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Thursday, December 24, 2015

The World’s Greatest Gift Meets Humanity’s Most Desperate Need

As the parents of four young children (ages 13, 11, 9, and 7), my wife and I have had many years of joyous celebration at Christmas time. Interestingly, we’ve done this without ever “doing” Santa Claus. In other words, we have never pretended with our children that the gifts under the tree and the goodies in their stockings were the result of the magical efforts of a jolly fat-man.

Don’t get me wrong, we don’t shun Santa. As the above implies, we embrace most of the traditions surrounding Christmas. We have a Christmas tree with presents underneath. We decorate the house inside and out with wreaths, bows, Nativity scenes, and the like. We have our “stockings hung by the chimney with care.” We send and receive Christmas cards (one of our best efforts from a couple of years ago is below), and so on. We’ve taught our children that some families, even Christian families, use the Santa Claus myth as a means of enhancing the joy and fun of the Christmas season.

Have a Merry Christmas...Or Else!

Of course, we work hard at keeping Christ the center of Christmas. We’ve cautioned our children that “traditions” often can distract us from the profound Truth that Christmas presents. Those who hate the real meaning and message of Christmas will go to great lengths to keep us from this Truth. 

The unexpected death of my beloved father-in-law David earlier this year has made this Christmas season by far the most difficult that our family has faced. As an important court date looms for David’s killer just a few days following Christmas, our family is tragically reminded of the true meaning of this season.

The man who killed David has a long criminal history. He soon will stand before a judge to be sentenced for probation violations associated with the crash that took David from us. Though he will face the hard consequences of our criminal justice system in this world, because of what was given at Christmas, David’s killer, like all of us, has an amazing opportunity for eternal redemption. In other words, though he may be in prison, he could be “set free.”

As the piece from the previous link indicates, whether or not we are ever unjustly responsible for the death of another human being in this world, in one way or another, we have all “offended” the One Judge before Whom we must all give an account. In other words, we are all “criminals” desperately in need of a pardon.

In fact, there is no greater need in this world. As Charles Sell put it, 

“If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist. If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer. But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.”

In Christian circles, it is often told that, early in the twentieth century, The Times (UK) either invited essays on, or ran a piece entitled, “What’s wrong with the world?” Noted theologian, author, and apologist G.K. Chesterton replied,

“Dear Sir,
I am.
Yours, G.K. Chesterton.”

None of us is “innocent.” We have all gone our own way and done our own thing with disastrous results. In spite of the foolish notion often portrayed by some, no nation, no culture, no individual is “basically good.” This world is filled with evil, and at one time or another, we’ve all had a hand in it. As the prophet Isaiah puts it, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Isaiah wasn’t merely painting a picture of sinful humanity. The above Scripture was a prophecy of the coming Messiah. Ultimately the world doesn’t have a poverty problem, or a crime problem, or a sexual problem, or a terrorism problem, or even (and of course) a climate problem. The world has a sin problem, and Jesus is the answer.

The most quoted portion of the Bible, John 3:16 declares, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (Emphasis mine.) Less well known is the verse immediately following. John 3:17 says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

The Red Cross offers “Operation Save-A-Life.” Those wanting us to donate blood or organs do so by imploring us to “Give the gift of life.” With Christmas, God gave “the gift of life” as it has never before been given. How many dying individuals would say no to a lifesaving medical procedure made possible through the efforts or generosity of another? Yet how many reject the amazing gift of everlasting life that God offers through Jesus?

There’s no escaping this all important eternal truth: we are all in dire need of a Savior. Your life can be filled with treasures and pleasures, but if you ignore Jesus and His message, you will regret it for eternity. Your life can be riddled with poverty, sickness, and strife, yet if you repent and believe in Christ, the magnificent riches of eternal life await you. And whether rich or poor, sick or well, imprisoned or free, in good times or bad, we all need the gift that was given on that first Christmas. Merry Christmas!

(See this column at American Thinker.)

Copyright 2015, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
www.trevorgrantthomas.com
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World
tthomas@trevorgrantthomas.com

Sunday, December 20, 2015

We’ve All Waged a “War on Christmas” (Updated)

There are few things that reveal the hedonistic, sexually depraved sin so prevalent in our culture more than a recent display on the second floor of the Georgia Capitol. It’s even more shameful that this display was done specifically to target Christmas. As my Christmas column (available in a few days) this year notes, those who hate the real meaning and message of Christmas will go to great lengths to keep us from the Truth.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Humanity Fund, a pro-homosexual organization, was granted a petition to mount a “Gay Pride Festivus Pole” in the Georgia Capitol. (The idea of “Festivus” comes from an episode of Seinfeld.) According to its website, The Humanity Fund is “an advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and promoting freedom of speech and religion, especially the separation of Church and State. The Humanity Fund believes in equal rights for all, with a focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.”

The obvious sexual innuendo of the “Festivus Pole” evidently escaped Georgia’s political leaders who occupy the Capitol. Few should’ve been surprised that those promoting homosexuality would attempt to distract us from the birth of Christ with something sinfully sexual. Chaz Stevens, the director of the pro-homosexual Humanity Fund, wasn’t shy about the pole’s meaning. In an email he said, “If anyone in the South could use an erection, it’s those Confederate flag waving lunkheads.”

Reveling in his “religious freedom victory” Stevens also gleefully exclaimed, “I officially declare victory in our gay war on Christmas.” You mean there really is a “war on Christmas?” I thought the “war on Christmas” was another right-wing myth dreamed up by Christian conservatives.

And why wage a “war on Christmas?” What’s so scary about Christmas? Is the birth of Jesus really that scary? Yes, it is. In fact, whether we would admit it or not, each of us, whether privately or publicly, at one time or another, has waged a “war on Christmas.”

What does Christmas really celebrate? An exasperated Charlie Brown wanted to know when you loudly asked, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!” Quoting perfectly from Luke chapter two, Linus answered Charlie Brown, “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

And that is precisely why Christmas can be so scary. Christmas celebrates the birth of a savior—of the Savior. Of course, God sending His Son as a Savior implies that we need “saving.” The most quoted verse in the Bible, John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Less well known, but just as important, is the very next verse. John 3:17 says, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” This begs the question, “From what or whom do we need to be saved?”

In John chapter 8, Jesus says, “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” What does it mean to “die in your sins?” Romans chapter 6 says “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In other words, we need to be “saved” from the eternal consequences of our sin. There is eternal life with Jesus, and apart from Him, death and eternal separation from God.

This is why so many Christians are so celebratory at Christmas time. Yes, there are presents, and parties, and time off from work, but for Christians who truly understand what was done for them on that first Christmas day, nothing compares to the gift of eternal life through Jesus. Those who reject the need for salvation, or reject the miracle of Jesus, or reject their sin for what it really is, are “offended” by Christmas.

Such people don’t want to hear that Jesus came to die for their sins. They don’t want to hear of the many miracles that surround the birth of the Savior. They don’t want to hear that their greed, or lust, or pride is sin. They want to go their own way, thus they display “Festivus Poles.” And again, we’ve all been there. May God empower those of us who see Christmas for what it truly is, who see Jesus for who He really is, to spread His message of hope, love, peace, and salvation to all we encounter, all year-round.

Update: By "war on Christmas," I don't mean to imply that we've all openly displayed hostility to the "Christmas season" (protested Nativity scenes, shunned saying "Merry Christmas," and the like). And almost certainly most of us have not displayed a "Festivus Pole," but we've all, at one time or another, thumbed our nose at God and gone our own way. In other words, as Augustine alluded, at some point in our lives we turned our back on the City of God and firmly planted our feet in the City of Man.

Copyright 2015, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
www.trevorgrantthomas.com
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World
tthomas@trevorgrantthomas.com

Saturday, December 12, 2015

To Really “Fix Things,” We Must Pray

Early in C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, admonishing his demonic protégé Wormwood on the matter of prayer, Screwtape said, “The best thing, where it is possible, is to keep the patient from the serious intention of praying altogether.” In light of the latest round of radical Islamic terror in the U.S., it seems that many Americans burdened with a liberal worldview—especially those at the Daily News—have decided to listen to the demons whispering in their ears.

I shouldn’t be too harsh. Many of us Christians have given prayer a bad name. Too often we’ve made prayer all about ourselves—our wants, wishes, and desires—with little regard for what is really needed in the world around us. Thus too many of us often pray, “babbling like pagans,” as if we’re ordering from the worn-out menu (that we’ve practically memorized) at our favorite restaurant.
Of course, this is not to say that it’s wrong to ask for things, even for ourselves, when we pray. “The Lord’s Prayer,” which Christ used to teach us how to pray, contains more than one personal request. Three times, and significantly, to no avail, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked that “this cup be taken from me.”

Virtually every serious and significant Christian scholar throughout history has made note of the importance of prayer in the life of a believer. Prayer changes the world. More importantly, prayer changes us. As C.S. Lewis notes, “one must train the habit of Faith… That is why daily prayer and religious reading and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe.” Thus prayer doesn’t so much lead us to “getting” as it does to us growing.

As Lewis also notes, prayer reveals our “bankruptcy,” or, put another way, our powerlessness. Prayer helps us understand who we really are, and who God really is. (Note how the Lord’s Prayer begins: “Our Father in heaven, holy is your name…”) And when necessary, prayer leads us up to the vital moment at which we “turn to God and say, ‘You must do this. I can’t.’”

Jesus warned us that without Him, we would accomplish nothing in this world—at least nothing of any lasting and good eternal consequence. Usually, it is only when we spend a significant deal of time with Him that we realize such. By nature, we humans are quite stubborn and full of pride. Any parent who has spent much time with their infant and toddler children knows this well!

We often think ourselves quite wise, smart, and capable. However, it is one thing for a two-year-old to demand cookies and Kool-Aid for lunch; it is quite another when a drunk 21-year-old man decides that he is sober enough to drive, or when a 30-year-old woman decides that her two children will be fine if she leaves her husband for another man, or when a 40-year-old man decides that the world owes him something and it is time to take it.

As tragic as the sinful, selfish choices of an individual adult can sometimes be, they often pale in comparison to a pastor, a politician, or a CEO who is “wise in his own eyes.” As the prophet Isaiah warned, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.” In these times, much “darkness for light and light for darkness” has resulted from those who’ve ignored the eternal truths of our Creator.

As did the Israelites (noted at the end of the book of Judges), a culture “wise in its own eyes” does what is “right in its own eyes.” Currently, the disastrous results of such “wisdom” are frequently revealed throughout the United States. From the beginning of this nation, many of our founders warned us against such foolishness.

Reflecting on the victory over the British and writing on the hated Stamp Act which helped to launch the Revolutionary War, Patrick Henry noted, Whether this will prove a blessing or a curse, will depend upon the use our people make of the blessings, which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. If they are wise, they will be great and happy. If they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable. Righteousness alone can exalt them as a nation.” (The last sentence is a direct reference to Proverbs 14:34.)

On April 30, 1789, in his Inaugural address to both Houses of Congress, President George Washington declared, “No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency…We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained…”

Daniel Webster, a U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, and “Defender of the Constitution,” was born just after the American victory over the British. Arguing before the Supreme Court (on behalf of the government!) that a school could not exclude the Bible, said “If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering and to prosper; If we and our posterity shall be true to the Christian religion, if we and they shall live always in the fear of God and shall respect His Commandments...we may have the highest hopes of the future fortunes of our country;...But if we and our posterity neglect religious instruction and authority; violate the rules of eternal justice, trifle with the injunctions of morality, and recklessly destroy the political constitution which holds us together, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity.”

Additionally, burdened with the problems and challenges that come with leadership, many of our national leaders—even political leaders—have encouraged, openly called, and themselves engaged in, prayer.

In 1787, as the Constitutional Convention was on the verge of collapse, 81-year-old Ben Franklin—considered by most a very secular-minded man—arose and gave a speech that helped changed the course of the Convention. In the speech he declared, “In the beginning of the Contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection.- Our prayers, Sir, were heard, & they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending providence in our favor.

“To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance?

“I have lived, Sir, a long time, and 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?

“We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that ‘except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages.”

Franklin’s rebuke and call for prayer were powerful and authoritative. Franklin was a man respected by every delegate at the Convention. Following the address, James Madison moved, and Roger Sherman seconded the motion that Franklin’s appeal for prayer be enacted. However, because the Convention had no money to pay for a minister, Franklin’s motion did not pass. However, Edmund Randolph, a delegate from Virginia, further moved “that a sermon be preached at the request of the convention on the 4th of July, the anniversary of Independence; and thenceforward prayers be used in ye Convention every morning.”

As historian David Barton notes, “As it turns out, after the Convention, and nine days after the first Constitutional Congress convened with a quorum (April 9, 1789), they implemented Franklin's recommendation. Two chaplains of different denominations were appointed, one to the House and one to the Senate, with a salary of $500 each. This practice continues today, posing no threat to the First Amendment.” (It’s also interesting to note that, as author Tim LaHaye points out, Congress has opened both houses with prayer ever since.)

President Washington issued two Thanksgiving Day Prayer Proclamations. In the first one, in 1789, he declared,

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.”

In September of 1862, just after the Union defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run, Lincoln penned his Meditation on the Divine Will (which his secretaries would later reveal were originally written for Lincoln’s eyes only):

“The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party -- and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose.

“I am almost ready to say that this is probably true -- that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere great power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.”

On September 17, 1862, the bloodiest day in U.S. military history, Union forces defeated Robert E. Lee and the Confederate Armies at Antietam in Maryland. At the battle’s end, approximately 25,000 American men are killed, wounded, or missing. The victory held special significance for Lincoln.
A few days later, in the cabinet meeting on September 22, Lincoln announced his decision to issue the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The best account of the event comes from the diary of Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles.

According to Welles, Lincoln “remarked that he had made a vow, a covenant, that if God gave us the victory in the approaching battle, he would consider it an indication of Divine will, and that it was his duty to move forward in the cause of emancipation. It might be thought strange, he said, that he had in this way submitted the disposal of matters when the way was not clear to his mind what he should do. God had decided this question in favor of the slaves. He was satisfied it was right, was confirmed and strengthened in his action by the vow and the results.”

Imagine that. American slaves were freed, in no small part, because the President of the United States saw it as a matter of “Divine will.” (Of course, because of their relationship with their Heavenly Father, millions of other praying Americans already well knew how God saw the matter of slavery in the United States.)

In spite of the vain and foolish protests by liberals, as even politicians throughout American history demonstrate, praying Christians are almost never do-nothing Christians. Quite the contrary, the more time we spend with our Creator, the better we get to know Him. The better we know Him, the more we trust Him. The more we trust Him, the more we want to do what He says. And of course, if we want real and lasting change from the problems that afflict us, we will do as He directs us.

(See a version of this column at American Thinker.)

Copyright 2015, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World

Friday, December 4, 2015

Straining Out Christian Gnats & Swallowing Islamic Camels

The frightening news about the San Bernardino jihadists continues to pour in. In addition to the early news about their contact with known terrorists, and their online viewing of ISIS propaganda, various news outlets today are reporting that Tashfeen Malik, the wife and murderous partner of Syed Rizwan Farook, had pledged allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdad.

Fox News is reporting that federal investigators are saying that there is a "very serious" possibility that Malik "radicalized" her husband. Also, disturbingly, but not surprisingly, CBS News is reporting that one of the San Bernardino terrorists passed the Department of Homeland Security’s "counterterrorism screening as part of her vetting" for a visa.

Given the perverse worldview of the current U.S. administration, no one should be surprised that Islamic terrorists are making their way through our borders and "security" checks. Just yesterday, no less than Loretta Lynch, President Obama's current Attorney General, vowed to prosecute those who use "anti-Muslim" rhetoric that "edges towards violence."

Obama himself has yet to call the San Bernardino massacre "terrorism." And when he does finally get around to uttering the word "terrorism," he almost certainly will not use the phrase "Islamic terrorism," or even "radical Islamic terrorism." His cohorts and enablers in the mainstream media will continue to parrot his silence on the role of Islam in terrorism. Contrast this with how quickly and lustfully many on the left rushed to label Robert Dear, who stormed a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility last Friday, shooting and killing three, a "white Christian terrorist."

Because they are so difficult (actually impossible) to find, the notion of "White Christian terrorists" keeps liberals across America busy. As I noted well over two years ago, there is a great deal of difference in "radical Christianity" and "radical Islam." Radical Christians build hospitals. Radical Muslims seek to fill them up. Radical Christians build schools. Radical Muslims hurl acid at the faces of young girls who merely want an education.

Radical Christians tell the truth about homosexuality so that those deceived might come to repentance. Radical Muslims execute homosexuals by throwing them from the rooftops of buildings (and leading Muslim clerics explain the justification). Radical Christians are the most generous people in the world. Nations where Islam dominate are some of the most impoverished in the world. In fact, much of the most desperate financial aid given out by the U.S. (private and government) is to counter the poverty produced by Islam.

These truths about Islam are clear and quantifiable. In spite of this, liberals--even (so-called) liberal Christians--are eager to equate Christian conservatives with violent radical Islamists. On Patheos, liberal Christian blogger Benjamin L. Corey declared that,
"Most of the anti-Sharia Christians are gross hypocrites….Conservative Christians often aren’t really anti-Sharia, they’re just anti-Islamic Sharia. They’re actually very pro-Sharia, highly engaged in trying to establish more Sharia, but instead are trying to establish Christian Sharia." (Emphasis mine.) 
To earn such slander, of course, Corey sites the "jihad" conservative Christians are waging against the homosexual agenda:
"We’ve seen this most notably in recent history with conservative Christians fighting against LGBTQ equality….Most recently, they went to the polls in Houston to vote down a bill that would have given transgender individuals the legal right to use the correct bathroom in public, instead of being forced into the humiliation of using the opposite gender bathroom. And, they won’t stop there. Between now and election day, Franklin Graham will be touring the country encouraging Christians to run for government office so they can 'turn America back to God.' Which, I can translate for you: he wants more Christians to run for office so we can make laws that reflect a very particular conservative Christian viewpoint. AKA, he wants more people to run for office so they’ll have the numbers to overturn their losses and expand Sharia law when it comes to LGBTQ individuals (and a host of other issues)….[T]hose who systematically fight agains [sic] the rights of LGBTQ citizens on the basis of their individual religious conviction, already support Sharia law. Just not that Sharia law, cause, you know, Muslims." (Emphasis mine.)
It should go without saying that, if Corey is so glaringly ignorant of his own faith, he would be ignorant of Islam as well. I wonder if he is willing to lecture Islamists so sternly on matters of "LGBTQ equality." Maybe he should plan a mission trip to the Middle East for just such a lecture.

And to top off their dangerous Islamic ignorance and Christian bias, after the San Bernardino attack, liberals mocked prayer and Christians calling for prayer, while foolishly declaring that "God's Not Fixing This." So while enabling a false religion that contains a significant number who would kill us all, liberals deride communication with the Author of truth, who, better than anyone else in the universe understands the only way to true peace.

Copyright 2015, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
www.trevorgrantthomas.com
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World
tthomas@trevorgrantthomas.com