Thoughts on the election

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I don’t think I have said much, if anything, about this year’s presidential election. There have been too many voices carrying on ad nauseam about it, and I figure if I have been sick of it for weeks already, probably most of my readers have as well. Plus I don’t like stirring up controversy, and this election has been the most controversial in my memory.

But there are some things on my heart, and this is my outlet, so I am going to try to lay them out here. Who knows, I may get to the end and then delete it. But I want to take the swirl of different thoughts and try to set them out and examine them one by one.

Most of the blog and social media posts I have seen on election eve have been reminders that no matter who wins the election, God is in control. And that’s true.

The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will. Proverbs 21:1

For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another. Psalm 75:6-7

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.  Romans 13:1

Some take these truths to mean, “God’s in control so it doesn’t matter what I do or whether I do anything.” While there is a sense in which that’s true, God most often uses means (like prayer to accomplish His purpose or witnessing to bring the gospel to the lost). We can each only do in good conscience what we feel God wants us to do, but we should at least do that: pray about it and then act accordingly. I don’t think God ever intended for us to take no notice of what’s going on in the world and never participate in it because He is in control. Throughout the Bible He calls people to action even while asserting His sovereignty. Sometimes He works in spite of people or without people, but most often He seems to work through people.

I’ve even seen a few saying that since Christians are citizens of heaven and this world is not our home, we don’t even really need to participate in the election process. That, to me, falls in the category of being so “heavenly minded one is of no earthly good” and seems a slap in the face of myriads who fought and died for us to have this privilege. We have this incredible gift to have a legal say in our government, and I can’t understand not using it. I think the above truths apply here as well.

But most of the chatter I have seen has not been along the lines of opting out or disregarding the privilege to vote. It’s been more along the lines of the best way for Christians to use that vote, often fraught with deep disagreement.

My biggest problem with some of the political bantering on social media is the idea that if person A has a different view on things than person B, then B thinks there must be something defective with A’s understanding, reasoning, intelligence, motives, sanity, character, patriotism, Christianity, etc. It’s possible for good people to have very different views on what should be done and how and who should do them.

Almost every election, I’ve heard the phrase going around about choosing the lesser of two evils, meaning neither candidate is ideal. This is the first year I have heard Christians objecting to that. But no candidate is ever going to line up 100% politically and spiritually with how we think. No one like that would make it that far because that’s not how the majority of the country thinks any more. And we differ so much on some of the finer points, we wouldn’t all agree on a candidate like that anyway (that, in fact, is how I believe we ended up with the Republican candidate we have: most Christians I know were splintered between 3 or 4 of the other candidates in the primaries, dividing their votes and resulting in none of them winning). We can’t hold out for the ideal candidate: we have to choose between what we have, rather than wishing for what we don’t have.

There is such a deep divide over the issues and candidates, I fear that whoever wins, the other side will be discontent and continue to complain for months to come, if not until the next election. But once we’ve studied not only the candidates, but the platforms, and prayed, and before God in good conscience made the best choice we know how to make, we have to accept the results.

We need to remember, too, that no president operates in a vacuum. We do still have a voice: we need to be alert and use that voice to let our representatives know our views on issues.

And once it is all over, our response is to be:

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 (NKJV)

Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. 1 Peter 2:13-17

Those verses have all the more poignancy when we remember the kinds of rulers those writers were under.

In some ways, Christians tend to be more watchful and prayerful when their preferred candidate is not the elected one. Otherwise we tend to sit back and relax and trust everything will go well and forget about it all until the next election. But I do pray for God’s mercy in this, and, as a guest speaker prayed in church yesterday, ask that we’ll get the candidate God knows we need, not what we deserve.

And though I do believe the political process is important, and some are called to participate more than others, ultimately that’s not what helps people’s hearts or brings lasting change. Only the gospel can change hearts; only God and the Bible can change people’s thinking. Doing our part to be informed and vote is vital and necessary: doing our part to share the gospel and make disciples is even more so.

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Christians with political differences

Arguing

Photo Courtesy of Ambro at freedigitalphotos.net

Normally I stay far away from politics online, especially here. It’s just too volatile a subject, with good people on the opposite sides of some fences.

While differences and their tensions are present every election, I’ve been dismayed this year by comments such as, “I don’t see how any Christian can vote for that candidate.” We don’t need to call each other’s spirituality into question over politics.

I came across a couple of good posts this morning on the subject. Especially now that it looks like the final nominees are not the ones some of us wanted, we have been pondering what to do. In Can You Vote For Trump With a Clear Conscience? Andy Naselli discusses the options, none of which is ideal, but makes the point that believers can vote in totally opposite ways or think in different ways about this and still have a clear conscience. He’s obviously against Trump, but I’m sharing this for his delineation of the different ways a Christian’s conscience might lead him to vote, not necessarily for his views on Trump, even though I agree with many of them. For or against, “fellow Christians who are members of the same church should be able to disagree on these issues and still have close fellowship with each other” – and fellow Christians who don’t go to the same church should be able to do this with disputable matters as well.

Joel Arnold brings out many good points as well in Trump vs. Clinton: The Story of the Great Evangelical Predicament. He notes, “It’s entirely possible that there is not a single ‘right Christian response'” and “red vs. blue isn’t light vs. darkness.” “Don’t call your friend a liberal/heretic/moron because he didn’t agree with you.”

In this arena as well as all others, we need to remember:

  1. To “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:8).
  2. To be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
  3. To spend more time praying than arguing over these options.
  4. Though we do have a responsibility to be aware of issues and vote our conscience, our ultimate hope and the greatest need of any citizen is not in a political candidate.

See also:

Thoughts on Inauguration Day.
Thoughts About the Election.
Post-election Blues.

Book Review: Being Mortal

Being MortalI could wrap up my comments on Being Mortal by Atul Gawande succinctly by saying that if you plan on getting old or dying or helping a parent as they age, you need to read this book. But I’ll try to give you a bit more to go on.

I don’t know that I would have noticed this book at all except that Lisa and Joyful Reader both mentioned it. I knew they had dealt with deaths of parents and grandparents, Lisa’s mom had been in assisted living and Joyful’s grandmother lives with her, so with their experience, their praise for this book meant a lot.

I ended up marking many more pages than I can possibly share, but it’s safe to say that much in this book resonated with me.

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The subtitle of the book is Medicine and What Matters in the End, and it’s a frank treatment of end-of-life issues. Medicine, Dr. Gawande asserts, is geared to fix things. But in some cases the treatment is worse than the disease itself. And this tendency is part of what had led to institutionalizing people as they age and making it a medical matter rather than trying to give people in such situations the best days they can have in the time they have left.

Gawande notes that until fairly recently, most deaths occurred at home. Now most occur in hospitals and nursing homes “where regimented, anonymous routines cut us off from all the things that matter to us in life” (p. 9). In addition, it used to be that, unless you had a long, wasting illness like consumption, most deaths came suddenly like a thunderstorm. Modern medicine has been a marvel and a gift from God: many things that used to be fatal can now be treated. But like any gift, there are good ways and not so good ways to use it.

“The simple view is that medicine exists to fight death and disease, and that is, of course, its most basic task. Death is the enemy. But the enemy has superior forces. Eventually, it wins. And, in a war that you cannot win, you don’t want a general who fights to the point of total annihilation. You don’t want Custer. You want Robert E. Lee, someone who knew how to fight for territory when he could and how to surrender when he couldn’t, someone who understood that the damage is greatest if all you do is fight to the bitter end.”

I appreciated his explanation of how the style of doctoring has changed over the years, from the authoritative “Dr. Knows-Best” who made all the decisions for you, to “Dr. Informative,” who merely laid out all the options and let you decide. The problem with the latter is that we don’t always know how to process the options. When the author’s own father faced a tumor in his spine, he, his father, and his mother were all doctors yet felt overwhelmed by the information and options they were receiving. A third kind of doctor is called “interpretive” and gives information as well as guidance after asking what’s most important to you and what your concerns are (pp. 100-102).

Gawande proposes a series of questions to consider when the diagnosis is terminal, questions concerning what’s most important, what one’s goals and fears are in facing the time they have left. One man said he wanted to continue to eat ice cream and watch football on TV, and he wasn’t interested in any treatment that interfered with those activities: life wasn’t worth living without them. Some are willing to live with different degrees of disability and pain: some don’t want to suffer at all. It’s good for a family to have these discussions so they have some idea what would be the most important to their loved one. Sometimes it requires more than one hard discussion: “Arriving at acceptance of one’s mortality and a clear understanding of the limits and the possibilities of medicine is a process, not an epiphany” (p. 182), and your preferences might change over time as well. But these discussions are necessary to find the best means of “living for the best possible day today instead of sacrificing time now for time later” (p. 229).

Gawande also details the journey from being independent to needing assistance to needing full time care that elderly and their families face. We’ve faced much of this with my mother-in-law over the last few years. I especially appreciated the history of nursing homes and assisted living facilities and the goals and purposes that Keren Brown Wilson, who “invented” assisted living, had when she started, and how those were originally implemented and maintained and then encroached upon to the point that she had to resign from her own board. Nursing homes themselves “were never created to help people facing dependency in old age. They were created to clear out hospital beds” (p. 71).

Many of the problems he lists in assisted living and nursing homes were the same as what we had found: loss of autonomy and privacy, loss of purpose, “tasks [coming] to matter more than the people” (p. 105), “safe but empty of anything they care about” (p. 109). “Making life meaningful in old age…requires more imagination and invention than making them merely safe does” (p. 137).

In older history and in other countries, the old are revered as having great knowledge and wisdom: “Now we consult Google, and if we have any trouble with the computer we ask a teenager” (p. 18). At least one sibling used to stay with the elderly parent(s) and help care for them, and then got a larger portion of the inheritance or perhaps the family home in place of what they gave up. Now both parents and adult children value their independence. But “our reverence for independence takes no account of the reality of what happens in life: sooner or later, independence will become impossible” (p. 22). Yet the author researched and visited several creative ways for an older adult to retain as much independence and autonomy as long as possible.

One problem is that even though geriatric specialists have been shown to enhance the lives of the elderly, geriatric units are shrinking or being closed rather than growing. “97 percent of medical students take no course in geriatrics” (p. 52). One reason is that it doesn’t pay well; another is that insurance doesn’t see the need for it. It remains for those of us who deal with the elderly or who look ahead to our own old age to be aware of issues.

When I was first looking at information about the book, I was wary that the author might promote assisted suicide for those with terminal illnesses. He does not promote it, but he would support legislation to enable giving people lethal prescriptions if asked, noting that half of them don’t use them: they just like the assurance that they could. He does note, though, that in countries where it is legal, use has grown: “But the fact that, by 2012, one in thirty-five Dutch people sought assisted suicide at their death is not a measure of success. It is a measure of failure. Our ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death but a good life to the very end. The Dutch have been slower than others to develop palliative care programs that might provide for it….We damage entire societies if we let this capability [assisted suicide] divert us from improving the lives of the ill. Assisted living is far harder than assisted death, but its possibilities are far greater, as well” (p. 245). (A good Christian source on some of these thorny issues is When Is It Right to Die: Suicide, Euthanasia, Suffering, Mercy by Joni Earacekson Tada.)

He also points out that it is difficult to know exactly where the lines are sometimes. “We also recognize the necessity of allowing doses of narcotics and sedatives that reduce pain and discomfort even if they may knowingly speed death” (pp. 243-244). Sometimes it is wrong to turn off a ventilator: sometimes it is right. If a 20-tyear-old was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and wanted to let “nature take its course” rather than treating the illness, we’d try to convince her that the quality of life she could have with treatment would be well worth it despite the complications: it would be ridiculous to die of diabetes when there is treatment available and the possibility of a long, productive, and happy life. On the other hand, when my father was dying of various other issues and they suspected he had colon cancer, they decided not to put him through what would be involved in diagnosing, much less treating it, because in the long run it would not make a difference in how long he would live and would only make his last months miserable.

The author writes from a secular viewpoint. As a Christian, I thought a lot about how a Christian worldview would affect this topic. As Christians we know where we and our believing loved ones are going, which takes some of the sting out of death. But we don’t take it lightly or flippantly, either. Death is still called an enemy. We hold life as a gift from God and believe He is the only one with the right to end it. It is to be given back to Him and used for His purposes. Sometimes that includes suffering, yet we’re also called to alleviate suffering if possible. While there are fears about loss of independence and abilities in older age, we can trust God to help us through that time: And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.  Isaiah 46:4. But issues and question the author brings up are needful to consider, preferably before crises hit. In some cases there is no one right answer for what kind of treatment to pursue: the answer will vary depending on a number of factors.

I like this summation near the end of the book:

I am leery of suggesting that endings are controllable. No one ever really has control. Physics and biology and accident ultimately have their way in our lives. But the point is that we are not helpless either. Courage is the strength to recognize both realities. We have room to act, to shape our stories, though as time goes on it is within narrower and narrower confines. A few conclusions become clear when we understand this: that our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives (p. 243).

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Is it nice to call someone a false prophet or a false teacher?

Caution

I don’t know whether it’s nice. But sometimes it is necessary, and oftentimes it is the most loving thing one can do.

The Bible has some pretty serious things to say about false prophets and false teachers:

Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” Matthew 7:15

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. II Peter 2:1-3

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. I John 4:1

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:6-9

If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. Deuteronomy 13:1-4

I don’t recall seeing in Scripture anything along the lines of “He doesn’t speak the truth, but he is very kind…or gives food to the poor…or has such a nice family…” or whatever. For one thing, those “good works” don’t give anyone points with God. For another, the falsehood is such an important issue that it trumps whatever else the person might be doing.

And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. II Corinthians 11:12-15, ESV.

I’m not talking about every little thing people can disagree about in the Bible. People can have different views of baptism, church government, election and free will, the best Bible versions, standards of modesty, etc., and still each love God and teach the major truths of the Bible. While all of these are important and we should study the Scripture to be fully persuaded in our own minds, the Bible also teaches that people can have different convictions and should be able to still get along. I think as modern day Christians we have spent way too much time fighting amongst brethren on these things and have gotten sidetracked from the bigger picture of sharing God’s Word and making disciples (for Him, not for our views).

But there are majors issues – the fundamentals, if you will – truths that to deny would be to deny Christ and mislead people into tragedy: who God is, how a person can be rightly related to Him, the Deity of Christ, the inspiration and verity of the Bible, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, among others. When a person is wrong on these, I believe it is harmful to dwell only on the “good” he seems to be doing without warning people of his falsehoods. We don’t want to do anything to give credence to his message. That’s why I said earlier that calling a false prophet or teacher what he is can be the most loving thing you can do if it keeps someone from blindly following him into error.

I don’t think that means we have to set up web sites as false teacher watchdogs. I have come across a few like that, and though I am sure the owners meant well, the sites I have seen come across as harsh and unbalanced.

I also don’t think it means that if someone said they read a book or listened to a message from someone we would consider to be a false teacher, that we have to “pounce” on them and rip the teacher to shreds. We should be kind and compassionate with the person we’re speaking to, and part of that may be acknowledging that the person they are listening to might have some good points. We can prayerfully continue and bring biblical truth to bear in the conversation. If a person is really entrenched, we may need to just deal with one aspect at a time.

Jude 1:3 says, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” We are called to contend for the faith. Many of the epistles do just that in dealing with falsehoods making the rounds, even to the point of naming names. Interestingly, I had this started this post last week and saved it, and then last Sunday our Sunday School teacher started teaching from Jude. He said the Greek word for “contend” is used only one time in the Bible, and that is in this passage, and it has the idea of an athlete pouring everything into competing and winning with total commitment. Ephesians 5:11 goes on to say, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”

Besides contending for the faith, we need to clearly separate from false teaching.  Romans 16:17-18 says, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned ; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” 2 John 1:9-11 says, “Whosoever transgresseth , and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any * unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”

Considering the above, when I quote someone or review a book, if I have some minor issues I might say something like, “I don’t agree with everything he said but I think there are good things to be gleaned from the book.” But if the author is wrong on the major issues, I can’t leave at “I disagree with some things he says”: I feel I must warn my own readers about this person’s falsehoods. Then if they want to go on and read the book, that is up to them, but at least they’ll know to compare what was written with what the Bible teaches (something we should be doing anyway.)

Warning of false teaching is one way we can we can contend for truth; we also need to be sharing truth proactively, as the Biblical writers did as well. Some years ago when David Koresh was in the news, I was astonished to hear an interview with one of his disciples commenting on his knowledge of the Bible. That person had to have had an amazing lack of previous Bible teaching or reading to think a thing like that. That’s one reason, among many others, that I have a passion to get people into the Word of God for themselves: it teaches us to know Him and His truth, helps us grow in Him, and keeps us from being deceived by false teachers who would lead us astray.

While we don’t need to set ourselves up as the False Teaching Police and become consumed with ferreting out falsehoods, we should be in the Word of God enough to recognize when we come across false teaching of it and be able to articulate the truth. It may be one thing that makes a difference in the hearts of those who hear us.

 

Book Review: Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope

Far CountryI’ve been wanting to read Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother’s Search for Hope by Christopher and Angela Yuan ever since seeing it recommended by Tim Challies, and I am glad to have finally done so. I’m predicting it will be one of my top ten books of the year.

Christopher and Angela take turns with the chapters, describing events from their different points of view. They open the book with Chris’s coming out to his parents that he was gay. Angela did not object on Biblical grounds: she was an atheist who hated Christians. I don’t think the book ever explains just why she was against his homosexuality, except that they had hoped he would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a dentist, and patients would probably avoid a dentist who had the potential to be HIV positive. Maybe it just didn’t fit in with her idea of a perfect family, but it was devastating to her.

Angela had come from an unhappy home and had put great stock into having a good family. But over the years her husband grew cold and distant, her oldest son rebelled, and now Christopher was going in a direction completely unacceptable to her.  She gave him an ultimatum between his family and his homosexuality, and, believing he had no choice in his orientation, he left home to be with friends who would accept him as he was. Angela crumpled to the ground in despair, feeling she had nothing left to live for. She made plans to end her own life, but wanted to talk to a minister first. Though he was kind, nothing really changed in her heart. He gave her a booklet which she later read, and her eyes were opened to the truth that her lifelong desire for belonging could be fulfilled in belonging to God. It was even a relief to know and admit that she was a sinner, that though she was far from perfect, God still loved her. “I had not been seeking God, but I was found by him” (p. 19).

Chris, for his part, was glad to get away from the “Chinese-mother guilt-trip drama” (p. 8). Coming out to one’s parents and the inevitable negative reaction was a rite of passage among his friends. He finally felt free to live as he wanted to. He “started going to gay clubs and began tending bar” (p. 23) at night while attending dental school during the day. Eventually the party scene took over his life. While feeling low after a broken relationship, he accepted someone’s offer of the drug Ecstasy, and within a very short time started selling drugs to support his own habit, then became a popular and leading seller in his area and even across the country. His schooling suffered to the point that he was eventually expelled, but it no longer mattered since he was making money hand over fist and enjoying life and popularity.

Until he was arrested.

