Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Trials and Persecution 1: The Inevitability of Suffering

There seems to be a trend emerging in our churches. There is a lesson that is being taught that goes like this - all the pleasures of this world can never satisfy you, and that the only way to prosperity and contentment is through recognizing the wonderful plan of Jesus Christ in your lives.

This narrative is completely accurate, but a bit misleading. You share this lesson with anyone, they will immediately think that living for God will allow us to find prosperity and success here on this Earth, that we will never truly have another trouble in the world. 

But that image is completely wrong. Indeed a careful examination of the Scriptures reveals to us quite the opposite. We are promised in 2 Timothy 3:12
"Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."

Jesus himself was persecuted, tortured, and then crucified. He definitely did not live a prosperous life by the world's standards. Some might argue that he did all of that, so that we could enjoy life more abundantly. Yes, that is true, but not without persecution. Jesus specifically tells his disciples (that includes us) in John 15:18-21,
"If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me."

We know from history that Jesus' prophecy rings true. Every single one of the disciples endured much persecution. They were banished, stoned, beheaded, and crucified. Ray Comfort in his book, God has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life: The Myth of the Modern Message, wrote,
"Church tradition tells us the fate of several apostles and early evangelists:
Philip: Crucified, Phrygia, A.D. 54
Matthew: Beheaded, Ethiopia, A.D. 60
Barnabus: Burned to death, Cyprus, A.D. 64
Mark: Dragged to death, Alexandria, A.D. 64
James (the Less): Clubbed to death, Jerusalem, A.D. 66
Paul: Beheaded, Rome, A.D. 66
Peter: Crucified, Rome, A.D. 69
Andrew: Crucified, Rome, A.D. 70
Thomas: Speared to death, Calamina, A.D. 70
Luke: Hanged, Athens, A.D. 93"

Some might try to say that it's different these days. That the people of this age are not as evil as they were back then to persecute Christians. But that conflicts with the words of 2 Timothy 3:13,
"But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived."

It may invoke a wonderful emotional response to say that our lives here on Earth will be all full of happiness if we accept Christ, but I believe it is more important to make sure our words are accurate than touching.

Yes, we will have the benefit of having Someone powerful in our lives to strengthen us through our trials and persecution, but we will still have such trials and persecutions.

Perhaps we should first understand the inevitability of struggles in our life before we begin to learn of the wonderful plan Jesus has for us. He does have one, but it isn't necessarily one that we might at first consider wonderful. It might not be comfortable, but I think we can all admit that God's presence in our lives (and the true purpose of salvation, eternal life) is much more valuable than the luxuries and comfort in this world.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Why we should Put the Death Penalty to Death

In a time of ancient history, the Israelites were setting up what many call today the first representative government. This term paints a picture in our minds that is actually quite different from the reality in my mind.

Now don't get me wrong, there were definitely different tribes who did have certain representatives in place. However, the government was very much a monarchy, where the Monarch led through the representative of men like Moses, Joshua, and so on. 

The Lord leads the Israelites and establishes their system of government through the works of Moses. (Indeed if you ever truly want to know how a government should be structured, I think you should probably follow God's model here.) 

But the key point is that the Lord was leading the Israelites along the way. He established the death penalty clearly at this time, and He administered it with perfect grace. We see this most clearly with the death of Achan after he stole from the Lord Himself. 

So then how could I say that I was against the death penalty with this in mind? Clearly I don't think I'm better than God. 

Indeed I don't. No man is going to execute such perfect judgment. That is actually the exact reason that I am against the death penalty in our world today. 

As I made the distinction earlier, God was the leader of the ancient Israelite government, and when he decides who should live and die, he does do so perfectly. 

Today, we have no government that is directly led by God. Yes, I know that God is sovereign in all he does, but if we use that excuse here, we might as well stop worrying about anything we do because God is in control of everything. 

At the end of the day, I agree with the idea of a death penalty in principle (an eye for an eye), but I do not trust the human errors that come with a government administered by men. Death is a very permanent state that no man can undo. It seems too much for me to trust a justice system administered by men in such a crucial area. 

Indeed our current system admits the possibility of mistake. There are massive initiatives put in place to allow for an appeals process, once again administered by men, to sift through and ensure there are no innocent people who die.

This appeals process probably catches most mistakes, but it too will not be perfect. Yes, I doubt that the United States has put to death too many people who are innocent, but even one would be too many. 

Also, who are we men to decide that certain crimes are worthy of death anyway? We're not God. We don't make those types of decisions. Or we don't until we come together and form governments. 

In conclusion, I leave you with the words of Gandalf the White, 
"Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends." 

Except of course the Lord. he does see all ends, and everything entirely, and that omniscience and sovereignty is exactly why we should leave the decision of who lives and who dies up to him.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Footnotes in History

Have you ever heard of Tola? How about Jair? These people are known by little. Indeed if I did not have my Bible open I would not remember the names at all, yet they served an important part in the Lord's plan.

We all know of the cycle of the Judges. The Israelites sinned, The Israelites are captured, The Israelites repent, the Lord gives a Judge, the Judge dies, and the Israelites sin again. Thus the cycle continues.

However, this cycle is a bit too simplistic. After the short reign of power-hungry Abimelech the son of Gideon, the Israelites are brought under what can only be a period of righteousness by the works of two consecutive judges, who you guessed it are named Tola and Jair. Only five verses are given to them: Judges 10:1-5, scarcely more than a footnote.

Then when they are both dead, the Israelites err again and the cycle of Judges continues. But under the lead of these two men, they served the Lord. Yet we hardly know they exist.

We can more easily name Gideon, whose later years of life were very much unfaithful to the Lord than we can name these judges, whose entire lives as best as we can tell were faithful!

But sometimes, that's the way things will be. Serving the Lord is not a business where fame is promised. People may not recognize you for your service. You might be no less than a footnote. Is that worthy for you? Are you willing to be a footnote in the service of the Lord, or do you seek your own fame and fortune?

We can't all have the renown of the apostle Paul. We must not want to be forever immortalized for our actions. Because if that is our motivation, we are doing the right thing for the wrong reason, and that is not pleasing to the Lord.

I urge you to be willing to be like Tola and Jair, to be forgotten. I urge you to have the purpose in your actions, not to be in recognition, but for just serving the Lord in general.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Extra-Morality 7: Day of Reflection

What better way to end a series than to show specific steps that all Christians should take about that which we have been discussing? Indeed, that is what we will examine today as we conclude this series. What I want to review is simply what we should do about it. So below we have three applications to our everyday lives.

1. Choose by Faith

What I mean by extra-morality is what many others before me have called Christian liberty. All I'm saying is that there are certain things that the Lord does not specifically forbid in the Bible, and that each Christian must make a decision on these issues based upon Biblical standards. 

The argument I took from Romans 14 (and especially verse 14), was that in these areas, there may not necessarily be a direct right or wrong. What is indicated by the Scriptures here is that each man is responsible with creating his own standards. 
"5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.... 14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.... 17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. 18 For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men.... 20 For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.... 23 And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin."

With this in mind, our responsibility is simple, we must pray about things like what media we should intake, whether dancing is appropriate, and what clothes we should wear. We must make decisions about these areas, not by convenience, but by faith. As Dr. David Jeremiah writes,
"Every believer should make sure their conscience does not condemn them and then act on what they believe, being responsible to make judgments about things that not specifically covered in Scripture. The center of the Christian life is faithfulness and love toward God - whether in obeying Scripture or seeking to apply scriptural principles to."

Now perhaps you would like to argue with the interpretation of Romans 14 that I here advocate.  I admit that I myself have difficulty accepting it, but the more I read this chapter, the more I am convinced that this interpretation is correct.

Regardless, let's just take time to examine whether it matters whether you agree with me on the main issue. You see, all I'm asking for you to do is to specifically pray about areas where the Bible is silent and make a decision based on what would be the best for your relationship with the Lord and others.

I make this case because the standards that are made can vary from person to person and all still be correct. You take offense with that. Great. So let's just say that there is just one correct standard for these extra-moral concerns. How would you best determine that standard?

You would pray about it and make a decision of faith based on how certain things affect your relationships with the Lord and other Christians! Indeed, if you pay close attention to all the action steps I give you today, you will find that they all apply equally as much whether there is one proper extra-moral standard or whether there are multiple ones. So disagree with me if you want, but please consider taking these steps anyway.

2. Attitude towards Other Believers

All Christians are obligated to make decisions on these areas where the Bible is silent by faith and prayer. Now let's just assume that everyone has done that in their lives. This assumption is not just for the sake of this post. No, I think it would be wise in our everyday lives to give all Christians that benefit of the doubt. It is simply not Christ-like to assume that people have erred without having any basis and in this scenario, we will never have basis unless someone directly tells you that they don't have any basis for where they stand.  

But where does that put us? There are bound to be disagreements. And when those disagreements come, the natural reaction is to think that your decisions are far superior to those of your fellow Christians. "Look at him! He really thinks it's necessary to live with those standards! Ha! Where did he get Scripture to support that view?" While your compatriot is over there thinking, "He watches that show! Does he not know that it is soooo worldly?" 

You see, Paul makes it very clear that both sections of beliefs are not without fault in their judgment of the others. Christians start turning against other Christians because they have differing standards. Because they view the Lord's requirements in their lives to be a little bit different. 

The Bible makes it clear that it is not the place or authority of Christians to judge other Christians. Only the Lord is truly able to evaluate the service of us as Christians. So who are we to take his place? As Romans 14 states, 
"4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.... 6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.... 9 For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. 10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. 12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. 13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more."

R.C. Sproul further iterates the argument of Scriptures when he says,
"Frequently in his epistles, the Apostle Paul goes to great lengths to describe what we call Christian liberty. In these matters God allows us freedom; he doesn't set down laws prohibiting something or commanding something. The apostle warns us against being judgmental toward our brothers, giving as an example in the Corinthian community the question about eating meat offered to idols. Paul says this had nothing to do with the kingdom of God. He says, 'Those of you who have scruples about it, don't judge those who don't' and vice versa. This is a case in which we just have to respect one another. In those admonitions, Paul uses as his basis this statement: 'We are not to be judging people for whom Christ died.' He reminds us that 'your brother or your sister belongs to Christ. God has forgiven them. Who are you to withhold forgiveness from someone whom God has forgiven?'"

Now I should clarify here that I am not saying you should just jump into a little box and just ignore the different standards among Christians in the world. Certainly, it cannot be a point of contention, but perhaps it would be necessary to point out real problems in a position. 

You may remember that in the third post of the series, I highlighted the issue of condemnation in our day by linking this blog post. The article disrespectfully slanders fundamentalists based on the actions of a few (unsubstantiated as well, but that's not the point). Compare that tone and respectfulness to this blog post written by Doctor Jeff Ansbaugh, Pastor of Greater Rhode Island Baptist Temple. 

They are both highlighting what they view as problems in the fundamentalist community, but the latter does so with love. What these two articles show us is that we need not sing kumbaya in order to suffice these Scriptural requirements, but our actions need to be guided from love and a mutual respect, and not a holier than thou condemnation. 

As Pastor Jeff Ansbaugh tells us, 
"When I first graduated from Bible college, I did not hold a King James position, and the reason is because I had met too many preachers who were King James nasty. Several years after I was in the ministry, I came upon a very gracious man at an ordination who had a King James position but held it with the right spirit... I asked if I could talk with him about textual matters, and he agreed. He did not put his hands around my throat, but rather put his arm around my shoulders. I changed my position through my talks with him. And that is because he used his position to bring us together rather than wedge us apart. We must believe that compassion is not compromise."

3. Conduct Towards other Believers

Being compassionate in our attitude towards other believers will produce some natural results in our conduct with them. The two things that Romans 14 shares with us to behave appropriately are likely more indicators that we have the proper respect level than anything else. 

Regardless, we do see two main lessons from Romans 14 about how we are to treat other Christians when it comes to extra-moral standards. 

First, we learn to not flaunt our views. This flaunting can go in both directions. 

For instance, one with less strict extra-moral standards can easily flaunt and tempt his brother to err by his standard. This is what Paul would call a stumblingblock in your brother's way. Revisiting the example I used in the fourth post of this series, we find that you are a Doctor Who fan (a giant whovian!) and you are great friends with someone who believes that Christians shouldn't watch that show (or at least that he or she shouldn't). 

It takes great strength to refrain from constantly telling him that he is missing out on so much by upholding his standards so well. But that is the Christian thing to do. 

Then again, the converse can also happen. Your friend who also watches Doctor Who has a similar obligation not to flaunt himself as a better Christians simply because he believes that more is necessary to please the Lord when it comes to extra-moral concerns. 

Romans 14 explains once more, 
"3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.... 13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way. 14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. 16 Let not then your good be evil spoken of:... 21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. 22 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. 23 And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin."

The second lesson that Romans 14 teaches us about the conduct towards other believers is to focus on those things that really matter. You see, as big of a deal as we would like to make these extra-moral concerns, they really aren't the most important issues in our Christian walk with the Lord.

No, what's really important are the issues of righteousness and peace. What we should focus on is the glory of God, instead of the peripheral views on issues of extra-moral concerns. Romans 14 says simply:
"6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. 7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. 8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.... 17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. 18 For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. 19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. 20 For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence."

I dare say that meat is not the only thing that doesn't destroy the work of God! Regardless, I'm sure we can all agree that our ability as Christians to reach the purpose of God's glory and witnessing to the lost are far more important than extra-moral concerns.

In conclusion, let me leave you with some words from Dr. David Jeremiah's commentary on Romans 14,
"God is pleased with the individual Christian because of Christ, not because of his or her views on peripheral matters. Christians are to have the same attitude, striving toward unity, not unnecessary dissension.... The believer's focus should be on the values of the kingdom of God, not worship styles or modes of dress. The Enemy does all he can to drive people toward division. The Spirit drives God's family toward unity."

Monday, April 21, 2014

Theme Beyond the Screen: Captain America: Winter Soldier

Movies. They are great entertainment and can give friends and strangers alike something to converse about. But movies are probably most intriguing for their subtle (and not so subtle) teachings about people, life, God, or politics.

Today, I would like to examine and really explain the themes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. 

I will admit that comic book movies don't usually make a stand on anything at all. Thus, when this installment in the Marvel Universe established the theme of liberty's importance, it naturally made me pretty excited (even more so than I was just by the fact that it was, you know, Captain America).

In the movie, Captain America finds himself working for S.H.I.E.L.D., a bureaucracy which he believes has too much power and is veiled in too much secrecy. His main problem with this is not that it is inherently bad, but just that he refuses to trust a bureaucracy so large.

