Archive for September, 2011

Civic Law: Why It Matters To Christians

God’s law is external to us and internal in us all at the same time.  On the one hand, it is external to us.  God, quite apart from our opinions and objections, has clearly revealed His law in His Word.  And regardless of cultural sentiments, sensibilities, or sensitivities, and oftentimes in direct opposition to these, God’s Word stands.  As the prophet Isaiah declares, “The word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8).  On the other hand, God’s law is also internal in us.  In Romans 1 and 2, the apostle Paul discuses how those who do not have God’s external, revealed law, as given in Holy Scripture, nevertheless know right from wrong.  This is his conclusion:

When Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.  They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to the gospel, God judges the secrets of man by Jesus. (Romans 2:14-16)

Thus, even if someone is not a biblical scholar, he can still know right from wrong and righteousness from wickedness, for God has gone to the trouble of sketching and etching His law on every individual’s heart.  This is why, when we fall prey to immorality, an innate twinge of guilt wells up inside of us.

In doctrinal parlance, we call the sketching and etching of God’s law on each human heart the doctrine of “natural law.”  Because human beings are created by God, human beings know, by nature, what God’s law requires.

The theological principle of God’s natural, moral law, and the way it is sketched and etched on every human heart, has long been foundational in understanding our nation’s legal, civic law.  Traditionally, in order for a person to be convicted of a crime, they have to be found to have a mens rea, a Latin legal term meaning “a guilty mind.”  Under our nation’s legal system, it is generally assumed that a person must know he is committing a crime in order for him to be found guilty of that crime.  This is why if a dog, for instance, mauls a postal worker, though we may put the dog down, we do not put the dog in jail.  For he does not have “a guilty mind.”  He does not know that what he has done is wrong.  But this principle of mens rea is changing.

Yesterday, in The Wall Street Journal, Gary Fields and John Emshwiller published an article titled, “As Federal Crime List Grows, Threshold of Guilt Declines.”[1]  They note, “What once might have been considered simply a mistake is now sometimes punishable by jail time.”  The authors go on to explain that in order to convict a person of a crime, prosecutors no longer have to prove that a defendant has a mens rae.  One especially disturbing incident cited by the authors involves the 1998 case of Dane A. Yirkovsky. While doing some remodeling work, Mr. Yirkovsky found a .22 caliber bullet underneath a carpet, which he subsequently put in a box in his room.  Though he did not think he was doing anything wrong, because he had a criminal record, federal officials contended that possessing even a single bullet violated a federal law prohibiting felons from having firearms.  He is currently serving a fifteen-year sentence.

Part of the problem, Fields and Emshwiller note, is the rapid proliferation of federal laws.  The article states:

Back in 1790, the first federal criminal law passed by Congress listed fewer than 20 federal crimes. Today there are an estimated 4,500 crimes in federal statutes, plus thousands more embedded in federal regulations, many of which have been added to the penal code since the 1970s.

With so many new laws on the books, it’s no wonder people can commit crimes utterly unaware that what they’re doing is illegal!  And these days, it doesn’t matter whether or not a person is aware that what he’s doing is illegal.  A person can be tried and convicted quite apart from the principle of mens rea.

Why should Christians be concerned with the deterioration of mens rea?  Because it marks the divorce of our nation’s civic law from God’s internally inscribed natural law.  For decades, our legal codes were generally tied to overriding and undergirding moral concerns, internally ingrained into humans by their Creator.   Even something as seemingly morally arbitrary as the speed limit was connected to a moral concern – that of human safety.  But as our civic law has become more and more divorced from its moral counterpart, our civic law now permits things like abortion, something that clearly defies moral law, for it involves the deliberate taking of a human’s life in the name of human choice.  When this kind of activity is permitted by civic law, it not only makes civic law confusing, because it has no natural rhyme or reason but is instead bureaucratically and politically driven, it also diminishes natural, moral law.  For when something permitted by civic law contradicts natural, moral law, people often use the civic code to bludgeon and silence their consciences which testify to God’s natural, moral law.  This, in turn, radically alters even Christians’ attitudes toward basic moral and ethical issues.  For example, in a survey conducted by the Barna group, researchers found among people aged twenty-three to forty-one, 59 percent thought cohabitation between unmarried persons was morally acceptable, 44 percent considered sex before marriage to be morally permitted, and 32 percent thought abortion was a moral option for an unwanted pregnancy.[2]  Our civic permissions are changing our God-given moral sensibilities.

Finally, when people rebel against God’s natural, moral law, they walk down a road, even if this road is paved by civic permissions, to deep pain and suffering.  And this should break our hearts and, kind of ironically, trouble our consciences.

Civic law that contradicts moral law is immoral.  And because God has inscribed His moral law into the natural, and thereby universal, realm, we, as Christians, should lovingly and steadfastly stand up for that which God has given, even when our civics contradict it.  It’s only natural.


[1] Gary Fields & John R. Emshwiller, “As Federal Crime List Grows, Threshold of Guilt Declines,” The Wall Street Journal (September 27, 2011).

[2] Cited in David Kinnaman, UnChristian: What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity And Why It Matters (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007) 53.

September 28, 2011 at 11:40 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Rejoice! Don’t Rage


Anger does strange things to people.

A couple of years ago, a country song came out called, “I Pray for You.”  In this song, the artist recounts a recent breakup with his girlfriend.  It was tough, but even with all the pain and heartache she caused him, he says he still prays for her.  And, according to the song, this is what he prays:

I pray your brakes go out runnin’ down a hill,
I pray a flower pot falls from a window sill
And knocks you in the head like I’d like to.
I pray your birthday comes and nobody calls,
I pray you’re flyin’ high when your engine stalls,
I pray all your dreams never come true.
Just know wherever you are, honey, I pray for you.[1]

Do these lyrics strike anyone else as wholly inappropriate?  Whenever I would hear this song on one of our local country stations, I always had to change the station.  The bitterness and resentment which comes seething from this song was just too much for me.

No matter how unfortunate the lyrics to this song might be, they do give us a window into the havoc anger can reek in a person’s heart and soul.  Anger does strange things to people.

In our text from this past weekend, we read about the anger the religious leaders directed against the apostles: “They were furious and wanted to put them to death” (Acts 5:33).  As I mentioned in ABC, the Greek word for “furious” is diaprio, which means “to saw in half.”  The religious leaders are so angry with the apostles, they want to lay them on the sawmill and cut them in two.  This is the stuff of which horror movies are made!  In Luke 6, the religious leaders become angry with Jesus because He has the audacity to teach it is lawful to do good deeds on the Sabbath, even though the Sabbath calls for rest:  “They were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might to do to Jesus” (Luke 6:11).  In this instance, the Greek word for “fury” is anoia, from the word nous, meaning “mind,” fronted by an alpha privative negating the nous which follows it.  Thus, to be anoia means “to lose one’s mind.”  The religious leaders are so filled with fury, Luke says they can’t think straight!  They have lost their minds!

Yes, anger does strange things to people.  This is why the apostle Paul calls us to put off anger in Ephesians 4:  “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27).  We should not allow anger to rule and pervert us the way it does ancient religious leaders and modern country stars.

So how do we break the vice anger can so quickly get on us?  In ABC, I spoke of alternate responses to anger.  Rather than getting angry, we can love, we can steadfastly resist evil while not bludgeoning evildoers, we can be patient, and we can even rejoice.  Perhaps it is this final alternate response that is most mystifying.  Rejoicing in the face of evil that should rightly make us angry hardly sounds reasonable or desirable.  And yet, this is precisely what Scripture urges: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:2-3).  We ought to respond to trials – even those brought forth from evil circumstances – with rejoicing.  But do not overlook why we are to rejoice in these trials:  “the testing…develops perseverance.”  In other words, it is not the evil trials themselves in which we rejoice, but that which the trials produce in us, namely, perseverance.  Finally, then, we rejoice not in evil, but through evil.  For God works through evil things to bring about His great good for us and for others.

