Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Good Decision; The Right Man.

Pro-lifers, myself among them, are of course pleased with this week's decision upholding a statute banning Partial Birth Abortion. But we should remember that the vote was five to four. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, yet he cannot be considered a reliable ally in this fight. It is possible that he could switch sides in the future. His past voting record indicates he can be swayed by the liberal wing of the Court. This state of affairs shows that there needs to be at least two more Conservative appointments to the Court to be sure of a solid pro-life majority. With this state of affairs, it was not a good thing that many Conservatives sat out the last election or voted for the Democrats. At least the Democrat's Senate majority consists of one vote. This gives the Republicans a chance to regain the Senate in 2008. One way to insure this outcome is for the Republicans to nominate a Presidential candidate that is popular enough with the voters that they will vote for Republican Congressional candidates. To receive the nomination, the winner must be reliable on pro-life issues and be most likely to appoint judges to the bench who are just as reliable on this issue as well.

These considerations bring me to again consider Fred Thompson as a candidate. In my last article on Thompson, I stated that I knew nothing about him that would cause me to oppose his canidacy. Since then, there have been facts reported concerning him that would cause me to be concerned. His past support for McCain and McCain-Feingold, his campaigning for liberal Republican Lincoln Chaffee. There are stories about Thompson being lazy and that caused him to become bored with being in the Senate. Then there is the health issue. It does not surprise me that he supported McCain in 2000. Senators tend to support one another. As for McCain-Feingold, Thompson has admitted in public that it has not lived up to its backers expectations. As to being lazy, I think Thompson is a man who likes to make things happen, and as one Senator out of one hundred, he was limited in his ability to achieve. No wonder he became bored. The Presidency promises to be a sphere where Thompson could do more. The cancer he has is in remission and it is a rare event for someone to die of it. He could live twenty more years with it and likely die of another cause. Campaining for Chaffee really makes me gag! Yet this is not enough to disqualify him from getting my vote. As I said, Senators tend to support one another and I am sure Thompson has campaigned for his fair share of Conservatives. His private life is still a mystery to me. He has been divorced. Yet I doubt his private life is appalling as Gringrich's or Guiliani's. Thompson is not perfect, and if he wins the Presidency, I am prepared to be disappointed with him as I was when Bush won in 2000.

John McCain can not be counted on to govern as a Conservative. Even though he does have a solid pro-life voting record, there is too much animosity between him and the social Conservatives that they will not work for his election. I do not know if he can be trusted to appoint Conservative judges. Guiliani's social views and private life disqualify him. Personally, I like Romney, yet I do not know what his true views on abortion and other social issues are. Gingrich. Lets not go there. There are reliable Conservatives besides Thompson running for the Republican nomination, yet none of them excite the Party as a whole or can show that they can win in the national election. That leaves Thompson. His voting record is acceptably Conservative and he could unite all the GOP factions behind him. I believe that if the Republicans nominate a true Conservative for President, they could beat the Democrats no matter who they nominate. So far, only Thompson seems able to a unite the party. But we shall see. This is not an official endorsement. I am still waiting for any information that would cause me to change my mind.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual: "The Tragedy of American Compassion" by Marvin Olasky, Part I.

This book was recommended to me in seminary by Professor Matt Friedeman who blogs at . While I expected to agree with Olasky (editor of World magazine and a professor at The University of Texas) , it was an unexpected surprise that Olask'ys book reignited my passion for that part of the Gospel concerning meeting the physical needs of those most vulnerable in our society. I'm not advocating a welfare state. In fact, this book has made my antimosity toward the welfare system even stronger. Yet the Church is to reach out to rescue those who are less fortunate. Wesley declared that there is no holiness without social holiness. Yet the purpose for social holiness is not just to meet present needs, but to transform individuals, to lead them to Christ.

This book is a history of how the U.S. has tried to meet the needs of the less fortunate. Jesus told his disciples that the poor would always be with us, and America has never lacked those who lived in poverty, even before the rise of big cities and industry. Yet the solution our ancestors pursued was different from those who advocate a primary role for government. From the very beginning of colonial setlements, the Church took a leading role in relieving the distress of the poor. Private charity was the venue through which the poor, widowed, disabled and orphaned had their needs addressed. Yet the goal was never just to give money, food and clothing indiscrimately. It was the task of private individuals to determine true need; only those who could not meet their own needs were helped. Those deemed able but unwilling to work were turned away. Those truly in need were not only cared for but encouraged to change harmful lifestyles and personal habits that kept people in economic bondage. The overwhelming evidence indicates that those who were not Christian were not turned away, but were exhorted by the Church to be saved. The success rate for conversions while this was the dominant mode of relieving distress is impressive.

From our Colonial beginnings, the Church and private organizations warned against just throwing money at the poor without determining true need and encouraging personal transformation. The fear, which has been unfortunately realized, was the creation of a permanent dependant class. The American Church warned the state and Federal government not to follow Britain's example of Government Charity, a system which indeed created dependancy, waste and corruption. Some states tried to emulate the British, but these efforts proved to be failures and the attempts were abandoned. With the Industrial Revolution and the rise of big cities, many thought the church could not provide for the needy; the task would be too big. Yet Olasky documents how the Church and private charities adapted to the situation; the needs of most of the deserving poor were met in all major big cities up to the beginning of the twentieth century. Many churches provided so many services that their efforts rival that of today's mega-churches. The effort was focused on changing individuals, one at a time. And, as the author shows, it worked.

However, there were those who appeared in the late nineteenth century who had other ideas as to how to deal with the problem of need. There were the Social Darwinists who were against helping anyone in need because they applied Darwin's theory of "the survival of the fittest" to human beings. The American Church was successful in countering their efforts. Yet there were others who were passionate about meeting the needs of the poor, but rejected the emphasis on the individual. They advocated focusing on the masses, and they did not make a distinction between the deserving and the undeserving. Nor were they concerned with anyone's soul. Many of these advocated a new civic religion where the elite in government were looked upon as the new "gods" providing for the welfare of all of us. These were the seeds for the current dependancy class and the intrusion of government into the affairs of private individuals. These were the seeds of the government slowly assuming power over our destiny. And, as I will argue in a subsequent post, this was the beginning of the end of a dominant church influence over the life of our nation. This was the beginning of the church becoming "irrelevant" in modern culture. The rest of the book documents what has happened to us as a nation as we have moved away from private charity to government control. I think two more readings will finish the book. Until next time.

("The Hand" has been considering how to improve these posts. Some articles have been either too long or the paragraphs too long and hard to seperate from one another. I have been asked to put spaces between paragraphs, which is easily done. Yet to shorten the articles, I will have to omit information and quotations I would like to pass on to my readers. Therefore, "The Hand" will feature a new series entitled "Quotes and Facts" which will give further insights into people and issues not covered in other regular features such as "Friday Night Frozen Dinner and an Intellectual." Another series, "Clouds of Witnesses", will tout individual Christians and their works that could not be brought to the reader's attention in these book reviews. If you have any other suggestions for improvement, don't hesitate to let "the Hand" know.)

Church Signs I Have Seen

"Attitude is the crayon with which we color our world."

"Faith is better than facts."

"Sinners Wanted!"

I wish I owned a digital camera and knew how to post pictures on my blog. Then you would have more than my word that these signs actually exist. I hope to become more techno-savy in the near future.

By the way, does anyone want to comment on "The Hands" new look? I was told that white print on a black background is hard to read and that readers like colorful blogs.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Day To Remember

According to my calendar, today is Holocaust Memorial Day. This is a day to reflect upon what man can do to his fellow man. This is a day for Christians to reflect on what was one of the church's darkest periods. How a country that once proclaimed Christ could murder six million Jews, whether through active participation or through benign neglect, is a subject the church must come to grips with. To correctly reflect upon this subject, one needs to study history. A good book to begin with is "Our Hands Are Stained With Blood" by Michael Brown. This is a sobering account of Christian anti-semitism. Sometime within the next year I will post articles based upon my rereading of it. There is a danger that many will not only contend that the deathtoll and tales of the treatment of the victims are exaggerations, but are also fabrications. I have met those who deny the Holocaust ever happened. The American General, Dwight Eisenhower, as he inspected the death camps and met the survivors, predicted that this would be the case and made sure that history would never lack evidence of what was perpetrated. He wrote to George Marshall:

"I have never felt able to describe my emotional reaction when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency...I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda."

