Tuesday, February 24, 2009

KEEPING SIN, THROWING OUT CONDEMNATION

Greta Van Susteren’s interview last week on FOX News with eighteen-year-old Bristol Palin about her very public pregnancy and unwed motherhood raised some conflicting thoughts in my mind. For example, while I questioned, on several levels, the wisdom of the Palins allowing their young daughter to be interviewed on national television, I also admired Bristol’s and the family’s courage in doing so. While I wish that Bristol had not gotten in this situation (or engaged in the behavior that caused it), I marveled and rejoiced to see such family support and solidarity in tough times. And when grandmother Sarah Palin brought baby Trip to Bristol on camera at the end of the interview, well, how could anyone but rejoice that such a precious new life has come into the world? Bristol is to be commended for taking responsibility and raising her child instead of aborting it.

Still, it was just a little disturbing to see how completely comfortable this Christian family seemed with their plight, one born out of what used to be known as sin. Of course, we cannot see into their hearts and private thoughts, and I’m not suggesting they should be self-flagellating over Bristol’s situation. They are living under God’s grace and moving on. Yet perhaps there might have been some expression of remorse.

Bristol stated that she was going public with her story because she wants to serve as a spokesperson against teenage pregnancy. Not teen sex, but teen pregnancy. She called abstinence “unrealistic.” Never in the interview did she ever suggest that what she did was wrong, only that it would have been easier to have waited until college and establishing a career were behind her.

I was discussing this with a friend who many years ago found herself in Bristol’s shoes. She told me that she never referred to her pregnancy as sin outside of her family, because she felt that somehow it made her child. . .less. Understandable. I had just seen Oliver Twist on television and was reminded, with a shudder, that we really aren’t that far away from the irrational and deplorable stigmatization and mistreatment of children who simply had the misfortune to be orphaned, much less born out of wedlock, that has marked society throughout all but fairly recent history.

The social statement made by the Palins, however, could not be starker in contrast to the old way. They are symbolic of a society that has moved beyond that, and thank God for it. I wonder, though, if in leaving behind the rejection and stigmatization of unwed mothers and their children, it was also necessary to leave behind the concept of sin.

Atheists and some liberals would say yes, and that secularization’s doing away with absolute standards of right and wrong is a sign of society’s great enlightenment. They would insist that designation of any act as sin or suggestion that one should feel a moment’s shame over any personal action is intolerant, judgmental, and hateful.

Perhaps we Christians are to blame for this. We know that God’s standards of sin as given to us in Scripture are good, not only because they are from God, but because they promote healthy families and lifestyles which in turn promote healthy and prosperous societies. We know that admitting when we have sinned and taking responsibility for our actions is good for both our souls and our communities. But maybe for too long we have divorced grace from sin and invested more energy in condemning the sinner along with the sin than we have in showing why God’s ways are good for us. We have unwittingly given fodder to the secularists and caused them to throw out the baby with the proverbial bathwater.

Some of the church is still stuck in the habit of condemning people, rather than challenging their actions. Other parts of the church have joined the secularists in throwing out any notion of sin. The former leaves the church dead in legalism and irrelevance, offering no hope to a lost world. The latter leaves us no clear alternative to the world’s system, adds to the disintegration of society, and dishonors God. It’s time for all of us find the balance in the example of Jesus, who never left sin unchallenged and called it by it’s true name, but always showed a better way, offering grace for healing and deliverance from sin to all who would receive it.

Whether or not the message has been a bit muddled, I choose to believe that this desire to show a better way is exactly what motivates the Palins to handle their daughter’s situation as they are. More power to them.

What do you think?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Renewing Gratitude, Renewing Hope


Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. –Colossians 3:15

My friend Amy Azar, a missionary in South Africa, sent me this photo of people’s “homes” in Khaylitsha Township there. Take a long look at it. I’m sure your first thoughts will match mine: “Oh my God—I can’t believe people really live in those things. How awful!” No doubt this exclamation was accompanied by compassion and a desire, yet with some sense of powerlessness, to do something about it. That, however, is a subject for another post.

Today, I wonder if you see the thing that immediately arrested my attention in this photo, that is, that big, healthy-looking mass of green plants with bright yellow flowers beside the shack on the left. I marveled that in this scene of total desolation there is still a symbol of beauty and hope. I wondered if the flowers grew wild, a gift from God, or if some impoverished resident of indomitable spirit planted them there. Either way, they are a cause for hope.

As I pondered these things, I heard that still, small voice of God say to my heart, “There is always something to be thankful for.” These words pricked my heart, because I knew He was talking about me, not about poor South Africans.

I’ve had some struggles lately, and sometimes (OK, frequently) have given in to self-pity and internal grumbling. I say “internal” grumbling because, as a “mature Christian”, I know better than to complain loudly to people. But God sees—and hears—what goes on in the heart, and there’s no hiding it from Him. I knew I might as well ‘fess up and repent of an ungrateful heart.

Such a heart is an insidious enemy, because nothing freezes out intimacy with God faster than ingratitude. I know, because I speak from experience. It can make your most intimate Friend seem like a distant cousin in no time, and grieves His heart. It makes you painfully aware of what you lack and forget all the rich blessings you possess, skewing your view of reality. It cuts off fellowship with God, joy, life, and eventually makes you mean, cold and hard.

Conversely, nothing opens up the wellspring of God’s love, blessing, and companionship like a thankful heart. Gratitude in everything is like a sweet fragrance to the Lord that warms His heart and brings Him joy and glory. (It makes you smell better to everyone else, too.) It makes you soft, warm, joyful and compassionate. And gratitude begets more gratitude, first to God and then to others. It allows praise to rise in our hearts and gives us eyes to see the hand of God and his miracles, big and small, in all our circumstances, renewing hope for the future.

Yes, it’s better to be thankful than to be a whiner. So I have determined to make a habit of thanking God for specific things every day, and ending each day with thanks. Today, for example, I am thankful that my fourteen-year-old Sable is running well and that I get to prepare and serve dinner at a homeless shelter tonight.

Why don’t you join me? What are you thankful for today? Send me your list as a comment.

Friday, February 06, 2009

DAVY CROCKETT VS. BIG GOVERNMENT

My, how times have changed in the U.S. Congress since the days of the inimitable Davy Crockett! Then, federal coffers were flush with cash and members thought twice about how they spent the people’s money. Considering the “stimulus package” passed by the House and now before the Senate, it might do us good to consider the following story from Crockett’s life as a congressman.

When Colonel Davy Crockett was in the U.S. Congress (sometime between 1827 and 1835), a bill came up to appropriate money for support of a widow whose husband had been a decorated naval officer. It seemed the bill, for such a worthy cause, would sail through unopposed. That was until Crockett rose to speak in opposition. He told his House colleagues of how he had once voted for a similar bill and felt very good about himself for doing so, until he later ran into a wise constituent named Horatio Bunce while roaming the hinterlands of his district campaigning for re-election.

Colonel Crockett continued to tell how he ran into Mr. Bunce in a field, introduced himself, and asked him for his vote. Bunce replied that he would never give it, precisely because of Crockett’s “yes” vote on that charity appropriation, a provision of $20,000 in federal aid to victims of a fire in Georgetown (DC). Mr. Bunce, you see, felt that such a vote was an abuse of the Constitution. An incredulous Crockett asked him to explain why his compassionate vote violated the U.S. Constitution. Below is Colonel Crockett’s account of their dialogue:

“My papers say that last winter you voted for a bill to appropriate $20,000 to some sufferers by a fire in Georgetown. Is that true!"

"Certainly it is, and I thought that was the last vote for which anybody in the world would have found fault with."

"Well, Colonel, where do you find in the Constitution any authority to give away the public money in charity!"

"Here was another sockdologer; for, when I began to think about it, I could not remember a thing in the Constitution that authorized it. I found I must take another tack, so I said:

"Well, my friend; I may as well own up. You have got me there. But certainly nobody will complain that a great and rich country like ours should give the insignificant sum of $20,000 to relieve its suffering women and children, particularly with a full and overflowing Treasury, and I am sure, if you had been there, you would have done just as I did."

"It is not the amount, Colonel, that I complain of; it is the principle. In the first place, the Government ought to have in the Treasury no more than enough for its legitimate purposes. But that has nothing to do with the question. The power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be entrusted to man, particularly under our system of collecting revenue by a tariff, which reaches every man in the country, no matter how poor he may be, and the poorer he is the more he pays in proportion to his means. What is worse, it presses upon him without his knowledge where the weight centers, for there is not a man in the United States who can ever guess how much he pays to the Government. So you see, that while you are contributing to relieve one, you are drawing it from thousands who are even worse off than he. If you had the right to give anything, the amount was simply a matter of discretion with you, and you had as much right to give $20,000,000 as $20,000. If you have the right: to give to one, you have the right to give to all; and, as the Constitution neither defines charity nor stipulates the amount, you are at liberty to give to any and everything which you may believe, or profess to believe, is a charity, and to any amount you may think proper. You will very easily perceive, what a wide door this would open for fraud and corruption and favoritism, on the one hand, and for robbing the people on the other. No, Colonel, Congress has no right to give charity. Individual members may give as much of their own money as they please, but they have no right to touch a dollar of the public money for that purpose. If twice as many houses had been burned in this county as in Georgetown, neither you nor any other member of Congress would have thought of appropriating a dollar for our relief. There are about two hundred and forty members of Congress. If they had shown their sympathy for the sufferers by contributing each one week's pay, it would have made over $13,000. There are plenty of wealthy men in and around Washington who could have given $20,000 without depriving themselves of even a luxury of life. The Congressmen chose to keep their own money, which, if reports be true, some of them spend not very creditably; and the people about Washington, no doubt, applauded you for relieving them from the necessity of giving by giving what was not yours to give. The people have delegated to Congress, by the Constitution, the power to do certain things. To do these, it is authorized to collect and pay moneys, and for nothing else. Everything beyond this is usurpation, and a violation of the Constitution."

"So you see, Colonel, you have violated the Constitution in what I consider a vital point. It is a precedent fraught with danger to the country, for when Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the Constitution, there is no limit to it, and no security for the people. I have no doubt you acted honestly, but that does not make it any better, except as far as you are personally concerned, and you see that I cannot vote for you."


For the very interesting details and happy ending to this story, please follow the link at the bottom of this post. Suffice it to say that Crockett declared he would put up a week’s worth of his own salary and challenged every colleague to do the same, and Congress voted down the charity bill before them. Whether they all anted up, I can’t say.

There’s little I can add to Mr. Bunce’s eloquence and logic on this subject. I simply encourage you to carefully consider the principles he presents. How much more loathe should Congress be to spend money not their own on “charity” for corporations and municipalities whose woes are largely self-inflicted, and at a time when we are trillions of dollars in debt. May God grant us not politicians, but statesmen of wisdom and character, like Davy Crockett, who value what is right more than re-election.
_______________________

This story appeared in The Life Of Colonel David Crockett, by Edward S. Ellis, published by Porter & Coates in 1884. Now in the public domain. Quoted from the website of Advocates for Self-Government at http://www.theadvocates.org/library/christian-crockett.html.

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