CQ…Clark Here

Thoughts and opinions. LOTS of opinions.

Archive for the tag “Christianity”

Hateful and Inflammatory? Inconsistent? Not sure I agree.

Note: I first want to apologize to my liberal and libertarian friends for my responses to various comments on social media yesterday.  For various reasons, I was Mr. Cranky Pants, and did not respond as well as I usually do.  I hope this post is a bit more rational.

Note:  For any readers that may be Muslim, liberal, or otherwise disagree with what I write, I sincerely hope my comments will not be seen as hurtful or callous.  They are not intended to be.  However, I will not apologize for what I say here, these are my thoughts and opinions.  I strive to be measured and rational, not strident and angry.  To a large degree, I think I succeed.  But I ask that you not be offended by this post, but I expect that many will disagree, and that, also, is ok.  You are as entitled to your thoughts, opinions, and beliefs as am I.

I am no different from the vast majority of Americans with how I have felt with the terrorist attacks in Paris.  And although I haven’t posted anything new here on my Blog, I have been active on social media, and posted multiple articles, opinions, thoughts, and memes regarding the Paris atrocities.  Regular readers of this blog already know I am a committed Christian, a family man, an American, a political conservative, and rather bold to state my opinions.  Due to my postings, in the past couple days my Christianity and my consistency in applying my Christianity has been questioned, and my posts on the American response to the Syrian refugee situation characterized as hateful and inflammatory.  I disagree with those questions and characterizations, and wanted to address them.  However, I figured my remarks would take a lot more space than social media, and light bulb above my head! I have a blog site that I can write on. (Um, duh?)

Anyhow, I want to address two things here.  First my Christianity, how I have come to this point, and how I interpret the Bible.  And Second, my thoughts on the Syrian refugee crisis.

First, regards my faith, Christianity, and Biblical interpretation.

I believe in the God of the Bible.  I believe that He created everything that exists, that He has always been, and always will be.  I believe that God exists in three distinct but equal “persons:” God the Father, God the Son (Jesus, the Christ), and God the Holy Spirit.  I believe that God is perfect, without error, and has been so forever, and always will be.  I believe that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired, complete Word of God, and includes the Hebrew Scriptures (AKA: the “Old” Testament), as well as the “New” Testament, which introduces the Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ.  I believe that I am separated from that perfect Creator-God because of my willful choice to commit “sin.”  Sin is simply doing what I know to be wrong, in the face of a perfect God.  I believe that because of God’s perfection, He cannot even be in the presence of sin, and so my cosmic treason has separated me from ever being able, on my own, to stand in God’s presence.  I believe that God loved me so much that he sent His Son, Jesus (who volunteered for this mission), to earth to atone for my treason. I believe that Jesus was born of a sinful woman, Mary, with no earthly father, but was miraculously conceived by Mary, through the working of the Holy Spirit.  I believe that Jesus was absolutely, completely, perfectly God and simultaneously was absolutely, completely, “perfectly” a man, as are any of us.  I believe that Jesus is the only Son of God, that there is no other.  I believe that Jesus literally lived, but never sinned; never lied, never coveted, never stole, never did any wrong thing that would cause separation from God the Father.  I believe that he led a ministry on earth, and was ultimately arrested by the religious leaders of the time, tried by Roman law, and crucified, suffering physical death, and retaining his spirit until he decided on his own to die.  I believe Jesus suffered a literal death, and was buried for (in modern understanding) for a day and a half (by reckoning of the time, three days); literally dead in a literal tomb.  I believe that when Jesus decided it was time, I believe he literally came back to life; that dead human tissue was re-animated, against human possibility and human rationale.  I believe that when Jesus allowed himself to be crucified, and when he chose to die and take his life back, that he paid the just and righteous penalty for my treason; that because he paid the penalty (my penalty), God is able to forgive me, and that due only to God’s grace, I can now stand in front of Him.  And that He sees me, not as I was, but in light of Christ’s finished work, perfect, just as Christ is perfect.  I believe that Christ came for the Jewish nation first, and that any national Jew that recognizes Jesus as Messiah automatically steps in front of me in as God’s chosen, and are ultimately my elder brothers and sisters.  I believe that it is God’s grace and God’s grace alone that has earned me the right to be called His son.  I believe belief in Christ in this way is the only way for anyone to find the ability to be allowed into God’s presence as a forgiven individual.  I believe that Christ’s sacrifice is all that is necessary for anyone who chooses to believe and confess the above to stand before God.  And I believe that if one does not specifically choose to believe this, then by that choice, that person, when they die, will never be allowed in the presence of God; that all goodness, and all hope will be removed, and that person will spend eternity in what the Bible defines as Hell.

More on the Bible:

I apply various, recognized rules to interpreting the Bible.  These are not “my” rules, but are a standardized method for Biblical interpretation.  First, it says what it says.  There is no hidden meaning, no “deeper truths,” no Gnostic gospel to apply.  Second the Bible is inerrant, inspired, accurate and complete as it currently exists.  Third, context and historical considerations must also be considered for a particular verse, and that each verse must be interpreted, not on its own, but in accord with the Bible as a whole.  Far too many people look at one verse and say, “Well, the Bible says (fill in the blank).” And this happens with folks that believe the Bible as well as those that do not.  One of my favorite examples is the one verse in the Bible that mentions tattoos.  Found in Deuteronomy, it says that one should not get tattoos or marks for the dead.  Many Christians use this to condemn anyone that gets a tattoo as unbiblical.  That is far from the truth.  That verse is speaking directly to the pagan practice of slicing one’s self and/or tattooing themselves specifically for ancestor worship or appeasement.  As such, it is addressing idolatry during a specific historical timeframe, not tattooing at any time forever and ever, amen.  But I digress.

I would also say that in reading and understanding the Bible, the way to do so is no different than reading any “classical” piece of literature.  One doesn’t have to be a Biblical scholar, nor does one have to believe the Bible to read it as it is intended to be read.  One should read it in the same way that one should read Melville’s “Moby Dick,”  Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” Homer’s “Iliad” or “Odyssey,” or anything by Shakespeare.

So that defines my Christianity, and how I interpret the Bible.  Next I want to expound (something some would say I do all too well) on the current situation involving the recent Paris terrorist attacks and the refugees from Syria.

I must first provide a further caveat.  Politically, I am conservative, which means that I do not identify as a Republican first, since I believe that the Republican party has strayed from its conservative roots.  I have been conservative since my youth, and it is my contention that conservatism works every time it is tried.  As a conservative, I believe that Ronald Reagan, although not perfect, was the best president in my lifetime.  I believe that George Bush “41” was more moderate than conservative, and George Bush “43” was more “Neocon” than conservative, but I support most of the actions taken by him during his presidency.  I further think that from Carter to Obama, each successive Democrat president was worse than the previous one, and that Obama is the worst president in my lifetime.  A further note on Obama.  It seems popular to tag those that oppose him as racist, and that opposition is due to his race.  Nothing could be farther from the truth for me.  I vehemently disagree with his politics, just as I do other far left liberals, such as Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Joe Biden, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Bill Maher, Barbra Streisand, Michael Moore, and on and on.  I disagree with their politics, and I think their politics are dishonest and bad for the country.  Which is a nice segue into the Paris attacks and the Syrian situation.

The facts:  Just a few short days ago, several terrorists, in a coordinated attack, murdered upwards of 140 civilians in Paris.  Just a few hours later, the radical Islamic group ISIS claimed responsibility.  One of the dead terrorists was found to have a Syrian passport.  This created an immediate uproar, since a very large number of Syrians have claimed refugee status, conveyed by the United Nations, because of an ongoing war in their home country of Syria.  That war itself is very confusing, with the “players,” their “sponsors” and supporters not at all clear cut as to which is the “bad guys,” and which are the “good guys.”  This is not a situation that can be easily examined and a conclusion reached as to whom is at fault.  Due to that war, many people have been dislocated, and have fled the country and/or have sought refugee status.  This includes Muslims and Christians.  President Obama, even prior to the Paris attacks, has declared that the United States will accept up to 100,000 Islamic refugees.  However, the State Department has refused entry to many, many Christian refugees from other countries.

In light of the Paris attacks, it seemed prudent to me to re-think the President’s policy on the refugees, and I admit that I was furious that he did not do so.  In my opinion, the United States is in much more danger due to his position on this, and I posted multiple times on social media regarding this issue.  As I said earlier, those posts were characterized as hateful and inflammatory, and inconsistent with Christianity.  Hence this essay.

Prior to writing this article, I went back to November 14, and read through every single post on my page concerning the Paris attacks.  I then wrote out a line or two of their content.  Understand, I post a lot.  And if I had been required to rely on my recollection, I would have said that nearly all of my posts were somehow related to the Paris attacks, and that I had suspended my normal volume of typical posts, which run the gamut of humor to politics to sports back to humor to scuba diving to the weather and back to humor.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not so.  I still posted my usual volume of non-political posts, with a lot of humor (example: I like to serve Eggs Benedict on hub caps because there’s no plate like chrome for the hollandaise.  Get it? “No place like home…” well, anyhow…).  Follows are the one-line synopses of every single one of my posts on the subject, starting from the first one to the latest:

  • 127 killed.  Bumps up to 140.
  • Putin insists immigrants become Russian. (in comparison to Obama’s lack of any similar conviction)
  • Obama refuses to acknowledge Islamic terrorism.
  • Obama stated that “Isis is contained” and approx. 12 hours later the Paris attacks occur.
  • Isis coming to US.  Warning to all.
  • Article on incident in Kenya, attack on Christians students at university.
  • Meme mocking Hillary.
  • Netanyahu statement that Islam behind Paris attacks; first world leader to say this.
  • Meme pointing out that the Tsarnaev brothers (Boston bombers) were “refugees.”
  • Seven points mocking Obama and the Clintons regarding their policies on Isis, gun control, refugees, police, Islam.
  • Posts regarding Bernie Sanders stupidity with attacks (he said that the attacks happened because the murderers had no jobs and because of climate change).
  • US refugee centers speeding up the process to get the refugees in faster.
  • An article identifying the victims of the Paris attack.
  • Map of where refugees are settling in the United States (including an additional 50 to be settled just fifteen miles from my home).
  • Location of jihadi camps in the US (including two in neighboring states).
  • An article and map of states refusing to accept refugees (multiple posts).
  • An article detailing that the US State Dept. has refused visas to persecuted Christians.
  • Statement from Senator Jeff Sessions that we cannot vet refugees.
  • An article that Republicans in the US House of Reps. are putting a bill together to address refugee issue.
  • An article on WHY Paris attacks get more media mileage than attacks in Africa, etc.
  • Obama saying that he is “not interested in the US leading or winning.”
  • A meme stating that “If you have ten grapes and two poisoned, would you eat them?”
  • A meme with a quote from ISIS: “We have 71 soldiers in 15 states,” and a corresponding quote that “We have 80 million gun owners…” 
  • An original post that there is not an “off-chance” that terrorists will infiltrate with other refugees.  This post sprang from a post I had seen comparing any current refusal to accept Syrian refugees to refusing to accept Jews in WWII.
  • A post, quoted as saying, “Before saying I support France, read this article by Michael Hurd.” This was a very conservative approach to Islam and refugees.  https://drhurd.com/before-saying-i-support-france-please-read-this/
  • A map of worldwide locations of tweets from ISIS supporters.  The US is fourth on the list.
  • An article detailing how President Obama was late for a moment of silence for the victims of the Paris attacks, and him saying that he was “not interested in posturing about the US winning…”
  • A video of a Greece/Turkey soccer match, showing that the Turks booed during a moment of silence for the Paris victims, and chanted Allah Akbar.
  • A meme placing the blame on Obama and Clinton for Muslim extremist terrorism currently being the largest worldwide threat.
  • An article quoting John Kerry, that people “shouldn’t be rushing to judgment” on the refugees.
  • An article expounding on why “Syrians refugees aren’t like Jews fleeing Europe,” and includes the US State Dept. saying vast majority of Syrian refugees coming to America are already safe, and are coming from Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt.
  • Photo showing/comparing starving African babies to Muslim males as refugees
  • An article detailing how 5 Syrians with stolen passports were located in Honduras.
  • A John Pickering video, using gum balls to demonstrate the fallacy with the current US immigration policy.
  • An article that America has already allowed in 2151 refugees, and that only 53 are “Christians.”
  • A quote from Ronald Reagan, “a nation that cannot control its boarders is not a nation.”
  • A meme mocking Obama’s statement that ISIS is a “JV team.”  The meme said, “The JV team is winning.”
  • An editorial cartoon, “Which is the bigger threat to the US: Isis or Obama?”
  • An opinion piece detailing Kerry’s comments to the French regarding the Paris attacks.
  • An article about the female homicide bomber and Obama’s statements prior her death, in which Obama said, “apparently they’re afraid of widows and orphans…”
  • An article saying that a “missing refugee from Louisiana was found in D.C.
  • An article and video of refugees protesting conditions at hotel they were put up in, and giving demands.
  • An article analyzing why those on the political left “prefer” Islam to Christianity.
  • A two paragraph quote that America’s constitution does not vest the national government with enumerated power over immigration enforcement, suggesting that states can, in fact, refuse to accept refugees.
  • A meme stating, “And the sheep decided that instead of making friends with more sheepdogs, they would hang up signs saying, ‘No biting.'”
  • An article that Al Qaeda terrorists that had actually killed US soldiers were STILL allowed to legally entered the US. through a refugee program.
  • A meme that not taking in Syrian refugees and closing our boarders is not mean or heartless, and that “I lock my doors every night not because I hate people outside my house, but because I love the people inside my house.”
  • An article that Christiana Amanpour criticized Obama over statements he made at G20.
  • Another person’s  post that I passed along, stating that President Obama has drawn multiple lines in the sand with Syria, but that he hasn’t enforced a single challenge to those lines by Syria.
  • A bill introduced by US the U.S. House of Representatives that is virtually veto proof, due to the support of 47 Democrats.

 

Ok, admittedly my college degrees aren’t in mathematics, but I counted approximately 50 separate posts on the subject of the Paris attacks and the Syrian refugees.  The bulk of them are pieces that present perspectives from a factual and/or rather objective basis.  Of all of the posts on the topic, I counted three that I could consider to be inflammatory.  I have highlighted those three.  They are opinion pieces, and as such I can understand how they could be construed as inflammatory.  There are also other opinion pieces, editorial cartoons, and memes that I would not characterize as inflammatory, nor as hateful.  Several of the posts are barbed and sarcastic; such is the nature of editorials.  But hateful?  Inflammatory?  I’m not seeing it.  Each of my posts were published with a particular point.  Perhaps that current United States policy is wrong, or that we need to re-visit the whole topic of refugees.  Perhaps that President Obama is (or others are) pursuing a personal agenda that is harmful to the United States.  Perhaps that even Obama’s supporters are questioning him.  Further, I intentionally bypassed anything that mocked Muslims, Islam, or their specific beliefs and religious practices.  There are clearly a multitude of those, and I specifically wanted to distance myself from such, and attempted to present information that would not be perceived as hateful.  Perhaps I did not entirely succeed in that attempt.  I freely confess my frustration on the topic, and it is entirely possible that my frustration leaked over into some of my posts, and if any were hateful or inflammatory, I apologize.  That was not my intent.

Securing our borders and judicious selection of refugees is, to my way of thinking, not just our right as a sovereign nation, but our responsibility as well.  America isn’t perfect.  But because we are a “shining light on a hill;” because we are the “land of the free and home of the brave,” I understand and applaud those that wish to settle here.  I welcome those that come here legally, and make no distinction between natural-born and naturalized citizens.  I do not support those that come here illegally, any more than I would invite a burglar to sit at table with my family.  Nor do I welcome anyone that comes to the U.S., not with the intent to settle and assimilate into our culture, but to commit attacks on American citizens or property.  And I think that any country has the right to permit or deny entry, regulate the process to become a citizen, and to protect those that are legally within that country’s borders.  The first and most important duty of any government is the physical protection of its citizens.  The United States is no less within its rights to protect our citizens (and those here legally) than is any other country in the world.   I have read the scriptures, and thought about application to the current topic.  Nowhere do I read a mandate to commit cultural suicide by allowing an unchecked or un-vetted group to immigrate into our borders.  I recognize mandates to care for the poor, and to treat sojourners kindly.  But I do not think that means anyone can come into the United States at any time for any reason.  So I think that limits on immigration is simply common sense.  And I do not think that violates my Christianity in any way.

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Oh, I am REAL good at right and wrong. But nicey-nice? Uh…

I have been corresponding with a friend for a while on an issue that we both are working on.  John is my accountability partner with internet use and so on, and I would be so far from where I am if not for him.  Over time I have had several guys to whom I made myself accountable, and I am so grateful for their work and prayers.  So, thank you to Randy, Carl, Doug, and John.  May God richly bless you for taking the time to work with a hard head like me on such a difficult issue.  I remain a “work in progress,” but any success I have had is due to your prayers and work.  Thank you.

Anyhow, my correspondence with John took a turn in an interesting direction the past couple days.  We have come to a point in our discussion where the focus is on matching Biblical Grace with Biblical Truth, and not as separate issues.  This is what John said:

“Grace and truth often appear to be in conflict with each other and yet Jesus was FULL of both at the same time.

At the risk of offending you and apologies if I do, you are FULL of truth and light on grace. We need to be FULL of both and that’s so very hard (seemingly impossible) to do.”
A couple of weeks ago our Pastor, Bob Klecan, gave a message that I discussed earlier (see my earlier post, “Exclusive? Definitely.  Inclusive?  Even more so,” put up on August 19).  In just a sentence or two, his point was basically this: do I want to win a point, or do I want to make a mark for eternity?  And this is a difficult issue for me.
This past Sunday, Pastor Bob made a point that I paraphrase in this way:
“Christianity is unique from other religions in this way: other religions offer advice on what I must do so that in the end God may accept me.  Christianity says that I CANNOT earn my place with God.  ALL I MUST DO is accept the gift of God’s salvation through the finished work of Jesus Christ.  All I must do is repent, NOT first from my sins, but from my righteousness; from that which I think makes me ‘good enough’ to stand before God.  THAT is the ‘gospel;’ THAT is God’s Good news.”
Although the previous point is no problem for me, the others above are issues I have struggled with for a long time.  If one is familiar with the Bible’s New Testament, one is familiar with various personalities.  The Apostle John is rather a dreamer, a mystic.  He appeals to many “artsy” people, but for me he’s a bit too touchy-feely.  Ick.  At the risk of catching rocks, I just don’t identify with John.  Paul, I like.  Straightforward, intellectual, I like to read his stuff.  I like his mind, and I like his logic.  But of all the characters in the New Testament, I probably identify with Peter the most.  Peter, the impulsive one.  Peter the hard-head.  Peter the one-hundred percent committed one that was willing to jump into a sword fight and die with or for the unmistakable Messiah.  Peter, the one who denied that same savior not once, but three times in a matter of a couple of hours.  That’s me.  So the issue of grace and truth is a difficult one.  Truth?  Easy!  Grace?  Not so much.  Also, I want to point out that there are people on Facebook in particular that I really care about and although we disagree, I would never want to hurt them.  With them, it is no chore to be “nicer.”  I love them, and enjoy the debate, but harsh?  I just don’t want to be that to them.
In this post, I talk about two issues: divorce and pornography, and I need to make a couple of points now.  First, I think pornography wrong in each and every instance.  It’s pretty clear according to scripture that looking at someone not your spouse with lust is as destructive and sinful as adultery.  So in no case is porn ever ok.  Divorce is not so cut and dried.  Scripture maintains a few instances where divorce is acceptable, if not ideal.  For the sake of brevity, I would count those reasons as a partner’s infidelity and one suffering abuse.  Further, if one is divorced, so be it.  I have no condemnation for anyone in that place.  But I think in our “no fault” society, we are far too quick to dump someone for any reason what so ever.  And that is what I’m talking about below.
Edited, I responded to John’s email (above) in this way:
Ok, pretty much my whole life I’ve been angry, but I’m not sure exactly at what.  My Dad used to tell me (a lot) that I was going to wind up in jail if I didn’t get my temper under control, so this is not a new phenomenon.  Further, I have always had a strong sense of justice.  Mom used to tell of me coming home from school and after watching kids pick on other kids that were weaker or whatever, talking about how that wasn’t fair.  Finally, I do tend to see things in black and white.  It’s right or it’s wrong, and if it’s wrong, then it’s wrong.  Period.  This part serves me well with things like fidelity and purity, but maybe not so much in my relationship with people.
Now, that having been said, I have long maintained  that I don’t care what you think, or what I think, or what anyone thinks; what does the Word of God SAY?  And if something is spelled out as right or wrong, then there it is.
And here’s where all of the above clashes.  On controversial issues of the day, I have little patience for a unitarian approach, whereby if that’s what one wants to do, well, that’s just fine.  But I also recognize that the “hammer” approach doesn’t often win a lot of converts (or friends for that matter).  So, where does that leave me?
I think that with people whom I trust and feel comfortable with, like Beth, and those of you in Small Group, I feel free to just say what I think, and not hold back.  But that doesn’t really give an accurate representation of what I think, who I am, how I respond, and what image I put forth to the world.  I was talking about this to Beth and she observed that I seem to have “a public face and a private face.”  True.  Especially after Bob’s sermon two weeks ago, I have been trying to be a bit “softer” in my approach on Facebook.  And for a long time, I will rant about our daughters to Beth, but when talking to them, I am much more subdued.
I think I have two issues here.  First, quite honestly, I get tired of taking it.  I get frustrated with people taking foolish or just plain wrong positions, and acting like they are morally or intellectually superior to me.  Makes me nutty. The example I gave Beth was, so if someone says, “You know what, I don’t believe two plus two equals four.  I believe it equals five,”  the response I want to give is, “Idiot, NO IT DOESN’T, AND YOU ARE DEMONSTRATABLY WRONG!!!”  But I’m supposed to say, “Well, that’s interesting.  How do you come to that conclusion?”  That is hard for me.
Second, I really struggle with this:  Who is really served by soft-pedalling the truth?  I’m just not sure.  I know I am harsh, but I struggle with being “squishy” when “capital-T” Truth is being discussed.
One example from Sunday night.  As you said earlier, I am not trying to offend, and I apologize if I do.  I noticed something that was said.  The statement was made that she has no problem with people who are divorced serving in church.  Actually, I don’t either, but like I said then, it depends on why they were divorced.  Referring to what I said above, I don’t care what anyone thinks, what does the Word of God say?  And God says, “I HATE divorce.”  Now that is pretty strong coming directly from God, and I think we are a bit cavalier about divorce.  Is divorce the unforgivable sin?  Certainly not.  But it is a serious topic that we should not just gloss over.
Most sin, I think, affects me, and only indirectly others.  Gluttony or lying being examples.  Both are wrong, both are sin, but often the main effect of either sin is directly on me.  I bear the brunt of the crushing effect of them.  But pornography or divorce very often hurt people right next to the one committing that particular sin.  I recognize that in terms of value all sins are the same, but the ripple effect, I think, is much more striking in some sin than others.
 So, where do I go from here?  Hard to say.  I am trying to be kind.  I am trying to be less harsh, less of a hammer.  But how well is that working?  I don’t know, and I am still so conflicted.  In issues where it is so clear to me, how do I let it go?  How do I show love when I think a slap is more appropriate?  It’s not enough to say that God didn’t treat me like that, or any other similar platitude.  I know these things in my head.  but I am far more a “soldier” than a “diplomat.”  God help me!  I just don’t know how to spare the sword and offer a hand.

Exclusive? Definitely. Inclusive? Even more so.

I first feel the necessity to generally highlight my views of the Bible.  I believe the Bible is logos; the Word of God made available to us through the written word.  I recognize the difficulties in logic, timeline, and seeming “contradictions,” but I believe that the Bible is a unified whole, from Genesis to Revelation.  Although no philosopher, the teachings I tend to admire are from C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Francis Schaeffer, and Ravi Zacharias, to name a few.  I style myself as evangelical and fundamental, utilizing the “classical” definition of both.  That is:

Evangelicalism is a Protestant Christian movement. It began in the 17th century and became an organized movement with the emergence around 1730 of the Methodists in England and the Pietists among Lutherans in Germany and Scandinavia.  It continues to draw adherents globally in the 21st century, especially in the developing world.

It is a religious movement that de-emphasizes ritual and emphasizes the piety of the individual, requiring him or her to meet certain active commitments, including:

  • The need for personal conversion (or being “born again”);
  • A high regard for biblical authority;
  • An emphasis on teachings that proclaim the saving death and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ;
  • Actively expressing and sharing the gospel.

And;

The term “fundamentalism” has its roots in the Niagara Bible Conference (1878–1897), which defined those tenets it considered fundamental to Christian belief.   The first formulation of American fundamentalist beliefs can be traced to the Niagara Bible Conference and, in 1910, to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which distilled these into what became known as the “five fundamentals”:

  • The inspiration of the Bible and the inerrancy of scripture as a result of this.
  • The virgin birth of Christ.
  • The belief that Christ’s death was the atonement for sin.
  • The bodily resurrection of Christ.
  • The historical reality of Christ’s miracles,

both from Wikipedia.  Obviously there is a ton more information regarding both on Wiki and elsewhere, but for my purposes, this will suffice, as definition and identification.

What this does not mean is that I am a rabid, shove it down someone’s throat kind of guy.  I do not believe it to be in the image of God to do so, and at best, I believe that approach counter-productive.  I believe that God loves me enough to be always present, an example, a guiding light, a beacon to find my way home when I have wandered.  I do not believe my God is interested in holding me at arm’s length until I get it right.  And since He is this for me, I should seek to be no less for those that do not believe as I do.  God is patient and kind, and I try to emulate Him with my friends who believe as I do, and those who may think I’m a bit of a nutter for believing this way.  I have friends all across the spectrum, and I like that.  My friends are precious to me, and for me to hit them over the head with my Bible every time we talk, well, we wouldn’t be friends for long, and I could hardly blame them.

This is background for a messaged presented by our pastor, Bob Klecan, last Sunday, August 12, 2012.  Another sidetrack: I have talked about Pastor Klecan before, and continue to have nothing but praise for him.  One of the smartest guys I know, he refuses to show off about it.  Humble and kind, Bob’s the real deal.  He’s a joy to talk to, and can converse on just about any topic one could wish.  And his approach to the Word of God is equally interesting.  He comes from blue-collar roots, and tailors his messages toward a blue-collar, get in the trenches and do this mentality.  Very refreshing.

Ok, back to his message.  It was entitled, “Contending for the Faith: Arrogant and Hateful?”  Although I am going to comment on that sermon, I need to add a disclaimer:  the original is much better than this paraphrase.  Anything that is good is clearly from Bob Klecan, and anything that doesn’t make much sense is clearly from me.  Also, I am still on oxycodone from my recent surgery, and therefore not firing on all cylinders (the number of which varies according to whom one is talking.  I, as an example, would think of my mind as an eight-cylinder muscle car, perhaps a Ford Mustang Boss 302.  Others would perhaps think that granting me a four-cylinder sub-compact would be generous).

Pastor Bob based his message on the Book of Jude, and although it may sound a bit frightening to think of going through an entire book of the Bible in church, it’s not so bad when one realizes that: A) Bob focuses on just a few verses at a time: and B) that the entire book of Jude is only twenty-five verses long.

He is actually doing a series on the Book of Jude, and it has been interesting, to say the least.  For me, Jude has always been kind of a throw-away, something to read quickly and move on.   It just never seemed like there was enough substance there to gain any traction.  But Pastor Bob has really added muscle to the book, and I have enjoyed it immensely.

This past week Pastor Bob started out with an observation from Jude that although Jesus is the fulfillment of Hebrew scriptures, the grace that was gifted to the human race by God was being distorted; that grace was being used as an excuse for license.  True, we are forgiven.  But that does not give us permission to do what we want, when we want.  Although God allows us to do so, this does not help us to grow in our faith, but takes us further from the ideal.  We are called, sanctified, and preserved (v. 2).  How then do we contend for the faith, as we are exhorted to do (v. 3)?  How do we contend for the faith “in a society that believes it is arrogant, hateful, and even dangerous to insist that your faith is the ‘right one,’ and to not only refuse to accept the validity of other faiths, but to also to attempt to convert others to your faith?”

The answer is two-fold.  First the explanation as to why we/I believe as we do.

The explanation is that the Good News as proclaimed by the Bible is uniquely exclusive.  Christianity (as represented by the Bible) makes unique claims, as compared to the world’s other major religions.  Christianity claims that God came to earth and lived among men, at the same time completely retaining His “God-ness” and yet at the same time He was completely man.  Christianity claims that Christ, the God-man lived a real life: that he suffered a real death while accepting every wrong thing that keeps us from a perfect God, and that after dying, he re-claimed His life, thereby defeating death.  Further, that since this is true, Christianity claims that accepting and giving oneself to Christ is the only means by which one can come into the presence of a Holy God (heaven).  Only through the acceptance of, and reliance on the gift of grace offered by God through the sacrifice of his only son, Jesus Christ may one obtain eternal life.  There are multiple verses in support of this exclusivity, suffice it to say that if Christianity is not the exclusive way to eternal life, then Christianity is useless.  It is not a good philosophy, it is not a good set of principles by which to live.  If Christianity is not true, it is worse than a waste of time, it is actually a terrible evil, pulling us away from any correct way to God, and dooming those that have chosen to follow.  But I believe it is true.  Can I prove that by formulae or direct observation?  Not really.  I can offer evidence of miracles that I have personally witnessed.  I can offer the Scriptures themselves as a unified whole.  And I rely on my faith.

The problem with the explanation is that many people stop right there, and basically live their lives as a bumper sticker.  “The Bible says it.  I believe it.  That settles it.”  That’s ok to live by, I suppose, but it doesn’t do much to speak to those with real questions.

Pastor Klecan stated that the best (and often only) answer to the question, “How do we then contend for the faith?”  is not in the explanation, but in the application.  And the application is that this faith is uniquely inclusive.  With the Bible, there is no Jew, no greek, no male or female, no racial divide, no favoritism.  All are equally needy before a righteous God, and all are equally accepted with reliance on Jesus’ sacrifice.  And for those of us who do rely on God’s grace, it is incumbent to present ourselves in a light that is worthy.  In our speech, in our actions, in what we post on Facebook, and in what we write.  This is not to say that we compromise on those areas of exclusivity, but that we reach out in love, always looking to the author and perfector of our faith, Jesus Christ.  Bob said something along the lines of, “Do we want to make a point, or do we want to point toward eternity?”  This is where I often personally stumble.  I have very definite ideas about nearly everything, and don’t often hesitate to share my thoughts, regardless of how harsh or pointed they may be.  I need (no, I must) change that attitude.  And that is a work in progress.  In fact, just this past week, a friend on Facebook kind of lit me up about a post I had passed on.  The accompanying photo was unflattering to the subject involved, and in retrospect, not necessary for the point to be made.  I hadn’t even noticed the photo, I liked the major point, so I passed it along.  My friend was rather relentless, and  when I understood how the poster came across, remembering Pastor Bob’s message, I saw I was wrong and apologized.  I told my friend that I should have seen the inherent nastiness in the photo.  She didn’t let me off the hook, she told me that I should have seen it prior to posting.  And you know what?  She was right.  I am trying to look at my posts ahead of time now.  The presentation is as important as is the message.  Like I said, “a work in progress.”

As Pastor Bob said, exclusivity and inclusivity is not, in the end, a “balancing act,” but a commitment to passionately embrace both the exclusive and the inclusive.  That we keep one foot firmly planted in each area.  That we embrace both with equal certainty.  And that we live both with equal passion.

May God grant me the ability to be His representative in love, and in peace.

Lessons from the fast.

Our week of fasting was interesting.  I am not naturally inclined toward fasting, it is not something toward which I am drawn.  The fact is, I like food.  I like the smell, the taste, the texture.  There is very little that I do not like about food.  Beth and I have fasted in the past, including two Daniel fasts in conjunction with our church, and the infrequent day of fasting through the years.  So I am somewhat familiar with fasting, at least to some degree, but I do not look forward to the times I go without food.

I think I was looking for some sort of “breakthrough” moments like I experience during our week-long missions trip to the Dominican Republic.  That was not a mountaintop experience, but more of a consistent, gradual healing of my spirit, one that I have needed for some time.

But that was not what I experienced during the fast.  That fact alone was a bit disconcerting, which is my fault for setting up expectations and not just waiting for the week to unfold.

The hunger was a great reminder to pray, and I did.  I prayed a lot through the week, on a variety of topics: family, friends, my wife, myself.  I seriously prayed a lot over the week, and that was very good.  Further, my daily readings in the Bible were also very good, very nourishing, if you will.  I found a real enjoyment in the reading, in the praying, and in the closeness that I felt with God.

And there were several other good things through the week.

For quite a while I was a Facebook junkie.  Keeping up with friends and family was very enjoyable, as was posting my opinions on topics and the give and take  with people who had different opinions or political persuasions.  It was a good opportunity to reconnect with childhood friends as well.  One of which was an acquaintance from high school.  I can’t guarantee this, but I believe he had friended me.  We weren’t really close way back when, but going to a small school we knew each other, and he was ok as far as I was concerned.  I remember him as a good-natured guy, easygoing, rather quick-witted and fun to be around.  However, something changed.  I noticed that on FB he was frequently acerbic, and rather taunting in his posts on my page, both with me as well as with others who posted on my comments.  I tried using humor to tone down his anger and pointed posts, but apparently my efforts were not appreciated.  It culminated in a post I made on a very controversial topic.  I posted what I thought I was simply a throwaway line on a topic that I am very passionate about.  In retrospect, I should have known what a backlash this would generate, but at the time I was caught completely by surprise.  What a firestorm!  A friend of my daughter questioned my Christianity, and would not dialogue.  Others blasted me as well, including my high school acquaintance.  Here’s what he wrote:

“It must be comforting in your black and white world, clark. One victim is obviously too many…you think you know me because we went to high school a long time ago…you don’t. I don’t know anything about you since then either…this is not a jibe, a bait or even sarcastic humor….it is adios. I have better things to do in this short life than read your self-rightous bullshit…good luck….”  (I’m not sure he really meant the “good luck part”)

In and of itself not that big a deal, but combined with his sarcasm and rather mean replies to my friends, it was a bit much.  He then un-friended me.  I attempted dialogue, but he refused.

This type of issue is very difficult for me.  I do my best to get along, and much prefer reconciliation to discord.  And for him to act in this manner was disconcerting to say the least.  It has been very difficult to let go of this, and it has been bothering me to some degree since around mid-January.

This has all been background for me to explain how huge it was that God laid it on my heart to let go of this whole thing during our week of fasting.  I noticed that early in the fast I seemed focused on this incident, and it seemed to be affecting my spiritual life.  I had no peace, just a jangled sense of disturbance, and it seemed to focus on my old acquaintance.  I realized (yeah, I can be a bit of a slow learner sometimes) that I needed to let the incident, as well as my acquaintance, go.  I’m not certain I was able to do so one-hundred percent, but I am much, much closer than I was before the fast.  And boy does that feel good!

Further,  as I had stated in an earlier post on this blogsite, I experienced some fairly intense kidney pain right around day three through day four or five of the fast.  I thought it would dissipate quickly, but it lingered, and prevented sleep for a couple of nights.  I had intended to take no analgesics at all for the duration of the fast, including aspirin, ibuprofen, and so on.  However, with the pain I experienced, not only did I need some pain relief, I loaded up.  I was quite disappointed in myself for that.  Also, I was at a local shop about mid-way through the fast, and they always have a small bowl of Hershey’s kisses for the customers.  I always have one or two, and without thinking, I picked one up, unwrapped it, and popped it in my mouth.  Enjoyed it, too.  It wasn’t until later that I realized I had unthinkingly broken my fast.  And that frustrated me as well.

But as the week went on, I kind of changed my thoughts on this.  I think I’m kind of grateful that I did “fail” in those regards.  I could easily become a bit proud of the fact that I completed the fast, and that I did so to the very smallest detail or requirement that I had set for myself.  Which, of course, would have been completely contrary to the entire intent of the fast itself.  So I wound up being thankful that I had not had the “perfect” fast.

Various other insights were also given to me through the week.  I will describe just a couple here.

As part of his Sunday message on March 4th, Pastor Bob Klecan shared a text he had gotten from a friend, talking about the fast we had just begun.  The text said, “Do you think this week of fasting is causing people to realize that they’re actually not replacing food with a fast but rather that they’re actually replacing food with a feast?”  I found that to be profound, and this thought was echoed through the week with my reading in the Word.  One example is from Phillipians 1: 9-11.  It says, “9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.”

This passage calls to me.  This is exactly what I want my life to look like.  This is exactly what I want to be.

In the end, the week of fasting was not a spiritual rocket taking off.  If anything that “liftoff” was what I gained from our week in the Dominican Republic.  The week of fasting was instead, a booster attached to that rocket.  The fasting did not give me liftoff, but it kept me going.  I am grateful for the lessons learned, and for the spiritual applications I gained.  In fact, as unbelievable as this is to me, it is likely that Beth and I will be much more regular with fasting.  We have discussed making this a quarterly event, with our next one as early as sometime in June.  And for someone who loves food as I do, that’s a miracle in and of itself.

Unraveling.

There have been a few times this week that I have wept. Often when we were in a village working with the residents of this beautiful country.  But not exclusively. I have been puzzling over this, trying to figure out what has moved me here.  It’s not the poverty.  I can find similar poverty easily within an hour of our home in North East, Pennsylvania.  It’s not hopelessness, because the people here are not living as if they are hopeless.  It’s not even sadness, because I suspect if I could ask them if they are sad about their lives, they would be at worst indignant that I would presume to think thus, or at best they would say, “Life is life.  What can one do about the life one lives? One would as well be sad because the sky is blue.”

Did you ever get an impossible knot in your shoelace? When that happens to me it’s usually when I’m in a hurry, and definitely it’s usually inconvenient. The thing is, you can’t hurry a knot like that; tug on one loop here, or twist the knot there and have it simply and easily come unraveled. Like it or no, a knot such as that takes time and patience to undo. Rushing will not solve the problem, it will only make the knot worse.

For years my heart has been bound up like that, twisted, snarled in the worst rat’s nest of a knot that one could imagine. It’s not that I was running from God exactly, quite the contrary.

One of the things that Jim McDonald said during our morning devotional is , “If success is important to you, you may be tempted to choose accomplishment over your relationship with God.” I haven’t sought wealth or prestige, but I have sought success in other ways. I have tried to be a Godly man. I have tried to be a good son, a good husband, a good father. I have worked hard to be an excellent policeman, detective, and now a Chief of Police. None of these are bad things, but when things didn’t go as planned, when setbacks happened, I have seen myself as a failure, and that is, I think, a natural outcome of having a success mindset. I have worked so hard to “succeed” at the Christian life, and have “failed” so often that my heart had twisted into a knot that was impossible for me to unravel.

I have felt something this week I haven’t felt in quite a while, perhaps years. Compassion. God’s compassion for people. Not trying to do something, not trying to succeed, just being open to God using me as He would for people that He loves.

And that, I think, is why I have been weeping. God has used this week to slowly, patiently, unravel that knot in my chest that until yesterday I didn’t even know was there. I doubt it is completely undone, and it will be very interesting to see how this will translate when Beth and I return to the ‘States. But I don’t want success, even success in the Christian life, to be my motivation. I just want to be in relationship with God. Fully, absolutely, completely hand in hand with Him who wants my heart more than my accomplishments.

Useful? Me? Interesting concept.

When I was very young, God always seemed near to me. It seemed to me that I just “knew” what I was supposed to do, where I was supposed to go, the actions I should take. I am not talking about spiritual maturity, I don’t claim to have had that (I don’t claim to have that still). I just mean I always felt close to God, in communion with Him. I had that sense through high school, college, into police work in the Borough of North East. I felt God’s calling to go to the City of Erie Police Department.

But somewhere along the line I lost that sense of God’s presence. I knew He was there, I never doubted that. It’s just that I somehow lost a sense of intimacy with Him; I couldn’t “hear” Him like I used to. And I missed that. Perhaps it was simply a child-like faith, and perhaps as time went on and I saw more and more of what the world can be like I became disillusioned and couldn’t hear as well as before. Whatever the case, I continued to walk in God’s ways as best I knew how, even though I haven’t been the world’s best witness.

For various reasons, I have felt myself a failure in business, at church, as a father. I have felt useless for a very long time.

Yesterday (Wednesday) was a very good day. We went into the barrio of the nearest town and set up in one of their local churches. It took a while, but we turned the chaos into something like order. I have worked with the medical team all week, keeping the people lined up and coming in to see the doctors (mostly) one family group at a time. It has been very rewarding, even though I have played a relatively small part in it. I’m no doctor, nurse, pharmacist. I’m a cop. I know how to establish and maintain order. I know how to use authority, and can do it with appropriate parts of humor and sternness (is that a word?).

Whatever, I was able to look around and watch the medical teams work. I watched the opticians and dentists work. I saw them helping people and I saw that they were able to do it in a relatively systematic way. And I was at least partly the reason for that. And I felt useful. And that I have not felt for a very long time. And I am so grateful to God for that. And I am so humbled to be here.

Gracias, mi Padre. Muchas gracias.

Really? Come on, Really?

I remember a number of years ago that I had examined my life, and found many aspects lacking.  Whether due to a sermon, a book I was reading, I’m not sure, but I remember fervently praying, “God, make me like Christ.  Make my life like Christ’s, my thoughts, my attitudes.  Mould me, shape me, make me like Christ.”  In retrospect, perhaps I should have prayed for God to leave me alone.  I’m being facetious, but my main point is that when one prays a prayer like that, God takes you at your word.  I swear the answer I heard to that prayer was a chuckle, and then, “Ok son, hang on.  It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.”

And so it has been.  Clearly I am not even close to that goal, but believe it or not, I am light years closer than I was when I first prayed that prayer.

So I guess this weekend shouldn’t have been a surprise, but wow!  It has been a few weeks since I have had what I call a “decompression weekend.”  I was really looking forward to a relaxing couple days, reading a bit, watching a couple movies, hanging out with friends.  Believe me, that is not what I got.

On Friday, Beth and I were scheduled to meet with another couple for dinner.  However, I had gotten a two shots on Thursday (Hepatitis A and tetanus, specifically, t-dap) for the upcoming Dominican Republic trip.  Friday afternoon, I reacted to the shot(s).  I had a low grade fever and chills so bad that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see an arm or leg get shaken right off my body.  Needless to say, we cancelled the dinner plans (picked them up on Saturday evening).

Saturday morning, I learned that a potential business opportunity had in all likelihood fallen through.  Being a “planner,” I had been playing with all the possibilities in my head, and having a ball.  Seeing that the opportunity might not be there was extremely disappointing.  Actually, it rocked me pretty badly.  Stunned, disappointed, frustrated, sad.  It pretty much affected the whole day (and it did indeed fall through.  Not sure why, but there it is).

Sunday?  Well, I posted on Facebook, a rather mild post regarding a really controversial topic.  It was intended by me as basically a throwaway, just a two liner to blow off a bit of steam about the topic.  But what a firestorm it started.  My Christianity was called into question, my integrity insulted, and I was absolutely pounded from multiple directions.  For any of you familiar with the game Civilization V (I am a self-confessed addict, by the way), I felt like what it must be like to play the game as Gandhi, and find out your civilization is sandwiched between Russia and Germany.  You just know it isn’t going to turn out well.  It got to the point that an aquaintence of mine from high school insulted me and immediately unfriended me.  I’m still puzzled at that one.  I have my suspicions, but whatever.  I was surprised by the vehemence of others’ opinions, and the venom in some of the responses to me.  Because I was surprised, and because I am struggling with other stuff (including the D.R. trip), it really hit hard.  Sleep came fitfully Sunday night, and in total there was precious little actual sleep by the time I needed to get up on Monday morning.

In any event, each day of the weekend was worse than the day before, and continued into Monday at work.  It was one of those days…

Which brings me back to my original point.   I have little doubt this is all due in some cosmic way, at least in part, to the D.R. trip.  I have little doubt that this is all designed to assist in knocking off my rough edges, and to mould me into a more Christ-like man.  But really?  All this does little to dispell the notion of me lying curled up on the ground, battered and beaten.  “How long, Oh, Lord?”  Wow.  This is really difficult, and I have no idea how long it’ll last.  Don’t know how to get past it, don’t know how to let it go.  It’s like a marathon, and I’ve been training for a five mile race.  2 Chron 20.12, “…We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

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