Category Archives: Religion and Politics

No Segregation

The current culture exerts immense pressure in every direction with one goal: to force human beings to separate the sacred and the secular. Jesus told his disciples that their lives were never to be segregated in that manner. He said, “Be integrated, as I am integrated.” That is to say, Jesus was 100% God and 100% man. He was not part anything, and he did not act one moment as God and the next as a man.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48 When the translators chose the word perfect they made a choice of a single word for a single word, but underlying the English word perfect is the Greek word teleios. That single word is better defined as “consummate human integrity and virtue,” in Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Integrity is the same thing as “fully integrated”—a man who is the same thing at all times in all places.

Human beings who receive Christ are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and they are 100% human and 100% Christ’s people at all times. With the Holy Spirit fully present in each Christian, at all times and in all places, no Christian can say, “When I am at home, I will act on my conviction that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, the institution designed and set in place by God himself, but when I am at work, I will support the recently-human-devised notion that a marriage can be a union of any pairing or grouping humans can imagine.” A Christian must live a fully integrated life, and that means no segregation between sacred and secular.

This is the reason Kim Davis cannot and will not participate when the culture calls a union of two men or two women a marriage. She will not participate when the federal government presumes to tell the states what constitutes a marriage. She will not participate if Kentucky passes a law that defines a union of two men as a marriage.

Kim is fully integrated.

Kim is the same person in her church building, in her home, and at her job. When you meet Kim at home, you won’t hear her disparage the phenomenon currently called “gay marriage,” and then see her go to work and sign her name to licenses that authorize that very phenomenon. She isn’t alone. There are other clerks who have chosen not to participate in sin, but Kim’s name is the one in the news. Kim was willing to endure prison rather than trade her conscience for freedom.

Freedom. Liberty. The reason the United States exists is that there were colonists who refused to give up freedoms they had enjoyed as subjects of the British Empire. They felt that the Empire had presumed to take away rights and liberty to which they were entitled by the very fact of being human. They expected the Empire to respect their humanity and the rights given to human beings at the moment each person was created. One of those rights is the right to obey God. God gives to each person the right to choose to obey him, and when any human government presumes to trample on that freedom, it is even more unacceptable than the colonists’ complaint that the Empire imposed taxes and other restrictions on British subjects in the colonies without allowing them a representative to speak in Parliament for them.

God creates every person with the freedom to serve him. He creates in every heart the power to make that choice and to follow it. The First Amendment of the US Constitution does not create that right; it protects a right that already exists.

Kim Davis is an example to all Christians. She is fully integrated. She is living up to God’s command out of the mouth of Jesus, 100% God and 100% man: “Be integrated, as I am integrated.” (Matthew 5:48)

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The “Free Exercise” Clause does not create Religious Liberty

The state of Colorado has found a way to invalidate the argument that the First Amendment protects the “free exercise” of religious faith.

Generations of American citizens have been proud to say that the USA is a country where people are free to live by their religious convictions. In fact, in this country, people are free to choose whatever religion they wish, and then they are free to live by the teachings of that religion. Until now, it has been very seldom that a person with deeply held religious convictions was compelled to violate them. It took serious evidence that accommodation of religious values would do real harm to the nation and other citizens before a court would decide against the “free exercise” of religion. The First Amendment to the Constitution has been a bulwark of religious liberty and a model held high around the world.

It is important to know that the First Amendment did not create the right to religious liberty. Nobody involved in the writing of the Constitution, and nobody who thought the Constitution would be stronger with the addition of the first ten amendments, believed that the men who wrote the Constitution had failed to create a right to religious liberty. As the states debated the ratification of the Constitution, the discussion was about the fact that every citizen already believed that he had religious liberty by virtue of being a human being. Five of the colonies  that became independent states after the Revolutionary War were founded specifically to exercise that right. The founders of those colonies had fled Great Britain, because they were denied that right in their homeland, and they believed that God, not Great Britain, had given them a right that neither Great Britain nor any other government could take away. They knew from experience that government could suppress the right by attaching qualifiers to the exercise of that right, and when citizens advocated strongly for the rights protected in the First Amendment, the citizens were advocating that those unalienable human rights be protected, not created.

The First Amendment does not exist because citizens thought the Constitution ought to create these rights. It exists, because citizens feared that the new government, like the ones they had fled, would try to limit or suppress this right, a right that the citizens believed they possessed as a consequence of being human. The First Amendment does not create the right to religious liberty; the First Amendment forbids the government to try to take that right away. Recently on Facebook, there was a post of a statement to the effect that someone thought that the Bill of Rights was a set of privileges granted to citizens by the federal government. Nothing could be farther from the truth, since the Constitution is a document written by representatives of the states and their citizens with the objective of setting strong bounds to the power of any central government serving all the states.

With that understanding, take a look at what happened recently in Colorado. Jack Phillips, a baker, appealed a decision of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission after a ruling that he had no right, based in his religious convictions, to refuse to prepare a cake for gays who wanted to celebrate a pretend wedding ceremony. The request was made in 2012, and at the time, gay marriage was not legal in Colorado. However, Charlie Craig and David Mullins wanted to play house and part of the game was a play wedding, for which they requested that Jack Phillips bake and decorate a cake. Phillips argued that for him to contribute a cake to the celebration and write a congratulatory message on the cake was tantamount to condoning and supporting gay marriage. He further argued that, since he holds a deep conviction, consistent with the teachings of his faith, that homosexual behavior is sin and the union of two homosexuals is not a marriage, he can neither participate in such behavior nor express a message of the approval of such behavior. His faith teaches him, as it teaches all who follow Christ, that his life must be consistent with his faith—on the sidewalk, in his home, and while conducting business, just as surely as when he is in a church building.

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that Jack Phillips may not claim religious liberty as a basis for his refusal to make the cake and write the message on it, because what he writes in cake icing atop that cake, “does not convey a celebratory message about same-sex weddings likely to be understood by those who view it.” Such a claim is preposterous. Such a statement about the writing on a wedding cake is preposterous. People who go to weddings gaze with delight and appreciation at all the decorations and table settings and yes, even the words written on the cake. If those words express anything other than the names and the date of the wedding, everyone takes the sentiments to heart. They wonder who thought up such words, and they compliment both the words and the skill in presentation atop the cake. Some guests may even be so impressed that they ask who the baker was and plan to order something themselves, all because of the words and the skill of artistry in presenting them. It is ludicrous to allege that the wedding guests are too stupid and inattentive to absorb the message on the wedding cake.

Jack Phillips had every right to decline any business that was an affront to his conscience. That was always the intent of the First Amendment. For the court to pretend that nobody would associate the cake and the words written on it with the baker who produced them is actually not the important issue, because the court made up that issue in order to avoid showing respect for Phillips’ faith. The court’s explanation is simply a workaround. It was a ruse that salved their own consciences. This convoluted and imaginary logic pretended that free exercise of religion was not involved, and then they rejected the basis of the baker’s decision by saying that religion could not logically figure in the baker’s rejection of the business. In so doing, they thought they would make him look ridiculous. They thought they would forestall any further attempts by other businesses to refuse to participate in the mockery of marriage that is a gay wedding.

Every Christian learns early that Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23 ESV). The “daily” admonition carries the expectation that at all times and in all places a Christian will obey Christ. The Bible is the place where we find the teachings and the example of Christ.

Christians look to the Bible to learn what a marriage is: “He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’” (Matthew 19:4-5 ESV). Clearly God created human beings with gender at the time of creation, not for them to choose later, and he established marriage as the unique, natural relationship of an adult human male and an adult human female as the foundation of families and human culture.

Christians learn in the Bible that some sexual behavior is wicked and to be rejected:

God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. . . . Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them –Romans 1:26-27, 32 ESV

Some people apply very abstruse and convoluted reasoning to this text and others that condemn homosexual behavior, and by that means they declare that homosexuality is nothing more than a normal variant of all the possible normal variants of human sexual behavior. Christians apply the plain sense of this passage and recognize that heterosexual marriage is God’s plan.

Christians also learn in the Bible that every word and deed must be subject to Christ’s high standards: “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17 ESV) It isn’t possible to separate behaviors related to business transactions from behaviors related to worship or good health. All behavior is subject to God’s authority.

In short, Christians cannot make a distinction between what they would do at home and what they would do for a customer in their business dealings. Jack Phillips is doing what every Christian is advised to do. He asks himself what Christ’s standard is, and he tries to live that way. Almost certainly, someone could find a time in his life when he did not make the best choice, but that does not make his choice today invalid; it simply proves that he actually is a human. On the occasion when Jack declined to participate in actions that condone and celebrate the union of two homosexual men as if it were a wedding, Jack Phillips was refusing to participate in behavior that condones and celebrates sin.

The Colorado Court of Appeals failed to uphold the First Amendment protections to which Jack Phillips is entitled. May the court to which he appeals next be wiser.

In the meantime, Christ’s followers must be vigilant. For some, the idea of making a stand is attractive, because some people enjoy verbal combat and the war of ideas. For others, making a stand is very difficult, not because they are less committed, but rather, because they truly deplore the combative environment. All of us must be prayerful and submit to Christ’s leadership first. The landscape is a minefield, littered with assorted definitions, nuances, implications, and real dangers. While every follower must be vigilant, it is important for each to be compassionate toward believers who avoid conflict if possible. Peacemakers are blessed, according to Christ’s words, and every believer must applaud those who find ways to make peace without sacrificing truth.

The Bible is not actually about religious liberty, even though it is our guide to exercising religious liberty. The Bible is about the Way of Christ, a path that ends where each believer is nailed to the cross he carries with him every day. The major concern of every believer must be to know the mind of Christ in order to find Christ’s chosen path through the dangers. We pray for others as we pray for ourselves to give faithful testimony to Christ in every word and deed. Government may arrogate to itself the power to suppress the free exercise of religion, but when government does suppress this God-given, unalienable right, citizens have no obligation to submit. We pray never to give up the right to obey Christ, a right it is not in government’s power either to grant or to withhold.

Politics and Religion

As society becomes more secular, those who lean secular tend to turn politics into their religion. They treat it as if it matters in the way I treat the resurrection of Christ.

Erick Erickson at http://www.redstate.com/2014/11/04/dont-be-crazy-pete/

This statement could not be more true. The word true is not a comparison. It is an absolute. Either something is true or it is not. Yet some observations evoke a deeper response to the truth they express than others do. Anyone who looks at the culture with his eyes open sees this problem.

Erickson’s statement comes from an article in which he describes how his neighbor Pete changed from a friend to a serious enemy because of the politics of the past few years. I have had the same experience. My friend of twenty years and I cannot discuss politics, but that is her choice, not mine. We used to discuss politics, even though we did not agree, but after the election of Barack Obama, everything changed.

I recognized that Obama was a socialist, if not a rock solid Marxist, in early 2008. At that time, my friend and I were writing back and forth (we no longer live near each other) with occasional comments on the various candidates for president. She mentioned reading one of Obama’s books. I mentioned hearing one of his speeches. We had been discussing all the candidates, so I pointed out that he had eliminated himself from contention for my vote in this speech. I said that I could not vote for him, because he was a complete socialist. My friend wrote back, “Where do you get this ‘socialist’ idea?” (That question indicates another problem, but that is for a different post.) After the election, when she found out that I was a Tea Party supporter, she said that we had to quit discussing politics because of the “venom” of the Tea Party. On a few occasions, her Facebook updates have made it clear that she believes any Tea Party supporter is deranged, so it is undoubtedly good that we don’t discuss politics, but it is sad that we can’t.

The most revealing moment was the time she said, “I just ask what Jesus would do, and Barack Obama does what Jesus would do. That is how I decide.” Her act of folding her politics into her religion has warped both her politics and her religion, but she believed at the time that she had seen light. Interestingly, after she took that step, she began to pull away from her faith, and now she claims not to believe in God or Jesus any longer. Her politics is the only religion she has left.

I’m not sure how it all works, but I observe that it is so. When people confuse politics and religion, religion loses. Why? Because politics is about power you can see. When the government threatens people with arrest and re-education, the power is palpable.

Some say that Tea Party supporters confuse politics and religion. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I am a Tea Party supporter, and I don’t confuse politics and religion. My faith in Christ is the root of my personal value system, and my personal values determine which political ideas I will endorse, but I don’t put my faith in politics or politicians. I hope only in God. My personal values lead me to select a political course that produces small government, low taxes, personal liberty and free enterprise. I don’t claim that the party that endorses these values speaks for God; I do claim that knowing God leads me to endorse these values. I am never surprised, but I am saddened, when candidates who claim to endorse these values betray them after election, because I did not confuse the politics or the politicians with God himself.

Erick Erickson reminds us that secular thinkers do not trust God. They do not believe he exists. Yet they, like Christians, want someone or something to support peace and good order in the world. For lack of any other choice, they put their faith in government. They will discover that it is like the psalmist’s experience when he said, “Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.” (Psalm 62:9 ESV) No government is God. No government is like God. The best thing government can do is to obey God’s purpose for government by keeping good order in the society and protecting the freedom of citizens. Politics is not a good religion, and government is not a good god.

What the Election Won’t Change

As we look forward to the election on Tuesday, we all look forward to the prospect that Republicans may defeat a few Democrats, especially in the senate. If that happens, we look forward with great hope that the Republicans who campaigned on the issues of small government, lower taxes, and more freedom in the economy will actually live up to their campaign rhetoric. We yearn to see elected senators and representatives at all levels do the right thing for the citizens of the USA. We long to see more jobs for more people and more people standing on their own two feet rather than leaning on everyone else. We long to see public officials stand firm for the moral standards that make a country great. We hope to see elected officials at all levels demonstrate commitment to the US Constitution and the rule of law.

What will not happen? Political and social activists will not stop agitating for gay marriage, open borders, and gender neutral bathrooms. They will not stop trying to prevent the development of coal and oil for energy sources. They will not stop pretending that man-made global warming is a scientific fact. They will not stop treating Islamic violence as workplace violence. They will not stop telling us that Islam is a religion of peace, and that all religions are pathways to the same god.

There could be some political changes after the election if the Republicans retain control of the House and gain control of the Senate. A change of stripes in state legislatures could even increase the momentum for a convention of the states to consider amendments to the Constitution. However, the people in the culture who want to disassemble all morality that has been asserted by Christians will not go away. They won’t even speak more quietly. We can expect that they will become ever more strident in the days ahead leading up to the 2016 election, because they will fear the loss of the presidency more than anything. The current president has set a precedent for dictatorial exercise of executive privilege, and those who lose anything in the 2014 election will be more active and assertive than ever as the 2016 election draws near, because the stakes are very high for whoever holds the presidency.

Some things may change, but the discomfort in the culture for people who adhere to traditional values, traditional marriage, traditional morality, traditional gender and so forth will only increase. The pressure to ignore the old, dusty, obsolete Constitution will increase, even though the number of those who want to end Constitutional government is a minority of all citizens. The pressure to ignore the old, dusty, obsolete Bible will increase, even though the majority of Christians actually believe that the Bible is a gift from God himself to be our guide for faith and life. The level of judicial activism by liberal judges will only increase, because they will feel called to resist the stubborn and backward majority of citizens who continue to live as if the First Amendment still meant freedom to speak and act in accord with the teachings of our faith.

What else will not change? No matter what changes, Christians  will still need to be in endless prayer for the nation and its people. Christians must pray fervently for personal integrity and commitment to God’s principles for life, and then they must pray with equal fervor for government officials at every level. Jesus taught us to pray in submission to God’s will with faith that God will hear our petitions offered in accord with his purposes. No matter how faithfully you pray today, the greatest possible victories in the election on Tuesday will not change the necessity for you to continue.

Pray for our nation.

Pray for leaders with integrity and commitment to our Constitution.

Vote. Everyone who refuses to vote actually votes with the majority. If the election outcomes are unsatisfactory, you who refuse to vote must take the credit, because you refused to vote for any other outcome.

Then continue to pray without ceasing, because Satan and his slaves will never stop trying to make the world over in Satan’s image. That is the nature of the fundamental transformation being worked in our world today, and only the power of God can enable Christians to stand strong under that assault.

It is to be hoped that this election will change some things, but no election will ever change the necessity for faithful prayer and faithful living testimony to Christ. Those things never change.

 

Answered Prayer

For the jillionth time someone just said, “God always answers prayer: yes, no or wait.” My experience and my Bible both reject that simplistic, self-centered view of prayer.

In the first place, it is not necessary for Jesus’ promise of answers to mean that an answer is “fulfillment.” In the second place, everything about prayer is about submission to God’s sovereignty before anything else.

When anyone asks me, I tell people that prayer is not an order to Amazon, guaranteed to be “fulfilled.” I am no authority, but the idea that the sovereign God is going to respond to my prayer the way I might answer a multiple choice question on a quiz is completely at odds with everything I have learned about God. When God promises to answer prayer, he does not promise that we can manipulate him till we get what we want.

In fact, one of the most important changes we experience when we get to know God in a close relationship is the change in what we want. We are born wanting to be the center of everything, but when we get to know God deeply, we begin to start wanting outcomes that are not about us. In my experience, this sort of change is a blessed outcome of prayer. I pray for something to happen, and I might pray about this outcome for a long time. According to the “yes, no, or wait” theory, God’s failure to say “yes” is interpreted as either “no” or “wait.” According to my experience, God is actually teaching me something that will ultimately change my prayer. He didn’t refuse me. He actually paid close attention to me.

Here is an example.

Peter wrote that we are to pray for our governmental leaders. I do that. When I see that one is doing wrong (way too common) I pray for him to do right. When a bad leader is in office, I pray that God will work in his heart to make a better leader. I pray and pray and pray for outcomes that will be good for our country. I have prayed such prayers for Barack Obama, because I believe he is the worst president in the history of the world.

I have never yet seen any evidence that Barack Obama was moved by God to amend his bad behavior or his bad attitudes. Does that mean that God refused to speak to Barack Obama? To believe that would be presumptuous in the extreme. Yet, if I prayed for God to speak to Barack Obama about his failures, and Barack Obama did not change, then I must ask if God is saying “no” to my prayer, or if he is saying “wait.” He certainly is not saying “yes.” If I believed that God answered prayer by “yes, no, or wait,” my train of thought would be focused on what God was doing to make my request happen.

In fact, God was doing nothing of the sort. In fact, God was working in my heart. In fact, God’s agenda was quite different from mine, and God observed that I was being arrogant and self-centered. I wanted Barack Obama to act differently than he does, and I asked God Almighty to use his power to bring about the changes I had in mind.

What was God actually doing all this time? God was working in my heart. I can’t speak about what God is doing with Barack Obama, but I know what God is doing with me. One morning, as I prayed that Barack Obama would change his ways and do the right thing, I found myself praying this prayer: “Please forgive Barack Obama for all the evil he has done.” Whoa! Did I say that?

God asked me to pray for Barack Obama’s forgiveness. My first thought was to ask why Obama should be forgiven, and God’s response was, “the same reason you need forgiveness.” Barack Obama and I both need forgiveness for our sins before almighty, totally righteous God. It was a humbling thought. I was so angry with Barack Obama over his arrogance and presumption that I failed to notice my total inattention to God’s main thing. God’s main thing is not good government, important though it may be. God’s main thing is that everyone be cleansed of sin. I was so busy trying to change Barack Obama that I forgot that God’s main thing is to save Barack Obama from Satan. I was praying for a magical outcome in Obama’s behavior instead of praying for Barack Obama to be rightly related to God. I couldn’t even wait for the Holy Spirit to do what the Holy Spirit does; I was giving him his marching orders. I was very busy telling God what I thought good government looked like, telling God how to make Barack Obama into a better president, when God thought that outcome was trivial compared to Barack Obama’s need for forgiveness and grace, just like me. He let me prattle on for days while he continued to lead me and teach me and work in my heart until he finally led me to pray, “please forgive Barack Obama for all his sins.”

This is not the only time God has done this sort of thing. I had a fractured relationship with my mother, and one day I went to her pastor to talk about the problem. He was generous with his time, and kind in his responses. He even asked questions. Finally, he asked, “Could we pray together?” I bowed my head, and he began to pray for both me and my mother. It all felt good to me. Then he said, “Would you like to pray, too?” I began to pray, and I complained about all the hurtful things in my relationship with my mother. When I had exhausted my list, I started to pray for my mother to change, but the words that came out of my mouth were, “Please help me to see my mother as you see her, Lord.” Whoa! Where did those words come from? God was answering my prayer, not with “yes, no, or wait,” but with new insight. He answered my prayer, “Please make my mother treat me better,” by saying, “Start looking at the world from my point of view.”

That is why God asked me to pray for Barack Obama’s forgiveness. God wants me to pray about the world from his point of view. God wants me to see Barack Obama, and my mother, and the whole world, the way he sees it. When I change my view, then I pray differently. God didn’t fulfill my request. God didn’t deny my request. God didn’t even defer my request. God simply led me to a moment of personal transformation and showed me how things look from his side of the matter.

Prayer is God’s great gift to us, and I give thanks every day for the privilege of prayer, but I have learned that the blessing of prayer is not so much what I get as it is what I learn. When God promises to “answer” my prayer, the “answer” is not often the “fulfillment” I might have anticipated when I bowed my head. I am learning that the best way to pray is to begin the way Jesus taught us—focus first on the Father and his worldview.

“Our Father, who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:9-10

Then, from that perspective, all the other issues look very different.

To declare that God always answers prayer with “yes, no, or wait” is to say that prayer is about what I want. Prayer is not about me. Prayer is about God.