I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Worldviews in Conflict

By Thomas M. Parsons

Part 6: The Nature of Man

To the Secular Humanist, human beings are the highest life form that has evolved over millions of years of evolutionary history. Mankind is the best evolution has formed, at least so far. But evolution is not finished; it continues unabated in its striving to produce ever more complicated and efficient life forms. Man is at the top of the chain today, but tomorrow, or many millions of tomorrows from now, something better is likely to evolve.

Because evolution is seen as a long, slow process that, generation by generation, makes improvements in its creatures, human beings are seen as neither "good" nor "bad", but progressing. Moral judgments based on religious or traditional values are irrelevant, because they are rooted in philosophies that the scientific mind has rejected as inadequate to meet the needs and challenges of modern man.

However, humanists believe that there is something in man that does strive for a better life for all who inhabit planet earth. This is the essential "goodness" of human beings, the desire to progress toward the goals of peace, health, and personal fulfillment for all. In this sense, humanists claim that human beings are essentially "good" since they seek this progress for themselves and others.

According to The Humanist Manifesto, humanism has as its principle goal "a free and universal society in which people voluntarily and intelligently cooperate for the common good." This, proclaims the humanist, must be the goal of every human institution and every human being.

Biblical Christianity sees human beings in a much different light, because it bases its statements solely on the Scriptures. "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God" proclaimed the Apostle Paul, rephrasing an Old Testament teaching. This teaching of sin and its consequences pervades both the Old and New Testament teachings. The essential nature of human beings is that they are sinners in rebellion against a holy God and thus doomed to failure and death.

The Bible also teaches that human beings are incapable of progressing toward higher goals because of the inhibiting factor of sin within them. A "free and universal society" to a Biblical Christian is an impossibility because it ignores the fundamental fact that every human being is inclined to serve himself, not others. "Voluntarily and intelligently cooperating for the common good" is a nice-sounding, lofty phrase, but Biblical Christians know instinctively that what actually happens is that every sinner thinks "What’s in it for me?"

Biblical Christians understand that no amount of education, political or social motivation, influence of the arts, or scientific knowledge can change the fundamental sinful nature of every human being. Biblical Christians understand that the source of all evil in the world – crime, wars, illness and even death itself – is the basic human sin nature. Sin motivates people to steal what belongs to someone else, to lie, to murder, to start wars, to promote all the negative and hurtful things that happen in this world. Disease is the result of sin, and death is the result of disease, crime and war.

There is no remedy for this sin nature, according to the Biblical Christian, except that which the Bible proclaims: personal faith in Jesus Christ and His work of redemption in paying for the sins of all human beings with His death on the cross.

When the question is Are human beings basically good or basically bad? the humanist answer is People are basically good, while the Christian who believes the Bible answers, people are basically bad because they are sinners.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Worldviews in Conflict

By Thomas M. Parsons

Part 5: Economics

Essential to every worldview is its view of which economic system works best to meet the needs of people. There are basically two economic systems available – capitalism and Marxism (Communism). Few nations on earth embrace either a pure capitalism or a pure Marxism; most nations use a blend of these two.

Capitalism is built on the concept of a free market, which means the exchange of goods and services is relatively free from government control and intervention. People bring their goods and services that they have created to the market and others purchase them with wealth. The one who receives that wealth then goes the market and purchases the goods and services of others using the wealth he or she has received. In this way, wealth is constantly being redistributed in the market place.

The great driving forces of capitalism are human need and human creativity. People need a variety of things to live. Food, clothing, shelter, transportation, education, health care, and a great many other things are needed to maintain life at a satisfactory level. Thus, those who are producers of goods and services are encouraged by the system to create items that meet the needs of people and for which wealth can be traded. Ambitious producers can gather wealth to themselves by keeping a close eye on what people need (and want), and on other producers so they can continue to improve their product and lower their prices (both of which benefit the consumer). Capitalism provides a strong incentive for new and improved products and prices that can be afforded by more consumers.

The downside of capitalism is that it can produce greed in both producers and consumers. Producers can gain control of the market for a certain product and charge high prices that only a few consumers can afford. This increases the producer’s profit, but leaves many consumers out of the market for that product, even if it is something they genuinely need. Conversely, consumers can counterfeit ideas and product designs, and sell them at very low prices, thus cutting into the profits of the legitimate producers and distributing inferior products in the market place, while putting wealth into the hands of the counterfeiters.

Also, capitalism can produce a greatly lopsided distribution of wealth, with most of the wealth in the hands of a minority of individuals who know how to play the market to their advantage, but leaving a large number of people with less than enough wealth to provide what they and their families need.

Marxism is based on the theories of Karl Marx who developed his theories in the nineteenth century. He envisioned a different model than that of capitalism. Instead of a free market place being at the center of the distribution of wealth, he conceived of a government office being at the center. The government would own all the wealth of the society. This would include all lands, buildings, goods and services as well as the creation of those goods and services and their distribution. This government office would determine what its citizens needed, how much was to be produced and who was to produce it and what the government (not the consumer) would pay for it. Each citizen would be given an appropriation of goods and services at the discretion of the government office in charge.

The goal of Marxism, which is also known by the name Communism, is to "take from each according to his ability and give to each according to his need." Marxism seeks a more equitable distribution of wealth where no one has more than needed or less than needed.

Criticisms of Marxism include the charge that it tends to rob the rich to pay the poor, that it kills incentive for producers to produce more and better goods and services, that it tends to raise prices for all, and that it tends to concentrate the wealth in the hands of those government officials who run the system.

Many economic models in use in the world today try to combine these two systems. Many countries have a market place which is partially under the control of the government. This is a regulated market place. Consumers and producers are able to meet together in the market place and buy and sell as they please, but there are rules they both must follow. The fewer regulations there are, the more the system operates as a free market system. The more regulations there are, the more the system becomes socialistic in nature.

Secular Humanism strongly favors a socialistic economic system. The Humanist Manifesto of 1933 and more contemporary revisions of that document agree that "a socialized and cooperative economic order must be established to the end that the equitable distribution of the means of life be possible." Humanists desire a system where individuals "voluntarily and intelligently cooperate for the common good."

The socialistic views of humanists seek government control over the market place in several important aspects. They want to control the wages which are paid to workers by producers. They want to control the prices of goods and services by controlling the amount of goods and services produced and thus available. They want high levels of taxation that are especially heavy on the rich and less demanding on the poor. They want the government to use the money produced by these high taxes to establish government programs that keep an open flow of wealth to those deemed to be too poor to provide for themselves.

Secular humanist socialists do not envision a totalitarian state such as that demanded by Communism; they see a free society voluntarily cooperating in the redistribution of wealth away from the wealthy toward the poor.

Biblical Christianity does not clearly endorse any economic system. The church in Jerusalem in the early days of church history did try a form of limited socialism for a time (Acts 4:32-37). This was voluntary and limited to the members of the church. They sold possessions and gave the money to the church leaders to be distributed to those in the church who had needs. No government was involved in this; it was strictly a local church practice. Apparently it was abandoned after awhile for unknown reasons. Possibly it simply failed to work.

When left to itself, humanity tends to gravitate toward the use of a free market. People in both the Old and New Testaments owned land; many became wealthy. Abraham accumulated great wealth in his lifetime. Lazarus, Martha and Mary were wealthy friends of Jesus. A wealthy man, Joseph of Arimathaea, provided the tomb in which the body of Jesus was placed following the crucifixion.

But Jesus also taught that Christians were to minister to the poor and assist them using their own wealth. Jesus often healed poor people; on two different occasions He fed thousands of men, women and children miraculously because He saw their need and had compassion on them.

Biblical Christianity insists that people are sinners because that is the clear teaching of the Bible. Sinners, it is argued, can never "voluntarily and intelligently cooperate for the common good." Inevitably sin in the form of greed will lead many to take advantage of power and opportunity in any economic system to gather wealth to themselves at the expense of others. Capitalism is known to produce arrogant and corrupt producers who selfishly hoard wealth for themselves. Marxism is known to produce arrogant and corrupt government bureaucrats who selfishly hoard wealth for themselves.

Those who conduct their lives on a Biblical Christian worldview generally favor a capitalistic system with some limited government controls. The freedom of capitalism appeals strongly to those who have been made "free indeed" by Jesus Christ. The checks and balances of capitalism tend to keep producers providing a quality product for a lower price, which also appeals to Biblical Christians. The fact that Marxism and Communism are strongly associated with atheism (Marx himself was an atheist), tends to cause Biblical Christians to distrust the more moderate forms of Marxism known as socialism.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Worldviews in Conflict

By Thomas M Parsons
Part 4: History

Some people assume that every worldview has the same view of history. After all, history is the past; it has already happened. It cannot be changed.

But the truth is that the facts and events of history are interpreted by the worldview of the interpreter. Why did this event take place? What significance did it have? These are questions raised by students of history, and answered by the worldviews they hold.

"Using technology wisely, we can control our environment, conquer poverty, markedly reduce disease, extend our life-span, significantly modify our behavior, alter the course of human evolution and cultural development, unlock vast new powers, and provide humankind with unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and meaningful life." (Humanist Manifesto II)

This statement indicates the idealism of Secular Humanism and reflects its view that history is the continuing story of the dominance of human beings on this planet and their search for a better world for themselves and their children. Humanism takes an optimistic view of history in that it sees history as the striving of humankind for a perfect world, a "heaven" on earth, if you will, although humanists would no doubt reject that wording.

Humanist historians are challenged by the frequent wars and outbreaks of violence in the world, since these tend to denigrate their basic concept of the goodness of human beings and their ability to right wrongs peacefully and create an earthly utopia. In fact, in 1933, humanists were quite optimistic when they assembled in Chicago and wrote the first Humanist Manifesto. They saw humanism as the only logical means available to human beings to "face the crisis of life in terms of his knowledge of their naturalness and probability." The Manifesto also stated the humanists’ goal of "a free and universal society in which people voluntarily and intelligently cooperate for the common good."

Then came World War II. The Korean War. The Viet Nam War. The rise of Islamic terrorism. The War on Terror. Random and senseless shootings in public places like schools and malls. All of these things tended to put a damper on humanistic optimism concerning the history yet to be written. And yet, with these events now thoroughly embedded in the historic records, humanists continue to see history as the story of mankind’s long, slow advance to the perfect society.

Secular Humanism, because it denies God’s existence, cannot attribute any historical event to God. All of it must be seen as the work of humans, and as the work of natural, not supernatural, forces. Biblical Christians, on the other hand, see history much differently.

A Biblical Christian worldview sees God at the center of all of history. A Biblical worldview sees history as the unfolding of the story of God’s relationship to His creation. History includes creation, the fall from perfection, death and decay as the results of sin, God’s intervention in history to provide redemption for mankind through His own Son, Jesus Christ, and the eventual return of Christ to this earth to reign over His own earthly Kingdom.

A Biblical worldview understands that there will be "wars and rumors of wars, nation rising up against nation" because Jesus said this would be the case (Matthew 24:6). Because of the Bible’s insistence that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), Bible Christians know that the world is never growing into an earthly utopia because outside of Christ, human beings have no way to squelch the raging sin that resides within them. Where the humanist sees history as an up and down line that tends to go up more than it goes down, Bible believers see history as an up and down line that tends to go down more than it goes up. Humanists like to be called progressives because they see history as advancing upward, making progress toward humanism’s goal. Bible Christians are realists; they understand the reality of the human sin nature and the tendency of human beings to make the wrong choices apart from God.

Bible Christians generally view the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas as a good thing because he brought with him knowledge, medicines, technology and the Christian faith to people who lacked all of these things. Likewise, the historical spreading of America from its beginnings on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to eventually reaching the shores of the Pacific is viewed by Bible believers as a good thing because it also meant the gospel of Jesus Christ was taken to new peoples who had never heard of the grace of Christ available to them to redeem them from sin.

Secular Humanists generally regard these events as bad things. Columbus, they say, brought diseases for which the native peoples had no immunity. He and others like him also brought ideas and philosophies that tended to corrupt the native peoples’ simple and pure lifestyles. Humanists claim that the motivation for this movement across the continent was greed for land, for power, and for religious selfishness and domination.

Since at one time, history books tended to reflect in a very general sense a Bible-based viewpoint, and now they tend to reflect a humanist-based viewpoint, humanists have been busy rewriting history books to reflect their view that religion destroys, corrupts and causes violence and wars and fears, and impedes the inevitable flow of mankind upward to an earthly utopian society. While Biblical Christians agree that religion often is divisive and the cause of violence, they also insist that Biblical Christianity is the only truth that exists and that, in obedience to Christ, they must "go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19).

In summary, humanists put man at the center of and as the driver of history; Biblical Christians put God in that powerful position, even to the pointing to the word itself: His story.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Worldviews in Conflict


By Thomas M. Parsons

Part 3: Morality

Every worldview embraces a moral system by which it makes judgments concerning what is acceptable and what is not, what is beneficial and what is not, what ought to be done and what ought not.

Secular Humanism has constructed a moral system that is generally identified as a relative moral system. This means that the moral laws are open to change and evolve over time as the needs of human beings change. The Humanist Manifesto declares that "modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values." Humanists reject any source for moral laws other than what human beings find enjoyable or in some way beneficial to themselves.

The relative morality of humanists has produced cultures in which virtually everything is acceptable, even valuable, to the human experience. Since humanism began growing in acceptance in western culture at the beginning of the 20th century, the acceptance of things once thought to be immoral has spread like the ever increasing circle that pushes out on the surface of water after a stone enters. Thus, adultery, once thought to be a shameful sin not to be discussed in polite society, is now not only acceptable, but normal, even necessary to human health and well-being. Abortion was once forbidden in western culture; it was considered to be even worse than murder since its victims had no way to defend themselves. Now, abortion is considered to be a woman’s right to be defended vigorously against those who ignorantly cling to outdated moral values.

Homosexuality is another issue that has been dramatically changed by the spread of humanism. In the 1920s and 30s in America, there was a popular and gifted lyricist who collaborated with Richard Rodgers to produce many musicals and songs that are still known today.. This lyricist was a homosexual, but he and his associates worked hard to keep this a secret for fear of public outcry against what was considered to be abnormal and immoral behavior. Thus Lorenz Hart, writer of hundreds of clever and still-remembered lyrics lived his secret life until his early death at the age of 48.

Today, of course, the homosexuality of Elton John and Ellen Degeneres are public knowledge and have not limited these talented people from pursuing their very public careers. Secular Humanism stands firm in its belief that homosexuality is a natural phenomenon and that it should not be judged negatively by others. Humanism also is now involved in the promotion of homosexual marriage as a basic human right that should not be denied to anyone by the government, by the public, or by the church.

Biblical Christianity, of course, looks to its authority, the Bible, for the basis of its moral positions. Since the Bible is regarded as the eternal, unchanging Word of God, its moral pronouncements are deemed to be absolute. Thus Biblical Christianity embraces a system of moral absolutes, judgments which God has already made and revealed in His unchanging Word.

Because its moral system is deeply rooted in God’s eternal Word, its moral pronouncements do not change, indeed, cannot change. Adultery, condemned in both the Old and New Testaments, is still a sin today according to Biblical Christianity just as it was throughout history, a threat to the stability of marriage and family relationships.

Also, Biblical Christians cannot accept abortion on any level because the Bible clearly identifies human life as such in the womb. To destroy an unborn baby is murder according to the absolute morality of Biblical Christianity. The destruction of more than fifty million (50,000,000) babies in the United States since Roe. v. Wade is deemed as more than significant cause for divine judgment on America by Biblical Christians.

Homosexuality is regarded in the absolute morality of Biblical Christianity as the ultimate insult to the Creator of male and female and the blessed relationship these are to enjoy in marriage. The Bible could not be more clear in its condemnation of homosexuality, naming it as a major sin in several verses in both the Old and New Testaments. Biblical Christians regard the acceptance of homosexuality as promoted by Secular Humanists as another indicator that America and other nations are sitting on the edge of serious judgment from God.

Absolute Morality. Relative morality. These are the polar extremes embraced by Biblical Christianity and Secular Humanism. Secularists believe there is no authority other than human experience that should judge a person’s morality. Morals are relative, which means they change to fit man’s evolving culture and needs. In an absolute moral system, as embraced by Biblical Christianity, morals eternally pronounced by God are not negotiable or subject to change. In modern western culture, Biblical Christians who look to the revealed Word of God as their authority and Secular Humanists who look to the human experience for authority are locked in a no-compromise battle over the moral issues of abortion and homosexuality. Biblical Christians cannot yield on these divinely revealed moral issues, and secular humanists insist that people are free to decide whatever moral laws they find beneficial to themselves. As always, these two worldviews divide over the matter of authority. Did God say it? Or is man free to decide for himself?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Worldviews In Conflict

Part 2: Origins

Secular Humanism takes it cues concerning the origins of the universe from the only realm it recognizes – the natural world. But clues that explain the existence of the universe without a supernatural cause have been found only after a long and difficult struggle.

Examining the strata of built up layers of dirt, scientists believe they have found a record of gradual change in the various species of life that inhabit this planet. Thus, Secular Humanists believe that life has evolved over the space of four billion years to what it is today, and that it is continuing to evolve. The process that drives the evolution of life, according to Charles Darwin, is natural selection. The healthier and stronger individuals tend to survive the longest and pass on their characteristics to the next generation. Thus, over many generations, individuals become healthier and stronger as they inherit the strong genes of their ancestors, and the weaker genes die out.

Secular Humanism accepts the current scientific explanation of the beginning of the universe at more than thirteen billion years ago. At that time, all the material in the universe was concentrated in a relatively tiny point of intense heat. Then this point began to expand, increasing the space between all its particles. This process continued until there was an explosion that sent particles far and wide in an ever expanding circle out from the central point. This is referred to as the Big Bang.

Scientists are constantly seeking to redefine and improve their conception of the beginnings of the universe. Secular Humanists, because they are so intently tied to science, tend to accept whatever scientists say about the beginnings and existence of the universe.

But there is one part of the history of the universe that scientists generally do not discuss or seek to define, and Secular Humanists generally follow their cue. There is an important question that science cannot answer because it is entirely beyond the realm of that which is knowable by natural means. The question is, where did the material come from that expanded from that small point into the vastness of the universe as we know it? If science says this material always existed and always will, in other words, if they say that this material is eternal, than they are saying this material is God. They do not wish to say that.

To further complicate the picture for the Secular Humanist, who simply follows science on the issue of origins, is the fact that if the material of the universe is not eternal, than it must have originated at some point. But where did it come from? Did this material come from nothing? How could that be? Even Secular Humanists have difficulty imagining a universe coming from nothing. As a result, scientists and the Secular Humanists who follow them cannot answer and usually simply ignore the question about the origin of the material of the universe.

For the theory of evolution to work, vast periods of time are required. Currently, many scientists believe the universe is about thirteen billion years old. They do not comment about what might have been there before this point in time.

The Biblical Christian, however, takes his cues from the Bible, primarily from the Genesis account of creation. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." God is eternal, the only existence that always is, that has no beginning and no end. The materials of the universe were created by the eternal God from nothing. They did not exist until God created them. Light. Water. Air. Space. Stars. Planets. Everything was created by God out of nothing.

The life that is found abundantly on one particular planet we call Earth and Home, all came from the creative hand of God. According to the Biblical account the different species of life – plants, animals, humans – were individually created by God, each "according to its kind" (species), as the Genesis account states.

The Biblical account states clearly that God created everything within the space of six twenty-four hour days, and that He rested on the seventh. There was nothing but God. One hundred and forty-four hours later, there was everything that God had created from nothing.

The Biblical account is not hesitant about answering the question science and the humanists seek to ignore. Where did the material of the universe come from? God created all of it out of nothing. Then in six days He fashioned it into all the structures of the universe, concentrating His special creative efforts to populate one particular planet with life in abundance. And He did it all for His glory.

The Secular Humanist believes either that the universe is eternal, which is difficult for them to fathom, or that it created itself out of nothing, something that is even more difficult for them to fathom. The Biblical Christian, on the other hand, believes that the eternal God created everything out of nothing for His own glory and pleasure. Because God completed His creation in six days, vast amounts of time are not required for the universe to reach its present state. Some creationists put creation at about six thousand years ago. This is based on an arbitrary time structure imposed on Bible history by some scholars. Other creationists suggest the universe may be about ten thousand years old. The Bible does not actually state the age of the universe.

It has been said that it takes a great deal of faith to believe that God created everything out of nothing in six days. It has also been noted that it takes even more faith to believe that everything randomly evolved from nothing over the space of thirteen billion years. Once again, both the Secular Humanist and the Biblical Christian must depend on faith to answer one of the most important questions facing the human race: How did we get here?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Worldviews in Conflict


Part 1: Authority

By authority, we mean the source of the various aspects of the worldview; its authority and where it finds the ultimate base for its positions. Where is the worldview anchored? What defines it and limits it?

For Secular Humanism, the authority is the sum of human experience and knowledge. Many of the humanistic ideas are embodied in a 1933 document called The Humanist Manifesto, copyrighted by the American Humanist Association. This document has undergone several revisions, but the basic positions remain relatively the same. The original Manifesto  espoused what was called "religious humanism". Of course, that term became more repugnant to humanists over time, so the word "religious" was dropped. Religious Humanism became Secular Humanism.

The sum of human experience and knowledge are the basis for Secular Humanism. Humanism desires to "come to terms with new conditions created by a vastly increased knowledge and experience", to quote the Manifesto. In other words, science is the ultimate authority for what humanists believe and teach. Because science (human knowledge) is the authority, humanism "asserts that the nature of the universe depicted by modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values." Humanism as a worldview focuses on the physical, natural world, on what it can discover using human senses (sight, smell, touch, etc.). The only realm humanism can visualize is the natural world. This includes "labor, art, science, philosophy, love, friendship, recreation – all that is in its degree expressive of intelligently satisfying human living."

It could also be rightfully argued that humanism regards mankind as its ultimate authority. "Man is at last becoming aware that he alone is responsible for the realization of the world of his dreams." The Unitarian Religion, which shares many of the humanist’s positions, argues that "for the answers to all his questions, the Unitarian looks: within himself. (Elements of the Unitarian Religon by Rev. Robert Raible, 1945)" Men are their own authority.

This is an extremely important concept to grasp if a person wants to understand humanism. Simply put, the humanist’s authority lies in the sum total of human experience and knowledge (science), and ultimately in each individual.

Contrast this with Biblical Christianity. For this worldview there is only one authority, the Holy Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Individual Biblical Christians may differ as to which translations are the best, but all agree that the Scriptures are the sole authority for all faith and practice, for everything the Biblical Christian believes and does. The authority is a book which claims to be the Word of God. Biblical Christians accept the Bible as the eternal, unchanging Word of God Himself.

This acceptance of a supernatural rather than a natural authority is one of the sharpest contrasts between these two worldviews. Humanism originally designated itself a natural religion, whereas Biblical Christianity remains committed to its position as a supernatural religion. Humanism limits itself to only those things that can be experienced in the natural life; Biblical Christianity encompasses life beyond the boundaries of the natural universe.

Interestingly enough, both Secular Humanism and Biblical Christianity do not regard themselves as "religions". Rather, each regards itself as truth, as life, as the only path for mankind to follow. For the humanist, truth is seated in human knowledge and experience, in the hearts and minds of men and women. For the Christian, truth is embodied in Jesus Christ, the living Word of God and in the book inspired by the Holy Spirit of God.

The contrast in authority, in summary, is fairly simple to discern. The humanist believes in himself and his fellow man as the ultimate authority for truth; the Biblical Christian believes in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit as the ultimate authority for truth. Both worldviews are deeply committed to their respective authorities, and all the positions assumed by both worldviews grow out of this committment.

In the next article, we will examine the differences in the way each worldview explains the origins of the universe and of life.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Will the Real Men Please Stand Up?

Football. Hunting. Cars. Motorcycles. Trucks. Big trucks. And bacon.

These are a few of the things our culture says are inherent in the life of a real man.

Musicals. Chick flicks. Poetry. Quiet walks along the shore. Moonlight. Concerts. Reading.

These are a few of the things our culture says are not to be found in the life of a real man.

But wait a minute, here. Are there men who like some of the things "real men" are supposed to shun? Truth is, there are.

I have to confess that I can relate to the second list more than to the first. Football bores me. Hunting, well, I can’t pull the trigger and take the life of an innocent creature who poses no threat to me. I drive a car. And I do love bacon.

But I also enjoy musicals. I fell in love with the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein while I was in high school, and I still love it, along with the music of Andrew Lloyd-Weber. And others. I do enjoy romantic movies; I like stories of how a man and a woman meet, fall in love and marry. Robert Frost is one of my favorite writers, and moonlight and concerts, well, I remember those fondly from the days of my youth when I was courting my wife. And I love to read.

So, am I not a real man? Must I turn in my man card because my likes and dislikes do not match an arbitrary cataloging of the traits of a real man? Am I supposed to quietly accept the dictates of whoever decided that his own personal traits should determine the manhood of every other male in our society? Sorry, Dude. That just doesn’t work for me.

Besides, as far as I’m concerned, the test of a real man does not have anything to do with the things he likes to do for personal enjoyment. One real man may enjoy watching a football game; another real man might enjoy watching The Sound of Music. One real man may find enjoyment in blasting animals with a rifle. Another real man might prefer stalking animals with a camera. These are the superficial entertainments in life. They are purely a matter of personal taste and choice in the ways different men choose recreational activities. Why should these relatively unimportant things be the criteria for determining who the "real man" is?

The test of a real man has nothing to do with his entertainment choices. It has everything to do with his convictions and his commitments.

A real man is committed to his family. His wife, his children, his grandchildren are important people who occupy an important place in his life, his concerns, his affections, his thoughts. A real man supports his family by working hard, but his commitment to his work never exceeds his commitment to his family. A real man loves one woman until death parts them. He is faithful to her and would never consider breaking his vows to her. Oh, oh. This alone takes quite a few professional athletes out of contention for a real man award.

A real man fixes things. Not just mechanical or tangible things. Some men can fix these things better than others. But a real man fixes situations. If there is conflict he seeks to find a resolution for it. If a situation isn’t working, the real man seeks to find a way to make it work. If he can’t, then he works to replace the non-working situation with one that does work. He does not get a gun and let his frustrations pull the trigger.

The real man values people over things. Men’s toys differ. One man likes the look and feel of a shotgun or rifle; another man finds joy in the lines and lenses of a camera. But both use their "toys" to benefit people. The man with the gun seeks to protect and provide for others with his gun. Legally, of course. He doesn’t aim his gun at the clerk in the convenience store or the teller in the bank because his kid needs new shoes. The man with the camera seeks to bring joy and comfort to others with his photographs. Both use their toys as tools to serve others.

The real man is not spiritual, nor is he religious. Instead the real man loves Jesus. He has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, by faith, and he commits his life to Jesus and seeks to live for Him and become more like Him. Since the real man is the leader of his home and family, he takes his wife and children to worship with others every week. He shares what God is teaching him with them, and leads them in reading and understanding the Bible. Different men do this in different ways, but a real man leaves a Scriptural mark on his wife, his children, his grandchildren and on all with whom he has contact. Those who are real men follow the one who is the Real Man.

So let us stop evaluating manhood by the things that don’t count, personal preferences for entertainment, toys and tools. Let us instead evaluate manhood by the things that do count, for now and for eternity. Men who are committed to others and to Jesus are the real men who stand up every day and allow themselves to be used by God to the benefit of others.

All other men, please remain seated.

The picture shows myself, who strives to be a real man, reading to my granddaughter, Evelyn, when she was younger.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Three Little Kittens

Three little kittens they lost their mittens,
And they began to cry,
Oh, mother dear, we sadly fear
Our mittens we have lost.
What! lost your mittens, you naughty kittens!
Then you shall have no pie.
Mee-ow, mee-ow, mee-ow.
No, you shall have no pie.

– Eliza Lee Cabot Follen

I don’t know exactly where or exactly when they were born. What I do know is where and when they were found.

My wife and I arrived home from leading a Bible Study at the home of some friends on a rainy Sunday evening. My wife went to the basement to put a load of laundry in the washer. That was not something she normally did on a Sunday evening, but two of our grandchildren had stayed with us for three nights and had generated some extra laundry.

"Hey, Hon," she said as she came back up from the basement. "We’ve got a problem."

Visions of water two or three inches deep from the rain filled my mind. Then I saw a washer that had exploded all its broken parts all over the basement. Then I saw the parts floating in two or three inches of dirty water. I figured the visions would just get worse, so I said, "What’s that?"

She beckoned me to come to the basement with her, and I did, even though the visions told me I didn’t want to go.

As soon as I arrived at the bottom of the stairs, I heard them. Crying. Pitifully. But where were they?

We went back upstairs and grabbed an umbrella and went out into the dark, rainy night. We quickly discovered them clinging to each other under a bush in a basement window well. Three little kittens. Three little newborn kittens. And it wasn’t lost mittens that were on their minds. It was the rain that was dripping through the branches of the bush and falling on their little heads that gave them alarm.

We assumed that Mama Cat was somewhere nearby, so we did not want to remove the kittens. But we did want to protect them from the rain. We retrieved an appropriate-sized piece of plywood from the garage and angled it over the well to keep out the rain. We left an opening for Mama Cat to go in. We did not touch the kittens, or disturb them. Our purpose was solely to keep the rain from falling on them.

The next morning, we checked and the kittens were all still in place, warm and dry beneath the temporary shelter we had built for them. But we did not see Mama Cat. We watched for her for the better part of the day. The area is visible from a window in our family room, and from our back patio. We did not see Mama Cat at any time during the day. Nor did we see any evidence of her presence.

By late afternoon, with a cold front predicted to arrive, we made a decision. Linda put on her gardening gloves and reached into the well to pull out, one-by-one, three apparently abandoned kittens and place them into a plastic storage container she found in the garage. An old but clean towel was folded on the bottom of the container to make a soft blanket. There was a lot of meowing and crying and struggling, but she managed to get them all out of the cold and onto the blanket. We carried the container, kittens and all, into the warmth of our family room.

Now what? We had rescued three little kittens, but we had little knowledge of how to care for them. The sun came out and we decided to place the kittens in their container on the patio in the sun, near the window well where we had discovered them. We were still hoping Mama Cat would come snooping around. But she never did.

Linda called the local animal shelter, but they said they would have no choice but to euthanize the kittens. They did not have the manpower to provide the intensive care newborn kittens require. They gave us names of other shelters to contact, which we did. We heard the same thing over and over. We really would like to help, but we are already overcrowded.

We brought the kittens back inside and went on the Internet looking for advice on what to do. We learned about round-the-clock feedings every two hours for at least two weeks. We learned about stimulating the kittens to go to the bathroom. We learned about keeping them warm. These are all things Mama Cat does for her offspring. But there was no Mama Cat. We would have to do these things if these kittens were ever to get old enough to wear mittens that they could lose. None of the articles we read suggested we give the kittens pie. We had to give them milk, cat’s milk, at just the right temperature.

We went to a pet store and purchased a can of cat’s milk along with small bottles and nipples to feed the kittens. Linda did most of the work, feeding them every two or three hours, day and night, stimulating the business end of the kittens to do what they needed to do to stay healthy. Mama Cat would use her tongue for this chore; Linda decided to use an old wash cloth dipped in warm water instead. Can’t say that I blame her for that choice.

I told her not to name them because we couldn’t keep them. There are allergies in our children and grandchildren, and three little kittens would eventually become three adult cats, and, well, it just wasn’t going to happen that three cats would be permanent residents in our home.

At their next feeding, I heard my wife referring to the white kitten as Snowball, to the larger, orange one as Puff and to the smaller, orange one as Tiny.

We continued the feedings. I did some of them. It was an interesting experience to hold a tiny, furry life in my hands and place a bottle to its mouth and see a little jaw start moving as milk was sucked from the bottle. I thought of the greatness of God’s creative abilities, how he fashioned little mouths to work in such a way as to bring nourishment into the body. These kittens were blind, deaf, unable to regulate their body heat and unable to go to the bathroom without stimulation, yet they knew how to suck milk into their mouths and swallow it.

We continued to seek a shelter that would take the kittens and care for them and not kill them. We continued to feed them and do all that we could for them. It was becoming more challenging each day. We had other things to do, responsibilities, ministries, and feeding kittens every two hours was a growing burden. We discussed taking them to the local shelter. We had tried to save them, but it was obviously too much for us. The shelter people would hold the kittens and pet them and soothe them as the poison worked its way through their tiny bodies and stopped their little hearts from beating. It would be humane. And the world really didn’t need three more unwanted cats in it.

But we continued caring for the cats. Finally, on the fifth day, a former student of mine said she had found a place that would take the kittens and raise them until they were of adoptable age. She said she would take them to the facility on Sunday morning, two days hence. Sunday morning at 8:00 sharp, she and her husband were at our front door. They took Snowball, Puff and Tiny in the plastic box they had lived in for a week, and later that day delivered the three little kittens to the Little Orphans Kitten Shelter. Thank you, Lord. We were free from the burden, and the kittens would not be euthanized unless they became so sick they could not be saved. They would be raised until they were about seven or eight weeks old, then they would be advertised for adoption at the age they are the cutest and most difficult to resist. The kittens would be inoculated, spayed or neutered, and delivered to their new families.

As a man trained in Biblical theology, I have two thoughts that our experience with three little kittens who had lost so much more than their mittens brought to my mind.

First, I believe God does care about animals. After all, He created them. The God I worship, the God revealed in the Bible, does not create things just to throw them away. Jesus taught His disciples that God cares for animals. "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?" He said, referring to the sparrows that were sold as potential sacrifices in the Jewish Temple. "Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care." (Matthew 10:29-31)

In the context of this teaching, Jesus was reassuring His followers of God’s care for them. Since "you are worth more than many sparrows" Jesus said God would take care of His own people even more than He took care of His other created beings.

In another place, Jesus said that God feeds the birds and clothes the weeds that grow freely in the fields. If He provides for birds and for plants, "are you not much more valuable than they?" (Matthew 6:25-30)

Clearly God uses His creation for His own glory. That sometimes calls for the death of some of His creatures, as in the Temple sacrifices, or animals that are killed in order to feed people or provide them with clothing or shelter. But He is also glorified in the fact that He takes care of His creatures and provides for their needs. Three little kittens are now in the care of people who know what they need and are dedicated to providing it. God is praised, glorified, in this.

The second theological thought is more complex, and more important, and more beautiful. In this second theological thought I had, the three kittens together are an illustration of a deeply vital teaching of the Christian Scriptures. The situation of the kittens in their lostness and in their salvation is an incredibly accurate portrayal of what God has done for me as well as for every other sinner whom Jesus has saved.

Snowball, Puff and Tiny were born into a doomed situation. The one individual who was supposed to feed them, clean them and warm them for those first several weeks of their lives was not present for whatever reasons. Thus there was no one to feed them, clean them and warm them. No one. They were doomed to death. Their situation was hopeless.

Think of the many ways death could have found those kittens. They could have starved to death in that window well with no one to feed them. They could have frozen to death in that well with no one to warm them. Another animal could have found them and killed them and dragged their dead bodies home to feed their own babies. They could have been found by human beings who did not want to be bothered with them and killed them just to be rid of them. The window well could have flooded and drowned them. It was just a matter of time; death for the kittens was inevitable. They had no one to save them.

It is clear to me from my knowledge of the Bible that I was born into a similar situation. I was born with a propensity to fail. There was nothing I could do to change that; in fact, because I was born to fail, the only thing I could do in my life was fail. Sooner or later my inability to make the correct choices and follow through on them would lead to my death. It was just a matter of time.

The Bible calls this propensity to failure sin. That doesn’t necessarily mean I would wind up committing murder, or adultery or stealing what belonged to others. I might do these things because of my sin nature, but I more likely would do other things that are opposed to what God wants me to do. That is all sin is, after all. It is doing what I want to do without finding out what God wants me to do. I personally have never shed anyone’s blood. But I have sinned. I personally have never had an intimate physical relationship with anyone other than my wife. But I have sinned. I personally have always tried to be scrupulously honest in my dealings with others, including when filing income taxes. But I have sinned. Pride. Lust. Hatred. Laziness. Selfishness. Greed. There are endless numbers of ways a person can sin without shedding blood, sleeping with someone to whom they are not married, or breaking into someone’s house and stealing all their good stuff. These are sins as well, of course, but not all sinners do these particular things. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome (Romans 3:23). All. You. Me. All of us. We were born into just as hopeless a situation as Snowball, Puff and Tiny were. It was just a matter of time before it all caught up with us and ended our physical life, and cast us into an eternity separated from God.

At a critical moment, a hand, that of my wife, reached down into the well of hopelessness and raised three little kittens out of despair and fear. Soon they were warm. Soon they were fed. Soon they were clean. And they slept. Soundly. Peacefully. Without a care.

It was amazing to watch. There was meowing and crying until three little bellies were full, then all sounds ceased and three little kittens wrapped themselves in each other and fell fast asleep. No threats from other animals finding them. No rain falling on their heads. No coldness creeping into their bodies. No empty bellies or full bladders to disrupt their contentment. Someone else was taking care of everything for them. Someone else who cared about them cared for their needs.

When I came to faith in Jesus as a seventeen-year-old high school student, I had many fears and frustrations in my heart because of my inability to order my life properly and please God. I was weary from trying to take care of myself, from trying to figure out what was right and what was wrong, from wondering if I could ever be good enough to wind up in Heaven, from wondering even if there was a Heaven. Or a Hell.

Jesus took all those burdens from me. He took over caring for me, making decisions for me, providing for me, ordering my life for me, leading me where He wanted me to go, to what He wanted me to think, and to what He wanted me to do. Someone else was taking care of everything for me. Someone else Who cared about me cared for me. And Jesus gave me the assurance that because of what He did on the cross and the faith He gave me to trust Him, I would see Heaven and live there forever. He delivered me forever from Hell.

I don’t know the future of Snowball, Puff and Tiny. I may never know what happened to them after they arrived at the shelter. They could die. They could survive. They could wind up in a home with a cruel person who mistreats them. They could wind up in a home where someone who cares about them cares for them for the rest of their lives. But they were rescued from a hopeless situation in a basement window well, and presented with the possibility of a bright and pleasant future, something they would never have if someone, in fact if several someones had not interceded on their behalf. They needed someone who cared about them to care for them.

As it turns out, I needed the same thing. And so do you. I don’t know just where or when you were born in sin. But I do know where and when you can be found. It is where and when you come to Jesus in faith trusting Him to lift you out of your window well of sin, frustration and loss to the wonderful salvation He provided for you in dying for you on the cross. Jesus cares about you, and because He cares about you, He can care for you. Come to Him in faith today.
 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Life's Hairpin Turns

Arizona Highway 89A twists and turns through some very beautiful mountain scenery as it makes its way to the city of Sedona. My family and I traveled this highway several years ago on a trip to the Grand Canyon. Even our three young children were impressed with the scenery.

Huge sandstone formations rose on either side of the two-lane highway, displaying a constantly changing range of orange and red rock broken by blotches of green-gray vegetation. Our eyes were constantly shifting as one outstanding feature or another caught our attention.

But I, as the driver and captain of our "ship" had a constant struggle to stay in my lane on the sharp turns that twisted right, then left, than right again, then in a 180 degree narrow curve. I was thankful for power steering and good tires and brakes as I negotiated those hairpin turns, especially since many of them involved impressive drop offs had I not stayed on the road.

Life is like that. We are cruising along enjoying the scenery when right smack in front of us is a sharp turn that needs to be negotiated. Now. There is no time to think it through; turning now is the only option.

I was confronted with such a sharp turn on a Saturday night a few years ago. I had attended our monthly deacons’ meeting at church that morning, and prepared the first lesson of the new quarter for my Adult Bible Class for the next day. I had just enjoyed a good dinner my wife had cooked, and I, as an appreciative husband had just put the dishes in the dishwasher and pressed the buttons to make it go. I walked into our home office and sat down at the computer.

Suddenly my left hand went numb. It was like I had been given a shot of novacaine. Then I noticed that the numbness was also in my whole left arm, and my left leg and foot. I put my right hand to the left side of my face, and that was numb as well. The feeling lasted about five minutes and then my left side returned to normal.

Needless to say, I wound up in the hospital that night, something which I had not put on my schedule for the weekend. After numerous tests over the weekend and into Monday, the doctors said I had untreated hypertension and had experienced a mini-stroke that had resolved itself quickly. They said it was a warning. They put me on an aspirin regiment, and gave me two prescriptions to control my blood pressure and my heart rhythm, which they determined was too fast and sometimes irregular.

More than four years have passed since that sharp turn in the road of my life was successfully negotiated. But here’s the thing. On Arizona Highway 89A I was thankful for good tires and brakes to negotiate the sharp turns. On the highway of my life, I am thankful for faith in Jesus Christ and His plan for my life. When a sharp turn put me in the hospital, His strength and presence helped me negotiate a hairpin turn that certainly did include an impressive drop off.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Divine Persuasion

When a young lady and I were about five months into our relationship forty plus years ago, and beginning to think the Lord was leading us to marriage, we knew we had to resolve a serious impediment that had been in our relationship all along, but now became a roadblock we could not get around.

I had years earlier committed my life to serve the Lord as a pastor. I felt this call while in college, and had come to Grand Rapids, Michigan to attend seminary in preparation for a pastoral ministry. I was firmly convinced this was God’s will for my life.

The young lady in question had also come to Grand Rapids, to attend college in preparation for what she believed to be God’s calling in her life, which was to the mission field, specifically, to Bangladesh. She was firmly convinced this was God’s will for her life.

Marriage between a pastor in the United States and a missionary in Bangladesh would be, to say the least, difficult.

"Hi, Hon, it’s time for our regular monthly phone call. How are you?"

"Oh, fine. Busy. It’s the rainy season here and there is a lot of illness, especially among the children."

"Sorry to hear that. We are in the midst of a building program here. I never knew there were so many details that had to be cared for."

"I’m praying for you, every day. Oh, I have to cut our call short, I’m afraid. A village mother just brought her really sick baby in. I have to help the mission doctor care for her. I miss you. I love you. Bye."

"Me, too. Bye."

No. That did not appeal to either of us at all. So, we had to make a decision. We had several options, each of them challenging. We could part company. End the relationship. She go her way and I go mine. That would resolve the ministry issues. But we each had a growing conviction that God was leading us to share our lives together.

I could change my ministry commitment. Give up the pastorate. Go to the mission field. Even go to Bangladesh. That didn’t seem what the Lord had been directing, but I could do it.

She could change her ministry commitment. Give up the mission field. Stay in the States. Serve as a pastor’s wife. That didn’t seem what the Lord had been directing, but she could do it.

We agreed we would not discuss the issue any more than we had. We would not put pressure on each other for a decision. Instead we would each spend time alone with God, seeking His will for us as individuals and as a couple. We would let Him do whatever persuading was necessary for us to do His will. We decided we would discuss His leading with each other on an agreed-upon date.

I prayed. Hard. Frequently. I told the Lord I did not want to mess up His plan for my life or for this young lady’s life. I told Him I would go to the mission field, even Bangladesh, if He would reveal it as His will. I knew the young lady was praying as well.

The date came, and we found a place where we could talk privately, not always easy on a campus of several hundred students. I shared my conviction with her, that I was convinced of two things. First, I felt with all my heart that God wanted me to marry her. I was certain of that. And, two, God wanted me to serve Him as a pastor in the United States. I was certain of that.

I waited, certain that she was going to reveal that God had led her to end the relationship because He wanted her on the mission field. However, I was not troubled. I had firm convictions based on spending time with the Lord, and felt that whatever her answer was, it would be okay because God would take care of it.

She expressed her total agreement with both my statements. God had led her to understand that He wanted her to serve Him as a pastor’s wife.

Forty plus years later, we look back on a life of ministry together. Now retired, we still are actively involved in ministry. I am so glad we were both willing to let God lead us with His own divine persuasion.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Correction and Comfort

Pastor Mitchell sat in the chair across the hospital bed from Janet, whose eyes were red with tears and whose face reflected deep sorrow. She cradled a baby who appeared to be peacefully asleep in his mother’s arms. But this baby would never know the warmth of his mother’s body nor the taste of his mother’s milk. Just twenty-four hours after his birth, this baby went to be with Jesus.

No words were spoken for some time. Pastor prayed silently, uncertain of what to say to the grieving mother, or even if he should remain. Perhaps he should quietly leave the mother with her child.

"Pastor Mitchell," she spoke, hesitantly at first, breaking the silence of the room. "Thank you for coming. I appreciate your prayers and your concern." Tears began to flow afresh. "Please tell me why God did this to me."

Pastor shifted uncomfortably in his chair, praying silently for the right words. Suddenly, a phrase from Psalm 23 flashed in his brain.

"Thy rod and Thy staff," he quoted, "they comfort me."

Janet looked at Pastor through tears, and then back to the face of her child. "What does that mean?" she asked.

"Well, Janet," said Pastor, still praying for wisdom, "David, the Psalmist, was a shepherd for many years before he became the king of ancient Israel. He took care of sheep that belonged to someone else."

Pastor paused for a moment, then continued.

"David knew that sometimes the sheep needed to be corrected, because they had a tendency to wander away and into danger. He used the rod to prod the sheep back into place, and he used the staff, or crook, to rescue the sheep from danger

"You see, Janet, God uses the experiences of our lives like the shepherd used the rod and staff. Both can be unpleasant, even painful. But both are used by the Lord to keep us where He wants us to be. And that, being where the Lord wants us, brings us great comfort."

Janet’s tears continued to flow down her cheeks. "I know. I’ve been out of God’s will since I hooked up with Johnnie."

"Has he come to see you," asked Pastor gently, knowing the answer already.

"No. He says he can’t handle this. I don’t think he is ever coming back. He’s not my husband, and he thinks faith in Jesus is useless. So, why would he come back?

"You know, Janet," Pastor said. "David, who wrote the psalm I quoted a moment ago, also had a baby who died shortly after he was born. The baby was the son of David and another man’s wife, Bathsheba. David had sinned with her, and had ordered her husband, a soldier, to be killed in battle so he could marry her. But when the baby was born, ill and frail, and everyone knew the baby would not live, David felt the rod and staff of the Lord chastening him for his sin and comforting him in his repentance."

"You think God is doing that to me?" she asked.

"I don’t know, Janet," he replied. "That’s something you will have to figure out as you read God’s word and ask Him for help. I just know that God often does use the hard things in life in the same way David used the rod and staff to keep the sheep where they needed to be for their own good."

"But what about my baby? Is he suffering now for my sin?"

"No. I don’t believe that for a moment. Jesus told His disciples to let the little children come to Him. He said in order to enter His kingdom, a person had to become like a little child. He said that the angels of little children always behold the Father in Heaven. I believe your little boy is safe with Jesus."

"Pastor?" said Janet. "I want to come back to the Lord. Do you think He will let me?"

Now tears filled Pastor’s eyes as he responded with a wide smile. "Of course He will, Janet. You are His sheep whom He has sworn to love and protect until you are safe at home with Him."

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Jesus Is Not a Homophobe, and Neither Am I

Recently, a federal court in Cincinnati, OH ordered the Waynesville Local School District to change its decision not to allow a high school student, Maverick Couch, who is gay, to wear a controversial T-shirt to school. The court also ordered the district to pay Couch $20,000 plus court costs as "compensation for damages."

The shirt in question stated, "Jesus Is Not a Homophobe." Of course, this statement on face value is true. Jesus is not afraid of homosexuals, nor does he hate them. The Bible clearly indicates God’s love for all sinners, a love so intense that He put His own Son, Jesus, on the cross to eternally pay for their sins.

However, the implied message of the statement, especially when worn by a student who is open about his sexual orientation, is that anyone who worships Jesus and also takes the position that homosexuality is a sin is at least being ignorant of what Jesus actually stands for. "If Jesus loves me, then so should you" is the logical conclusion drawn from the message on the shirt. I have no problem with this conclusion. I do, however, have a great problem with the implication.

Couch’s shirt is offensive to many people. It is offensive to me. I am an imperfect but sincere worshiper of Jesus, and I know He neither fears nor hates homosexual people. But I also know His Word, the Bible, which has been the guidebook of my life for the past fifty years, in both the Old and New Testaments, clearly identifies homosexuality as a sin. It also clearly identifies Jesus’ love for sinners, a love His followers are also taught to express. But love does not endorse everything the loved one does. Love is not blind to faults and errors. The purpose of God’s love for sinners, and thus the purpose of my love for sinners, is to bring them to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and for the assistance of the Holy Spirit in dealing with and forsaking sin.

Therefore, I strongly disagree with the federal court that ordered the school district not only to allow Couch to wear his shirt, but also to pay him $20,000 for "damages." This is a waste of the school district’s resources, especially in this day of excessive taxation and the high costs of education. It is not a violation of one’s free speech rights for a school to forbid certain types of behavior on its property. Schools forbid their students from doing many things while on school property. It is not a violation of students’ rights to forbid them from attacking each other, either verbally or physically, or to forbid them from sleeping, playing video games, texting, talking to their neighbor or a wealth of other activities during class, or to forbid them from yelling obscenities at a teacher or administrator. Schools have a right and responsibility to protect their employees and their students from disruptive behavior while on school grounds.

I taught for nine years in a private school, which did not allow its students to wear any clothing that contained any message of any kind. Clothing served only the purposes of warmth and modesty; clothing was not used as a billboard. I believe this is a proper tool for schools to use to limit students’ abilities to be disruptive and divert attention away from the only reason they are in school — to receive an education.

My own education took place in Windsor, Ontario and across the Detroit River in Lincoln Park, Michigan. In both school systems, students were not allowed to express themselves freely; there were necessary restrictions placed on free speech because of the environment and the purpose for which the school existed. At Lincoln Park High School, I served as the editor of the school newspaper. However, the advisor, a teacher employed by the school district, had final say over what was published in the paper. He rejected very little of what I wanted to publish, but that is precisely because I did not attempt to publish material I knew he would be compelled by his position to reject. Was that censorship? Or just common sense.

I realize that a ban on messages on clothing in public schools would restrict Christian young people from displaying evangelistic messages on their clothing, but I am comfortable with that. A ban on such clothing on school grounds does not take away anyone’s right to wear such clothing elsewhere, or to express their beliefs with other students in private conversations while on school grounds.

Further, I do not believe that my insistence that the Bible correctly teaches that homosexuality is an aberration, a sin, an offense to God, is an instance of so-called homophobia. I am not afraid of homosexuality or of those who practice it. Neither do I have any hatred for such individuals. To accuse me of such actions because I am convinced that homosexuality is a sin is to grossly misrepresent me. I am a sinner, too. I have my own sins that I have struggled with, and continue to struggle with. I have my own sins for which Christ died. I have my own sins for which I have sought and received forgiveness from Christ. Sinners like me have nothing of which to be proud.

Couch expressed his satisfaction with the federal court’s decision saying that he was proud of who he is, and that he hoped his victory would encourage other students to be proud of who they are. We all know what pride precedes. If you have forgotten, read Proverbs 16:18.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Morning Drive

The stairs at the front of the church building where I once talked to friends, or watched three little girls and their friends play. The post office where I frequently purchased stamps, or mailed the monthly newsletter our church published. The school where our good friend Eileen served as principal, or the little house on Second Street where Eileen and her husband Joe often entertained us and our girls. The library where my wife worked part time. The two funeral homes where I frequently conducted funerals. John's Appliance and Service Center, where "John" was not just a company name, but a name of a friendly and godly man who didn't just sell and service appliances, but loved and served God and people.

All of these scenes and more spread before me as I drove recently around LPO, the River Valley of north central Illinois where I and my family lived for twenty-one years, from 1974 to 1995. L for LaSalle, P for Peru and O for Oglesby, the three towns along the Illinois River all tied together into one community. I lived here. I served here. My wife and I raised our kids here. Oglesby was our home.

That was all more than seventeen years ago. In seventeen years, many things change. But it is surprising how many things stay the same. It was the things that are still the same that got my attention as I drove around listening to WLPO, the radio station on which our church used to have a monthly broadcast. On the station that used to broadcast my voice once a month, it is now Rush Limbaugh's voice that dominates the air waves every day. The station still sits squarely across the street from the Illinois Valley Community College where I used to teach English and Speech classes part-time.

Our church is no longer located in the old building located at Porter and Woodland. The little house next door where we lived is no longer the parsonage. It is also no longer red, a color I applied inch by inch because my wife preferred red to the yellow that was on the house when we arrived. Someone else now lives there and has painted the house a burnt orange. But the driveway where I parked our cars, and the little stairway down to the sidewalk in the front are still there, just as they were when we were the residents of the house.

The church now has a new building at the edge of town, a good modern building with plenty of parking, which we never had, and no stairways to impede people, as we had. God was good to the people in giving them this building.

But where I once was a member of the community, I was now just a visitor, an outsider, a non-resident. Many of the folks I knew are gone. Some have simply moved away; others have moved up, to Heaven.

But two things impressed me as I drove around LPO. First, I was impressed how quickly everything became familiar to me again. Streets, buildings, traffic patterns, signs, the river itself flowing through the middle of it all. Though it had been many years, it seemed like it was just another day and I was driving to pick up my kids from school, or going to do a funeral, or visit a member of the church. It was all as familiar as the routes I now regularly drive near my Columbus, Ohio home.

But the other thing that impressed me was the fact that God is still at work in LPO. There are still believers there, seeking to serve Him. There are still churches there, seeking to be a lighthouse for God in the darkness of this sin-cursed world. There is even another pastor, whose announcement I heard on WLPO, broadcasting the message of Christ to the community.

I enjoyed driving through what was once my home, triggering countless memories and pleasant experiences. But it is no longer my home, and no longer my ministry. But as it was when this was my home and ministry, it is still where God is working, and still where the Holy Spirit is ministering to bring sinners to faith in Jesus Christ. Thank God that LPO is still very much on His heart and very much the object of His love.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

My Gag Reflex

I have been undergoing some treatments at my dentist’s office, treatments that have to do with dental problems that tend to come as we grow older. I am 70, so I assume I qualify to have these problems.

One of the treatments my dentist recommended involved a dental lab fabricating a partial plate to fill in the gaps age has created in my mouth. This sounds reasonable. Leave the teeth that are still in reasonably good shape and replace the bad ones with a plastic plate that has phony teeth at selected spaces. Just slide it in and, there you go, a million dollar smile is yours once again.

In order to create this plate, the lab needs to have a fairly accurate mold of the mouth of the person who is to benefit from this process. That mold is obtained, in this day of computer technology that can map the earth and show intricate detail on Google, in a rather old-fashioned way. A plastic tray filled with goop is put into the patient’s mouth and left there for two or three long, agonizing minutes while the goop hardens. The tray and the hardened goop is then removed and the resulting mold is used by the lab to make the plate.

I had already had this impression business done twice, and I didn’t like it either time. You see, I have a rather active gag reflex. Now, I don’t know exactly how this reflex can tell the difference between, say, a nice juicy steak and a plastic tray of goop, but it can. I have never, to my recollection, gagged on steak. But it was all I could do to keep from gagging on goop.

"Breath through your nose," I was told by dentist and his assistant. "Pant like a dog." "Hold your mouth open as wide as you can." Even as I write this several hours later, I can still feel that cold, mucky goop pressing against my gag reflex.

Anyway, a plate was created from the second impression that was made of my mouth earlier in the week. "Slide that in," the dentist told me. But it didn’t slide in. It didn’t fit. "Let me make a few adjustments," he said. But after several adjustments, the thing still would not go into its proper place.

"We’ll have to make another impression," he said. "Another impression?" I said. "You know those make me gag."

He then explained that the lab has to destroy the mold when they make the plate, so in order for the lab to make a better fitting plate, they would need a new mold. It was gag time again.

His assistant made another impression, and I managed to keep gagging to an unpleasant but safe minimum. But the impression the assistant made was missing an important part. "We’ll have to make another impression," he said. More gagging. More fast breathing, More wide open mouth trying to keep my insides from coming out. "I’ll make this one," the doctor said to his assistant. "Watch how I do it."

The assistant was no impressed with the doctor’s work. This impression failed as well. "Third time’s a charm," he said as he loaded the plastic tray with goop for a third try. "Do you know what they make this stuff out of?" he asked. "No, I don’t," I said. "Seaweed," he said. I could feel the gag response getting ready.

The third impression also was not up to snuff. I was beginning to think snuff might be an improvement over the seaweed goop, but I don’t really know that since I have never used snuff and at the age of 70 I am not likely to give up goop for snuff. On second thought, maybe I should!

"Let’s use a different material this time," he said. "I don’t know what this stuff tastes like," he said. "Maybe it tastes like chicken," I said.

In went the fourth tray of goop. It did not taste like chicken. Or seaweed. It certainly did not taste like steak. My gag reflex knew. This was goop, and I had all I could do to keep the reflex from spilling goop and a lot of other nasty stuff all over the good doctor. "You will notice I am standing behind the patient," he said to his assistant. Good choice, doc!

 He removed the impression and studied it closely. "Well, Tom, you make a good impression," he laughed as he proudly held up the hardened goop that now carried an accurate, I hope, impression of the old mouth seven decades of life have produced in me. I will know in a day or so if this impression results in a viable partial plate, one that fits and that my gag reflex can recognize as OK even though it does not resemble steak in any manner whatsoever. Or seaweed, either, for that matter.

Later, as I examined the bill the dentist gave me, I started to gag once again.

Friday, December 23, 2011

God With Us

Christmas celebrates the union of the divine with humanity. Mary, a virgin, carries God's Son in her womb for nine months. Jesus, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, is born in a lowly manger. Shepherds accustomed to the gritty reality of tending sheep in the cold and hostile outdoors are visited by a heavenly choir. And over the place where the baby Jesus lay, nourished and warmed by His human mother's breast, there is cast the long, dark shadow of the cross. This is Emmanuel. God becoming a man. God with us.