During this time Angela had been growing in her own faith and her husband Leon had come to the Lord as well. At first she tried various things to get through to Chris but finally realized that she could not “fix” him. She could only fast, pray, show him love, and not shield him from the consequences of his actions. She and her husband did not intervene when Chris was threatened with expulsion from school and after he was arrested asked the judge to give him a sentence just long enough to bring him to God. Once after reading Psalm 46:1, “Be still, and know that I am God,” she knew “as hard as it was, I knew I had to quit striving and trying to make things work my way. But rather, I had to let God do things his way and in his timing” (p. 73). “It may have just been easier for us to give up on our son, but God said, Wait! He gave us faith to hope against all the evidence we saw and to trust he had a plan, Leon and I committed to focus not on hopelessness but on the promises of God” (p. 109). She “prayed specifically that God would do whatever it took to bring our son to him — not to us, not out of drugs, not out of homosexuality…but to the Father” (p. 159).

With Christopher’s arrest, his popularity vanished. None of his “friends” wanted any more to do with him. One day in prison, he saw a Gideon’s New Testament on top of some trash, and he took it back to his cell and began to read mainly just as a way to pass the time. Over time, both with reading the Bible on his own and studying it with others, Chris came to believe on Christ.

Being in prison had taken care of getting Chris off drugs and out of the party scene, and he came to admit they were both wrong and he needed to stay away from them once he got out. When he talked with a chaplain about his homosexuality, he was told that the Bible did not condemn homosexuality and gave Chris a book explaining that view. That sounded wonderful to Chris, but as he read the book and then studied the Bible, he felt the book did not line up with what the Bible taught. He did discover that in “Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 — passages normally used to condemns gays and lesbians…God didn’t call lesbians and gay men abominations. He called it an abomination. What God condemned was the act, not the person. For so long, I had gotten the message from the Christian protestors at gay-pride parades that the God of the Bible hated people like me, because we were abominations. But after reading these passages, I saw that God didn’t hate me; nor was he condemning me to an inescapable destiny of torment. But rather, it was the sex he condemned, and yet he still wanted an intimate relationship with me” (p. 186). Being gay had been a major part of his identity, but as he continued to study the Scriptures, he “began to ask myself a different question: Who am I apart from my sexuality?” (p. 187). He details his thought processes and conclusions in a chapter called “Holy Sexuality.” One conclusion was:

God’s faithfulness is proved not by the elimination of hardships but by carrying us through them. Change is not the absence of struggles; change is the freedom to choose holiness in the midst of our struggles. I realized that the ultimate issue has to be that I yearn after God in total surrender and complete obedience (pp. 168-169).

This book touched me on so many levels. What a joy to see the journey of how God brought both Christopher and his parents to Himself.

Christopher’s testimony from a documentary is here:

You can read more of Christopher’s life and ministry at his web site, www.christopheryuan.com.

(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

 

 

A revival of what?

Some days ago I turned on the radio to catch the news at noon, and caught the last few minutes of the prayer time my Christian radio station has right before 12:00. As I listened, I heard the announcer pray for “a revival of Biblical values” in our society. I stopped in my tracks and thought, “What?

50sI’m sure he meant well, and I am pretty sure I know what he meant, but that request struck me as a little off-base. I had the same reaction as I do when people speak of “reclaiming our culture for Christ.” I know they don’t mean this, but it brings to mind a 50s-style era where people were at least fairly decent in their lifestyles and even to some extent “God-fearing.” The problem is you can have a pleasant culture exactly like that with most of its members totally lost and on their way to hell.

I don’t think we’re called to reclaim cultures or promote Biblical values without the underlying base of trying to introduce people to the Lord. He has called us to make disciples. That kind of change comes from within and then influences a person’s actions which will then result in a change of values. Trying to promote Biblical values without a heart change is coming at things from the outside. It may make a person easier to live with, but it doesn’t change their destiny or character. But in this postmodern era, especially, Biblical values don’t make sense to someone without a Biblical heart.

I don’t mean that Christians should not be active in government. I’ve been listening to bits of Stephen Davey’s message “Stay on Task” (in other places it appears to be named “I Pledge Allegiance, Part II”) on the radio. I agree with the general thrust of his message that “The mission of the church is not moral reformation, but spiritual transformation” and “Our true battle is against the kingdom of darkness which has blinded the minds of the world to believe that God is not watching.” (It’s a great message – I encourage you to listen to or read it). On the other hand, just because Jesus or the apostles never tried to organize voters or push for campaign issues doesn’t mean it is wrong to do so. Unlike Bible times, we do have a government in these days where we can use our voice. We should first of all pray “For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (I Timothy 2:1-3). And personally I believe we should at least vote, as intelligently as possible. To be given such a gift at this time in history and not use it would be terribly negligent. Some might be called to do more, as described in the article “Is Voting Enough?” I think it is good for Christians to be involved in government as in every other segment of society, to be salt and light there. Since our government can be influenced by our voices, I am grateful for some who keep on top of issues, stand for the right, keep voters informed, and voice our concerns to our representatives. I don’t believe our ultimate hope is in government, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a tool in God’s hands that can be used for good. Proverbs 21:31 says, “The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the LORD.” God didn’t tell people to abandon their horses, but He told them rather to remember that ultimately safety is of Him. Our trust is in Him, not in any tools, even though He may use various tools to accomplish His objectives.

And in past history He has done so without a conservative culture or a representative form of government. I am extremely thankful for both of those and I hope we keep them. But the church can and should thrive with or without them. In Paul’s time, dictators were in power, yet the church grew in numbers and in character.

While we can and should use the tools at our disposal, those pursuits should never take priority over the basics of what God has called us to: being salt and light wherever we are, showing His love and grace to people, and telling them about the only God and Savior who alone can save them and meet their needs.

Booking Through Thursday: YA Censorship

btt  button Booking Through Thursday is a weekly meme which poses a question or a thought for participants to discuss centering on the subject of books or reading.

I have not done one of these in over a year, though I do look at the questions every week. I have been pondering today’s question ever since looking at it earlier this morning, so I thought I’d jot some of those thoughts down here.

The question had to do with censorship of YA (young adult) literature: “Do you think it should vary depending on the impressionable age of the readers? Or is it always wrong? How about the difference between ‘official’ censorship by a government or a school system, as opposed to a parent saying No to a specific book for their child?”

It depends on what you mean by censorship. I would have a problem with the government banning certain books, except maybe pornography. (Has that kind of publication ever done anyone any good except to increase the finances of those involved in producing it?)  But one problem with banning books is that no one would be able to agree on what should be banned. After all, even the Bible has been banned in certain times and places. And I do have a problem with turning government officials into thought police.

I don’t think I would agree with public libraries banning certain books, but I would like them to keep “mature” books away from children’s and teen’s areas. Those who are concerned about what their children read should not be letting them loose unsupervised in a public library anyway.

I do think school libraries have a right and even a responsibility to keep certain books out. Books with filthy language or illicit sexuality do not need to be in a school setting. And of course, ultimate responsibility rests with parents, who do indeed have a right to filter their children’s reading material.

The BTT site linked to an YA author’s blog post wondering why some of her own books were censored (“quietly” rather than officially). I am not linking to the author’s post because of the vulgar language in it, but after perusing it I have to ask, “Seriously?” When she writes like that, how can she wonder why some parents and teachers would object?

I do think filthy language is a reason to restrict some books. There are some books where it is minor and can be overlooked (for instance, the Dickens book I am listening to uses “Damn,” and Unbroken has a smattering of objectionable language in it, but it is understandable that there would be such in a prisoner of war camp). Though I’d rather not read those words, I can understand their being included in some cases. But there are some words that really don’t need to be in YA lit, if anywhere. Yes, some people do use them in real life, but that doesn’t justify a plethora of vulgarity in the name of intellectual freedom.

I don’t think explicit sexuality needs to be a part of YA lit, either (or any fiction, for that matter). Yes, even the Bible talks about adultery and other kinds of sexual sin and how it affects people, but not in a way that would cause arousal on the part of the reader.

Violence is harder to set parameters around. Obviously a book about war is going to have violent scenes, a book that discusses bullying is going to show instances of it, etc. Reality is one thing; gratuitousness is another.

When my kids were younger, I did censor books with New Age and certain other philosophies. I believe in talking about such things, but I didn’t want them presented in a positive and favorable way to an impressionable young mind before we’d had a chance to talk about it.

There are a few reasons for setting some restrictions in reading. Generally I don’t want to read bad language or sexual scenes or put them before my children because of the garbage in/garbage out principle. If we fill our minds with such things, they’re going to become part of our thoughts and may even come back out in our words and actions. There is a phrase going around now that once you see something, you can’t unsee it. Often it is said humorously, but it is true principle both in viewing and reading.

Even though YA stands for young adults, YA books are usually marketed to teens, and these objectionable elements don’t need to be placed in young, impressionable minds.

Despite everything I have said, I do not mean that I wanted my kids only to read things that reinforced our own views and that we agreed with 100%. I am working on a post about reasons for reading, but one major one is to experience other viewpoints and test one’s own thoughts against those of others. However, I did want to be careful with how those thoughts were presented while they were still young.

Sometimes when a controversial book is making the rounds of discussion, some people (even Christians) will say exasperatedly, “It’s just a book.” But books are powerful things. What we read affects how we think. Jesus told stories to illustrate spiritual truth, and I have often said that the best of Christian fiction is like an extended parable or illustration of truth. A principle I have read in a story takes root and stays with me much longer than when I read it in an instructional format. But the same power than can be used for good can also be used for evil. I regret to say that off-color things I read in an unsaved home as a young person have also stayed with me much longer than I would have liked, often popping into mind at the most inopportune times, like while trying to pray or listen to a sermon.

Most of what I have said so far is applicable to anyone, but as a Christian, my guidelines come from verses like these:

Philippians 4:8: Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

I Corinthians 6:12: All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

I Corinthians 10:23: All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.

The Philippians passage focuses on the positive things we should be filling our minds with. The two verses from I Corinthians indicate that while all things are “lawful,” some things are not expedient (“tending to promote some proposed or desired object; fit or suitable for the purpose; proper under the circumstances” according to Dictionary.com), I shouldn’t allow things to exercise more power over me than they should, and some things are not edifying. Galatians 5:17 says, “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” and chapters 6-8 go on to describe the battle between and spiritual and fleshly natures. It is going to be even more of a battle if we’re feeding our fleshly natures. II Corinthians 10:5 says, “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”

I don’t think that necessarily means we should read only Christian books. Truth and beauty can be illustrated even in secular works. And I don’t think it means everything we read should have a “Pollyanna” viewpoint. Even the Bible deals with sexuality, but not in a way that inspires lust. It also contains violent encounters, but David says in Psalm 11:5, “The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth” (emphasis mine) — gratuitous violence is different from a battle scene. It discusses different philosophies, but not in a way that leaves you confused about what’s right.

It is honestly hard to know exactly where to draw the lines sometimes, as I mentioned when I discussed To Kill a Mockingbird. There are books I might read for information that I would not endorse wholeheartedly. Wisdom and discernment are needed when reading Christian books as well as secular ones: not everything that calls itself Christian accurately reflects Biblical truth.

Of course, the world will not have the same standards in most instances, and we can’t fence off every area of temptation and evil influence. Ultimately what people need are hearts changed by the gospel. While we try to take some kind of stand lest explicit books become ever more blatant, we need to remember our main purpose as Christians is to share Christ both in our lifestyles and character as well as with our verbal testimony.

(Some of the above is taken from a previous post titled Book Banning and Censorship.)

Michelle at As4Me has some well-articulated thoughts on Censorship, Schools, and Children, Is Good Censorship an Oxymoron? and some other posts on censorship and banned books here.