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: http://www.amazon.com/Tortured-Christ-Richard-Wurmbrand/dp/0882643266

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.)