Friday, December 21, 2007

Clouds of Witnesses, "Tortured For Christ" by Richard Wurmbrand, Part II.

"One great lesson arose from all the beatings, tortures and butchery of the communists: that the spirit is master of the body. Often, when tortured, we felt the tortures, but it seemed as something distant and far removed from the spirit which was lost in the glory of Christ and His presence with us.

"When we were given one slice of bread a week and dirty soup every day, we decided we would faithfully "tithe" even then. Every tenth week we took the slice of bread and gave it to the weaker brethren as our "tithe" to the Master.

"A Christian was sentenced to death. Before being executed, he was allowed to see his wife. His last words to his wife were, "you must know that I die loving those who kill me. They don't know what they do and my last request of you is to love them, too. Don't have bitterness in your heart because they kill your beloved one. We will meet in heaven." These words impressed the officer of the secret police who attended the discussion between the two. Afterword he told me the story in prison, where he had been put for becoming a Christian." p. 45.

"I don't feel frustrated to have lost many years in prison. I have seen beautiful things. I myself have been among the weak and insignificant ones in prison, but have had the privilege to be in the same jail with great saints, heroes of the faith who equalled the Christians of the first centuries. They went gladly to die for Christ. The spiritual beauty of such saints and heroes of faith can never be described...The Underground Church is the Church which has come back to the first love...Before entering prison, I loved Christ very much. Now, after having seen the Bride of Christ"-His spiritual Body-in prison, I would say that I love the Underground Church as much as I love Christ Himself. I have seen her beauty, her spirit of sacrifice." p.47

"In solitary confinement, we could not pray any more as before. We were unimaginably hungry; we had been doped until we became as idiots. We were as weak as skeletons. The Lord's Prayer was much too long for us. We could not concentrate long enough to say it. My only prayer repeated again and again, was "Jesus, I love Thee.
And then, one glorious day I got the answer from Jesus: "You love me? Now I will show you how much I love you." At once, I felt a flame in my heart which burned like the coronal streamers of the sun. The disciples on the way to Emmaus said that their hearts burned when Jesus spoke with them. So it was with me. I knew the love of the One Who gave His life on the cross for us all. Such love cannot exclude the communists, however grave their sins...As the grave insists on having all-rich and poor, young and old, men of all races, nations and political convictions, saints and criminals-so love is all embracing. Christ, the Incarnate Love, will never cease until He wins the communists too." p.58.

"God is "the Truth." The Bible is the "truth about the Truth." Theology is the "truth about the truth about the Truth." Fundamentalism is the "truth about the truth about the truth about the Truth." Christian people live in these many truths about the Truth, and because of them, have not "the Truth." Hungry, beaten and doped, we had forgotten theology and the Bible. We had forgotten the "truths about the Truth," therefore we lived in "the Truth." It is written,"The Son of Man will come in the hour when you do not think and on a day you do not know." We could not think anymore. In our darkest hours of torture the Son of Man came to us, making the prison walls shine like diamonds and filling the cells with light. Somewhere, far away, were the torturers below us in the sphere of the body. But the Spirit rejoiced in the Lord. We would not have given up this joy for that of kingly palaces." p. 72-73.

"I have decided to denounce "communism," though I love the "communists." I don't find it to be right to preach the Gospel without denouncing communism.
"Some tell me "Preach the pure Gospel!" This reminds me that the communist secret police also told me to preach Christ, but not to mention communism. Is it really so, that those who are for what is called "a pure Gospel" are inspired by the same spirit as those of the communist secret police?
"I don't know what this so-called pure Gospel is. Was the preaching of St. John the Baptist pure? He did say only "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near." He said also "You, Herod are bad." He was beheaded because he didn't confine himself to abstract teaching. Jesus did not preach only the "pure" Sermon on the Mount, but also what some actual church leaders would have called a negative sermon: "Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites...generation of vipers!" It was for such "unpure" preaching that he was crucified. The Pharisees would not have bothered about the Sermon on the Mount." p. 78.

Part III of the witness of the late Richard Wurmbrand will appear in January. For information about Wurmbrand and how to purchase "Tortured for Christ," please see Part I in the November archives of The Right Hand of Fellowship.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Quotes and Facts: From Thomas Sowell's "Black Rednecks and White Liberals."

p. 17-18 'Comments on the lack of enterprise by Southern Whites (Before the Civil War) were made by numerous observers in various parts of the South. In Alexis de Tocquevilles's classic Democracy in America, he contrasted the attitudes toward work among Southern and Northern whites as being so great as to be visible to the casual observer sailing down the Ohio River and comparing the Ohio side with the Kentucky side. These were not just the prejudices of outsiders. "No Southern man," South Carolina's famed Senator John C. Calhoun said, "not even the poorest or the lowest, will under any circumstances ...perform menial labor...He has too much pride for that." General Robert E. Lee likewise declared: "Our people are opposed to work. Our troops officers community & press. All ridicule and resist it." "Many whites," according to a leading Southern historian,"were disposed to leave good enough alone and put off changes until the morrow." '

p.34-35 "White liberals, instead of comparing what has happened to the black family since the liberal welfare policies of the 1960s were put into practice, compare black families to white families and conclude that the higher rates of broken homes and unwed motherhood among blacks are due to "a legacy of slavery." But why the large-scale disintegration of the black family should have begun a hundred years after slavery is left unexplained. Whatever the situation of the black family relative to the white family, in the past or the present, it is clear that broken homes were far more common among blacks at the end of the twentieth century than they were in the middle of that century or at the beginning of that century-even though blacks at the beginning of the twentieth century were just one generation out of slavery. The widespread and casual abandonment of their children, and the women who bore them, by black fathers in the ghettos of the late twentieth century was in fact a painfully ironic contrast with what happened in the immediate aftermath of slavery a hundred years earlier, when observers in the South reported desperate efforts of freed blacks to find family members who have been separated from them during the era of slavery. A contemporary journalist reported meeting black men walking along the roads of Virginia and North Carolina, many of whom had walked across the state-looking for their families. Others reported similar strenuous and even desperate efforts of newly freed blacks to find members of their families."

p. 52 "By projecting a vision of a world in which the problems of blacks are the consequences of the actions of whites, either immediately or in times past, white liberals have provided a blanket excuse for shortcomings and even crimes by blacks. The very possibility of any internal cultural sources of the problems of blacks has been banished from consideration by the fashionable phrase "blaming the victim." "

p.55 "The general orientation of white liberals has been one of "What can we do for them?" What blacks can do for themselves has not only been of lesser interest, much of what blacks have in fact already done for themselves has been overshadowed by liberal attempts to get them special dispensations-whether affirmative action, reparations for slavery, or other race-based benefits-even when the net effect of these has been much less than the effects of blacks own self-advancement."

p.59 "This post-1960s black identity intolerance-promoted by white intellectuals as well as black leaders and activists-is a painful parallel to the post 1830s intolerance among white Southerners against anyone who questioned slavery in any way. Maintaining what has been aptly called an "intellectual blockade" against ideas differing from those prevailing in the South, antebellum Southerners not only insulated themselves from ideas and viewpoints originating outside the region but, at the same time, in effect drove out of the South independent-minded people who would not march in lockstep. The resulting narrow and unquestioning conformity of that era led the South into the blind alley of a Civil War that devastated wide sections of the region and left a legacy of bitterness that lasted for generations. It can only be hoped that today's narrow intolerance promoted by a black identity fetish will not lead into similarly disastrous blind alleys."

p. 116- 117 "Slavery did not die quietly of its own accord. It went down fighting to the bitter end-and it lost only because Europeans had gunpowder weapons first. The advance of European imperialism around the world marked the retreat of the slave trade and then of slavery itself. The British stamped out slavery, not only throughout the British Empire-which included one-forth of the world, whether measured in land or people-but also by its pressures and its actions against other nations."

