Friday, May 31, 2013

Heaven on Earth: A Must Have Book

I do not know nor have I ever met author Alan Streett, PhD (University of Wales, UK),  Senior Research Professor of Biblical Exegesis and the holder of the W. A. Criswell Endowed Chair of Expository Preaching at Criswell College (Dallas, TX). I was given his newest book  Heaven on Earth: Experiencing the Kingdom of God in the Here and Now as a gift. My library is filled with nearly 10,000 antiquarian theological books from which I have received a great deal of spiritual encouragement--much more than what I've been able to receive from modern theological works. For me, Alan Streett has hit the proverbial homerun in writing a book that can be devoured like ice cream, but satisfies like steak. I could not put it down. I've already ordered over a dozen copies and am giving them away as gifts. Some of our men's groups are going to be  using Heaven on Earth for a small group study, and the book is entirely appropriate for study in women's or mixed groups as well, but the primary benefit will come to the Christian who takes time to read it personally and think through what is being said by the author. Alan has made the subject of the Kingdom of God a ten-year personal study and Heaven on Earth is the product of that study. I would like to briefly give the top seven reasons why I am naming Heaven on Earth the best contemporary theological book I've read this millennium.

(1). Heaven on Earth takes the concept of the kingdom of God from the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the Tree of Life in Revelation and gives the finest survey of the subject from the biblical text I've ever read. The survey makes sense--biblical, logical, rational sense. The light goes on for the reader.

(2). Heaven on Earth is easy to read without being puerile (childish), serendipitous, or (for lack of a better word) silly. Most modern theological books aimed at the layman that are as easy to read as Heaven on Earth have style without substance, but Dr. Streett has managed to partner a crystal clear and colorful writing  style with an astonishing depth of substance which is a rare feat for modern authors.

(3). Heaven on Earth destroys the teaching of a truncated gospel so often heard in modern evangelicalism without attacking or impugning people who may be living a Christian life believing a warped gospel. In other words, Heaven on Earth corrects without chastising, straightens without slamming, and deconstructs error without denigrating those in error.

(4). Heaven on Earth gives the reader an ability to understand how the kingdom of God is given to us to be enjoyed and experienced now, not just then (heaven). The knowledge that there is supposed to be enjoyment of His kingdom now transforms the reader from a church going religious person waiting for heaven into a Christ-honoring relational person transforming his world.

(5). Heaven on Earth takes the phrases "kingdom of God" and "kingdom of heaven" and makes them so stunning in meaning, that they will turn out to be phrases often repeated by the reader in his thoughts and conversation after setting the book down.

(6). Heaven on Earth convinces Christians that the King is to be personally heard now, so that the reign of Christ in the individual life of the believer becomes the focus of faith. In short, Heaven on Earth creates a desire in the reader to fulfill the call as an ambassador of His King - who reigns now.

(7). Heaven on Earth is like a key that opens the door to a vision of the kingdom that astonishes the key holder. The book is saturated with Scripture, heavy in history (albeit written in a captivating style), but most importantly, it targets the believer at the core of his or her soul. By that I mean, when you read Heaven on Earth it is like the powerful presence of the King of Kings begins to take up residence--I mean REALLY takes up residence--in your little piece of earth, what the Bible calls your earthen vessel or clay (i.e. your body and soul). The treasure of the gospel becomes truly a treasure within you.

In short, Heaven on Earth presents the gospel in the fullest sense of the word since men like C.S. Lewis and his mentor George McDonald wrote of the transforming power of the kingdom on earth in the 1900's and 1800's respectively. Yet, Dr. Street does not use imagery or allegory like those two amazing authors--he uses Scripture. People like me who are not as visual or artistic as Lewis and McDonald have longed for a writer to capture the essence of the kingdom of God on earth in language that is rational, logical, and most importantly, supremely biblical. Al Streett has done it.

Buy the book. You will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Moore Disaster Relief Update from the People of Emmanuel Enid

A house Emmanuel members helped clear
Aren't you proud of Oklahomans? Whenever disasters come our way, we always bounce back! As Lead Pastor of Emmanuel Enid, I am proud of our church for the help given to the people of Moore and OKC. As we showed in this video during our four Sunday morning services this past Sunday, our church was able to get 21 7,000 watt generators into the disaster zone less than 24 hours after the tornado struck. In addition, the people of Emmanuel gave cash to assist people in their time of immediate need. I want to thank Graceway Baptist Church and Pastor Greg Keenan for their assistance. They were enormous help in providing directions, landmarks and personnel as we sought in those early hours to help find friends and relatives of members of our church, and then later they assisted us in placing the electrical generators where they were most needed. People from all across the state have descended on the metro to help, but nobody has out given and out served the wonderful people of Emmanuel! After showing the video Sunday,  we had between 70 and 100 people sign up to ride our buses and go back down to Moore on Labor Day and help clear the lots of some people we met earlier in the week who had no close friends or relatives (and in some cases, no insurance) to assist them. We helped sort through and clean up their debris, and their gratitude was tangible. All told, Emmanuel has provided tens of thousands of dollars in financial assistance, much needed power generators, fuel and portable lights, and most importantly, hundreds of man hours to help the devastated people of Moore get back on their feet. Well done! Let us hope if a disaster ever hits Enid, the people of the metro might respond to us in like manner! I'm sure they will.

