Monday, November 28, 2016

When Christmas Hurts

Everything in our culture tells us that Christmas is a joyful season: friends, family, food, and gifts all encourage us to celebrate Christmas.  But for many people, the Christmas season can be a painful reminder of the difficulties of life.  Many people will celebrate this Christmas for the first time without a spouse or a loved one that has died.  Some people will celebrate this Christmas for the first time without their spouse, due to a divorce.  For others Christmas can be a painful reminder of financial hardships.  Ironically, it is often during those times when we are supposed to be happy and joyful that our suffering and pain can be felt most vividly.  

Christmas in a Broken World
It can be hard to have a "merry Christmas" because the reality is that we live in a world that has been utterly damaged and broken by sin.  When Adam and Eve fell into sin, the world fell with them (Genesis 3.17-19).  Before sin entered the world, there were no thorns; now that sin is here, there are thorns a plenty.  Before the world fell, work and labor were easy and joyful things; now they are toilsome and difficult and painful.  Before the world fell, human beings enjoyed a perfect relationship with God; now we are separated from him.  Before the world fell there was no disease and no accidents; but now that the world is marred by sin there is suffering.  When we look around and see the pain and suffering of the world, and we wonder, "Why?" the Bible gives us a very good explanation: because we live in a sinful fallen world, filled with sinful fallen people, who do sinful fallen things.  If we trace it back far enough, sin is the root cause of all of our problems and difficulties.

For this reason, times and seasons that should be merry and joyful, aren't.  When we experience the sadness of a first Christmas without a loved one who has died, we are getting a very real taste of the effects of sin.  And the fact that we live in a broken, fallen world can make even joyful occasions bitter.  The Apostle Paul calls these effects of sin that we experience our "sufferings of this present time."  He says that the world has been "subjected to futility," and that it is in "bondage to corruption" (Romans 8.18-21).  Because we live in this kind of world, we taste death and pain and suffering, and happy times - like Christmas - can hurt. 

Responding to Christmas Pain with Gospel Hope
Although we live in such a world where suffering exists because of sin, Paul says that is no reason to lose hope.  There is coming a day when all things will be made new - the earth and the bodies of those who are trusting in Christ will be restored to their condition before sin entered the world.  There is coming a day when all things will be made new, and there will be no more pain, no more death, and no more suffering.  Imagine a world where there is no suffering to due accidents or severe weather; a world where the doctor will never call with bad news about a suspicious lump or a dark spot on the X-ray.  This world is coming, and it will be so glorious that all of the effects of sin under which we suffer in this world won't even be worth remembering (Romans 8.18).  

But we aren't there yet.  So until that day comes, we wait for it with eager longing.  And because we are still here, and because the world hasn't been restored yet, we still feel pain, we still suffer, and we still cry our way through the holidays, missing a loved one or mourning a broken relationship.  But because of the hope that we have, Paul says that our attitude as Christians - even and especially when we are living in a world where we suffer from the effects of sin - should be one of expectant hope (Romans 8.24-25).  We should view our suffering under the effects of sin through this lens: that there is a glorious rebuilding of the earth and redemption of our bodies in the near future.  Let us suffer well in light of this hope.  

Although we live in a world that has been damaged by sin, God foresaw our need and enacted a plan for the restoration of the world right after Adam and Eve fell into sin.  God said that there would be One who would come - a descendant of the woman (Eve) - who would restore all things to perfection.  This One would come into the world and suffer the same ways that we do.  He would feel the effects of living in a sinful world.  He would be bruised.  But in so doing, he would likewise crush the effects of sin (Genesis 3.15).  Through his bruising he would crush sin; he would crush death; he would crush suffering; he would crush pain and sadness.  All of this Jesus accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection.  The effects of sin have been crushed, and now we await the day when all things will be set right again.  Because of him, there is coming a glory that will soon be revealed, to which the sufferings of this present time cannot be compared.

However, that time has not yet come.  We are still in waiting; we are still groaning; we are still suffering.  We are still enduring the holidays without a loved one or in a broken marriage.  But take heart in this: God has set a plan in motion to restore the world and redeem the bodies of those who are trusting in Jesus, and it's only a matter of time until that plan comes to fruition.  Until we reach that day, remember that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.   At Christmas, we celebrate that Jesus came into the world as a man in order to crush the effects of sin in our lives.  They no longer leave us hopeless and full of despair, but instead that hopelessness is replaced by an expectant hope for the revealing of the glory of God.  This is the hope of the Christmas season, even when Christmas hurts.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Fragile Thing

Beginning in my early twenties I spent two great years working at Schmitt Music in Roseville.  I applied for and received the job after going back to school and getting engaged.  I came on as the "string specialist" since my background was in orchestral string instruments.  This basically just meant that I was in charge of the small room that exhibited the violins, violas, and cellos that we had for sale, and I helped customers with specific string instrument questions and needs.  I enjoyed the job immensely, and enjoyed the people with whom I worked, as they were mostly music nerds, but it turns out that music nerds are easy to get along with.

One of those music nerds was a guy named Eric Betthauser.  He was our store's "music specialist," pertaining exclusively to sheet music.  What this meant was that Eric was in charge of our store's sheet music stock, which was a huge part of our business.  He would manage the stock, make special orders, and coordinate the overall stock of the other local Schmitt stores.  As I got to know Eric, I came to know him as a very genuine person - one of the most genuine people I think I've ever met - at least he stands out in my memory that way.

Eric was a huge music nerd.  His primary instrument was his own voice, and he sang semi-professionally with a group called The Rose Ensemble, which specialized in ancient, often obscure choral music.  Plus, as the music specialist at our store, he seemed to have an intimate knowledge of virtually every piece of sheet music we sold.  He was very good at his job.  And then, on his lunch breaks, he could be found in one of the practice rooms located in the store, playing piano, for no other reason than that he had time to kill and he did so playing piano.

Eric was also significantly left-leaning in his politics, and he and I had several good-natured conversations about politics and religion (at the time I was going to college for a degree in ministry, and I was known among my co-workers as the resident Christian).  But what struck me about Eric's left-leaning politics is that he actually believed them and lived by them.  For example, he was very concerned about climate change (although at that time nobody called it climate change - instead it was still global warming).  Because of this concern, every day that he worked he would sort through the garbage at the store and remove anything that could be recycled, bag it, take it home with him, and recycle it.  He also periodically utilized public transportation so as to drive his car less.  I certainly disagreed with his view on climate change, but I had to respect him for putting his money where his mouth was.  I don't personally know anyone else who espouse the dangers of climate change and sorts through his company's trash as a result.  And this was true not just on his views about the environment, but every left-leaning stance that I knew him to take.  Also, I think it's very important to note that although Eric and I had significant political differences, we were still friends.  We could have a lively discourse and still respect one another to the point that we remained good friends.

I never really got a handle on Eric's faith while I was working with him.  He professed a love for "sacred" music and even some contemporary Christian songs with which he was familiar.  Aside from that, we did debate matters of theology from time to time, although they usually arose from previous political discussions.

Eric was also incredibly health conscious, always bringing his own extremely healthy lunch with him to work.  Once, on a day that he wasn't feeling well, I asked him what was the matter and he said that it was probably the cheeseburger that he ate before bed the night before.  "Like, food poisoning?" I asked.  "No, I just don't usually eat cheeseburgers," he said.  I had to rib him a bit for that.

After my two years at Schmitt Music came to an end and I moved on to other things, Eric did so as well, soon after, moving to a couple of different places to teach music and voice at various public schools.  I kept in touch with him on social media, however, where I would once in a while engage his left-leaning posts.  During my time at Schmitt, several people worked for the company and entered into my social sphere as co-workers.  Of all of them, I consider myself to have been friends with (as opposed to acquaintances of) two of them - Eric was one of those two.

As you probably noticed, I'm referring to Eric in the past tense.  This is because he was killed by a drunk driver last night at the age of 43 - just seven years older than I am now.  I found out over social media, and immediately was saddened and looked into the details of his death.  He died on the scene after being struck while attempting to make a left turn.  As seems to usually be the case with drunk driving accidents, the drunk who hit him survived the crash and was presumably in good health, as he was released from custody on bond the following morning.

This kind of thing brings back the usual flood of emotions and memories, and other thoughts.  But above all, the thought dominating my thinking today is that we simply can't know when death will come.  Life is such a fragile thing.  One moment we're driving, the next, we're dead.  No matter how health-conscious we are and how much we prioritize organic food over processed, these precautions will not save us from late-night drunk drivers.  One minute you're here, and the next you're dead.  It's just the way this fallen, sinful world works.

We live in a world that is corrupted by sin and is populated by sinful people.  And as a result, bad things happen.  People are killed in accidents; people get sick; drunk-drivers slay those who are simply minding their own business.  In Romans 8, Paul calls these kinds of things our "present sufferings."  In other words, because we live in a sinful world populated by sinful people, we suffer.  But, Paul says, there is coming a day when the glory of God will be revealed, the world will be restored to its perfect condition, and those who are trusting in Christ will have their bodies fully redeemed.  Now there is pain and suffering; then there will be no such thing.  Until then, however, Paul says that the creation and we ourselves groan for that day to come.  I know that I personally cannot wait for the day when I will never have to read about an old friend being slain by a drunk driver.  This is why we pray, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus!"

Like I said earlier, I don't know what Eric's spiritual condition was.  I hope that he put his faith in Christ for the forgiveness of his sins - even if in the last moments of his life.  Perhaps, as his life was fading from him, he called out to God for salvation.  That is my hope, and that should be our hope for anyone who goes to meet God.  Regardless, I thank God for the life of Eric Betthauser.

Monday, November 21, 2016


(Listen to Pastor Joel's sermon on this topic here)

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday: food, family, friends, and remembering all the ways that God has blessed us.  It's also a time for us to pause and reflect on all of the blessings that we have received, and to express our gratitude to God.  But we shouldn't just stop at a feeling of gratitude - our feelings should translate into action.  Even the word "thanksgiving" involves action - the action of giving thanks.  But how do we do that?  Is there anything tangible that we can do to express our gratitude?  Yes, indeed, and the Bible gives us three simple ways that we can turn our feelings of gratitude into action that all involve some sort of giving.

Leviticus 7 tells about "peace offerings" - sacrifices that the Israelites could make whenever they wanted to in order to celebrate the peace they enjoyed with God and the blessings they received from God.  There were several different sacrifices that the Israelites were commanded to make, most having to do with forgiveness of sin and to obtain ritual purity.  But the peace offerings were different.  They weren't required like the other sacrifices, and anybody could make a peace offering at any time for any reason out of gratitude to God.  It's the characteristics of these peace offerings that offer us some suggestions about how we can tangibly express our gratitude to God.

Give of yourself.
The primary characteristic of a peace offering was that the one who made the offering sacrificed his own resources to do so.  Peace offerings required the sacrifice of an animal and also several loaves of bread.  In order to make this offering, the worshiper had to give up something that he owned (an animal and the bread).  Remember, he wasn't required to do this, but did so out of the desire of his heart to thank God for all that he had done.  But in order to give a peace offering, the worshiper had to give of his own precious resources.  The lesson for us is the same.  One tangible way that I can thank God for all that he has done is to find a way to give of my resources.

Give back to God. 
When we give of ourselves as a way of thanking God, we primarily give back to God.  With the peace offerings, the first portion of the sacrifice (the animal and bread) was burnt as an offering to the Lord.  This symbolic gesture communicated the reality that everything the worshiper had belonged to and came from God.  Giving these resources back to God through a burnt offering was a way of acknowledging that everything a person owns comes from God, and so we thank him by giving what he has given to us back to him.  So if you'd like a tangible way to express your gratitude to God, think of a way that you can give back to God out of all that he has given to you.

Give to others.
A third characteristic of the peace offerings is sharing what we have with others.  After the worshiper gave a portion of his offering to the Lord, the rest was for him to eat and enjoy.  Typically the worshiper used the leftover meat and bread and threw a feast for his friends and family.  This was yet another symbol of appreciating all that God has done.  It's a statement that declares: "God has blessed me immensely!  Come and share in God's blessing!"  So this Thanksgiving, think of some ways that you can thank God by giving to and sharing with others.

Learning to be thankful.
If you're like me, it's easy to take God's blessings for granted.  I often don't even realize how blessed I am because I am willfully blind to all of the ways that God has provided for me.  Little children have to be taught and trained to say "Please," and "Thank you."  Like them, I have to train myself to recognize the ways that God has blessed me and provided for me.  The peace offerings of Leviticus 7 weren't required or enforced.  Rather, they relied upon someone simply realizing and acknowledging all of the ways that God had blessed them and responding to that realization with a sacrifice of thanksgiving.  We need to learn to be thankful, and then respond to our feelings of gratitude with the action of thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Can't We All Just Get Along? Probably Not.

Before I get into the meat of this post, I feel it necessary to make it known that I did not, nor do I now, support Donald Trump for president (although he is the president elect, and I will "support" him in that I will respect him in his office).  I did not vote for Donald Trump.  My "tribe" stands to lose very much from his election to the office of president (which, much to my chagrin, my tribe doesn't seem to understand).  For instance, I am of the opinion that the election of Donald Trump has effectively ended the debate on the sanctity of marriage.  Conservatives have unknowingly abandoned their argument for marriage being between one man and one woman by throwing their support behind a candidate who does not share a like-minded opinion on the sanctity of marriage.  The same is (somewhat) true for the life argument, although, to be fair, it remains to be seen how the newly elected president actually will deal with life issues.  At the very least, we can say that his commitment to pro-life values is very late in coming, and is not entirely robust.

I could go on and on about my problems with Donald Trump, but I'll leave it there for now.  I hope that you can see that I am not a Trump supporter, and that this reality will give you some context to what I'm going to say next.

In the two days since Trump's election to the presidency, there has been much consternation on the left that has manifested itself in the form of protests, riots, and social media outrage.  Others - both conservatives and liberals - have called for unity and to put our support behind the president-elect, and that this is a time for us to see how we can work together toward a better future for our country.

Well, it ain't gonna happen.

Please understand: I don't say this because I don't want it to happen, or because I don't think it should happen.  Indeed, I do want it to and think it should happen.  But the reality is that our society has changed so drastically in the past 10 years, that our collective cultural and social constructs and "enlightened" worldviews won't allow us to make peace with one another.  It's a fascinating (and frightening) time to be alive.  Let me give you just three reasons why I think there will be no peace and unity in our nation for the foreseeable future:

1. Because we now interpret disagreement as hate speech.  Certain issues in our society that used to be matters of opinion in which two disagreeing parties could engage in vigorous debate have been deemed to be the litmus test for bigotry, hatred, racism, etc.  For example, the opinion that illegal aliens should not be allowed in our country is interpreted as having racist motivations.  And nobody wants to reason with a racist, because racism is wrong, right?  Nobody wants to have unity or peace with racists, because racists are filled with hate, right?  In the eyes of some in our country, it would be akin to finding unity with the KKK, which obviously is a type of unity that nobody wants to have.  Another example is opinions about the sanctity of marriage.  Not advocating for gay rights is considered discrimination and bigotry.  Who wants to sit down and work together with a bigot?  No one.  Since one side is convinced that the other is filled with hate-mongers, they have no desire for unity or peace with them.  To do so would be to validate what they see as hatred and bigotry.  As long as people interpret the opinions of others as hatred and bigotry there will be no peace or unity in our country.

2. Because we we buy the narrative perpetuated by the media.  The media loves ratings, and they know that juicy stories are going to garner page views, link clicks, air time, and advertising dollars.  The media doesn't care about the truth so much as the bottom line.  They don't care about what's actually happening, but they're happy to report on fringe stories that are just that: on the fringe, so as to make people angry.  When people are angry, they visit websites and share articles on social media; they watch cable news shows and read magazines.  The media knows this, so they consistently report stories that they know will push people's buttons, and we - people who like to have our buttons pushed - take the bait.  We ingest these fringe stories and we react to them.  The media tells us what is important, and we go along with it like obedient sheep.  As long as we allow the narrative of our society to be perpetuated by the media, there will be no peace or unity in our country.

3. Because social media amplifies the worst about us.  Similar to the way the media spins the narratives in our country, many of us live in the microcosm of social media.  We're never more than a click away from airing our most inflammatory opinions that we haven't thought out, vetted, fact-checked, or even read beyond a headline.  This kind of sharing simply perpetuates the anger and extremism that we all fall into if left unchecked.  Plus, social media is a safe place for us to say inflammatory things - there are no checks and balances.  The worst that can happen is for someone to call us a crazy liberal or conservative.  A very recent and real example is this website that supposedly catalogs instances of racism that have occurred since Donald Trump was elected president two days ago, and allegedly as a result of his election.  Take a look at the examples posted there, and you'll hopefully notice a few things pretty quickly (note: I am not justifying any of the horrible things described on this site): 1) many of these reports are unsubstantiated; they are based on circumstantial evidence and hearsay.  2) considering that reality, it is possible that these alleged instances of racism could be spread by anti-Trump people who want to hurt the image of those who have supported Trump (in other words, they're intentionally causing trouble - something that has been done before the in the recent past).  3) it's also possible (and, in my opinion, likely) that these instances of racism (if substantiated) were perpetrated by fringe minority groups who always have been racist losers and are simply living up to their reputation.  It's unlikely that all of a sudden, once Donald Trump was elected, a vast number of people suddenly began to let their racist strips shine through.  It's more likely that racist losers - who were racist losers long before Donald Trump was even on the political scene - have taken this opportunity to perpetuate their wickedness because they know they'll get the spotlight (see point 2 above).  But people have taken these fringe incidences and have used them as an opportunity to showcase the very worst things about humanity.  And others on social media see them and are (rightly) enraged by them.  But rather than direct their anger toward the fringe minority groups perpetuating evil, they choose to instead direct it at those who merely disagree with them (see point 1 above).  There will not be peace and unity in our country for a long time because social media brings out the worst about us, and we're all too quick to believe it and attribute it to everyone who thinks differently than we do.

We are a long way off from having unity as a country.  We can't even trust one another when we say that we don't hate each other.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Day After the Election

I'll admit it: I fell asleep on my couch last night sometime between 1:00 and 1:30 AM, watching election results come in.  Like most people, I watched the coverage slack-jawed, astounded that Donald Trump was winning the election.  And, like most people, I woke up the day after the election with feelings of surprise, followed quickly by uncertainty.  My feelings were similar to that of Pastor Phil Johnson, whom I follow on social media: "I couldn't be happier that Mrs. Clinton won't be our next president.  I'm still profoundly sad that an unprincipled lout will be."  Yeah, that about sums up how I feel.  If you feel that same uncertainty on the day after the election, let's think for a minute about what this day brings with it.

The day after the election brings a renewed opportunity to trust in the Lord
In one of his letters, John Newton said, "The whole system of my politics is summed up in this one verse, "The lord reigns!  Let the nations tremble! (Psalm 99.1)  The times look awfully dark indeed; and as the clouds grow thicker - the stupidity of the nation seems proportionally to increase.  If the Lord had not a remnant here, I would have very formidable apprehensions.  But he loves his children; some are sighing and mourning before him, and I am sure he hears their sighs, and sees their tears.  I trust there is mercy in store for them at the bottom."

Every time we face uncertainty it is a new opportunity for us to renew our trust in the sovereignty of God.  To be sure, although the election results were a surprise to most, they were not a surprise to God.  He knew of them and even ordained them before the foundation of the world.  He will oversee the affairs of the nations, including ours, and he will see that his purposes on this earth our carried out, regardless of - and even in spite of - those who deem themselves as powerful.

The day after the election brings a renewed opportunity to pray
1 Timothy 2.1-2 says: "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and ann who are in high positions..."  The Apostle Paul clearly thought that it was important to pray for our leaders, and so we should.  Additionally, in these verses, Paul gives us three reasons why we should use this opportunity to commit ourselves to prayer:

1. So we can lead peaceful, quiet, godly, dignified lives (1 Timothy 2.2b).  The government has a significant influence on how we live our day to day lives - more so now than ever before.  It behooves us, then, to keep our leaders in prayer so we can simply lead Christian lives.

2. Because it is pleasing to God.  God commands us to pray for our leaders, and so, when we obey that command, he is pleased.  We should pray for our leaders because "it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior" (1 Timothy 2.3)

3. So we can be about the business of gospel work (1 Timothy 2.4).  If we will pray for our leaders, and if they will in turn allow us to lead peaceful, godly, dignified lives, we can be more efficiently and effectively about the business of declaring the gospel to the world.  The more we keep our leaders in prayer, the more we can be focused on the work of our King.  God desires for people to be saved, and so he tells us to pray for our leaders so we can carry out his work.

So if you're still getting over the shock of the election, pick your jaw up off the floor and get busy praying.

The day after the election brings a renewed opportunity for gospel ministry. 
The United States is still the most free place in the world in regards to religious expression.  It behooves the church - God's vehicle for spreading the message of his gospel - to take the fullest advantage of such freedom as possible.  If you're a Christian and you're not involved in a local church, you need to be.  And a great way to not be overcome by the worries of the world is to busy yourself in kingdom work.  Find a ministry through the local church and devote yourself to it.  And if you really want to change the world, share the gospel with people.  Change won't happen through political means; it won't happen through governments or leaders; change only comes through the power of the gospel.  So let the election jar you out of your gospel-slumber and awaken you to the power of God in his gospel, and may it invigorate you to declare the good news.  Let the day after the election be a reminder to you that we still live in a fallen world that is effected by sin, and let that be a motivation to you to boldly declare the gospel.  

The day after this election can be one that is filled with all sorts of ideas and emotions.  So take a few moments to take it all in and feel the emotions.  And then remind yourself of the truths that the Lord reigns, and that he has called you to pray and to join him in his mission for this world.  

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Day Before the Election

Feelings of hopelessness and despair
If you're like me, the day before this presidential election is one where I am left with feelings of blah. Never before in my life have I been so uninspired to cast a vote for President.  Moreover, it seems like no matter who will be elected president on November 8, it will not be for the benefit of our country.  It's easy to spiral into feelings of hopelessness and despair.

But this is not where the Christian should find himself on this day, or any other day, for that matter.  If nothing else, our recent sermon series in the book of Joshua has served to underscore for me the reality that all power in this world comes from God and not from men (or women).  This should reframe the way that we think about the presidential election and leadership of our country.

It is the Lord your God who fights for you
Throughout the book of Joshua there is a clear theme that is apparent: there is no power in men, but only in God.  This is demonstrated time after time, as God says as much to the Israelites and shows them this truth in real life as he leads them against insurmountable odds.

Joshua 23.3, 9-10 - And you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you.... For the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations.  And as for you, no one has been able to stand before you to this day.  one man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you, just as he promised you. 

The message to the Israelites is clear: there is no power in you; there is only power in the Lord.  This message is also reiterated to Israel a couple hundred years later during the time of Gideon.  Gideon and the Israelite army were going up against the occupying Midianite forces.  But before the battle, God gives Gideon some peculiar instructions: "The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, 'My own hand has saved me.'  Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, 'Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurt away from Mount Gilead.'"  Then 22,000 of the people returned and 10,000 remained.  The reason God commanded Gideon to pare down his forces was so that they people would know that there is no power in men.  And you probably know what happens next in the story of Gideon: God looked at the 10,000 men that remained and decided that was too many as well.  So Gideon made some more cuts and was left with 300 men against an army of Midianites.  But here's the point: 300 men is still too many when considering the reality that God is the only one with power.  Even one man is too many.  God doesn't even need one man or woman to bring about his purposes in this world.  God is not limited in his power or strength.  He can accomplish anything because he has limitless resources and power.

This is something we need to remember as we go to our polling places: God is strong, and kings, presidents, and armies are weak.  The course of our nation and its successes and failures depend on God, not on presidents and leaders.  Everything we have comes from him and because of him, not because of the person that carries the title of "President" before their name.  What we as a nation have achieved, we have not achieved as a result of our own power.  What we possess we did not gain because of our craftiness.  What we now enjoy we did not earn.  All was given to us by God, not by any man.  

How now shall we live?
On November 8 you should go to your polling place and cast a vote for the candidate that you believe, according to scripture, will lead our nation closer to biblical righteousness, and know that God has ordained our next president from before the foundation of the world for his good purposes.  Do not go to the polling place on November 8 presuming to trust in yourself, or in Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, or even a third party candidate, for they are nothing.  You should not feel despair about this presidential election.  Rather, you should rejoice in hope and confidence in the Lord, regardless of exit polls and early results.  It is God who has fought for us and on our behalf.  Our trust should be continually in him.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The New Freedom of Religion

Every once in a while, when I want to see what crazy liberals are up to, I check in with Bill Maher.  Maher, to me is an interesting cat: he's a huge liberal and an atheist, so there's not much upon which we agree.  He is absolutely right, however, when it comes to his views on radical Islam, much to the chagrin of his fellow liberals and atheists.  Apparently, Maher has been asking President Obama for an interview for years now, and has been declined each time.  Now that Obama's second term is coming to an end, however, he obliged Maher and gave an interview, and said some interesting things about the freedom of religion when probed by Maher.  You can watch this segment of the interview here, but what I want to focus on is a brief section of the interview when President Obama responds to a question about perceived or alleged discrimination of atheists.  He says this (I've emphasized some of his words in italics):
I think the average American, if they go to the workplace, somebody's next tome, they're not poking around trying to figure out what their religious beliefs are.  So here's what I would say, that we should foster a culture in which people's private religious beliefs, including atheists and agnostics, are respected.  And that's the kind of culture that I think allows all of us, then, to believe what we want.  That's freedom of conscience.  That's what our Constitution guarantees.  And where we get into problems, typically, is when our personal religious faith, or the community of faith that we participate in, tips into a sort of fundamentalist extremism, in which it's not enough for us to believe what we believe, but we start feeling obligated to, you know, hit you over the head because you don't believe the same thing.  Or to treat you as somebody who's less than I am.  
This paragraph, in brief, represents the new version of religious freedom that many in our country would like to impose upon us.  I'd like to take a look for a moment at these italicized portions of President Obama's statement, because I find them simultaneously fascinating and frightening.

Private religious beliefs.
President Obama wants to foster a culture in which people's "private religious beliefs" are respected.  The important word here is "private."  There are many in our society - and in leadership of our country - who believe that religious beliefs should be a private thing, and that they have no place in the public square.  As long as you keep your religious beliefs bottled up and put away in your closet, and you only ever take them out inside your closet all by yourself (or at most, with other people who have similar beliefs in similar bottles), then everything will be fine.  But you can't take your beliefs into the public square.  That is unacceptable.  Hillary Clinton has espoused a similar idea by advocating for the "freedom of worship."  By using this term, she means that people should be free to worship in whatever way they want.  But freedom of religion is not freedom of worship.  Worship only takes place in temples and holy places like churches.  Religion saturates all of life.  Christianity, by its very nature, cannot be private.  It is living and breathing, and inhabits and saturates all aspects of life.  These small changes in vernacular are, I believe, veiled attempts to diminish the forcefulness of the language used in the first amendment.  The President and Mrs. Clinton know that religious people bring their religion to the marketplace of ideas, so they are trying to limit religion to a "private" function that only takes place in houses of worship.

That's freedom of conscience.  That's what our Constitution guarantees.  
To be honest, I don't know what President Obama means by the term "freedom of conscience."  Perhaps he is referring to the freedom to believe and worship and practice religion in whatever way our conscience guides us.  If he's saying that, I agree.  But our Constitution guarantees far more than just that.  Again, President Obama has in view here Constitutional protection of "private" religion.  But the Constitution actually guarantees us far more.  The first amendment states, in part: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."  We certainly are guaranteed the right and ability to follow our consciences in order to find truth through religion, but that is not where it ends.  We are also guaranteed the right to practice our religion in whatever way we see fit.  Unfortunately, President Obama's (and those who would come after him) view of freedom of religion is frighteningly narrow.

Hit you over the head because you don't believe the same thing.
This assertion, to me, is the most striking.  In it, President Obama insinuates that a line is crossed if and when people of a particular religion (or lack of religion) address religious issues in public (such as at work, in political discourse, etc.).  This, apparently, is akin to beating someone over the head with one's beliefs (note: this kind of behavior might otherwise be known as: "evangelism" and "proselytism").  Apparently using religious beliefs to guide our thinking in matters of truth and morality - and sharing those beliefs with others - is a no-no.  Again, keep your religion private - don't bring it out into the light of day and confront people with its truth claims.  They might be offended!  They might feel awkward!  They might feel triggered!  They might need a safe space!  Unfortunately, what President Obama is decrying in this statement is the exact thing that is guaranteed in the first amendment.  Also unfortunately, this line of thinking is gaining ground in America.  But what is so striking about this statement is that President Obama is literally hitting people over the head with a dogmatic doctrine that asserts that hitting people over the head with dogmatic doctrine is wrong.  In other words, he's not playing by his own rules.  And he doesn't even realize it.  

Sooner, rather than later, there will be a new version of religious freedom in our country, and it will look very much like what President Obama has layed out here.  It will be a freedom to be religious up to the point that it doesn't make anyone uncomfortable or ruffle any feathers.  And the moment your exercise of religion offends or creates awkwardness or discomfort, you'll be accused of bigotry and discrimination and whatever other politically-correct fear-mongering moniker can be applied.  You'll be free to be a Christian if you want, but just keep that stuff in doors, in private.  Don't even think about letting it see the light of day.  That stuff is private.