p.122 "Slavery was destroyed within the United States at staggering costs in blood and treasure, but the struggle was over within a few ghastly years of warfare. Nevertheless, the Civil War was the bloodiest war ever fought in the Western Hemisphere, and more Americans were killed in that war than in any other war in the country's history. But this was a highly atypical-indeed, unique-way to end slavery. In most of the rest of the world, unremitting efforts to destroy the institution of slavery went on for more than a century, on a thousand shifting fronts, and in the face of determined and ingenious efforts to continue the trade in human beings."

p.154 "The Civil War that grew out of tensions over slavery was the bloodiest war ever fought in the Western Hemisphere and cost more American lives than any other war in the country's history. Whether or not those fighting on either side thought as their battles as being over slavery, as distinguished from succession, without slavery there would have been no secession and no Civil War. The states that first seceded were states where slaves were the highest percentage of the population. Contemporary words and deeds by the leaders of the Confederacy made unmistakeably clear that slavery was at the heart of their secession and that at the heart of the constitution that they established for their own new government. In later times, as slavery became ever more repugnant to people throughout Western civilization and even beyond, apologists for the South would stress other factors. But the real question is what factor moved Southern leaders when the fateful decision was made to secede-and that was "unashamedly," as a Civil War historian put it, slavery."

p.225 ""History is too often the handmaiden of contemporary visions or agendas. Accomplishments among blacks are often either magnified or downplayed, or glided over entirely, according to whether these accomplishments do or do not advance the agenda of portraying victimhood or struggles against victimhood. In this context, in is inexplicable, though hardly justified, that the history of successful black schools has attracted virtually no interest from either historians or educators. That history does not advance any contemporary political agenda, though it might help advance the education of a whole generation of black students."

p. 230 " In the first decades after the Civil War, the American Missionary Association, established thousands of schools for blacks in the South. Most of the teachers in these schools were young, unmarried women from New England, bringing with them not only academic education but also a whole culture very different from Southern society. Many black children thus acquired advantages that they would take with them into the adult world in later life. As a noted historian observed: "It was no accident that so many black leaders of the twentieth century civil rights movements came from missionary schools." "

p. 241 "...the dramatic increases in the numbers of blacks in many professional occupations in the last half of the twentieth century cannot be attributed solely-or even primarily-to the removal of these barriers by civil rights legislation. The rise of blacks into professional and other high-level occupations was greater in the years preceding passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than in the years following the passage of that act."

p. 248 " "Multiculturalism" has not meant warts-and-all portraits of different societies around the world. For many, it has meant virtually a warts-only portrait of the West and a no-warts portrait of non-Western peoples. More is involved than a simple bias, however. The central doctrine of multiculturalism-the equality of cultures-cannot be sustained when that means equality of concrete achievements-educationally, economically, or otherwise.
"It is not only the West whose achievements must be brushed aside or glided over in silence. Particularly dangerous to contemporary visions and agendas are achievements by groups that began in poverty and rose to prosperity, such as immigrants from Japan, Italy, China, or India who settled in various countries around the world. It is not just their achievements, but the very concept of achievement, which is antithetical to the multicultural vision-and which is therefore often evaded or denied."

p. 249 "When visions or agendas suppress history, that not only distorts the achievements of groups, nations, or civilizations, it forfeits valuable knowledge as to the things that have led to past progress and can lead to progress for others who are still lagging today. In short, it sacrifices the material interests of millions for the ideological or other parochial interests of a few."

p. 250 " If the very concept of achievement is a threat to the vision, then overcoming adversity is even more of a threat. Both must be verbally transformed into privileges and advantages, in order to protect the vision."

p.267 "In a sense, it is healthy that more prosperous individuals or societies recognize that their prosperity is not all due to what they themselves have done in their own lifetimes, but is in fact the fruit of the efforts and contributions made by many other people before they were born. However, gratitude for whatever has made their prosperity possible has for many been replaced by guilt for having been more fortunate than others. Thus their forebears are seen not as having bequeathed a valuable heritage but as having perpetuated great injustices."

p. 271 "The misuse of history to condemn evils common around the world as if they were peculiarities of the West has serious practical implications. Two wrongs do not make a right but undermining the society which has the smaller evil only makes it more vulnerable to the greater evils in other societies and in international terrorist networks."

I want to point out that Sowell will italicize certain words for emphasis. I tried to italicize where he did, but technical difficulties prevented me from doing so.

"Black Rednecks and White Liberals" can be purchased by going to this link:

Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual: "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" by Thomas Sowell, Part IV.

This last review of Thomas Sowell's "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" ( ) will briefly consider three other essays that appear in this book.

In "The Real History of Slavery", Sowell attacks the current politically correct view of slavery as primarily the product of Western Civilization colonizing other nations and coercing the vanquished into forced labor. Sowell does not excuse Western participation in the practice of slavery, but he points out that slavery was a worldwide institution, not just the practice of Europe and America. Africa kept more African slaves than were exported to the West; by far, slavery as practiced by the Muslim world was more severe than that practiced by the Americans. Sowell also takes on the notion that slavery was racist in its origins; all races that were victorious over enemies enslaved the vanquished. However, only one region of the world developed a conscience over slavery and that was the Western world. It was the West, primarily Britain, that used its military might to put an end to slavery worldwide. It was the rest of the world that resisted the West on this issue for more than a century. Of all the nations of the world, only one fought a war to end slavery, the United States. The ideals and convictions that helped bring about slavery's demise in the West did not exist in other parts of the globe. Sowell, an African American, believes that the Founding Fathers were justified in not insisting slavery be excluded from the new United States. Their position laid the groundwork for a free America in both the North and South. Southern slavery would have existed longer otherwise because a separate Southern nation would have isolated itself from the moral concerns of other nations.

In "Black Education: Achievements, Myths and Tragedies", Sowell gives us a history of the education of American blacks that one does not hear much about. The prevailing view of the educational establishment is that poverty and racism makes it impossible for minorities to achieve on the same level as white students. Standards must be lowered for minorities to succeed in school. Yet from the end of the Civil War to the 1960's, black education thrived and was a factor in helping African Americans raise themselves out of poverty. This history is often suppressed because the educational elites feel threatened by it; they have too much invested in their own failed systems which have not produced the same level of success as the earlier methodologies. For instance, after the Civil War, Northern whites came to the South to establish Missionary Schools. They not only taught black children, but brought with them a whole new culture which gave blacks a new outlook on life which allowed them to raise their standards of living and participate in the American dream in spite of all the obstacles standing in their way.

Sowell's final essay, "History Verses Visions", is an attack upon multiculturalism. He views muticulturalism as rooted in a false portrayal of history in which the achievers succeeded only through luck, economic advantage and exploitation of the poor and minorities. Sowell claims that the main evil of this approach is that the real pathways for achievement and economic security are ignored while failed methodologies keep the poor in poverty. Sowell's explanation in his own words can be seen in my next post, a "Quotes and Facts" feature.

There are two other essays in "Black Rednecks and White Liberals": one on German guilt for World War II and the Holocaust and one on the history of immigrant groups surviving and thriving in other lands.

I Must Be A Prophet

I must be a prophet. At least a secular prophet. Just last week I posted on this blog that the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, is a threat and needs to be contained. Then what happens this week to confirm my pronouncement? TIME Magazine names Putin "Person of the Year.",8599,1697072,00.html This is the magazine that gave the Ayatollah Khomeini the same honor the year Iran seized American hostages. Be sure that if America faces a credible threat, TIME is sure to honor the leader who wants to harm us.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Monday Morning Devotions

I Thess. 5:24- "He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it."

