Saturday, July 26, 2014

The NFL and Violence Against Women

Roger Goodell and the NFL absolutely dropped the ball on the Ray Rice domestic violence situation.

Rice knocked his then girlfriend/now wife (what was she thinking? Does she have no one speaking into her life?) unconscious in a hotel elevator. He is now suspended for two games of the 2014 season.

Yes, that’s not a typo. He knocked his girlfriend unconscious in a rage and is suspended for two games.

By comparison, Terrell Pryor pulled some shenanigans to avoid an NCAA suspension and get in the NFL through the supplemental draft and got a five game suspension before he was ever in the NFL.

A guy named Robert Mathis got four games for taking some fertility drugs to help his wife conceive. Yes, four games for trying to start a family with your wife. Two games for knocking out your soon-to-be wife.

Using marijuana will you get you a whole year in the NFL, even in states where it’s legal to smoke marijuana.

So assuming the rational position that the punishment should fit the crime, and that we reward or punish based on relative significance, the NFL has declared that beating a woman unconscious is not as significant as trying to have a baby with a women you are married to. It’s not as significant as taking money and favors in college when you have no accountability or responsibility to the NFL. And it’s way less significant than smoking pot.

Why should anyone think that the NFL takes violence against women seriously?

That’s not a rhetorical question. Go ahead. Someone tell me why anyone should think the NFL takes domestic violence seriously.

I’ll be waiting.

Until then, Roger Goodell should be without a job.

The league owners should demand either a higher suspension of Rice (at least a year, perhaps two, maybe even three), or a resignation from Goodell for embarrassing them and their league in this manner.

Until one or the other happens, no one should think the NFL cares about domestic violence.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Something on Eschatology for Saturday

The end of the week brings thoughts of the end of the age. At least for me it does, as I finalize a message for tomorrow on Matthew 24 and the Olivet Discourse.

A lot could be said about this passage, but what gets my keyboard going today is Craig Blomberg’s comments in the NAC regarding the identity of the “great distress” (NIV) in Matthew 24:21. He says,

The concept of a period of unparalleled distress (based on Dan 12:1) causes problems. If these two verses simply depict the horrors surrounding the war of A.D. 70, it is hard to see how v. 21 could be true. If they point to some end-time sacrilege, just before the Parousia, then it is hard to see how Matthew allows for a gap of at least two thousand years between vv. 20–21.*

I think he is correct that these verses cannot describe the war of A. D. 70. There’s too much history of violence to identify that event as “unequaled from the beginning until now, and never to be equaled again.” Not to mention, the Bible describes a period just before the end that is even worse than A.D. 70. It might be that A.D. 70 is a type of some sort, or a downpayment of sorts on that which is to come. But it is not likely the referent of Jesus’ words.

It is the second part of Blomberg’s argument that is more troubling. He says it is hard to see a gap of almost two thousand years between vv. 20-21.

But why? That such a gap is possible is clearly testified to in the OT where the coming of Christ is pictured as one event when in fact we know it as two events.

An example of this is Isaiah 9:6-7:

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.  There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.

The period between the birth of the Son and his eternal kingdom of justice and righteousness is at least two thousand years. So if this two thousand year gap can be seen between two verses in Isaiah 9, why can it not be seen between two verses in Matthew 24?

I don’t pretend this is an easy passage. Everytime I read it, I feel as if I have more questions than answers. But that doesn’t stop me from drawing enough conclusions from the text to preach it to the Lord’s assembled people.

In the end (no pun intended), there is much that we do not know.

I tend to think that Matthew 24 describes events that are generally characteristic of “the last days” as marked by the return of Christ to heaven. This is the church age. This age culminates in a period of The Tribulation (which is not to be confused with tribulation). The Tribulation in Scripture is a defined period of time in which events such as the ones described in Matthew 24 actually increase and intensify around the world, and end with a very visible and unmistakable coming of the Lord in power and glory.

I have yet to see a convincing exegetical explanation for how it can be otherwise.

Having said that, two points follow:

First, Christ in Matthew 24 shows us that eschatology is not some insignificant add-on to Christianity and the gospel which we are to talk about only when forced to. No, Christ actually brings the subject up, and likely baits his disciples into asking for more information about it. (I could say more about this to defend it, but I won’t here, except to suggest that the disciples, upon hearing Christ’s prophecy of temple destruction, may have recalled Zechariah 14:1-2).

Too many today are treating eschatology with the old and tired “panmillennial” joke—as in, it will all pan out in the end. I think Scripture is too clear for such a trivial treatment. While I can share good Christian fellowship with brothers and sisters who disagree with me, I don’t think that makes this insignificant, if for no other reason than Christ devotes a major section of his teaching to it in Matthew.

Second, I don’t think Christ’s intent was to encourage us to read the newspaper as an appendix to Matthew 24. The events of the Middle East do not help us understand Christ’s words here.

Blomberg takes a strange shot at “the unrelenting pessimism of traditional dispensationalism” (357). I wonder what he means. I find traditional dispensationalism to be extremely optimistic. After all, we are the ones who think the world will get better when it has a righteous branch of David ruling it, and further, we do not share the overwhelming burden of trying to bring it in. Is there anything more optimistic than a great restoration that we do not have to bring about?

I personally find amillennialism to be extremely depressing. I read the OT with interest and see a world that seems amazing. And then I look around and think, “This is it”? This is what God meant? I  know most amillennialists, good and faithful brothers, see those promises fulfilled in the eternal state. But I cannot reconcile the eternal state with the words of the OT. I am a premillennialist primarily because of the OT.

I could find a bit more hope in postmillennialism because at least there is the promise of a brighter day. But the hopeless burden of working towards that end is depressing.

My hope rests on the fact that God will do as he said, restoring the world and everything in it, reigning in peace and justice, punishing the wicked, and bringing prosperity once again to his people Israel and to the worshippers of the one true God.

In the end, I think we can conclude four basic things from Matthew 24.

First, don’t let wickedness and danger around you freeze your love (v. 12). That danger is not limited to the Tribulation. It is a real danger now. The tendency towards complacency in the face of danger and persecution is real in all ages.

Second, don’t let wickedness and danger around you cause you to quit (v. 13). Endurance in the face of trial is necessary for salvation. That’s a hard verse, and one that a lot of people want to minimize. We dare not. True faith is at the last persevering faith. Don’t despair. That doesn’t mean perfect faith. It simply means real faith. Faith in God and his promises ultimately and finally wins.

Third, don’t let wickedness and danger around you cause you to not preach the gospel (v. 14). The promise that the gospel will be preached in the whole world is part of our commission (Matthew 28:18-20). It happens before the end. Though many dangers, toils, and snares await those who take the gospel to others, we dare not quit before the end. Keep preaching wherever you are.

Fourth, keep watching for the return of Christ. Matthew 24 closes with a parable, and several parables continue into Matthew 25, all on the theme of watching while we wait. There is a kind of servant who beats on the slaves and eats and drinks with pleasure and ease because he doubt the master will come back now. He is surprised by the master’s return, and is punished for it. The faithful servant keeps watching and is blessed.

So brothers and sisters, though we may not be entirely clear about the precise identity of the events Jesus describes or entirely clear about the order in which they will take place, let us be as those who love with heat, who persevere in faith, who preach with boldness, and who watch with alertness for we do not know the day and the hour of his coming.

*Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. The New American Commentary Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992, 360.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

One More on HL and SCOTUS

One last post on Hobby Lobby, and then I am done … at least for now.

The Detroit Free Press reports recently that some Democrats in Congress are making plans to pass a law to override the recent SCOTUS decision in the HL religious freedom case. That has apparently now been refused, as a mentioned in a previous post.

This article shows that people with microphones in front of their face still don’t get it. Here are three examples of the absolute falsehoods being propagated by people who should know better.

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow says, “I am eager to work with my colleagues to make sure that women are making health care decisions in consultation with their doctor, not their employer.”

Perhaps she was out of the country and just got back and hasn’t had time to read the news yet, but there is nothing in this decision that has anything to do with women and their doctors. The women who work at HL are still completely free to consult with their doctors, to use whatever birth control they desire, and to have an abortion if they so desire. This decision did nothing to change any of that. She probably knows that. So why didn’t she say it? Because you can’t play politics and tell the truth at the same time. I think it reveals a lack of integrity.

An ACLU lawyer chimes in with, “ … we think Congress can pass a new law, something as simple as ... employers have to cover all health care that’s required under federal law.”

Perhaps this lawyer is not aware of how SCOTUS works, but there was a law that said exactly that (the ACA), and SCOTUS just said it cannot be enforced. So federal law does not require this health care.

The executive VP of the Center for American Progress says, “Congress should clarify that RFRA should not be used as an excuse for forcing an employee to adhere to the religious beliefs of their boss.”

Again, there was nothing in this case that is even remotely connected to expecting HL employees to adhere to the religious beliefs of HL owners. The employees are welcome to believe whatever they want and live however they want. They are even welcome to have abortions, or to use whatever birth control they desire.

The only people being expected to adhere to others beliefs are the HL owners, who are being expected to live in conformity with the beliefs of others.

It is people such as Senator Stabenow would have the owners of HL give up their religious beliefs to conform to her own.

Leonard Pitts chimes in now saying that, “I once saw a protest sign to the effect that if men gave birth, contraception would be bacon flavored and dispensed from vending machines.”

Maybe Mr. Pitts highlife affords him first class travel and the best of everything. I, on the other hand, have been in enough gas station and truckstop bathrooms to know that flavored contraception is available from vending machines in a great many of them. Now, I’ll admit that I haven’t seen bacon flavored yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I just overlooked it since I tend to get in and out of those places as fast as possible.

Here’s the bottom line, at least until someone goes even lower than these have gone: Until there is a renewed commitment to telling the truth among people, these types of articles will not go away. And our country will be the worse off for it. There is such a entire lack of integrity in the political world and the news media today that it completely hampers the open democratic process of our nation.

It goes to show that people just don’t think much, and those that speak hope the hearers don’t think much either.

I appeal to Senator Stabenow to publicly apologize for misleading people about the nature of this decision.

But I won’t hold my breath until she does it.

An Interesting Comparison

Person 1: We have to outlaw _________, because too many people are getting killed.

Person 2: If we outlaw that, then people will just get it through other means that won’t be as safe and controlled.

Person 1: That doesn’t matter. We have to do it anyway.

If you put “guns” in the blank, you probably tend towards the liberal end of the political spectrum in the USA.

If you put “abortion” in the blank, you probably tend towards the conservative end of the political spectrum in the USA.

Both sides tend to support the things they like and oppose (at least in voice) the things they dislike.

I am reminded of this recently when I see that some in our Congress have introduced a bill to override the recent decision of SCOTUS in the Hobby Lobby case. Word is that the GOP has rejected it.

Can you imagine the outrage if someone had introduced a bill to overturn SCOTUS in the ACA/Obamacare case?

Turns out you don’t have to imagine it. We have seen the outrage of people on the left when the GOP (rightly or wrongly) introduced bill after bill to overturn Obamacare. After the SCOTUS decision, they proudly declared that it was settled; Obamacare was the law of the land.

So why doesn’t that apply in this case?

Because some want to play politics with religious freedom.

Here’s an article that argues that, in the HL decision by SCOTUS, “The Supreme Court’s five conservatives have delivered a profoundly liberal opinion.” You can read it over there. Or I can give you synopsis which centers on two points: HL demonstrated that corporate profits are not ultimate (something which is a liberal view), and this case appeals to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which waspassed unanimously by the House, 97-3 by the Senate, and singed by Bill Clinton, which surely reflects the will of the American people, and “reflects the core liberal values of toleration and respect for diverse viewpoints.”

In other words, this case honored the core liberal values of corporate responsibility and toleration.

And the liberal decry it.

“Why?” you ask.

Because in the end, being liberal is not about being liberal. It is first and foremost about abortion. And anything that is even remotely connected to abortion, however tenuous and absurd that connection might be, is instinctively politicized.

Back to the comparison. Is there a biblical view on abortion? Most assuredly, and the fact that people might turn to back alley abortions does not in anyway justify the continued legalization of the most defenseless among us.

Is there a biblical view on gun control? Not that I can tell. Christians can certainly differ on gun control while remaining equally committed to the gospel and Christian living. They can even be members of the same church and take communion together.

It seems that Christians in the US have unfortunately confused being Christian with certain political positions, and that is most unfortunate.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Around the Horn – July 5, 2014

At first, jilted US soccer star Landon Donovan chimes in on the US departure from the World Cup. Whether or not he should have made the team (and can any seriously doubt that the departure of Altidore would have been less substantial with Donovan available?), his comments are correct. Klinsmann failed in his strategy. You can’t tilt that heavily too defense at that level of soccer. You give up too many opportunities, and eventually, a mistake is going to happen. It might be a mental mistake, a field condition like a slip or fall, or an unfortunate bounce. But it will happen. Disappointing, not that they lost, but that the game was the kind of game it was.

At second, US goalkeeper Tim Howard has been showered with praise for his efforts in the match against Belgium, and he deserves it. He did a magnificent job. However, a goal keeper should not be making sixteen saves in a game. That, in itself, revealed a bad game plan by Klinsmann. You shouldn’t put your goal keeper in a situation where he has to do that.

At third, the term “rape culture” is getting thrown around a bit these days. To quote Mr. Montoya, “I don’t think that means what you think it means.” Scott Johnson at Power Line links to a piece about the so-called rape culture in America. Rape and sexual abuse is unconscionable and should be addressed with swift and strong punishment—retributive punishment. But let’s not overstate the problem, even with good intentions.

Last, here’s a page with a lot-o-links to some online seminary classes that might have something of interest for you. I have identified a few already for summer morning walks, and I look forward to downloading them and listening in.

Friday, July 04, 2014

More on the Birth Control Mandate

Earlier, I noted that one of the disturbing issues of the Hobby Lobby case is that it puts the government is charge of deciding the sincerity and importance of religious beliefs. I had no idea Justice Sotomayor had already proven me correct.

Concerning an injunction granted to Wheaton College, the NY Time reports,

“Let me be absolutely clear,” [Sotomayor] wrote. “I do not doubt that Wheaton genuinely believes that signing the self-certification form is contrary to its religious beliefs. But thinking one’s religious beliefs are substantially burdened — no matter how sincere or genuine that belief may be — does not make it so.”

What are Justice Sotomayor’s qualifications to determine whether or not Wheaton’s beliefs are burdened or not?

She says she doesn’t doubt that Wheaton’s beliefs are genuine, but then doubts that their beliefs are substantially burdened. How can she doubt that?

By such a statement she is talking out of both sides of her mouth. She is doubting the sincerity of their belief by denying that it is burdened by a governmental requirement.

Once again, the American citizenry would be better served by keeping the courts, and the legislature and White House, out of these matters. No person’s religious beliefs should be subject to the whims of a court.

Some Thoughts on Hobby Lobby and the ACA

This week, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) passed down it’s decision in the birth control mandate case that Hobby Lobby (HL) brought before the court. It was a small, minor, and likely short-lived victory for freedom.

In a nutshell, HL objected on religious grounds to providing insurance that included a few of the required birth control options required. HL did not object to providing insurance that included other forms of birth control. In addition, HL does not (apparently) have any concern for whether its employees seek the birth control methods to which HL objects. (More on this in a minute.)

The biggest question for me is this: What were the other four justices thinking? On what grounds in America should someone be compelled to violate their religious beliefs?

Apparently, birth control for women is one of them.

It is ironic, I must admit, that this generation of people who want the government to stay out of people’s bedrooms went all the way to the Supreme Court to get the government in the bedroom. People who want the freedom to do whatever they want do not want to afford that same freedom to others.

The hometown newspaper here, The Detroit Free Press, has run some articles on it. I highlight two.

The first is an editorial by Stephen Henderson, who objects to the idea that corporations have rights (more on this in the next post), unless its his corporation, the Free Press. But more shockingly, and in what can only be ascribed to ignorance or dishonesty, Henderson says, “But it ignored the rights of employees — a comparatively weak constituency — to use their compensation (yes, health care is compensation) in a way that was free from someone else’s religious beliefs.”

Actually, the employees are probably the single strongest constituency related to a corporation. If you doubt that, imagine what would happen if all the employees decided not to show up for work one day. Actually, you don’t have to imagine it. It has happened in our labor history. And when that happens, not all the money in the corporate coffers can make a freshly built car roll off the assembly line, or stand up in front of a class and teach some students. All that money can’t even make a cashier stand behind a register and take people’s money for little kitschy craft items.

But more directly to Mr. Henderson’s attempt at an argument, no one, at any level, has suggested (until now) that HL was trying to control what its employees do with their compensation. Henderson probably knows this, which means it isn’t ignorance. It is more likely that Henderson is a political shill (something we already knew), who willingly subverts facts to support pet causes. I have seen and read enough of Henderson to believe that Henderson is not to be taken seriously. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine that Henderson takes himself seriously. This piece is another proof of that.

Mr. Henderson, HL has made no attempt to prevent employees from using their compensation to acquire whatever they desire. They are free to use their above average wages to but whatever  legal drugs they like. In fact, as you know living in Detroit, they can use their wages to buy whatever non-legal drugs they like. You know that. So why say something that isn’t true?

This case was never about controlling how employees spend the money they earn working. It is fundamentally dishonest to pretend that it is.

Another Free Press article highlights what is perhaps one of the most ironic comments that came from April Higgins, 31, of Detroit. She said, “I don't think anyone should have the right to tell you what to do. … What does that have to do with my job? If I'm working and I'm here every day, why should it matter?”

I imagine that HL could not have made a better case for their position. No one should tell them what to do. It has nothing to do with the job. People should come to work every day and work.

Of course, Ms. Higgins doesn’t believe what she said. She thinks the government should have the right to tell people what to do. That’s what this whole case was about. Do the people in Congress and the White House have the right to tell other people what to do with their money.

Justice Ginsburg opined that other religious objections might now arise in other matters, and what will we do then?

That’s an easy one that even Justice Ginsburg should have gotten right: We honor religious objections. If a company doesn’t want to pay for blood transfusions, vaccinations, or some such, they should be free not to.

Let’s return this issue (and virtually all others) to the marketplace. If people want these four types of birth control in their insurance plan, then they won’t work at HL. Go work somewhere else.

That’s what the aforementioned April Higgins does. She works at Greektown Casino. So why does she care what HL does for its employees? She is free not to work at HL.

You say, “It’s not that easy.”

Why not? Any HL employee can walk into the manager’s office and say, “I am quitting this job.” They don’t have to give a reason. They can just quit.

You say, well, it isn’t easy to find another job. Okay. So you have choices to make. We all make choices about what we do and don’t do. And there is no right to an easy choice.

Here’s the most disturbing implication of this case: It appears to put the federal judicial system in charge of determining whether a religious conviction is sincere or not.

I don’t like that, for me or for anyone else. How would it be measured? What proof will be acceptable? And why, in the first place, should courts be involved in determining people’s religious views?

In the end, this isn’t a big deal. The HL decision is fairly narrow, apparently. And it is probably short-lived.

For those whose Christian hope is in America, they will be found sorely disappointed. This holiday weekend is a good time to remember that America is not the church, and the church and the gospel doesn’t depend on America.

HL being free from providing all forms of birth control isn’t going to bring revival. I doubt your church attendance will be higher this weekend because of this. In fact, I doubt many people in your church will know much about this case. So I encourage you not to change that.

Preach the gospel. Call people to obedient faith. It still works.