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What in the World is a Free Press?

One of the many skirmishes with the current President, and there are many, is focused on the notion of a free press. Last Thursday over 300 news organizations, in a coordinated effort against the President, published editorials in defense of a free press.

But what in the world is a “free” press?

In the upcoming Engagement small-group series (launches late 2019) we will take some time talking about what has happened to various words in our culture. One of those is the word “freedom”. When a people become totally self-centered, as I believe we have, then “freedom” becomes all about me and my right to do whatever I want. We’ve even upped the ante on this in the last thirty years by divinizing the individual such that we believe our heart is the source of truth, which by default makes us each a little god. If I am divine, and my heart tells me that I’m a boy and not a girl, even at age 4, or I want to marry the soil (as Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens did in 2014) then who are you to speak against the gods? This has become the modern view of “freedom”. Unfettered by a transcendent Truth, we all become gods. However, we are insanely impotent little gods and we need the power of the press or the State to confirm and codify and adjudicate our god-ness and force the culture to accept and bless our “freedom” to act as precious little divines.

This notion now carries over into the new understanding of the “freedom” of the press.

The Founders weren’t interested in “freedom” as we want to define it today. They believed the foundations of this country were its solid stand on a belief in God (and therefore a transcendent right and wrong) and the people then acting morally in accordance with that transcendent Truth. Freedom was found in the right of an individual to become as fruitful as they were gifted and determined to become without the suppressing caste of ancestry or royal rights and without the tyranny of the State or any other power circumventing that liberty. The “free press” was critical to this dream because it would provide an essential “balance of power” to the State or Labor or the Church or to anything that would threaten those foundations or the freedom and liberty of the people. The Press was to be the nation’s non-political “umpire” whose power was to call attention to the people of violations toward this exceptional dream.

But what happens when the press begins to align with one side over the other? What would happen in a baseball game if the umpire never called strikes against one team and never called balls against the other? Do we rejoice because the umpire is “free” to call them the way he likes, helping his “side”, rather than according to the rules?

During the last administration, the President declared he would not enforce a law enacted by Congress (DOMA) because he didn’t like it. The press should have created a firestorm that scorched the political land. No President, who has taken an oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and to faithfully fulfill the position as head of the Executive Branch, which executes the laws enacted by Congress, should ever, ever be allowed to act as if he were supreme to the Legislative Branch and the Judicial Branch. Yet it happened and the press was silent.

Why?

Because the mainstream press has become aligned with a naturalistic worldview and its political party.

Conservatives have long protested this growing deep bias in the press. Studies have shown that the major news organizations are over 90% manned with left-leaning people.

There is nothing inherently wrong with that!

But, if the press doesn’t hold both sides accountable, then is it really “free” in the sense that the Founders dreamed and for which they fought?

I don’t think so.

Here is what needs to happen. When the President chides them over this issue, instead of firing back as if they are without fault, let them take a serious internal look and ask themselves if they are guilty of betraying the true notion of their profession. Ask themselves if they would have allowed Madonna to talk about “blowing up the White House” if it were against a blue President or if they would tolerate repeated attacks on a blue President’s wife and children. When I was at the White House, under a red President, I saw the unmerciful attacks in the press upon Justice Clarence Thomas and the derision that arose over the Vice President spelling “potatoe”. Then I left and saw a blue President use his power and influence to seduce a young intern in the Oval Office and the press and the feminists virtually turned a blind eye.

I want the press to call a fair game. I want them to take the current President to task when he is wrong. I want bad cops and bad judges and bad politicians exposed. But those strikes need to be called on both sides, not just one.

It’s a little comical though, and I suppose we ought to try to find something here at which we can laugh. The President is yelling at a bad Ump, and the Ump is desperately trying to throw the President out of the game, but he can’t and the Ump is growing unhinged because of it… all to the extreme delight of the President, who gleefully fires off another raspberry.

It is making for a wild and crazy game.

Let’s hope and pray it ends in something good for the nation.

 


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Gazing Upon the Face of God: Jesus

[preface]

Seldom do we think of “Jesus” as an attribute of God. But I believe it is profitable to do so and not without good reason. All of the “names” of God present us with an aspect of His character:

-YHWH: the God who is self-existent

-JEHOVA RAPHA: the God who heals

-ADONAI: the Lord

-EL SHADDAI: the God who is all sufficient; almighty

-EL ROI: the God who sees

So, too, when we come to what could well be God’s most beautiful name: Jesus.

It was dictated to Joseph by an angel of the Lord:

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21

Names are critical in the economy and Word of God. It isn’t like our culture today, where we name our babies based upon what is trendy, or a name we think will stand out for its uniqueness, or maybe a family name from the past. In the biblical scheme of things, names represent something about the person, like their character or the divine task God has for them. Therefore we find Eve: mother of all living; Moses: drawn out of water; or Jacob: cheater. When God changes someone’s name, it was to indicate their new mission, as in: Jacob, cheater, becomes Israel, rules with God; and Abram, father of height, become Abraham, father of many.

Therefore, the name “Jesus” was bestowed because He would “save His people from their sins”. Jesus, in His character and in His mission, is Savior of His people.

And there is something powerful in that name. Philippians 2, says that it is “a name above every name” and that at this name “every knee should bow”; John 20:31 says that we have “life in His name”; Colossians 3:17 tells us that everything we do, “in word or deed” ought to be done in this name; and Acts 4:12 says that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”.

Now here is something curious for us to ponder. Look at what Jesus said to Nicodemus:

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:17-18

Why does Jesus say this? Why not just “because he has not believed in the only Son of God?” This is not unusual, for we see this in many places. Jesus told some they would not see Him again until they said, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Paul says we were “justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Why? Because the name Jesus points us to the character and the mission of the One who justifies us.

God is not calling us to some sort of belief in the letters J-E-S-U-S. He is calling us to believe in the nature, the character, the attributes, the essence of “who” Jesus is and therefore what He has done.

This is important because some have slipped into serious error here.

Jesus is a name, a beautiful name, but it would be wrong to begin to think that there is something “magical” or “animistic” in these five letters as assembled. This might be shocking to some and possibly even considered heretical to others, but it is critical to understand. “Jesus” is not some magic wand or incantation. You don’t receive goodies by chanting His name or by rubbing your fingers over it or kissing it. Never forget that we worship Him, not his title or name or artifact.

An illustration from Scripture might be helpful.

The Israelites were in the desert and complaining again against God and Moses. As punishment, God sent “fiery serpents” among the people; poisonous snakes that bit them and therefore many had died. Moses intervened for them and God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and set it on a pole so that if anyone were bit and looked at the bronze serpent, he would live. Moses did this and the people were spared further death. This was obviously one of those representations in the Old Testament that pointed to Jesus, who later said “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” But, the people began to think that it was the bronze serpent that saved them and started to worship and make offerings to it. Hezekiah, a king who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord”, broke the bronze serpent into pieces along with the other idols in the land. The Israelites wrongly thought there was something magical or spiritual residing within the object.

There is a reason why God commanded that we not make any image of Him. He does not reside in clay or wood or letters.

The name of Jesus is not a magical potion, but there IS something about that name. We are not saved by the letters, but we are saved by One to whom those letters are pointing—the person of Jesus, our Savior.

Keep your eyes upon Him. 

Gazing on that should put a big thanks in your Thanksgiving!

 

[illustration by Brendon Ward]

 

 


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A Tribute: Dancing with the President

To the volume of wonderful comments on President George H. W. Bush, I wish to add my very small two cents.

Indeed he was a noble man. When people have asked me over the years of my assessment of him, I have always responded with “He was a real gentleman, in every sense of the word.”

There is a reason why so many people, during these days of memorializing President Bush, have commented over and over again upon his character. Yes, they have rightly, now, pointed to his extraordinary ability of forging relationships with foreign dignitaries, his handling of the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, his command during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and a number of other noteworthy achievements that unfortunately during his lifetime didn’t get press in a blue journalistic world. There is a long list of commendable performances, I believe, as President. But the most frequent and compelling comments are with regard to his character and how he treated other people.

I offer my own small example.

Early on in my time at the White House, I was rushing somewhere in the West Wing when I rounded a corner, only to nearly bump into President Bush headed in the opposite direction. The hallway was not very wide there and so I immediately jumped to my left, mumbling a humble “excuse me, Mr. President”. But he had, at the same time, moved to the same side. I immediately mumbled another, more humble, “I’m sorry” and jumped to my right… just as he had moved back too. I was obviously embarrassed by all of this and was about to offer another deep apology for delaying him from no doubt some important task, when he just smiled, put his hands on his hips and did a short little jig to the right and then to the left. I don’t know why, but I quickly did the same and for two steps I danced with the President. We laughed and he went on his way and I mine.

I think of that interaction with him often over these past days, because it speaks of his humble and kind character. He could have just ignored me or he could have even been miffed at my being in his way. But instead, I believe he recognized my discomfort and sought to put me at ease. He paused in his busy day to have a brief moment of light heartedness with a lowly staff member who needed it.

Barbara was similar. I recall a Christmas event in the East Dining room. The party was in full swing awaiting the arrival of President and Mrs. Bush. A young marine was jiving to the live music in front of the band and was totally unaware that they had silently entered the room. While everyone parted to let them through, he continued to jive away. Barbara slipped up behind him and put her arms around him. When he turned around and saw her, I thought he was going to have a heart attack. She and the President just laughed and she gave him another big hug and continued on their way to greet other guests.

She and the President were two peas in a pod.

I suppose the other thing that will forever stick in my mind is what he said in his “farewell address”. He spoke of a value that must be forever cast in stone: decency and the moral courage to say what is right and condemn what is wrong. This requires even a greater measure of courage today than when he spoke it 26 years ago, for doing so will reap one a firestorm of hatred and scorn.

This is a walk for only the brave and the faithful.

Yet many, many have walked that difficult path in the past… some to their graves. Our call is to nothing less.

He also spoke against what he saw back then as the rising “tide of incivility”, a tide he believed America must strongly reject. He longed for a nation that was closer to “the Waltons” rather than “the Simpson’s”.

President Bush always believed that he had a responsibility to give back to this nation and to its people. This belief caused him to see others through the eyes of humility and kindness and an obligation to do what he could for the betterment of others.

He did that for me in an obscure little hallway in the White House.

We have lost a good man.

 


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Humble

Sometimes gazing upon the face of God stumps us. Sometimes it stupefies us. And sometimes it means we have to rethink the picture we have created in our minds of who God is. All of this was true of me the first time I contemplated that God was humble. I honestly didn’t know how to fit it in with attributes like omnipotence, omniscience, and sovereignty. It seemed that a God who was holy and just and a “consuming fire” that blazed forth wrath upon evildoers certainly, in my mind, didn’t quite match what I envisioned as “humble”.

The road for me began with the words of Jesus when He said that He was “gentle and humble in heart”. Now I had read this many times before, but often the Spirit of God will highlight some words to us and it’s as if we had never read them before. So here was Jesus telling us that He had a humble heart. Well, in my shallow thinking, I thought that this was, of course, true of Jesus, but certainly couldn’t be true of God the Father, for He, in my mind, was the Lawgiver, the Judge and that awful “Consuming Fire” that devoured the offerings on Mt. Carmel and subsequently 450 prophets of Baal were slain. He split the ground open and swallowed up the entire clan of Korah and 250 priests were burned up. He is the God of Revelation who sends forth the four horsemen of the apocalypse that destroy vegetation, seas and rivers; He blasts trumpets and pours out bowls of wrath and sends plagues where the rivers turn to blood and men are consumed with sores; mountains are moved and stars fall from the sky and locusts torment men for months.

Whew! Hard to reconcile the holy, wrath of God with a humble heart.

And so I didn’t.

I basically began to think that the “humble” heart was for Jesus and the consuming fire was the Father. And, unwittingly, I slowly created a polytheistic god in my mind and not the One God of Scripture.

Then the Lord highlighted another passage for me. This was the killer.

In the Upper Room, Jesus performed one of the greatest acts of humility, washing the disciples stinky, dirty feet. A few minutes later, after performing this humble act, Philip said to Jesus:

“Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”

And Jesus made the stunning response:

“Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father…”

And it dawned on me, that when they saw Jesus kneeling before them washing their feet, they were watching the Father as well.

Paul states that Jesus is the “exact image” [eikon] of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). We could dwell on this word for days, but the essence is just what Jesus said: "If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father."

There is no polytheism here. There is One God, and He is humble… through and through… Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So how do we reconcile our bad thinking? How do we bring together what we have erroneously thought as incompatible: the powerful, omniscient, almighty, holy, consuming fire of God and His humility?

Well, the problem isn’t with God, for none of His attributes are contrary and He is totally consistent within His own Being, so it must be with us… with our thinking.

I have often used this metaphor:

Suppose there were two kings. Each ruled over half of the earth and all of its wealth. Both unimaginably powerful. One king would never, ever engage with the people, especially paupers. The other king, when his duties were done at the end of the day, would put on a ragged cloak and walk in the streets, talking with the people, the shop owners as well as the man who swept the street.

In your eyes, which is the greater king?

It is here that we begin to understand just what it means for God to be “humble”.

In Psalm 113 we read this great passage:

“Who is like the Lord our God, who is enthroned on high, who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth?”

The Hebrew word here [shaphel] means that God has to “stoop” to engage with our world. This is like the king who puts on the ragged cloak and comes down from his lofty throne to speak with the peasants. But it is greater, for God is higher than any king could ever be. And to Him, we are lower than any peasant could ever be to an earthly king.

But this is our God… who stoops, who humbles Himself, to engage with us.

“... Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Phillipians 2:5-8

And why did God do such a thing? Because His humility is bound up inexorably with His love. It is impossible to truly love unless you are humble, for true love requires sacrifice. Jesus “humbled” Himself and became a man. He “stooped” to take on flesh that He might save us. This was not contrary to His nature, but it was in conformance with His nature. Just because God is all-powerful and sovereign does not mean that He is not humble in heart.

When the Scripture calls us to be holy, it is because God is holy.

When it calls us to be perfect, it is because He is perfect.

When it calls us to be humble, is this because He is proud and arrogant? No. It is because He is “gentle and humble in heart”. And why He calls us to be like Him in Romans 12:

“Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” Romans 12:16

And, it is why in Psalm 51 we read that God is not interested in the sacrifice of bulls and goats, but "... a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

There is no room in the heart of God’s people for pride and arrogance. There is no room for haughtiness or lack of love. If we are the children of God, we should be characterized by humility. Not a mousy, no-spine kind of thing, but a strong, courageous willingness to “stoop”, to sacrifice, to become engaged with the lowliest of God’s creatures.

The Philippians passage begins with these words:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…”

And then it describes His willingness to “stoop”, to sacrifice, for the good of another.

Are we willing to “stoop”? Are we willing to set aside our comfort, our script, our plans for the sake of those who, from a worldly perspective might be “beneath” us?

God is opposed to the proud, but He gives grace to the humble. James 4:6

Ah! Therein lies a great clue.

 

Verses to ponder throughout this week:

 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8

But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. Hebrews 2:9

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29

Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; Psalm 113:5-6

Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, he sees them from afar. Psalm 138:6

For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. Isaiah 57:15

These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word. Isaiah 66:2

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. James 4:6

“Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” Romans 12:16

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:16-17


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The Violence of the Pre-Flood World

I just returned from a filming trip with Dr. Marcus Ross. We met at the 50-acre Discovery Park of America in Union City, Tennessee. If you ever find yourself near there, it would be worth visiting. Although there are exhibits in many different areas, our interest was in the natural history section with full skeletons of very diverse creatures from T-Rex to Apatosaurus, from Pterosaurs to the Woolly Mammoth and Saber-Toothed Tigers.

Dr. Ross is a paleontologist who has focused his research on dinosaurs. So our purpose for this part of the documentary (Is Genesis History?) was to learn more about that fascinating world…a world that no longer exists. Peter refers to the pre-flood earth as “the world that then existed perished” (2 Peter 3:6) and that God “did not spare the ancient world” (2 Peter 2:5). Clearly, the world that existed before the Flood was very different form the world we live in today. As Dr. Steve Austin and Dr. Kurt Wise explained in earlier filming segments, our common Christian understanding that the Flood simply soaked the earth is all wrong. The crust of the earth broke open and with enormous magma eruptions and tsunami forces of unimaginable size, God essentially remade the surface of the earth…and most probably the atmosphere as well.

The old world was filled with huge creatures; strange creatures. They swam in the ocean, walked the earth, and flew in the skies. The Megalodon shark had a jaw opening of nearly 100 square feet and teeth that were 7 inches long. The “Loch Ness” monster of that world was the Mauisaurus with a neck that was 49 feet long.  On land, the Apatosaurus had a tail that was 50 feet long and was likely used as a defense mechanism, not physically threatening, but it could be “cracked” like a bullwhip and create a deafening boom like a cannon. In the air flew the Pterosaurs. This was the exhibit that fascinated me the most, I guess because of my love for flying. The Pterosaur could fold its wings, somewhat like the F-18 on a carrier, but the pterosaur had hands at this bend, so on the ground they were a quadruped, walking on four “legs”. The conventional paradigm would say that they evolved from land dwellers, somehow growing wings and taking flight. Dr. Ross explained how the pterosaur, like every flying creature, had to have a special hollow bone structure and body and organ design in order to fly. This isn’t a land creature that evolved wings; it was built to fly from the ground up (pun intended).

We talked about the fossil record, how each “layer” has been used to show the evolution of life, but it can just as well show the order of communities of creatures that were swept up in the catastrophe of the flood, beginning with the low-lying marine creatures, and subsequently deposited in the enormous sedimentary layers that we find all over the earth…some layers, like the Redwall Limestone, are up to 800 feet thick. All of these layers are filled with the remains of creatures that were destroyed in the Flood. We walk on top of a literal grave yard. Everywhere.

But, of all we talked about, the complexity of the creatures from the bottom to the top, the grand diversity of life throughout the layers, the lack of evidence for evolutionary development…it was the reason for the destruction of life that ended up being the focus of our interview.

Dr. Ross pointed out that the evidence we have from that world is that is was an extremely violent one. We often think of the violence that seems to be escalating in our current world, but it was nothing to what the ancient world experienced. I had mistakenly thought that God destroyed the world because of the evil of man, and that is true. But Dr. Ross pointed out something very important.

So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them. Genesis 6:7

God didn’t just destroy man, but animals as well. Why did He do that?

We know that the Fall dropped the entire universe into a world of decay, but we are most familiar with the sin and evil that infected the human race. Indeed, it appears to have been rife:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6:5

But we also know that something happened to the animals. They were created herbivorous, but after the fall were carnivorous. The future hope is that the lion will lie down with the lamb and the cobra will not strike. This is a picture of the way animals were supposed to be. But just as the whole universe fell with Adam and is now groaning in its decay, so, too, did the animal kingdom. Ferocious creatures roamed the earth and swam in the oceans and flew in the skies. Dr. Ross talked about the teeth marks that are found on dinosaur bones.

It was a world and environment that allowed both plants and animals to live long and grow large, but they were infected with the savage disease of the Fall.

It was a world filled with abundant violence…both in man and beast.

And therefore God “wiped them all out”.

Understanding this is critical. Ignoring it is perilous. Peter refers to those who scoff at it, those who close their eyes to the evidence that is obvious...those who "willfully un-see". But he puts it in the context of judgment. If you ignore the judgment of God in the past, when He destroyed the world that then was, then you might think you can ignore the judgment that is coming. Peter mentions that the world was cleansed before with water and it will, in the future, be cleansed with fire.

In between, it was cleansed with blood…the blood of the Lamb.

If one ignores the judgments of God, one will not only ignore the notion of sin, but miss the entire “good news” of the Redemption and the Restoration.

All of this has been preserved for us in the bones...in the earth’s graveyard.

Look at them with wisdom and understanding.

 


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