It is God's will that we be sanctified (I Thess. 4:3). Sanctification is God's best for us while we still dwell on earth. Jesus did not die just so that our sins could be forgiven, but "in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and blameless and above reproach in His (The Father's) sight-..." (Col 1:22). Knowing what God's will is for us, we are left with the old question: Do we play a part in our own sanctification, or do we sit back and let God undertake to do all the action?

In I Thessalonians, Paul gives the Church much instruction on personal behavior. His call for us to be sanctified is in the context of living in sexual purity (I Thess 4:3-8) In chapter five, he commands all those who follow Jesus to esteem those in authority in the Church (v. 12,13), comfort the faint hearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all (v.15), always worship (v. 16-18), test those things considered spiritual (v. 19-21), abstain from all evil (v. 22). Reading these verses out of context can give us the notion that our sanctification depends entirely on own effort. Those who know themselves well might say to themselves: "If this is the case, then I will never be sanctified while I live in the flesh."

But wait! There is good news! Our sanctification is worked out by God! Paul, after giving us this list of instructions, declared this glorious pronouncement: "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it." (v. 23,24) It is not our own efforts that bring about sanctification; it is God who sanctifies. Yet our efforts are not without meaning. Paul gives us the negative commands so that we prevent sin from interfering with the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Obedience to the positive commands allows God's grace to transform us. But all the power is from God. Paul's warning to avoid sexual impurity carries this warning: " Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit." (I Thess. 4:8) Even with this warning there is good news! We have been given God's Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, to provide the strength so that we may do what is right in God's sight and abstain from evil. It is God's strength that enables us to obey, so that God can do the work through the Holy Spirit to sanctify us. We can place our faith wholeheartedly in the one who is faithful to transform us into that which we could never do in our own strength. Praise His name forever!
(All scripture quotations are from the NKJV.)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Who You Invite To Dinner Speaks Volumes About Your Soul.

Vladimir Kryuchkov is dead. What? You can't recall just who he was? Remember the coup in the former USSR in 1991? Kryuchov was the leader of the KGB who led the coup to return the evil empire to its orthodox communist ways. He was defeated and bitterly lamented the fall of the above mentioned evil empire. He considered the late lamented Boris Yeltsin a traitor. It should come as no surprise that he fell out of favor with Yeltsin's new democratic regime. Yet let us not cry for Kryuchkov. In the last years of his life he was back in favor with the government. He was often invited to Kremlin dinners as the guest of Yeltsin's successor, Vladimir Putin.

George W. Bush, when he first met Putin, shared his impressions of the former KGB officer turned President: "I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul." Well, I just got a look at who some of his party guests are. From that, I get a sense of his soul. He is an enemy and he and his nation needs to be contained.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual: "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" by Thomas Sowell, Part III.

This is Part III of my review of Thomas Sowell's "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" and the focus has not yet shifted from the first chapter, an essay of the same name as the book's title. Its been awhile since my last post on Sowell's book, so let me refresh your memory concerning Sowell's argument. Sowell, an African American professor, contends that all the economic and social ills that plague contemporary black society cannot be blamed on slavery. Instead, he places the blame upon African exposure to a redneck Southern society which had its roots in lawless regions in England, Scotland and Ireland. While agreeing with Sowell as to the culpability of slavery, to me, it is illogical to blame the white redneck culture in which American slavery existed. Yes, his portrayal of the Antebellum Southern white culture is accurate and his list of sources concerning his portrayal is impressive. Yet, if American blacks largely overcame the evil effects of slavery before the 1960's (which Sowell argues), then we cannot blame the Southern white culture which practiced slavery. If African Americans rose above slavery, they also overcame the effects of exposure to the culture of their former masters. Even Sowell admits that his case is circumstantial.

Thomas Sowell is at odds with the liberal cultural elite that blames contemporary African American woes on slavery. His history of black America before the 1960's makes inspiring reading. He makes the case and cites the sources that indicate the stability of the American black family prior to the introduction of the Great Society welfare programs. If the liberals are right, than the disintegration of the black family should have occurred shortly after the Civil War. Yet the evidence of disintegration is more prevalent today than at the beginning of the Twentieth Century when blacks were just one generation out of slavery. The same holds true for the situation at the middle of the past century.

Sowell blames liberal intellectual elites, both black and white, for the celebration of the negative aspects of black culture, therefore perpetuating attitudes that prevent blacks from achieving success. He debunks the notion that African Americans are incapable of the same intellectual success as other racial groups. He cites data that shows that northern blacks have consistently achieved higher educational testing scores than Southern whites. In fact, former slaves were able to rid themselves of the shackles of slavery through the help of New England educators who traveled South to do the job of educating blacks that the Southern whites could not and would not do. It was the imposition of one culture (New England America) upon another (former slaves). There was no celebration of the negative aspects of the Southern white culture the slaves grew up in, and it worked. It succeeded where today's multi-cultural methodologies fail. And all this was achieved in the generation after the Civil War. The standards of excellence introduced by the New Englanders were perpetuated in the black community until the 1960's, when the imposition of the welfare state wiped out much of these gains.

I will directly quote from Sowell on these issues in a "Quotes and Facts" feature. The next post on "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" will review three of Sowell's other essays from the book.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Monday Morning Devotions

Rev. 3:20- "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and dine with him, and he with Me." (NKJV)

This often quoted verse has been the basis for many a preacher or evangelist to exhort the lost to make Jesus Lord of their lives. Many have used this verse to point out that Jesus will not force Himself into our lives; it is we who decide to follow Him. We open the door of our own hearts and only then does He enter in. (There is a famous painting depicting this verse; Jesus is knocking on the door, but there is no knob on the outside for Him to open the door. The only knob is on the inside where only the occupant can use it to open the door.) And then we have fellowship with our Lord as pictured in terms of "I will come into him and dine with him, and he with Me."

While the Lord may work through such a use of His Word to bring sinners to repentance, we must remember that this verse was originally addressed to believers, those who already had made Jesus Lord of their lives. This message was written to the Church of Laodicea. This Church had become prosperous and its members had forgotten their need of God and who they were apart from Him. A preacher or evangelist could legitimately use this verse in revival services, hoping that individual believers who have grown cold would repent and experience a personal revival.

Yet there is one more thing that needs to be pointed out about this verse. It was not originally addressed to individuals, but to the whole Church of Laodicea. It was read publicly in the entire assembly so the Church could repent and be revived as a whole. We speak of revival as an event where the Holy Spirit sweeps through the land cleansing sin from hearts and restoring fellowship between believers and God. Yet there is a order of revival found in this verse and in the whole of Scripture. First God rebukes and chastens and then repentance takes place. God reveals to us our current state; we are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. Once we understand and repent, then we receive from God that which molds us into a new state, collectively we are molded into the people God wants us to be. (See Rev. 3:14-19.) Yes, there is a place for individual revival; thank God for that! However, ultimately God wants us to repent as a whole. Then the Church will truly be the Church Triumphant. Then the Church will fulfill the Biblical requirements for revival ( IIChron. 7:14). Only when the Church repents as a whole will the Church as a whole experience the fellowship the Lord desires to have with His Church.

Friday, December 7, 2007

"The Hand" is One Year Old!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

"The Hand" (this blog) has recently experienced two important milestones. The first was the posting of "The Hand's" (that's me! that's me!) one hundredth article. And today marks "The Hand's" first year of mostly consistent publication. This second milestone offers me an opportunity to reflect on the quality of the work (where improvement is needed), what prevents me from making this blog everything I would want it to be, and how the production of this blog has affected my life (for the better and the worse.) Before I do, I need to thank my fellow seminarian, Jason Kranzusch , for convincing me begin this blog.

"The Hand" was reluctant to begin such a task. Its not as if I was concerned that I would run out of things to write about. No. First, I feared it would cause me to waste precious time on the computer. Second, sometimes blogging seems to be such an egotistical endeavour and a way to be drawn into useless antagonisms with anonymous provocateurs. Also, my computer skills are still very primitive and my writing style not quite ready for prime time. How would I be perceived by readers? Would I come off as antagonistic, petty, ill-informed, dull? In conversation, I am pretty confident what makes people laugh; on a blog I am not sure how my sense of humor would come across.

However, there have been unexpected benefits from this endeavor. First, I have regained my ability for written composition. This talent benefited me in college, but afterwards I let it deteriorate. It was not regained in seminary; struggling to put my thoughts on paper was one of the things that made seminary a struggle. Yet now I am able to compose lengthy rough drafts in less than an hour. Soon I hope to improve on composing without a draft (as I am doing so now). Blogging has given me an opportunity to express myself on a wide range of personal interests that include not only spiritual topics but also history, literature and politics. I find very few opportunities to discuss and debate such issues. Blogging sermons has been instructive. In the process of typing out my notes, I have discovered that many of my observations were mere speculation and not derived from the text. Also, my theological writings have been very revealing to me. When reading material such as N.T. Wright and Torrance, I have discovered that my initial impressions do not survive repeated readings. Often when about to offer a critique, I discover that what I had originally thought the author was saying was not what he was trying to communicate.

As noted earlier, my computer skills are primitive. I cannot download pictures (I can't use a digital camera) or videos onto my blog. I have had difficulty with basic tasks such as typing in italics and bold lettering. One whole post failed to come together because when I used multi-colored type, none of it would appear on the screen. This has impeded progress in updating the look of "The Hand." I do not understand how to use such services as Technorati to allow "The Hand" to have a wider visibility. My typing is slow which not only affects output but style. As time goes on, and I get anxious to finish typing, my style begins to resemble that of a term paper for college or seminary.

The hazards of wireless Internet technology has greatly impeded improvement. Lately, the connection to blogger has been lost and I lose much of what I type. (I have just been cut off from blogger again, however, I have lost nothing.) This costs time and so I must cease and desist from the activity because too much time is being lost. Sometimes multiple free wifi spots experience technical difficulties for many a day so that deadlines for posting are missed. Visiting my hometown, the only known free wifi connection is so slow I had to stop posting. Sometimes I just do not have a chance to visit free wifi spots for weeks at a time.

Enough negativity. What is "The Hand" about? It is an attempt not only to stimulate discussion on spiritual and theological issues, its goal is to edify anyone who would stumble upon this blog. That is why I include preached sermons and a feature entitled "Monday Morning Devotions." The latter are first hand impressions of Biblical passages that do not include the results of deeper study. Later, I will study the passages in greater depth and will produce sermons from them. Here are some of the better posts from this feature and the longer sermons:

Posts concerning Church life and our personal witnesses before the world are also put before readers' consideration:

"The Hand" covers a number of secular topics in addition to particularly Christian issues. Some might think that these would be subjects for a different blog. Sometimes I agree, but there is no time for me to maintain more than one blog. Some readers may want to read about Christian concerns and not deal with the rest. Yet, the Triune God is Lord over all of life, and if God is interested in the secular, so should his followers be. Christian thinking should be brought to bear on all areas of life. Here are some past posts concerning the U.S. present position in the world ( ), how the U.S. became a superpower under the leadership of a past President ( ) , and "The Hand's" observations on Jane Austen ( ). Not all topics are in a serious vein. I posted this article after a reader told me that I was too sure in my opinions ( )

"The Hand devotes his Friday evenings to reading secular and Christian works for the feature "Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual." Strictly theological works are covered under the title "Close Encounters of a Theological Kind." The lives of saints past and present are featured in "Clouds of Witnesses."

What was the best reading I have come across this year? Two books: "The Tragedy of American Compassion" by Marvin Olasky ( ) and James Torrance's "Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace" ( ).

In my past years reading, this quote from Francis S. Collins's "The Language of God" has to take the prize for the stupidest statement: "Recent polls confirm that 93 percent of Americans profess some form of belief in God; yet most of them also drive cars, use electricity, and pay attention to weather reports, apparently assuming that the science undergirding these phenomena is generally trustworthy." His point is that if Christians accept "the science undergirding these phenomena," then they must accept the evidence for Darwinian evolution. It made me ill that Christianity Today gave this book an award. How could Christians endorse this book? "Well," they might say, "the book does endorse belief in God, so it could be used as a tool to get people to think about God." Give me a break. Collins's belief system undermines trust in a loving God. Period.

My greatest disappointment was in reading a book by another Collins, Kenneth Collins's "The Evangelical Moment." When he identified the scholar that has most influenced his views on Biblical innerancy as William J. Abraham, it was as if my inner discernment mechanism switched to "Red Alert! Red Alert! Dive! Up periscope! This is Major Tom to Ground Patrol!" What makes it even worse is that Collins presents Abraham is a leading Wesleyan Scholar. If he is, then the Wesleyan branch of the American Church is in big trouble. In fact, reading other Wesleyan blogs has made me concerned where Wesleyans are going theologically. Especially when some claim that Wesleyanism can accommodate Open Theism and Emergent beliefs. Sometimes even those that this blog links to can express questionable theology. To counter this trend is another reason for this blog to exist.

Concerning changes to this blog in the future, these will be discussed in a post before "The Hand" signs off for Christmas. Until then, I will finish posting my observations on Thomas Sowell's book and finish quoting from the late Richard Wurmbrand. A couple more "Monday Morning Devotions" for the month will be posted as well. I must go now. It is snowing outside, the business I am now at is about, to close, I have yet to eat supper, and me and my brother are to watch and old episode of "The Rockford Files" tonight. Take advantage of this season of Advent.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

President Bush: A Year After The Election.

It has been one year since the Democrats took control of Congress. The President's performance at his news conference the day after the election demoralized me. He was so weak, pathetic, and self-defensive that I thought that unlike Reagan in 1986, in a similar election debacle, Bush would seek to accommodate the Democrats at every turn. However, he seemed to get his second wind, and has for the most part performed credibly. He has outsmarted his opponents and stood firm on Iraq. He has showed the country and the world he is no lame duck.

After the election, it was considered that the Baker Report on Iraq would be the blueprint for the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. No one, including myself, was expecting Bush to stay firm in his commitment to keep the troops there for as long as necessary. However, he not only stood up to Congress and the media, he accepted the surge as a change in policy. Although some thought it was too late to save the situation, it has achieved success to the point that the Democrats cannot rely on the issue to win them the election. And the U.S. has been spared the reputation of being a paper tiger that will cut and run when the pressure gets to be too much. Also, Bush has stood firm on protecting the American public through surveillance. Not only did he prevent Congress from outlawing needed surveillance techniques, the Congress reauthorized them. He has so far fought successfully against a Congressional intrusion into Executive powers over the issue of Congressional subpoenas. True, he no longer can bring about positive change, yet he has succeeded in preventing the Democrats from inflicting a lot of damage. He has also fought needless Federal spending, even if his efforts in this area are rather late.

There are two issues that disappoint me concerning Bush. One is immigration. Had he succeeded in passing his and the Democrat's bill on immigration, he could have split the party, guaranteeing a Democratic victory in the next election. Thankfully, he lost that effort and the Republicans will not have that issue to weigh them down in the coming election year. Then there is the attempt to create a Palestinian state. This seems to be a never ending issue that waning administrations hope would elevate them in the polls and receive a favorable historical judgement. But as the quote from either Irving or William Kristol says, "Those whom the gods will destroy are those who try to bring about a Palestinian state." (Quote not exact)

I expected George W. Bush to disappoint me in some areas. But there was one area in which I completely trusted him, and that was in the appointment of Conservative, pro-life judges. In this he has not disappointed. And if he remains steadfast on this issue, I will have no reason to regret my support for him over John McCain in 2000.

The Prospect Before Us.

The general election is one year away, and so it is an opportune time to assess the prospect for success for conservative governance. Right now the Congressional races do not look good for Republicans. Some Republican incumbents (some pseudo Republicans whom I won't miss) are retiring and it looks like those seats could be picked up by Democrats. The Conservative base of the Republican party is still fuming over Bush and his party's big spending. It is still not clear how much energy the base will bring to the election effort. Fortunately, Bush and the Republican leaders failed to pass their immigration bill. At least the next party nominee will not have that weight upon his shoulders.

However, we can add some optimism to this negative scenario. This optimism can be described in one word: Hillary. She is sure to be the Democratic nominee, and once she is anointed, not even her lapdogs in the media will be able to hide her liabilities. She will not be able to hide the price tag or the extent of a power grab her policies would bring. Added to this, she is not as smart as portrayed and her public behavior will highlight this. Once she receives substantive criticism, she will not be able to dismiss it as the propaganda of the right wing conspiracy. Most likely, she will demonstrate that she can not handle any criticism that comes her way. Trying to paint her opponents as mean and vicious will not shield her from having to answer for her proposals or personal demeanor. As for her person, she has the charisma of a piece of wood and on a likability scale from one to ten, she would rate a one or two. There are just too many people afraid of another Clinton presidency, or afraid of Hillary in particular, to make her election a sure thing. If the Republicans are smart and nominate Thompson, she will have the kind of opponent she and her husband never faced before: one who is articulate, formidable in debate, one with little baggage, and one who won't let the Clintons define him. In a debate, Thompson would show her for who she is, an unlikeable, not all that intelligent liberal demagogue who doesn't have the temperament for high office. Many Democrats fear that her unpopularity could cost Democrats seats in Congress. The Democratic position on such issues as immigration will cost Democrats support. The issue they thought would bring them complete victory at the polls, Iraq, appears to be waning in importance as the surge appears to be working. Global warming could backfire on them as well.

So, not all is doom and gloom. If Thompson is nominated and the base unites around him, he might just give Republican Congressional candidates some traction. The Democrats only have a one-seat majority in the Senate. The Republicans could take it back with the help of a popular Presidential candidate.

That is how things look almost a year to the day of the next election.

Fred's The One!

I have been leaning toward supporting Fred Thompson for President ever since he publicly declared his interest in running. I determined to wait a couple of months before the primaries before I made up my mind. I have always considered Thompson is the best bet to unify the conservative base around his candidacy and that he can be trusted to appoint conservative, pro-life judges to the Supreme Court. Time was needed to analyze his positions. Also, I wanted to see how he would perform in debates. Lastly, if there was anything in his background that indicated he could not be trusted as a true conservative, or if there was some character flaw that disqualified him from high office, I figure it would have come out by now. Time has now past, and with one year to go before the election, and just a couple of months before early primaries may decide the nominees in both parties, this blog announces that it officially endorses Fred Thompson for the Republican nomination for President.

Why? First and foremost, his voting record has been 100% pro-life. He can be trusted to appoint conservative, pro-life judges to the Supreme Court. The issue of who will appoint the next two Supreme Court justices should be the most important issue of all to any conservative, whether pro-life issues matter to you the most or not. If economic issues, if issues of the power of states versus Washington, if immigration issues, national security issues, or moral issues top your agendas, the Supreme Court will be making major decisions on these issues in the future. A Democrat would appoint judges who would cement liberal orthodoxy into the fabric of our legal system. While I am not pleased with Thompson's entire voting record, he is trustworthy on the issue of judges. And he his most likely to unite the conservative base of the Republican party to win in November next year.

In searching for a winning candidate, one must never compromise one's principles. A vote for Giuliani, because he is perceived as a "winner", would be just such a compromise for evangelicals such as myself. He ran and governed as a liberal while mayor of New York City. His personality gravitates him toward big-government solutions. Neither he nor McCain could be trusted not to attempt to marginalize evangelical influence in the Republican party. If either were nominated, they could not unify the party behind them. Too much water has passed under the bridge for evangelicals to work for their election with enthusiasm. I would vote for Romney over either of these two, and I believe Romney would be a formidable candidate against that woman on the other side. Yet his change of opinion on issues that concern me makes me uneasy. Being a Mormon might not disqualify him from high office, however, his election could divide the Church about speaking truthfully about Mormonism. To maintain good relations with a Romney White House, evangelicals may be pressured not to condemn Mormonism as inconsistent with Christian orthodoxy. Huckabee comes off as a flake sometimes and he did not govern as an economic conservative as governor. (That name doesn't help either.) Not only is Thompson reliable, his personality would be the most positive contrast to that woman in the general election. He would also have less personal baggage that would weaken him as a candidate. And that would give Clinton Inc. an experience it has never dealt with before: an able, articulate, formidable opponent.

I supported Bush in the 2000 primaries. He was the best we could offer without compromising evangelical principles at the time. Yet I had no great enthusiasm about him because I feared his "compassionate conservatism" translated into big-government solutions. Unfortunately, he fulfilled those fears. However, I trusted him to appoint the right kind of judges, and he has lived up to my expectations on this front. And for that, I will never regret voting for him. Even on other conservative issues, like the reduction of Federal regulations,he has exceeded my expectations. I was expecting to be disappointed with Bush; I am expecting to be disappointed with Thompson should he be elected. While he is reliably Conservative, he can get too close to the Washington establishment at times. I am sure this will negatively affect his governance.

However, his rhetoric seems to reveal he has a vision of where he wants to take the country in addition to just having conservative principles and I feel comfortable where he would take us in the areas defense, the war, and Federalism. In the general election, the other side would probably underestimate him and then be unprepared for competing against him.

I am sure the blogging public has awaited my endorsement with baited breath. Here it is. Fred Thompson for the Republican nominee, and then, for President.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

!!!The 100th Post!!!The Gospel of the Kingdom: A Sermon.

Read John 3:3.

Q. After Jesus' baptism and temptation in the wilderness, when he began his public ministry, what was His Message? The forgiveness of sins? Yes. But was the forgiveness of sins the whole thrust of His message? No.

A. Read Matt. 3:2 and Matt. 4:17. What did both John the Baptist and Jesus the Messiah proclaim? "REPENT AND BELIEVE THE GOSPEL, FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND."

If we are saved by faith, through no action on our own behalf, then where does repentance fit in? There has been a traditional saying in the Church, "repentance before faith." Where does this fit in with God's grace? Repentance and faith are the two sides of the same coin; to say we will repent after salvation is no faith at all. But to repent first before salvation is an act of faith on our part. The very instant we repent, we receive salvation. Faith is not just an intellectual assent to the Gospel message; no, faith is a verb, an action word. And the action we perform is repentance. Still, where does repentance fit in with the grace of God? There is another phrase used by the Church, "Prevenient Grace." This refers to the biblical truth that no one comes to God unless God draws them. This is God's grace. When God draws us, we chose to repent and believe. All of this occurs within God's grace.

If you disagree, you might site Acts 16:31 as a verse that supports that repentance has no place in the salvation plan of God. After all, when the jailer asked Paul what he must do to be saved, Paul's answer was "Believe and you will be saved, both you and your household." Paul gave him no verbal instructions as to repentance or any other action the jailer was to perform. Yet how did the jailer respond? First he took Paul and Silas to his own house and tended their wounds, probably inflicted by that very jailer, or those under his direction. Then he and his household were baptized, no doubt confessing and repenting of their sins as Paul officiated. If there had been no repentance, there would have been no salvation.

