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The Universe: I Can’t See My House From Here

Monday, August 6th, 2007

Back from vacation, I went stargazing with Theosebes. I recommend it to anyone who is in need of a little perspective.

A Month of Repose

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

I’ve been out of the picture for the last few weeks, but I’m back and ready to start posting again.

I could excuse myself saying that I’ve been without an office for the last four months, and I have been very busy for the last few weeks, moving into my new space. But the truth is that I just haven’t felt like writing. I guess you could call it a slump.

I hope that my readers haven’t given up on me. Starting this week, Truth and Repose will return to its old form of two or three posts per week. Repose is alright for awhile, but it’s time to get back to the truth.

Freedom and Morality

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007

Alexis de Tocqueville was a French nobleman who visited America in the 1830s. Because he was an outsider looking in, Tocqueville was able to perceive how America could be so generous with freedom: Christianity restrained the American people from abusing their freedoms and disciplined them to use them wisely. “Despotism,” he said, “may be able to do without faith, but freedom cannot” (quoted in Jerry Sittser, The Will of God as a Way of Life, p. 58).

Over the last several decades, America has been trading its Christian values for secularism and worldly pursuits. The results are devastating. We no longer possess the restraint that is necessary for freedom to function in a way that benefits those who enjoy it. Freedom demands responsibility, and we have acted very irresponsibly.

Throughout the Iraq War, George W. Bush has reminded us of the need for people to be free. Freedom was one of the arguments given for invading Iraq. Saddam Hussein was a ruthless tyrant who needed to be removed. His power was suppressing the freedom of the Iraqis, causing great suffering. The United States stormed Iraq, removed Saddam, and set up a democracy, but people are still dying. They are free; why are they still suffering?

In a press conference in 2004, the President said, “I believe that freedom is the deepest need of every human soul.” While this conviction was founded on good intentions, it’s wrong. Freedom is not the deepest need of every human soul. That distinction belongs to God. He is our greatest need; only he can satisfy our deepest longings. We were created by him for his glory (Isa. 43:7). We have been wired to search for God in the hope that we might feel our way toward him and find him (Acts 17:26-27). The fear of the Lord is the only thing that makes man whole (Ecc. 12:13). If the Iraq War has taught us anything, it is that nothing, not even freedom, can replace our need to serve and worship our Creator.

The problem is, you cannot invade a country and force its inhabitants to submit to Jesus Christ. It’s been tried before, with horrific results. The human heart, by design, cannot be forced into bending against its will. The rest of the body can be beaten into submission, but not the heart. The heart must choose its own course.

When a nation chooses the way of morality and Christian virtue, it is ready for freedom. Its people may exercise their natural human rights–life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness–without self-destructing.

It’s painful to watch America jettison her morals and abuse freedom as a license for sin. Perhaps God will be gracious and give us enough time to realize that righteousness exalts nations, not freedom (Prov. 14:34).

When Was Jesus Born?

Wednesday, December 20th, 2006

Every year about this time most of the world turns its thoughts to Jesus and His birth. Since the fourth century, December 25 has been celebrated as the nativity of Christ.

But was Jesus really born on Christmas Day? Probably not. We can never know for certain when He was born. God did not reveal to us the date of that miraculous affair in Bethlehem.

What really matters, though, is not the question of when Jesus was born, but rather the question of whether He was really born at all. Skeptics deny it. They call the gospel a myth and mock Christians for their allegiance to a person they deem to be a figment of the human imagination.

I am appalled that historians are doing away with the system that we have used for 2,000 years to mark time. Until recently, history was measured as “B.C.” (Before Christ) or “A.D.” (Anno Domini, “in the year of our Lord”). This, no doubt, agitated the unbelievers, for every time a date was recorded, it was a testimony to the life of Jesus Christ. Now historians prefer the abbreviations “C.E.” (Common Era) and “B.C.E.” (Before Common Era), as these terms carry no religious connotations.

Jesus was born. He lived, He was crucified, and He rose the third day from Joseph’s tomb. The New Testament alone is enough to establish these facts. Though it has been attacked for centuries, its enemies have never been able to produce enough evidence to discredit it. But if that wasn’t enough, we have the testimony of non-inspired historians as well. Consider these words from Josephus, an important first-century Jewish historian.

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ (Ant. 18.63-64).

“There lived Jesus.” That is all that matters. We may quibble over the date of His birth until He returns, but the real news is that God sent His Son, our Savior, and, having died for our sins, He redeems all those who call on His name (Acts 2:21; 22:16).

Baptism Cannonball

Tuesday, December 12th, 2006

Those who have baptized a number of people no doubt have some humorous stories to tell. The combination of a solemn air with a watery ritual makes for an occasion where it’s inappropriate to laugh, but sometimes impossible not to. I’ve heard of a lot of baptism mishaps, but this is the first one I’ve seen captured on tape.

Quiverfulls or Empty Nests?

Friday, December 8th, 2006

The “quiverfull” movement is a fringe element of Protestants who argue that God is the only opener and closer of the womb. Family planning is God’s job, they say. And they argue their case using Psalm 127 as their proof-text:

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows i nthe hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate (vv. 3-5).

Quiverfull purists like David and Suzanne Bortel abhor all forms of birth control, even natural family-planning methods allowed by the Roman Catholic Church. They also reject artificial fertility treatments. When it comes to child-bearing, parents are not to get involved beyond the act of physical intimacy.

Critical of birth control, the quiverfull movement holds that regulating the family treats children as if they were an imposition. Furthermore, they say that, since the contraceptive revolution that began in the 1960s, we have separated the act of sex from procreation, something God never intended to happen. On top of these things, they argue that contraceptives such as IUDs and the pill have an abortion-like quality because they might prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.

How does the quiverfull movement help an average Christian couple who are honestly trying to live right in a world full of conflicting messages? Not everyone can live like the Bortels, who dwell in a four-bedroom suburbian home outside San Antonio with their 10 children, ranging from 13 months to 15. The husband works from home, developing his website, while Mom homeschools the kids. Not everybody is blessed with 21 acres like Ken and Devon Carpenter, who live outside of Nashville with their eight children. The truth is, most young couples cannot afford such a lifestyle.

According to the University of Minnesota, my 16-month-old costs $728 a month to support. Multiply that times 10, and I’m bankrupt. Certainly, the Bible teaches that children are a gift from the Lord. But doesn’t it also say that a man must provide for the members of his own household? (1 Tim. 5:8). Quiverfull ideals lack this admonition regarding responsible parenting.

And what about couples struggling with infertility? Being one who is personally acquainted with this all-to-common problem, I know that the barren womb never says “enough” (Prov. 30:15-16). Rachel and Leah gathered mandrakes. What’s wrong with the prospect of their modern-day counterparts’ seeking medical advice? I’ve always believed that God’s providence may use any and every resource available–including medical advances.

I do not deny that today’s society downplays the value of our children. Indeed, we live in a selfish world. However, the quiverfull movement looks at life through myoptic lenses. Maybe they should step back and consider couples who may not be as blessed as they are.

Getting a Government Education

Wednesday, November 8th, 2006

Red Cross spokesman, Bible class teacher, and all-around good guy Ike Pigott tipped me off to Mike Adams’s latest piece on Townhall.com: “My New Job at Missouri State University.” The incident he describes concerning the violation of one MSU student’s first amendment rights makes the article well worth the read, as it illustrates the large dose of liberal indoctrination our kids are getting at government schools these days. Adams has a gifted wit. Check out the “assignments” at the end of the article.

We may chuckle at Adams’s satire, but the issue he addresses is very serious. In this case, a young lady is persecuted for her convictions regarding homosexuality. In another place, others are being persecuted at schools for their belief that life begins at conception. In another, Christians are derided for their insistence that Jesus is the only way to salvation. And all this is happening in America, a nation founded on Christian principles.

Pray for your country (1 Tim. 2:1-2; Prov. 14:34).

A Deceiver and a Liar

Monday, November 6th, 2006

Yesterday Ted Haggard, a charismatic Christian leader who was, until recently, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of one of the largest Evangelical churches in the United States, put an end to speculation by confessing that he had been involved in sexual immorality and drug use.

Haggard’s confession was read by one of the board members that fired him during the worship services for the New Life Church in Colorado Springs where he preached. Part of the confession read, “I am a deceiver and a liar. There’s a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I have been warring against it for all of my adult life.”

Frank Lockwood brings up a good question: Why do so many of the big-name Pentecostal preachers end their tenures by bringing shame on themselves and on the churches they lead? Ted Haggard calls himself a Southern Baptist, but like so many of the Baptist megachurches today, the New Life Church mixed Baptist traditions with charismatic practices like speaking in tongues and faith-healing. Lockwood builds a list of Haggard’s predecessors in shame, including Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and Benny Hinn. He never answers his own question, but I have an idea.

Could it be that the Pentecostal movement as a whole is built on deception? Biblically, it has no footing. Paul predicted the end of the miraculous age in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, culminating with the completion of the New Testament near the end of the first century. Moreover, the biblical miracles in the New Testament look nothing like a typical Pentecostal church service. Step into one of these on any given Sunday, and you will find raucous music, women leading in worship, nonsensical jibberish that is supposed to pass for “tongues,” and a general state of chaos. These are some of the very things condemned by Paul in his regulations for spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 14.

If it looks like deceit and sounds like deceit, maybe it is deceit.

Loving What You Do

Friday, October 6th, 2006

“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil” (Jn. 3:19).

Your actions have a psychological impact on your mind. You are going to have affection for what you do. It’s human nature. When Jesus came into the world, people rejected him because “their deeds were evil.” Their affections just fell in rank with their deeds.

I realize that Jesus taught that the heart is a person’s control center. He said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mk. 7:21-22). But your heart can be distinguished from your affections. Who hasn’t done something he did not feel like doing? The point I am making is not that of the Pharisees–that a person can be defiled by something outside of him (cf. Mk. 7:14-15). I am saying that if you do something long enough, you will start to love it.

This principle doesn’t have to apply always to sin. Take good deeds, for example. We do not always feel like doing them. But if we ignore the feelings at first, and do what we know we should, eventually the feelings will come around. Thus, C.S. Lewis wrote,

Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less (Mere Christianity, 1960, p. 116).

When it comes to sin, there is an urgent need to repent, not just because we may run out of time. It is true that we are never guaranteed tomorrow. But unimpeded sin is also dangerous because it changes the way we feel about morality. If we’re not careful, we can become hardened past the point of no return (Eph. 4:19; 1 Tim. 4:1-2).

God has recorded his will so that we can rely on revelation, not feelings, for direction. We had better follow the Book, even if it means ignoring our feelings for awhile. Obedience comes first. The affections will warm later.

A Christian Gentleman

Monday, October 2nd, 2006

Byron Nelson passed away last week at the age of 94. Although he had not played the game professionally in 60 years, he is remembered as a golf legend. His most astounding feat was winning 18 tours in the 1945 season, setting a record that has yet to be broken. Not only that, but during that same year, “Lord Byron,” as he was called, won 11 of these victories in a row. The closest anybody’s ever come to that a streak like that is six.

Nelson retired in 1946 at the peak of his career. He had earned five major championships among his 52 tour victories, which rank him sixth in PGA Tour history. Truly, he was a golf legend.

I was not aware until after he died that “Lord Byron” was also “Brother Byron” to me. As far as I can tell, he was a faithful member of the Lord’s church. I should have known. The descriptions that were given about him in press releases paint the picture of a Christian gentleman.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said, “Our players, young and old, looked to Byron as the consummate role model of our sport.”

In 1968, Nelson gave his name to the struggling Dallas Open. Since then, the tournament has raised more than $94 million for the Salesmanship Club’s Youth and Family Centers – nearly 10 percent of the PGA Tour’s combined charity donations. Salesmanship Club of Dallas president Lawrence M. Wesson said, “He was an amazing man and an example for all of us. Because of Byron’s association with our club, we have been able to help thousands of children and families.”

“For many, Byron will be remembered for his incredible record as a professional golfer, including winning 11 tournaments in a row,” said eight-time major champion Tom Watson, Mr. Nelson’s longtime friend and protégé. “But he will be most remembered for the genuineness and gentleness he brought to all those around him.

In an interview with The Christian Chronicle at his home last year, Nelson discussed his commitment to attending services every Sunday and Wednesday night, using a scooter to maneuver his way through the crowd. “I wouldn’t know what to do without being at church. The good Lord blesses me every day.”

During Nelson’s memorial service, family and friends gathered to pay their respects. “We can debate which man was the greatest golfer,” said Rick Atchley, minister at Richland Hills Church of Christ. “But there’s no debate as to which golfer was the greatest man.” Ken Venturi, whom Mr. Nelson mentored, also took to the rostrum, his voice quivering as he spoke, saying, “The game of golf would not be what it is today without Byron – the greatest gentleman there ever was.”

No, Byron Nelson did not walk around boasting about his religion, making sure everybody knew where he attended church. He let people know his spirituality in a different way–by manifesting the spirit of Christ.