It would be a mistake to think that no western nation would try to erase this episode from history. The recent conference denying the Holocaust sponsored by Irans' president is not to be
dismissed lightly. By denying that the Holocaust ever took place, the Iranian president is attempting to deny the legitimacy of the state of Israel. And many Muslims share his attitude. As the Muslim population grows in Europe, the attempts to rewrite history according to Islamic wishes will be harder to counter. In Britian, some schools are forbidding teachers from teaching about the Holocaust for fear of offending Muslim sensibilities. No doubt, there will be those in the American education establishment who will attempt to go down the same road as their European counterparts. With trends such as these, it is a "no-brainer" why it is important to remember what happened during the Holocaust.

I recently saw an article on the internet about how German Christians respond to the Church's guilt. Every year German Christians travel to Israel to serve the needy and to confess that the German Church did not do enough to stop the Holocaust.

Monday, April 9, 2007

What Kind of Jesus Are We Looking For?

Mark 14: 1-11.
V. 1-2: This is Mark's account of Mary, the sister of Lazurus and Martha, annointing Jesus with oil. This event occured after Jesus had raised Lazurus from the tomb. Jesus had raised people from the dead before (the son of the widow of Nain and Jairus's daughter), but no one had ever raised anyone from the dead after the body had been in the tomb four days and already began to decompose. By raising Lazurus from the dead, Jesus showed himself indeed to be "the Resurrection and the Life." Many became believers, others, including eye-witnesses, wanted Jesus dead. However, these people had to be careful, because Jesus was popular with the people. Removing Jesus from the scene would not be an easy task. And not only Jesus; they wanted to kill Lazurus as well. One who came to a greater realization as to who Jesus was was Mary. The restoration of her brother not only made her grateful, she also realized that Jesus was worthy of total worship. What she knew about Jesus's identity can be a matter of speculation, yet I believe she realized that Jesus was God.
v. 3: Jesus was in the house of Simon the Leper. Being a leper would have made Simon a member of Israel's most feared and dispised minorities. No one was to touch a leper for fear of contamination and being ceremonially unclean. Yet Jesus was not only at his house, Jesus was engaged in the most intimate of social gatherings: sitting at the table eating a meal. Then Mary comes with the spikenard. The bottle she had was not the kind with a lid that could be screwed back on when one was finished with it. To release its very costly contents, the bottle had to be broken. All the contents of that bottle had to be used. As the contents spilled out, the aroma filled the room. (Jn 12:3)
v. 4-5: Mary was criticized for her extravagant worship of Jesus. "Why this waste?" she was asked. (Matt 26:8) The bottle could have been sold to aid the poor. John's Gospel singles out Judas as the one rebuking Mary. But as John points out, Judas was not concerned about the poor. He wanted more money for the money-bag he was in charge of so he could steal the money.
v. 8-9: Jesus announces that Mary is annointing Jesus for His burial. Does she not only know His identity but His mission as well? Again, this is a matter for speculation. I believe she had such an understanding. And wherever the Gospel is preached, this act of hers is to be made known. Why? Because her actions modeled one who is to be a total worshipper of Jesus, one who gives everything for Him. The perfume was worth many years wages. She did not even use it to annoint Lazurus for burial. But she annointed Jesus before His death. Not only that, she wiped His feet with her hair (Jn. 12:3) In terms of public behavior, this was indeed the most incredible act of devotion one could do. She gave her all, as the widow who put her mite into the Treasury. That bottle broken, with its contents spilled out, never to be contained again, is a picture of who we should be. When we give our all, when we make a total sacrifice to Jesus, we are broken vessels. When we give our all to Jesus in total worship to Him, it is indeed a sacrifice, costly to us, yet just as the fragrance filled the room, our sacrifice pleases the Lord and the world is more conformed to what God intends it to be. Watchman Nee, one of China's greatest Christians, wrote about an encounter with a former professor. Nee was in bad health and the professor inquired as to why. Nee responded that he had damaged his health through his ceaseless evangelistic activities. The professor rebuked Him. Nee had been a brilliant student who had a bright future before him. Why did he waste his life following this Jesus? The professor left indignant, yet Nee was able with satisfaction to understand the sacrifice Mary made and that Nee's own sacrifice had been just as "total" as hers. (This account was from "Why This Waste?" by Watchman Nee from Christian Literature Crusade. I am not sure if it is still available.)
v10-11: When Jesus rebuked Mary's critics, Judas made the decision to betray Jesus. Why then? We know from John that Judas had been stealing from the money-bag he was entrusted with. Why was he following Jesus? The disciples believed that Jesus was going to be a king; Jesus would expell the Romans and restore Israel to its former glory. Perhaps Judas thought that when Jesus became King, than he Judas, would be the Royal Treasurer. Then he could take as much money as he wanted for himself. But Jesus showed himself to be interested in another Kingdom, one that Judas could not understand. Judas must have began to doubt whether following Jesus was to his advantage. His encouragement of Mary's behavior was the evidence Judas needed to realize he was looking for a different sort of Messiah. And so he thought to betray Jesus for money. Judas probably thought "What is the use of following Jesus if one cannot profit from it in worldy riches?"
What kind of Jesus are you looking for? A Jesus who preserves our self-esteem by not requiring us to be broken? One that keeps us from all suffering? One that promises us we will be rich in the world's goods? Sometimes, with the excuse of avoiding legalism, people will ask how far they can go in certain behavior before that behavior turns into sin. They want to know how much of the world they can have and have Jesus too. Jesus will have none of this. He wants our all, or He will have none of us at all. Paul exhorts us to make our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. This is our reasonable service (act of worship). (Rom. 12:1) John writes "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever."(IJn 2:15-17) Jesus himself said "And he who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it." (Matt. 10: 38-39) Mary knew better than the disciples who Jesus was. Her knowledge led her to total worship of Jesus. Judas was following a Jesus who he thought would give him all he wanted. When Judas realized that "his Jesus" was not the real Jesus, he betrayed him. Will you follow a "Jesus" that will grant all your desires, or will you seek the real Jesus? And when you find the real Jesus, will you give Him your all? (All scripture quotations are from the NKJV)

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Monday Morning Devotions

James 4:10- "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up."
This is a promise that should comfort us when we have allowed ourselves to let other things come between us and God. Whether these things are good in themselves, or we have deliberately sinned, when we lack the peace that we are supposed to possess when we abide in Christ, this verse in James points the way back to a restoration of that peace.
To humble ourselves is not just to know that God is great and that we are nothing in comparison. James gives us a picture of what our humbling should look like. In v.7, we are told to resist the devil and submit to God. For too long I thought that every battle against sin had to be a long, dragged out affair which caused me to live in dispair. Yet when I finally followed the command this verse contains, I found that the devil does flee, and quicker than you think. We are told in v. 8 to draw near to God. Is this just a passive stance on our part of waiting till God does something on our behalf? No. We are to repent of our willful disobedience ("...cleanse your hands, you sinners...") and our refusal to put our faith in Jesus ("...purify your hearts, you double-minded.") We are to weep over our sin, the sins committed within the body of Christ, and the sins of the world that breaks the heart of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (verse 9) We will be lifted up after we have turned our laughter into mourning. (verses 9,10) We will not be neither morose nor humorless, but we will be at peace with our Father. And this peace brings a different kind of happiness, a happiness that attracts those who have no peace, a happiness that attracts people to Jesus.
These verses in James can be applied by you and I to bring revival to our own lives. However, this Epistle was written by James not to individuals, but to "the the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad..." (James 1:1) James was writing to all the Jewish believers in Jesus scattered over a vast geographic region. He was writing to a collective body of people giving instruction as to how to bring about a revival to that entire body of believers. And as stated above, they were to do specific acts, such as repent, mourn over their sin and place their faith totally in Jesus Christ. They were not to wait in passivity while God "did something." This applies to us as well. Many believers today believe that God is going to just sweep through this nation bringing revival to the Church. Without relizing it, they speak of God as some "force" that will blow through this land like the wind. All we have to do is pray this revival down from heaven. Yet, to paraphrase one of my favorite Christians, A.W. Tozer, prayer without obedience will bring no revival. Revival will come when those in the Church follow the pattern of behavior as found in these verses from James. A friend of mine once made the following observation after she heard someone from the pulpit at my home church declare that the coming revival was about to sweep the area: "I have heard this for years. When is this supposed to happen?" I am sure that many ask this question and come to conclude revival will never happen. But it can. But obedience is the Biblical first step. If you think I am advocating works to attempt to make God act, I am not. The behavior outlined in these verses creates the atmosphere where God's grace can sanctify the believer.