Our National Birthday!

Soon, there will be fireworks. There will be “oohs” and “ahhs.” Hopefully, there will also be gratitude, rising from citizens well aware of the gifts our forebears have laid at our feet.

One such gift is the Declaration of Independence, penned by Thomas Jefferson, revised by fellow delegates and approved on July 4, 1776, articulating the great ideas and principles upon which our nation was founded. This document dealt with the very nature of humanity, our created dignity, our essential equality and the ultimate origin of our basic rights–all ideas deeply rooted in our faith.

Soon, we will celebrate our nation’s independence, reclaiming the self-evident truths “…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

In 1926, when this document and our nation were just 150 years young, an interesting speech was heard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of our freedom. It was written and delivered by a smart yet humble man who himself was born on July 4, 1872; a real Yankee Doodle Dandy, as they called him, “born on the fourth of July.” Did I say smart? Just for fun, he once translated, Dante’s Inferno from the Medieval Latin into English (one of seven languages he knew). For work, however, he was the 30th President of the United States of America. Some called him “Silent Cal” but when it came time to celebrating our independence, Cal could not be silent!

Calvin Coolidge (1872 –1933), 30th President of the United States of America.
Calvin Coolidge (1872 –1933) knew that the great ideas and principles in our Declaration did not just appear out of the blue. He knew about the influence of some French and English philosophers on our Founders, but he was well-read enough to also recognize the rich home-grown influences on them, including that of several generations of colonial preachers.

Coolidge understood the spiritual roots underneath the Declaration of Independence. In his Philadelphia speech celebrating America’s 150th birthday, he cited the preaching of Rev. Thomas Hooker and Rev. John Wise as formidable forces shaping the values of our founding generation. The deep convictions we held regarding the divine origin of our rights and liberties, and the essential value of the people’s consent, and the accountability we all share before God and each other, came primarily from our country’s early preachers.

In his 1926 national birthday speech, Coolidge said of our colonial clergy:

    “They preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image, all partakers of the divine spirit.”

No wonder our Declaration of Independence includes four references to God; as our Creator (making us equal and endowing us with rights), Lawmaker (author of “the Laws of Nature”), “Supreme Judge,” and as Protector (“Divine Providence” being the object of our “firm reliance”).

To prepare yourself for a joyful and more informed celebration this coming Independence Day, let’s listen to Coolidge:

    “Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man–these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We cannot continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause.” ~ Calvin Coolidge, 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 5, 1926.

Why not celebrate the Fourth of July by reading that Declaration to your family before the sun goes down and the fireworks go up? Meanwhile, listen to “Silen Cal” one more time:

    “We do not need more material development, we need more spiritual development. We do not need more intellectual power, we need more moral power. We do not need more knowledge, we need more character. We do not need more government, we need more culture. We do not need more law, we need more religion. We do not need more of the things that are seen, we need more of the things that are unseen… If that side be strengthened, the other side will take care of itself.” ~ Calvin Coolidge, Vice Presidential address at Wheaton College, Norton, Massachusetts, June 19, 1923.

The Law of Love

Imagine a man pushing an innocent old lady into an oncoming truck. Ouch!

Now picture a different man pushing an innocent old lady out of the way of a speeding truck.

Both stories involve a moving truck. Both men engaged in the same pushy behavior, shoved an innocent elderly lady without her consent. Nevertheless, can you see a difference between these two men?

How would you feel if both imaginary events actually occurred and the next day’s headlines read: “Men Pushing Old Ladies Around on the Rise!”

Sadly, headlines like that are more common than you think.

An uncompromising non-violent pacifist would insist on never ever pushing old ladies, innocent or not, truck or not. Pushing is an act of violent force and therefore always wrong.

On the other hand, an unscrupulous thug would also ignore the context and just push people around, even into danger, innocent or not.

Both responses above fall short of ethical goodness. Why? Because goodness is not about hard laws, rigid formulas, easy excuses or compelling feelings that demand the same one-size-fits-all response in every situation. Ethical goodness is not that easy. Sorry.

Laws and formulas have their place but real goodness must root itself in love. The man who pushes people into danger is not driven by love. The terrorists who hijacked United Flight #93 on 9/11 to turn a plane into a weapon of mass murder were filled with hate. The one who acts (with force if necessary) to protect people from harm is acting in love, much like the heroes who stormed the cockpit of United Flight #93 on 9/11 in order to prevent further mass murder.

Those who do nothing in the face of real need are probably just selfish. Those who remain passive in the face of real evil are moral cowards (I realize that active resistance to evil can also take non-violent forms).

Jesus and the apostles understood the law of love and its moral authority far beyond rigid laws, formulas and “isms.”

  • Jesus identified the two greatest commandments as a dual call to love God first and our neighbor as well. Then he said, “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:40)
  • Peter: “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8).
  • Paul: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 9:10). Later, he said, “Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:14).
  • James: “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well.” (James 2:8).
  • John: “God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16).

The difference between the man who pushed a lady into danger and the one who pushed her out of danger is obvious. Both acted in a similar manner in an isolated and superficial sense, but one willed the good for her and the other willed her harm.

Beloved reader, I presume you are a person of good will. Good! But remember, the man who willed the good for the lady did not just sit around feeling good about willing the good. He acted in love!

Go and DO likewise.

The 4th of July is Not a Religious Holiday

Holidays are heritage-handles to help us carry memories, values, ideals and traditions home to our hearts and minds. Our children need these handles.

Religious holidays nourish my faith in God and focus my heart on where my ultimate hope lies—namely, in Jesus Christ and His birth, life, death and resurrection. God alone, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, deserves all my worship.

I celebrate national holidays on an entirely different level, in order to inspire and cultivate gratitude. Worship has nothing to do with it.

Gratitude is a Christian virtue fitting for any day of the year. Christians find great peace and unity in knowing that our ultimate hope rests far beyond the realm of politics and nations. But we can still be deeply grateful for persons and things that may not offer ultimate hope. I bring gratitude, not worship, to my celebration of Independence Day. And I bring it in earnest.

America was founded on the belief that God is the source of liberty. John Dickinson, a Continental Congressman from Pennsylvania and Delaware, and a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, made this clear:

    Our liberties do not come from charters; for these are only the declarations of pre-existing rights. They do not depend on parchment or seals; but come from the King of Kings and the Lord of all the earth. ~ John Dickinson (1732–1808)

Our Founders also saw God as the source of our rights. The Declaration of Independence, approved on July 4, 1776, appealed to God with such foundational phrases as “endowed by their Creator”, “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”, “the Supreme Judge of the world” and “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.” And what did the Creator endow? He endowed “certain unalienable Rights” like “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Nevertheless, the 4th of July, our national birthday, is no more a religious holiday than my own birthday. Do I owe my very existence to God? Yes. However, there is nothing about me that should command your worship. There is nothing about America that commands it either. God alone deserves our worship.

I have loved my country with a love that never minimized my love for people in other lands. It’s a deep gratitude (never idolatry) for an incredible heritage. I for one never wanted my country “fundamentally transformed” by a messianic politician and his devoted followers. Nevertheless, this has happened. And since America has never been an object of worship for me, its loss simply transports more of my focus on my love for Jesus’ church. As a patriotic citizen, I never believed America would outlive the church. My faith always ran deeper than my patriotism, so my trust in God currently overrides my disappointment in America.

At a prayer breakfast address in Dallas, Texas, August 23, 1984, Ronald Reagan said, “America needs God more than God needs America.” Those of us who worship God realize that America’s health and future depends on us knowing Who to worship and who (and what) not to worship, and that includes The Declaration of Independence and its signers. If we turn our worship away from God toward powerful pieces of paper (money, contracts, diplomas, deeds or documents) or swaths of land, or promising politicians (then and now) or beautiful statues carrying torches or anything except God, then we are initiating the demise of this great experiment we called America, born on the 4th of July.

Eternal Life
(Our Top Priority)

Which option below best describes eternity?

a. A long time.
b. A really really long time.
c. A really really really really long time.
d. Existence above and beyond time.

I’ll take “d.” God exists beyond measurable time and space. We won’t need clocks in heaven. I presume that eternity with Him also means living beyond the tangible realm of created reality as we know it now. According to the apostle Paul; “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9).

That’s why our top priority is to love Him.

The Bible often uses fixed terms for heaven (a place with “pillars”, “pearly gates”, “foundations”, “windows” and “golden streets”). Jesus often spoke of the kingdom of heaven as something we “enter into.” He also said it was “not of this world” (John 18:36). He told his disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you.” and He called that place His “Father’s house” (John 14:2).

However, this does not mean heaven can be found on a map. These descriptions may well be parabolic. God is inspiring in us a hope for something more real and lasting than anything we can currently see, hear, touch, smell, taste or measure.

Poetic language in Scripture promising a “new heaven and a new earth” does not necessarily consign us to an eternal future in tangible terms. While Jesus spoke of heaven and earth passing away (Matthew 5:18), Paul seemed to expect the redemption of creation, liberating it from its bondage to decay (Romans 8:21). This makes me scratch my head.

Paul spoke of wanting to be “clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4). In fact, this is the purpose for which God made us (5:5). He used metaphors like a twinkling eye and a trumpet to explain our heavenly hope more as a transformation than a destination:

    I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)

The apostle Peter spoke of an imperishable and undefiled inheritance which will not fade away, reserved in heaven for His children (1 Peter 1:4). The Hebrew author wrote figuratively of a “greater and more perfect “tabernacle” that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation.” (Hebrews 9:11).

For you and me in the here and now, eternity remains a humbling mystery. It’s also an amazing promise. Listen to the apostle John: “This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.” (1 John 2:25). Can we claim this promise without knowing the details?

When Jesus prayed for His followers just before going to the garden of Gethsemane for the last time, He defined eternal life in personal terms: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3).

Instead of trying to measure the distance to heaven or its dimensions or duration, our top priority is to know God the Father. To know Him is also to trust and love Him. Since He has made Himself personally accessible to us through Jesus, we have access to eternity through Him. And if you are reading this now, you still have time to make knowing and loving God your top priority.

Real Men
(Ten Marks of Manhood)

Soon after a murderous rampage on May 23, 2014, in Isla Vista, California, opinions abounded as to what causes such brutality. Among the culprits are allegedly a corrosive culture, mental illness, Hollywood, violent video games, grievance grinding and guns. A few actually blamed evil.

A renewed focus on gender is also apparent in response to this atrocity. Maleness, in particular, is getting some blame. One article observed that out of 71 mass murderers over the past 33 years, 70 were men. I responded that none of them were real men. The word “man” means more to me than a biological appendage, whether you are born with it or add it surgically. There is nothing noble about being born male or “choosing” to be so because you don’t “feel” like a female. There is, however, much to admire about being a real man, a quality well defined in God’s word.

  1. Real men are not loners: “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” (Genesis 2:18). The original Hebrew word for “helper” was an honorable description for the woman since the same word is often used in the Bible for God Himself in relation to us. The term “suitable’ conveys equality. God made the woman beautifully different and completely equal in value to the man. Whether a man marries or not, his manhood is not independent of his relationships with the women in his life who receive his love, respect, protection and support.
  2. Real men brace themselves under the authority of God. “Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm: ‘Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’” (Job 40:6-7).
  3. Real men pursue moral integrity. The apostle Paul referred to his young protégé Timothy, as a “man of God” and immediately advised him to “…pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith.” (1 Ti4. mothy 6:11-12). Excellent advice for a man of God!
  4. Real men who marry must lead and love like Christ. Paul wrote, “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.” (Ephesians 5:23). They also love their wives “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (5:25). When a culture diminishes Christ-like masculinity, the integrity of marriage decomposes.
  5. Real men who become fathers, encourage, comfort and morally inspire their children. Paul compared his love for a church he planted to that of a father who “…deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging [them] to live lives worthy of God.” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).
  6. Real men develop virtue early. Paul encouraged young men to be self-controlled and to have “integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech…” (Titus 2:6-7). Today, male self-control seems to be in short supply and male adolescence extends well beyond the teens too often. Silliness is glorified. Young men should listen to Paul.
  7. Real men increase virtue with age. Paul exhorted older men “…to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.” (Titus 2:2). Clearly, self-control is a biblical mark of manhood, regardless of age.
  8. Real men overcome evil! The apostle John commended young men for being strong and because “the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” (1 John 2:14). Real men are humble before God and tough against evil.
  9. 9. Real men pray. Paul wrote, “Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.” (1 Timothy 2:8).
  10. The character qualities of an overseer in Jesus’ church also apply to real men. Listen to Paul
      Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (1 Timothy 3:2-4)

Real men have a God-ordained responsibility to respect, protect and provide for their sisters, wives, children, parents, community, churches and the needy. There is far less need for food stamps, welfare, subsidies, police work, jails, and orphanages when real men step up in greater numbers. And real men don’t hold their breath waiting for others to step up. They just do it, unselfishly.

Post script: The 22-year-old murderer in Isla Vista was reportedly able to be selectively polite and charming when convincing authorities and others that he was not dangerous. But deep inside, he felt that women who rejected or ignored him deserved to die. After planning and acting on that perverted feeling, four innocent men and two women were dead. He may have been one of the 70 males who murdered multiple human beings over the last 33 years, but he was no man.