The Gospel proclamation is a two part message: one part refers to our action (repentance), the other refers to God's action. God's action first consists of forgiving us for our deliberate acts of disobedience to His commands. Secondly He sanctifies us. Sanctification begins immediately after salvation. Eph 1:13 tells us that at the very instance we truly believe, the Holy Spirit enters our hearts. Now remember what we said Jesus preached: "Repent and believe the Gospel, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." What is this Kingdom? Is Jesus referring to His Second Coming? In part. But more than that. When the Holy Spirit enters our hearts, The Kingdom of Heaven is instituted within us. That Kingdom is the rule and reign of God in us! It is Jesus living out the Christian life through us! How does Rom. 14: 17 define the Kingdom? Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit! Jesus lives in our hearts through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and we reflect Jesus to the world by being conformed to his image.

What does the Kingdom look like in us? Read Matt. 13: 31-33. These two very short parables describe the life and growth of the Kingdom in us. The first compares the Kingdom to the mustard seed, the smallest of seeds. As the tree grows after the seed is planted, it becomes so big the the birds come and rest in its shade. In our lives, as the Kingdom grows in us (and all Kingdoms wish to expand), as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, as we refuse to allow sin to hamper or stop completely the growth of the Kingdom in us, we reflect the image of Jesus to the world. The Kingdom expands until it possesses all of us. We are still individual men and women, but the Holy Spirit manifests Jesus to the world through our sanctified personalities. And just as the birds rest in the shade of the tree, the world sees something in us it does not have but would like to possess. And so they are drawn to us, not fully knowing what they are seeking. In the second parable, just as the leaven takes over the woman's entire meal, the Kingdom of Heaven expands in us till we are entirely God's. (There is a point where the Kingdom expands so that Jesus possesses all of us; we are fully His. We have put sin and the old man to death. This is entire sanctification. I will not go into this in detail now; this is another sermon. This is a subject that will be dealt with much more in the future on this blog.)

Why is this good news? Read Matt. 13: 28-30. We who are heavy laden, heavy with our sins and our attempts to live life in our own strength, are to find rest in Jesus. (This is not a request, but a command.) His yoke is easy and His burden is light. A yoke is a farming instrument that allows a beast of burden, usually an ox, to plow a field. When the yoke is fitted right upon the animal, the animal is enabled to pull a weight far greater than it could pull on its own. If the yoke is fitted correctly, the animal will not feel the extra weight it is pulling. The yoke allows the animal to operate in a strength greater than its own. When the Kingdom of God enters us, and is allowed to expand, we know our sins have been forgiven and we no longer have to try to please God in our own strength. As we cooperate with the Holy Spirit by obeying His commands and not allowing sin in our lives, we allow the Holy Spirit to live out the Christian life within us. This is not always easy. Yet this is what Jesus means by telling us his yoke is easy and burden light. The Kingdom is the Holy Spirit operating in us. The Holy Spirit's strength, the strength of the third person of the Trinity, is what we rest in. Our part is to allow the Spirit to do His work in our lives. It doesn't matter how sinful we were in the past. God loves us and wants to forgive our sins so we may have fellowship with Him. But ultimately, it is not about ourselves. God wants to set up His Kingdom in us so that He may draw all those in our lives who will come to Him only through us. We can never be too sinful that God will not forgive us our sins. Not only does He love us, He wants to use us to reach the world. Its not all about us, and that is good news!

This is not a message we can ignore when we proclaim the Gospel. Look at John 3:3 again. If we are not born again, we shall never see the Kingdom of God. For all the importance of being born again, being born again is just the beginning of our eternal life with the Triune God. It is the means to the ultimate end: the Kingdom of God. Some pastors proudly proclaim that every message they preach in their church is about being born again. Unfortunately these pastors, well meaning it must be admitted, are short-changing their congregations. They preach the forgiveness of sins, but not the Kingdom of God, the Holy Spirit residing in us to give us the power to please God. This is the source of ceaseless, unnecessary battles with sin in the body of Christ.

How important is the message of the Kingdom? How important was this message in the Gospel proclamation of the early Church? In Acts 1:4 , Jesus told His disciples to remain in Jerusalem, not to carry out the Great Commission until they receive THE PROMISE OF THE FATHER. They had to wait for the Holy Spirit to fill them, to institute the Kingdom of God in them. The Jews of this era were not ignorant about the promise of the Holy Spirit. They knew of the prophecy contained in Joel 2:28-32. They knew there would be a day when God would write the Law on their hearts. What they did not know was that the promise of the Father was Christ in us, the hope of glory. Was this teaching concerning the Kingdom a consistent element of the Apostles teaching? See Acts 8:12, 19:8, 20:25, 28:23. Also use a concordance to consult the Epistles.

A great saint from the past, William Law, once declared that to preach the New Testament without reference to the person and power of the Holy Spirit was akin to preaching the Old Testament without reference to Jesus. The Kingdom is not something we can choose to ignore. If we preach the Gospel without reference to it, we have not preached the full Gospel. In our individual witnessing, if we ignore the message of the Kingdom, we have not presented the full Gospel. The Gospel of the Kingdom is that those who repent and are saved receive the Kingdom, and the power of the Kingdom to overcome sin and walk in a way that pleases God!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Clouds of Witnesses: "Tortured For Christ" by Richard Wurmbrand, Part I.

With this post I am returning to a too long neglected feature of this blog: "Clouds of Witnesses." It has always been my intention that "The Hand" would be more than just another site spouting personal opinions. I want those who stumble upon this site to leave feeling blessed in some way. Therefore this site contains features for such a purpose: "Monday Morning Devotions", Occasional sermons, "Close Encounters of the Theological Kind." The purpose behind "Clouds of Witnesses" is to bring the Church into contact with the struggles and triumphs of saints past and present. I trust that these features lead to further explorations of the men and women covered by this site. I hope these explorations increase believers' faith and produce deeper reflection on the Christian life.

Today I bring before you the example of Richard Wurmbrand. Wurmbrand was a Romanian pastor who ministered to his own people and Russian soldiers occupying his nation in the 1940's. In 1948, he was arrested by the Communist authorities and endured years of imprisonment and torture. In the mid sixties, he was ransomed out of Romania to testify of the struggle of the Underground Church in the Communist world. He and his wife founded Voice of the Martyrs to minister to the oppressed Church around the world. I will not discuss his life or book "Tortured For Christ" in detail. It is best just to let Wurmbrand speak for himself. The following are quotes from "Tortured For Christ." The page numbers are included even though the edition I read is long out of print.

"Once the communists came to power, they skillfully used the means of seduction toward the Church. The language of love and the language of seduction are the same. The one who wishes a girl for a wife and the one who wishes her for the night in order to throw her away afterward, both say "I love you." Jesus has told us to distinguish the language of seduction from the language of love, and to know the wolves clad in sheepskin from the real sheep.
"When the communists came to power thousands of priests, pastors, and ministers did not know how to distinguish the two voices." p.15.

On the difficulty of witnessing to Russians who had been molded by Marxist teaching from birth: "In talking with them (Russian soldiers) and many others I learned that to preach the Gospel to the Russians, after so many years of communism,we must use an entirely new language.
"The missionaries who went to Central Africa has difficulty translating the words of Isaiah: "If your sins are red as scarlet they will become white as snow." Nobody in Central Africa has ever seen snow. They had to translate; "Your sins will become white as the kernel of the coconut.
"So we had to translate the Gospel into Marxist language and render it understandable to them. It was something we could not do by ourselves-but the Holy Spirit did his work through us." p.20.

On why one young Russian, Poitr, accepted Jesus: "He said that he had listened attentively when, at one of our secret meetings, I had read Luke 24, the story of Jesus meeting the two disciples who went toward Emmaus. When they drew nigh unto the village, "He made as though He would have gone farther." Piotr said: "I wondered why Jesus said this. He surely wanted to stay with His disciples. Why then did He say that He wished to go further?" My explanation was that Jesus is polite. He wished to be very sure that he was desired. When he saw that He was welcomed, He gladly entered the house with them. The communists are impolite. They enter by violence into our hearts and minds. They oblige us us from morning to late in the night to listen to them. They do it through their schools, radio, newspapers, posters, movie pictures, atheistic meetings and everywhere you turn. You have to listen continuously to their godless propaganda, whether you like it or dislike it. Jesus respects our freedom. He gently knocks at the door. "Jesus has won me by his politeness," said Piotr. This stark contrast between communism and Christ had convinced him.
"He was not the only Russian to have been impressed by this feature in Jesus' character. (I, as a pastor, had never thought about it this way.)
After his conversion, Piotr risked his liberty and life again and again to smuggle Christian literature and help for the Underground Church in Romania to Russia. In the end he was caught. I know that in 1959 he was in prison. Has he died? Is he already in heaven or is he continuing the good fight on earth? I don't know. Only God knows where he is today.
"Like them, many others were not only converted. We should never stop at having won a soul for Christ. By this, you have done only half the work. Every soul won for Christ must be made into a soul-winner. The Russians were not only converted, but became "missionaries" in the Underground Church.They were reckless and daring for Christ, always saying it was so little they could do for Christ who died for them" p. 27-28.

"I am sorry if a crocodile eats a man, but I can't reproach the crocodile. He is not a moral being. So no reproaches can be made to the communists. Communism has destroyed any moral sense in them. They boasted they had no pity in their hearts.
I learned from them. As they allowed no place for Jesus in their hearts, I decided I would leave not the smallest place for Satan in mine." p. 38.

"Several Christians have asked me how we could resist brainwashing. There is only one method of resistance to brainwashing. This is "heartwashing." If the heart is cleansed by the love of Jesus Christ, and if the heart loves Him, you can resist all tortures. What would a loving bride not do for a loving bridegroom? What would a loving mother not do for her child? If you love Christ as Mary did, who had Christ as a baby in her arms, if you love Jesus as a bride loves her bridegroom, then you can resist such tortures.
"God will judge us not according to what we endured, but how much we could love. I am a witness for the Christians in communist prisons that they could love. They could love God and men." p.41.

"It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their terms. It was a deal; we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching. They were happy beating us, so everyone was happy."

More quotes from Wurmbrand will follow in the next few weeks.

Here are two biographical websites on Wurmbrand:

To purchase "tortured For Christ" go to this link:

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual: "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" by Thomas Sowell, Part II.

Warning: Part II of this book review could make you very angry. Especially if you or your family are Southern by birth or heritage. As one who was born and lived most of his life below the Mason-Dixon Line, let me assure you that it is not my intent to belittle the South. I am presenting another persons historical evidence as to the nature of the pre-Civil War South. My previous education on the subject , besides my own reading, consists of classes taken at West Virginia University conducted by professors who were almost entirely white, conservative, male Southerners. The textbooks they taught from were written by men of the same background as themselves. This causes me to accept Thomas Sowell's description of the Old South as a redneck culture. Sowell has no intention to offend either; in his introduction, he makes it clear that he does not consider all Southern whites to be or to have been rednecks. Nor does he consider all African Americans to be or to have been of that description either.

In Sowell's first essay in the book, also called "Black Rednecks and White Liberals," he seeks to explain the historical roots of all the negative influences plaguing African American culture today. High illegitimacy rates, high crime rates, high dropout rates, the disintegration of the black family, all these are blamed by today's liberal culture (black and white) on slavery. Sowell disagrees. He claims that these problems began with the exposure of African blacks to a Southern white redneck culture.

Sowell gives us a history and description of this redneck culture. Most pre-Civil War Southern whites descended from ancestors who came from the Northern Badlands of England (for centuries a no man's land between Scotland and England), the Scottish Highlands and Ulster County Ireland. (He is describing my ancestors as well.) These were lawless regions, where no group was able to establish stability. These regions were beyond the influence of English Civilization and many people from these regions immigrated to the South during America's Colonial period. The atmosphere of these regions produced a disorderly people. The daily violence the inhabitants faced made them seek the pleasure of the moment, not what would benefit them in the long term. (If you might die tomorrow, why plan for tomorrow?) Education was not a highly valued commodity in such a culture. Willingness to fight and even die was the only source of security in such a land. This culture was transported to the South in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Some of the negative values brought to the South included the following: aversion to work, proneness to violence, neglect of education, sexual promiscuity, drunkenness, lack of entrepreneurship, reckless searches for excitement. These values fit in with the world these immigrants left. They were counter-productive to the New World, and to the slaves forced to live in their midst. For example, violent action against one's enemies was approved of in the lands where these Southerners came from. In the American South, almost no prominent politician after 1790 did not involve himself in a duel. Newspaper editors were another dueling class. (My old Kentucky professor taught that the average lifespan of an editor in the Old South and West was five years. Mark Twain wrote a great satire on dueling editors in his short story "Journalism in Tennessee.") Most duels or feuds arose from personal issues, such as my native West Virginia's Hatfield and McCoy feud. Sowell believes that these are the roots of the gang culture among today's black youth. If you or a member of your gang is "dissed", then the offender must die.

Other areas adversely affected by redneck attitudes were agriculture, education and illegitimacy rates. The Southern white culture did not produce a successful agricultural system. Much of what they consumed was shipped in from the North or overseas. The most successful farmers were those who came from other regions, such as Germany. As for illiteracy, the 1850 Census revealed that more than one-fifth of Southern whites were illiterate, as compared to less than one percent of New Englanders. Newspaper circulation in the North was more than four times that of the South. Many of the Southern newspaper editors were from the North. The North had four times as many schools. Illegitimacy was greater in the South than in the North. The regions in England where New Englanders originated from had the lowest illegitimacy rates in England, just as the New Englanders themselves had the lowest rates of illegitimacy in the United States. (So much for the stereotype of the Christian South defending itself against those "godless" Northerners. In fact, most of the Bibles in the Old South were printed in and shipped from the North. Also, with such disadvantages the South possessed, I do not see how it could have produced a successful independent nation. The preceding sentiments are my own, not Sowell's.)

Sowell is correct when he refuses to blame slavery for the problems of contemporary African American society. Yet to blame these problems on a pre-Civil War Southern redneck society does not make sense. If black America overcame the consequences of enslavement before the 1960's, as Sowell contends, then surely black America had also overcame the negative influences of the white culture that practiced slavery. (Even Sowell himself admits his case is a circumstantial one.) The negative state of things and destructive personal behavior , such as gang affiliation, is present in other racial groups. What are the origins of Chinese gangs, of Haitian gangs? Certainly not the Southern white culture of Colonial and pre-Civil War America. Personally, I place the blame for African American problems on the welfare state created by Lyndon Johnson's great society.

Part III of this review will focus on Sowell's belief that black Americans overcame the evil effects of slavery before the 1960's. The story he presents is inspiring and worth blogging about!

(A link to where you can purchase this book can be found in Part I of this review.)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Monday Morning Devotions.

Is. 41:10- "Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes I will help you, I will uphold you with My right hand." (NKJV)

In the verse above, God is speaking to His people, Israel. God tells them not to fear their enemies, not to be dismayed by their enemies strength. God promises to strengthen Israel, to help Israel (to exercise overwhelming power on Israel's behalf), that He will supply Israel with His own strength. How does God back up His claims? Simply by stating that He is their God.

Why would this reminder of who He is be proof enough to Israel that He will do as He promises? History.

When seeking someone to do business with, you would seek out a trustworthy partner. To find such a partner, you would ask people about who they had done business with in the past. Through these inquiries, you would learn who has a good reputation, based on past actions. An honest man gains a reputation for honesty; one who produces quality work will never lack for customers willing to recommend him. His past behavior is a good indication that his honesty and performance will remain at high levels in the future.

