Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia

Is Christianity All About Obeying Commands? Part II

October 7th, 2012

This is the second part of an article I published a month ago entitled “Is Christianity All About Obeying Commands? Part I.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)  This is the tender gentle invitation of Christ to the lost.  In many ways for the lost and weary it is “an offer he can’t refuse.”  It is with this in mind that I would like to continue the discussion on the Bible’s commands from the previous post.

Like any good sermon, I will be making three points in this article.  First I will argue that God’s commands are not burdensome.  Secondly, I will examine the core commands of scripture so that we don’t “neglect the weightier matters of the law.”  Finally, following the Spirit is crucial to obeying God.

I.  God’s Commands are Not Burdensome.

I feel like the preacher the night Charles Spurgeon was converted who had little to say, but stuck tenaciously to his text. The first thing to note from the text is that there is a yoke which we must take upon us if we are following Christ.  There are also things which must be learned from Christ.  Christianity is not about setting someone free from the laborious and heavy yoke of Satan to do whatever they would like.  God does command.  The invitation to the weary and heavy laden is to take on the yoke of Christ.

However, in willingly taking on the yoke of Christ, we find rest for our souls.  Christ promises to be a gentle master who is lowly in heart.  This is much different from the slavedriver, Satan, who we served before coming to Christ, and it is contrary to any view of Christ which paints Him as a slavedriver or taskmaster.  While we are called to take on a yoke, in some way it is easy and light.  In Matthew 23:4 Jesus condemns the Pharisees because they “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders.”  It would be inconceivable for God to condemn the Pharisees for laying heavy burdens on people, and promise an easy burden to those same people to turn around and require His children to spend their time finding every command out of every principle they can find in scripture.

The passage makes it clear that God’s yoke is easy.  God incarnate uses this as an invitation for people to follow Him.  God does not play bait and switch.  He fulfills His promises.  We however, should be careful that we do not make God’s burden heavier than He intended.  To the extent we require more things of Christians than God does, we are loading people looking for rest with a heavy burden.  When God’s commands seem to be burdensome, we must ask whether the commands are truly from God or if they are extra biblical commands from religious leaders.

II.  What Does God Command?

While there are many individual commands in scripture, it is helpful to look at passages where the Bible identifies the most important commands.

In Micah 6:6-8 the prophet asks “With what shall I come before the Lord?”  “Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?”  These are superlatives of things God commanded and seemingly required elsewhere.  The prophet goes on to suggest a much more valuable offering, seemingly pondering maybe God wants what the people around us suggest God wants.  “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”  The answer is a resounding no to those suggestions, and an oft repeated verse.  “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Really?  Is that it?  God only requires three things?  Yes fulfilling them takes a lot, but can’t you hear the thankful cry of the person who realizes this truth?  What ease is found in only striving to obey a few commands!

Maybe this is a fluke.  Surely the commands of God can’t be few.  That is just a minor Old Testament prophet.  Maybe… Let’s look at the book of Acts and how the apostles dealt with this issue.  Acts 15 relates the story of the Jerusalem Council.  Following the conversion of many of the Gentiles, men from Judea came around telling the new converts that in order to really be a Christian they must be circumcised.  This caused quite the controversy, and Paul and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem to talk to the apostles and elders about this issue.  Some belonging to the party of the Pharisees argued that Gentile believers must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses.  (v.5)  Peter however stands up and retells how God used him to begin bringing the gospel to the Gentiles.  He then reasons against laying the command on the Gentiles by saying, “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”  (v.10 and 11)  The council listens to him and as a result decides to send a letter to the Gentile churches with four commands: “To abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.”  Make what you want of the four particular laws, the decision was that the Gentile believers should not be burdened with numerous unkeepable laws and they intentionally decided to keep the yoke of the believers light.

Nothing is more burdensome than numerous laws.  Both in Micah and Acts the commands of God are few.  When multitudinous laws are written and imposed, the individual is forced to constantly double check whether his actions violate some law.  Keeping commands few makes the yoke light.  Interestingly as well, Jesus alludes to the importance of the simple commands found in Micah when He refutes the Pharisees.  Justice, mercy, and faithfulness are the “weightier matters of the law” Jesus says the Pharisees neglect when crafting their multitudinous unfollowable laws.  (Matthew 23:23)  God’s commands are intentionally few and simple so that they won’t be burdensome.

III.  The Role of the Holy Spirit

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”  This is the great promise found in John 16:13 following Christ’s promise he would send a Helper, a Helper it was more advantageous for the disciples to have than Christ Himself.  The Bible clearly that the Holy Spirit has a central role in sanctification.  (2 Cor. 3:18, 2 Thess. 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2, Romans 8:4+13, etc…)  If we believe the Holy Spirit will guide us, and sanctify us, we must leave the Him the ability to convict different individuals in different ways.  Martin Luther famously stated at the Diet of Worms “I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me. Amen.”  As the Spirit guides and convicts He shows us our sin and leads us into truth.  This is the distinction of the New Covenant prophesied by Jeremiah and repeated in Hebrews.  Arguing that the Holy Spirit tells you to do something contrary to the Bible is absurd.  However, if He does not illuminate and convict He has no purpose.  This is a work performed individually in the heart of the believer, not a special guidance to a “spiritual leader” who then has the authority to tell others to live as the Spirit may have guided them to live.

My Pastor Colby Garman delivered a very helpful sermon on the relationship of the law and the Spirit in his sermon on Romans 7.  In it he argued that while “The Law is good, it cannot achieve growth and personal transformation in righteousness.”  This is the crucial role of the Holy Spirit.

Romney v. Obama Round 1: Liveblog

October 4th, 2012

I figured I would take a cue from Jeremiah Lorrig and put all my thoughts on the debate in one place.  In the middle, I hit my limit on tweets so I switched to facebook.  The change will be clear.  Bill Maher’s tweets are also very enlightening.

You can watch the entire debate here as well.

…and so the games begin #romneyryan2012

Watching @BarackObama I already need drinks… #romneyryan2012#denverdebate

@BarackObama‘s #economicpatriotism sounds like #communism#denverdebate #romneyryan2012

Sound like #communism? RT @TylerStockton: “Economic patriotism”?

#BarackObama and #romneyryan2012 #trickledowngovernment#denverdebate

@BarackObama on the #trickledowngovernment question… Here are the gov programs we need… #denverdebate #romneyryan2012

@JoelGrewe He is. He is listing the government programs he wants in#trickledowngovernment

@ElissaRoberson He is answering the #trickledowngovernmentquestion by tellign the government programs he believes in.#denverdebate

Enjoying the free swinging debate format #denverdebate

@BarackObama wants more government and a reduced #deficit#nologic #trickledowngovernment #denverdebate #romneyryan2012

Mitt Romney is being specific and agressive. #denverdebate

RT @cameronetchart: “BTW, I like coal.” -Romney #denverdebate

@BarackObama response to Mitt Romney We’ll we’ll… lets talk about taxes… #denverdebate #ouchIgotsmoked #romneyryan2012

@BarackObama putting people to sleep after @MittRomney blistering attack #denverdebate #romneyryan2012

@MittRomney virtually everything he said about my tax plan is inaccurate #denverdebate #romneyryan2012

@MittRomney is crushing @BarackObama this isn’t even fair.#denverdebate #romneyryan2012

@MittRomney for me this is about jobs. #denverdebate

@BarackObama trying to out math a well experienced businessman in @MittRomney #epicfail #denverdebate #romneyryan2012

@BarackObama Donald Trump joke fell totally flat. #denverdebate

If I had a drink every time @BarackObama said “uh” I would be drunk.#denverdebate

@BarackObama Jim Leher please get me off this topic so I don’t keep getting creamed #denverdebate

@BarackObama says closing loopholes won’t work his friend@TimKaine agrees. #denverdebate #rpv

@MittRomney schooling @BarackObama on #history #denverdebate#romneyryan2012

@MittRomney going forward with the status quo won’t cut it#denverdebate

@MittRomney deficit is a moral issue. immoral to force children to pay for our debt. #denverdebt

@MittRomney speaking about the importance of raising rate of growth to solve the #deficit #denverdebate

@MittRomney is promising to be an agressive spending cutter#deficit #denverdebate #romneyryan2012

@BarackObama is on the ropes in this debate. Let’s hope this carries over to the #generalelection #denverdebate #romneyryan2012

@BarackObama distorting @MittRomney plans again #denverdebate

If @MittRomney would campaign as well as he is debating,@BarackObama would be losing the election in a #landslide#denverdebate

@MittRomney the revenue I get is more people working getting higher pay and paying more in tax money. #denverdebate

@BarackObama attacking #bigoil #denverdebate #csdebate

#MyWife to @BarackObama “Well then why didn’t he fix it three years ago.”

@BarackObama “they are using textbooks that are 10 years old.” I did in #homeschool #csdebate anyone else do that? #denverdebate

@MittRomney sure is flowing this debate well. #denverdebate

@MittRomney really preaching the importance of a small federal government and states being lab of democracy #csdebate#denverdebate

@MittRomney the brilliance of our system relies on the people and states not the federal government #denverdebate #csdebate

@BarackObama #socialsecurity is structurally sound. What are you smoking? #csdebate #denverdebate

@BarackObama is getting nailed on twitter for saying that#socialsecurity is structurally sound. #denverdebate #csdebate

@60plusassoc @MittRomney Oh I just thought of one, the president is cutting money from #medicaire #csdebate #denverdebate

#csdebate #denverdebate RT @gwbertsch: RT @guypbenson: Romney primed for this answer on entitlements. Here we go. #Debate

@MittRomney should just say “there you go again” to@BarackObama #ronaldreagain #denverdebate #csdebate

#csdebtate #denverdebate RT @gwbertsch: RT @kirstenpowers10: I’ll be interested to see how media spins this debate as an Obama win.

@60plusassc @BarackObama is quoting #AARP as a credible source again

Then is @BarackObama racist? #cdebate #denverdebate RT@EWErickson: I remember when the left told us “obamacare” was a racist code word.

#csdebate RT @JLorrig: True this: RT @daveweigel: This is like watching a tax law professor debate an investment advice infomercial host

@MittRomney “I just as soon not have the federal government telling me what kind of #healthcare to have.” #csdebate #denverdebate

@MittRomney “I believe in #competition.” #csdebate #denverdebate

@BarackObama is saying #profit like it is a #badword #csdebate#denverdebate

@MittRomney and @BarackObama agree “voters have clear choice on #medicaire” #csdebate #denverdebate

@BarackObama the master of the rhetorical #longpause. not having a #teleprompter will make you think #csdebate #denverdebate

@MittRomney “That’s just not the facts.” #csdebate #denverdebate

@MittRomney #DoddFrank wasn’t thought through properly#denverdebate #csdebate. he actually knows what the bill says.

Jim Leher seems to find warm and fuzzies by finding differences between the candidates #csdebate #denverdebate

@MittRomney fighting for #medicaire by repealing #obamacare.#csdebate #denverdebate @60PlusAssoc

@Jesse_c_estrada #MyWife just made me #peachcobbler to eat as I watch the #csdebate #denverdebate

@MittRomney the role of government is to promote the principles of the constitution and declaration.

“Mr. President, as president you are entitled to your own house and airplane, but not your own facts.” ~Mitt Romney

This was a great debate format. They actually debated.

Everyone including Bill Maher, Joe Trippi, Larry Sabato and others down on Obama’s performance.

I am watching Maddow and she is saying Romney really owned the format.

Maddow and Schultz-“President not properly prepared” “Wasn’t that the president’s job tonight?”

Watch MSNBC Schultz and Maddow are bashing on Obama they are mad at him for his performance. Other MSNBC table member saying Obama lost, and “if he could have gotten a draw they would have put this away.”

MSNBC Reporter asking O’Malley “If you had ten mins to prep Obama for next debate, what would you tell hi to do differently?” Not the kind of questions from someone happy about a big win.

When Matthews is furious with Obama you know Barack Obama didn’t do well.

Wedding Pictures

September 28th, 2012

Four weeks ago I married my best friend and the most amazing woman I know.  Since then we have had four busy fun filled weeks setting up our home, and learning to really make our lives one.  They have been four wonderful weeks, and I look forward to wonderful decades to come.  I want to take a moment to thank the many people who made our wedding possible, and everyone who came and celebrated with us.  We chose to focus on how God’s sacrificial love should be reflected in marriage as well as how our union in marriage is a beautiful reflection of the union we have as believers with Christ.  I am thankful that many who came said they could very much sense God’s presence at the ceremony, and I pray He will always be present in our lives and marriage.
But what you really want to see.  Pictures!

The first is a picture my Best Man, Stephen Williams, took as we are leaving the reception for our honeymoon.


The rest of the pictures are a few taken by our amazing photographer Laura Shanae Crenshaw.  She was fun and easy to work with. Someone who has great ideas and an understanding and eye for light. If you can book her, she is very much worth it.  You can also view our wedding album as she keeps adding to it as well.  For more photos you can also go to our wedding website.

My Beautiful Bride

Two Happy Newlyweds

Stunningly Beautiful Bridesmaids

My Amazing and Crazy Groomsmen

My Best Man and Myself

Family Picture

The Sin of Partiality: A Devotional

September 20th, 2012

Last Saturday I gave a devotional on The Sin of Partiality based off James 2:1-13.  The following is not a transcript of what I said, but just the outline and notes I used for my talk.  Some of the explanation that may be needed to flesh out the points are not written since I would just say it as I elaborated on the points.  As I lead other devotional groups and bible studies, I may post my notes periodically.

  1. The Seriousness of the Sin of Partiality
  2. The Reason why we should not show partiality.
  3. Application: Two Types of Partiality Condemned by Scripture

1. The Seriousness of the Sin of Partiality

Definition: Looking down on someone or treating someone as having less value.

Context: This is the first sin in James in a list of sins that the first chapter tells us to “put away” (v.21) and ways in which we must be “doers and not just hearers.” (v.22)  For some reason partiality was a sin that was a higher priority for James to address than the dangerous tongue which he discusses in depth in the next chapter.

Seriousness: James takes partiality much more seriously than probably most of us take it.  If most of us were making a list of sins, partiality probably wouldn’t make it on the list.  In v. 4 he says the person who does it “judges with evil thoughts” and in v. 6 he describes the partial person as “dishonoring the poor man.”

In our view of sin that includes “white lies” and “the seven deadly sins,” one would think showing partiality would barely make it to the status of a white lie.  However, in verse 8-11 James equates partiality with adultery or murder.

2. Reason for the Seriousness of Partiality

At a fundamental level, partiality denies the power of the cross.  The cross is the great leveler of humanity.  Without it we are all sinners, regardless of what we have done.  Only because of it are any of us redeemed.  Partiality is a way for humans to make themselves elevate themselves or others.  It does it by allowing us to create tiers of people who are holier than others, and tiers of people who are worse sinners than others.  When I claim to be more holy or righteous because of externalities than another believer, I am denying that it is only the cross that accomplishes this.  When I claim someone is a worse sinner for x reasons, I deny that God has saved me from the exact same place through the death of His son.  When we see each other for who we are in light of the cross, partiality becomes quite petty.

C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory made a powerful and poignant quote about who we are in light of eternity.

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…  It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”

If we truly see each other in this light, how can we show partiality to each other?

Closely related to this is that very simply, we have no justification for partiality.  We had nothing in us that warranted our salvation, yet Christ saved us.  Whatever we can think to hold against someone, God can hold much more against us.  He chooses continually not to.

3. Application: Two Types of Partiality in Scripture

A.  Partiality Based on Appearance or Title

This is the partiality specifically addressed in this passage.

  • rich v. poor
  • good clothes v. bad clothes

In a school setting or any other setting we should not show partiality based on the many socioeconomic reasons we contrive to divide ourselves.  Race, fashionable clothes, income, education, etc… Why you may be more inclined to be friends with people you are more similar to, there is no justification or reason to look down on someone for these kind of external reasons.

Tragically this occurs far too often in many churches.  How often have you seen someone get weird looks because they did not dress well enough for that churches standards, or when was the last time you saw someone being kept at a distance or avoided because they did not meet that churches standard of modesty?  We may not show partiality by bringing the person with the good clothes to the front of the room, but how often do our churches exclude whether directly or indirectly because someone isn’t dressed well enough?

B. Partiality Based on Sin

Jesus regularly interacted with tax collectors and sinners.  Tax collectors were the worst form of the greedy bureaucrat.  They were known as thieves and extortionists, and they were viewed as traitors who were agents of Rome’s effort to subjugate the Jews.  The word “sinners” is largely a euphemism for prostitute.  It could also refer to people who lived such generally evil lives that they were known by all to be living lives of sin.

Matthew 9:10-13 describes the conversion of Matthew/Levi and his subsequent eating and drinking with Matthew’s friends who are described as “tax collectors and sinners.”  This story is told in both Luke and Mark as well.

Matthew 11:19 it appears that Jesus was known by the people at large as “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”

Luke 15:1 Jesus tells the parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and Prodigal Son after “the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.”

These were the people who were attracted to Jesus and who he came to preach to.  Much like the pharisees did, it is far too easy for us to look down on and disassociate ourselves from someone because they are a “worse sinner” than we are.  Jesus would have none of that.  If a pastor spent his time with and ministering to cheats and sexually immoral people, would we be able to view him as following the pattern of Christ, or would we criticize him for “putting himself in the way of temptation” or for “not having enough hedges in place to guard against temptation?”  Do sinners at least think that they are welcome at our churches, or do they know they will be looked down on and judged instead of loved?  Jesus rebuked those who looked down on others as being worse sinners than ourselves.  Do we as modern Christians need to be similarly rebuked?

In closing, I read a post from another blog which I edited slightly.

“Now, if Jesus had fellowship with tax collectors and sinners in order to preach to them, the Pharisees would not have fussed. After all, who would have objected that tax collectors and sinners were forsaking their sinful lifestyle, making restitution, and seeking a life of righteousness? The Pharisees believed that God offered forgiveness when sinners repented. They could even rejoice that a wretched sinner saw the light and was converted from a life of debauchery.

But what infuriated the Pharisees was that Jesus was not explicitly or directly asking tax collectors and sinners to do any of this. Some of them no doubt did repent, such as Levi (Luke 5:28). But Jesus seems to have accepted them as they were and was freely having dinner with them without requiring that they first clean up their lives.

Of course, Jesus did have a message to proclaim to them. But his message was not, “Straighten up your life and keep the law.” Rather, his message was, “The kingdom of God is open to you; you are welcome to join.” By eating with them, he was extending to them the kingdom of God.

When we read about the protest of the Pharisees, we are quick to condemn them and to side with Jesus. But if Jesus were physically present in our world today, would we as church people be comfortable if he spent his time with cheats and swindlers, sexually deviant individuals, gays and lesbians? Would we not be infuriated if he constantly went to their dinner parties and didn’t come to ours?”

September 11: A Contrast in Leadership Between Two Presidents

September 12th, 2012

While some criticized President Bush for how he handled the September 11 tragedy as it was unfolding.  His immediate sense of the horror of the situation, and the necessity of a strong American response was clear from the start.  In his first public statement as the situation was still unfolding, he made it clear that “the full resources of the federal government” would be used to “conduct a full scale investigation and to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act.”  His handling of the situation made it clear to any terrorist that “Terrorism against the United States will not stand.”

Now eleven years later we awake to find that the American ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other embassy staff were killed in an attack on the eleventh anniversary of September 11.  This was a courageous man who died trying to evacuate staff from an endangered consulate.  He died showing the kind of heroism that moved our hearts during the tragedy of that dark day.  These men were killed by violent muslims who were protesting with gun shots and rocket-propelled grenades the fact that someone made a movie which the believed ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad.

Instead of any form of outrage, or commitment to making sure justice happened, President Obama issued one of his regular meaningless “strong condemnations.  While he say he directed an increase of embassy security, he has yet to direct any response to the attacks.  He also has the gall to remind us that the “United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.”  While we should not condemn every Muslim, those who perpetrate horrible acts of violence in the name of a religion must be condemned for what they do in the name of that religion.

Mr. President we are outraged.  An ambassador has died serving this nation, something which has always been interpreted as an act of war, and no justice will be sought?  Do you want this man to die in vain?  If not, when willl you do more than talk?  We have seen how effective strong condemnations have been against Iran and their militaristic nuclear ambitions, or against Palestine in stopping their attacks on Israel.  Muslims laugh at your “strong condemnations” because they are meaningless and display America’s weakness.  Teddy Roosevelt believed in a foreign policy where leaders “Walk softly, but carry a big stick.”  You in stead walk loudly, yet promise the world we will not use our sticks.

In condemning your response, Mitt Romney showed that he understands foreign policy better than your four years in office have taught you.  We should be outraged by such a senseless attack.  You should be shocked by your own weakness and refusal to respond.

While President Bush committed many mistakes, his great strength was the resolute and decisive way with which he dealt with terrorism.  While he was in office, terrorists new the president was their enemy.  With President Obama and his meaningless “strong condemnations” the world knows we will not stand up to terror.  This is the contrast in leadership which the 11th anniversary of September 11 has shown us.

Remembering Septemer 11

September 11th, 2012

I remarked to a couple friends that today marks one of the first anniversaries of September 11 on which many of the current  college freshmen would barely remember the events of that tragic day.  In previous years, 2009 and 2010, I have put together tributes based on some of the videos, speeches, and songs related to that day.  I wanted to take this moment to recall some of the memories of a young 11 year old from that day.  We began watching the news not long after the second plane hit the tower when my grandmother called to tell us what happened.

The scariest moment of the day was when the camera panned to the smoke at the pentagon.  My heart sank, and there was this fear, “Where will they hit next?”  The thing that confused me the most throughout the day was how America could let people grow so strong that they could launch such a devastating attack.  As a young child I was astounded by how quickly the commentators could identify that the attacks had to coordinated by Osama Bin Lade and Al Qaeda.  Why a superpower like America would let people in the middle of nowhere grow and organize till they could launch such a sophisticated attack made no sense at all.  One of the happiest moments was knowing my uncle and the many other friends we knew from New Jersey were all safe.  My uncle came into the second tower on the train shortly after the first tower was hit, and was immediately rushed outside.  I remember as well playing soccer that night.  Al Bedrosian was the head of our homeschool soccer league.  He decided we wouldn’t let the terrorists keep us from playing.  We played, and then we went back to being glued to our tv.

I remember countless stories of heroism by ordinary people.  I remember a nation who was no longer red and blue, but united as President Bush and Mayor Giuliani courageously lead us.  We were a nation brought together by suffering.  The bitter partisanship of Bush v. Gore was driven away.  Americans had been attacked, and we would do whatever we could to support the victims, and avenge the dead.

I remember how baseball united us.  When baseball returned, especially to New York City, normalcy and healing began.  While the attacks were not enough to bring the nation to rout for the New York Yankees in the World Series, a couple less people referred to them as the Evil Empire that year.  With the delay of baseball that year, Derek Jeter became known as Mr. November, and President Bush’s World Series opening pitch in New York City inspired a nation.

I remember the red American flag t-shirt with a bald eagle on it that I bought days before and how I treasured it for years.  I remember tracking every movement of our military operations in the newspaper and the radio.  I could tell you what happened at every one of the early military encounters at the time.  We were a different nation after that day.  The crash of the planes brought the nation face to face with the brutal face of terrorism.  For a young boy growing up this shaped how I viewed the world.  It woke me up from my naivete and showed me that there was evil in the world, and that we must stand up to it.

What do you remember?  How has it affected you?  Will you join me in making sure that those everyone remembers what happened on that day?

Here is a very good video tribute of news clips documenting the day.

Is Christianity All About Obeying Commands? Part I

September 7th, 2012

A couple years ago I was puzzled by how I could love God more.  I didn’t seem to have the deep vibrant love I heard others talk about.  I wanted it, so I set out to figure out how to achieve that.  Like I usually do when understanding what the Bible says about a topic, I did a word study and pulled together all the verses I could find on loving God.  In the course of that search I came upon John 14:15.  Nestled between a promise of great power, and the promise of the giving of the Holy Spirit is  captivating declaration from Jesus.  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  In that moment, I found the answer to my search.  I will demonstrate my love for God by finding and cataloging all the commands I can find in the Bible, and do my best to obey them.  I was quickly overwhelmed.  Not only are there a lot of commands in the Bible, but trying to keep them all is… impossible.  Yet again another effort to have a vibrant loving relationship with Christ was proved futile.

Tragically this mindset is encouraged by many Christians.  Not only are we told we must obey all the commands in the Bible, but if you are a truly Biblical Christian you will analyze principles in the Bible and derive new rules which must be obeyed as well.  Because truth is absolute, then if a way of living derived from the Bible is right for one person, then it must be true for everyone.  The logic is simple and therefore believable.  As a result, many things have become taboo for various Christians including drinking, dancing, and eating meat.  Many other things have been required of Christians: strict and comprehensive dress codes, all kinds of rules for what constitutes a “Biblical Courtship,” and enough rules on interactions between the sexes that a person has to constantly think whether what he says or does might be perceived as “immoral.”  Organizations have even been created to make sure Christians know and follow the many Biblical principles.  One of the best known examples is Bill Gothard’s Institute in Biblical Life Principles which was begun when he “wrote his master’s thesis at Wheaton Graduate School on a youth program that eventually led to seven Biblical, non-optional principles of life.”  Whether intended or not, the focus on obeying commands as central to Christianity makes it hard for many to see God as their loving Heavenly Father, and instead leads them to view Him as someone who is standing there waiting to punish them when they disobey, and will only bless them when His commands are obeyed.

Interestingly Jesus reserved His most fiery language for people who approached religion this way.  While Jesus enjoyed exposing the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, He also blasted the way they would derive commands from Biblical principles and require people to obey their commands to be good Jews.  Does this sound eerily familiar?  Jesus said people who do this, “Tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”  (Matthew 23:4)  In Matthew 12 Jesus exposes the problems with Jewish laws concerning the Sabbath.  Among other things, the Pharisees had rules against healing and plucking grain to eat on the Sabbath.  (Anyone familiar with modern commands against cooking, or eating out on the Sabbath?)  In an effort insure the Jews obeyed the 4th commandment, all kinds of rules were added on top of this command.  Jesus went out of his way to expose the Pharisees wrong approach which created these burdensome rules.  He ridicules the “experts in the law” at one point asking them “Have you not read in the Law…” (Matthew 12:5)  Essentially He tells them that their priorities are not His.  “If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”  (Matthew 12:7)  In verse 12 he accuses them of valuing their own sheep over the health of a sick man.  Shockingly, “The Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.”  (Matthew 12:14)

Towards the end of Matthew, in Chapter 23 Jesus goes after even more of the Pharisees rules using very strong language in the process.  Verses 16-22 contain His condemnation of their ridiculous rules about what forms of swearing were binding.  A few verses later He condemns their requirement that people tithe a tenth of every individual herb they grow. (Again this was a derivation of the command to tithe, but once a burdensome and ridiculous rule.)  As a result he calls them “blind guides” who “have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.”  (Matthew 23:23)  Immediately afterwards Jesus compares them to whitewashed tombs and cups which are clean on the outside but filthy inside.  Concluding, He says the pharisees “Outwardly appear righteous to others, but within are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”  (Matthew 23:28)

There are undeniably commands in the Bible which a Christian pursuing Christ should strive to follow.  However, burdening a Christian with commands, and especially with rules derived from Biblical principles has no place in Scripture.  This is the type of legalism practiced by the Pharisees which Jesus vehemently condemned.  In Part II I will explore what the Bible says about obeying commands.

Pat Robertson is “Just Wrong on Every Level”

August 17th, 2012

Pat Robertson joined Joe Biden this week as part of the “Old White Guys Saying Crazy things” Club.  Sadly what Pat Robertson said was much worse because it was a tragic distortion of the gospel.  The following video is a shocking response to a single woman who is raising three children she adopted internationally.

Instead of commending this woman for her love and compassion, he essentially belittles her, while still justifying that he believes in supporting orphans.  Because the background of internationally adopted children can be uncertain and can include “brain damage, sexual abuse, cruelty, and food deprivation” Pat Robertson believes people should be careful of adopting internationally.  He goes on to say “You don’t have to take on someone elses problems.” He concludes by saying that he believes in caring for orphans around the world, but “That doesn’t necessrily mean I have to take all the orphans around the world into my home.”

This negative view of adoption displays a tragic lack of understanding of the gospel and Christ’s work on the cross.  Because of the cross, and God’s great love and mercy every single Christian has been adopted into God’s family and are children of God, our heavenly Father.  God adopted into His family people who did things so horrific that He was forced to sacrifice His Son on the cross.  We rebelled against God and spat in His face, “but God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved… So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are members of the household of God.”  (Ephesians 2:4-5, 19)  One of the great beautiful truths of the gospel is that God brought all those He saved into His house as children, not grudgingly in anyway but welcoming them with open arms.  God loves us regardless of our past.  He is a “father to the fatherless.”  The “friend of tax collectors and sinners.”  He is the father of the rape victim, the abused, the poor and homeless, and even the brain damaged, starved, and those who are cruelly treated.  God loves us sacrificially and unconditionally, and this is the love Christians need to exude to the world because it is the love with which we have been loved.    Tragically Pat Robertson does not understand how central adoption is to the Christianity and the gospel and has distorted Christianity to the world as a result.

The heart of the gospel is that God adopted as His own children people who were worse than “weird,” people who rebelled directly against Him and whose sins required the crucifixion of His son, and people who have the most messed up lives ever. If the gospel and the cross don’t encourage and inspire someone to adopt or at least appreciate people who adopt needy children, then he clearly has a very twisted view of the gospel and what God has done.

When Christian leaders teach a twisted view of the gospel it is crucial that Christians stand up and respond.  While the silence was deafening during the Doug Wilson controversy, thankfully Christian leaders are very quickly responding in this instance.  One of the first to respond was Russell Moore whose response is well worth the read.  This is yet another time where Christians need to stand up and defend Christianity by saying unequivocably, “That man does not speak for us.”  To quote Pat Robertson’s cohost on the 700 Club, Pat Robertson’s comments were #JustWrongonEveryLevel. 

For more priceless Pat Robertson comments enjoy the following

Ryan Pick Creates Clear Policy Debate

August 16th, 2012

Under a week ago Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan as his running mate.  Immediately liberals tried attacking Paul Ryan as someone who is trying to eliminate medicare for seniors.  This has lead to something we have not yet had in this campaign.  The campaign is becoming a clear policy debate over a crucial policy proposal.  When holding a press conference to set the record straight on the difference between the Romney/Ryan and Obama/Biden approach to medicare Mitt Romney drew a very simple and easy to understand chart on a markerboard

Romney chart on differences in medicare policy

Black Conservatives Stand up to Joe Biden

August 15th, 2012

Yesterday in Danville, Va (?) Joe Biden used highly racially charged and offensive language as he mischaracterized Mitt Romney’s economic proposals.  Speaking with black people sitting right behind him, he said “They’re going to put y’all back in chains.”  This went far beyond any sense of decency or civility, and thankfully Virginia Black Conservatives are standing up.  They quickly issued a response to the Vice President which I have reposted below.

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OUR RESPONSE TO VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN’S COMMENTS YESTERDAY.

Members of the Virginia Black Conservatives Forum (VBC) are speaking out against recent remarks made by Vice President Biden, suggesting that Mitt Romney’s economic policies would “put [black people] back in chains.” The Vice President made his disparaging remarks yesterday at a rally in Danville, Va.

“Vice President Biden’s comments that a Republican White House would mean that blacks would end up in chains are incredibly offensive,” said Terrence Boulden, president of VBC. “The Vice President’s remarks are not a veiled reference to slavery, but are instead a very deliberate attempt to conjure up fearful images from a dark and unfortunate time in our great country’s history. Of course, no one could take the Vice President’s words for their literal meaning and that is why his words are so wrong. Such a cowardly attempt at fear mongering has no place in civilized discourse. Whether you are a member of the party of Frederick Douglass or not should not matter; what matters is that racism needs to be admonished every time it peeks its little cowardly head out of its hole in the dirt.”

“With black unemployment at its highest levels in recent history-thanks in part to the policies of the Obama/Biden administration, one would think it politically wise to steer clear of an argument that posits their administration as helpful to black Americans,” said Coby W. Dillard, founder of VBC. “The Romney/Ryan ticket presents an opportunity for both parties to have an intelligent conversation on the entitlement state and its negative impact on Americans of all races. True to form, however, the Obama/Biden administration prefers to engage in “attack and blame” politics than to present any meaningful solutions that will get Americans working, rein in our excessive spending, and renew the promise of equal opportunity for future generations.”

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Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia