Assimilate or Pay the Price

“Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.” –The Borg in Star Trek

Last Thursday the Washington state supreme court issued a chilling ruling against religious freedom. The case in question involves a Baptist florist named Barronelle Stutzman. For years she provided service to two homosexuals, Rob Ingersoll and Curt Freed. But when the men decided to marry and asked Stutzman to do the flowers for their wedding, she deferred, recommending several other florists in the area. The couple then sued, along with the ACLU and the state of Washington. Stutzman lost, and her last hope is that the US Supreme Court will hear her case and defend her rights.

From the inception of the Constitution the founders were intent on insuring the freedom of religion. And so the very first item in the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment, explicitly protects the free exercise of religion.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

“The free exercise thereof” protected by the Constitution does not simply include the freedom to go to synagogue, mosque, or church each week. It is much broader than that, and offers protection for religious beliefs and practices woven throughout the course of every day life – including maintaining those beliefs and practices on the job. For this reason, America has a rich history of providing accommodation to religious adherents of various faiths in the private sector and in the public sector.

For instance, some believers with religious scruples against taking up arms in combat have been drafted into the armed services. Our nation has not always been kind to conscientious objectors, but in its more enlightened days, the government has accommodated pacifists by giving them non-combatant roles in military. Several conscientious objectors served with distinction as medics in World War II, even receiving the Medal of Honor. They were not compelled to take up arms and violate their beliefs. They were given an assignment that allowed them to serve their country and exercise their religion at the same time.

This sort of accommodation takes place all the time on a much less dramatic scale. It is done for Orthodox Jewish believers who do not wish to be scheduled to work on the Sabbath, Jehovah’s Witnesses who do not wish to raise and lower the U.S. flag, Muslim truck drivers who do not wish to transport alcohol, and multiplied other cases.

This balanced approach to the respect for the dignity of the individual conscience has been the common sense way people in civil society have worked to get along with each other here in America. But last week’s ruling by the Washington state court is a radical departure from this civil tradition, allowing for no effort at accommodation and compromise. Even worse, it represents a callous disregard for the explicitly protected right to free exercise of religion.

And religious freedom is the issue here, not discrimination against homosexuals. As the facts clearly demonstrate, Mrs. Stutzman did business with the men in question for many years. She never refused to sell them flowers because they were gay. What she refused to do was make floral arrangements for their wedding. The issue here is simple coercion – must a Christian businessman or woman be forced by the state to use their talents for an event that violates their conscience?

Suppose I was a baker living in Las Vegas, where prostitution is legal.  If a prostitute from one of the legal brothels there came in to my bakery, would I sell her a cupcake even though I am a Christian? Absolutely! In fact, I would sell her as many as I could. Now let’s say the owner of the brothel decides to throw a big party to celebrate ten years in business, and that same prostitute drops by to ask me to decorate a cake for the anniversary celebration.  Could I do that as a Christian? I would have to respectfully decline, because now she has asked me to use my talents to provide a service in connection with an event that is celebrating something to which I am morally opposed on the basis of my faith.

Perhaps your religious beliefs lead you to think that prostitution is wrong but same-sex marriage is ok. Maybe your religious beliefs approve of both. Or maybe you don’t have any religious beliefs at all and you think they are both ok. That’s fine – that’s what freedom of religion is all about. What I want you to see is that there is a distinction between doing business with a person and providing services for an event. When a conservative minded Jewish, Muslim, or Christian baker/florist/photographer declines to provide services to a same-sex wedding on the basis of deeply held religious beliefs, that is not anti-gay discrimination. That is the free exercise of religion. And whether you are straight or gay, the very idea that civil governments at the state level are using coercive power to attempt to compel citizens to violate their religious beliefs should be alarming.

Sadly, this erosion of religious liberty was predictable once the US Supreme Court issued its decision on Obergefell. In his majority opinion, Justice Kennedy tried to reassure those concerned with the decision for religious reasons:

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.

But of course, the First Amendment does not promise the right to advocate, but the right to exercise. Rather than soothing concerns regarding religious liberty, Kennedy’s ominous narrowing of the explicit language of the Constitution only intensified those concerns. As Justice Roberts responded, “Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.”

If someone like Mrs. Stutzman can be targeted by the state for her conscientious beliefs, no one is safe. By the same logic, the government could force Catholic bakers to cater pro-choice gatherings. Or force Jewish printers to design fliers for neo-Nazi rallies. Or force Muslim florists to make decorations for alt-right conventions.

All of the power structures of American culture – big government, big business, big media – are intent on imposing their moral vision on society. Anyone who dares to stand up to these powers and hold to the faith on issues like same-sex marriage is going to face the same fury that Christians have always borne when they challenge the idolatry of the age. The hive mind of our decadent culture issues the same warning that the Borg delivered in the Star Trek franchise: “Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.”

It is a time for cheerful courage.

Friday Favorites – February 17, 2017

Here are some cool links I thought I would pass along.

Love, Marriage, and the Movies. A critical look at La La Land and the latest Fifty Shades debacle.

Computer Slowing Down? Check this article out for some possible solutions.

Can the Trump Presidency be Saved from Trump? I doubt it – if you can’t govern yourself, you can’t govern a country.

Homemade Pre-Shave Oil. If you are like me and have sensitive skin and tough whiskers, try this recipe. I have and it works wonders!

My Second-Favorite Babylon Bee of the Week!

NCAA Tourney Seeds Revealed. The NCAA is releasing the top 16 seeds ahead of the tourney, evaluating them each week. I love this transparency!

“Love Wins” by Crushing Rights. Rod Dreher on the travesty taking place in Washington state, as the state supreme court rules against a Christian florist.

Chaos in the Administration. Another Rod Dreher column, this time on the chaotic national security team of the Trump administration.

My Favorite Babylon Bee of the Week! 

Louis Armstrong in Action. For my musical selection this week, here’s my favorite all-time performer getting it done!

 

Racism, Atheism, and Tribal Morality

Last summer in the aftermath of the tragic shooting of the silverback gorilla Harambe, I asked my agnostic and atheist friends on Facebook if the Cincinnati Zoo was morally justified in shooting a gorilla to save a small child. It was a very interesting Facebook thread.

Most of those friends did believe that a human life is more valuable than a gorilla’s (though not all did – and I told those people not to take offense if I declined a dinner invitation to their house – I prefer to eat with people who see a clear difference between me and what is served for dinner!). But what was interesting to me was the justification these nonbelievers offered for privileging human life over animal life. For most of them, this was simply a matter of choosing the human “tribe” over the gorilla “tribe.” As one friend said:

The only obligations that would seem to exist are within one’s own tribe.

This sentiment was shared by many participants on the thread. Another friend concluded:

I don’t think tribes/people truly care about other tribes/people, unless they have some degree of personal ties with them, or will reap some degree of benefit.

Another lamented that for most of us:

First priority is me, or my family or my tribe. Even among those who hold a moral view or a religious view, when the rubber meets the road that’s often the reality in action. Brotherhood of man is social construct — ahem, much like religion, forgive me — that unites the tribe, the society, and provides for stability and growth.

I appreciated the candor of these comments.

From a Christian point of view, the fact that there is one God means that all humans are made in His image and therefore share equal dignity in His eyes. The “brotherhood of man” that one friend referred to is the necessary implication of the Fatherhood of God. As Paul says in Ephesians 4:6, there is “one God and Father of all.” Not everyone desires to be in a relationship with Him, of course – what the Bible calls a “covenant.” But all humanity shares the common ground of creation in God’s image.

For this reason, it is incompatible with the Christian worldview to hate other people simply because they are members of a different tribe, bear a different skin tone, or speak a different language. The fact that many professed Christians have betrayed the gospel and surrendered to the racist impulses of a hateful world is undeniable. But it is also undeniable that the rise of Christianity astonished the early pagans with its commitment to love others across the ethnic, racial, and social divides that roiled the ancient world. As sociologist Rodney Stark has written:

Moreover, the corollary that because God loves humanity, Christians may not please God unless they love one another was something entirely new. Perhaps even more revolutionary was the principle that Christian love and charity must extend beyond the boundaries of family and tribe, that it must extend to “all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Indeed, love and charity must even extend beyond the Christian community.

So while I freely admit that many Christians have failed in modeling the universal love of God, at the same time I celebrate the fact that Christians challenged the prevailing notions of tribal loyalty that characterized the first century – and increasingly – our own century. And this goes back to Jesus himself, who taught in the Sermon on the Mount:

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:46-48, NIV).

This stands in sharp contrast to the outlook given by some of my friends on Facebook. And the opinions they expressed about the “tribal” nature of morality are hardly unique to my circle of acquaintances. The same view of morality is commonly proffered by atheists. For instance, Duke philosophy professor Alex Rosenberg flatly concedes the same position in his Atheist’s Guide to Reality. He believes that morality – like everything else – is the product of evolution, which in turn is about the preservation of the tribe. He even admits that evolution favors discrimination, that “racism and xenophobia are optimally adapted to maximize the representation of your genes in the next generation, instead of some stranger’s genes” (p. 111). But rather than accept the hard truths of pure naturalism, Rosenberg opts for a “nice nihilism,” even while conceding:

There is nothing morally right about being nice, but we are stuck with it for the forseeable future (p. 144).

So by their own admission, my unbelieving friends have embraced a view of reality that relativizes all morality into nothing more than parochial tribalism.

And yet, from what I have seen in social media, most of these same friends are profoundly outraged by racism (or at least by what they perceive as racism). They are often sympathetic to the “Black Lives Movement” and to the abuses of law enforcement against people of color. They are deeply offended by visa and immigration policies that seem to stigmatize those from other countries (or “tribes,” if you will). They speak about these issues as if there is objective moral truth that transcends tribe and race.

Isn’t this intellectually incoherent, given the belief that morality is tribal? To my atheist and agnostic friends, I pose this question: on what basis do you believe that anyone should care about the rights of those from different races, ethnicities, or nationalities? Your own moral philosophy denies any such a thing as right and wrong outside of the needs of your own tribe. I challenge you to make the case for the immorality of racism and xenophobia on the basis of your own beliefs.

And if you can’t – despite your strongly held beliefs that racism and xenophobia are indeed evil – then maybe you should reconsider your view of reality.

Digging Deeper into Revelation’s Symbols

In preparing for a class on Revelation, one of the most helpful things I have read is the discussion of symbolism in G.K. Beale’s commentary. As Beale explains, symbolism has four levels of meaning:

  • The linguistic level – the actual words used to describe the symbol.
  • The visionary level – the actual visionary experience narrated by the author.
  • The referential level – the particular historical referent of the symbol.
  • The symbolic level – the truth that is conveyed by the symbol.

To illustrate these levels, imagine that you pulled up behind a truck with this sticker on the bumper-

The linguistic level is the phrase, “Don’t tread on me.” The visionary level is the picture of a coiled snake, baring its fangs and ready to strike. The referential level is the American Revolution, in which this flag was produced as a warning to Great Britain not to overstep its authority over the colonies. And the symbolic level is the current political situation, in which the bearer of this bumper sticker is issuing a similar warning against governmental overreach.

Now, let’s apply these levels to the imagery of Revelation 13.

And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.  One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast (Revelation 13:1-3).

  • The linguistic level describes a beast from the sea, and calls to mind a similar description in Daniel 7:1-8, where Daniel sees four great kingdoms depicted as monstrous animals.
  • The visionary level creates a horrifying impact, a giant sea monster! This has roots in the OT images of creatures like Leviathan, used by the prophets to depict evil powers (as in Isaiah 27:1).
  • The referential level is clear in light of the first century context of Revelation. Imperial Rome, with its commitment to idolatry and its persecution of Christians, has become a blaspheming beast. And the suicide of Nero and near unraveling of the empire is vividly portrayed by the detail that “one of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed” (Revelation 13:3).
  • What would be the symbolic level, then? God instituted human government to be His servant (Romans 13:1-4). But when earthly powers decide to be god rather than serve God, they become grotesque in the evil they perpetrate. They turn into monsters.

Viewing the symbols of Revelation in this manner helps to root the book in its historical context while at the same time providing us with timeless truths about the nature of the struggle between God and evil.

 

 

The “Mystery” of Marriage

(This was a chapel talk I gave on February 13, 2017, at my alma mater, Florida College. I don’t know how long the link will last, but for now you can watch a Livestream of the service here).

I want to talk to you today about marriage. It seems like an appropriate time to do so – we’ve just enjoyed a great week of lectures about the topic, and it is the day before Valentine’s Day. And seven years ago today I went on the first date with my wife Kristi, so I guess marriage is on my mind.

Specifically I want to talk with you about the “mystery” of marriage – not how strange and perplexing marriage can be, though it sometimes is that! The “mystery” of marriage I have in mind is the language of the apostle Paul at the end of Ephesians 5 –

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

According to Paul, there is a connection between marriage and something he calls the “mystery,” which in turn is connected with Christ and the church. In the opening chapter of Ephesians, we learn more about this mystery, when Paul says that God is “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

The “mystery” is the plan of God (once unrevealed but now revealed) to bring together, to unite, all things in Christ. And as Ephesians unfolds, we learn that this reconciling work means that God has united us with Him in Christ, and He has also integrated Jews and Gentiles into the same body, same family, same holy temple. Simply put, the “mystery” is Paul’s way of describing the gospel.

And now the connection between this mystery and marriage is obvious. The gospel is about oneness, reconciliation, unity. And in marriage, two become one. So from this point of view, marriage is a model of what God’s mystery is all about. It is the gospel in miniature.

What an amazing concept! When you approach marriage as a way to display what the gospel is all about, it changes everything. It turns you from self-centeredness, from pettiness, to seeking the glory of God in your marriage as you imitate Christ in the way you respond to your husband/wife.

And it also makes you more sympathetic to your spouse. After all, the gospel is about reconciling sinners. Since marriage is a microcosm of that, this gospel-centered view of marriage means that marriage is the reconciliation of sinners.

So if you have ever worried that you are going to marry the wrong person, then I am here today to erase those fears. You don’t have to worry about it, because you definitely are going to marry the “wrong person.” You are going to marry someone who Paul says could once be described like this:

“dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (2:2-3).

Does that sound like Mr. Right? Now of course, as Christians we are forgiven sinners, sinners transformed into God’s new creation – but still battling the habits of the old sinful self.

And you know what the person you are married to will need from you? And what you will need from them? Forgiveness, mercy, grace, love – the very same divine qualities that reconcile us to God are needed for husbands and wives, which is another reason marriage is a model of the gospel.

I can’t tell you what a difference this view of marriage has made in my relationship with my wife. Not long ago, I came home from church and draped this jacket over a chair in the dining room. And I left it there, day after day after day. Until my wife finally had enough, and decided to teach me a lesson. So she grabbed it, wadded it up into a ball, and threw it into my office chair.

When I walked in and saw it, I knew she did it deliberately in order to tick me off. And before I grasped this concept of marriage, it would have. But instead, I just paused, looked at the pile of clothes, and thought to myself – “Kristi Scott is a sinner!”

And so is Shane Scott. And what I need from her, and what she needs from me, is the commitment to live out the meaning of the gospel in our marriage, to love and forgive and forbear with each other for the glory of God. That is why it is absolutely vital to marry someone who shares faith in the same gospel – not because that means they will be perfect, but precisely because knowledge of the gospel helps you learn to love those who are imperfect.

And that is the mystery of marriage.

 

Friday Favorites for February 10

First off, my apologies for not blogging this week. I was hit hard by a cold that has just started to ease up a bit. But as your dutiful blogger, I have kept on the outlook for cool links to share!

Take Control of Facebook. Social media is overwhelming, so any tips on using shortcuts is worth the read!

A New Bible Map Viewer. Check out this new way to locate biblical sites.

Disturbing New Settlement Laws in Israel. If the US desires Israel to be a truly democratic ally, we need to call out  Netanyahu on stuff like this.

My Second Favorite Babylon Bee of the Week! (I know of a “megachurch” that is called “Six Flags Over Jesus” by the locals).

Using Your Lunch Break for Personal Development. Some cool ideas to maximize time for learning.

New Caves Discovered in the Dead Sea Area. Although looters got there first.

Churches and Instrumental Music. A good, brief survey of the use of instrumental music in church worship.

The New Evernote App for IOS. If you are a Mac person and an Evernote user (like me), check this out.

My Favorite Babylon Bee of the Week! Truly hilarious!

The Country’s in the Very Best of Hands. If the current political environment has you concerned, just listen to this and be encouraged!

Friday Favorites – February 3rd Edition

What Every Guy Needs to Keep in His Car. Can you think of anything else?

How Populism Stumbles. Ross Douthat’s great column on the challenges a populist movement faces in actually governing.

The Root of the Refugee Problem. While many have rightly criticized the new administration for its clumsy roll-out of the new refugee and immigration policy, the real issue is the reckless interventionism that created this problem.

My Second Favorite Babylon Bee! Persecuted for being a Christian, or just disliked for being a jerk?

The Patriots Win the Close Ones (Usually). Cool story on how close the Patriots’s six Super Bowls have been. Who are you picking this Sunday?

Pass Me the Jazz. Try not to smile while watching this fantastic quartet from Sweden swinging!

Trump Takes Tough Line on Israeli Settlements. I did not vote for the President, and I am highly critical of many of his actions, so when he does something I agree with I want to be sure to praise him. Very interested to see how this plays out.

A Liberal Lament over the Berkeley Riots. Sadly, some of my liberal friends could not bring themselves to condemn the riots.

My Favorite Babylon Bee of the Week! Speaking of those riots….

The Lees of Old Virginia. This weekend I am playing Ben Franklin in a local production of 1776. Here is one of the signature songs from the musical. The actor playing Lee in this clip, Ron Holgate, won the Tony in 1969 for best supporting actor on the basis of this single number.

Reading Revelation: Symbols as “Stock Images”

Last night in my college Bible class on Revelation we studied the opening of the first six seals (Revelation 6). When the sixth seal is opened, John reports-

there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:12-17).

What are we to make of this language? Was John seeing a prediction of literal disasters on an epic scale?

One of the keys to understanding Revelation is the Old Testament background to its symbolism (my dear friend and former department chair Ferrell Jenkins has written an excellent book on this topic that is out of print but available on Amazon for a mere $179!). By using your Bible’s cross reference system (or even better, a concordance) you will find that all of these cataclysms are used by the Old Testament prophets to signify impending judgment. Here are some examples-

Earthquake

But the multitude of your foreign foes shall be like small dust,
    and the multitude of the ruthless like passing chaff.
And in an instant, suddenly,
   you will be visited by the Lord of hosts
with thunder and with earthquake and great noise,
    with whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire (Isaiah 29:5-6)

Sun, Moon, and Stars

Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
    cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the land a desolation
    and to destroy its sinners from it.
For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
    will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
    and the moon will not shed its light (Isaiah 13:9-10).

When I blot you out, I will cover the heavens
    and make their stars dark;
I will cover the sun with a cloud,
    and the moon shall not give its light.
All the bright lights of heaven
    will I make dark over you,
    and put darkness on your land,
declares the Lord God (Ezekiel 32:7-8).

The earth quakes before them;
     the heavens tremble.
The sun and the moon are darkened,
    and the stars withdraw their shining.
The Lord utters his voice
    before his army,
for his camp is exceedingly great;
    he who executes his word is powerful.
For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome;
    who can endure it?…
And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes (Joel 2:10-11, 30-31).

Effort to Hide

Samaria’s king shall perish
    like a twig on the face of the waters.
The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel,
    shall be destroyed.
Thorn and thistle shall grow up
    on their altars,
and they shall say to the mountains, “Cover us,”
    and to the hills, “Fall on us” (Hosea 10:7-8).

What is interesting about this survey is that in none of these passages was the language intended to be taken literally. The context of each is God’s judgment on nations like Israel or Judah or Babylon. And the way the prophets described “earth-shattering” divine judgments was with images of, well, the earth shattering!

In this sense, these symbols are similar to stock photos. When I write my blog posts, I often go to a website called Pixabay to find an image to accompany the article. Pixabay, like other websites, contains a collection (a stock) of photographs that is searchable by topic or theme. As an experiment, I just typed in “judgment,” and here is the first image it suggested:

Pretty good, huh! When the prophets of Scripture wanted to warn of God’s impending judgment on disobedient nations, they also had a set of stock images they used. Earthquake – darkening of the sun – moon turning to blood – stars falling from the sky – you get the idea. These stock images immediately conveyed impending judgment.

Jesus employed the very same set of images when He prophesied about the judgment on the temple in the Olivet Discourse:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken (Matthew 24:29).

And as He was led to execution, He made use of more stock images of judgment –

But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us'” (Luke 23:28-30).

With this background in mind, the vision of the sixth seal is not hard to understand at all. It is the stereotypical way to describe God’s judgment on the wicked. I tend to think John is seeing the same judgment described by Jesus on the Mount of Olives. Others think it has reference to the fall of the Roman Empire. But the gist of the imagery is clear.

One final point. The fact that the same sort of “stock images” are used across the centuries by the spokesmen of the Lord reveals an important truth about God’s sovereignty. God always judges the wicked. In many instances, He judges them in history. And in all cases, He will judge them at the end of history. It is God’s consistent holy judgment throughout the span of time that gives these images their stereotypical impact.

The Gorsuch Nomination – A Temporary Reprieve

Picture from The Denver Post online

Yesterday the President nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. By all accounts, Gorsuch is a highly qualified nominee, possessing the skills and temperament needed by a Supreme Court justice. His nomination will be fiercely contested in the poisonous atmosphere of Washington politics, of course, but that is to be expected.

From what I have read about Judge Gorsuch, his track record of decisions indicates he possesses a robust view of religious freedom. His opinions – ranging from the Hobby Lobby case to the Andrew Yellowbear case – reveal a firm commitment to defend the free exercise of religion from governmental intrusion. And as a Christian concerned about the growing threat to religious liberty in America, I am thrilled with this nominee.

But I am not sanguine about the long-term prospects for religious freedom in our country. The radical LGBTQI community has set its sites on stripping accreditation from religious schools with traditional codes of conduct, on removing tax exempt status from churches that hold to orthodox teaching, and on shutting down businesses or driving employees from the work place if they possess conscientious scruples about the Christian view of marriage. Let’s face it – when 26% of Americans under the age of 40 think I should be required to perform same-sex weddings, the future of religious freedom is pretty dim.

So if Judge Gorsuch is confirmed to the Supreme Court, his presence may offer believers a reprieve from the erosion of religious rights in American, but it will be a temporary one in my view. And we should use this respite to proactively prepare for the time when the tide of repression regains force. Here are some ideas I have – I’d love to hear yours:

  • Churches, mosques, and synagogues should start budgeting for the loss of tax exempt status. For those churches that have strayed far from the New Testament model of ministry, this will be a major blow. But all religious groups holding the line of conviction on marriage must prepare to lose the privilege of tax exemption.
  • Private schools that receive federal money should start development plans to wean off of this money. For example, private colleges need to reconsider their sports programs. Athletics draws in lots of federal grant money for needy student-athletes. Schools that rely on this money will face financial catastrophe if the government strips them of accreditation (and with it, access to federal student aid).
  • Believers should start networking with other believers to provide employment opportunities. Many believers are one activist away from losing a job (or a business). We need to network with each other (especially small business owners) to provide a safety net for opportunities should someone become a victim of conscience.

I will be praying for Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation. But let’s all be praying for wisdom and courage as we live out our faith.

 

 

God is With Us on the Lonely Mountain

By Niagara66, via Wikimedia Commons

This past Saturday I was honored to speak at the funeral of one of the most beautiful people I have ever known, Sylvia Chapman. Sylvia loved the Smoky Mountains, and so I decided to center my remarks around the theme of God’s presence with us during times we may otherwise feel alone. Kristi and I will miss Sylvia very much.

Sylvia’s love for the mountains is well known. In the mid 1970s the family bought a place up in Gatlinburg, and many of you here today have been to that cabin. Sylvia was gracious enough to allow my wife and me to stay there this past spring. It will be no surprise to you that in our last conversation, one of the things Sylvia talked about was Gatlinburg.

Many people feel the same way about nature that Sylvia did. Its sheer beauty, its delicate order, its enormous scope, all point to the glory of God the creator. Most of us feel closer to God when we are surrounded by the wonders of creation.

In Scripture, though, the rugged hill country of Palestine that resembles the Smoky Mountains often suggested something different. These regions were sparsely populated, inhabited primarily by wild animals. If there was any place that seemed deserted by God, it was the mountains.

This is why the LORD asks Job in the climax of the book, “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?” (Job 39:1). The implied answer is, no, Job doesn’t know much about the mountain goats because of their reclusive habitat.

A few verses later God says that the wild donkey “scorns the tumult of the city; he hears not the shouts of the driver. He ranges the mountains as his pasture, and he searches after every green thing” (39:7-8). The wild donkey has to forage for food up in the mountains because there are no people there to feed him. The same is true of the eagle, who spies out his prey from “his nest on high,” “on the rocky crag and stronghold” (39:28-29).

Why is it that this list of animals focuses on wild animals, animals that nobody cares for, animals that in many instances live so far up into the mountains that they are inaccessible to men? Because there is someone in the book who feels just liked one of these animals, deserted and left to fend for himself – Job. In 30:29 he says, “I am a brother of jackals and a companion of ostriches” (two more animals associated in Scripture with desolation and abandonment).

So what is God’s point in rehearsing this litany of wild animals to Job? Job can’t see them, they dwell unobserved by man, and yet they are being fed. And who is feeding them? God. God provides food for all of these animals. Job can’t see that happening because of his limited vision, but  God’s work is not limited to what Job can see. And if God is taking care of the wild animals, the animals that Job may think are forsaken, then guess who else God is taking care of – even though he thinks he is discarded by God? Job.

Isn’t this the very same point Jesus made in the Sermon on the Mount, when He said:

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? … Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:26-30)

In the midst of suffering, it is easy to feel like a wild animal, left to fend for itself, unknown and unloved by God. But our vision is narrow and incomplete. The LORD reassured Job that although the wild animals that roam the mountains are untended by man, they are cared for by the Creator. And when we feel isolated and alone in our suffering, we are just as surely still in the care of our God, if only we open our eye of faith to see Him. That’s how Job ends, right? “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (42:5).

Sylvia Chapman

So many of you have commented on the resolve with which Sylvia faced her illness. Maybe the reason she possessed such steadfast strength was all those trips to the mountains, all those occasions where she could see God caring for animals in the wild. Sometimes, she got too close a look – when bears would come in the front yard! But high in those hills in Tennessee she was surrounded by testimony to God’s providence. She could see firsthand the same truth God pointed out to Job long ago.

And our hope is that last Friday, she could say with Job, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.”