Finally, rejoicing is a much more powerful tool against evil than is anger.  Anger simply decries the inequity of wickedness.  Rejoicing, conversely, puts wickedness on notice:  Wickedness can be laughed at because wickedness will not win!  It has been conquered by Christ on the cross, it is used by Christ to develop perseverance in us, and it will be utterly destroyed at Christ’s return on Last Day.  Wickedness does not stand a chance.

So what enrages you?  What angers you?  Because Jesus wins, take some time to rejoice today.  After all, His victory is worth your joy.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!


[1]I Pray for You,” Jaron and the Long Road To Love (Big Machine Records, 2010).

September 26, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – I Didn’t Invent The Truth And Neither Did You

The former anchor of World News Tonight, the late Peter Jennings, once said, “There is no one absolutely essential truth for all people…Every time I look at a coin, I instinctively want to look at the other side.”[1]  This statement, proffered by a prominent and well-respected news anchor encapsulates for many the truth about the truth.  A truth, according to many, resides ultimately in the minds and hearts of those who believe it and cannot be universalized or externalized to all people in all places in all times.  This position on truth is popularly known as post-modernism.  To quote the famed French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard’s definition of post-modernism, “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives.”[2]  In other words, a grand, unifying, universally true narrative that gives meaning to life, such as we find in the Bible, is not possible in post-modern thinking, nor is it desirable.  Everyone has their own personal narratives – their own personal truths.

With the onset of the new millennium, this take on truth has thankfully waned.  In some ways, its ebbing was inevitable, for its central tenant is internally incoherent.  When Peter Jennings claims, “There is no one absolutely essential truth for all people,” one almost wants to chide him with a friendly chuckle and ask, “So is the fact that there is no one absolutely essential truth for all people an absolutely essential truth for all people?”  One cannot escape the fact that post-modernity’s claim against universal truth is itself a claim of a universal truth!  In addition to being internally incoherent, this stance against universal truth is also impossibly impractical.  It is a stance that cannot be argued for because there is no essential truth over which to argue!  Thus, people who hold this view are finally left with nothing to say and no position for which they can persuasively argue because their position, by its very nature, must be contextualized ad infinitum into extinction.

Even though the absurdity of the popular version of post-modern position on truth has been well documented, this does not stop many from using the “no universal truth” argument against those with whom they simply do not care to have a discussion.  “Well, that truth may work for you,” a common cop out goes, “but it doesn’t mean it works for me.  You have your truth.  I have mine.”  Rather than presenting a well-reasoned rebuttal to a point with which one disagrees, this statement retreats into an ad hominem excuse for whatever one might think or however one might act.

From a Christian perspective, the problem with the “personal truths” of post-modernity is their insufferable self-centeredness and arrogance.  To think that one individual could be the arbiter, holder, or creator of truth, even if only for themselves, should make even the proudest person wince at least a little.  In this regard, post-modernity seems to be a tragically logical consequence of the rugged individualism for which Americans are so famous.  Furthermore, to deny people a “metanarrative,” or a grand story, into which they can fit makes life awfully grim.  After all, for all of post-modernity’s incredulity toward metanarratives, metanarratives remind us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.  As Christians, we believe that we are part of a broad, sweeping story of redemption and love, revealed unambiguously for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  This is the truth Christians believe and confess!  Finally, post-modernity is a direct affront to the Gospel because while the Gospel always and only looks outward to Jesus for the truth of salvation, post-modernism can only look inward for personal opinions.

Truth is bigger than you.  Truth is outside of you.  Truth is given to you by Christ and revealed by Holy Scripture.  And happily, you will find that, believing the truth of the Gospel, this truth will work for you because Christ will be working in you, even unto salvation.  No personal truths needed.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!


[1] Peter Jennings, “In Peter Jennings’ Own Words” (8.8.05).

[2] Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. G. Bennington and B. Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), xxiv.

September 19, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – The Me I Want To Be

Everybody wants to be somebody.  That’s the premise of our new series, “The Me I Want To Be.”  Some people want to be successful.  Some people want to be good-looking.  Some people want to be famous.  Some people want to be smart.  All people want to be loved.  Everybody wants to be somebody.  However, as I mentioned this past weekend in ABC, who we want to be does not always match up with who we actually are.  If we are overweight, we want to be thin.  If we are thin, we want to be bulkier.  If our lives are solemn and simple, we wish they were more exciting and successful.  If our lives are exciting and successful, we yearn for solemnity and simplicity.  Who we want to be does not always match up with who we actually are.

Of course, there is no shortage of products and gimmicks that promise to bridge the gap between who we are and who we want to be.  Do you want to be stronger?  No problem!  Just do P90X and drink plenty of Muscle Milk.  You’ll be thin, trim, and tough in no time.  Do you want to get into a different career field but need more education?  No problem!  Just apply to the University of Phoenix and you can take night and weekend classes at one of their local campuses or online.  And what’s more, you’ll have your degree in only two years!  Do you want to be a better person?  No problem!  Just watch the O! Network, take in a few episodes of Dr. Phil, and get a subscription to Psychology Today.  You’ll be better than ever before you know it.

In his book, The Quest for Holiness, Adolf Köberle[1] reflects on people’s quest to bridge the gap between who they are and who they want to be.  But Köberle’s quest considers not only effort humans make to bridge the gap between who they are and who they want to be for themselves, but the effort humans make to bridge the gap between who they are and who they want to be before God.   Köberle desires nothing less than a way to bridge the gap between the sinfulness of man and the holiness of God.  But what way might this be?  Köberle outlines three ways.

The first way people try to bridge the gap between who they are and who they want to be before God, Köberle says, is through moralism.  Moralism consists of people leveraging their good works, words, and will to try to bring themselves closer to God.  Köberle writes of moralism, “The attempt is made to compel God’s favor by moral fervor” (5).  The second way people try to bridge the gap, Köberle says, is through intellectualism.  Intellectualism, rather than finding its locus and focus in good works, seeks to cultivate a sharp mind.  Those who follow this way think, “If I simply learn enough about the Bible and about God, then I can ascend to Him by means of my insight and intellect!”  Köberle offers this definition of intellectualism: “In the act of thinking a direct contact is established between the human and divine spirit” (13).  The third way people try to bridge the gap between who they are and who they want to be before God, Köberle explains, is through emotionalism. The liberal theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher was perhaps the most famous proponent of emotionalism, maintaining, “This is the level on which religion stands…its feelings.”[2]  Thus, emotionalism presumes to pave a path to God by feeling close to Him.

So which of these paths to God succeed in taking us from who we to who we want to be before God?  None of them.  Even our best works are tinged with evil intentions.  Moralism cannot pave the way.  Even our loftiest thoughts are nothing when compared with God’s wisdom.  Intellectualism cannot pave the way.  And even our most affectionate moments toward God are quickly cooled by the cares of this world.  Emotionalism cannot pave the way.  None of these paths succeed in taking us from who we are to who we want to be before God.

Truth be told, there is no way in which we can take ourselves from who we are to who we want to be or, even more importantly, who God calls us to be.  For when we try to bridge the gap between who we are and who we want to be by our own efforts, we succeed only in separating ourselves from God rather than drawing close to God because we become arrogant of our own abilities.  Köberle explains:

Legalistic Pharisees who boasted of their place with God, zealous scribes who desired to be a light to those walking in darkness, intellectual Sadducees, politically clever rulers who possessed a quite up-to-date wisdom, enthusiastic disciples, eager crowds of pilgrims who riot in the pious emotions of the rich ritual of the great holy days, they all despise, hate and put to death the Servant of God…By their actions they all reveal the bankruptcy of humanity whose most intensified piety accomplishes nothing more than the derision and rejection of God in God’s name. (46)

When we seek to build a bridge between who we are and who we want to be before God, we become so enamored by our own impressive bridge building prowess that we forget to whom we are building are bridge.  We forget about God.  And then, when God builds a bridge to us through His Son, Jesus Christ, we feel threatened in our own bridge building efforts and kill the Son of God.

The only way to be who we want to be and who God calls us to be, then, is to forgiven by Christ.  Nothing else will do.  The person you want to be is found not in your own efforts, it is hidden in the cross.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!


[1] Adolf Köberle, The Quest for Holiness (Evansville:  Ballast Press, 1936).

[2] Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 47.

September 12, 2011 at 5:15 am 2 comments

ABC Extra – It’s Good To Be Old

Recently, I read a news report concerning a rash of scams in Grand Prairie, Texas.  According to the story, crooks offer to sell folks iPads and MacBooks in the parking lots of local area shopping centers and convenience stores.  The asking price?  $300 for one of the products or $500 for both.  Considering a MacBook starts at $1,000 and an iPad starts at $500, this deal is too lucrative for many to pass up.  However, as the old saying goes: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  And this was certainly the case in this situation.  After unsuspecting buyers purchased MacBooks and iPads, upon opening the packaging, they found out that it contained only a block of wood, cleverly painted and disguised to make it look like a Mac device.  As I read this report, I especially appreciated the final line of the police release, which noted:  “The public should be advised that it is unwise to purchase anything from the trunk of a car, no matter how good the deal seems.”[1]  True indeed.

Unfortunately, scammers are always on the lookout for those who are greedy, gullible, or distraught.  Last week, a cable news show featured some massive scams that took advantage of 9.11 victims shortly after the attacks.  Sadly, the elderly seem to be an especially favorite target of scammers.  Earlier this year, ABC News ran a story on what it called “The Imposter Grandchildren Scam.”[2]  In this scam, a con artist contacts an elderly person by phone, claiming to be a grandchild who is in some sort of serious trouble – be it a car accident, or being stranded in some foreign country.  The supposed “grandchild” then begs for financial assistance, asking the elderly person not to tell his or her parents.  Unfortunately, many elderly people have wired cash to what they thought was their grandchild, only to find out later that they had been scammed.  Con artists who prey on the elderly do so because these people can be especially easy targets because they are often easily confused.

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we talked about the glory of aging.  Solomon celebrates the elderly in his Proverbs:  “Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:31).  Because aging and being aged is a good thing according to Scripture, we are to show respect for the elderly, as Moses reminds us: “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:32).  Schemes and scams that prey on the elderly, then, are wholly inappropriate and sinful.

As I talked about in ABC, our culture does not have a high view of aging.  To be young is much preferred to being old.  And yet, Scripture speaks of the elderly with special affection and calls upon us who are younger to treat those who are older with respect and dignity.  Is there an elderly person who has played a special role in your life?  Take some time this week to write a note, make a phone call, or even stop by for a visit and express your thanks to them.  For these elderly people are gifts from God and deserve our thanks.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!


[1] Jordan Golson, “Buying an iPad in a Parking Lot is a Bad Idea,” (August 29, 2011).

[2] Susanna Kim, “Imposter Grandchildren Scam the Elderly for Big Bucks,” (March 29, 2011).

September 5, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


Follow Zach

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pastor Zach's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,898 other followers

Questions?

Email Icon Have a theological question? Email Zach at zachm@concordia-satx.com and he will post answers to common questions on his blog.

Calendar

September 2011
M T W T F S S
« Aug   Oct »
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  

%d bloggers like this: