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Archive for the ‘F & L in the News’ Category

[225] Polarization

I see no end to our current political polarization. It is not like the Civil War, divisions over FDR’s liberalism, or Nixon’s Watergate.  The current divide is spiritual.  It is a culture war between Judeo-Christian values and secular progressivism.  Though the water is muddy on both sides of the divide—those advancing the Judeo-Christian side are often neither Jewish nor Christian, just conservative, and not everyone in the secular progressive wing is at war with Judeo-Christian thinking, just politically liberal.

Nonetheless, at core, the struggle is between those who want God in the national equation and those who want him out.  It is a battle for the soul of the country.  And that makes the war spiritual.  For 200 years, from the Founding Fathers to recent times, the name of God was welcomed in the institutions of the nation. Often that mention was merely ceremonial, or from the lips of deists, or other not necessarily Christian public leaders.  But the mention was there.  In fact, it was expected, because America was a Christian country based on percentage of its citizens that claimed to be Christian.

In the last half century all of that has changed.  Famous people openly profess their atheism, and it is no longer politically incorrect to deride Christian beliefs or values in public.  In short, it is open season on God and all he represents.

For the time being, this is a war without guns.  More concerning, it is a war through which many Christians are sleeping while their always-at-the-ready adversaries are steadily advancing. DC

[224] Purpose

In a recent blog, I cited the epidemic of loneliness among Generation Z (18-22-year-olds).  Some years previous, USA Today posed a question: If you came face-to-face with God what would you ask?

Here are the responses.

–What is my purpose in life? 34%

–Is there life after death? 19%

–Is there intelligent life elsewhere? 7%

–How long will I live? 6%

The results reveal a stark fact.  People are aimless.  They are alive, but do not know why. And it bothers them.  They are less concerned about life after death than why they are alive now.

This was a national survey.  Given how unchurched, and drenched in secular progressive thinking the lonely members of Generation Z are, I suspect the concern over one’s purpose is life would be even higher.

There is no transcendent purpose in life without God. Without God one has to determine his own reason for staying alive.  Life purpose becomes the product of one’s own wholly subjective efforts. It is completely devoid of any objective reality, in fact any reality outside of one’s self.

For most, finding purpose that way is above their pay grade.  For the believer, the answer is simple: The purpose of life is to honor God and enjoy him forever. Interestingly, that is the very first answer in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Honoring God is one’s purpose.  Enjoying him is the benefit.

I have met a lot of people who take that seriously, and they seem to have a very clear and meaningful agenda for living. DC

[223] Epidemic

Decades ago I wrote a book about what was becoming a national epidemic: loneliness. Little has changed. Loneliness not only continues to be a national killer, it is apparently getting worse.

Christianity Today cited a survey, sponsored by Cigna, that found young people were more likely to report being lonely than senior citizens. Social isolation among those between 18 and 22 was higher than that of those 72 and older.

So in other words, that college student next door is more likely to feel lonely than granny (who longs for visitors).  How is that possible?

One reason is that we are an increasingly urban, impersonal society.  Another is that social media has replaced social relationships. The article quoted Jagdish Khubchandani, a health science professor at Ball State University. “I have students who tell me they have 500 ‘friends,’ [in social media] but when they’re in need, there’s no one,” Khubchandani says.

I would push this cart a bit further. Generation Z is one step further away than the previous one from being part of a culture that affirms the existence of God. As secular forces continue to succeed in driving God out of every inch of the public sector they succeed in removing any thought of him from the minds of millions, particularly young people.

Think about it.  Unless a child is brought up in a believing family, there is little likelihood she will engage the thought of there being a God, much less a personal one. God has been removed from our public educational system.  Not much chance there. Virtually any serious public mention of God in government elicits a nasty separation-of-church-and-state attack, making God at best, irrelevant. Judeo-Christian values—an expression of God—have been replaced by secular progressive ones.

This removal of any thought of God is not an accident. It is the goal of secular progressivism.  Away with God–and especially rules that interfere with the human desire to be “free” and make one’s own decisions.  Submission is even less popular now than in the Garden of Eden.

But without God we are alone.  And Generation Z is feeling the impact. DC

[222] Division

Paige Patterson, a major figure in the Southern Baptist Convention, is out as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Patterson was caught in a cultural and generational crossfire involving the role and treatment of women.  The 75-year old church leader was charged with having made a spectrum of comments about women over the years, comments many regarded as sexist and demeaning.

You need only google up Patterson to get the details.  The issue, however, is much larger than the case of one fired seminary president. The issue is about the cultural and generational division among Southern Baptists.  There is evidence that women and younger Christians take much more contemporary approaches to the issues of race and gender from that of their male and older counterparts.

I suspect this split is present among more than Southern Baptists.

This is not a good time for the church.  It is divided—and profoundly so–over race, gender, divorce, sexual orientation, and other issues.  For years, the church—not knowing what to do with these complex dilemmas—tried to imagine they did not exist.  Denial is no longer an option.  All the concerns are now “above ground.”  Resolution will not come soon. It may never come.  Let’s pray that zealots on all sides will realize they are stewards of God’s institution, not shareholders of one that belongs to them. DC

[221] Visible Hope

One of the more disturbing elements of secularism is the disappearance of visible reminders of the presence of God.  One of these is the gradual ebbing away of churches in the city.  I am not talking about groups of believers.  I am talking about church buildings.  Daniel Darling at Christianity Today cites the trend of church buildings being sold off and converted into non-religious structures. Darling points out that church buildings are significant to urban culture for reasons beyond being a places of worship. Churches function as a spiritual sanctuary for citizens, a place to get help with temporal needs, and a meeting place for recovery programs and community events.

Darling is right, but let me add one more.  The often ancient, majestic church buildings are visible witnesses to the presence of God in the city.  As these visible reminders of God’s presence disappear, the consciousness of God in the minds of the people—believers and more important, non-believers—is also diminished.  Our cities are filled with poverty, violence, and despair.  They are desperately in need of what the prophet Jeremiah (29:12) calls “a future and a hope.” When we remove those bricks-and-mortar structures, we are losing more than buildings.  We are losing hope. DC

[220] Tools?

After waxing self-righteous on the matter of sexual assault by powerful males on female subordinates, we find NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman may have taken off the gloves and engaged in some unwelcome fisticuffs with women in his own life.

Once the cries of hypocrisy have died down we are left with a question for members of both parties.  Do these politicos care about third rail issues like sexual assault, or are their public stances mere tools for power—attempts at seizing the public high ground as a way of attracting voter support?

Over and over we see power figures from Bill Clinton to Denny Hastert to Schneiderman taking the politically “right side” on red meat issues, only to find these same people living in violation of their own words.  God told Samuel not to be taken in by King Saul’s appearance in 1 Samuel 16:7, stating that “…the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  Although appearances are huge in the political world, a closer look at some of the fallen figures of our age will reveal evidence that they were not walking their talk long before being exposed. If indeed, the Holy Spirit gives us powers of discernment, we need to use them in observing our political representatives. DC

[219] Not Voting

I am tired of hearing how unpatriotic it is not to vote.  Citizens have a right to vote—precious as it is–but not an obligation to vote.

In some cases, Christians have no good candidate to support.  The voter may not be able—in good conscience—to vote for a pro-choice zealot, while at the same time, finding the positions of that candidate’s opponent anathema.

So what do you do?  You don’t vote.  When not voting is a conscious choice, carefully considered, it may be more patriotic than picking the lesser of two miscreants. DC

[218] Who Do You Trust?

According to a recent poll by Morning Consult, reported in Christianity Today, evangelicals trust the political endorsements of Donald Trump and Barack Obama more than they do the likes of Joel Osteen and Jerry Falwell, Jr.  On the face of it, this may not seem all that surprising.  After all, Trump and Obama are pretty good at politics, and the parsons are in another line of work.

But there appears to be more to this.  For as long as most of us can remember, presidential candidates have thirsted for the endorsement of evangelical leaders. The reason is very simple.  Those leaders had powerful credibility, and in a very real sense, were the key to millions of votes.

This poll suggests something different is going on.  Evangelical Christians are not taking the lead from the more famous pulpiteers.

But there is more.  Neither Trump nor Obama claims to be an evangelical.  Their personal spiritual lives are unclear—murky if you will.  Yet evangelicals will take their political leads (49% for Trump, 33% Obama) over ostensibly spiritual leaders (Osteen 28%; Falwell 27%).  In fact, 39% said an endorsement from Pope Francis would have no impact at all.  While known political evangelicals, Mike Pence, and George W. Bush did quite well—46% and 43%, respectively—both trailed Trump.

Is there any takeaway here?  Two come to mind.  First, political leaders who speak to evangelicals and their concerns do well, irrespective of the candidate’s personal religiosity.  More important, however, it appears there is no prophetic voice coming from the evangelical world.  Billy Graham is gone.  Osteen is coiffed in prosperity (“this world”) preaching, and Falwell ministers in the shadow of his polarizing Moral-Majority-of the-‘80’s father.

Without a vision the people perish, says the Psalmist (29:18).  There seems no real political vision coming from those on whom so many depend to translate God’s word to our times. DC

[217] MLK, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered 50 years ago today.

I remember it well.  The announcement that interrupted normal television programming was chilling.  King had been in Memphis supporting a strike by sanitation workers, yet another of his many self-sacrificial efforts on behalf of the powerless. In a fleeting moment this larger than life public figure was gone.

It is hard to describe the impact of this 39-year-old martyr for the cause of the Second Great Commandment.  Upon news of his death, cities exploded in violence, people—black and white–were plunged into despair; the civil rights movement—of which King was all but the incarnation—appeared over.  Everyone was in shock.

His death did all but mark the end of the turn-the-other-cheek non-violent form of political resistance.  His official successor, Ralph David Abernathy, had none of King’s charisma, and the divisive Jesse Jackson, who all but hijacked King’s mantle, has always seemed more in a quest of the nearest camera and the attendant self-aggrandizement, than the cause of justice.

It has never been the same since King died.  He was a unifier, a man of the people, shunning celebrity and a life ease in favor of the less traveled path of genuine servanthood.  Though quoting from scripture and often in prayer, some evangelicals criticized him as a theological liberal for his emphasis on social rather than specifically spiritual causes.  Yet many of the very seminaries from which those critics graduated would not admit King, because there were on the wrong side of the Second Great Commandment—the one King was living out.

His work was rooted in faith and a call to God’s work.  “Before I was a civil rights leader,” said King, “I was a preacher of the Gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment. You know, actually all that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part of my ministry. I have no other ambitions in life but to achieve excellence in the Christian ministry. I don’t plan to run for any political office. I don’t plan to do anything but remain a preacher. And what I’m doing in this struggle, along with many others, grows out of my feeling that the preacher must be concerned about the whole man.”

The man who said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that,” was a giant—clearly among the most important figures in the second half of the 20th Century.  Like Moses and David, Martin Luther King, Jr. had his imperfections, but I shudder to think of where our nation would be without his brief but shining presence. DC

[216] Reffing

The reffing in the NCAA tournament is terrible.

Every year.

I coached boys high school basketball.  I was an Athletic Director at an NCAA championship school.  I love March Madness.  I watch as many games as possible.  I simply cannot understand why the officiating is not more competent.  Replays are living testimony to how bad it is.

Go to almost any playground in America and you will see youngsters playing basketball without refs.  And these can be rich, poor, black, or white, or mixed participants—in other words, groups that have great potential for conflict.  Yet with all this diversity and desire to win, they are able to officiate their own games, often without a single argument.  Players know what a foul is.  They know off whom the ball went out of bounds.

The NCAA officials do not.  Perhaps the games should be played that way, with officials in the stands solely to resolve any disputes; of course with the help of replay.  DC

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