be. Grace opened our eyes to see sin, to seek forgiveness, to believe in Jesus as Savior, and to learn obedience to Him. All of it is by grace. None of it is deserved.

Grace is how we got all the good we have. Grace is the answer for everyone. Grace does not deny the need for grace; it calls sin, sin. It delivers from wrath, and it also straightens the perverse, brings dignity out of dishonor, restores what was being destroyed. Grace offers covering for guilt. And grace gives meaning to life, grace makes us free under God. Peter reminds us,

you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18–19)

We who know Genesis 1-3 know the nature of man. We know better than men why they act self-destructively. We also know that every man will give an account to his Creator, and that his Creator offers salvation through the sacrifice of His own Son on the cross. The good news of Jesus Christ is that all who repent and believe, who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. This must be our message to men blinded and enslaved by sin.