"I Am Not Dumb Now"

The very rare HD footage above is of Helen Keller speaking and it is astonishing on several fronts. What strikes me most is the wisdom, perseverance and ingenuity of Keller's teacher Anne Sullivan. Helen Keller would become world famous for her political activism before her death, but Anne Sullivan has been almost forgotten by the American public. Behind every world changer is a mentor, and Helen Keller's teacher is one worth imitating. She once said, "Keep on beginning and failing. Each time you fail, start all over again, and you will grow stronger until you have accomplished a purpose - not the one you began with perhaps, but one you will be glad to remember." 

Monday, May 27, 2013

What Switzerland Can Teach the U.S.

I just finished reading about Senator John McCain slipping into Syria and meeting with rebel leaders. While many will applaud the Senator for his wisdom and bravery, I'm feeling more like his actions are foolish and ultimately detrimental to the United States. The Middle East and Europe are nations of eternal war. One war's rebels are the next war's dictators. America seems to have forgotten we supported Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran, only to turn around and fight Iraq in Gulf Wars I and II as Saddam used against us the very weapons we gave him to fight Iran. The same thing can happen if we militarily support the rebels of Syria.

What should be the U.S.'s position regarding Civil War in Syria? Neutrality. Someone might object, "But the United States must choose sides to protect our interests in the Middle East!" What interests? Thomas Paine once said, "Not a place on earth might be so happy as America. Her situation is remote from all the wrangling world, and she has nothing to do but to trade with them." George Washington echoed Paine's sentiments when he said two decades later, "The great rule of conduct for the United States in regard to foreign nations as we extend our commercial relations is to have with them as little political connection as possible."

I just finished reading the little book Target Switzerland. It was a fascinating read and the author brilliantly explains how this little country could remain neutral during two World Wars, particularly when Switzerland sat in the middle of the land being fought over. Why did not Adolph Hitler invade Switzerland like he did every other European country? Because...

(1). Every man in Switzerland from the age of 20 to 55 is a member of the Swiss militia and was trained, equipped and ready at all times to fight a guerilla war against any invading force.
(2). Marksmanship is the national sport in Switzerland, and every male is required to be a marksman and trained with his gun to shoot well, so that during World War II there were nearly one million trained snipers ready to fight any invading force.
(3). According to Target Switzerland, Adolph Hitler knew that to invade Switzerland would mean certain death to his officers because the Swiss militia were trained in their guerilla warfare tactics to target colonels and above. To defeat a nation of one million snipers would require a commitment of 6 million troops, for the ration of conventional soldiers needed to defeat guerilla militia is 6 to 1.
(4). In short, Switzerland has historically maintained neutrality by focusing on the defense of the homeland instead of the invasion and occupation of foreign lands.

The United States government would do well to imitate the Swiss.

Our Founding Fathers studied Switzerland in the formulation of our national documents. The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution states "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." Our Founding Fathers believed a well regulated militia was NECESSARY for national security. Yet, in these turbulent days we have the leader of one political party (President Obama) seeking to remove guns from the possession of United States citizens, and the leader of another political party (Senator McCain) visiting foreign lands to see how we can supply guns and ammunition to rebels of a foreign civil war. The problem in our nation is the loss of our founding principles. This problem permeates both political parties. Maybe it is time for us to return to the principles with which we began our nation and emulate the Swiss in both their neutrality and their emphasis on a well regulated militia.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

GRACE: A Non-Profit that Speaks the Truth

For several months, I have watched two friends from North Carolina (pictured here), Dee and Deb (Wanda), take on what seems to be an institutional cover-up of horrific child abuse at Sovereign Grace Ministries. There have been occasions when I have read what these two MBA's have written about the victims' affidavits and have become physically nauseated by the nature, extent and cover-up of the child abuse. If you knew these two women like Rachelle and I do, you would know they possess southern charm and hospitality, keen intellectual minds, and a bulldog determination to make right what is wrong in the kingdom. My wife and I would be hard-pressed to name two people we admire more. Truth is, I've not written much on SGM because I can't write anything better than what has already been written by these women. The Wartburg Watch and others have caught the tiger by the chin.

In Deb's post today on Wartburg Watch, she introduced me to a man I have not previously known. He is Boz Tchividjian, J.D., professor of Law at Liberty University and Founder of GRACE, a ministry whose name means "Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment."  Deb writes that Boz responded to a statement from three well-respected men--Mark Dever (Southern Baptist), Ligon Duncan (Presbyterian Church of America) and Al Mohler (Southern Baptist)--which supported and defended C.J. Mahaney, founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries. The three men to whom Boz Tchividian responded are also extremely intellectual, very influential--and until now--seemingly impervious to any criticism.  Not any more. After Boz Tchividjian responded to their defense of C.J. and Sovereign Grace Ministries, they took their statement down. Boz Tchividjian J.D. wrote:

Why is no mention made that the heart of this lawsuit is about a systematic church effort to discourage and eventually prevent the families of children who were allegedly (and repeatedly) sexually victimized by church officials from speaking out and reporting to law enforcement. This lawsuit is less about the abuse and more about an institution that took steps to protect itself and it's reputation over the victimized souls (and bodies) of little ones. Omitting such a fundamental fact from this statement is a fundamental error.  
Why no mention that CJ Mahaney was actually the Senior Pastor at one of these churches where all of this horrific abuse allegedly occurred AND that discouraged these families from bringing this matter to the God ordained civil authorities? Omitting such a fundamentally important fact from this statement is a fundamental error.  
This lawsuit was dismissed for one reason and one reason only…expiration of the statute of limitation. Isn't it tragic that the reason why this suit was dismissed – taking too long to file – was the very objective of these church leaders when they discouraged these precious souls from stepping forward.  
Many of these men have not hesitated to write (or tweet) on the Penn State horrors, gays in the Boy Scouts, and Universal healthcare, but have been conspicuously quiet on this issue…just doesn't sit right with me (and apparently a lot of others). And when they finally speak, what is omitted speaks more than what is said.  
What these men don't realize is that their silence is pushing a large group of precious souls farther and farther from the Church…and our glorious and gracious God. [sigh]  
Boz Tchividjian, J.D. 
Executive Director, GRACE

