They’ll Know Us by Our Love

Woodlawn, a movie that came out last fall, ended with a song I hadn’t heard or thought about in years, By Our Love, sung by for King and Country from A.D. The Bible Continues. Written by Peter Scholtes (according to Wikipedia) near the end of the turbulent 60’s, By Our Love reminds believers that being one in the Spirit means they should display unity and the kind of love the world can’t help but notice.

As I was thinking about last night’s terrorist attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, that song came to mind. The distinctive mark of the early Christian church was love. And the ancient world took notice. Love is still the most distinctive thing the church has to offer to a hurting world, and right now, the city of Orlando is hurting. While Christians can’t approve of or affirm the gay lifestyle, they can reach out in Christian love to the family and friends of those killed and injured in the attack.

If Christians take this opportunity to show love and grace to their LGBT neighbors in the aftermath of this terrible event, it’s possible that what Satan meant for evil, God can use for good. And just maybe the people in at least one city will begin to know us by our love.

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America’s Finest Hour

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.” – Winston Churchill


D-Day Memorial, Bedford, VA

Memorial Day is a day to honor all those who gave their lives for this country and for the freedoms for which it stands. But it’s those who served in WWII who are particularly on my mind today. Not only because my dad was a WWII vet (who, thankfully, did not die in combat) and a career serviceman, but also because, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, if the United States were to last for a thousand years, in many ways, I would have to believe WWII was its finest hour.

Many fine men and women have given their lives for America since that time, but WWII was the last war that most all Americans would agree was fought for the right reasons. The United States has never been a perfect nation – in a fallen world, no nation could be. But America has aspired to be a haven of freedom in the world – a testament to which are the millions of people who have emigrated to America over its 200 plus-year history – and victory in WWII was absolutely necessary to maintaining that freedom.

The WWII generation, however, may have been the last generation to really believe in that aspiration, to believe that America really was the land of the free. The generation that followed, the baby boomers – my generation – for reasons both justified and unjustified, began to see America not as the “land of the free” but as “the land of the oppressed.”

Today, despite the achievements of the Civil Rights movement and the immigrants who continue to pour into this country – both legally and illegally – in the hopes of finding a better life, the narrative of America the oppressive persists and grows, and victim groups multiply. To rectify these purported injustices, and in the name of tolerance, the fundamental freedoms the WWII generation fought to preserve – freedom of speech and religion, in particular – are being steadily consumed by freedoms no one of their era could have ever foreseen.

On this Memorial Day, I have to wonder if the men (and it was mostly men) who endured the unspeakable horrors of WWII and gave their lives for this country more than 70 years ago would think that the angry, polarized America their grandchildren and great-grandchildren have inherited was worth the terrible price they paid.

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Take Courage

Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid. — Matthew 15-27b

Years ago, when someone related the story of Jesus’ walking on water, the focus always seemed to be on Peter’s failure of faith. If only Peter hadn’t taken his eyes off Jesus, the implication was, he would never have faltered on the crest of the waves. It wasn’t until long after I became an adult that I heard a preacher point out that of all the disciples, Peter was the only one with the courage – and faith – to get out of the boat in the first place. And when his courage did falter, Peter knew on whom to call to save him.

This incident, like so many in Peter’s life, is a lesson for us. Sometimes we have to have the courage to step out into scary situations with only our meager faith to sustain us. And when, in the midst of frightening circumstances, that faith begins to falter because the waves are high and Jesus seems a long way off, we still need to remember to call on Him to save us, to get us back in the boat or safely on shore.

In America, faithful Christians are being buffeted even now by winds and waves that will only grow stronger in the coming years. American Christians haven’t encountered such peril since before the nation’s founding. Many of us – like the disciples who stayed in the boat – will be tempted to huddle in our churches in hopes of riding out the storm. Instead, we need the courage to step out into the gale and do what we can to save the drowning.

Regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, over the next few years, safe harbors for America’s Christians are likely to become harder and harder to find. While our storms are not yet (and may never be) as fearful as those battering our fellow Christians in other parts of the world, it’s time, nevertheless, to recognize that we can weather them not by huddling in our churches, but by having courage to get out of the boat and faith to, as the old song says, “wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”

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Above Reproach

Do all things without grumbling or disputing; that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world. – Phil. 2:14-15 (NASB)

2016. A new year and a new opportunity to follow the tenets laid down in this verse.

Grumbling is something I’ve become too well acquainted with in recent years. The destruction of our culture and country is a hard thing to watch, and the anger thus engendered has only fueled my inborn and un-Christlike tendency to complain. Complaints come readily to my lips these days; praise and gratitude far too slowly.

We do indeed live amidst a crooked and perverse generation, getting more so by the minute. Yet, according to Paul – a man who knew a thing or two about crooked and perverse generations – we are called upon to live “above reproach” so as to “appear as lights in the world.”

And as much as it did in Paul’s time, heaven knows this dark world we live in today is in need of some light.

The gray days we’ve had for the past few weeks – in my neck of the woods and across much of America – are a fitting metaphor for the times in which we live, times that are dark now and growing darker by the minute. And I’m ashamed to say that instead of appearing as a “light” in that darkness, I’ve too often cursed the darkness and let it overwhelm me.

If, as we well know, cursing the darkness accomplishes nothing, however, the question is, exactly how does one go about appearing as a true light in a perverse world that calls light darkness and darkness light?

I suspect God has a different answer to that question for every one of His followers. And I suspect that most of us have some idea of what that answer is for ourselves.

But if not, let us make it our mission this new year to find out and to begin living out that light in this bleak world so that the darkness no longer overwhelms us, and, as Paul exhorts us, so that we can prove ourselves “to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach.”

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Marriage, Human Dignity, and Liberal Insecurity

Three essays I’ve read recently powerfully express – far better than I could – some thoughts I’ve been having lately on the nature of marriage, on the brouhaha over Clarence Thomas’s dissent in Obergefell vs. Hodges, and on liberal/progressive insecurity.

Writing at First Things, Joshua Schulz dismantles Justice Kennedy’s contentions that “the procreative potential once thought essential to marriage is in fact no more central to the institution than the race . . .,” and “that what is essential to marriage is the autonomy right of ‘self-definition’ in one’s intimate relationships . . .”

In his essay, Schulz thoughtfully articulates the problems with Kennedy’s contention and shows why the aspects of marriage essential to its nature are bound up in the procreative and unitive properties of human sexuality, and not, contra the Court, in the autonomous individual’s right to “self-definition.”

Also at First Things, Wesley J. Smith explains what Clarence Thomas was really saying about human dignity in his Obergefell vs. Hodges dissent. Only someone making a deliberate effort – or someone who no longer believes in inherent human worth – could have misunderstood Justice Thomas’s point. But for those few who may have honestly missed it, Smith’s essay provides an excellent corrective.

And over at Public Discourse, David Azerrad explores liberal insecurity. According to Azerrad, liberals believe that we “are all sovereign individuals, radically free to fashion and refashion ourselves into anything we so please at any point in our lives.” Oddly, however, these sovereign individuals seem unable to thrive unless others affirm and approve their self-defined choices.

“For all his purported god-like powers of self-creation,” Azerrad writes, “liberal promethean man is actually a weak, insecure, and isolated individual. It is not enough that he define and express his identity. He needs others to recognize it, embrace it, and celebrate it. He needs the state to confer dignity upon it.”

If you haven’t already read them, each of these essays is well worth your time.

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When Freedom Dies

Religious freedom and freedom of speech in America are both in their death throes. While the writhing may go on for a while, absent a miraculous healing of the American spirit, their ultimate deaths are assured – and likely to occur sooner than we ever imagined.

Thanks to the progressive agenda, in general, these two real “fundamental” rights have been ill for quite some time. But it took the trifecta of radical environmentalism, the Affordable Care Act, and the same-sex marriage movement to push them to the brink. Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling saving the ACA and – to a far greater extent – Friday’s ruling creating a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, sounded the death knell.

Despite being so strong that nothing can stand in its way, the “right side of history,” apparently, is, at the same time, so fragile that any dissent could upend the whole enterprise. Dissenters – Christians, in particular – must, therefore, be silenced and marginalized. Progressives no doubt are overjoyed that the Supreme Court has handed them the tools to make that happen.

As Os Guinness writes in A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future, “[f]reedom never lasts forever, because its very vitality is built on a combination of elements that are dynamic, difficult to hold together and easy to corrupt.” In a fallen world, it could be no other way. When religious freedom and freedom of speech die, America’s freedom will be dead, as well.

CCO Public Domain

CCO Public Domain

At the Northampton Seminar on the Patheos website, my friend Gerry McDermott offers reasons to take heart. While “[t]hese are dark days for orthodox believers and conservatives,” Gerry writes, “. . . these are also days when we should be reminded of bright hopes.” Quoting Luke 6:22-23, Gerry reminds us that Jesus said we should “leap for joy” when men hate and revile us on His account. Such treatment puts us right up there with the prophets.

I know Gerry is right, and I sure can’t argue with the words of our Lord, but I’m not quite there yet. As a new neighbor helpfully pointed out to me recently, I’m no spring chicken. Still, I had hoped not to live to see the day freedom died in America. I’ll pray that I can leap for joy very soon. For now, I’m just trying to stay upright and stake out a small stand on the wrong side of history.

–updated 6:31 pm EDT

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The Cost of Our Convictions

The courage of our convictions is a phrase that means a willingness to stand up for what we believe in the face of opposition. Until recently, beyond a little ridicule, the cost of expressing our convictions hasn’t been too great for America’s Christians. But the ante on Christian courage is about to go up dramatically. The question then becomes, are we ready to pay that cost?

For Christians of my generation – the baby boomers – the cost may not be too onerous. Many of us are at or approaching the ends of our careers and so have less on the line. But for our children and grandchildren, the cost could betruth very great indeed. At Public Discourse, Ryan Shinkel lays out that cost in his excellent essay, “The Courage to Be on the Wrong Side of History: Lessons from Burke and Nietzsche.”

A senior studying philosophy and literature at the University of Michigan, Shinkel articulates well the challenges that his generation will likely face. But he doesn’t flinch from those challenges.

“Moral courage” Shinkel writes, “means placing more value upon the integrity of conscience over the stability of external events: being denied tenure, a plum internship, some job, friends who cannot tolerate “bigoted” opinions . . . prudence is necessary, yet those of my generation who stand for what the family is, what marriage is, and what the foundational institutions of civil society rooted in our rational and social natures are, make possible a new counter-revolution.”

I came of age during the sexual revolution of the ‘60s. Considered counter cultural at the time, that revolution – along with other misguided ideas regnant in those years – has wreaked unbelievable destruction on the well being of our nation and its citizens. If Shinkel can persuade others of his generation to grab hold of the moral courage to become the counterculture of today, to resist the so-called “right side of history,” and simply stand for what is right – whatever the cost – there may be hope for our nation yet.

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