Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Endangering Our Children

From the September-October 2012 issue of Forerunner.

As the American mainstream continues to become more politically liberal, as recent election results indicate, long-held conservative beliefs seem to be facing increased marginalization. For instance, as minorities in the United States inch toward majority status, the conservative position on immigration—no amnesty, tightened border security, tougher punishment for illegal entry, limited welfare to illegals, etc.—is labeled "extreme right-wing," "unbalanced," and "unworkable." In the same way, fiscally conservative economic ideas are considered to be "harsh" and "partisan."

A particular area in which liberals feel especially empowered lately is homosexual rights, particularly on the subject of "gay marriage," a misnomer if there ever was one. Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage, while Rhode Island recognizes such "marriages" performed in other states and California recognizes them on a conditional basis. While this is hardly a majority (39 states prohibit it either constitutionally or by statute), gays are crowing and even telling conservatives to shut up and go away on the issue. As one activist put it, echoing the President's words after his 2008 election victory, "We've won."

However, objective research and empirical evidence still tilt heavily in the traditional, conservative direction. Yet, even in the face of the facts, gay and lesbian activists and their cohorts in the media feel the winds of public opinion to be so strongly on their side that they will attempt to intimidate and destroy any scientist or researcher who dares to show that the "gay" lifestyle is detrimental in any way. Lately, they have done this despite research showing that children raised in "gay households" suffer from that environment.

For instance, in July 2010, Dr. Walter Schumm, a Family Studies professor at Kansas State University, released his comprehensive study in the Journal of Biosocial Science on the effects of "gay parenting." He found that children raised by gay parents are up to twelve times more like to identify themselves as gay—58% of children of lesbians and 33% of children raised by gay men call themselves gay. Yet, only three percent of the general population is gay.

Dr. Schumm quickly felt the wrath of the homosexual lobby. He was labeled a fake and a fraud—and perhaps most biting of all politically, a "conservative plant." Though his work cannot be assailed, the personal derision sent a message to researchers that telling the truth about the many downsides of homosexuality is likely to get them publicly lampooned and pilloried.

Fortunately, fear of public ridicule has not stopped some. This past June, Social Science Research published the study of a team led by Dr. Mark Regnerus at the University of Texas-Austin. The website on their work summarizes the findings: ". . . the data suggest rather clearly that children who were raised by a parent who had a same-sex relationship were on average at a significant disadvantage when compared to children who were raised by their married, biological mother and father."

On this research, Karla Dial at writes:
According to his findings, children raised by homosexual parents are more likely than those raised by married heterosexual parents to suffer from poor impulse control, depression and suicidal thoughts, require mental health therapy; identify themselves as homosexual; choose cohabitation; be unfaithful to partners; contract sexually transmitted diseases; be sexually molested; have lower income levels; drink to get drunk; and smoke tobacco and marijuana. ("University Vindicates Mark Regnerus")
Homosexual activists and academics cried foul, calling Regnerus "homophobic" and demanding the university fire him. They lied in the media, saying that his findings were false, but could provide no proof against them. After a rigorous investigation, the university found that Regnerus' research had been conducted properly and without any kind of scientific misconduct.

Centuries—millennia actually—of experience and wisdom show that the best environment to raise children is in the home of their biological parents, each having a father and a mother. It is the family unit that God endorses. Anyone who cares about humanity, and particularly, humanity's children, should want the best for them, but not the militant homosexual lobby and their supporters. In their lust for control over what society accepts as good and moral, they are willing to condemn children to substandard lives or worse. This tells the observant that they will let nothing get in their way.

In this little slice of modern society, we see Paul's prediction of the perilous times of the last days coming to pass (II Timothy 3:1-5). If they are willing to jettison the next generation of children to enhance their political power, what else are they willing to do?

Friday, October 26, 2012

*Recovering Civility

A session of the British Parliament, particularly the House of Commons, can be almost hilarious. Speakers there are frequently interrupted with hissing, booing, and other forms of caustic disagreement, but through it all a kind of strange (and hypocritical) courtesy exists between the MPs. One of them might thoroughly demolish another's ideas, crushing his proposals with sledgehammer blows of ridicule, all the while calling him "our Distinguished Colleague" or "the Learned Gentleman." It is a strange mixture of courtesy and near-hatred.

In America, we have something similar in talk radio. Depending on the host, the atmosphere ranges from amiable to vicious. Every once in a while, even on the normally placid shows, someone calls in with venom dripping from his or her voice, and a verbal melee ensues. If the two sides were in a ring, it would be a death-match. On talk radio, everybody hates something and feels the need to vent it in public. It is refreshing to hear the rare caller who respectfully pitches his side of the argument and then takes his leave to let someone else have a turn.

And of course, we are thankfully near the end of another mudslinging political campaign. Politicians drag the country through the muck and the mire every election, something they have done for more than two centuries. They always begin by declaring to campaign cleanly and only on the issues, and it always ends up that they really focus on the other candidate's determination to take away Grandma's retirement or to sell the nation down the river. The electorate often chooses the candidate with the lesser amount of mud still sticking to him.

Such incivility filters down to all levels of society. When was the last time you heard a kid other than your own say, "Yes, ma'am," or, "No, sir"? When was the last time you saw a young person give up his place in line or his seat to an older person? When was the last time you noticed a young person not sullen or disrespectful to any authority figure like a policeman?

The April 26, 1996, issue of US News and World Report published a cover story by John Marks titled "The American Uncivil War: How crude, rude, and obnoxious behavior has replaced good manners and why it hurts our politics and culture." It featured a then-recent poll that revealed that 90% of Americans thought incivility was a serious problem, and almost half considered it extremely serious, "evidence of a profound social breakdown." The article continues:
More than ninety percent of those polled believe that it contributes to the increase of violence in the country; eighty-five percent believe that it divides the national community; and the same number see it as eroding healthy values like respect for others. 
Talk to Americans, and a picture emerges of a nation addicted to the pleasures of an unruly society with emphasis on individual expression, flouting convention, and its free vent of emotion, but shocked at the effect of this unruliness. Americans feel embattled in their personal and professional lives by a rising tide of nastiness. 
Says Martin Marti, a philosopher of religion who has written on this subject, "The alternative to civility is first incivility and then war."
It is good to remember the principle that if a thing happens in the world, it will eventually find its way into the church. Human nature will find a way to rear its ugly head. Living in the culture day by day, we find it difficult not to absorb its attitudes and behaviors and begin to practice them. We have to be especially concerned about this in terms of our children, who often encounter the world in full force at the nation's godless school and on the playground.

The apostle Paul calls these evil attitudes and behaviors "works of the flesh," listing a number of them in Galatians 5:19-21:
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
We will cull out five of those mentioned in verse 20: hatred, contentions, outbursts of wrath, dissensions, and heresies. A few short explanations from commentator William Barclay in The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians will help us grasp what kind of attitudes these are.

He writes, "The idea [of 'hatred'] is that of a man who is characteristically hostile to his fellow men; it is the precise opposite of the Christian virtue of love for the brethren." Hatred, then, is the exact counterpart of philadelphia love, love of the brethren. It is 180° removed from what God wants us to show in our lives. How can we love God if we hate one another (I John 4:20)?

"Contention" or "variance" (KJV), Barclay says, "more commonly . . . means the rivalry which has found its outcome in quarrellings and wrangling." It is competitive arguing, fighting another verbally to prove who is best. It is quarreling to win, to have the last word. Such contention occurs on talk radio every day, and sometimes our doctrinal "discussions" mimic it.

On "outbursts of wrath," which could be translated as "uncontrolled temper," he comments, "The word Paul uses means bursts of temper. It describes not an anger which lasts but anger that flames out and then dies." Normally placid individuals can be provoked to explode in fury and live to regret what their lack of self-control produced.

Of "dissensions" or "seditions" (KJV), Barclay says, "Literally the word means a standing apart. . . . Dissension describes a society . . . where the members fly apart instead of coming together." This word portrays a person who goes off on his own because he holds a different opinion than the group does. In this way, the group, community, or church fragments. Sound familiar?

Finally, Barclay writes, "[Heresies] might be described as crystallized dissension. . . . The tragedy of life is that people who hold different views very often finish up by disliking, not each others' views, but each other. It should be possible to differ with a man and yet remain friends." Unfortunately, "crystallized dissension" is the state of the church right now. One member will never again talk to another because they no longer agree on some point of doctrine. So we see many factions and a hardened and unbending party spirit. It is like the Hatfield-McCoy feud where the positions have concretized to the point that little chance of reconciliation remains.

These carnal behaviors reside at the roots of our society's incivility, creating the division and disunity that are hallmarks of our time. As II Corinthians 13:5 advises, we need to ask ourselves if, in the press of our daily battles, we have allowed some of these fleshly works to creep into our lives. A little more civility could go a long way in restoring unity among God's people.

Friday, October 19, 2012

*Little Choices

Before the political left hijacked the term choice, its philosophical meaning was "an individual's freedom to determine the moral course of his own life." This is, of course, what theologians and philosophers call "free moral agency" or "free will." God gives us the freedom to choose our path, but it is clear from God's Word that He has a path that He wants us to choose to take. God commands us in Deuteronomy 30:19 to choose life, but He sets before us both life and death, making us choose which way we want to go. As Christians, we are to choose to overcome sin and to live a life of godliness and righteousness.

Despite what many Protestant churches preach in terms of grace—preachers so often minimize the gospel to say that Jesus has done it all for us—Christianity is by no means a passive religion. True Christianity is a religion of constant vigilance in a conscious endeavor—striving, struggling, and making choices—to do what is right to please God.

Consider that, if God has done it all for us, why is the Bible not just one verse long? All that would be necessary is "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). All one would have to do is accept the sacrifice of the Son, and eternity would be assured.

Yet, look how thick a Bible is! It is over 1,000 pages long and absolutely packed full of instruction. Each word in the Book is pure—purified seven times (Psalm 12:6). It is written concisely; everything in it has value. And Jesus tells us, "You shall live by every word of God" (Matthew 4:4Luke 4:4Deuteronomy 8:3). The Bible contains many pages of words because there are many necessary instructions for us to learn and follow.

Why? The overall answer is that God wants us to conform to the image of His Son, to put on His mind and character, a goal cannot be accomplished by fiat. Character is built little by little through the process of making right choices. We have to choose to conform to Jesus Christ. God will not make the choice for us. He will make it clear what He wants us to do, and He will do His best to incline us in that direction, but ultimately, we have to choose.

In choosing God's way of life, each mental and physical activity to do good, or conversely, to forsake sin, begins with a choice. The choices that we make may be conscious—when we actually stop to think things through, getting out paper and pencil to jot down all the pros and cons and weigh them in the balance, as it were, before deciding what we should do—or they may be habitual and automatic due to consistent repetition in godly living. Whether we think about them or not, they are still choices.

So, if similar problems keep coming up and we just cannot seem to shake them, we should probably consider the choices that we have been making. Our choices have led to the repeated problems. Most likely, our problems have not come on us because God is angry with us, and Satan has probably not personally put a target on our backs to take pot-shots at us. We love to blame others for our problems, but the fact is that we make a lot of dumb decisions every day! Our choices lead either to the problems that ensnare us or to peace and happiness.

The Bible presents many illustrations of people making both good and bad choices. Abraham makes a good choice in leaving Ur, yet Lot makes a bad choice in settling in Sodom. Esau chooses foolishly in selling his birthright, while Jacob wisely chooses to tithe to God. Saul decides to try to pin David to the wall with a spear, yet David will not lift his hand against the Lord's anointed. The disciples make good choices by immediately following Jesus when He calls them, yet others reject the same calling. For instance, Mark 10:17, 19-22 contains the story of the Rich Young Ruler.
Now as [Jesus] was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" So Jesus said to him, ". . . You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,' ‘Do not murder,' ‘Do not steal,' ‘Do not bear false witness,' ‘Do not defraud,' ‘Honor your father and your mother.'" And he answered and said to Him, "Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth." Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me." But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Bad choice! Very poor choice! He had the same opportunity as the disciples, but in contrast, he blows his chance by making a wrong choice. He chooses his lifestyle of wealth, prestige, and influence over eternal life, which, from his own lips, was what he was seeking! Jesus gave him the precise answer to his question and personally invited him to discipleship. It was even plain that Jesus loved him! The door was wide open!

Yet, when he had to decide, he chose money and position over God. He chose his wealth and comfort over charity and service to others. He chose the status quo rather than rocking the boat. The contrast between the Rich Young Ruler and the disciples is stark.

This life-changing choice confronts a person only once in a lifetime, and the individual either answers God's calling or rejects it. Sometimes, though, after we make this right choice, we let down and begin to overlook the small, mundane, everyday choices: "Will I lie or not?" "Will I take advantage or not?" "Will I curse or not?" "Will I gossip or not?" "Will I indulge myself or not?" We are all frequently confronted by such temptations to sin. Many are little things and some are big things, but every time we face them, we must choose.

It is in these choices that overcoming happens. These everyday choices make overcoming either possible for us or impossible. Think about it. It is far easier to make many little right decisions until they become a habit and firm, convicted character than it is to face a mammoth decision all at once with little or no experience in making smaller, correct ones.

Say, for illustration's sake, that we are given the job of cutting down a Giant Sequoia out in Northern California—with a steak knife. Now, if we make stroke after stroke, stroke after stroke, we could indeed, over a long time, cut that massive tree down. But, if the boss told us to fell it in an hour—in the analogy, this is the big decision that must be made right now—we would be unprepared and unable. The job would be far beyond us with our little steak knife.

So Jesus advises us, "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much" (Luke 16:10). This is how to overcome sin and grow in godly character: by making those little choices every day.

Friday, October 12, 2012

What Is Truth?

The goings-on in this world constantly remind me why a certain quotation from the late novelist Michael Crichton, author of The Andromeda StrainTimelineThe Great Train RobberyState of Fear, and many other bestselling books, resonates so much. In a speech delivered to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on September 15, 2003, he said in answer to the question of what he considered the most important challenge facing mankind:
The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda. Perceiving the truth has always been a challenge to mankind, but in the information age (or as I think of it, the disinformation age) it takes on a special urgency and importance.
Last night, millions of Americans viewed the intense debate between Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and Representative Paul Ryan, a Republican. Both candidates thrust and parried with a steady onslaught of statistics—an armory of dollars and percentages—that each insisted were correct and verified by both governmental and independent audits and studies. Of course, the statistics that were waved about had been carefully chosen to support and spin each candidate's position on the several major policies that were "discussed."

But who is the viewer to believe? Among the topics that the moderator brought up, a few were contentious. For instance, Romney-Ryan will put forward a "framework," sparse on details, to reduce the deficit, lower taxes, and create twelve million jobs, welcoming bipartisan support. Obama-Biden will cut middle-class taxes but force wealthy Americans to "pay their fair share," ensuring that Obamacare, Social Security, and Medicare remain to help everyone. The Republican candidates will take foreign policy out of the hands of the UN and take a cautious approach to pulling out of Afghanistan and intervening in Syria. The Democrat candidates will honor their agreement with their allies regarding the Afghanistan exit plan and do what they can to support the rebels in Syria without sending in troops.

One viewer may see a clear choice between the two sides, while another may see only different shades of red. This brings up another point made by Crichton:
We must daily decide whether the threats we face are real, whether the solutions we are offered will do any good, whether the problems we're told exist are in fact real problems, or non-problems. Every one of us has a sense of the world, and we all know that this sense is in part given to us by what other people and society tell us; in part generated by our emotional state, which we project outward; and in part by our genuine perceptions of reality. In short, our struggle to determine what is true is the struggle to decide which of our perceptions are genuine, and which are false because they are handed down, or sold to us, or generated by our own hopes and fears.
Or, as a cynical, career-politician named Pontius Pilate once asked Jesus, "What is truth?" (John 18:38). Not only had he spent his adult life clambering upward in Roman politics, but as governor of Judea, he had also spent many years skirting the pitfalls inherent in Jewish politics. He knew how the world works. Each political party or religious sect had its own "truth," and who could know which was correct? Certainly, an outsider as he was could not separate the pure from the dross. He knew from experience that in a sophisticated world like the Roman Empire—or like our modern civilization—what is perceived to be true is often more important than what is actually true. Clever men can ride such perceptions to the heights of power.

Crichton's warning, then, while intended for us in these Daniel 12:4 times, spotlights an age-old challenge: How do we determine the truth? Our problem is more difficult than Pilate's was only in the fact that we are faced with a tsunami of information each day, as compared to his mere trickle of news. It has been posited that just one Sunday New York Times contains more information than the average medieval villager would receive in a lifetime, and we can be sure that a Roman official would gather somewhat more. As the prophet wrote, "Knowledge [information] shall increase."

Even so, human nature is the same now as it was then, so the level of dishonesty and trickery in those who supply the information is probably nearly the same. Just as Pilate had to discern the facts in the case the Jews brought against Jesus, we have to determine, in a myriad of instances, what is truth and what is marketing, propaganda, spin, disinformation, hyperbole, etc. We must ferret out motives, discover fallacies, and consider probabilities and potentialities. None of these things is easy to do, but some of us, perhaps even many of us, have become proficient in doing these things due to being constantly forced to make such evaluations.

By "us," I mean members of the church of God. There is a good reason—in fact, two good reasons—why we may be better at this than others are: 1) We have access to the truth in God's Word, and 2) we have the help of the Holy Spirit to discern truth. Jesus tells us in John 8:31-32: "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." This is an extremely significant statement. It links God's Word with the truth, discipleship with living the truth, and understanding the truth with liberty.

Divine revelation, which we have in Scripture, gives us the foundational truths that do not change, providing us with a starting point of discernment and oftentimes a great deal more. This allows us to cut through the static and grasp the heart of an issue, comment, or claim, making the determination of truth or error easier. Moreover, if we are living the truth, we have experience to know what works and what does not, giving us a further edge. Finally, a deep understanding of the truth allows us the freedom to choose what to believe and what to reject.

In terms of discerning truth, God gives us an awesome gift in the Holy Spirit, which John 14:17 calls "the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive." Later in that Passover message, Jesus instructs the disciples that the Spirit "will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13). Most specifically, He implies spiritual truth, "the deep things of God" that Paul writes about in I Corinthians 2:10-16. However, those spiritual truths do not exist in a vacuum. They reach out into every area of life, shining a light on what is real and exposing what is false. Paul concludes his teaching by saying, ". . . he who is spiritual judges all things" (verse 15), and in actuality, such a person with God's Spirit is in process of developing the very mind of Christ (verse 16).

The task of discerning the truth in these confusing times is before us. We can be thankful that God has given us the tools to meet the challenge and overcome it.