Sunday, August 25, 2019

Praise the Lord and His Creation, Full Moon Rising Over Cliffs Above Missouri River Near Rochport

Bikinis and Modesty with Pastor John Piper

Shadows and Streams

Solid Joys: Message of Creation


Psalm 146
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sunday---Albert Mohler: Is Religious Liberty Truly At Risk? A Warning


That question was debated recently in dueling articles published in the Wall Street Journal. David French, senior writer for National Review magazine argued that religious liberty is indeed endangered in America. Marci Hamilton, a former clerk for retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner, who now serves as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, makes the counter argument. It was a genuine exchange of ideas, viewpoints, and divergent worldviews—the arguments are very revealing.
David French made his case by tracing back to April 28, 2015, which marked the oral arguments before the Supreme Court regarding Obergefell v. Hodges. The Court’s decision in Obergefell would legalize same-sex marriage across the country. The most ominous and telling moment in those oral arguments came during an exchange between Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr. and Justice Samuel Alito.
French wrote, “Justice Samuel Alito asked President Barack Obama's Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr. whether constitutional recognition for same-sex marriage would lead to stripping federal tax exemptions from religious colleges that oppose gay marriage, in the same way that federal law strips tax exemptions from colleges that oppose interracial marriage or interracial dating. Rather than immediately answering, “no,” the Solicitor General of the United States responded, ‘It’s certainly going to be an issue.’”

Indeed, it will be and has proven to be an issue, and not just for tax exemptions. It will be an issue when it comes to any form of social recognition. The big issue at stake is whether Christian colleges will be able to continue to operate under any semblance of the Christian faith. Moreover, the issues have spread far beyond the college campus—including ministries, adoption and foster care agencies, religious organizations and even hospitals that are now confronted with the realities of diminishing respect for religious liberty.

In reflecting on the oral arguments, French eloquently states: “And just like that, millions of American Christians could easily and quickly imagine a future where the law held their traditional, orthodox religious beliefs—the beliefs of the Catholic Church and every significant evangelical denomination in America—in the same regard as it held the views of vile racists. But Christians who had been paying attention knew of this risk well before Obergefell. Christians who had been paying attention had seen a trend where legal activists at all levels of government had been aggressively expanding their regulatory and ideological attacks on religious liberty.”

The reality is that religious liberty is in peril in the United States and we have known it for a long time. This is one of the reasons why in the 1990s, Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act with overwhelming support from both parties and in both houses of Congress. The bill’s vast public support made it noncontroversial. Now, however, one of the most cherished liberties in American history is threatened by increasing secularization and the sexual revolution.

French highlights the chief threat against religious liberty, namely, the administrative state. The vast bureaucracy of government can effectively channel a political agenda set out to malign and reduce religious liberty without any legislative or congressional deliberation. Consider the infamous Obama contraception mandate. The administration forced its moral agenda through the bureaucratic powers of the Department of Health and Human Services. With one executive mandate, the federal government demanded that religious employers violate conscience, demanding that they provide contraceptive health coverage (including some forms which may be abortifacients) in direct violation of their own consciences. This encroachment led a group of nuns known as the Little Sisters of the Poor to file suit in federal court, precisely because of the violation of Christian conscience.

That episode marked a calculated and deliberate attempt by the administrative state to dismantle the liberties and rights secured through religious freedom. President Obama could have accomplished the same policy measure without violating the consciences of Christian ministries or companies managed from Christian principles. The threat of the administrative state, furthermore, extends beyond health-coverage mandate. The same kind of policies have come from the Department of Justice or the Department of Education. Just about every dimension of the vast administrative state presents such dangers.

French argues, “The list could go on, but more disturbing than the individual cases is the deep inversion of America’s constitutional principles that has empowered this legal assault. If governments ultimately prevail in these efforts, the resulting precedents would upend the constitutional order, rendering religious Americans even more vulnerable to future legal attacks, like the threatened loss of tax exemptions for Christian educational institutions.”

French then turns to the Bill of Rights, which enshrines religious liberty as a core American liberty. He rightly argues that U.S. constitutional provision in the Bill of Rights does not merely limit the federal government from establishing a religion, but also guarantees the free exercise of religion.

He then writes, “Every other American law—whether a federal statute, state constitutional provision, state law or university regulation—is subordinate to and subject to review under this Bill of Rights.” That argument has enjoyed a nearly unquestionable status of American constitutional order ever since the Constitution was ratified. This is an important argument to maintain because, as French points out, many opponents to religious liberty dismiss its importance by arguing that religious freedom is merely a pretext for bigotry.

The format of these dueling articles in the Wall Street Journal provides space at the end of each author’s argument for the opposing writer to respond. After French makes his case that religious liberty is besieged, Marci Hamilton responded, stating, “David French says that our constitutional tradition does not give religious believers absolute rights—even as he argues that they should be free, in most instances, from laws that they consider incompatible with their beliefs. But there is only one absolute right in the Constitution, and that is the First Amendment’s guarantee of the right to believe anything you want. The government may never prescribe beliefs.”

This is the most revealing paragraph in the entire exchange. Note carefully what Marci Hamilton is doing. She has reduced the constitutional right of religious liberty to a right merely “to believe anything you want.” This is a radically reductionist argument, which undermines the broad and crucial protections guaranteed and respected by the First Amendment. The First Amendment secures more than a mere right to believe, in private, anything you want.

Hamilton’s definition of religious liberty is now divorced from any public action or significance. In her view, the First Amendment only protects your individual, private thoughts. That protection ceases once those thoughts enter the public square.

During the Obama Administration we began to hear references to religious liberty reframed as “freedom of worship.” The freedom to worship is indeed included within the free exercise of religion, but to deliberately use this language is to imply that worship is where the liberty ends. That is not true.

But now, in Marci Hamilton’s argument, we see religious liberty reduced even further. It is as if this new version of religious liberty is restricted to a citizen’s cranium – merely a right to believe.

In Hamilton’s own article, she refers to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 negatively, stating that “it didn’t ‘restore’ First Amendment law; it created a new version of extreme religious liberty on demand.” This is astounding. Hamilton construes the Religious Freedom Restoration Act [RFRA] as legislating an “extreme” new understanding of religious freedom. It did no such thing. Interestingly, the President who quite publicly signed the law was Bill Clinton, a Democrat. Moreover, many of the most liberal members of the Democratic Party not only voted for the bill but were co-sponsors of this supposedly “extreme” bill for religious freedom.

What changed in the last 25 years? The culture changed. The culture that once honored religious liberty and respected it as a bedrock freedom for civil society—that culture is no more. Religious liberty now attracts the glare of the cultural left who see religious liberty as an obstacle in the path of their social transformation. They view this freedom as a socially-constructed institution of bigotry from which we must liberate ourselves. Moreover, the rise of the LGBTQ movement now pits religious liberty against the newly constructed sexual liberty—these are two, incompatible freedoms that necessarily collide. The sexual revolution believes it’s time for religious freedom to give way to its higher, newer, morally coercive “rights.”

Hamilton, after lamenting the present state of religious liberty proponents, states, “The good news is that the next generation rejects this extreme idea of religious liberty. Younger Americans are not so sanguine about organized religion. According to the Pew Research Center, the fastest-growing religious cohort among Americans is the “nones,” who either don’t believe at all or believe in God but reject organized religion.” Hamilton openly celebrates the decline of religion, not just religious liberty. This development is apparently, “good news.”

Note carefully that Hamilton presents the decline of religious faith as “good news.”
This project in the Wall Street Journal was a genuine exchange of ideas. It featured two major essays presenting two contrary arguments, and those who made the arguments had the opportunity to respond to one another. It was calm, it was respectful, it was substantial. substantial. It’s a tribute to the Wall Street Journal that it actually published this exchange.

Nevertheless, the debate comes as an ominous warning. Just consider Marci Hamilton’s arguments, especially her assertion that freedom of religion essentially only guarantees the freedom of privately held, privately expressed belief. In this rendering, religion has no respected place in the public square. Your cranium is the only viable real estate for religious expression.

Writing a letter to the Wall Street Journal in response to Marci Hamilton's article, Don Meindertsma, writing from Annandale, Virginia got it just right when he stated: “Ms. Hamilton opines that the only absolute right guaranteed by the First Amendment is the right to believe anything you want. We hardly need a constitution for that. I can sit in my house and believe whatever I want, whenever I want despite any law (or woke bureaucrat) that instructs otherwise. Rather, the First Amendment's protection of the exercise of religion is what envelops us when we leave the home to carry out our calling.” He then concluded, “That right might not be absolute, but it is literally the top of the list in the Bill of Rights and should easily trump so-called fundamental rights that the constitution doesn't even mention.”

This debate carried out on the pages of the Wall Street Journal has massive implications for American public life, especially against the backdrop of the 2020 Presidential Election. Indeed, the Democratic contenders for the nomination need to be confronted with the real questions raised in these dueling articles. The candidates need to be asked if they, as President, would use executive authority through federal departments to force a secular orthodoxy on religious groups, organizations, and businesses. The candidates need to be asked if they will protect the rights of Christian colleges to educate their students and hire their faculty in accordance with the tenets of faith, without being threatened by the state.

I dare someone to ask the Democratic candidates those questions. All the evidence surfacing in this Democratic Primary campaign indicates that none of the major candidates would do anything to upset the new sexual orthodoxy. Furthermore, there is every reason to believe that if one of these candidates were elected, the administrative state would reengage and expand its campaign to dismantle religious liberty, with even greater hostility and ferocity.

One way or another, all the candidates must answer this vital question: will you or will you not uphold the most precious liberty of our national order?

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Sunday, What Sudden Disasters---Natural and Manmade---Preach and Teach Us

After two mass shootings Saturday,  this seems like a very timely message and warning:


MY SECOND SUNDAY as a full-time pastor came five days after the worst tornado outbreak in American history afflicted our city and its surrounding region. I preached from Job 1–2, and we put the sermon title on our marquee: “Where Was God?” Attendance that Sunday doubled and a couple of media members, intrigued by the existential question on our sign, interviewed me.

Natural disasters and tragedies, particularly those that fall on us like a lightning bolt, provoke thoughts in all kinds of people—both the religious and the irreligious—of death, eternal realities, and deity.

Many of us remember the aftermath of 9/11. There was a large ecumenical prayer service held at Yankee Stadium a few days in its wake as a shadow of fear blanketed our country. Similarly, the assassination of national leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy spawned myriad solemn gatherings for prayer and reflection on ultimate realities.

In Luke 13:1–7, Jesus faced a crowd of people who sought the meaning of two tragic events—one an atrocity that brings to mind some of the unspeakably evil activities of Nazi Germany, another that summons the gut-wrenching images of crumbling towers that September morning in 2001.

In the first event, Pilate displayed his brutality by murdering Galileans in the midst of worship and then mingling their blood with the sacrifices—a cruel, blasphemous act. The crowd’s tacit question for Jesus was: What did they do to deserve such a fate? Jesus knew as much, asking them: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way?”

In the second event, a tower in Siloam—an area in south Jerusalem near the pool of Siloam—toppled to the ground, killing 18, likely injuring more. The tacit question was the same: Did those victims somehow deserve their fate? Were they especially heinous sinners? As Jesus put it: “Do you think they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?”

Repent or Perish

Jesus responded to both situations with the same pointed, sobering answer: “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” In other words, the Galileans were murdered at the altar, in what they no doubt viewed as a holy place, but they had no time to repent. Similarly, those on whom the tower fell were taken out of this world in the blink of an eye without warning, with no time to repent.
Jesus’s warning may come off as terse, even slightly harsh, but it is a word of grace: Turn to the Lord while there is still time. The point is simple, but we miss it to our peril.

Here are four additional applications we can draw from Christ’s brief encounter with this crowd.

1. ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ is not the right question.

“Why do good things happen to bad people?” is perhaps the better question. Jesus didn’t deny the connection between catastrophic events and human wickedness, and it’s true that such events occur because of humanity’s fall into sin. Nevertheless, Jesus was clear: “Unless you repent, you shall surely die.”

Every human born in Adam’s wake, except Jesus, is a rebel against his or her Maker. That God heaps mercy on undeserving sinners like us, then, should mystify us every bit as much—if not more—than why bad things happen to “good” people. We are all heinous sinners. We all need grace.

2. Today is the day for repentance.

We never know what a given day will bring. No one’s guaranteed time to prepare for death. Those on whom the tower of Siloam fell were presumably going about their business when tragedy suddenly struck. Workers in the Twin Towers of Manhattan, as well as the fire and rescue workers, expected a normal day at the office. But the Preacher of Ecclesiastes puts it like this:

Time and chance happen to them all. Man knows not his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them. (Eccles. 9:11–12

On the highway of life, death lurks like an evil shadow around the next bend, hidden from view. It’s true for the Christian as well as the atheist. Is today your day?

3. We must speak only where God has spoken.

Attempting to read providence is unwise and dangerous. As we tend to do, the crowd Jesus addressed apparently made a judgment as to why Pilate committed his atrocities and why the tower fell. In the aftermath of 9/11, some presumed to speak on God’s behalf, assuring listeners the terrorist attacks were divine retribution for national sins including abortion and homosexuality. Might that have been true? That’s up to God. We simply don’t know, for God never told us. And what would be our condition if each of us got what our sins deserved? Had Christ not shouldered my debt, I would be in hell.

In his provocative book God’s Judgments: Interpreting History and the Christian Faith, Steven J. Keillor argues that temporal events may indeed be acts of divine judgment for public sin. God hasn’t been pleased to tell us, however, the particular tragedies that result from particular national transgressions. Christians usually wind up looking foolish when they predict specific dates for Jesus’s return, as well as when they try to read providence. Jesus’s words in Luke 13 demonstrate the folly of the latter.

4. Natural disasters are powerful preachers.

On August 31, 1886, the most powerful earthquake to ever hit the East Coast pummeled Charleston, South Carolina, killing 150 and reducing to rubble nearly 90 percent of the historic city’s masonry buildings. More than two-thirds of the city’s 40,000 inhabitants were homeless. Baptist pastor-journalist H. H. Tucker told readers of the Christian Index newspaper that the earthquake was a preacher sent by God to, consistent with Jesus’s words here in Luke 13, rouse a spiritually drowsy culture. He said the awful event preached several doctrines, including the sovereignty of God, the moral responsibility and guilt of man, the uncertainty of life, the value of prayer, and the necessity of repentance. Tucker wrote:

When the continent trembled, millions of people thought of God. A large proportion of these were of that class in all whose thoughts, from day to day, God is not. Millions of people were impressed with a sense of human helplessness and insignificance. . . . In the heyday of prosperity, men invent arguments to disprove [the existence of God], but when appalling danger comes suddenly upon them they forget the arguments and remember [God], showing that deep in the human heart there is an intuition which acknowledges God, and recognizes our proper relations to him.

Jesus took the opportunity to use a human atrocity and a natural disaster to preach both the danger of life in a fallen world and also the need to repent. We should soberly and humbly look for opportunities to do the same. God does not owe us tomorrow.

Time Is Short

Above all, Jesus’s brief warning in Luke 13 ought to remind us that we bear a message the entire world desperately needs. Until Jesus returns in glory, natural disasters will occur. There will be a tornado outbreak worse than the one I lived through. There will be atrocities, because there will always be despotic leaders. Towers will crumble at the hands of terrorists.

And because man knows not his time, it is fitting in every season and on every occasion for Christians to gently lead unbelievers from “Why me?” to “Why not me?”—and to lovingly channel Jesus’s words: “Unless you repent, you too will perish.”