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The Spyglass

A wandering eye over religion, politics, and other important matters

Updated: 2017-02-08T23:51:03.179-05:00


Re-boot, re-launch, and re-move


After a hiatus of nearly five years, only rarely interrupted, I'm starting to blog again.  However, I'm not doing it here.  I'll be leaving this blog up, but I will be posting at my new site, Wholly Living.  I hope to see you there.

Thought experiment: on homosexuality and “discrimination”


The big argument against the traditional definition of marriage these days is that it discriminates against those who want to marry someone of their own gender. Those of heterosexual preference can marry anyone they want, runs this line, while those of homosexual preference can’t; this, it is asserted, is discriminatory.

Leave aside that this isn’t necessarily so as a matter of fact (prohibitions on bigamy/polygamy, marriage of siblings, etc.), and let’s consider it as a matter of logic. Discrimination in law is generally understood to refer to situations in which the law is actually different for different groups. Pale-skinned people are allowed to vote, but people whose skin is dark, or who are known to be related to anybody whose skin is dark, are not allowed to vote. Male adults are allowed to vote, but female adults are not. People who have never been convicted of a felony are allowed to vote, while those who have a felony conviction are not. The law defines groups of people and explicitly extends rights/privileges to one which it denies to the other.

On this standard, is the traditional definition of marriage discriminatory? No. It does not define groups of people, nor is it applied unequally; it is one common standard which applies to everyone. The law does not say, for instance, that “straight people” can marry people of their own gender, but “gay people” can’t; that would be, inarguably, discrimination, because the marriage law would be different for different legally-defined groups. It simply says: this is marriage; within this definition, do what you will.

Why then the accusation of discrimination? Because the traditional legal definition of marriage forbids everyone to do what only some people want to do—thus the restriction is felt as a meaningful limitation by some people but not others. “You can do what you want to do, but I can’t, and that’s not fair.”

That may sound reasonable, but consider: that’s true of every law; by this standard, every law is discriminatory. Laws against drug use discriminate against addicts—I can put whatever substance I want into my body, since I have no desire to take anything illegal, but addicts can’t. Laws against polygamy discriminate against those who want to enter into multiple marriage—they don’t restrict me in any meaningful way, since I have no desire for more than one wife (I agree with Rich Mullins on that one), but those folks clearly aren’t free to marry whomever they want. Indeed, even laws against discrimination are discriminatory; I’m free to hire whomever I want, and I’d be free to rent to whomever I wanted if I had anyplace to rent out, but racists aren’t. It is the nature of laws to discriminate against those who want to break them.

Now, if that’s a form of discrimination, you need to realize that it’s a form which is not only defensible, but necessary—logically, intrinsically necessary, if there is to be any such thing as law at all. Laws draw lines, it’s just what they do. If you want to argue that a given line shouldn’t be where it is, by all means go ahead; but don’t argue that the mere existence of the line is unfair. When once you start doing that, you’ve started cutting a great road through the law just for the sake of getting your own way; and as Robert Bolt memorably had Sir Thomas More argue, that’s a really bad idea.

De profundis


Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice. . . .
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

Lord, be . . .
Lord, be peace to calm the storm.
Lord, be enough, for I am not enough.
Lord, be strength to bear these burdens.
Lord, be wisdom to mend my folly.
Lord, be knowledge, for I do not understand.
Lord, be light outshining the darkness.
Lord, be power to raise up my weakness.
Lord, be hope when I have no hope in myself.
Lord, be goodness to draw my heart.
Lord, be love to heal me, and through me to heal others.
Lord, be grace to set me free from fear of condemnation.
Lord, be faithfulness, for I don’t know how to trust.
Lord, be joy on a bitter road.
Lord, be promise when the way ahead is dark.
Lord, be the next step, for I am lost.
Lord, be healing in the midst of pain.
Lord, be music through the discord.
Lord, be justice against the evil in my heart.
Lord, be protection from my enemies, for they are great and I am small.
Lord, be who you are and have always been, because the waters are over my head.
Please . . .
Lord, be.

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”

Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Nitric grace


The gospel of grace is a universal acid that dissolves all the pretensions, presuppositions and preferences of this world order. If you're not feeling it burn, you're probably not preaching Jesus.

Credit and thanks


A couple weeks ago I put up a post called "God is in the real," talking about a lesson God had been bringing home to me that week; it was a point I had seen made somewhere before, but I could not for the life of me remember where. Yesterday afternoon, my lovely wife was good enough to point me back to the original post, and indeed, the author there put it much better than I did. I'm not posting an excerpt out of respect for her posted request, but I encourage you to click through and read it, as it's well worth your time.

Impertinent question of the month


When people find out my wife and I have just had a son after three daughters, most of the time we get some form of the same basic reaction: "Oh, so you kept trying until you had a boy, huh?" In a lot of cases, I suspect it's people trying to make sense on their own terms of the fact that yes, we just intentionally had a fourth child—they can't imagine themselves doing such a thing, except perhaps with some particular and significant provocation. In a sense, it's not completely false; as it happens, we picked out a boy's name years and years ago, and we rather felt that it would be sad if we never met the person to whom the name belonged. Aside from that, though, we would have been just as happy with a fourth girl. The gender isn't the point.

I don't want this to come across wrong, because I believe male/female differences are real and important and valuable; I believe the reality of our two sexes, and the deeper and more profound reality of gender of which our biological sexes are a concrete instantiation, matters more than we know. But my children are not abstractions, they are not generalities, they are not case studies—they are themselves. They are particular specific people, and the fact that three of them are girls and one is a boy is very much part of that, but it's only part of who they are as whole people, and I wanted them for themselves.

Yes, they are created in the image of God, male and female, as are their mother and I; but that's not all that defines them. They are creators and destroyers; they are accomplished sinners and saints in training; they are capable of genius and prone to folly; and so am I all of those things as well, and heaven help all of us as I try my best to do my part to raise them to be better and more faithful and more loving disciples and friends of Jesus than I am. Trying for a boy? No, as well say we were trying for a pianist (though judging by his infant fingers, we might have managed that); we were trying to welcome the child God intended to give us in trust, as his stewards, to raise in his name and for his glory, to join the others whom he had already given us in the same way. It's not about us or what we want at all, it's about him.

Though I will say, it's nice to have a baby sleeping on my shoulder again.

A new Day for the tax code?


Before Stockwell Day was a screamingly ineffective campaigner for Prime Minister of Canada, he was the treasurer of Alberta; and back in those days, when I was a graduate student in BC, he came up with the simplest and best tax system I've yet run across.

Alberta Treasurer Stockwell Day is proposing to de-link Alberta's provincial tax system from its federal counterpart. Instead of Albertans paying provincial tax on a percentage of their federal tax payable, a tax on a tax, they will instead pay a single rate of 11% on their taxable income, a tax on income.

This move to flatter taxation is to be applauded and Mr. Day has ensured that the move is beneficial to all income groups. [Part and parcel] with the planned move to the single rate tax is a substantive increase in the provincial basic personal exemption and spousal exemption to $11,620 up from $7,131 and $6,055 respectively. And Mr. Day has pledged to index the exemption to inflation to ensure that the hidden tax increase known as "bracket creep" is vanquished from the Alberta landscape. . . .

Alberta has now ensured that those with incomes under 11,620 pay a rate of 0% and everyone else pays 11% on their income above the basic personal exemption. So the effective provincial rate on someone earning $30,000 is 6.7% and the effective rate on someone at $100,000 is 9.7%.

Tweak the numbers to fit the current American situation, but the basic idea is right on: put all income into one bowl, exempt the first $X per person, and tax all the rest at the same rate. Cut the tax form down to a page, make the tax code transparent, drastically reduce the IRS payroll (and trim a lot of corporate bureaucracies as well) . . . what's not to like?

Oh, yeah, and boost the economy, too.

Atheism as dogmatic fundamentalism


This isn't a new observation around here, of course, but it's interesting to see an atheist come out and say it—in this case, conservative commentator S. E. Cupp; and in case you think it's because she's a conservative, in my observation, conservative atheists (such as the Denver Post's David Harsanyi) are no better about this than liberal ones.

Which brings me to the problem with modern atheism, embodied by the likes of Harris and Hitchens, authors of "The End of Faith" and "God Is Not Great," respectively. So often it seems like a conversation ender, not a conversation starter. And the loudest voices of today's militant atheism, for all their talk of rational thought, don't seem to want to do too much thinking at all. As James Wood wrote in The New Yorker, "The new atheists do not speak to the millions of people whose form of religion is far from the embodied certainties of contemporary literalism. Indeed, it is a settled assumption of this kind of atheism that there are no intelligent religious believers." . . .

Though more than 95% of the world finds some meaning in faith, God-hating comic Bill Maher shrugs this off as a "neurological disorder." His version of a quest for knowledge was a series of scathing jokes at the faithful's expense in the documentary "Religulous." . . .

It's these snarky and condescending rejections, not of faith itself but of those who profess it, that reflect a total unwillingness to learn something new about human nature, the world around us and even of science itself. While the neoatheists pay only cursory attention to dismantling arguments for God, they spend most of their time painting his followers as uncultured rubes. The fact that religion has inexplicably persisted, even despite Copernicus, Darwin and the Enlightenment, doesn't seem to have much sociological meaning for them.

The truth is, folks like Maher and Silverman don't want to know about actual belief—in fact, they are much more certain about the nature of the world than most actual believers, who understand that a measure of doubt is necessary for faith. They want to focus on the downfall of a gay pastor or the Nativity scene at a mall. . . .

When the esteemed theologian David Martyn Lloyd-Jones asked C.S. Lewis when he would write another book, Lewis responded, "When I understand the meaning of prayer." It was an acknowledgment that he—a thinker with a much sharper mind than, say, Maher's—didn't know everything. I implore my fellow atheists to take this humility to heart. There's still a lot to learn, but only if you're not too busy being a know-it-all.

Size isn't everything


I've mentioned before the pet store that I pass on my normal way to work. A couple weeks ago, their sign read as follows:


As if hamsters don't have enough self-esteem problems as it is . . .

God is in the real


I was reminded today of an observation I ran across somewhere—unfortunately, I have no idea where or whom to credit, and I know I won't be able to put it as elegantly as the original—that has been very helpful to me. God promises to give us everything we need to face every trial he sends us. He does not promise to give us strength for possible future trials we conjure up in our own imagination. If we live in the present and face the trials he sends us as they come, he is with us; if we project ourselves into the future to worry and fret about all the things that might go wrong later, we go alone. And in truth, we don't need to worry about the future, because God's in control of it—and when it becomes the present, he will be enough for us then, too.

Getting back on the horse


A couple days into October, I started having significant computer problems; I wound up having to get a new laptop, and what with one thing and another, it took a while—it was over a month before I had my new computer all set up and working the way I wanted. I did have computer access during that time, but it was somewhat limited, and so some things fell by the wayside. Including, obviously, this blog. Once I had the computer up and running, I should have gotten back to it, but I was completely out of the habit, and you know how busy November and December are for pastors . . . I do need to resume the discipline, however, and I'm finally stirring myself to do so. Keep at me. :)

Not quite irrelevant


Jennifer Rubin does us all a small service this morning over on Commentary’s “Contentions” blog in pointing out that at this stage, polls of GOP 2012 presidential contenders are basically meaningless. Interestingly, though, if you look closely at what she says, you realize they’re not quite as meaningless as they would normally be:

They are a function of name identification. The field is not set, the candidates have not yet engaged, and the inevitable unflattering revelations haven’t come.

While it remains true that there is much to happen between now and the 2012 primary season, that we don’t actually know who will be running, and that as Rubin says, “You actually have to see how the candidates perform and who cannabalizes whose voters,” there’s one partial exception to her argument: Sarah Palin. For Gov. Palin, those inevitable unflattering revelations have come, and been rehashed, and been beaten to death, along with a whole host of attempts to invent additional ones; there’s nothing left for enemies to dig up, it’s all out there.

Those who would marginalize her like to talk about her “baggage,” but the truth is, Gov. Palin doesn’t really have baggage. Change the metaphor, think of the sort of revelations Rubin is talking about as a political plague, and there’s a much more apt way to describe her situation: Gov. Palin has been inoculated. She’s already had that plague and survived. Yes, that has lingering effects, and yes, that will be a particular challenge for her to overcome—but the upside to that is a degree of immunity that will make it hard for rivals to take her down. The polling on them (at least most of them) is indeed before the “inevitable unflattering revelations” that will wipe some of them out and cripple others; hers is after, and well after. That is no small advantage.

You will know people best by how they handle defeat


and as Jennifer Rubin pointed out recently, on the whole, the Right has a better record on this one lately than the Left:

Some liberal commentators assure us they mean “no disrespect.” Others don’t even bother. They tell us Americans are confused or crazy, racist or irrational. Maybe all of these. The left punditocracy is in full meltdown, irate at the voters and annoyed at Obama. The contrast to the aftermath of the 2008 election is instructive.

After the across-the-board defeats in 2008, conservative pundits didn’t rail at the voters. You didn’t see the right blogosphere go after the voters as irrational (How could they elect someone so unqualified? They’ve gone bonkers!) with the venom that the left now displays. Instead, there was a healthy debate—what was wrong with the Republican Party and with the conservative movement more generally?

There hasn’t been enough soul-searching and self-criticism on the Right to make me comfortable with the thought of the Republican Party apparatchiki back in power so soon, but at least there’s been enough to make a real difference; and the Tea Party taking a big broom to the party establishment has helped, too. For the sake of the good of the country, I hope we see something similar on the Left if November does in fact turn out to be the electoral tsunami it looks like being.

All God’s grace


We are not kept in the faith by our own discipline and resolve,
but by the loving chains of faithful, rescuing grace.

Paul David Tripp

Amen—and thanks be to God.

HT: Of First Importance

Barack Obama, Manichaeus, and the Pharisees


President Obama’s Rolling Stone interview is deeply troubling to me, for reasons that Commentary’s Peter Wehner captures quite well. As Wehner says, Rolling Stonepaints a portrait of a president under siege and lashing out.For example, the Tea Party is, according to Obama, the tool of “very powerful, special-interest lobbies”—except for those in the Tea Party whose motivations are “a little darker, that have to do with anti-immigrant sentiment or are troubled by what I represent as the president.”Fox News, the president informs us, “is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world.”Then there are the Republicans, who don’t oppose Obama on philosophical grounds but decided they were “better off being able to assign the blame to us than work with us to try to solve problems.” Now there are exceptions—those two or three GOPers who Obama has been able to “pick off” and, by virtue of supporting Obama, “wanted to do the right thing”—meaning that the rest of the GOP wants to do the wrong thing.What really bothers me here isn’t the irony (which Wehner notes) of this kind of calumny coming from a man who promised our country, “I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.” What bothers me is the blind, unshakeable conviction that anyone who disagrees with him must be doing so for nefarious motives. It simply isn’t possible, in his worldview as he presents it, that anyone could disagree with him for reasons which are as honorable and as sincerely concerned with the good of our nation as his own; no, anyone who opposes him must be by virtue of that fact evil, incompetent, a deluded tool of dark forces, or some combination thereof.Wehner goes on from this point to argue that “President Obama is a man of unusual vanity and self-regard,” and that people close to him need to stage an intervention before things get out of hand. That may be true or it may not be—I’m a preacher, not a telepathic shrink, so I won’t claim to know. But as a preacher, I am at least somewhat trained as a diagnostician of human sin, and I will say that one thing I think I see here is an awful lot of self-righteousness, to a degree that looks a lot like Jesus’ enemies among the Pharisees. It’s a degree of arrogant certainty about one’s own rightness and rectitude that leaves no room for the concept of honest differences of opinion; any disagreement or opposition has to be malignant, is perceived as personal, and thus must be destroyed.Now, I hasten to add, this is by no means unique to the President, or to liberals; rather, to my way of thinking, this kind of Manichaean self-righteousness is the great blight in American political discourse these days, at every point on the spectrum of beliefs. Among the prominent voices, I think it’s more prevalent on the left, but that’s not much more than comparing pot and kettle either way, and certainly I’ve heard some ugly comments of this nature from conservative friends, relatives, and acquaintances. But still, to have this kind of language coming from our nation’s chief executive is an order of magnitude worse than to hear it even from prominent figures in the media and culture. When Candidate Obama said we needed to get beyond the ugly partisan spirit in our politics, this was the root of the problem at which he was pointing; to have President Obama exacerbating it instead of seeking to make it better is deeply dispiriting.Update: Jay Cost has a great piece on this on the Weekly Standard website this morning; he makes the argument, I think correctly, that this is really the first time [...]

The air beneath our feet


I’d never thought of Road Runner as an example of faith until it occurred to me in the middle of preaching last Sunday’s sermon; but really, that crazy bird is exactly that. How often does he end up escaping Wile E. Coyote by running out into thin air—and then standing there with perfect insouciance while the coyote falls to the canyon floor? Whoever he’s putting his faith in (Chuck Jones, perhaps?), that’s a perfect illustration of walking (well, running) by faith: no visible means of support, trusting entirely in his creator to keep him up.

Walking by faith, living by faith, isn’t easy; it means, as Michael Card put it, to be guided by a hand we cannot hold, and to trust in a way we cannot see, and that’s not comfortable. It means looking beyond the measurables—not basing our decisions on what we can afford or what seems practical or what we know will work, but on prayer, listening for God’s leading, and the desire to do what will please him. It means taking risks, knowing that if God doesn’t come through, we’re going to fail. And it means setting out against the prevailing winds of our culture, being willing to challenge people and tell them what they don’t want to hear—graciously, yes, lovingly, yes, but without compromise and without apology—even when we know they’re going to judge us harshly for it.

This is not a blueprint for an easy, comfortable, “successful” life; often, it’s just the opposite. It defies common sense, because common sense is rooted in conventional wisdom, and living by faith is anything but. But it’s worth it, because this is what Jesus wants from us: to live in such a way that if he doesn’t take care of us, we will fall, to live in such a way that he’s our only hope—because the truth is, he is our only hope. We just need to believe it, and live like we believe it. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it, and more than worth it; there is no better way to live, because there is no foundation more sure than the promise of God, and no better place to be than in his presence.

False obedience


I really appreciated this brilliant little post from Ray Ortlund yesterday:

“The hard sayings of our Lord are wholesome to those only who find them hard.”

C. S. Lewis, “Dangers of National Repentance,” in God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, 1970), page 191.

Obedience that doesn’t cost us anything may be more natural and glib than Christian. After all, self-righteousness “obeys”—and wonders impatiently what’s wrong with everyone else.

As usual, the Rev. Dr. Ortlund takes a truth I’ve been trying to express—and this is something I’ve been talking about a fair bit lately, what with one thing and another—and puts it better than I ever could.

America needs more people like Jim DeMint


The junior Senator from the state of South Carolina is an ordinary barbarian loose in the corridors of power; here’s hoping he stays that way, and that his efforts to bring others along with him find great success.

DeMint is a most unlikely political crusader. For the vast majority of his life, he had little interest in politics. “I’m a normal guy,” he says with the grin that often crosses his face. He was a family man—a husband and father of four children. He owned a business in his native Greenville, S.C. He was a leader in his church. At various points he served on something like a dozen community boards because to him volunteerism was a way of life.

His profession was marketing, which led him to a career as a consultant. His clients included regional businesses, schools, and hospitals. In his work, he came to see top-down bureaucracy as the enemy of organizational success. And what worked? Empowering front-line employees.

But time would prompt him to see Washington in the same way, as an increasingly bossy and centralized bureaucracy. Complex federal regulations and taxation and expanding government programs were changing America—creating a society of dependents. When DeMint speaks, you hear echoes of the long-ago anti-big government commentaries of Ronald Reagan. . . .

When he arrived in Washington to assume his House seat, no one would have pegged him as a troublemaker. He was elected president of his House class and regularly attended seminars given by the House GOP leadership.

But something happened to DeMint in these leadership seminars that would change the course of his life. The gatherings were entirely focused on the means for concentrating and preserving political power: How to milk K Street lobbyists for political contributions; how to place earmarks into appropriations bills so they would be deemed essential to the folks back home.

One day, DeMint had had enough. He rose up in a seminar to question why representatives of the party of smaller government were so focused on earmarks and political fundraising. Why aren’t we talking about reforming the federal tax code or addressing the health care mess?

Midst laughter, someone shouted, “You’ll catch on to the system, DeMint.” But DeMint never did. . . .

Many of DeMint’s colleagues dismissed his concern over earmarks, arguing they were nickel-and-dime manifestations of traditional politics. But taking a page from the late Robert Novak, DeMint believed that the appropriations system, and the power of appropriators, was the key to runaway spending and taxation and regulation in this country. (Novak likened appropriators to the Vatican’s College of Cardinals.) Without serious appropriations reform, i.e., term limits for appropriators and full transparency for earmarks, there would be no serious tax and spending reform.

To the powerbrokers of Washington, this is political heresy—and makes DeMint a menace. This is why DeMint gives so much credit to Sarah Palin for challenging the machine of the late senator Ted Stevens, because his earmarks​—most notoriously the $400 million bridge-to-nowhere​—symbolized a political system rotten to the core.

Balance the budget—make the feds pay their taxes


OK, not quite—but not too far off, either:

We now know that federal employees across the nation owe fully $1 billion in back taxes to the Internal Revenue Service.

As in, 1,000 times one million dollars. All this political jabber about giving middle-class Americans a tax cut. Thousands of feds have been giving themselves one all along—unofficially. And these tax scofflaws include more than three dozen folks who work for the president with that newly decorated Oval Office.

Read the rest of Andrew Malcolm's piece for the gory details. Granted, $1 billion is a small percentage of the deficit we're running these days, but that's still a lot of money—and a lot of hypocrisy.

Looking at this, I can't help thinking that one big place to start reining in spending is the federal payroll. If you were to downsize all non-military federal departments, agencies, etc. (excluding specific cases like the membership of Congress and the Supreme Court) by 10% at every level, then cut salary and benefits of all non-military federal employees who make more than, let's say, 200% of the poverty line by 10%, I wonder how much that would save? (I exclude the military because they've been dealing with cutbacks while the rest of the federal government has not.)

Taking junk food to a whole new level


I don't know what it is about Texas, but if you'd told me that someone was going to figure out how to deep-fry beer, I wouldn't have been surprised to know it was a Texan.

Bumper-sticker social work


Actually, technically speaking, it wasn't a bumper sticker—it was a license-plate frame—but it's a distinction without a difference. I followed this car for quite a while yesterday before I noticed the message: "PARENTS: PAY YOUR CHILD SUPPORT"—an injunction that assumes an awful lot. OK, so it's better that people who owe child support pay it, but is that really the message people need to hear? Why assume the divorce and just focus on mitigating the consequences? Wouldn't it be better to say "WORK ON YOUR MARRIAGE" or "BLESS YOUR MARRIAGE" or even (if you want to stick with the original hectoring tone) just "DON'T GET DIVORCED"?

"PAY YOUR CHILD SUPPORT" asks nothing of people but that they write a check once a month. A message suggesting they do what it takes to avoid getting divorced in the first place asks considerably more—things like humility, self-denial, repentance, self-sacrifice, forgiveness, and putting someone else ahead of oneself and one's own desires. The real problem isn't the percentage of people who pay child support, as significant as that is—it's the percentage of people who think divorce is all about them and what they want, and who seek their own desires at the expense of everyone else.

Of course, once you start challenging that mindset, you don't just make other people uncomfortable—you put yourself on the spot, too, because you're challenging the whole cultural system of which you're a part; it makes it a lot harder to get the frisson of superiority that "PAY YOUR CHILD SUPPORT" can give you effortlessly. In asking something meaningful of others, after all, you inevitably require something meaningful of yourself as well.

(To be sure, there are those who would avoid getting divorced if they could, but can't, because the divorce is driven by their spouse's behavior and decisions. They're victims of the problem, not the problem; this reality doesn't make identifying the true problem any less important.)

Divine invitation


Since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart
in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience
and our bodies washed with pure water.

—Hebrews 10:19-22 (ESV)

This is the invitation to us from the word of God: Jesus has opened the way for you—take advantage! You have a great high priest in whom all your sins are forgiven—don’t be afraid! You are invited to come freely into the presence of the living God—so come! Approach God! Draw near! Don’t be afraid—in Jesus you have been washed, you have been purified, you are forgiven! God has put a new heart and a new spirit within you—his Spirit—he’s renewing you from the inside out. No matter what you’ve done, God sees you in Jesus, as he’s making you to be, and he loves you. Come to him, come close to him, with full confidence and trust, for you are welcome.

This is an invitation that should give us heart and courage, and I suspect it’s one that many of us can’t hear too often. There are some folks who are quite sure they’re just wonderful, but for those of us for whom self-doubt is a familiar companion, this is a particular blessing. It’s very reassuring to know that it’s not about self-esteem or self-worth or believing in ourselves, all of which place a great weight squarely on our shoulders; rather, it’s about believing in God and his faithfulness and the power of what Jesus has done for us, and knowing that it doesn’t matter how we feel: whether we’re up or down and whatever the Devil may be whispering in our ears, Jesus saved us, God loves us, and we are his.

Which should give us courage to hold fast to our hope in Christ, and to our open declaration of that hope—which of course we must do if we are to draw near to God through him. If we begin to lose hope, or if we become ashamed to proclaim it, then we will naturally look for alternatives, and we will not draw near to God through Christ; but we have reason to be bold, for our hope is sure and certain. We have every reason for confidence in the faithfulness of God, because we have seen it in Jesus; we have every reason to be confident that Jesus is enough, because he has already done far more than we could ever have imagined. And we have every reason to proudly proclaim our hope to all who will listen, and to keep proclaiming it even when times get hard, even when we hurt, and even when there is opposition, because Jesus has never failed us yet. He doesn’t make the road easy, but if we hang on tight to him, he always leads us through.

(Excerpted from “Draw Near”)

9/11: A reminder that freedom isn't free


The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime,and the punishment of his guilt.—John Philpott CurranDuring the decade of the 1990s, our times often seemed peaceful on the surface. Yet beneath the surface were currents of danger. Terrorists were training and planning in distant camps. . . . America's response to terrorism was generally piecemeal and symbolic. The terrorists concluded this was a sign of weakness, and their plans became more ambitious, and their attacks more deadly. Most Americans still felt that terrorism was something distant, and something that would not strike on a large scale in America. That is the time my opponent wants to go back to. A time when danger was real and growing, but we didn't know it. . . . September 11, 2001 changed all that. We realized that the apparent security of the 1990s was an illusion. . . . Will we make decisions in the light of September 11, or continue to live in the mirage of safety that was actually a time of gathering threats?—George W. Bush, October 18, 2004History will not end until the Lord returns, and neither will the twist of the human heart toward evil. The idea that we can just ignore or deny this reality and go on about what we'd rather be doing, whether in domestic or in foreign policy, is the political equivalent of cheap grace; and it is no more capable of bringing what blessing our politics can muster than its theological parallel can bring salvation. It may be true, as Theodore Parker said, that the arc of the moral universe "bends toward justice," but if it is, we must remember that it's only true because God is the one bending it—taken all in all, the collective effort of humanity is to bend it the other way.This world is fallen, and all of us are tainted by the evil that rots its core; and all too many have given in to that evil and placed their lives in its service. Most have not done so knowing it to be evil—there are very few at the level of Milton's Satan or Shakespeare's version of Richard III—but that doesn't make them any better. Indeed, the fact that people like Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden do vast evil believing they serve what is right and good only makes them more dangerous, because it makes them far more effective in corrupting others, and far less likely to repent. Evil is a cancer in the human soul, and like any cancer, it will not stop growing until either it or its host is destroyed—which means that those who serve it will not stop unless someone else stops them.Which is why the 18th-century Irish politician John Philpott Curran was right. There are those in this world who are the servants of evil, those movements which are driven by it, and those nations which are ruled by such—some in the name of religion, some in allegiance to political or economic theory, some in devotion to nation or tribe—and in their service to that spiritual cancer, they operate themselves as cancers within society, the body politic, and the international order; they will not stop until they are stopped. As Edmund Burke did not say (but as remains true nevertheless), the only thing that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing; the logical corollary is that to prevent the triumph of evil, those who would oppose it must be vigilant to watch for its rise, and must stand and fight when it does.Must that always[...]

A Democratic loss is not exactly a Republican victory


As the indispensable Jay Cost has been pointing out—no longer at Real Clear Politics, though, as he's moved on to write for the Weekly Standard, where among other things he's doing a column every weekday morning called "Morning Jay"—the polling numbers for President Obama and the Democrats (and doesn't that sound like a '50s rock band?) are bad and getting worse, to the point where the party is starting to throw incumbents overboard. In fact, it's gotten so bad for the Dems that expectations are starting to become a problem for the GOP, prompting some Republicans to start trying to deflate them.

And for good reason, because as big as the bullseye is across the Democrats' collective back, the electorate isn't really any happier with the Republicans. As Cost notes,

There is great turmoil that the two political parties have been (so far) incapable of handling, and the public is still casting about in search of competent leadership. I think something similar happened between 1974 and 1982. The country is unsatisfied with the state of the nation and has so far disapproved of both parties' performances. But in a two party system, there is no choice but to swing back and forth until folks finds leaders who are up to the job.

In other words, the folks who are saying that this is about an essentially conservative country coming back to the party that better represents it aren't really on the point. I do think the US tilts right of center, but not by a whole lot, and the electorate we're seeing isn't pro-Republican—it's anti-both-parties and anti-government. Any Republican politicians who are looking forward to getting back in power and going back to business as usual should think long and hard about this warning from Scott Rasmussen:

Voters are ready to deliver the same message in 2010 that they delivered in 2006 and 2008 as they prepare to vote against the party in power for the third straight election. These results suggest a fundamental rejection of both political parties.

In other words, as I've been saying, this isn't really about one party versus the other, it's about people across the ideological spectrum versus the parties. That cracking, booming sound you're hearing is the sound of the fissure widening between our rulers and the rest of us—which in our system means that they won't keep being our rulers much longer if they don't wise up. Which they probably won't . . .

On this blog in history: June 20-24, 2008


There's a parable in here somewhere . . .
This isn't my story, it's Neil Gaiman's, but it bears remembering.

Radicals & Pharisees
It's not what you think.

Memo to self: don't get cocky
"Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall."

Skeptical conversations, part VII: The Holy Spirit and the Bible
On the role of both in our faith

The gospel according to Firefly
This beats The Gospel According to Peanuts all hollow.