Racism & the Bible

You’ve no doubt heard about the White Supremacists/KKK Rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the violence that ensued resulting in one death and many seriously injured. (Of note, every organization represented in the United States – regardless of how unpopular & hateful their views – has the constitutional right to assemble peacefully and benefit from their right to free speech.  But that is a topic for another article.)

As a youth pastor, I would periodically teach on the topic of racismRacism (which can originate in any race toward another race) is, in my experience, taught/passed down rather than learned inherently. Like a disease (not terminal, mind you, since it can be un-learned), racism infects the right and biblical thinking of individuals.  I use the adjective, biblical, since, tragically, I’ve visited with a few people over the years claiming to be Christians who are angrily racist.

Racism was rampant in the Bible as the biblical writers, for example, record the hatred Jews had for Samaritans (and vice-versa) as well as the Egyptians forcing the Hebrew people into centuries of slavery.  Some erroneously accuse God of endorsing slavery since we read about slavery in the Bible, and Jesus and Paul never openly condemning slavery.  That is a sorely irresponsible interpretation.  Always remember: just because the Bible records something doesn’t necessarily mean the Bible approves of what is being recorded.  There are numerous heinous acts recorded in Scripture.  Why?  Because it’s the story of God’s pursuit of fallen man – and God never sanitizes the depravity of fallen man (us).

When Jesus & Paul commanded us to “love your neighbor as your self” their clear meaning was that “neighbor” represented all humanity.  Addressing the equality of every created human being, Paul writes to the Galatians, There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. In short, racism is sin.

NYT best-selling author/historian, Eric Metaxas, one of my favorite biographers, tweeted:

“Like my heroes Wilberforce & Bonhoeffer, I see racism as the antithesis of the love of Jesus for all. So White Nationalism is satanic.”

Well said, Eric. 

Solo Deo Gloria, Nick 

Doubting God (it’s ok to do that :))

John the Baptist was described by Jesus, himself, as the greatest prophet to have ever lived. (Luke 7:28)

Yet, it’s John, while suffering in prison and awaiting execution, that asks his friends to go find Jesus and ask him, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3)

Author/professor, Andre Resner, rightly stated, “The struggle with God is not a lack of faith; it is faith.”

Does the painful stuff of life sometimes make you wonder about God? If it does – it means you’re perfectly normal. You’re in strong biblical company.

God has no problem shouldering our doubt. Give your doubt to him – every last ounce of it. Peter, an eye-witness and close friend of Jesus, put it this way: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

The Bible, the Qur’an and the Book of Mormon

I’m presently neck-deep in an outstanding 450 page tome titled, In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture.

No disrespect to my Muslim and Mormon friends. This is simply an observation for the reliability of the Bible when compared to other major world religion texts by Paul Wegner (Ph.D. University of London):

“The Bible (both Old and New Testaments) was written by approximately forty different authors over a period of over 1,000 years, and yet there is a consistent and clear message throughout the book; neither the Qur’an nor The Book of Mormon has such a pedigree.

“There is extensive manuscript evidence for the Bible, including at least 300 Hebrew manuscripts and 5,800 Greek manuscripts, as well as more than 20,000 ancient manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments written in various languages, and more than 30,000 scriptural quotations in the early church fathers which help confirm the accuracy of Scriptures. Neither the Qur’an nor The Book of Mormon can make this claim.

“The OT contains specific prophecies that claim to be fulfilled in the NT (e.g., Isa 53:3–4 = Matt 8:17; Isa 53:7–8 = Acts 8:32–35; Isa 53:12 = Luke 22:37; Mic 5:2 = Matt 2:6; Joel 2:28–32 = Acts 2:16–21); neither the Qur’an nor The Book of Mormon contain anything like this.

“It is interesting that both the Qur’an and The Book of Mormon claim to be a continuation of divine revelation from the Bible through their specific prophets, and yet both works contain significant contradictions with the theology of the Bible. The book of Hebrews (1:1–2) claims that Jesus is the final revelation, implying there will be no further divine revelation.”

Sola Scriptura, Nick

Hate Speech vs. Free Speech

“Hate speech” is a subjective phrase.

Far too often, “disagreement” is construed as “hate.”  This is played out on college campuses through the U.S.

Furthering the subjective nature of defining “hate speech”, Facebook is relying “on its nearly two billion users to report any hateful posts they see. Workers then review the posts and decide whether to delete it.” That’s two billion people plus FB’s 4500 (soon to be 7500) “hate-speech-police” deciding what “hate speech,” in their opinion, is.  Apparently, with “66k posted being deleted per week,” there’s not shortage of hateful posts.

FB says that this “can feel like censorship.” Ya think?

YouTube, owned by Google, has begun a similar crackdown on “hate speech.” As I stated earlier, “hate speech” inevitably will be defined differently by different people. Here’s how YouTube defines “hate speech”:

…anything that “promotes discrimination or disparages or humiliates an individual or group of people on the basis of the individual’s or group’s race, ethnicity, or ethnic origin, nationality, religion, disability, age, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other characteristic associated with systematic discrimination or marginalization.”

This can/will get controversial quickly. 

Although I completely agree with – and applaud – Facebook’s & Google’s premise, I’ll be interested to watch where this goes – more specifically, where it ends up where the freedom to convey biblical Christian doctrine is concerned.

People erroneously argue, “Jesus never offended anyone.  He was a nice, wonderful, loving teacher.”  I submit to you that being “nice” doesn’t get one executed on a Roman Cross.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

Who is Jesus?

“Who is Jesus?”  It’s the most important answer a person will ever give to a question.

Most of us are familiar with former atheist/Narnia author, C.S. Lewis’, famous “trilemma” recorded in his classic apologetic, Mere Christianity:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

It may surprise some who are not familiar with the gospel accounts that the question of “Who is Jesus?” is nothing new.  In 1st century Palestine people were asking the same question people are asking today: “Who IS this guy??”

In his gospel, John records, “While some said, ‘He is a good man,’ others said, ‘No, he is leading people astray.” (7:12) Later, in 8:25, the Jews ask Jesus incredulously, “Who ARE you??” Again, in 8:48-53: “The Jews answered [Jesus and said], “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?…Who do you think you are??”

In their book, Putting Jesus in His Place, Robert Bowman & J. Ed. Komoszewski write, “Interpretations of Jesus are fraught with bias. He’s a powerful figure people want on their sides – and they’re willing to re-create him in their image to enlist his support….Frankly, it’s hard to escape the feeling that our culture has taken Jesus’ question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’, and changed it to ‘Who do you want me to be?”

Not sure who Jesus is? For one, he is a gentleman; he will not impose himself on you, but allows every human being to decide for themselves who he is.

Read Mark’s & John’s biographies (gospels) of Jesus in an easy-to-read translation. Try either the New Living Translation or the New English Translation. Both are solid. Then, check out Philip Yancey’s award-winning, The Jesus I Never Knew, Lee Strobel’s, The Case for the Real Jesus, or Josh & Sean McDowell’s short classic, More than a Carpenter. What you will find is a man so real, yet so fascinating, only God could have thought him up.

Set aside others’ opinions. Honestly investigate Christ’s claims, and see if you don’t begin to hear the Lion of Judah roar.

For Narnia, Nick

Freedom of Religion? Yes. Freedom of Biblical Christianity? Not so much.

I customarily do not address politics in this publication.  We all have our convictions and opinions where politics is concerned.

Having said that, the issue of religious freedom is a bipartisan issue clearly supported by the United States Constitution – and I have no reluctance for speaking to, or defending, that freedom.

The big news last week was the attack on religious freedom by two U.S. Senators.  The person under religious attack was Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Russell Vought is an alumni of Wheaton College, a strongly evangelical Christian school.  Approximately a year and a half ago, a Wheaton professor, Dr. Larycia Hawkins stated that Muslims and Christians worship the same God – which is, according to the message of the Bible vs. the message of the Quran, blatantly false.  (For a brief explanation of the exclusivity of the world’s major religions click here.) While still a professor at Wheaton, Hawkins had written, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book.  And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

Wheaton College terminated Dr. Hawkins. As you can imagine, a firestorm of debate ensued.  One of the editorials written in the weeks that followed Dr. Hawkins’ termination was one by Mr. Vought  explaining the discrepancy between Islamic and Biblical theology.  You can read that editorial here.

At Mr. Vought’s confirmation hearing last week, two Senators – Bernie Sanders & Christopher Van Hollen Jr. – asked probing questions about Mr. Vought’s Christian faith.  But they didn’t stop there.  What followed was an overt attack on Mr. Vought’s Christian faith and how, in the senators’ opinion, Mr. Vought’s faith makes him unqualified to serve in public office.   The attack on Vought’s Christian faith was done under the guise that his Christian faith might impede his ability to treat people fairly.  You can view the the exchange between Sanders & Vought below.  It’s less than 3 minutes in length.

Clearly, Senator Sanders’ implication is that one’s faith should be a litmus test to serve in public office.  This is where the real firestorm exploded.  Sanders defiantly defended his comments by saying, “In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world.”  So, here Mr. Sanders makes a fundamental mistake:  he defends one of the world’s religions (Islam) and attacks another (Christianity).  It is significant to understand that, both, Islam and Christianity make exclusive claims for truth.  But, alas, only Christianity gets attacked.

And, speaking of Christianity, Senator Christopher Van Hollen Jr., offered this convoluting comment.  Speaking to Mr. Vought, he says,

“I think it is irrefutable that these kinds of comments suggest to a whole lot of Americans that, number one . . . you are condemning people of all faiths. I’m a Christian, but part of being a Christian in my view is recognizing that there are lots of ways that people can pursue their God. . . .

I’m happy the senator said, “…in my view…”  Because, clearly, the Senator is sorely unfamiliar with his Bible.  He is justified in saying that “there are lots of ways that people can pursue their God.”  No one disagrees with that.  However, according to the Bible, there’s only one way to know the God of the Bible: through faith in his son, Jesus Christ.

The Huffington Post defended Sanders’ statements, creating their own version of logic.  The author, James Zogby, wrote:

It is Vought, not Sanders who has used a religious test to support the firing of a tenured professor. His demonstrated intolerance is a disturbing trait for someone in public service. Vought may claim that all are “worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs”, but when it came to Professor Hawkins, a fellow Christian, Vought behaved quite differently, precisely because her description of her faith did not comport with his narrow interpretation of Christian theology.

Zogby’s logic is myopic and erroneous.  Dr. Hawkins was teaching non-Christian doctrine at an expressly evangelical Christian college, and was not running for public office.  (I would invite Mr. Zogby to try and teach non-Islamic doctrine at an Islamic school and see what happens next.) Comparing the two stories is an argument based on Zogby’s errant logic, biased opinion and gross ignorance of the biblical gospel.

As expected, the ACLU, quickly jumped to Sanders’ defense by writing:

“Religious freedom is such a fundamental liberty that the framers of our Constitution enshrined it in the First Amendment. That’s why it’s so disturbing that Trump continues to pack his administration with appointees like Russell Vought, whose views threaten that very freedom.”

Once again, every world religion is given a pass – except Christianity.  The hypocrisy was deafening.  And the world noticed.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention responded to Sanders’ comments.  He said:

Senator Sanders’ comments are breathtakingly audacious and shockingly ignorant — both of the Constitution and of basic Christian doctrine. Even if one were to excuse Senator Sanders for not realizing that all Christians of every age have insisted that faith in Jesus Christ is the only pathway to salvation, it is inconceivable that Senator Sanders would cite religious beliefs as disqualifying an individual for public office in defiance of the United States Constitution. No religious test shall ever be required of those seeking public office. While no one expects Senator Sanders to be a theologian, we should expect far more from an elected official who has taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution.

Sen. James Lankford (I’ve met Senator Lankford) warned that Sanders’ comments come “dangerously close to crossing a clear constitutional line for how we evaluate qualifications for public service.”  He continued,

“The First Amendment is crystal clear that the federal government must protect every American’s right to the peaceful and free exercise of religion.  We cannot say we have the free exercise of religion and also require people to practice their faith only in a way that government officials prefer.”

Emma Green, writing for the secular publication, The Atlantic, defended Vought:

It’s one thing to take issue with bigotry. It’s another to try to exclude people from office based on their theological convictions. Sanders used the term “Islamophobia” to suggest that Vought fears Muslims for who they are. But in his writing (in his editorial for Wheaten College), Vought was contesting something different: He disagrees with what Muslims believe, and does not think their faith is satisfactory for salvation. Right or wrong, this is a conviction held by millions of Americans—and many Muslims might say the same thing about Christianity.

As you can imagine, Twitter blew up over this story.  NYT Best-Selling author, Eric Metaxas, tweeted,

“What [Sen. Sanders] did was in fact so bad, and so un-American, that we should be demanding his resignation.  It is a stunning moment in our history.”

And the conservative news site, The Federalist, disseminated all the jargon by tweeting simply, “Senator Sanders doesn’t think Christians are fit for public office.”

A friend of mine from HBU (he lives in the beautiful state of Vermont – the state Sanders represents) wrote a blog entitled, Senator Bernie Sanders and the Inverse Religious Test for Civil Service.  He writes, “Dear Senator Sanders,…

“…a worldview that affirms all other worldviews to be true is a contradiction in and of itself because it is evidently not true that all worldviews can be simultaneously true… The issue is that when you hold certain beliefs, you are espousing a particular worldview, and that worldview is inevitably at odds with other worldviews… You claim to embrace tolerance, but you are in fact being intolerant of Mr. Vought simply because of his freely chosen religious beliefs. That is hypocrisy.”

In the Washington Post, Jim Wallace wrote an editorial with the following subtitle: Democrats could stand to know more about religion.  Christians also need to express our beliefs without vitriol.  After reading Wallace’s article, I found it’s Wallace who needs to learn more about what Jesus said and did.  He would find this:  the gospel, by its very nature, is offensiveIt tells us we’re hopeless sinners in desperate need of a Savior.  And it tells us that those who die, having not professed their faith in Christ, will stand in judgment of hell You can’t proclaim the gospel of Jesus and count on everyone liking you – just ask Jesus.  They crucified him. 

Senator Sanders exposed his true motive during the hearing.  He has little interest in religious freedom – if you’re a Christian.  Additionally, he has no concept of the fundamental differences between world religions.  Finally, he is accusing Mr. Vought of making daily decisions based on his convictions when he is doing the very thing: deciding to attack Mr. Vought based on his own convictions. Religious or not, do we not all live our lives based on fundamental principles in which we strongly believe?

Let me be perfectly clear – if this story were turned around 180 degrees, and an evangelical Christian Senator had attacked the religious convictions of a political nominee representing a different religion, I would be writing the same opinion piece on behalf of the individual who was being marginalized and harassed.  If you don’t like someone’s religious faith or worldview – and they’re running for public office – don’t vote for them.  But, we must never personally attack them because of their faith or suggest they are less of a person solely because they don’t hold to the same convictions/worldview we do.

The moment we allow this to take place in government is the moment Religious Freedom will be a thing of the past.

I titled this blog “Freedom of Religion? Yes.  Freedom of Biblical Christianity?  Not so much.”  Here’s why:  (1) I use the term “biblical Christianity” because the term “Christian” is widely used and, as such, means different things to different people.  For instance, in this blog both, Dr. Hawkins and Senator Van Hollen Jr., refer to themselves as Christians while, apparently, holding to doctrines not taught in the Bible.  (2) While some might prefer to remove religious principles from any and all decisions made by those serving in public office, it is logically impossible to divorce someone’s decisions from what they believe – we’re not robots.  

We all have convictions, beliefs and principles that drive our daily decisions and make us who we are.  Senator Sanders, here, defends Islamic faith, while attacking Christian faith.  If this is true (and I don’t see any other way to interpret it), then Senator Sanders – and those who defend his statements – represent those who, according to their words, believe in the freedom of religion – as long as it’s not the Christian faith.

In sum, if Senator Sanders were to read a Bible I suspect he would never have attacked Mr. Vought’s Christian faith. For, he would see in the gospels that, although Jesus clearly states he is the only way to God, he never imposed his convictions on a single person.  On the contrary, he preached the truth and left the decision to trust him solely up to the listener, even when his message resulted in many people choosing to no longer follow him.  Jesus never compromised the truth of his message (and this made him a lot of enemies), but he treated all people equally, with love and respect.

All the way to the Cross.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

Hope on the Rock(s)

My spirit is crushed,….Where then is my hope?” Job 17:1, 15

“My spirit is crushed,….Where then is my hope?”  Honest statement.  Honest question.

It’s one of the reasons I love reading the Bible.  It’s unsanitized, unedited, raw, and brutally honest. When Job made his statement, and asked his question, he had recently buried all ten of his children.   With ten fresh graves most likely within sight, Job was “at the end of his rope.”

I was beginning my sophomore year in high school when my parents divorced.   In the months that followed, my dad, on occasion, would take me with him to bars.  I was only 15 years old at the time, but I can remember watching my dad, and folks around us.  Some laughed with friends, while others sat with blank stares on their faces like… well, like my dad.

Country music superstar, Toby Keith, offers spot-on insight from his hit, Hope on the Rocks:

Where do they go? They come here – to drown in their sorrow and cry in their beer.  They’re in need of a mindbender – I’m a bartender. At the end of the day, I’m all they’ve got.  Hope on the rocks.

 This blog isn’t about getting drunk.  It’s about what (Who) we reach for when we’ve lost hope.

Some revert to eating, or shopping, or busy-ness, or (fill in the blank.) But here’s what satan doesn’t tell you in the scripted music videos: The stories you hear in hit songs rarely, if ever, end up with a happy ending with a pretty bow on top.  (The home in which I grew up is a testimony to this.) Furthermore, after one’s mind “un-bends” from the alcohol and they find none of their circumstances have changed, what’s next?  Another mindbender?  The emotional & physical effort to forget, over time, simply becomes a mental treadmill that leads nowhere.

“Where, then, is my hope!”, (cries Job…and us)

“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness,” says the old hymn.  Job may have lived in antiquity, but he was a human being just like you and me.  When hopelessness visited his house he had a choice to make.  Against the advice of friends and family he made his choice:  I will hope in [God];…For I know that my Redeemer lives, (13:15; 19:25)

 And there it is – the pivotal truth that sets biblical Hope apart from all others.

I like bartenders.  They’re kind and compassionate people.  (And I like Toby Keith, by the way.  A lot.)  A bartender can pour your favorite drink and help you forget about your problems.  But (1) when we sober up our problems haven’t gone anywhere, and (2) most importantly, a bartender can’t die our our sins.  Only one Person could – and did – do that.  Driven by unfathomable love for us, Christ died on a bloody cross, and then conquered hopelessness by rising from the dead three days later.

Scholars believe the book of Job may be the oldest book in our Bible.  Yet God gave Job the supernatural ability to see millennia ahead to the cross of Christ and testify to the words yet to be written by Paul:  We have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”

For Narnia.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick