Tuesday, January 26, 2016

On the Indictment of a Texas Grand Jury

Yesterday, word came that a Texas grand jury had indicted two of the people behind the Planned Parenthood expose from last summer. If you have forgotten, shame on you—forgetting these kinds of things is part of the problem. However, I will recap.

Undercover videos revealed that Planned Parenthood was involved in deeply offensive and almost certainly illegal selling of body parts of aborted babies. They were frequently glib and calloused about it. While the PP defenders claimed creative editing was to blame for the message, the videographers released the whole videos which showed that it was not creative editing that made Planned Parenthood look bad; it was Planned Parenthood that made Planned look bad. Of course, moral thinking people did not need video evidence. We already knew there were problems with the abortion industry.

Back to the point, these two men who posed as undercover buyers of body parts to expose the evil inside PP were indicted by a Texas grand jury while Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast was exonerated—for the time being.

This is, in fact, an indictment of the grand jury.

How in the world are there twelve people in Texas who came to the conclusion that these two men who clearly had no intent to buy body parts (given their strong prolife position) were likely guilty for something they never intended to do, namely, buy body parts?

Some have complained about the undercover nature of these videos. 

The use of undercover stings or misleading interviews is well established in many facets of American life. Police frequently mislead suspects in interrogations and are immune from prosecution for it in most cases. Police pose as prostitutes, as drug buyers, and as drug dealers.

In the height of irony, police regularly participate in online undercover stings posing as minor children to catch child sexual predators, but when two men participate in an undercover sting to catch child killers, they are indicted. You can apparently mislead about anything except saving a baby’s life.

Isaiah was surely right: “Woe to those who call good evil” (Isaiah 5:26).

Shame on the Texas grand jury. Shame on the prosecutor. Shame on Planned Parenthood. Shame on their defenders.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Food for Thought

On every university campus I visit, somebody stands up and says that God is an evil God to allow all this evil into our world. This person typically says, ‘A plane crashes: Thirty people die, and twenty people live. What kind of a God would arbitrarily choose some to live and some to die?’

But when we play God and determine whether a child within a mother’s womb should live, we argue for that as a moral right. So when human beings are given the privilege of playing God, it’s called a moral right. When God plays God, we call it an immoral act. Can you justify this for me?”

Zacharias, Ravi. “Reaching the ‘Happy-Thinking Pagan.’” Growing Your Church through Evangelism and Outreach. Ed. Marshall Shelley. 1st ed. Nashville, TN: Moorings, 1996. 18.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Around the Horn – 1/15/16

At first, Denny Burk has a helpful response to people who doubt or deny the Bible because they think the Bible supports slavery. A lot of Bible believers struggle with this issue because instinctively they know it doesn’t sound right, but they don’t know how to answer it. Sometimes they just give up and concede the point, against their better judgment, As with other issues, like the Bible’s treatment of women for instance, people who doubt the Bible based on slavery likely haven’t read the Bible very closely, if at all. Burk’s response should be helpful and clarifying.

At second is an interesting article on the often forgotten victims of sex crimes and sexual abuse. Much attention is given to the physical victims of sexual violence and abuse, and much attention is given to the perpetrators. But as this article reminds us, there is often family—spouses, children, parents, and others—who suffer. This is a sad story that should provoke some thought about how we minister to everyone connected to these crimes.

At third is an excellent article about the pastor as an iceberg. At its root, it is an encouragement to do more than study for this week. In fact, it encourages to read and study things far and wide because those things have a way of building a foundation of thought that cannot be seen, but will inform us in so many ways we have never thought of. It’s okay to read something that’s not relevant to anything on the preaching schedule in the foreseeable future. In fact, it’s not only okay. It’s preferable.

Last this week, Scott Clark provides an online “Curriculum For Those Wrestling Through Covenant Theology and Infant Baptism.” For those interested in this topic, Clark provides fourteen links to various articles. He also reveals the position’s weakness when he says, “one’s understanding of baptism is really the product of a number of other assumptions and conclusions that one has already drawn about the nature of the history of redemption and about how the Bible is to be read and interpreted.” In reality, we don’t need a number of assumptions and conclusions about these things. We can go to the Bible and study baptism and see what it entails. In every case where the particulars are mentioned, it entails believers and lots of water. There are no instances of baptism in the Bible that involve non-believers (including infants) or little bits of water. Having seen that from the Bible itself, we can then draw some conclusions from that. Should we really believe that with all this infant baptism going on that the Holy Spirit did not inspire even one apostle to make even one reference to it? That is a bridge too far for me. Although if you are of Clark’s persuasion, you don’t need a bridge to get across that baptismal font.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

On the Championship Game

Last night, Alabama defeated Clemson 45-40 to win the NCAA Football National Championship. It was a good game. It was probably the best championship game since Texas-USC. Two good teams came to play hard.

I still marvel at those who claimed Alabama was going to win big or win going away. I never thought that. If there was a blowout or a big margin, I thought it would be in Clemson’s favor because of their explosive offense. But I thought it would be a close game. And it was.

They say defense wins championships. Well, there was a lot of offense last night. Over a combined one thousand yards. Clemson’s DeShaun Watson passed for 405 and ran for 73 more. Alabama’s Jake Coker passed for 335 and Derrick Henry ran for 158.

But the big problem for Clemson was big play. Clemson simply gave up too many.

Here’s the stat of the night: For Alabama, just six plays accounted for 280 yards. When you add in the return touchdown of 95 yards, that means that 375 of Alabama’s 473 yards came on just seven plays. That’s right: 80% of the offensive production came on seven plays.

Some of those receivers were so wide open in Arizona that I could have completed a pass from my living room couch in Michigan.

It is hard to win when you give that up.

There was a clear officiating blunder that may have made a difference. At the end of the first half, the clock failed to stop on Clemson’s first down, which made them waste a time out and cost them at least one play. A 44-yard field goal attempt was blocked. Give them the extra play they should have had and that field goal may have been shorter and easier. And that means a five point deficit is now two points. But the officials were bailed out of that by the final score. Of course, if the game is three points closer, both teams are playing differently.

The onsides kick was a gutsy call and Swinney threw a fit about it. He may have a good case. His argument was that in the Clemson-USC game in 2014, Clemson had recovered an onside kick only to have it overturned because they did not allow the receiver an unimpeded chance to recover the ball.

Here is the play starting at the 28:00 mark:

What was the right call? I am not sure.

The NCAA rule book Rule 6 Article 3 (p. FR-64) specifies that “No Team A [kicking tean] player may touch a free-kicked ball until after: 1. It touches a Team B player (Exception: Rules 6-1-4 and 6-5-1-b); 2. It breaks the plane of and remains beyond Team B’s restraining line (Exception: Rule 6-4-1) (A.R. 2-12-5-I); or 3. It touches any player, the ground, an official or anything beyond Team B’s restraining line.”

However, it also specifies “A player of the receiving team within the boundary lines attempting to catch a kick, and so located that he could have caught a free kick or a scrimmage kick that is beyond the neutral zone, must be given an unimpeded opportunity to catch the kick.”

The play last night did not appear to have a receiving team player attempting to make the catch or in a position to make the catch, although it is possible he could have made a diving catch. It’s hard to tell how far away he was.

In the end, it’s hard to say the better team won. But it would have been equally hard to say that if Clemson had won. Clemson won in almost every statiscal category except time of possession where Bama edged them by less than a minute. But Bama won in the only place that matters—the scoreboard.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Around the Horn - 1/8/16

At first this week is Ten Reminders for Preachers. Nathan Busenitz has assembled these ten reminders from the words of ten preachers of old including Spurgeon, Baxter, Lloyd-Jones, and others. They are good reminders of the task that preachers face, particularly with another Sunday coming soon. If you don’t have time to read all ten of these guys before Sunday, these short quotes will be helpful.

At second is an interesting article about how Detroit Defied Reality to Help Win WWII. It is about the production of B-24 bombers at Willow Run in Ypsilanti, just west of Detroit. After what can only be considered failure by Consolidated Aircraft, Ford Motor Company took over the project, built the Willow Run plant and the machinery, and eventually produced a B-24 every hour at the height of production. Eventually, the government told Ford to cut back on production because the losses were not as great as they had anticipated. It’s an interesting story about the manufacturing power that helped to win WWII.

At third is a pair of articles that will be controversial for some because they deal with race and incarceration. The first is a review of a book entitled Black Silent Majority: The Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Politics of Punishment. The second is a recommendation of the review that originally turned me on to the review. It’s interesting and controversial because the drug war and particularly sentencing is under fire. The author of the book is a black man who grew up in Brooklyn “during the height of the crack epidemic.” In 1986, a law was passed that made selling 50 grams of crack the same penalty as selling 5000 grams of powder cocaine. This ended up leading to a disproportionate number of black men in prison for dealing crack. The laws are often called racist because of this effect.

What many don’t know (and I didn’t know) was that the stiff sentences for crack cocaine that appear to disproportionately affect young black men were originally supported by the black community because of safety issues. The reviewer says, “It was blacks who instigated the crackdown on black criminality, often over the opposition of white liberals and black political elites.” In fact, the review says,
This crack/powder disparity was increasingly attacked as racist—crack offenders tended to be black, while powder offenders tended to be white. Never mind that Representatives Charles Rangel and Major Owens, two black liberal Democrats from New York not known for their reluctance to play the race card, led the fight to impose the differential. Never mind that 11 of the 21 black lawmakers serving in Congress in 1986 supported the new law. And never mind that even those black congressmen who opposed it did not do so on grounds that it was racially unfair.
Today, certain comments and perspectives about racial issues are almost litmus tests for evangelicals. If you don’t say the right thing, you can quickly be labeled, tarred and feathered, and run out of evangelicalville, as a friend of mine recently experienced on Facebook because of an obviously true and relatively benign comment about a certain situation. I would cautiously urge a bit more nuance in some of these areas as we seek to engage in these issues. The book looks interesting and appears to give a needed historical perspective on this issue.

Last, but not least, CCEF Now is a publication of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) which is headed up by Ed Welch, David Powlinson, and some others. They have some excellent resources for counseling. I would particularly point you to the articles on “Becoming a Wilderness Companion” by Winston Smith on ministering to those in the hospital and the article on “Engaging Emotions Engaging God” by Alisdair Groves. Of course, Welch’s article “Counseling Is Theological” (emphasis his) is a much needed reminder for those who are tempted to separate counseling from Scripture or integrate counseling with secular psychology. 

Friday, January 01, 2016

Around the Horn – 1/1/16

At first, let’s kick it off with a few reviews of 2015. It seems like it was only yesterday but Dave Barry will help you remember in his usual way. You can also check out Thomas Sowell who says 2015 was the year of the big lie, or George Will who points out just how ludicrous some things were. For better or worse, 2015 will not come again so enjoy the fleeting the memories.

At second, Mark Minnick mines John Newton for some helpful pastoral counsel (part 1 and part 2). The times have certainly changed since Newton was alive and writing, but these old perspectives have a certain amount of freedom from modernity that is helpful to those who us swimming in it.

At third is an article about parents and coaches. It highlights a serious problem for prep coaches and officials—namely, parents. I have coached high school sports more than fifteen years ago and we have been pretty successful winning four state championships in that time (more than any other school of our size in Michigan). As an assistant, I don’t have to deal with parents much, and our parents are good parents for the most part. But let’s face it: parents are ruining sports for their kids, for other kids, and for coaches and officials. There are lots of other problems in KidsSports these days, and I hope to write on that more this year. But parents would do well to back off—back off their kids, their coaches, and the officials. Listen Dad: the chances of your kid getting a scholarship to play sports in college are slim to none. If that’s your plan to finance your kids’ education, find another one. And let them enjoy sports. Don’t ruin it for your kid and everyone else because of your misguided dreams.

Last, for those looking for a Bible reading plan for 2016, Ligonier compiles a number of different plans including downloadable PDFs you can tuck in your Bible. Pick one and get started early. If you fall behind, don’t worry about it. Just pick up where you left off, or start where you are supposed to be. If you miss a day, or a week, or a month, it’s okay. Just start again.