Director (of S.H.I.E.L.D.) Fury of course wants to calm his fears about S.H.I.E.L.D., but instead of trying to persuade him that S.H.I.E.L.D. does not endanger liberty, he argues that the slight infringement of liberty is necessary to protect security.

He even goes so far as to show Captain America three highly weaponized helicarriers to demonstrate how they can "Neutralize threats before they even happen."

Captain America responds (all of this is before the Winter Soldier is introduced in case you were wondering),
"I thought the punishment usually came after the crime...This isn't freedom; this is fear."  

Benjamin Franklin would approve of Captain America's sentiment. Remember this popular quotation,
"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

For the movie, it will turn out that both of these men would be right. During circumstances in the movies that I would rather not spoil for my wonderful readers, the "Bad guys" get a hold of these deadly weapons. The rest of the movie is centered on how to prevent them from using them.

But the bad guys want to absolutely destroy freedom because they believe that freedom is inherently self-destructive. You see, man just can't be trusted with his own freedom, and thus, he needs to be told what to do.

It's a generic and cliche motivation for a villain, but there is a reason for that. It's an argument that has been around for a while and that many intelligent people have fallen prey into believing. Unfortunately, the argument fails for a simple reason. If we can't trust men with their own lives, how are we to trust the same men with the lives of others.

This is what the bad guys show us in their entire scheme. Their means to international security and peace are heinous at best. Trusting them with the power of S.H.I.E.L.D. is not wise at all.

But the Captain makes the case that trusting S.H.I.E.L.D. with its own power is also not very wise. He believes that S.H.I.E.L.D. is trying to govern the lives of others just as much as the bad guys do. Though they may still argue for freedom, they have forgotten what that actually looks like in their pursuit of security and interstellar peace.

Captain America sees no real difference between the tactics of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the tactics of the bad guys except whom is targeted. He does not believe that we should trust any bureaucracy with that power.

In fact, at a crucial point, S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to simply regain their own access to their deadly weapons, instead of destroying them. But Captain America refuses to stand for that!

He understands that we have to prepare for government at its worst, not at its best. Not just because that power can be commandeered by those with evil motivations, but because all men can make mistakes, or be corrupted by the seductiveness of power.

Captain America understands that liberty is important and must be protected by limiting the power of the government entirely. We must be careful not to surrender too much power and give away too much liberty to our government in hopes of security.

This may seem costly, but as the Captain says in a really cheesy, yet incredibly awesome monologue:
"The price of freedom is high, but it's a price I'm willing to pay." 

Friday, April 18, 2014

'Light' Afflictions: Compared to What?

2 Corinthians 4 is an intriguing chapter of Scripture. In it, Paul expresses that if we have the proper focus on eternity that we will have little difficulty battling through our struggles in this temporal world. It culminates in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18,
"For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal."

As I read this verse, I can't help but hear distressed Christians all over the world scream, "What are you talking about, Paul? You have no right to belittle my struggles! You don't know what I'm going through."

We hear this from those Christians who have been diagnosed with cancer, those who are being tortured and martyred for their beliefs, those whose loved ones have just died.

Hey, no one ever said the Christian life would be easy. Sure, these days we will occasionally hear a Pastor proclaim  that Jesus is the solution to all your life problems, but sadly, those pastors are drastically mistaken. Jesus did not come down to this Earth to solve our temporal problems, but our eternal ones.

Today is Good Friday. It is the day that we celebrate what Jesus did for us on the cross. As previously mentioned on this blog, Jesus underwent complete torture before and during the crucifixion to the point where his entire body was screaming in pain.

But this physical torture is nothing at all compared to what Jesus truly went through on the cross. The words he screamed in Matthew 27:46 highlight torture much different and much more painful.
"Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

These words can be confusing at first. Why would Jesus feel forsaken by God the Father on the cross? There is a simple reason for it.

Jesus came into this world to be a substitute for our sins. Because the Lord's holiness requires punishment to be exacted somewhere, He was to face the penalty for our sins, so that His sacrifice would change the eternal destination of all those who would accept it as their own.

We all know this, of course, but sometimes in our analysis, we forget that the punishment for sin wouldn't have been paid by a physical death on the cross. The punishment for the sin of this world is separation from the Lord. That's why Jesus feels - no, is - forsaken by God the Father in this verse. R.C. Sproul explains,
"Jesus didn't just feel forsaken on the cross; he was totally forsaken by God while he hung on the cross because that's exactly what the penalty for sin is. As the apostle Paul elaborates, sin cuts us off from the presence and benefits of God. Christ screamed, 'Why have I been forsaken?' It wasn't just a question; it was a cry of agony."  

Complete separation from the presence of the Lord would cause some agony indeed! Ultimately, we all know that Jesus was raised from the dead 3 days later, and is now on the right hand of the Father.

But for us, the separation would have been for all eternity. Eternity separated from the power and presence of God, from whom all good gifts come.

Well, that makes cancer, persecution, and our other afflictions seem pretty light indeed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Extra-Morality 6: Faith

We are to worry about where we stand on issues of extra-moral concerns, not where others stand, yes, this you have expressed all sorts of different ways, but sir, how do we stand on these issues?

I'm so glad you asked because Romans 14 has a magnificent answer to your question!

We remember from a few posts ago that to eat with offense is sin, or rather to violate your extra-moral standards is a sinful act. But why exactly? Looking at Paul's explanation, we find a simple process by which we must make our decisions. In Romans 14:20-23, the Bible proclaims,
"For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin"

Whatsoever is not of faith is sin. That is why it is so sinful for us to violate the standards that we have developed. But wait a minute! This means I'm assuming that faith is a part of the process of determining extra-moral standards.

Indeed, that is exactly what Paul is assuming here. It is not a question of anything else. "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin." If your standards for extra-moral concerns are not of faith, then all actions based upon them are sin.

This is how we must make our decisions - through prayer. By examining and studying the following verses (and many more), and praying about how those standards look in today's world:
"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." ~ Philippians 4:8
 "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh. If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth." Colossians 2:16-3:2
"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another." ~Galatians 5:1-6, 13
And of course, many, many more. 

The decision shouldn't just be made by convenience. It can't be, "I love Doctor Who, so it's definitely appropriate for me to watch!" All things need to be evaluated on the principles found in the Bible, and prayed about. You need to determine how x, y, and z will affect  your relationship with the Lord and others.

It's a decision that needs to be taken by faith, and dare I say it, not because your church tells you to, nor because your friends tell you so, and to a degree, not because your parents have chosen this standard. Now on that last point, don't get me wrong, you should honor your parent's standards wholly in all things. But maybe you'll be led to hold yourself to a higher standard than they do. Or maybe when you're starting a family on your own, you should evaluate the standards you have in your life by faith and by prayer.

As Romans 14:5 says,
"One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind."

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Most Terrible Time of Year

It's the most dreadful time of the year,
With the paperwork filing
And everyone telling you, "Nothing is clear!"
It's the most terrible time of the year,
It's the droop - droopiest season of all.
With those tax experts fuming and depressing meetings
When the IRS calls
It's the droop - droopiest season of all.

So I decided to try to write a parody of a song because although I don't have the talent for music, I thought the income tax deserved this type of treatment.

Yes, tomorrow is tax day. Hopefully, you are well aware of this fact and have already filed your taxes. If not, good luck to you! The tax system is overly complex as you know, and this might create difficulty when you file your taxes.

Indeed, the tax system is greatly complex and complicated. The tax code has over 70,000 pages, there are 1.2 million paid tax preparers in the United States, and the tax system is modified at a fast pace, in recent history, the tax system has been changed at an average of two times a day.

It's no wonder that it is a pain to file taxes.  In 2000, taxpayers spent 3.2 billion hours preparing taxes for the federal government.

But the cost with dealing with our complex income tax system goes beyond some simple inconvenience. It also costs the United States taxpayers and the economy as the whole money. In 2006, taxpayers spent 265 billion dollars, not on paying their taxes specifically, but just to see how much they would have to pay.

And of course, the complexity is a hassle that businesses would rather avoid entirely. In fact, Richard T. Page explained in The Tulane Journal of International & Comparative Law in 2009,
"The former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors has suggested that "from an income tax perspective, the United States has become one of the least attractive industrial countries in which to locate the headquarters of a multinational corporation." ... Perhaps this helps explain why the United States went from hosting eighteen of the world's twenty largest companies' headquarters in 1962 to just eight in 2008.”

But besides the impact that the complexity of our progressive income tax can have on the economy, I fear a much larger impact.

The fact is that not complying with the federal code is a crime and is punishable with fines and incarceration. Think of Al Capone. He was put in prison not for any of the crimes he committed, but because he was guilty of tax evasion.

Now I admit that if you do try to pay taxes, you likely won't be incarcerated for any mistakes that you might make. But let's not be naive. The tax code allows the opportunity for the government to reinterpret what the code means in order to punish or silence any of their critics should they deem it necessary. The power of the government should not be that strong.

Nor on a less conspiracy theory route, should the United States citizens have to fear breaking the law when they are doing their best to comply. They could very well err. Indeed, University of Law School Professor Deborah Shenk claims that almost all of taxpayers will make a mistake when filing taxes.

You could be guilty right now. Is this really a good tax system? Writing this section of this post was extremely difficult as no one understands the tax system even enough to explain how complex it is.

But complexity of our tax system is only one part of the problem with our income tax. The root cause of this problem can have a lot to do with the objectives of progressive redistribution of wealth prevalent within the system.

Economist Friedrich A. Hayek explains the history of the progressive income tax,
"As is true of many similar measures, progressive taxation has assumed its present importance as a result of having been smuggled in under false pretenses.  When at the time of the French Revolution and again during the socialist agitation preceding the revolutions of 1848 it was frankly advocated as a  means of redistributing incomes, it was decisively rejected...When, in the 1830's they came to be more widely advocated, J. R. McCulloch expressed the chief objection in the often quoted statement: "The moment you abandon the cardinal principle of exacting from all individuals the same proportion of their income or of their property, you are at sea without rudder or compass, and there is no amount of injustice and folly you may not commit."  In 1848 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels frankly proposed "a heavy progressive or graduated income tax" as one of the  measures by which, after the first stage of the revolution, "the proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeois, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state." ... But the general attitude was still well summed up in A. Thiers's statement that "proportionality is a principle, but progression is simply hateful arbitrariness,"' or John Stuart Mill's description of progression as "a mild form of robbery."

Here we have it. The big problem with our tax system today is that it is based on the same principles of redistribution of wealth that we have often seen to be problematic. It is built upon the socialist ideas.

Perhaps the worst part of the whole thing is that it doesn't even work in its proper way. Due to the complexity of the tax code and the loopholes in the system, the system does not take from the rich and give to the poor as it intends, but rather takes from the poor and gives to the rich. As Beverly Moran, Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University, explained in 2010,
"On paper, progressive rates can appear dramatic. At times, the highest marginal rate has risen to 90% of taxable income. Working solely from the statute as written, progressive rates seem ideal for downward wealth redistribution; but the dramatic appearance of rates on paper are just part of the story. Progressive rates are applied to ordinary income, including income from wages, but a lower rate applies to income from the sale of capital assets, such as stocks, bonds, and real estate. Progressive rates are more public than real because as income and wealth rises, sources of taxable income shift from wages to capital gains....The result is that, as income rises, tax rates actually fall.”

Yes indeed, such brilliance is our tax system! It has complexity and works towards redistribution, in the way opposite of intended. But it's not just a problem with the way the system is allocated now. As Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute explains,
 "The income tax is not an example of a good idea gone bad. It was bad from the beginning, and it just keeps getting worse. The income tax distorts financial planning and business investment, and it encourages tax avoidance and evasion. Because the income tax is built on an unworkable base of “income,” the law is continually changing. Let’s simplify Americans’ finances and disband the tax army by pursuing fundamental tax reform."

Friday, April 11, 2014

On Further Thought: Is Lying Always a Sin?

Whenever I see someone post an update changing or clarifying what they originally said, I always tend to gain respect for them, that they would be willing to admit their mistake. Although it wouldn't (or at least I hope it wouldn't) change any of my decisions, I do hope that you would be able to think the same as I post this update here.

When I wrote this blog post, I quite honestly wanted to open up a discussion. I was a bit unsure of where I stood on the issue, and I thought that posting my current thoughts might spur some discussion that would further refine them. 

I did not get such discussion unfortunately, but that worked out just fine. The Lord was able to further refine my thoughts through other means. This Sunday, he showed me a verse which has once again changed my entire views on the subject. 

If you remember, my entire premise was based on the fact that there was no specific Bible commandment to not lie. Yes I admitted even then that the Bible did generally look down on lying. My point was simply there were rare circumstances where lying was permissible. But I have now been reminded of Colossians 3:9,
"Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds."

The argument could still be made that this verse is telling Christians not to lie to other Christians. It could be sad that lying to non-Christians in order to protect God's people, which describes all my examples in my original post, is permissible, but I'm not quite sure about that. Thus, I am unsure of what implications this should have on situations like the Holocaust, which is why I still ask you to pray for me as I prayerfully find answers to these questions. And maybe you would feel compelled to discuss what you have learned in your similar mulling in this topics. I'm not against changing my mind based on sound logic, even when the logic is not mine.

This just goes to show to me that even when you think you have it all figured out, the Lord may not be done refining your positions. In fact, when I first was publishing this post, it was going to be a complete retraction of what I wrote, and going back to the opinion that lying was always wrong.

Then the Lord used my Mom to highlight the context of the verse more specifically to  show that I may have been right about what I originally said, and this post really needed to refine my original point.

So if you want to take away anything from this post, take away the thought that the Lord is never done revealing truths about his Word to you. Don't ever get tricked into thinking that you have all the answers and be willing to listen to those opposing you. You may come back with a different opinion, a refined opinion, or just stronger reasons to back up your opinion. At any rate, I bet you will learn a lot by continually letting the Lord work in your life.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Extra-Morality 5: Proper Focus

Throughout this series, we have been learning about extramoral concerns. Because I really feel like this issue is controversial, I have made it a point to explain myself in almost every single post in the series so that hopefully one of my explanations will click with my readers.

Today is no different. I once again want to use another way of teaching to describe what I mean by extra-moral standards. These standards are placed by Christians as tools to fight against their possible corruption. We place them in our lives because we fear that violating these standards could dampen our relationship with the Lord or with others.

But just as there are no set textbooks that always have to be used to teach math, science or other subject, there are no set tools or standards to dictate how we decide to avoid sin. As such, we should expect differing standards from Christian to Christian.

Last week, we simply saw that we should respect other Christians regardless of their choice of extra-moral concerns. We learned that it would be wrong for us to tempt our brothers to err by their stricter standards. Because although having lenient standards is not sin, it is sinful to err by the standard you have prayerfully put in your life. As such, general consideration would allow for us not to put a stumblingblock in the path of our fellow Christians.

I would like to argue further today that instead of focusing on the standards on TV, music, books and dancing we use as tools in our Christian lives, when we interact with other Christians we should focus on righteousness, peace, and joy. We should become like-minded in our goal to spread the Gospel. That should be our focus, not anything else.

This answer is of course found in Romans 14. More specifically, verses 17-19, where it says,
"For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another."

The kingdom of God is not meat and drink. It is not shall we say it, dancing, entertainment choices and so on. There is a higher focus that all Christians aspire to, that is obedience to the Lord, righteousness, peace, and joy. When we are together, we should just focus on these areas wherewith we may edify one another.

Perhaps, Romans 15:5-7 explain it better,
"Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God."

You see, we Christians have bigger fish to fry than arguing over whether it is acceptable to dance. We are called to glorify God, but we may have difficulty fulfilling that purpose if we don't stand like-minded, if we divide ourselves by arguing over virtually nothing. Let us then follow after the things which make for peace and glorify God together.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Military and the Right to Bear Arms

The military. It is a place of honor. It is a place where you risk your lives to protect your family and the country as a whole. It is a protector of freedom.

In the United States that is. In other places throughout the world, the military is not used for such noble purposes. As we have seen throughout history, outside of its proper sphere, the military can mean the very destruction of our liberties.

Just to point out an obvious example, Great Britain during the events that transpired before the Revolutionary War used their military to enforce their unjust policies on the colonies. Ultimately, these efforts were prevented when the colonists started to fight back.

It's as Noah Webster says,
“Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed."  

We as citizens must have the right to bear arms in order to protect ourselves from the abuse of our military. Now I know we would all like to believe that our government would never oppress us with the military, a driving idea of the Constitution and our early government is that we must prepare for the worst possible government.

By its nature, government is made up of fallible men. If men were perfect, we wouldn't need a government to ensure one man not harm another's rights to life, liberty, and property. Unfortunately, we cannot trust these same men to remain honorable in office.

Our system of government was created to provide set limits in order to check the power of these men. Indeed we are ordained to fight back, with force if need be,  should the government overstep its bounds.

This is why we have the right to bear arms in the second amendment. It is not strictly speaking to protect ourselves against criminals although guns are great for that too. No, it is to allow us to protect ourselves against the potential abuse of our government.

But in this regard, we must not only have access to guns, but actually need access to the same guns the military has. This may be a scary prospect, but think about it. How are we to protect ourselves against the military if their firepower is significantly greater than those of the citizens?

Alexander Hamilton explains this idea in greater detail,
“If circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude, that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people, while there is a large body of citizens, little if at all inferior to them in discipline and use of arms, who stand ready to defend their rights.”  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Why would David Lament on Saul's Behalf?

You may have noticed that my blog posts as of late have almost always focused on a similar theme. For whatever reason, I keep heading back to the same principle of relying upon God through prayer in every circumstance. This has been steady throughout my blog's history.

I noticed this phenomenon as I published my post last week. I kept feeling that every time I went to my Bible, I would come back with the same lesson. I wanted to know why. My immediate question was whether I wasn't applying myself well enough to that lesson (and the Lord still wanted me to learn) or if I wasn't applying myself well enough to my studies (and thus couldn't go beyond learning what I already knew).

Last Friday morning, the Lord provided the answer. I was simply not applying the lessons I had learned. Throughout that day, I worked on applying the lesson to my life, and the next day, the Lord taught me a vastly different lesson in my devotions than that which I normally receive. That is what I would like to talk about today.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that was my introduction. I may be a bit long-winded today. But I'll try to keep it interesting nonetheless.

Last Saturday, I read in my devotions from II Samuel 1. The events take place after what we have discussed last week. In that battle with the Philistines, Saul has fallen. Meanwhile, David's battle with the Amalekites has been won; David has returned to work on restoring his home. At this point, David has not yet heard that Saul is dead.

But have no fear, he will know soon enough. Enter random unnamed Amalekite!

This Amalekite sees an opportunity in this situation. After all, David has long been thought to  a threat to Saul's kingship. Now that Saul is dead, David will gain that opportunity. To claim credit for his death will mean that I will be rewarded for establishing David's kingdom. 

Thus is the Amelekite's logic. He expects this to be joyous news in David's eyes, or else he would never have claimed credit for such a heinous action.

Yet at the end of the Amalekite's announcement, David responds in a most unusual way. In II Samuel 1:11-12, we hear,
"Then David took hold on his clothes, and rent them; and likewise all the men that were with him: And they mourned, and wept, and fasted until even, for Saul, and for Jonathan his son, and for the people of the Lord, and for the house of Israel; because they were fallen by the sword."

David would later enact justice on Saul's behalf, and the lying Amalekite is killed.

Yes, David laments Saul's death. I'm sure that David remembered that Saul had tried to kill him. But apparently it doesn't matter to him. David will lament the tragedies of his enemies, and most likely praise in their successes.

But I know that I wouldn't be able to do such a thing. When someone tries to hurt me, I can't help to become bitter against them.

I'm sure I'm not alone. Today, for different reasons, people hold grudges.  Whether these reasons are petty or not, we as Christians need to get over it, to forgive, to choose love.

Yes, it's not easy, but we must strive to forget the actions against us, or even our friends. We must learn to let go. We must love people enough that we can easily forgive them.

After all, when a family member hurts you, you are able to forgive them more quickly because of the love and bond you share. This should be true of everyone we come in contact with.

Let us learn to praise in the successes of everyone. Let us learn to cry at the hurt of whomever. Let us learn to abide by Jesus' exhortation in Matthew 5:43-44,
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Extra-Morality 4: Stumblingblock in the Way

We have thus far in this series seen a few reasons why we should not condemn someone because of their choices on extra-moral concerns. However, simply not condemning is hardly the easiest lesson to apply in our everyday lives as it is rather vague and abstract.

Starting today, we will be seeing in more detail what this course of action entails by seeing what the Lord would have us do. And yes, the information for how we should live our lives also comes from Romans 14.

Let us remember simply that we have come to the conclusion that there are some issues that are not moral or immoral, but are simply issues where each Christian has to decide for himself where he stands. The Lord gives strong evidence in Romans 14 that he doesn't care what decision is made, so long as it is made by faith.

So then in these situations (like dancing, cultural entertainment, and modesty), there will be different beliefs among Christians about what is acceptable and what is not. Baptists may think that dancing is entirely forbidden; Presbyterians may find that dancing is entirely permissible. The same can be said on other issues of extra-moral concerns. So how exactly are we supposed to work as a unified body of Christ in this manner?

I suppose some would say it is possible for us to simply each break apart into separate denominations and keep our different beliefs on extramoral concerns separate. But this is simply not a good idea.

In the first place, choosing a denomination should be based on something more consequential than these issues. We have different denominations so that we can regularly meet with people who think similarly on issues like predestination, baptism, and other doctrinal issues, and not because the atmosphere of extra-moral choices make us comfortable.

Additionally though, you will be hard-pressed to find a group of people who agree exactly as you do on these issues in the first place. Different people are bound to make different decisions even within the same family, or same denomination.

For instance, I am a Baptist. As such, I should completely condemn dancing and never, ever participate (this is what the stereotype says anyway). Yet this very night, I am greatly looking forward to square dancing. Most in my church would probably look down on such actions as ungodly. But I find it to just be another way of fellowship with other believers.

But even if it were feasible to break into denominations because of extra-moral concerns, it would not solve the problem of divisions. We shouldn't just completely isolate ourselves into different denominations. Now don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with breaking into different denominations for regular church services, but there is also nothing wrong with fellowshipping and serving with those from different denominations from time to time.  The Lord doesn't change whether He loves you based on your denomination, so why would we never interact with those we disagree with on any issue?

So we know that we will have to interact with Christians with differing extra-moral concerns on a normal basis. How exactly should we behave? It really comes down to respecting opposing viewpoints. Maybe someone won't watch Doctor Who while you absolutely can't get enough. There is nothing wrong with either position (as long as it was made by faith), so what are you to do?

Romans 14:13-16 provides us with our answer,
"Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way. I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of."

Here Paul continues with his example of meat he started early in the chapter. Remember, if someone decides to avoid certain areas by faith, then it becomes a sin for him to do such things.

In this example, when someone has decided the Lord doesn't want them to eat meat, then it would be a sin for them to eat meat. In this verse, you are being admonished against tempting your brother with meat that you can eat without guilt that he cannot.

Back to our more modern example, if someone believes that watching Doctor Who would be problematic in their relationship with the Lord, then by all means don't discuss the show in front of him. Don't consistently tell him how amazing the show is, how much he's missing out. Be considerate of his position and don't tempt him to compromise his convictions! Just because they don't line with yours doesn't change his right to have them.

The same can be said for every issue of extra-moral concerns. We must not put a stumblingblock in the way of our brothers with stricter extra-moral concerns then we have. We must not tempt them into erring by discussing or doing those things in their presence.

It's just like how we wouldn't turn on a movie in the presence of a friend who is not allowed to watch it. We simply should not make it difficult for other Christians to stay committed to the Lord.

But those who have stricter extra-moral concerns have a duty as well. It can be so easy to fall into the trap that because you have these stricter beliefs that you are better than your friends. This pride though is sinful. You cannot think that your extra-moral standards make you better than another. They don't. Do not speak evil of the good of your fellow Christians because their extra-moral standards are more lenient.

Both of these duties will naturally follow from mutual respect. Even if you can't come to respect the extra-moral choices of another, learn to respect him as a person, as a servant of the Lord. When you do so, you should find yourself condemning his choices less and less.