Israel needed no other people to inform them of God's track record concerning the keeping of His promises or of using His power on behalf of those who trust in Him. God had a history with Israel. In verse eight, God reminds them of this history by referring to them collectively as Jacob, their ancestor who God protected from Esau and his men. God reminded them that they were of the seed of Abraham, to whom God gave promises concerning his descendants. God called Abraham His friend. Then God brought to Israel's remembrance how God had chosen them and brought them into the Promised Land. By reminding Israel of all that He had done for them, Israel could count on God to fulfill His promises to them.

When we first begin to walk with the Lord, we have yet to learn to trust Him fully. As time goes on, and if we are obedient, He makes His promises real in our lives. He works out situations we thought were impossible. And then, as God establishes a track record with us, we begin to trust Him more and more, until total trust in Him is achieved. But this cannot happen unless we allow Him to take control of our lives. If we refuse to operate in God's strength, then we prevent a personal history of God's deliverance in our lives from being established. Then when circumstances seem overwhelming, that lack of history makes us just as fearful as those who believe in no God. This is not what God had in mind for His disciples. Not only does He not want us to fear, but He wants us to have a public testimony regarding his power and willingness to use it on His childrens' behalf. Not to have such a testimony in our lives is an indicator that there is sin somewhere in ourselves.

The difference between Wesley and the Moravians during the storm at sea was that the Moravians had such a history in their own lives; they were able to remain calm, knowing that they were in God's hands. Wesley, who had no such history with the Father at that time, could do nothing but fear for his life. Later, after walking with God, he could face hostile mobs while declaring the gospel. The stakes are high regarding this issue. Not only for ourselves, but for others who need to see Jesus reflected through us.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Why Marriages Fail: Observations From A Single Guy.

Those of you who keep up with current Christian literature, including books, magazines and Internet articles, are probably aware of the grim statistics concerning Christian marriages. Couples who through the years have proclaimed Jesus as their Lord are now statistically more liable to divorce than their secular counterparts. In fact, within the Church itself, it seems the more evangelical the couple, the greater likelihood that they will divorce. Many Christian couples of my acquaintance have recently divorced or separated. In asking ourselves why this is the case for God's Church in America, the obvious answer of course is sin. Instead of remaining committed to each other, as they pledged to do before God, husbands and wives decide to do as they please, no matter what, no matter the effect upon their children. Whether the roots of the problem are monetary or sexual, husbands and wives follow their own feelings rather than God's counsel. This is the primary reason the Church finds itself in this situation.

Adding my own observations to the discussion, I don't pretend that the factors I am about to address are the main reasons for broken marriages; the following observations most likely deal with the secondary causes. But these observations need to be shared nonetheless.

When young people make a commitment to follow Jesus, when they forsake all for Him, some find it easier than expected for two reasons. First, they are too young to have that much to forsake. Second, they still haven't fully counted the cost. Let's address the second reason. Some people believe that when they think they have forsaken all, what they really have done is put their dreams aside for a few years. When they hear Christ's words "But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you..." (Matt 6:33, NKJV), consciously or not, young Christians tell themselves that if they lay aside their greatest desires for Jesus for ten years or more, then later God will bless them by fulfilling these desires. In other words, they expect to experience a form of delayed gratification by the time they are forty. In many cases, God does later reward his children with the fulfillment of dreams that had been forsaken for God. But it is also often the case that there are some things forsaken that God expects to remain forsaken forever. And when that is finally understood by many a Christian, they cannot handle that truth.

Sometimes non-Christians are more honest about what they want out of life and what they expect from their marriages. They want to achieve a certain status by a certain age and if one partner seems to be lagging in their efforts to achieve, then warnings are given by the other partner. (I know of two wives who told their husbands that if they did not seek promotions, then the marriage would be over. The husbands were satisfied with their positions, but both sought promotion to maintain their marriages.) But it is different with many Christian couples. When young and in love, it is exciting just starting out in life. Living a simple life style has its enjoyments, but when people still live that way at thirty-five, some begin to be weary of it. They yearn for the life style of their youth. They become nostalgic for times past. As home-schooled children approach college age, one spouse may worry about what kind of educational opportunities their children will have. (Don't misunderstand me here; I am a supporter of home-schooling.) Peoples dreams change. What we want out of life can alter as we age. But some Christian spouses choose not to speak of how they feel inside. They think that to do so would be sinful, whether they unburdened themselves to their spouse, or to God. Perhaps they hope the feelings will go away. Sometimes they do. But often they don't. And then they get intolerable, and then, one spouse either leaves, has an affair, or both. And neither the other spouse, nor anyone else, saw what was coming.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Monday Morning Devotions.

IITim. 1:12- "For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that day."

Paul wrote these words while in prison; he was arrested during Nero's persecution of the Church.

Paul wanted Timothy to know that he was not ashamed of the gospel nor the life he lived in the proclamation and demonstration of it. Here was the Apostle formerly known as Saul, in a Roman dungeon, perhaps bound hand and foot by chains to the wall. The promising student of Gamaliel, able to expound upon the Law as well as any Pharisee, now was imprisoned for a message he proclaimed without relying on his own oratorical powers or his wide learning. Instead, he relied on the power of the Holy Spirit to persuade men and women while to outside observers, he seemed unpersuasive, unimpressive (I Cor. 2: 1-5). A son of privilege in Tarsus, he was not now wearing the fine clothes he had once worn, but the garb of a man who had no permanent home. Also quite noticeable were the marks of persecution on his body. Particularly on his head and face. You see, when one was stoned in those times, small rocks were not the stones of choice; big stones, big heavy stones were used. To make sure the offender was dead, a massive stone was dropped on the head so it would be crushed, so there would be no doubt that the person was dead. It was a bloody form of execution. Someone was designated to hold the clothes of those who carried out this death sentence. The executioners operated at such close range to the one being stoned that if they wore their clothes during the stoning, their clothes would be saturated with blood. Paul, then Saul, held the clothes of Stephen's executioners. When Paul was stoned in Ephesus, the severity was no less than what Stephen was subjected to. Paul was left for dead. By the grace of God, he lived. But he carried those marks on his body, especially where that big stone was dropped upon his head. And now he was in jail. Here was the man known for his zeal in killing Christians about to suffer the same fate himself.

He knew his time was short. "For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand." (IITim 4: 6) He knew his time of execution was near. His last moments on earth would be controlled by men who despised him for his message and his seeming powerlessness before them. His manner of death would be at the whim of others. I can imagine the enemy of his soul trying one last time to bring discouragement to him in his final hours. Reminding Paul what he was, and what he could have been, Satan could have spoken the following words to him: "This is Saul, the man of promise. You had more advantages than any any other man alive. You were a Pharisee of the Pharisees. Now look at you. Is this what you have become!"

But Paul felt no shame. "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (IITim 4: 7) Through all that Paul had suffered, he was true to his Lord and the mission his Lord had given him. The Church had many disciples who were nurtured by him and would carry out the Great Commission. None of those things Paul had forsaken had any power to tempt him to return to the world, or to try to mix the world with the gospel. He was so sold out to Jesus that he longed for the day of his appearing more than anything else. (IITim 4: 8) I am sure that as that executioner's axe fell, there might still have been voices from the world and the devil whispering to him, trying in those final seconds to cause him to lose his hope. But as the axe fell, those voices were heard no more. What Paul saw as he entered heaven I am sure no one could describe, but I am sure the first thing he heard was another voice, the voice he had heard on the Damascus road. That voice was saying "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

When reaching heaven, and wanting to talk to Paul, where would I look? Right now I bet he is with those saints who were killed for their faith who are now worshipping before the throne. I wonder if Paul is now worshipping Jesus Christ with the very brothers and sisters he hauled off to jail. I wonder what the scene was like as these martyrs welcomed him home.