Monday, January 26, 2015

Idaho: Totalitarian State?

This is the testimony I prepared for the hearing on House Bill 2 here in Idaho.  It proposes to amend the current civil rights bill and will "PROVIDE THAT DISCRIMINATION BECAUSE OF SEXUAL ORIENTATION OR GENDER IDENTITY IS A CRIMINAL OFFENSE."  Please read the bill if you in order to see what this means for citizens. 

Here's my testimony:

I oppose House Bill 2 on the grounds that it proposes legalized discrimination and intolerance against the citizens of Idaho. My argument does not depend on the debate about sexual orientation or even my view of Scripture. My argument is simply a defense of the first amendment of the constitution, specifically the free exercise of religion, the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly.  

My opposition to HB2 has very little to do with sexual orientation or gender identity.(Although to be clear I absolutely affirm the Biblical position with no equivocation) But my point, is that those words only provide the occasion for something far more sinister. This bill represents the loss of the right of conscience. The conscience is not a thing that the state has the right to command. The state is not the Lord of my conscience, nor is it the Lord of yours. A conscience is that moral faculty within all of us that judges our actions to be right or wrong. I have a particular conscience, and you have a particular conscience. The church, the state, our friends, our family are all agents that can help persuade our consciences of the rightness or wrongness of any particular thing.  I’m not denying that right of persuasion to anybody.  Persuasion is good. What I am denying is the right to compulsion. Nobody has the right to use force to get me to adhere to a particular morality. Make no mistake, this bill is trying to force a morality on it's citizens.  

As a pastor it would be wrong for me to force the people in my congregation to obedience to some moral truth. That would be legalism. All I can do is seek to inform their mind and persuade their conscience. Likewise it is wrong for the state of Idaho to force the people to obey something that violates their conscience. Now I’m not one of those people that would deny the right of the state to impose speed limits on highways, or other things of that nature that are legitimate concerns to public safety. But I am denying that HB2 attains any threshold that would pertain to the public safety. HB2 is legislation that seeks to police our thoughts. In the church the policing of thoughts is called legalism, in the public square it is called tyranny. 

It is tyrannical for any government to reach into the hearts of it’s citizens and tell them what they must believe to be right and wrong when it comes to the issue of religion. That is exactly what HB2 seeks to accomplish: an establishment of religion. It seeks to establish the religion of radical egalitarianism where every view point is equally true and valid. This is the statist religion of the newly re-defined tolerance. Tolerance use to mean the act of enduring or putting up with differing points of view. Our culture has re-defined tolerance as that virtue that holds that all views as equally true and valid. But  friends, that view of tolerance is a contradiction! Under that definition, if I believe that homosexuality is wrong, then even my opponents must accept my view as equally true and valid though they think homosexuality is good and right. By that logic, if my viewpoint is not validated, then my opponents are  intolerant. But that is not what tolerance is. Tolerance in the public square means I live civilly with others who disagree with me. That’s what being a grown-up means. I don’t use the state to force others to believe what I believe. This would be to destroy the 1st amendment to the constitution: 
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...”
Some may object that this bill does not compel conscience, it simply forces businesses to treat people equally in public accommodations. But where is the line between public accommodations and private property?  This bill says it is in the means that you and I use to put food on our table.  That is invasion of conscience. Our founding fathers went to war over this.  Read the declaration of independence.  This bill makes it a criminal offense to operate a business according to one’s conscience if one holds that sexuality is a fixed moral reality. The court cases across the country show how those involved in the wedding industry are being compelled to violate what they believe marriage is, in the name of this new so-called tolerance. Think of the ramifications of this. Think of all the professional counseling businesses that exist. In providing counseling, the counselor must attempt to persuade his client of a morality. With the passing of this bill, these businesses would be forced to hire employees that potentially don’t agree with their morality. If these business owners don’t adopt the morality of the state, they face the certainty of a lawsuit or closing their doors.

This bill is about the unjust use of force. It is unjust to force individuals and businesses, and eventually churches to endorse beliefs that offer violence to their conscience. Individuals and businesses and churches should have the right to say to possible patrons or congregants “I don’t agree with that, and I’m not doing that here.” That’s what it means to be able to practice the free exercise of religion and speech and assembly. To take that away from the citizens of Idaho is to make war on the very constitution that established this state. To take away that right is to discriminate against all religions that hold views contrary to this bill. This bill will not just affect Christians, but anybody with a working conscience, Muslims, Jews, and atheists alike. To pass this bill is the height of intolerance and one step closer to a totalitarian state.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Treasure of Unceasing Prayer

When many of us think about Heaven, our minds often go in many different directions imagining the glories of that place.  We will be re-united with loved ones who have been separated from us.  We will have glorified bodies, no longer able to feel sorrow or pain, or fear death.  There will never be jealousy, or envy, or a secret contempt in Heaven.  Only ever-increasing joy.  We will walk the streets of gold under the brilliance of God and His throne, for He will be the light in that place.  We never hear the word "no" because we would never ask a question that would warrant that response.  We will get to meet and talk with Moses, Ruth, David, Mary and Paul. The glories of Jesus will be our constant companion, and we will live in a state of perfect spiritual happiness with each other and with God for ages without number 

But the best thing about Heaven will be unceasing prayer. The best thing about heaven is that there will be unbroken communion with God.  No more veil.  No more distance.  No more obscurity.  Only intimate communion—which is what the Bible calls prayer.  We will ever live to pant after God in prayer, and He will ever live to communicate His glories to us. The saints will enjoy such a communion with God that they will never have any desire to stop speaking with Him.  We will forever feast off the abundance of His house, and drink from the river of His delights (Psalm 36:8).   There will be no boredom, no indifference, and no unfulfilled longing.  Only continual communion with the possessor of our souls.   

But that is then.  What about now?

The good news, is that we don't have to wait to get to heaven to have that constant communion with God!  Paul encourages us now to "...pray without ceasing"—1 Thessalonians 5:17.  It's true that on this side of eternity, our prayers will be accompanied with thorns, and the dullness that comes from our flesh, and the corruption that comes from our sin.  But we are encouraged nonetheless to pray without ceasing.  God offers Himself now to the thirsty soul. 

But this is exceedingly hard.  Perhaps impossible.  So how do we do this?  Is there a way that we can posture ourselves, even in our busy schedules, to pray without ceasing?  I believe the answer is yes. Joel Beeke and Diana Kleyn wrote a great children's book  How God Used a Thunderstorm (Scotland: Christian Focus, Reprint 2012) where they tackle this verse.  They tell a story of a meeting between several ministers who were discussing difficult theological questions.  The verse from 1 Thessalonians 5:17 came up, and they were stumped.  They were unable to imagine how it is possible to pray without ceasing.  A young maidservant was in the room and she assured them that this was one of the easiest and best verses in the Bible. One of the ministers responds

"Well, well, Mary," said an old minister. "What do you know about it?  Can you pray all the time?"  "Oh, yes, sir!"  "Really?  How is that possible when you have so many things to do?"  "Why, sir, the more I have to do, the more I pray."  Indeed!  Well, Mary, how do you do it?  Most people wouldn't agree with you."  "Well, sir," said the girl, "when I first open my eyes in the morning, I pray, 'Lord, open they eyes of my understanding,' and while I am dressing, I pray that I may be clothed with the robe of righteousness.  While I am washing, I ask to have my sins washed away.  As I begin to work, I pray that I may receive strength for all the work of the day.  While I kindle the fire, I pray that revival may be kindled in me.  While preparing and eating breakfast, I ask to be fed with the Bread of Life and the pure mild of the Word.  As I sweep the house, I pray that my heart may be swept clean of all its impurities.  As I am busy with the little children, I look up to God and pray that I may always have the trusting love of a little child, and as I...." 
It's here where the minister cuts her off.  He gets the point.  Hopefully, so do we.  Everything that God places in our path down here can be used as an opportunity to pray.  Which means that every moment of the day, broadly speaking, can be used as a moment to commune with God.  Our dressing, our eating, our quite time, our busy time, our sleeping time, our working time, every "time" can be a time where we are availed the opportunity to open up the treasure of unceasing prayer.   

As God told Abraham "I am your exceeding great reward" Genesis 15:1.  When we open our hearts heavenward in prayer, we are rewarded with God Himself.  Oh..the treasure of unceasing prayer!


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Great Need of Experimental Bible Reading

As many of us are seeking to re-new Bible reading in our day-to-day lives at the beginning of this new year, it's critical to keep in mind the importance of experimental reading.  If our reading is not experimental, then all we are accomplishing is moving our eyes over the words much like a blind person would move their fingers over braille.  God is not aiming at eye movement.  He's aiming at heart movement.  Every time we sit down to read the scripture, we have a new opportunity to renew our love for God and our fellow man.  Reading scripture, meditating on scripture, studying scripture, talking about scripture can be means to stoke the fire in our souls.  Or, paradoxically,  they can be means to quench that fire.  Jesus Himself said to the religious elite in His day "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life." (John 5:39-40)  We must feel the weight of this verse in our bible reading.  The Pharisees' reading of scripture promoted hardened legalistic hearts when they read.  They did not come to Messiah when they studied.  They were ultimately studying themselves, and finding justification for their lives when they opened up the sacred texts.   We must come to Jesus when we are searching the scriptures!  If we are not encountering Him on some level, then we are no better than those who He rebuked.   Our reading must be experimental reading

Experimental reading is the type of reading that undresses our hearts in the light of Scripture.  We do not read in order to posture before the Lord.  We read as a means to know Him even as we are known.  This requires exposure.  Experimental reading puts our hearts on trial before the Judge and Husband of our souls.  Our hearts are tested (thus experimental) before the Lord of glory.  For Christians, this is not a pass/fail test.  Those who have been bought by the blood of Jesus Christ cannot fail to be brought to Him.  But it is the type of test that continually reminds us of our fallen condition, and thus the great mercy of Christ Jesus.   Experimental reading takes us the the very edge of our souls to show us the vanity of human existence apart from Jesus. Experimental reading allows sentences to be more than mere sentences.  When we read experimentally, sentences flex their muscles on our spirits and we submit to their strength.  In that submission we come alive to God. "My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned." (Psalm 39:3)  Experimental reading is a composite of meditation, prayer, praise, study, interpretation, and delight.  In short, experimental reading is communion with God.  We should expect to experience God in our reading, like we experience our spouse in conversation.  Oh that we would plead with God to open our hearts like Lydia of old. "And the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul." Acts 16:14  We need to be experimental in our Bible reading, because that is the only type of Bible reading that will transform us "...from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." 2 Cor. 3:18