Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Having Your Cake and Eating it Too.

On Tuesday, May 26th something not altogether expected happened. The California Supreme Court issued a ruling that upheld the legality of Proposition 8. Prop 8, as it is called, was the response of the people of California (well, at least 52% of them) to the ruling from this same court a little less than a year ago that mandated gay marriage. The furor since that ruling has yet to die down, as evidenced by the whole Carrie Prejean/Miss USA incident. Almost immediately following the passage of Prop 8 dozens of lawsuits were filed contesting the legality of the whole process. Even the Attorney General of California wanted the vote overturned.

What was at stake was nothing less than the right of self-governance. That may sound extreme, but had the California Supreme Court overturned Prop 8 then the very right of democratic, majority rule would have been done away with. Rule by judicial fiat would have become the norm and the masses would have lost their most fundamental right, the right of self-determination.

Having said all that let me say that this isn't what I wanted to talk about. The real issue here is the duplicity of the California court. An additional ruling issued on Tuesday permitted around 18,000 same sex marriages performed in the state in the year between the two previously mentioned rulings to stand. In effect, the ruling allowing these "marriages" to stand is in direct violation of the recently amended constitution. The California court effectively gutted the amendment with the second ruling. The conspiracy theorist in me smells a rat. Why, you may ask?

What few have chosen to recognize, or remember, is that this same court refused to issue a stay of the ruling that started all of this. There is a precedent, a wide one at that, even in this court to issue a stay of a ruling that will most assuredly be appealed. This was the case in the recent past when the court issued a stay in a case concerning the legality of homeschooling in California. The justices cannot claim ignorance, for during the time period given for the state to prepare to recognize same sex marriage a number of legal and political challenges were announced. The Supreme Court was even asked to issue a stay for those very reasons. The court refused. The California Supreme Court created this mess, and their answer to it is to try to give everyone what they want. The problem is no one wins, especially a culture badly in need of stopping an ever quickening decline.

California Supreme Court Justices are not alone in their desire to have it both ways. Such an attitude of compromise has come to characterize the church and Christians in general. The Bible says that we cannot be friends with both God and the world yet that is exactly what too many are trying to do. The result of such compromise is hypocrisy, powerlessness, and eventually, irrelevance. The loss of vitality has robbed our worship of any sense of the nearness of God, and for good reason. God is nowhere near much of what passes for spirituality today and so much of what is called worship, no matter what its incarnation, is merely window dressing hiding the barrenness of our souls from the eyes of outsiders.

Personal holiness is nearly extinct, yet God still calls for us to be holy because He is holy. The time has come for Christians to clean out their hearts and minds and fill them with the Spirit and the word. We will never see revival or cultural change as long as we are virtually indistinguishable from the world in which we live. Far too many of us for far too long have attempted to be like the world on the outside and be clean on the inside. The problem is that the world seeps in and soon we are just as stained inside as out.

To paraphrase Joshua, the great Israelite leader: We must choose to follow God or the world. As far as I'm concerned; I'm going with God.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Remembering Fallen Heroes

Monday is Memorial Day. There will be celebrations and services all around our country as we remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our land. But Memorial Day has become both more and less than a day of rememberance. Too many in our land will enjoy a long weekend with no regard for the reason. Others will expand the celebration to include all those who have served our country buy who have since died. I have no problem with those who desire to honor the memories of all who have served our land. We as a country do too little to express our appreciation to those of every generation who have served in defense of our nation. Honor and sacrifice are dying concepts in our culture, and we are a poorer people because of it. We would do well to resurrect the committment to the greater good that has been driven from our homes, schools, churches, and government. This greater good has been replaced by a selfishness that runs far too deep in American culture.

I do have issues with the millions of Americans who will celebrate the holiday with no thought to its meaning. They will gather to eat (and unfortunately, drink to excess) and laugh and relax. Too few will pause to consider those who gave their lives to preserve that privilege. Others will shop, feeding the cancer of materialism that is eating away at the core of our national soul. Celebrations and rememberances will be all too brief and none too heartfelt. Ingratitude is the fruit of selfishness, and America has a bumper crop.

We have so much to be grateful for yet I fear we have forgotten the cost of our freedom, our wealth, and our leisure. I want to say to the families of those who have fallen in the defense of our freedom a heartfelt thank you. The sacrifice of your loved one(s) has not been forgotten and will not be wasted, at least not by this man and his family.

The church is in danger of forgetting those who have given their lives for her benefit at well. Throughout the years millions have been martyred because of their faith in Christ. Missionaries and believers of every stripe have shed their blood for the advance of the gospel. They would not desire or feel worthy of celebrations in their honor, but the church would do well to remember their sacrifice as well as the ultimate sacrifice paid by our Lord and Savior.

But they are not the only heroes I wish to remember. Those faithful servants who lived simple lives filled with the Spirit need to be remembered as well. The faithful followers who sang in the choir, received the offering, taught the children, gave of their time and money to minister to others are heroes as well. They had names like Troy, Cliff, Mildred, and Gordon. My life would not be what it is without them. I remember them this weekend and give thanks to the God who saved them and gave them a heart for one like me.

I challenge all believers this weekend to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our nation and to also remember those who gave their lives for our Savior. Pause this weekend to offer a prayer of thanks and perhaps even a word of thanks to those whom we are blessed to have with us still.

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Getting "Pumped Up!"

While in my office I usually listen to Cd's as I work. On occasion I will listen to the radio, usually for the news updates and a few talk programs. There was one news update today that stopped me dead in my tracks. I even made sure that I tuned in to the same station in the next hour to be sure that I had heard the story correctly. The story, that I have confirmed, is about the Belgian Bodybuilding Championships held over the past weekend. It seems that officials with an anti doping agency showed up at the event in order to test the participants. When word got out among the contestants that drug testers had arrived all twenty of the participants left rather than be tested. The event had to be cancelled for lack of bodybuilders.

I'm not sure about you, but I keep seeing "Hanz" and "Franz" from Saturday Night Live in my mind. These Belgian bodybuilders give a whole new meaning to the phrase "Pump You Up!" What is really sad is that in the past as many as seventy-five percent of the body builders in this contest tested positive for drug use. Seventy-five percent! Does anyone want to argue about the purity of competition, at least in bodybuilding? We can now safely add Belgian bodybuilders to the list of "athletic entertainers" alongside professional wrestlers. There is no doubt that these men (and women) look impressive and work hard, but the truth is that they are tainted, they are frauds. Truthfully, is there anyone who still believed that they achieved their impressive physical condition without drugs?

Unfortunately there are frauds in every area of life. Some of the worst frauds are the spiritual ones, and they've been around for as long as man has walked the face of the earth. Jesus exposed the biggest spiritual frauds of his day, calling them "whitewashed tombs" and saying that they were filled with death and decay. They looked good, impressive in their ritual and their practice. Their hearts, however, were something altogether different. Not much has changed in the two thousand years since Jesus walked the earth. Men are still trying to get by on the externals without regard to the real issue, the heart. We substitute attendance and cliche' for relationship with God and love for others.

Is it any wonder that one of the chief complaints about the church is that it's filled with hypocrites? The truth will come out. Those Belgian bodybuilders revealed the truth without one blood sample being drawn. Spiritual frauds are exposed during times of stress or trial. Usually it is our mouth that reveals the truth long before our actions do. All the preening and posing is all too often cancelled out by the work of the tongue.

Like those bodybuilders, I'm afraid that far too many who profess faith aren't really what they claim to be.

It's hard to be too "pumped up" about that.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Out of the mouths of babes and billionaires - random thoughts about gay "rights"

Donald Trump's announcement that Carrie Prejean would be permitted to keep her title as Miss California will hopefuly put an end to the altogether unnecessary brouhaha over her support for the traditional definition of marriage. Miss Prejean, you will remember, incurred the wrath of the gay community (or at least some of them) when she honestly answered a question posed to her during the Miss USA pageant. Since that time Miss Prejean has become, depending on whom you listen to, either the heartless incarnation of all things evil or a minor celebrity on the verge of martyrdom and sainthood. The truth is that she is neither. Miss Prejean's greatest crime is that she had enough courage to give an answer that is consistent with her convictions.

Mr. Trump, in his statement at the press conference, reminded us all that Miss Prejeans' position on gay marriage is the same as President Obama's. Miss Prejean then spoke in her own defense, reminding us that she was exercising her right of free expression, a right that her grandfather had fought for. She gave a stirring defense of herself and her right to express her opinion. Since both Miss Prejean andthe President are of the same opinion are we to gather that the opinion of Miss California is of more importance and carries more weight than that of the President of the United States? After all, no one in the entire country has spoken critically of the Presidents' stance on gay marriage. I knew that we were becoming a celebrity driven culture, but I never imagined this! Where does the line form to appoint Miley Cyrus Secretary of Health and Human Services?

But I digress.

The most troubling aspect of all this has been that what we are seeing is the attempt to completely eliminate an opposing point of view. There was a time in history when good men could disagree honorably and with respect. That is no longer the case. As mentioned in this space before, the current method of debate seems to be the "whoever makes the most noise wins." However the dynamic at play in the whole Carrie Prejean debate (?) seems to conveniently forget that the majority of people in the country agree with Miss Prejean (and the President). Putting it plainly, the American people define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. No amount of screeching and posturing can change that fact. The inability of gay activists to win in the court of public opinion has driven them to the courts. That they have recently won in the courts is a dangerous thing. There are two possibile outcomes to this plan of action. The first possible outcome is that they win the "rights" they are seeking. The danger is that we would no longer have an elected representative government. The other possible outcome is that the people of the nation would rise up and excercise the right to vote and elect men and women who will see to it that the next generation of judges hold to the same understanding of "rights" that they do. The first would be a disaster, the second is difficult to imagine in light of our current culture.

The simple truth of the matter is that I know of no great movement in the populace (or among conservatives) to deny anyone their basic constitutional rights. At the heart of the current gay "rights" movement is not the attempt to establish the basic rights that are due to all men (as was the case in the civil rights movement), but the attempt to create a favored class of people. This is the antithesis of the intention of the founding fathers. There is no credible evidence that homosexuals have been denied the right to vote, to assemble, to worship or to speak. Demographic studies reveal that homosexuals have higher incomes, educational acheivement, and disposalbe income that heterosexuals. They hardly seem to be an oppressed minority to me.

I am well aware of the fact that these words are politically incorrect and that in many countries I could face fines or jail time for expressing them. But I am going to continue to express my opinion, whether the President of the United States, Donald Trump or anyone else agrees with me. I will also defend the right of everyone else to express their opinions as well, whether I agree with them or not.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Boldly going where few want to go.

I have been and always shall be your friend.
There's not a Trekker (yes, I am an unashamed fan of Star Trek) worth his dilithium crystals who doesn't recognize that quote. Those are Captain Spock's last words to his friend Admiral Kirk in the movie "Star Trek II: the Wrath of Kahn." I remember seeing that movie in the theatre in 1982 with a group of friends, one of whom was a greater Trekker than me. When Spock spoke these words he actually broke down and cried! That movie has become one of my all-time favorites, and not just because it's Star Trek, but because it speaks of honor, self-sacrifice, commitment and brotherhood. We don't see much of those concepts in our culture today. I guess they've become too outdated to matter anymore.
I was reminded of those words last night when I took four of my kids to see the new Star Trek movie. Initially uncertain, I was encouraged by the early buzz concerning the movie and the favorable advance reviews that I read. The movie did not disappoint. The story was filled with action, humor, and honor, self-sacrifice, commitment and brotherhood. Why do I mention those qualities again? Because they mean so much to me. I learned those values from that corny old TV series and began to seek them in the lives of others. How appropriate that this movie premiered the same day that it was announced that Los Angeles Dodger player Manny Ramirez was suspended fifty games for using a banned substance. There's not much honor in cheating, even in baseball. Our culture now celebrates the anti-hero, and sadly, in much of our current forms of entertainment we find that those who should be heroes (the police, government officials, etc.) are among the most corrupt and evil.
I have been blessed throughout my life to see qualities like honor, self-sacrifice, commitment and brotherhood practiced. The good people of the Berea Baptist Church of Jacksonville, AR lived them before me as a child. Friends like David M and Don S (both lifelong friends) continue to live them out in front of me, challenging me to make those qualities real in my own life. I am most blessed to know these people and challenged every day by their example. My greatest hope is that my children will themselves demonstrate those qualities in their everyday lives.
There is a problem, however, those qualities can never be developed on their own. They must spring from a life that has been redeemed by Jesus Christ. I make no aplogies for the fact that Jesus is my Savior, that I have given my life to Him and that I try my best to serve Him every day. The only way that the qualities of honor, self-sacrifice, commitment and brotherhood will ever become real in our lives is through the presence of the Holy Spirit, the gift of God when one receives Christ as Savior. But they don't just happen. They are developed as we submit ourselves to the leadership of the Spirit, allowing him to work in our lives, exposing the hidden things, the favorite evils that we always practice. We're uncomfortable with that process, and we won't even talk about things like confession and granting forgiveness for wrongs done to us.
There is as great a deficit of those qualities in the church as in our society. I wonder how different our churches (and our world) would be if more Christians demonstrated them in an unmistakeable way. Kirk and Spock introduced a young boy to them. People like AJ, Shirley, Cliff, Bro. Dennis, David, Don and others showed me how they are to be practiced. Those folks have been and always will be my friends.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Asleep at the Wheel

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Edmund Burke
There is a disturbing trend (only one?, you may ask.) in our nation that is garnering so little attention that it brings out the conspiracy theorist in me. Today the City Council of Washington, DC by a 12-1 vote decided to recognize the legality of out-of-state same sex marriages. This follows the recent decisions by the Iowa State Supreme Court and others that essentially removed the will of the people from the policy making process. My intention here is not to debate the merits, whatever and however few they may be, of same sex marriage. The greater concern is the very dangerous precedent of bypassing the mechanism of democracy. I seem to remember from my American history classes that one of the bedrock principles of our government was the idea of "one man, one vote." I would like to ask the council members and justices who have made these decisions if they bothered with the arduous task of asking the citizens of their municipalities or jurisdictions. I seem to recall that Iowa, along with 38 other states having laws on their books that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Californians even amended their state constitution to ensure such a definition was out of the reach of judges. Yet seemingly the law nor the will of the people are unimportant to the all too often appointed and not elected justices. Shockingly, the California Attorney General willfully ignored his own oath of office to file suit against the will of the people of his state. Again, this is not about same sex marriage, but about the action of a judiciary or other governmental body making decisions without seeking to know the will of the people.
For me the even more shocking aspect of these events has been the absolute silence of the mainstream media concerning this abuse of power. I have yet to see a NY Times editorial or a CNN report. There are frighteningly few voices raising the alarm. Edmund Burke is right...evil will triumph if good men do nothing. What I am calling for is nothing less than a truly American revolution. Our Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, gave us the mechanism for accomplishing this revolution: the vote. The few have for too long dictated to the many the direction of our nation. The time has come for the people of this great nation to rise up and elect men and women of honor and integrity and to replace them as need be. My opinion is that career politicians (don't you dare call them "public servants") should join the dinosaurs and dodo's in the list of extinct species.
In short, it's time to clean house!
The church faces a very similar dilemma as well. Too few church members are sufficiently informed about the Bible or the doctrines of their church to know when their leadership has forsaken the faith. Entire denominations are becoming shipwreck because the members of the local churches have become silent while the leadership of their denominations lead them down a path of compromise that can only lead to irrelevancy. The time has come for the membership of the church to rise up and hold their leadership, both locally and denominational, accountable for the conditions of our churches.
Yet, as the late Paul Harvey would say, now for the rest of the story. The church faces still another challenge. Membership that is all too willing to let the few do all the work while they reap the benefits. The widely held belief is that 20% of the membership of any church does all the work while the other 80% sit back and watch. That is not acceptable. Such indifference, selfishness, and yes, laziness is crippling our churches and burning out those who lead (both pastoral leadership and laity). Those who sit back and do nothing (except criticize, usually) have no right to speak or complain. They will wake up one day and wonder where there church has gone.
Which, I am afraid, is precisely what is happening to our country.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Go Speed Racer, Go Speed Racer, Go Speed Racer, Go!

Last week was a rather long week and Friday afternoon I took advantage of the need to do some shopping to take my wife out to eat at a town about 20 miles up the road. We had a very enjoyable time together (and the food was good too!) and even found just what we needed at Wal-Mart (Which, as most regular Wal-Mart shoppers will tell you, is a surprise.). The topper for all this was a happenstance meeting with a couple of good friends while we shopped. My wife and I shared a wonderful 2-3 hours without any kids (a rarity for the parents of six!).

I had been musing all day about my next posting. I had considered the swine flu pandemic (is it or isn't it), the outrageous response of some in talk radio to the swine flu (yes, Michael Savage, I'm talking about YOU!), and the Chrysler bankruptcy. There were a great many things flowing through my mind when they were all erased by a car that very nearly flew by me on the interstate.

Please understand that cars passing me on the interstate is not normally something I take much notice of, unless accompanied by obscene hand gestures or flashing lights. This particular car was marked in such a way that I couldn't help but notice it. The car was prominently marked "Mayor of ______". I have every reason to believe that the driver of the car was none other than the mayor of our small city. He was traveling at a rate of speed that is usually reserved for emergency vehicles or NASCAR drivers. I was soon left far behind. By the way, my cruise control was set on 70mph.

By now you are no doubt wondering why I bother to mention this, after all, doesn't everybody speed? Isn't the mayor an important person? Surely he had some important business to tend to. While I'm sure that the mayor (or whoever was driving his car) had a very good reason to be attempting to achieve "warp speed" I am troubled by the incident all the same.

Why? The mayor of our fair city receives quite a bit of press coverage, most of it by his own design. Some months ago he had a very public (all of his actions seem to be public) dust up with the acting chief of police. It seems that the mayor was attempting to coordinate police investigations. This in spite of the fact that the mayor is not a police officer. When questioned about his involvement he replied that as mayor he was the "chief law enforcement officer" for the city and as such he was free to do so.

I have no desire to debate the merits, or lack of, of the mayor's position. My concern is the blatant disregard that the "chief law enforcement officer" of my city had for the law of the state of Mississippi. My question is this: Do the laws of the land apply to those who are elected to uphold them? A speeding mayor may seem to be inconsequential, but I for one don't happen to believe that it is. A mayor, or police officer, who disregards the law is not fit for office.

Turning this line of thought to the church (I have a funny way of doing that, I know) the implications are obvious. If the pastor, deacon, Sunday School teacher is free to disregard the word of God or the accepted guidelines that are in place for their local church, who is to stop anyone else from disregarding the same? Baptists hold very strongly to the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer. This doctrine holds that all men and women are equally free to approach God without the need for a human mediator. Yet even the most ardent supporter of this doctrine will readily agree that the word of God is the ulitmate guide for the operation of the church and the qualifications of its leadership.

So what does a speeding mayor have to do with how a church operates? Very simply, there has to be accountablility to some higher authority if there is to be any sense of decency and order in how our society and churches function. If the laws of the state are of no consequence to a mayor and the Bible is of no consequence to a church or denomination there is no end to mischief that can follow. How very interesting is the similarity between the disintegration of our society and the abandonment of biblical authority for the believer and the church.

Until next time, I'm the guy with his cruise control set at the speed limit.