Whoa! This is what could be called in Bronx parlance "a punch to the gut." Boz Tchividjian's response to the statement of defense by these three respected men is a game changer. Check out the Board of Directors of GRACE. Check out the Partnerships with GRACE. I spent this morning checking out GRACE. I'm impressed. Like Wartburg Watch, GRACE gets it.

(1). The kingdom and people in the kingdom are far more important than any Christian institution and the intellectual, authoritative leaders in charge of those Christian institutions.
(2). The days of cover-up, silence and loyal protection of fellow leaders is over. When wrongs occur, kingdom people right the wrongs, regardless of those involved.
(3).  Like Luther's Wittenberg door, the Internet is the new place of challenge. It used to be institutional leaders discounted blogs as "people blogging in their mother's basement," but only those out of touch with reality now cling to that belief.

Wartburg Watch and GRACE are kingdom ministries, run by kingdom people not afraid to challenge Christian institutional leaders unfamiliar with challenges. The sooner an institutional leader concerned with the loyal protection of a friend realizes that fact, the better off his institution will be.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cities are People: The Relational Disconnect of Some Calvinists

Moore Cemetery: Photo by Billy Hefton, Enid News
After spending two days in Moore, Oklahoma and returning to Enid late last night, I caught up on some email correspondence and social media this morning. I mentioned in an earlier post being surprised by a tweet from John Piper that seemed calloused toward the suffering of the victims of the Moore tornado. Today, a Facebook friend linked to a post from Doug Wilson, praising Doug for taking Rachel Evans to task for challenging John Piper's theology of God's sovereignty. Those who know me would tell you I have more in common with John Piper than I do Rachel Evans. However, it seems to me John Piper and Doug Wilson have a great deal to learn from people like Rachel Evans.

Rachel is a person who relates to an individual in the midst of suffering.  Doug Wilson and John Piper are theologians who wish to teach an individual in the midst of suffering.  What Doug and John can learn from Rachel is this: People don't care what you know until they know that you care. Jesus first gave a cup of cold water and accepted the woman at the well where she was before He ever addressed any confusion in her theology. John Piper and Doug Wilson don't have a theological problem, they have a relational one. They summarize all tragedies, including the Moore tornado, like this: "If disaster befalls a city, it is from the hand of God" (Amos 3:6).  They see cities, not people.

Of course, Doug Wilson and John Piper express a concern for people in their writings. Doug writes, "The sovereignty of God is a hard shell case that carries and protects the tender heart."  Doug is unintentionally miscommunicating what he believes. It is a fact that sometimes tender hearts are broken, and those broken hearts do not fall outside of God's sovereignty. Doug means to write, "Belief in the doctrine of the sovereignty of God is a hard shell case that carries and protects the tender heart." I happen to agree with Doug's message, but I greatly disagree with Doug's methodology. You don't shout at a city that a tornado is a display of God's holiness, majesty and justice in order to protect the tender heart of an individual; you sit down with that individual who lost his or her home (or loved ones) and show compassion and mercy and then you help them restore what was lost. After you show them mercy, you then have earned the right to teach them how God will work all things for good to those who trust Him.

I guess I'm saying one of the wisest things a theologian can do in the midst of tragedy is to shut up his teaching until he shows up in mercy. You don't change someone's theology until you connect with them relationally. Calvinists need to start seeing people, not cities.

I have never met John Piper, Doug Wilson or Rachel Evans. I know all three through their writings. All three have a great deal to offer the body of Christ. Rachel maybe can learn some theology from John and Doug, but I'm of the opinion its more important that these two men learn something relationally from Rachel.

Postscript: Since I posted the above this morning, I was made aware that John Piper acknowledged taking his tweet down and that he gave an explanation for why he did. He writes: "The reason I pulled my tweets from Job is that it became clear that what I feel as comfort was not affecting others the same.” Maybe this post will help explain to him why.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

When Love Trumps Theology: The Moore Tornado

The long skinny pole in the center of the photograph to the left is the top of the crane at Plaza Towers Elementary School, Moore, Oklahoma. I was standing one block west of the school where those seven children died when I took this picture. The devastation of the neighborhood around the Plaza Towers is beyond comprehension. My brother Brett and I walked west from the Command Post near Warren Theater on I-35 through a Moore neighborhood that had been destroyed. After traversing a city park strewn with debris, we crossed the Little River. The park and river are where the homeless in Moore, Oklahoma usually live, and we both had the feeling we would find bodies as we walked. Normally, we would not have been able to cross the river, but the debris so clogged the water flow--debris that included dozens of  destroyed cars-- that we walked across the river without getting wet. On the west side of the Little River, about a half mile west of Warren Theater, we hit ground zero of the Moore tornado. People are still not being let in, and search and rescue teams are continuing their work. Moore city officials are overwhelmed trying to get the infrastructure repaired. We walked with Oklahoma Natural Gas teams as they sought to shut off gas that continued to seep from broken pipes above concrete slabs. The area was still extremely dangerous. Twenty-four bodies have been found, but I can't imagine that there will not be additional deaths uncovered when debris begins to be cleared. One particular house we passed had been cleared by search and rescue three times (you can tell by an orange X, a silver M, and a Green ^). Surprisingly, there were a number of dogs in houses where there were no people. Animal control and additional police were helping get the animals to shelters. Of course, the focus was on finding people alive, and in one particular house we passed, search and rescue found a man alive - the third time the house was cleared.

The very generous people of Emmanuel Enid have helped the people of Moore. By the end of the day
we were able to place twenty-one 7,000 watt generators with law enforcement, search and rescue personnel, fire crews, and rescue shelters, all of whom were in need of portable electricity. Paul Baker's Emrick's Moving and Storage (a member of Emmanuel) continues to collect donations at his office on South Van Buren in Enid and will be transporting the materials to the people of Moore. Go by tomorrow and drop off your supplies at Emrick's. The greatest needs are batteries (C and D), gloves, flashlights and trash bags. Paul will get the materials to Moore. Money for fuel to run the donated generators for weeks has been given by an Emmanuel member. Five Moore families who lost homes and/or loved ones have received cash through Emmanuel's benevolence fund. Our young people will be coming down Friday or Saturday to help clear debris. I saw the Enid Police Department guiding traffic at 4th Street and Telephone Road, just north of the Command Center. Donations have flooded into Moore from around the world, but the people of Emmanuel Enid (and Enid proper) have made a huge impact in this city.  I have not seen much from social media or watched television the last 24 hours, but Brandy Ester, a nurse from Emmanuel, sent me a text quoting NBC Television newscaster Harry Smith, who when interviewed by Brian Williams said, "If you are waiting for the Federal Government to help it's going to be a while, but the Baptist men will get it done tomorrow." Amen, Harry Smith. After seeing the huge Baptist Disaster Relief Tent in the parking lot of FBC Moore, Oklahoma,  and the crowds being fed by Baptist men (and women), I echo Harry's sentiments.

There are all kinds of heartbreaking stories from the disaster zone in Moore. The story of the seven children who drowned in the basement of their school has broken all of our hearts. The most difficult rescue for a couple of the men with whom I spoke was pulling a eight-year-old boy out from under his dead mother, a boy who had been trapped underneath his mom who had shielded him from certain death. During the May 1999 Moore tornado I found a little dead baby in a field. I almost stepped on the child, thinking she was a doll. Every step I took today through Moore brought back that memory. I thought for certain I might find something similar, but thankfully I did not.  About 6:00 p.m. tonight, after walking hours through the devastation of Moore, Oklahoma, my father sent me a text asking "Wade, have you seen this?" He included a photo of John Piper's tweet (see above). Honestly, I thought maybe Piper's twitter account had been hacked. Though I believe in the sovereignty of God,  I can't fathom how somebody like John Piper can allow his theology to trump his love. People who have lost loved ones to death during a great wind don't need theologians to quote Scripture about people dying in a great wind. They need our love. Thank goodness Oklahoma is filled with people who let their love trump their theology.

I thought about closing today's post with a picture of a woman in tears as I handed her cash  to help with her short term expenses, cash that came from the people of Emmanuel Enid. She burst into tears and couldn't even say "Thank You" because of her emotions. My brother took the picture and then hugged her as I told her that the people of Emmanuel Enid just wanted her to know that there are people in Enid who cared for her and her family and were praying for them during their time of loss. I am not going to show you the picture out of a desire to protect Kaylee's privacy. But as I close this post after a very long day I just want to say "Thank You" to all of you who have helped the people of Moore through your love, your prayers, and your finances. Let us always allow our love to trump our theology. It is the only way people will know we belong to Christ.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Jailed for Your Ideas: R.B.C. Howell, Pastor of FBC Nashville, and His Imprisonment by the United States Government

R.B.C. Howell (1801-1868)
Patrick Henry once said, "The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government." Our Founding Fathers understood that a free country has a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Countries without freedom have governments over and separate from the people. This is why Thomas Jefferson once wrote "What country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance?"

Recently, the government of the United States has admitted targeting certain political groups for IRS audits. Franklin Graham has written a poignant letter to President Obama asking why the Billy Graham Association was targeted. It seems that the United States government is acting like a bully, infringing on personal freedoms, demanding ideological conformity, micro-managing personal affairs, burdening future generations with debt by borrowing more than half it spends, and acting as if the government is the final authority on all matters, including those moral and spiritual.

There are number of people who have been expressing ideological differences with the present administration of the United States government, and it is now public that the government targeted some of those dissenters. Is there a precedence in America for anyone being imprisoned by Federal government for simply expressing ideological convictions different than the government's?

Of course there is.

Robert Boyte Crawford "R.B.C." Howell (1801-1868) was the Pastor of First Baptist Church, Nashville, Tennessee, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1851 through 1858 (an unprecedented seven years), and according to  Cathcart's Baptist Encyclopaedia  "one of the ablest and most learned men in the South." In 1862 the Federal government declared Nashville part of a military territory and installed Andrew Johnson as territorial governor. Governor Johnson demanded every Nashville citizen, particularly prominent ones like  Dr. RBC Howell,  swear an oath of allegiance to the United States government. The oath went like this:
"I do solemnly swear that I will support, protect and defend the Constitution and government of the United States against all enemies, whether domestic or foreign, and that I will bear true faith, allegiance and loyalty to the same, any laws, ordinance, resolution or convention to the contrary notwithstanding; and further, that I do this with a full determination, pledge and purpose without any mental reservation or evasion whatsoever; and, further, that I will well and faithfully perform all the duties which may be required of me by law. So help me God."
Pastor R.B.C. Howell refused to take the oath. The Federal government disbanded his church and imprisoned Dr. Howell for several months. My great-great grandfather (F.T.D. Cherry) was imprisoned in Nashville with Howell for a few days before F.T.D. was transferred to Rock Island. Dr. Howell used the time he spent in jail to handwrite the history of First Baptist Church, Nashville, Tennessee. Last week Rachelle and I were in Nashville for couple of days, and while she was at Vanderbilt, I went to the Tennessee State Archives to study the handwritten history of FBC Nashville. To my surprise, I came across a letter Dr. Howell wrote to Governor Andrew Johnson explaining the reasons why he would not take the oath of allegiance to the federal government, a letter that preceded his imprisonment. I have since discovered that Howell's letter has never been published via the Internet.

I am posting R.B.C. Howell's letter as an example of cogent, Christian thinking during times when people may be unable to swear their allegiance to a government.  Dr. Howell died shortly after being released from prison and is buried in historic Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Nashville. The Nashville Banner described the funeral procession of the venerable pastor as "the longest this city has ever witnessed." I would encourage you to read the following letter slowly and contemplate the principles stated, particularly those in numbers 3, 4, 6, and 7 (a PDF of the letter can be found here).


Governor Johnson - Sir:

Summoned  before you I am requested to take the following oath:
"I do solemnly swear that I will support, protect and defend the Constitution and government of the United States against all enemies, whether domestic or foreign, and that I will bear true faith, allegiance and loyalty to the same, any laws, ordinance, resolution or convention to the contrary notwithstanding; and further, that I do this with a full determination, pledge and purpose without any mental reservation or evasion whatsoever; and, further, that I will well and faithfully perform all the duties which may be required of me by law. So help me God." 
I have ever scrupulously conformed myself to the government under which I have lived. I do this as a religious duty. I have never knowingly violated any law of the Federal Government, of the state government, nor of the military government now established. I am informed that no violation of the law is charged against me. My purpose is to pursue the same course hereafter. I intend not to resist "powers that be," but to comply with their requisition as far as they do not come in conflict with my duty to God. Respectfully I feel myself obliged to say that I cannot do it (take the oath) for several reasons, some of which I beg permission very briefly to state.

First - I cannot take this oath, because there are some parts of it which I do not understand. When I am requested to swear that I will "bear true faith, allegiance and loyalty to the Constitution and government of the United States, any law, ordinance, resolution or convention to the contrary notwithstanding", I am at a loss as to the meaning. What law, ordinance, resolution or convention is referred to, I know not. I cannot tell whether reference is had to some existing law, ordinance, resolution or convention which I am likely to suppose obligatory upon me, or to something of the kind which may hereafter be inaugurated. Nor do I know who is to be the judge, I myself, or someone else, whether such laws, ordinances, resolutions or convention, if there be any such, are or are not in conflict with the Constitution and government of the United States.

And further, when I am called upon to swear "that I will well and faithfully perform all duties which may be required of me by law," I perceive no conditions nor limitations. What laws may be adopted by the United States and by the State of Tennessee, who knows? They may be laws in conflict with my duty to God; they may be laws in collision with the Constitution; they may be laws in antagonism with other laws claiming my obedience. Such compliance with them is impossible, yet it is demanded of me to swear that "I will well and faithfully perform all duties required of me by law" without condition and without limitations.

An oath so vague, indefinite and impracticable respectfully I must decline to take.

Second- I cannot take this oath because once having sworn to support the Constitution of the United States, and having up to this hour faithfully complied with the obligation, and receiving now no office nor privilege of any kind under the government of the United States nor of the State of Tennessee there is nothing known to me in the Federal Constitution, nor in the constitution of this state, nor in the laws made in the pursuance of either which requires me to repeat that oath. The demand that I shall do so under the circumstances in which I am placed implies that I am offender against the Constitution or the laws, or both. That implication I respectfully decline to countenance by taking the oath.

Third - I cannot take this oath because, since the present government of the United States, and the Constitution of the United States, are in some respects at least confessedly in antagonism, to "support, protect and defend" both is clearly impossible.

To support, protect and defend the one is necessarily to oppose and resist the other. To keep this oath, therefore (I speak for myself only) is impracticable. Perjury is inevitable. From taking it, therefore, I must be excusable.

Fourth - I cannot take this oath because it binds me to support and protect and defend the "government of the United States," by which doubtless is meant the government of the United States as at present administered. Already the administration has done many things which I cannot support and defend, and which I cannot conscientiously swear that I will support and defend: what it may do hereafter, and what its successors may do, I cannot tell. This oath makes me swear without conditions and without limitations "that I will support, protect and defend the government of the United States."

To do this would be to "resign my right of thought" and to renounce my liberty as a free citizen of my country.

Fifth - Nor can I take this oath as a measure of expediency. By expediency I refer to the fact that since an oath taken under duress is not binding then on those who resort to save their families from suffering and themselves from punishment. I have a large, helpless and dependent family; I am myself not indifferent to the ease and comforts of life, but I cannot avail myself of this plea for several reasons, one only which need be mentioned. This oath makes me swear that I will take upon me these obligations "without any mental reservations or evasions whatever:" that is as I understand it, that I do not avail myself of this expedient, but take the obligation heartily and in good faith. In me, who cannot disregard its moral binding force, this would be perjury.

Sixth - I cannot take this oath because it would be a violation of my duty to God. My duty to God requires that I shall take no oath the entire import of which I do not fully understand, that I shall not swear unless there be good and sufficient reason for it, that I swear to do contradictory things, that I shall not do impracticable things, and that if I do swear that I shall not swear falsely, but shall truly and fully perform my oath. To take this oath would therefore be to violate my duty to God.

Seventh - Without an oath I shall in future, as I have heretofore, perform as a religious duty every just obligation to the "powers that be," but this oath I cannot take. I cannot take it as a measure of expediency; I cannot take it at all. I most respectfully decline it and take the consequences.

R.B.C. Howell
January 28, 1862

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

It Is Time to Get New Friends When...

On Tuesday mornings I meet with a group of men for fellowship and discipleship. Our small group, which has met for twenty-one years, alternates between theological books studies and chapter by chapter inductive Bible studies. Right now we are going through Jeff VanVonderen's book Tired of Trying to Measure Up. Jeff has a been a friend for many years. He is the author of several books and the professional interventionist on the Emmy winning show Intervention.

In this morning's study from the book, on page 181, we read a quote that struck us as pretty profound. Jeff wrote:"If the relationship you have in God's name don't say about you what God says about you, I recommend that you seek new ones."

Two things are needed to understand that statement: (1). A knowledge of what God says about you, and (2). A willingness to let go of Christian friends that don't say the same thing about you that God says.

Friends who shame you, friends who harbor grudges against, friends who expect or demand certain performance from you, friends who are disappointed in you as a person, friends who won't forgive you, friends who don't/won't/can't give you freedom, friends who get angry with you and close off emotionally from you, and friends who expect/need certain things from you are saying, "I have placed you on a platform of performance expectations, and if you don't meet my expectations,  I want nothing to do with you."

God does not treat you in this manner. If you have Christian friends who relate to you like this, then it is time to get new ones.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Sharia Law Should Be Resisted in the 21st Century Like Nazism Was Resisted in the 20th Century

Oklahoma is one of a handful of states who has been actively engaged in the political arena in opposing any possible foothold of Sharia Law within our borders. Our state has undergone a heavy dose of criticism for what is perceived by elitists as a bigoted and backward political maneuvering.

Yesterday the Australian news agency's Channel 7 broadcast a two-part special entitled ABANDONED. It is the gut-wrenching story of an Australian woman named Alicia Gaili who was brutally raped and beaten in Dubai by three men. According to Yahoo News: "Alone and frightened, Alicia took herself to hospital. What she didn’t know is that under the UAE’s strict sharia laws, if the perpetrator does not confess, a rape cannot be convicted without four adult Muslim male witnesses. Alicia was charged with having illicit sex outside marriage, and thrown in a filthy jail cell for eight months."

Does Oklahoma look so backwards now? In this age of political correctness, it is incumbent upon Americans who know their history and the Judeo-Christian heritage of United States law to not just say "no" to Sharia Law, but to oppose it like the greatest generation of Americans past opposed Nazism and Bolshevism.  Neville Chamberlain tried to make peace with Adolph Hitler, believing Hitler had no desire for expansion of the Aryan ideals and principles throughout Europe. He was wrong, and it cost the lives of millions of people.

Winston Churchill rightly understood that any government which relies on terrorism to maintain its regime is built on an ideology that must be opposed by civilized people. Churchill said about Bolshevism: "I yield to no one in my detestation of Bolshevism, and of the revolutionary violence which precedes it. ... But my hatred of Bolshevism and Bolsheviks is not founded on their silly system of economics, or their absurd doctrine of an impossible equality. It arises from the bloody and devastating terrorism which they practice in every land into which they have broken, and by which alone their criminal regime can be maintained. ... Governments who have seized upon power by violence and by usurpation have often resorted to terrorism in their desperate efforts to keep what they have stolen, but the august and venerable structure of the British Empire ... does not need such aid. Such ideas are absolutely foreign to the British way of doing things."

It's time those who love freedom to realize that Sharia Law is as dangerous to our modern day as Nazism and Bolshevism was a century ago.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Life Is Not Always Fair: Dr. Samuel Mudd

Life is not always fair.

Dr. Samuel Mudd was awakened by knocking on his Maryland farmhouse front door around 4:00 a.m. Saturday, April 15, 1865. Feeling a little ill, Dr. Mudd asked his wife Sarah if she would get up and go see who it was. Sarah told her husband she was frightened because of the hour and the persistent knocking, so Dr. Mudd hauled himself out of bed, cinched his nightgown and went to greet his unexpected guest. Dr. Mudd found two men on his front porch, one injured, supported by a friend. The uninjured man did all the speaking and said that his injured friend, whom he called Tyson, had broken his leg when his horse had stumbled and fallen. "Could you set my friend's leg?"

Dr. Mudd looked closely at the injured man. He had a full set of whiskers, and his neck and lower jaw were covered by a shawl. Dr. Mudd could hear moaning. Dr. Mudd told the two men to come into the house. The Dr. used a living room couch to set the broken tibia bone. Then, after payment of $25.00, Dr. Mudd told the men they could use the spare bedroom upstairs and get a few hours of rest before they continued their journey. After thanking Dr. Mudd for his services, the friend helped Tyson upstairs and put him to bed. Dr. Mudd saw the men again late in the afternoon of the next day, when he gave them directions on how to navigate a local swamp as they continued their journey. It was only after the men were gone and Dr. Mudd heard that the President of the United States had been assassinated that Dr. Mudd became suspicious. He voluntarily reported to the Union soldiers in Bryantown that he had opened his home to two strangers, one of whom needed medical attention.

Two days later detectives from the War Department came to Dr. Mudd's home to interview him. Dr. Mudd and his wife told them everything they knew. The detectives left. Three days later, the detectives came back and asked Dr. Mudd if he would come with them to Bryantown to meet with their superior. They assured Sarah Mudd that her husband would quickly return. When Dr. Mudd walked out the door that Friday morning, April 21, 1865 his wife could not have known that she would not see her husband again for four years. He was arrested, imprisoned, tried and convicted for conspiracy to murder Abraham Lincoln. His crime? He treated the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth, the man identified to him as "Tyson." Dr. Mudd came within one vote of a military tribunal of being hung, but instead he was sentenced to life in prison at a place called Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, 70 miles west of Key West.

Rachelle and I were at the Dry Tortugas this past Thursday. After researching Dr. Mudd's life for
years, there was an eerie feeling standing in the very place where Dr. Mudd was imprisoned from 1865 to 1869.  When he arrived at the prison, Dr. Mudd's four children were between the ages of six months and seven years. Dr. Mudd missed his family terribly. It is hard to imagine all that he endured. He had to wear a ball and chain around his ankle (ordered by the War Department). He was tasked with hard labor, sweeping the floor of Fort Jefferson's bastion of all sand and dirt every day. His jail cell was infested by mosquitos and bed bugs, and it was plagued with perpetual dampness. Two months into Mudd's imprisonment, the commandant of the prison gave Mudd a copy of Les Miserables, believing as did many that Dr. Mudd was innocent of complicity in Lincoln's murder. What carried Dr. Mudd through those dark days was an abiding faith in God's providence and His grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Eventually, mostly due to Dr. Mudd's heroic efforts in battling to save lives of officers (and their dependents), soldiers and prisoners from the deadly effects of Yellow Fever, President Andrew Andrew Johnson pardoned Dr. Mudd. When Samuel Mudd arrived back at his Maryland farm in the spring of 1869, he found his children grown, his wife destitute, his farm destroyed, and his career ruined.

Life is not always fair.

Nearly a century before Dr. Mudd was arrested for conspiracy to assassinate the President of the United States, Thomas Lincoln and his brother Mordecai Lincoln were working in the Kentucky fields with their father Abraham Lincoln (not the President). Suddenly, an Indian hiding in the nearby woods shot and killed Abraham Lincoln. Mordecai ran to the house to get a gun, while young Thomas Lincoln knelt beside his fallen father. As Mordecai returned to the field, he saw an Indian sneaking up behind his brother Thomas, raising a hatchet ready to scalp Thomas Lincoln. Mordecai Lincoln shot and killed the Indian, saving his brother's life. Thomas Lincoln would later name the son born to him in 1809 Abraham Lincoln--yes, that Abraham Lincoln, the man who would become the nation's 16th President. Abraham grew up hearing the story how his uncle Mordecai had saved his father's life.

Uncle Mordecai Lincoln and his wife Aunt Mary were always very close to President Lincoln, and in fact, aunt Mary was called "Abraham Lincoln's favorite relative." The maiden name of the President's favorite relative was Mudd.  That's right, she was born Mary Mudd. Mary was the first cousin (two generations removed) of the man who would eventually be charged with conspiracy to murder President Abraham Lincoln. How do you go from being in a family beloved by the President to a man guilty of plotting to kill the President? You don't. Dr. Mudd was innocent of all charges.

Life is not always fair.

A couple of years ago I spent a few hours in a Mexico jail. I have researched Dr. Mudd's life for years, and I distinctly remember sitting in that Mexican jail, reflecting on Dr. Mudd's four year imprisonment. One of the great blessings of being familiar with the stories of other people is the added depth to one's perspective on life. The best antidote against self-absorption is reading about others. Next time you begin to feel sorry for yourself because someone lied about you, or that something was taken from you, or that somehow your character has been falsely sullied, remember Dr. Samuel Mudd.

Life is not always fair.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Grace to Those Coming Out of the Closet

I received my Sports Illustrated this week and on the front cover was a picture of NBA basketball player Jason Collins and the big bold words Jason Comes Out in the article itself. Jason announced to the world that he is attracted to same-sex sexual relationships. He said it was time to stop hiding in the proverbial closet, come out, and "live truthfully." Good for Jason. He is being honest about his desires to have sexual relations with men. Some might say, "No, he is only speaking about his sexual orientation. He is attracted to men." I respond, "Attracted in what sense?" Many of us (men) are attracted to other men in friendship, and attracted to men in relationship, and attracted to men in companionship. Jason is coming out and declaring his attraction to having sex with men--or possibly a man--and he is being honest about it. Again, good for him. Jason says, "greater openness and honesty promotes increased understanding, respect and acceptance." I agree Jason.

For example, I have a friend who is sexually attracted to exposing himself to women. He hid his desires--and behavior--for many, many years. When he finally came out of the closet with his wife, family and friends (including me), we began to understand him better. My friend will tell you he has never been loved and accepted by anyone the way he was when I went down to the police station and hugged him and told him I loved him and was there for him. I walked with him through the hurtful process of coming out of the closet and confessing to his sexual attraction to seeing the looks on women's faces when he exposed himself. I stood with him when the police mocked him. I stood with him when the judge sentenced him. Many people were disgusted with him because of his sexual orientation and his sexual actions. Not me. I accepted him, appreciated his honesty, and stood by him. His honesty with me helped me understand why he was attracted to exposing himself to women. I agree with Jason Collins: "Greater openness and honesty promotes understanding, respect and acceptance" -- at least with me.

I have another couple of friends who are sexually attracted to women who are not their wives, and on more than one occasion have acted out on those attractions. I would consider them two of my best friends. When they came out of the closet many years ago regarding their sexual orientations, I stood beside them, respected them and accepted them. Both confess to others that I helped save their lives, and both confess that their sexual orientations have not changed, only that they are beginning to understand the beauty of having sex with the person to whom God has given to them in the covenant of marriage.  In one case, a marriage was saved; in another, a marriage was not. My love for both men is present even when some in their own families turned against them. Again, I agree with Jason Collins: "Greater openness and honesty promotes understanding, respect and acceptance."

I have another friend who was arrested for solicitation of sex from a minor. He confesses to being oriented toward having a desire for sex with young people, particularly those who are in the age range of 10 to 12. He went to prison for his crime. He will tell you that I have stood with him, respected him and accepted him. Everywhere he goes in our church he must be announced as a "child predator." We know that many say a child predator is not a human being, but God forbid those words ever come from my mouth. When my friend came out of the closet several years ago, I accepted him, respected him and understood him better, even as we encouraged the courts to sentence him for his crimes. I agree with Jason Collins that "greater openness and honesty" promotes better relationships. My friend will tell you he has never been loved like I have loved him--by anyone.

I know some of you are saying, "Wait a minute! How can you compare the sexual orientations of a homosexual or an adulterer with those of a genital exposer or a child predator! The first two involve consenting adults! The latter two involve crimes perpetrated against the non-consenting or children!" I respond: Do you not know history? The Roman emperors during the Roman Empire declared sex between men and young boys both legal and beneficial. The Greeks considered men exposing themselves to women a sign of masculinity and patriarchal power. Just because sex with children goes against your sense of morality or exposing yourself to non-consenting women goes against your sense of morality, it doesn't mean that it goes against everyone else's sense of morality. Cultures change. As my friend John Blanchard says, "The new morality is actually old immorality."

The American culture is changing. It used to be that same-sex sexual conduct was illegal in America, punishable by a prison sentence. It used to be that adultery was illegal in America, punishable by a prison sentence. Some people in America are pushing to legalize sex with children, just as the ancient Romans did, because how can you call an act of love with a child wrong?

Here's the deal. I agree with Jason Collins: "We need more honesty." We need more people to continue to come out of the closet. We need more people to be transparent about their struggles with sexual orientation and their struggles in acting out. We need to commend Jason Collins--and anyone else for that matter--for coming out of the closet and making known their sexual orientation. And, we need to love them, respect them and accept them--as immoral people in need of God's grace.

This is the message of Christ. He is in love with sinners. He came for sinners, not the righteous, and until a homosexual, adulterer, sexual lover of children, or any other sexually immoral person can be honest and call their desires and actions sinful, there is no hope for ever trusting Christ and receiving God's forgiveness and transformative power to change. The standard of human morality is set by revelation not by speculation. The Scripture is clear: "Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God" (I Corinthians 6:9-10).

All the friends mentioned above have come to Christ. Since becoming believers in Christ, all of their sinful orientations and desires have not disappeared. Coming out of the closet and admitting their orientation toward sexual immorality was a first step to finding grace. All of them have had sexually immoral desires since coming to faith in Christ, and most of them have been sexually immoral in conduct since coming to Christ. Yet, they continue to be honest about their struggles, and they call their acting out sexual immorality.  They have been loved and accepted by me as I've walked them through the process of continued healing and change, and I will be with them to the end.

I close with profound words from C.S. Lewis on sexual immorality, words that I pray characterize my love, respect and acceptance toward those who come out of the closet and the truth I will tell them when they do:
"Our warped natures, the devils who tempt us, and all the contemporary propaganda for lust, combine to make us feel that the desires we are resisting are so 'natural,' so 'healthy, and so reasonable, that it is almost perverse and abnormal to resist them. Poster after poster, film after film, novel after novel, associate the idea of sexual indulgence with the ideas of health, normality, youth, frankness, and good humor. Now this association is a lie. Like all powerful lies, it is based on a truth--the truth . . . that sex in itself (apart from the excess and obsessions that have grown around it) is 'normal,' and 'healthy,' and all the rest of it. The lie consists in the suggestion that any sexual act to which you are tempted is also healthy and normal. Now this, on any conceivable view, and quite apart from Christianity, must be nonsense. Surrender to all of our desires obviously leads to impotence, disease, jealousies, lies, concealment, and everything that is the reverse of good health, good humour, and frankness. For any happiness, even in this world, quite a lot of restraint is going to be necessary . . . For 'nature' (in the sense of natural desire) will have to be controlled anyway, unless you are going to ruin your whole life.

I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of  Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and backbiting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither."