Penn State’s Monster

We as a nation are facing a crisis of ethics.  Penn State University’s cover-up of its sexually deviant monster – Jerry Sandusky – is a tragic yet poignant example.  Polite society openly agrees that raping young boys is a heinous form of immorality.  Penn State’s coordinated cover-up, however, reveals that polite society often engages in a worse form of immorality: knowing, but doing nothing about it.

Jerry Sandusky - former Penn State coach - placed under arrest

Penn State’s cover-up perfectly illustrates the choice the apostle Paul placed before Christians in 1 Corinthian 1: the World’s Wisdom or God’s Folly.  The world regards a crucified Christ and His cross as pure folly – foolishness.  They represent weakness and defeat, which the world abhors.  Prestige, power, and success thrill the world.  Paul makes it clear, however, that we must fully embrace the folly of the cross and the gospel lifestyle, or we will cling for eternity to a dying wisdom which leads to hell.  God said, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise” (1 Cor. 1:19).

The Penn State tragedy serves as a poignant example of how easily and naturally polite society embraces the world’s wisdom, even when this wisdom leads it down a path of destruction, abuse, and hypocrisy.

The story begins in a locker room at Penn State University in the year 2002.  On his own admission to authorities as part of a grand jury investigation, Mike McQueary – a 28-year old football coach at Penn State – returned late Friday evening to the coaches’ locker room to retrieve a forgotten item.  Noticing a light and hearing disturbance in the shower room, which was strange, he investigated.  What he saw, if you’ve read any of the grand jury report, is the sickest, most heinous form of sexual deviancy imaginable.

Jerry Sandusky, former defensive coordinator at Penn State – second only in legendary status to Coach Joe Paterno – was sexually abusing a 10-year old boy in the worst form of the term.  Mike McQueary’s eyewitness account will turn your stomach.

The young coach faced an immediate choice.  Morality was screaming, “Rescue the boy!  Grab him and get him away from this monster!” McQueary was 28-years old and a former star at Penn State: old enough to know that this was horribly wrong and big enough to do something about it…while a precious, 10-year old boy was neither, trapped.  His choice came down to loyalty or integrity.  He chose loyalty – to his coach and the university he loves.

Mike McQueary, who witnessed the 2002 rape, stands next to legendary coach, Joe Paterno

Leaving the boy alone with the monster, he retreated to his office and called his father, who was a close friend of Sandusky, the predator.  His father faced the same choice.  Morality screamed, “Send your son back in immediately to rescue the boy!” But he told his son, “Leave immediately and come home.”

Together at home, they had the choice: loyalty or integrity – go back together and rescue the boy; call the police – something!  Instead, they waited until the next day – who knows what the boy was enduring – and went secretly to head football coach, the legend, Joe Paterno, and told the gruesome tale.

Mr. Paterno faced a choice: loyalty or integrity.  Morality screamed, “A precious boy was just ravaged by a monster.  Call the police!” Mr. Paterno made the same choice as the other two: loyalty.  He called the athletic director, who called the president, and they all conspired to cover up the tragedy.

Almost ten years have elapsed, and Jerry Sandusky – though retired from coaching – continued to enjoy a welcome, very public role on campus.  He officed on campus, worked out in the football weight room, and was involved in Penn State’s recruitment of high school boys.  He founded and operated a charity to – get this – help young boys.  He was often seen on campus with young boys, as recently as the last couple of years.

We now know that Mr. Paterno and the university staff were fully aware of Sandusky’s sexual deviancy long before 2002 – dating back to 1996.  Campus authorities had told him, for instance, in 1998 not to shower with young boys on campus anymore.  Can you believe that?  Penn State authorities were saying, in essence, “Abuse young boys somewhere else, just not here on campus.”

Mike McQueary – who witnessed the 2002 incident and is still coaching at Penn State – his father, Joe Paterno, the athletic director, the president, and who knows who else all knew they were harboring a monster…for over ten years.  Eight victims are listed in the grand jury case, but the number of accusers is climbing steadily as more and more victims and families come forward with their nightmarish stories.

Don’t miss what’s going on here.  The powers-that-be at Penn State University concluded that the wisest thing to do was to sweep the incident under the rug.  Why?  Because the university’s reputation, Joe Paterno’s reputation, the football program, and the significant money it brings in were judged to be of greater value than innocent little boys whose lives were ruined by a monster.

Paterno, still embracing and protecting Sandusky, even after he knew he was a monster

We have here a tragic example of how the world’s wisdom sometimes comes back to ruin you.  Jerry Sandusky, the predator, has been arrested.  The athletic director and president of the university have been fired.  Joe Paterno – the winningest football coach in major college history – has been fired.  Mike McQueary, who could’ve saved the boy and had the monster arrested ten years ago, is receiving death threats.  All the movers and shakers chose the world’s wisdom, which says that football is king, reputation is everything, loyalty trumps integrity, and money trumps it all.

Joe Paterno tried to control his own destiny last week by jumping ahead of the school’s board of trustees.  He rushed out a retirement statement, saying that he planned to retire at the end of the season.  The board fired him the next day.

Allow me to quote a brief portion of Mr. Paterno’s retirement statement, because it reveals how blind he is to true morality.

“I have come to work every day for the last 61 years with one clear goal in mind: To serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care. I have the same goal today.”

“One clear goal in mind”: the best interests of Penn State.  That goal trumped integrity.  That goal trumped caring for the boy, wondering what happened to him.  That goal welcomed Jerry Sandusky with open arms – protecting him – and all the while knowing that the monster was roaming loose, all because Mr. Paterno had “one clear goal in mind.”

He continues:

“This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.  My goals now are to keep my commitments to my players and staff and finish the season with dignity and determination. And then I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to help this university.”

“To help this university.” It’s egregious!  Knowing in gruesome detail what his friend did to countless victims, he is still blinded by loyalty to Penn State.  How about spending the rest of his life doing everything he can to help the victims he could have done something to rescue but didn’t.

We are a nation facing a crisis of ethics.  The Penn State leaders I mentioned represent the wise, powerful, and well-born.  There’s not a job these men held that most of us wouldn’t love to have, in terms of the paycheck, public acclaim, and power.  But look where the world’s wisdom can get you, if you’re not careful.

Joe Paterno is universally recognized as a man of great integrity.  He and his wife have donated $4 million to help the university, but the world’s wisdom blinded him as to what was truly moral and right.  His statement reveals that he still doesn’t get it.

Thousands of college students swarmed his home as well as the campus to show their support in the wake of his firing.  They grew so angry that

Rioting students overturned this news van as well as vandalized so violently that riot police were called in

they turned over a news van, smashed windows on cars, and rioted so violently that the riot police had to rush in with tear gas.

How asinine!  These college students are so distorted in their ethics that they can’t see that Joe Paterno is not the victim.  The precious, vulnerable, little boys whose lives are in shambles because of a monster are the victims.  And their beloved coach knew about it and did nothing to protect future victims, nothing to care for those he knew about.

I pray that none of us ever faces what that 28-year old coach saw that night in 2002.  But decide right now that, regardless of the pressure, you will choose right in any and every context.  Stand on the side of victims, because God loves them.  Defend the defenseless, because God rushes to their side.  Analyze your life and decisions very carefully to protect yourself from getting so mixed in with the world’s wisdom that you can’t see what is glaringly right.

I am happy to hear from readers.  Please go to the “Contact” tab on this web site and send me a message.

Evidence for Faith

Skeptics of Christianity delight in ridiculing “blind” faith.  They claim that truth is only knowable when it can be tested and proven, thereby eliminating faith – in their minds – as reliable.  Faith certainly carries an element of trust beyond our five senses, but it is by no means limited to blind trust.  Consider, for instance, what I saw in Mata de Cana, Nicaragua this year: Evidence for Faith.

First, the Evidence of New Creation.  Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).  Sharing the gospel from house to house, I personally observed evidence of new creation.

Sharing the gospel with this dear woman soon resulted in her new birth

Two elderly women epitomized the change.  Both – in separate encounters – countered my gospel presentation by saying, “How can anyone know what you’re saying is true.  No one has died and returned to earth to confirm the existence of God, heaven, and hell.”

Unleashing the power of the cross, I soon witnessed the marvelous surrender of their wills to that of Christ.  Their new births were accompanied by a noticeable change in their countenances.  Whereas their eyes, smiles, and body language were initially influenced by common courtesy, now they were driven by “new creation.”  The change was very apparent.  Those of us present could feel the difference in atmosphere in their homes.

What are we to make of this almost instantaneous, noticeable change in people’s demeanor?  We draw the only conclusion possible: God supernaturally fashioned new creations.  The old did indeed pass away; the new did come!

Second, the Evidence of Changed Lives.  Making a verbal profession of faith in Christ is easy.  If faith is limited to cheap statements, perhaps the skeptics’ doubts are accurate.  But how should doubters respond to changed lives?

Missionary Darrel Johnson introduced me to a 100-year old lady who had received Jesus as her Savior a few years before.  My eyes took in the remnants of her once-thriving bar.  The pool table now serves as a mere table, much of it covered with beans waiting to be shelled.  The shelves, once stocked with liquor for an exciting evening of partying, now hold the simple products of a village store.

Still vibrant at 100 years of age, she is a new creation whose changed life matches her profession of faith!

Prior to salvation, she was part and parcel of the culture of sin: drinking, carousing, cheating, fighting, family breakup, etc.  Following salvation, she refused to propagate the sin which sends people to hell, so she closed her bar.  Sacrificing income, she embraced a lifestyle of holiness and public witness.  Caring for her fellow villagers – their souls, families, children – she changed her life.

How, I ask, can skeptics respond to this?  How do they explain such a radical change, not only in this woman’s demeanor and lifestyle, but in her firm decision to forego income so that her profession of faith would be consistent with her actions?  The only reasonable explanation is that Christ changed her.

Third, the Evidence of Christian Presence.  Frequently, I found evidence of manmade religion, often in the form of paganism blended with Roman Catholic beliefs.  Lostness abounded.  Tucked here and there, however, in Mata de Cana are genuine Christians.

A young father whose family lives far from the beaten path serves as a wonderful example.  He welcomed us and settled into conversation, as his young sons watched from a cautious distance.  As I spoke of the one true God and His plan to reconcile sinners to Himself, the man’s face brightened instantly.  He proudly told me that he too is a believer.

He peppered me with a list of questions that had troubled him, most of which were driven by confusion surrounding Catholicism.  He was thrilled to learn from Scripture why these doctrines are false.

As we prepared to leave, he voiced a beautiful, solemn promise.  He said that our visit to his faraway home brought him great encouragement, because he had felt alone as a Christian.  Seeing brothers and sisters from the U.S. deepened his faith and belief in the worldwide family of God.  He pledged to take his family every Sunday to the Baptist church in Mata de Cana and to teach his boys to know and love the Lord Jesus.

Mata de Cana's Baptist church

I offer this evidence to Christianity’s skeptics.  How do they explain the presence of genuine followers of Christ in a land largely sheltered from the gospel?  What explanation can they give for the immediate, heartfelt connection this father felt with those of us from the U.S.?  The only explanation is that the family of God is genuine; it knows neither geographical nor ethnic boundaries.

Finally, the Evidence of Personal Sacrifice.  Day after day, I saw a Nicaraguan woman sweep and mop the floor in our mission’s kitchen.  I learned later that she walked a solid half hour each morning in the pre-dawn darkness – traversing a slippery, treacherous path – to reach the village.  After dark, she followed the same trail home.  Why?  As a Christian, she values her service to the mission more so than her personal comfort.  Christians are willing to sacrifice much for the mission.

Ronnie, a member of our dental team, struggled to find a comfortable position from which to work on children.  The dental chairs placed the kids at a height which forced him to contort his body variously to relieve the pressure on his aching back.

Ronnie - "stooping low" for Jesus Christ!

Before arriving in Nicaragua, however, he had asked himself, “How low will you stoop for Christ?”  And even as he worked – bending for a while at the waste, then kneeling, and at times with his feet spread far apart – he asked himself, “Will you go this far?  Will you go this low?”  Thoughts of Christ’s suffering, thoughts of Christ pouring Himself out for the littlest and least, drove Ronnie to endure momentary discomfort to be Christ’s hands and feet.

How do we explain Ronnie’s personal sacrifice, that of the Nicaraguan woman, and of so many others?  The only explanation is one that defies every world religion other than Christianity: believers sacrifice and serve out of heartfelt gratitude for Christ’s death in their stead.  They don’t sacrifice as part of their religion’s mandate that good works are required to appease their God.  They don’t do so to earn a better, more enlightened position in the afterlife.  They sacrifice and serve for none of these self-driven motivators.  Christians sacrifice to meet the needs of the littlest and least, because it’s the least they can do to express their thanks for redemption and rescue from hell.

People from other religions sacrifice much in order to gain much – for themselves.  Christians sacrifice much, because Christ has already given them everything.  They sacrifice, not for personal gain, but that others might find forgiveness in Christ.  This is a very poignant example of evidence for faith, one among many that I saw in Nicaragua.

I am happy to hear from readers.  Please go to the “Contact” tab on this web site and send me a message.

Doing the Right Thing

My church launched a six-part video series Sunday night titled, Doing the Right Thing.  Produced by the Colson Center and the Witherspoon Institute, the study explores the ethical and moral breakdown that is assaulting culture from all sides.

Chuck Colson, speaking at a live Doing the Right Thing event

The series is hosted by Chuck Colson – famous for his role as President Nixon’s right hand man as well as for going to prison for his involvement in the Watergate Controversy – and Dr. Robert George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University.  Colson said, “We’re in an ethical mess… Why are we surprised?  It’s an inescapable consequence of neglecting moral training.” Speaking of a remedy, George added, “It has to begin in homes, churches, and schools.  At every level, we have to be working together to build a consensus around a sound and coherent ethic.”

The operative word from George’s comment is “consensus.” Listening to the panelists and experts interviewed for the video, it became clear that it is nearly impossible in America to agree upon “a consensus around a sound and coherent ethic.” A Harvard professor said that his esteemed university debated adding a required course in business ethics.  They eventually dropped the idea, because they couldn’t “build a consensus around a sound and coherent ethic.”

What this means is that America has now fully divorced itself from moral absolutes.  Confidently saying that right and wrong exist has grown troublesome, because doing so requires a standard from which to make such bold statements.  And no one wants to admit that our traditional standard was the Holy Bible.  We have rendered God weightless on American society, so ethics which find their origin in His word rest just as weightlessly.

Further, we have digressed so far that we don’t just deny moral absolutes; we embrace situational ethics.  Actually, we have gone further still: each person is free – even encouraged – to construct their own ethics.  For instance, if I value money more than honesty, I will cheat you if necessary to obtain money.

This explains, in large part, the steady degradation in quality of American made products and services.  In times past, business owners valued ethics.  They affixed their family name to their product or service, and they worked to offer the best possible.  They valued their customers, many of whom lived in their communities.  Today, by contrast, manufacturers purposely select cheap, fragile components, knowing they will contribute to a shorter life for their products.  Consumers will then have no choice but to purchase new ones in short order.  Profits will therefore mount for business owners.  Unethical behavior.

Americans see appliance repairmen more than ever!

The ice machine on my refrigerator broke not long ago.  I asked the repairman if I should consider purchasing a new refrigerator instead of fixing mine, since it was over sixteen years old.  His comment substantiated the breakdown of business ethics.  “Absolutely not”! he exclaimed.  “You’re lucky.  Your refrigerator is just old enough that it is actually a great product.  It was made when the manufacturers still cared about providing great refrigerators.”  Continuing, he said, “Most units I work on today are just a couple of years old.  I rarely get calls on the good, old ones like yours.  Keep it till it finally gives out!”

Expand this thinking into the world of finance.  The economic collapse of 2008 and 2009 was driven by greed at every level.  The lending crisis was rife with unethical behavior, starting at the top of the banking institutions and travelling all the way down to homeowners who had no business receiving loans for which they could never pay.  Surprisingly, laws and regulations against such unethical behavior exist, but no one – including the government – enforced them.  Too much money was being made all around, so everyone turned a blind eye…until the bottom fell out.

How, we wonder, could such wholesale unethical business practices exist at such high levels of finance, business, and government?  The answer is as easy as answering the following question: if a business leader isn’t raised to believe in sound ethical standards, will he automatically behave ethically just because he receives an important job?  No, he won’t.  If he constructed his own set of self-driven ethics early in life, he will carry these same beliefs into the boardroom.  If he values growth in business, accumulation of personal wealth, and advancement in his career more so than he values integrity and making sound decisions for all parties involved, he will act out his personal beliefs even if they break laws and traditional standards of ethics.  This is precisely what happened at the highest levels of banking and governmental regulation.

What we are discovering today at every level of American culture is that we are facing consequences for throwing out biblical standards of ethics.  With no foundation to agree upon, everyone works from their own standard.  And because the Bible makes it clear that all men are sinners, it follows that they will always construct personal ethics that favor them.  Their self-centered ethics will always run contrary to the Bible’s standards of morality.

Now that this dangerous mindset has filtered through society, now that generations of citizens have been raised in the void of true ethics, we are seeing fissures almost daily in almost every facet of American society.

I remember when President Clinton was enmeshed in the Monica Lewinski affair.  Cultural observers argued that his Two faces forever linkedunethical behavior in the Oval Office had no bearing on his ability to lead the country wisely.  The “experts” were wrong then, and we are seeing ample signs of their ignorant assessment now.  When people don’t personally adhere to a common standard of ethics, they will always feel free to construct their own in a variety of situations.  Carried to its practical conclusion, this approach inevitably leads to unreliable decisions.  When right is no longer universally held to be right, we are left guessing as to how people will react.  Their decisions and behavior will be driven by what they deem to be best for them at the time.

Contrast this modern malady with the character of the men who forged the birth of our great nation.  The Founding Fathers, though they argued heatedly at times, enjoyed “a consensus around a sound and coherent ethic” – namely, that found in the Bible.  Many of our early leaders were true Christians, but even those who weren’t believed strongly in the rightness and wrongness of the Bible’s standards of morality.  They were wise enough to realize that without a common ethic, democracy would soon shatter and implode upon itself, which we are personally living through today.

The Founding Fathers could not imagine, for instance, our recent lending crisis and resulting economic collapse.  The thought that government would grant mortgages to people (using tax payers’ money), when everyone involved knew that most of the recipients would default on the loans (reasons: insufficient income; poor credit history), in order to line greedy pockets with cash, would have been an anathema to them.  The process from start to finish would have appeared unethical.

The Founding Fathers could not imagine, to use another example, that the U.S. Government would allow the legal killing of babies in their mothers’ wombs.  They couldn’t fathom that we would debate over how late in a baby’s development is too late to murder a child.  They would find it shocking that their political descendants would dare to predict at which point an unborn fetus feels pain, using this as a guide for what separates legal abortion from murder.

These things would be unconscionable to them, because their consciences were tied to the Bible’s ethics.  Human life was created by God Himself and was therefore worthy of the fiercest protection of anything in the universe.

People are still reeling from the credit crisis

The lending crisis would have turned their stomachs, because it represents wealthy leaders knowingly taking advantage of the poor for the sole purpose of personal gain.  To our founders, this easily smacks of government overstepping its God-ordained role of protecting its citizens.

I am looking forward to the second installment of Doing the Right Thing. I for one need the constant reminder in my life that, apart from God’s grace and ongoing help, I will choose to do the wrong things.  At my sinful worst, I will even go so far as to redefine bad as good.  Only persistent exposure to the Bible’s truths protects my sinful heart from error and reorients my mind to the straight and narrow path.  As Albert Camus said, “A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon the world.”

Written by Todd Ragsdale, pastor of Winnetka Heights Baptist Church in Tulsa, OK.  I am happy to hear from readers.  Please go to the “Contact” tab on this web site and send me a message.

Mayor Bloomberg Predicts Rioting in the Streets!

New York City’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, made an alarmist

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, shown here during his September 11 tenth anniversary address, fears that joblessness could lead to riots.

pronouncement Friday.  He warned that there would be riots in the streets if Washington doesn’t get serious about generating jobs.

“We have a lot of kids graduating college, can’t find jobs,” Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show.  “The public is not happy,” he said. “The public knows there is something wrong in this country, and there is. The bottom line is that they’re upset.”  Speaking of their riotous response, Bloomberg said, “That’s what happened in Cairo.  That’s what happened in Madrid.  You don’t want those kinds of riots here.”

New York Daily News columnist Erin Einhorn described those riots.  “In Cairo,” she said, “angry Egyptians took out their frustrations by toppling presidential strongman Hosni Mubarak – and more recently attacking the Israeli embassy.  As for Madrid, the most recent street protests were sparked by widespread unhappiness that the Spanish government was spending millions on the visit of Pope Benedict instead of dealing with widespread unemployment.”

The rioting in Egypt is perhaps the biggest single news story so far in 2011

What makes Mayor Bloomberg’s pronouncement alarming to me is not that he predicts rioting; it’s that he doesn’t find it alarming that college kids would choose to riot merely because their nation’s economy is tanking.  He seems to view rioting as the normal, expected response, rather than a sign that something is terribly wrong with our culture’s response to troubling times.

Will somebody please remind our generation that we aren’t the first to face uncertain days?  Will someone who actually lived through the Great Depression please step forward and tell us that life doesn’t end just because an economy stalls?  Will someone whose life was interrupted by World War II please educate us on the forgotten virtues of sacrifice, generosity, hard work, contentedness, and selflessness?

What am I thinking?  If such a man came forward, today’s college kids wouldn’t listen to him, because he would be old, and old by today’s value system means irrelevant and useless, a drain.  Younger generations cut their teeth on post-modern thinking, which erased meaning, values, and moral absolutes that once permeated American society.  As such, they wouldn’t see the elderly as wise repositories of sound advice, deep wells of settling reassurance.

During the trying days of the Depression and WWII, people fell back on the

Fear and uncertainty are written on this Depression-era woman's face, but neither she nor her generation rioted wildly in response to their woes.

comforting bedrock upon which our nation was built: biblical values.  Even if one didn’t embrace the Christ of Scripture, he navigated difficult times by the light of truth that the Bible cast broadly across the culture.  As naturally as breathing air, the generations before us faced difficulties and challenges, not by rioting – they got through them.

They didn’t expect life to unfold perfectly all the time.  Problems didn’t surprise them.  Help from someone else wasn’t expected or demanded.  The thought that they should form riotous mobs in response to America’s woes never entered their minds.  Smashing store windows, stealing goods from shop owners, overturning cars, defacing public property, fighting with policemen – our predecessors couldn’t even imagine such a response.

So how can we?  How can the mayor of America’s largest city make such a startling comment, which is clearly designed for political purposes?  It was an open jab at reluctant Republicans, who President Obama is pressing to pass his job creation plan.  Surely he’s saying, “If you politicians in Washington don’t magically fix the economy, our kids are going to come get you!”  It was a threat.

Imagine you’re a college student who heard Bloomberg’s comment.  Wouldn’t you see it as slight justification – permission almost – to riot in the near future if things don’t improve?  Bloomberg seems to be validating the riots from abroad.  He seems to present the expectation that this is how American college kids and young adults should respond.

Bloomberg went on to say that President Obama didn’t create this economic mess; it developed “over long periods of time.”  He’s correct.  We materialistic, impatient consumers helped create the economic mess, and it’s been brewing for a few decades.  What’s been brewing right alongside the economic woes, however, is the spirit which will incite young adults to riot.  It’s the spirit which rendered God weightless on American society and then removed Him from culture altogether.

Friedrich Nietzsche - famous for his "God is dead" quote.

This “death of God” signaled the absence of meaning and gave birth to existentialist young adults who believe that the only thing that matters is themselves in the here and now.  Their decisions are processed through a filter which strains out everything except what is needed for them to actualize their own existence.  Thoughts of others are entertained only to the degree that someone else can help them.  Thoughts of eternity are never entertained.  Thoughts of life now resonating in the afterlife are never entertained, because “God is dead,” and ultimate meaning doesn’t exist.

This godless, depressing, dangerous life view is the powder keg behind the spark of riotous violence across the world.  It will torch America as well if we stay our course.  When meaning is removed from people who were created for meaning, they feel the void internally and respond wildly.

What a shame that prominent leaders such as Mayor Bloomberg aren’t thinking through the ramifications of their statements before they cast them broadly.  If they truly had their finger on the pulse of American society, rather than merely poring over endless focus group findings, they would be far more cautious.

I suggest that we Christians respond to these disturbing matters, not with fear, but with a renewed commitment to boldly share the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Too many national Christian leaders choose to focus on the myriad problems that the church should attack, when mankind faces only one problem: sin.  It is deadlier than any dilemma, because it sits at the back, as the root cause of humanity’s woes.  Unlike other problems, whose consequences are felt only on earth, sin’s wages are paid out for eternity, in hell.

The world has not grown so sophisticated that sinners no longer need the gospel.  Mankind’s problems have not swelled to such proportions that the gospel is powerless to save.  Embrace the gospel, Christian, and carry it with renewed vigor…before the rioting sweeps our shores!

Written by Todd Ragsdale, pastor of Winnetka Heights Baptist Church in Tulsa, OK.  I am always happy to hear from readers.  Please go the “Contact” page on this web site and send me a message.

Radically Corrupt!

I saw a news headline this week which reads, Ron Paul: Mobs in Europe a Sign of Things Coming.  Political ideology aside, Paul’s prediction regarding America’s future is probably spot on.  He and other fiscally conscious leaders base their predictions on our economically irresponsible policies.  Paul said, “There’s going to be an inflation tax to hit us and I am just afraid there will be people in the streets when they don’t get what they want.”

Ron Paul is an American medical doctor, author, and U.S. Congressman of the House of Representatives

Again, his prediction is probably accurate, but he hasn’t probed deeply enough – to the root of the issue – to reveal the true cause of people’s angst.  Political conservatives point to failed economic policies as the culprit, but the true question centers on what lies behind these selfish, misinformed policies.  A simple reading of God’s word reveals the root problem: sin.

Unless and until our country re-embraces the destructive, life altering, eternity ruining nature of sin, we will follow Europe’s example, post haste.  American life and culture lag behind that of Europe for the mere fact that our nation is younger.  Give us time.  Like a younger brother, we are falling for the same pitfalls, just a bit later.  Unless we embrace the reality of sin, which Europe cast to the wasteland, look for riotous mobs and chaos to fill our streets in the coming days.

And Christian, before you nod your head knowingly, please understand that the church is by and large the chief culprit for America’s ignorance regarding sin and its destructiveness.  Our pulpits and people have treated sin as a mere problem, a nagging nuisance to be pushed aside or worked on.  When 77% of professing evangelicals (see George Barna’s surveys) agree with the notion that mankind is basically good, you know for certain that the church is ignorant of sin.

People are not good.  As the apostle Paul warned, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10).  As he said later in the same chapter, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

I think I hear a few Amens, but hold on.  What is it about sin that we are nodding our heads to?  Is sin just a pesky personal problem?  Is it limited to those things about us that we can’t quite exercise control over – lust, overspending, overeating, bad temper, lying?  Is sin something that a bit of therapy will fix?  Or is sin a diabolical plague that is eating away like cancer at individual lives – from the inside out – encroaching daily upon our entire culture?  The only explanation for bad economics and riotous mobs is sin; it is our nation’s greatest problem.  Let me explain.

Theologians once used a phrase to capture the essence of man’s understanding of God, himself, life, and the afterlife: total depravity.  Mankind is a sinner, the phrase suggests; therefore, everything else in life follows suit.

Modern man can’t quite swallow this, though, for at least a few reasons.  For starters, we believe that people are inherently good.  Few reject the notion that we do bad things, but, in life’s grand balance, we are more good than bad.  So, if people are basically good, how can we be totally depraved?  The word total seems to leave no room for any goodness.  Surely, one’s elderly grandmother who is the sweetest person imaginable is not totally depraved.

Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler with their pets. The German Shepherd is Blondi.

But total is not to say that we are utterly depraved.  Utter means complete, with no room for any goodness.  Think of one of history’s most evil persons: Adolf Hitler comes to mind.  But wouldn’t you agree that Hitler, as evil as he was, could have been even more evil?  Reports verify that he was fond of children and dearly loved his German Shepherd dog.  While Hitler was a heinous madman, he could have descended even more deeply into depravity.  So, to say that he or anyone is totally depraved does not suggest that we are as evil as we can possibly be.

The Bible teaches, in fact, that evil would flood the earth in unspeakable ways if the Holy Spirit did not continuously restrain its presence.  Imagine a dam containing a vast reservoir of water, but the dam is precariously and structurally damaged – ready to break.  Only the Holy Spirit’s restraining hand holds it together.  Water leaks from the jagged fissures and cracks, but the millions of gallons stay contained….unless and until God’s Spirit releases His hand.  Bible prophecy teaches that He will indeed release His restraining hand as the days grow short, and many commentators speculate that this is already beginning.  But as of now, the Lord keeps sin at bay; nevertheless, sinners are totally depraved – just not utterly.

But what does the Bible mean by totally depraved?  Perhaps a better phrase is that we are radically corrupt.  Consider both the ancient and modern meanings of the word radical.  Our English word radical comes from the Latin word, radix, meaning, root.  And our modern word radical has come to mean extreme.  Both meanings wonderfully capture the Bible’s description of mankind: we are radically corrupt, to the extreme, at the root of our being.

Does this sound like a mere problem, one we need to work on?  Does this condition sound like something modern therapy can fix?  Does it sound like a condition that inherently “good” people can cure by using pragmatic, psychological tools?  No, these views of mankind’s ailments lie on the surface; they don’t go to the radical root of who we are as people, affecting us to the extreme.

God describes us sinners as radically corrupt in our very natures, the essence of who we are.  Just as the furthest leaf of a majestic oak tree is tied inextricably to the roots, so every facet of our being is affected by our innate sin nature.  Sin sits behind us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Like a cancer, it mars our root, from which all of our thoughts and actions spring.

The apostle Paul described mankind in our natural, unsaved state: “…they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:21-22).  Further, Paul warned the new Christians in Ephesus:

“You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (Eph. 4:17-19).

We see here clear evidence that unsaved people are radically corrupt.  Emanating from our root, our whole person is extremely affected by sin.  Our mind is affected, our reasoning ability, our capacity for emotions and feeling; each of these in turn affects us physically.

Before Adam’s great fall in the Garden of Eden – before his radically corruptive fall into sin – he would have been what we would call a superman, a mental giant, a man of untiring disposition.  His thinking and reasoning were unclouded by sin.  With amazing insight, harnessing every brain cell and exercising unfettered wisdom, Adam tirelessly lived the freest life imaginable.

A single bite of fruit; however – representing direct rebellion against God, an attempt to control his own fate – marred him to the core.  At his root, Adam was now stained by sin.  No longer did he live free and unfettered.  Even his labor became tiresome; work – in the “four letter word” way we think of our tasks today.

The Fall depicted in the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo

Adam, our ancient father, passed on his radically corrupt sin nature to us.  Our daily lives are affected in ways we fail to comprehend.  Our eternity in hell is secured by it.  Today’s headlines manifest it.  Europe’s mobs attest to it, as do America’s of tomorrow.

In the final analysis, I find satanic irony lying behind the church’s response to our current life setting in the U.S.  At a time when but a match could inflame the chaotic powder keg of national life, the church – which alone has the answer – has forgotten it; worse, it has grown ashamed of the answer, sweeping it beneath the rug.

We are fearful to tell people that they are sinners, to the core; they are radically corrupt.  We are afraid to speak authoritatively on God’s behalf, telling them that ultimate truth is real and that God’s truth declares that His wrath burns against man’s sin.  We are ashamed to point to sin as the culprit behind people’s problems.

Absent the church’s voice of warning, our culture grows inevitably worse.  At the one moment in U.S. history when the gospel alone is powerful to rescue and save, the church has fallen prey to pragmatic business and marketing methods for growth, methods which render calling someone a sinner the greatest mistake imaginable.  Rather than thundering with the voice of the prophets and apostles, “Repent and believe in the gospel,” we have turned our pulpits and churches into venues for self help.  We dole out human-based therapy, having thoroughly bought off on the idea that mankind is basically good and that bad is the mere product of environmentally caused factors.  We treat each other as innocent victims who merely need to be rehabilitated from bad experiences, most of which wasn’t our fault.

We are now a nation of over-indulged victims who have no idea that we are radically corrupt at our root and that we ourselves are to blame for our problems.

I believe God is challenging His church to re-embrace the truth.  Ironically, we carry the worst news imaginable as well as the best news imaginable.  The worst news, obviously, is that we are sinners, totally depraved, set with a collision course for eternal hell.  The best news in human history, however, is that Christ died for sinners.  His death and perfect life alone turn away God’s wrath.  God, who is rich in mercy, is willing to save sinners and to embrace them as adopted children.

The mobs are already forming, I fear.  Each week carries news stories of young thugs who assemble as flash mobs, wreaking havoc born from radical corruption.  Let’s change our churches right now.  For those in leadership positions, stop bowing to the gods of marketing, growth, and tolerance.  Fall before a holy God and renounce your love affair with the world.  Embrace God’s word – all of it.  Preach it, live it, boldly proclaim it.

Written by Todd Ragsdale, Pastor of Winnetka Heights Baptist Church – Tulsa, OK

Beyond Belief – What Lies Behind Today’s Disturbing Headlines?

Many Americans now rely on the Internet as their primary source for news.  Online sites such as the Drudge Report collect headlines from around the nation and world, enabling users to point and click their way into the leading stories of the day.  The following are samples of news headlines from Tuesday, August 9, 2011.

Rioting in London

Police lose control of London's streets for THIRD night...

Rioters rob people on street, force them to strip naked...

Cops: Youth pastor secretly filmed teen girls showering at church...

Obama to scrap testing requirements; too many students failing...

Army approves atheism-themed concert at Fort Bragg...

Philadelphia Implements Strict Curfew To Combat Violent Mobs...

Thieves Lift Six A/C Units Over 6-Foot Fence At Church...

OBAMAGEDDON...

CURSED: S&P falls 6.66%

OBAMA: MORE SPENDING!

 

What in the world is going on?!  People are rioting in the streets in multiple countries around the world.  Mobs of violent teenagers are harnessing social media’s instantaneous messaging capabilities to schedule flash mobs in numerous U.S. cities.  Utopian government programs are failing.  Ridiculous, irresponsible economic policies are being adopted.  Crimes which were unimaginable yesterday are now committed weekly.

It seems that the top has blown off the world’s sanity.  Nothing seems to matter anymore; no one seems to care.  Culture’s basic courtesies and protections are no longer reliable.  As uncertainty grows, so do people’s fears, all of which provokes even more senselessness.  What in the world is going on?

I believe the answer is tied to a fancy-sounding term called post-modernity.  I’ll describe what it is and how we landed in the middle of it in a moment, but let me just say that we now live in a post-modern culture.

If you’re the type who keeps your eye on culture and questions why society moves and shifts in certain directions, then perhaps you have come across this term, post-modern.  Astute cultural observers introduced it a few years ago as a way of saying that Western culture has now moved beyond what we once called modern; it is now post-modern.

A little background might be helpful.  Let’s oversimplify Western culture’s development over the past five hundred years (and by Western culture, I mean primarily European and North American culture).  During that time, we progressed from traditional to modern to post-modern.

The traditional viewpoint regarding life, meaning, and eternity was shaped by the pervasive influence of the Holy Bible.  Its teachings permeated every corner of European civilization in the years following the Protestant Reformation.

Up until then, mankind had been kept largely ignorant, illiterate, ill-informed, and powerless.  The Reformation, however, sparked a revolution that swept through Europe.  The masses were soon educated; they were taught to read.  And thanks to the printing press’ recent invention, scores of books were available.  Scholarship, exploration, and science soared in the aftermath.

The proliferation of the Bible and its cohesive story of the meaning of life, man, and eternity provided a sturdy foundation from which cultures flourished.  People believed in God, and they embraced their role as His creatures.  They read in Scripture that all of life was to be lived to His glory, so they embraced this God honoring path and lived life to the fullest.

They saw meaning in their individual lives and decisions.  Each person held inestimable value, because they bore God’s imprint.  Right and wrong were absolute, because God declared them to be so in Scripture.  Life on earth resonated in eternity, because, as Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”

In short, man’s view of life in the traditional era was shaped by the Bible.  He recognized that he was God’s creature and needed, as such, to place his belief in the gospel as the only means to enter heaven.  This was the driving force that swept through Europe.  It was the wind in the sails of the Pilgrims’ Mayflower.  It is the bedrock upon which the United States was founded.  Ultimate meaning was found in God alone.

Gradually, however, Western culture began to shift.  It became, in time, modern.  In spite of the shift, however, mankind’s ultimate goal remained consistent; in other words, he still believed in life beyond death; he believed in God; he believed in mankind’s amazing capacity for growth and advancement; he believed that life holds great meaning; he believed that life on earth resonates in eternity.

Lady leaps to safety in London riot

What changed with modernity was the path to reach heaven; what it takes to achieve ultimate meaning.  As opposed to embracing the literal gospel story, modern man substituted other means for reaching God.  This gave birth to what is called The Enlightenment Period.  Educated man now saw himself differently.  He was no longer ignorant and oppressed.  He was free to think, learn, create, and build.  He observed his great inventions.  He saw the rapid change of the world, as it transformed from ancient to modern before his very eyes.  Vast advances in science, medicine, travel, technology, production, and education prompted man to see himself as his own savior.

Make no mistake, people still thought transcendent thoughts; in other words, they still believed by in large in a higher power (He might or might not be the God of the Bible) and eternity.  They just shifted their view of what it takes to attain the splendor of the afterlife (and many still considered this to be the paradise of heaven).

Modernity’s radical shift essentially lowered God’s status and elevated man’s.  People still believed in God, but He was no longer needed in any real, practical way for everyday life.  Nor was He needed for reaching heaven; Enlightened man was fully capable of forging his own way.  In short, man was in love with man; he was in love with his innate goodness and his ability to reach new heights and solve any world problem.

Then, World War II happened.  Mankind was suddenly forced to acknowledge humanity’s dark side; we were not as pure and pristine as we had thought.  The presence of evil popped up around the globe, whether it was Hitler’s Holocaust, or Stalin’s wholesale slaughter of millions of Russians, or Mao’s atrocious tyranny in China.

Allied troops forced SS officer Eichelsdoerfer, the commandant of the Kaufering IV concentration camp, to stand among the corpses of prisoners killed in his camp

Whereas Western culture had believed it could create its own path to heaven (modernity), it now realized that it could not.  Modernity had built its own ladder to heaven, leaving behind the gospel (tradition) as the only means.  But when mankind’s wickedness kicked the modern ladder away, what died as a result was belief.

Enter post-modernity.  In the aftermath of man’s atrocities in the 20th century, entire cultures lost their belief in transcendence.  God “died” as a result.  Absolute truth – right and wrong – which had been embraced for centuries, was no longer believed.  Heaven and hell, once seen as literal realities, were increasingly seen as myths.  Human beings, once esteemed as God’s precious creatures, were now seen in existentialist ways; in other words, “might makes right”; survival of the fittest explains life; evolution makes sense; the afterlife is a naïve myth for weak people; life doesn’t resonate in eternity, because there is no eternity – here and now is all there is.

These thoughts represent post-modernity…and we are living smack-dab in the middle of it in the U.S. and around the world.  God has been kicked aside, as has any semblance of moral truth taught in the Bible.  Mankind no longer believes in anything…so anything goes.

I contend this is what lies behind today’s troubling news headlines.  Young thugs live packed together in urban jungles where they have never known traditional families and timeless values.  Ultimate meaning eludes them.  They have never seen the fruits of hard work.  They know only darkness and “might makes right.”  With no meaning to cling to, no God to love, and no hope, why wouldn’t they organize into roving bands of violent thugs?

Looting in London riot

Around the world, as one economy after another topples as a direct result of socialist driven economics, why should we be surprised by rioting?  When nations ignore God’s timeless wisdom which says, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10), why should we be surprised that recipients of entitlement programs are now angry that their “cut” of someone else’s tax money is being cut?

We have created selfish, lazy beasts, and they are now hungry!  They rattled their cages for a while; now, they’re racing through the streets, looting businesses and ruthlessly attacking people, and they have no idea why they’re behaving in such manner.  They are responding on impulse, because they never learned that many impulses are sinful (tradition).  Remember, once God was “killed,” His morality and truth died with Him.  Once ultimate meaning and longings for heaven were dashed on the altar of post-modernity, man no longer saw the direct tie between his present behavior and his place in eternity.  With God “dead,” there was no place for His role as Creator anymore; meaning that mankind no longer sees value in those around him.  Just as one beast attacks a weaker one, savage, godless humans follow suit.

What a grim picture I paint!  But this is where we are.  We live in a post-modern world.  I suppose I could accurately substitute the word “godless” for post-modern.  And this brings me to the only ray of hope in this otherwise dreary article.

What has never changed in the midst of the endless cultural changes is that God is alive!  His word is as true today as when He first breathed it.  His power is as matchless today as when He spoke the universe into existence.  Demons still fear Him, kings are still subservient to Him, weather patterns still obey Him, and His gospel is as alive today as the day Christ rose from the dead.

Rather than running in fear, Christ’s followers today should press on with greater intensity than ever with the risen Lord’s final charge: “Go…and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).  Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16:18, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Our powerful Holy Spirit has not faded even a shade.  Our marching orders have not been rescinded.  God’s gospel is powerful unto salvation.  If the Lord can save the savage man within whom the legion of demons dwelt (see Mark 5), He can save anyone!  Our dark, post-modern times desperately need the gospel.  It is their last hope and our only hope for restoring safety and order to a disordered world.

Written by Todd Ragsdale, pastor of Winnetka Heights Baptist Church in Tulsa, OK

David Beckham Derided as “Bad Example” — For Having 4 Children

Just in case you’ve been asleep the past thirty or forty years, western culture has been waging a relentless war on Christianity.  From news journalists to learned professors to savvy politicians, cultural leaders have undermined and attacked biblical virtues such as marriage being between one man and one woman, and the sanctity of human life.

They have cast suspicion on the Christian stance of absolute truth.  They contend that one cannot know truth, because truth is relative, dependent on different cultures and contexts.  Consequently, they increasingly portray Christians as being intolerant to any other lifestyle or belief system.  At worst, they cleverly insert the suspicion that our intolerant attitudes lean toward insurrectionist and violent tendencies.

Last week’s tragedy in Norway is a perfect example.  The legitimate story was that of a madman on a murderous spree.  But the media was quick to label the killer as a conservative, fundamentalist Christian.  Obviously, the deranged man is not a Christian, which is clear from his murderous acts as well as by reading his own beliefs in the manifesto he left on his Internet web site.  But this didn’t stop those with the power of the pen from leveraging yet another opportunity to wage their relentless war on Christianity.  They hope an unsuspecting public will make the connection: Christians can’t be trusted.

I am surprised by Christians’ surprised response to this treatment.  Shouldn’t we expect the world to mistreat us?  While Jesus was still alive, He cautioned His followers to expect to endure hatred and malice from the world.  He said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18).  Did not the “world” – the system of thinking and being that stands in opposition to God’s truth – kill the very Son of God?  It most certainly did, so we should expect to see a plethora of worldly attacks on Christianity and biblical virtues today.

The Beckham family prior to the arrival of child number 4 earlier this year, a baby girl

Consider the following article by way of example.  For background, David Beckham is a famous English soccer player.  His wife, Victoria, was one of the Spice Girls, a pop music group.  They are married (hint: a biblical virtue), and they have four children, whom they are raising in the traditional manner – dad, mom, and children as part of a family (hint: yet another “archaic,” biblical virtue).  The British press is actually attacking the Beckham couple, suggesting that they are “bad role models” for having so many children.  Here is an excerpt from the article.

 

David Beckham Derided as “Bad Example” – For Having 4 Children

By: Timothy P. Carney | Senior Political Columnist Follow Him @TPCarney | 07/26/11 8:53 AM

Soccer player David Beckham and his wife Victoria (formerly a performer) are being derided in the British press as “bad role models.” No, they’re not publicly carrying on affairs, fighting in public, or abandoning their children. Their sin: having four children.

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby sees this latest finger-wagging — including, ominously, scorn from a Member of Parliament — as just the latest in a string of baseless warnings about overpopulation. Here’s Jacoby’s rebuttal:

Yes, more babies mean more mouths and therefore more consumption. But more babies also mean more minds and arms and spines – and therefore more new ideas, more effort, more creativity, more initiative, more enterprise. “Human beings do not just consume, they also produce,’’ writes George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan. “The world economy is not like a party where everyone splits a birthday cake; it is more like a potluck where everyone brings a dish.’’

The evidence is obvious. Are we better off today than we were 100 years ago, and 100 years before that? And than we were 2,000 years ago? Obviously.

Victoria Beckham with her newborn daughter

The advances in health and knowledge have not come from outside agents — crocodiles and aliens haven’t invented penicillin or the lightbulb — but from the very human beings that population scolds from Malthus to Ehrlich to Friedman tell us are killing the planet.  Sure, many humans consume more than they produce, but on net, over time, humans have clearly added more to human prosperity than they have taken away. Put the way an economist might: the expected value of each human being is positive.

 

I found this excerpt to be both alarming and encouraging.  It is alarming, because clearly the culture-shaping machine is leveling its aim at the traditional family, suggesting that too many children are bad for the environment.  How clever of them.  Barely concealed is their true message: children, as opposed to being blessings from the Lord, may actually be an unwanted curse in many circumstances.

I found the article encouraging, however, because it showcased the logical, practical nature of God’s truth.  The men referenced in the article don’t have a Christian axe to grind; in other words, they are merely speaking as experts in their respective fields.  And what they are saying is that which is always true: God’s ways are always best.  And the facts always substantiate this assertion.

How, I ask, can children be bad for the environment when God is the one who created the environment to need humanity’s stewardship?  Honest, unbiased assessment of our planet reveals that babies are blessings and are therefore a blessing to the well being of life on planet earth.

Don’t be discouraged by secular attacks on Christian truth.  On one hand, the attacks give evidence to the truth of Christ’s prediction.  Expect the attacks, but defend the faith by boldly and lovingly pointing to the facts.  Timothy Carney’s article is a great example of doing just this.  Meanwhile, parents: love your children, raise them to know and love the Lord, and have as many of them as God leads you to have!

Independence Day 2011

Today is Independence Day.  I wonder what runs through the minds of typical Americans.  Do we ponder anything deeper than a vacation day and fireworks celebrations?  One of the teachers in our children’s Sunday School department asked some of the kids yesterday, “Why do we celebrate Independence Day?”  Only one of the little boys answered correctly.  Is this a commentary on the lack of education in our public schools, or does it signal a larger problem regarding our country’s disinterest in history?

I am certain of one thing: few Americans recognize something that our ancestors believed with firm conviction – God’s powerful hand in the winning of our independence from England.  Few Americans are aware of the Founding Fathers’ deep faith in God and of their belief that democracy would survive only so long as we remained thankful to and mindful of the Lord.  Of the fifty six signers of the Declaration of Independence, twenty four of them (nearly half) were seminary trained ministers.

The incomparable General Washington, the greatest man on the planet but humble before his God.

Our earliest presidents acknowledged God’s providential assistance in winning our independence.  George Washington, while still fighting the Revolutionary War, said,

“While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian.”

John Adams, one of our most influential Founding Fathers as well as our second president, paused long enough on July 3rd, 1776 to pen a letter to his beloved wife, Abigail.  He and his fellow Founders had worked long and hard to craft the document they titled, The Declaration of Independence.  Make no mistake; each of the fifty six men knew that signing their name to the document was in all likelihood like signing their own death warrant.  Signing signaled treason against the king of England.  Should these men be caught, or should the war turn in England’s favor, these men would be hung as traitors to England.

Adams, knowing the dangers, was in fact flush with excitement over what this Declaration could mean for America.  I invite you to feel his passion and enthusiasm as you read the following excerpt from his letter to his wife.

John Adams, son of a deacon who hoped young John would become a minister...God had other plans!

“The fourth day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever.”

Amen!  I believe President Adams wonderfully captured the spirit that should still race through our great country, from “sea to shining sea.”  He highlighted the extreme need to demonstrate “solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”  He encouraged fanfare and exuberant demonstrations of remembrance.  Rudyard Kipling later picked up on this need to never forget the sacrificial deeds of those who earned our freedom: “All we have of freedom, all we use or know – This our fathers bought for us long and long ago.”

Five decades following the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, our second and fourth presidents, were still alive, each elderly but devoted friends to one another.  Each passed into eternity on the same day, July 4th, 1826, fifty years to the day that each signed the Declaration.  Our young country cried tears of sadness and yet bowed in worship to the God who gives and takes life.  You could search far and wide throughout America following that sad day and be hard pressed to find one citizen who denied God’s hand in these two presidents’ lives and deaths.

Thomas Jefferson, who hosted weekly worship in the Congress each Sunday, using the military band for music!

I don’t know what this 235th celebration of Independence Day means to you, but I believe it is incumbent upon us all to pause, remembering our Founding Fathers, their faith, and their God.  Benjamin Franklin said it well over two centuries ago.

The setting was the Constitutional Congress in Philadelphia, ten years after having won independence.  The Founders were meeting once again, this time to agree upon the Constitution that governs our nation to this day.  With tempers flaring and debates raging, our fledgling nation poised on the verge of collapse.  Franklin, the oldest delegate present, stood up and said:

“Have we forgotten our powerful Friend?  Or do we imagine we no longer need [His] assistance?…The longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men.  And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?”

Franklin concluded, quoting the Bible, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.”

Happy Independence Day!

Lessons from the NBA Finals

The 2011 NBA Finals concluded recently with the Dallas Mavericks’ stunning victory over the Miami Heat.  In addition to enjoying the entire series, something about the nature of the Mavs’ victory caught my attention:

Virtues such as age, experience, loyalty, and teamwork are still potent, even in our youth-oriented, hero-worshipping, self-celebrating culture.

This principle manifested itself in living color during the six games it took the Mavericks to “dethrone” the self-proclaimed champions – the Heat.  LeBron James, the lead man of Miami’s famous threesome (including Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh), bragged before the season even began that the Heat would win, and I quote, “Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven…titles.”

On paper, the three stars should have won their first title this season.  According to today’s success parameters, the Heat possess the necessary ingredients to win always and often: stardom, pizzazz, braggadocio, constant press, and individual talent.  Early predictions had them setting an NBA record for wins in a single season.  How could they not win, given their star-studded lineup?

Enter the Dallas Mavericks, the total antithesis to the Miami Heat.  Old, star-less, boring, and ignored are just some of the contrasts.  When the Heat won Game 1 of the series, the national media all but crowned them as the inevitable champions.  But a best-of-seven series requires four victories, not one.  The Mavericks won four of the next five games and claimed the championship as their own!

How did an old, boring team which lacks an American-style superstar beat the Heat?  They did it through the timeless virtues of age, experience, loyalty, and teamwork.  Anyone who has ever played basketball knows that the point guard is the general on the floor.  He is the speedy ball handler who runs the team on the coach’s behalf.  Jason Kidd plays this role for the Mavericks.  At thirty-eight years old, he is

Jason Kidd, the Mavs' "old" but experienced floor general

no longer speedy and quick, having exhausted himself during the past seventeen seasons in the league.  Most players remember watching Kidd play in the NBA when they were just in junior high school.

Other Mavericks players, including the unstoppable Dirk Nowitzki, are in their thirties (old, by professional sports standards).  In an era which devalues age and celebrates youth, these players are not supposed to shine, but they did.  In an age that worships individual heroes, a team of teammates is not supposed to win, but they did.

An interesting statistic from the NBA Finals reveals the reality of teamwork and the advantages of camaraderie.  Someone counted the number of personal touches among teammates during the six game series; included were pats on the back, slaps on the rear end, spontaneous hugs, and high fives.  Through Game 5, the differential between the Mavericks and the Heat was staggering.  The Mavs teammates made personal contact with each other over two hundred times, verses a little over forty for the Heat.

This stat seems small in significance, but it is large.  People who care about one another demonstrate their affection without thinking about it, and personal touch is one such demonstrator.  The Mavericks players care about each other; they love their team and teammates; they want what is best for each other; they cheer each others’ successes; they put the team ahead of themselves.  I found it refreshing to see these wonderful virtues put on display and rewarded so spectacularly on the national stage.

Today’s prevailing wisdom dictates that individual stars should win.  But the Miami Heat “body language” revealed that overly pampered, overly hyped stars struggle when success does not easily flow their way.  Accustomed to acclaim and victory, they don’t know how to handle failure.  Having never learned the value of drawing on team strength in hard times, they lash out at their teammates.  Ignoring the comfort of personal touch, they shy away from each other.  Instead of discovering that individual victory flows naturally from group effort, they work even harder in down times to effect victory by themselves, or – as in the case of LeBron James on at least a few occasions – they sulk and pout when they can’t manage to shine.

Speaking of James, he famously left his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, because he didn’t believe his teammates could deliver him an NBA championship.  Joining two individual stars – Wade and Bosh – he believed they (notice, not the Miami Heat team) would win “not two, not three, not four…” championships.  They may in time, and there is nothing wrong with switching teams in the complex world of professional sports.  But the manner in which James left, the manner in which he drew the national spotlight to himself, the manner in which he dissed his former team – these things stink of the modern malady of self centered, pampered, over hyped, over indulged, individual stardom.

The unguardable Nowitzki demonstrated loyalty to his team and teammates by re-signing with Dallas

By great contrast, consider the Dallas Mavericks.  Dirk Nowitzki, their best player, was free to shop his services to another team, his contract having expired.  Any NBA franchise would have hungrily sought him out.  Rather than drawing attention to himself, rather than shopping for a situation ripe for handing him a championship, rather than dissing his current teammates, Nowitzki quietly re-signed with the Dallas Mavericks.  Asked why, he referenced the team owner’s undying commitment to him, even during bad times, bad play, and bad losses.  He referenced friendship and commitment to his friends, i.e., teammates.

Other Mavericks players showed the same commitment, revealing the presence of a virtue that is gasping for breath and life in modern America: loyalty.  Loyalty is dying in the wake of our “winner take all,” hero worshipping culture.

Looking into America’s future, I wonder what lies on the horizon.  Having bred a culture which ignores the virtues of age, experience, loyalty, and teamwork, what will the outcome be?  Having celebrated youth over the wisdom of age, where will the inevitable sophomoric decisions land us?  Having crowned leaders and stars merely for being known, as opposed to earning distinction through experience and hard work, where will these leaders lead us?  Having elevated the individual over the whole, how will we sacrifice for the common good?

I am not one who promises only doom and gloom for America’s future.  But as a man caught between our youngest generation (people trained to worship unearned stardom and to celebrate the individual over the whole) and our aging population (celebrators of age, wisdom, loyalty, and experience), I fear that the fundamental shift in America’s cultural virtues will deliver a staggering blow.

As always, the Gospel is America’s answer and only solution.  Politics alone will not change America’s mind.  Better economics will not right the cultural ship.  Education does not guarantee a eureka type solution.  The world chases after these false hopes, ignorantly ignoring that Christ is mankind’s only hope.  The apostle Paul clearly tells us why the unsaved world ignores Christ as the answer: Having rejected God, “They became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:21-22).

A man can possess extreme intelligence and earn advanced educational degrees, but so long as he rejects Christ, he will remain “futile” in his thinking.  He will claim to be “wise,” but he remains foolish when it comes to life’s deepest issues.

The 2011 NBA Finals was a small example of the world’s futile thinking verses God’s timeless wisdom.

Osama bin Laden is Dead.

Osama bin Laden is dead.  I could hardly believe what I was hearing late Sunday night before last when breaking news alerted America to this long hoped for outcome.  Updates continue to dominate the media.

 

When news rocks the world, the church enjoys an awesome opportunity to show the Bible’s contemporary timelessness.  As opposed to silence, the church should provide commentary on world events, given through the clarifying lens of Scripture.  Allow me, therefore, to draw a few conclusions from Osama bin Laden’s recent demise.

 

First, Justice always wins out in the end.

 

I think it was President George W. Bush who initially said that we will get bin Laden without regard to how long it takes.  Experts now suggest that the lengthy delay contributed to bin Laden’s arrogance, as he allowed himself to believe that we were no longer as vigilant in our search.  He was wrong.  Some ten years later, our nation’s best, brightest, and toughest were still on the hunt.  Justice did indeed win out in the end.

 

It simply must, and it always will, because God is a God of justice.  We can ignore God and His laws, but God and His laws do not ignore us.  Scripture teaches that justice will be meted out either in this life or the next.  Even when we lawbreakers think we have gotten away with something, the hammer might be ready to fall.  And if it doesn’t fall here, it will do so with devastating force on judgment day.  Hell’s intensity will be meticulously tied to our present behavior, because God is a God of careful justice.

 

I read that actor, Denzel Washington, is a Christian.  I hadn’t noticed something about him until he said it, but Washington refuses to play a character whose sins and lawbreaking are not clearly shown to receive justice.  He doesn’t mind playing a bad guy, but he will not do so if the movie glamorizes his bad character and bad ways.  By movie’s end, the plot must unfold in such a way that justice prevailed.

 

The reason Washington does this is because God teaches in the Bible that justice always wins in the end.  God is ultimately in control, so Denzel does not want to send a message to viewers that a life of crime and lawbreaking can escape justice.

 

In spite of the political "glory hogging" we've seen, men such as these Navy SEALs are the real heroes!

When the bullet of a Navy Seal entered the head of Osama bin Laden, he received justice…and just the beginning of justice.  God, obviously, ordained bin Laden’s killing, or it would not have happened, but greater justice is still to come for this evil man.  He is suffering today in the afterlife, but he will receive his final sentence when Jesus Christ returns and judges him personally, not only for his despicable acts of terrorism, but also for rejecting Jesus as Savior.  As the butcher of thousands and the inspiration for so much hate, his hell will be savagely worse than had he merely lived a quiet life in his native country.  Bin Laden will rue the day that he embraced hate and terrorism.

 

We applaud justice when we see it acted upon such a worthy recipient.  What we cannot forget, though, is that the sure occurrence of justice applies to us, too.  Most of us will not lead a life of such overt evil as bin Laden did, but deep in our hearts, we are enemies of God, too.  Naturally, we resent His rule over us, so we overthrow Him and run as fast and far away from God as we can get.  One sin after another, we earn for ourselves nothing but hell – sure justice.

 

Every human being, just as every criminal, will be rounded up for their day in court, but they won’t face a humanistic judge who misunderstands compassion.  They won’t face a socially liberal judge who lessens his judgments due to the bad home environment of the law breaker.  They will stand exposed before the God of justice, the one who initially extended complete pardon from every sin and broken rule for their entire life.  This great, cosmic judge was the epitome of compassion and grace…but no longer on judgment day.  On judgment day, only justice prevails; only wrath is experienced.

 

Unless your sins and lawbreaking ways have been completely forgiven and wiped clean by Christ’s blood, you will face unbending justice.  Count on it.  If you are a Christian, however, your day in court will be much different.  As you approach the great throne of judgment, the Lord will judge you, not on your behavior, but on that of Jesus Christ.  The justice you should have received was already meted out, when God killed His Son Jesus in your place, on the cross, because of your terrible, lawbreaking ways.  So, in the end, Christians will not receive God’s justice; they will receive His mercy, His grace.  We will be fully pardoned because of Christ’s great work on our behalf.

 

As excited as our nation is right now over the death of Osama bin Laden, I hope that more and more people learn that justice – God’s justice – always wins out in the end.  They will face it if they don’t first plead for mercy.

 

Second: There is nothing wrong with Americans cheering the death of Osama bin Laden.

 

This is a critical point, one which our morally relativistic culture misunderstands.  Fox News interviewed a Catholic priest who spoke of his disgust with Americans who cheered and danced in the streets upon hearing of bin Laden’s death.  He compared these spontaneous celebrations to the behavior of wild Super Bowl fans and said that it spoke very poorly of America.  Rashard Mendenhall, a Pittsburgh Steelers football player, Tweeted that Americans are too full of hate, saying that we don’t know bin Laden and have only heard one side of the story.

From NYC's "Ground Zero" to the White House to college campuses nationwide, Americans burst into jubilant celebration upon hearing of the demise of Public Enemy #1.

 

Neither the football player nor the priest grasps the presence of true evil in our world.  These men, like many modern people, are wearing the badge of tolerance, with tolerance being defined as the inability to call bad behavior, bad, or bad people, bad.

 

Like it or not, there are bad people who do bad things, and bad is the opposite of good, by God’s definition.  Read King David’s writings in the Old Testament.  He did not suffer from our modern malady of tolerance.  He taught clearly that God hates evil and evildoers and encourages His people to do the same.  David wrote, “O you who love the LORD, hate evil!” (Ps. 97:10).  Speaking of God’s hatred of evil, he wrote, “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness…You hate all evildoers.  You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man” (Ps. 5:4-6).

 

Because there is sin, there is evil, and because there is evil, there are terrible acts such as the 9/11 bombings.  These acts truly are evil, by God’s definition, so it is okay for us to hate these actions and applaud justice when it occurs.  So long as Osama bin Laden was a free man, he was free to direct even more evil acts against innocent victims, and we now know from captured evidence that this is precisely what he was doing.

God, all through the Bible, is a champion of victims.  He rushes to their aid in story after story and command after command.  God hates evil and evildoers.  His wrath burns against them.  And we learn from Scripture that when our emotions follow those of God, then our anger is righteous anger.  So cheering Osama bin Laden’s demise is not only not wrong and evil, it is an act that draws God’s approval.  It represents people acknowledging the presence of good and evil and cheering good’s victory.

 

Third: Osama bin Laden’s killing wonderfully portrayed human government acting according to God’s will.

 

If we narrow human institutions to their simplest, we see that God established government and the Church; God ordained them both, because human beings and families should find their existence within each.  Each has a God-given role to play in human history, and God outlined the roles and responsibilities of both in the Bible.

 

Obviously, most human governments ignore their God-created status and mandate, but merely ignoring something does not change its reality.  Government, at its simplest form, as Paul taught in Romans 16, should provide safety for its citizens and mete out justice for lawbreakers who threaten the safety of citizens.  Listen to Paul’s words from Romans 16:1-7.

1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.

 

We see here the essential job of human government, as given by God: protect people, defending them with force if necessary, and punishing lawbreakers.  This includes protecting individual victims from criminals and citizens as a whole from foreign attack.  This requires workers and money, so God mandated taxes to cover these necessary expenses.  We all share in the common good as a direct result.

 

Osama bin Laden’s killing represents government at its God-mandated best.

 

September 11th, 2001 marked a turning point, I believe, in our world.  We have been mired in war ever since, but war like we have never known.  Neither presidents nor prime ministers command generals, who command armies to fight against us.  Our soldiers can’t look out across the battlefield and see men in uniform.

 

Instead, our foes are hidden behind the fabric of nations who claim friendliness toward us.  These nations are not at war with the U.S., but hiding behind the scenes are vast terror organizations, each bent on destroying Israel and the U.S.

 

Hamas trained 120,000 children to become Islamic terrorists.

Our military is like a boxer placed in a ring full of people – men, women, and children.  One of them, maybe most of them, is his opponent, but no one looks like a boxer.  The boxer gets slugged from the right and turns…and sees a young woman.  She’s not a boxer; did she do it?  He doesn’t know…and then he is blindsided from the left.  Turning, he sees an old man.  Frustrated, he punches him, but then the crowd cries fowl, because it’s unfair to hit old people.  What a world we live in; what a world our leaders and generals face!

 

But the hunting down and killing of Osama bin Laden wonderfully portrays the simplicity of doing government God’s way.  I remember the way President Bush characterized the decision to go after the 9/11 terrorists militarily.  He said he pictured a bad guy punching one of his daughters in the nose.  And he said that if someone did that, he would attack that man with whatever force was necessary to defend his daughter.  By the same token, as President of the United States of America, Bush said that he saw the 9/11 terrorist act as a bad guy punching his family – America – in the nose, and he felt it was his responsibility to go after them.

 

Sure, some errors were made along the way.  In the imperfect world of gathering intelligence, decisions are made on the best information available.  But when Bush’s administration handed the reigns over to President Obama’s administration, one thing remained consistent: we will hunt Osama bin Laden down.  And we did.

 

Our government had to.  One thing we know now is that there are more Islamic terror organizations than there were

Candid shot of the Bush family in 2004.

pre 9/11.  What this means is that bin Laden’s success and ability to elude capture sparked increased interest among Middle Easterners in joining terrorism.  Today, we have al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Islamic Brotherhood, and many, many more Islamic terror organizations.  Some of them cooperate; some don’t, but all agree to hate Israel and the U.S.  All find unofficial backing by Arabic nations.  All are extremely well funded by oil rich countries.

 

To fulfill its God-given mandate to defend its citizens, our government simply must take these matters seriously.  How we define “seriously” is up to our lawmakers and leaders.  That we must do something is a God-mandated reality, though.

 

Finally: Osama bin Laden’s killing reveals the sham of government run in opposition to God’s mandate.

 

Bin Laden did not sit at the helm of a recognized government; he was, in fact, far more powerful, because his rule was not limited to geographic boundaries.  His influence and control was pervasive across the Middle East, dipping into every country.  His influence extended to Indonesia, where more Muslims live than in any Arabic country.  His influence extended deep into Europe and even the United States, which are being increasingly populated by Muslim immigrants.  His influence sparked increased interest in both jihad and Fatah doctrines, jihad defined as conquering the world for Allah by use of the sword, and Fatah defined as conquering the world for Allah by taking control of culture.  Osama bin Laden was a leader far more powerful and influential than a mere president or king of a single country.

 

Bin Laden regularly portrayed himself as living a rugged life in the mountains when he actually lived with his family in safety and comfort.

Consider now how he fashioned himself before his followers.  Video footage portrays him living a Spartan life among the rugged mountains.  He is tough, insulated from the materialistic evils of the U.S.  He carries automatic weapons.  He is also shown in the pose of a wise, spiritual leader, sitting peacefully in traditional Arab garb, appearing as a holy man dispensing sage advice.  He is bin Laden, the wise, passionate, powerful leader who lives above creature comforts and materialistic charms.

 

This is the image he crafted and portrayed across the radical Islamic world.  But compare the image with reality, now that we know he was living, not in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan, but in a large, modern city in Pakistan; not in a dark cave with no creature comforts but in a million dollar Arabic version of a three-story mansion; not constantly on the run, in one daring escape after another, but in such peace and security that he didn’t even post guards in his compound; not in one location one month and another the next, but in his own home since 2006.

 

In essence, bin Laden lied to his followers as so many tyrants do.  He preached one message while living another.  He claimed to care for people’s needs while doing nothing to provide for them.

Osama bin Laden's million dollar "hideout," nestled in a large, modern city.

 

Obviously, we are aware of the vast fortunes that oil’s presence in the Middle East has brought to the region.  But do you know that only an extremely limited number of Arab nations possess oil, and, of those that do, only the royal families enjoy the profits?

 

In a strange stroke of God’s providence, only the extreme eastern portions of the Middle East have significant oil beneath their sands.  Most of the oil lies beneath the wasteland nobody ever wanted, known today as Saudi Arabia.  The most heavily populated Arab nations, those which were the most cultured and advanced, those with the best forms of government, found that they had no oil.  The vast majority of the Middle East is impoverished.

 

As it turns out, the most backward, evil, and violent countries are the ones which found themselves sitting on top of oil.  Ibn Saud, the original patriarch of the famous richest family in the world – the Sauds, of Saudi Arabia – was a backwards, evil ogre whom the world ignored and left out of world discussions following World Wars 1 and 2…until oil was discovered beneath his otherwise worthless sand.  His family now controls the vastest fortune on earth.

 

Ibn Saud, the backward, vile patriarch of the Saud fortune and kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Strains such as this control the money in the Middle East, and they are tyrannical in nature.  Their people live in squalor while they literally live as kings.  Their people are ignorant and easily inflamed with hate against Israel and the U.S.

 

Osama bin Laden is from Saudi Arabia.  He perfectly matches the hypocritical attitude of taking advantage of followers whom he looks down upon.  This is not at all how God intended leaders of people and rulers of nations to behave.  And as with all of God’s laws and ways, when we break them, a breaking always comes back upon us.  Bin Laden experienced this personally Sunday night before last.

 

In the final analysis, the death of Osama bin Laden substantiates the Bible’s contemporary timelessness.  We see the truth that “the earth and everything in it is the Lord’s.” We see that God sits above human governments and rulers, steering history’s course according to His incomparable will.  When things appear to us humans to be out of control, God is still in command.  When evil and evil men appear to be unstoppable, we see that mere creatures are powerless in the face of their Creator.  We will either live to see God’s perfect justice prevail or we will see it when human history concludes.  Either way, God is in control, and the only proper response to such sovereign authority is to bow to Him in worship.