Saturday, May 12, 2012

An Explanation and A Few Words on CCV

Thursday night, I was driving in my car listening to the Marc Amazon Show on WLW. Phil Burress, of Citizens for Community Values, was Marc’s guest and they were discussing the gay marriage issue. I tried repeatedly to get through on the phone line. (Later, I learned that this conversation took place earlier in the show and was being replayed.) When I got home, I posted on Facebook a comment I would have preferred to make on the radio. It created quite a firestorm. Because there were hundreds of public and private messages on Facebook, I have chosen to respond to all of them in this note.

First, let’s just get this out there. I don’t like CCV and many of the views they represent. It’s one thing for a preacher to stand in a pulpit and encourage his followers to live a moral life and follow certain behavioral guidelines. That is to be expected at church. But CCV exists primarily to influence legislation, using the heavy hand of government to force their religion’s behavioral mores on everyone else. As a Libertarian, I detest Democrats making legislation that perpetuates generational poverty and tries at every turn to circumvent the constitution. But I also detest Republicans, backed by powerful special interests like CCV, attempting to force their brand of morality on the rest of us. I have heard many preachers over the years say that you cannot legislate morality. Well, that is precisely what CCV attempts to do.

Having been inundated with support for Phil Burress, I am convinced that he is well loved by his friends and supporters. He’s is probably a decent guy and is definitely an excellent articulator of CCV’s positions.

However, my initial rancor was caused by Mr. Burress’ misrepresentation of his marriages on WLW. On Saturday, I went back and listed to the podcast to make sure I heard everything correctly. He implied, through a careful choice of words, that his marital failures had come before his life was turned around in the 1980’s. This is true of his first marriage. However, Mr. Burress second divorce occurred while he was in leadership at Citizens for Community Values. (I am almost sure he was President of the organization at the time of the divorce, but could not verify it.) As far as I know, he is currently married to his third wife.

I am divorced. It was a painful process and was quite simply the hardest thing I ever went through. I do not take pleasure in pointing out another man’s problems. My motivation in talking about this issue is simply to point out Phil Burress’ hypocrisy in his orations about “The Defense of Marriage Act” and his lobbying efforts to enact “covenant marriage” laws making it much more difficult for citizens to get a divorce. He wants to make it more difficult for the rest of us to do something that he himself has done twice. This is not widely known and it should be. One cannot set himself up as a moral authority while doing exactly the same thing he wants to prevent others from doing.

On Thursday night, I was shocked to hear Phil Burress depiction of gay Americans. As a supporter of free speech, I wholeheartedly support his right to make such statements. But his ramblings did not line up with the personal experiences of my gay and lesbian friends. I felt a need to come to their defense. My Facebook post was biting and probably a bit cruel. But that’s as close as I’ll come to making an apology. CCV’s views on homosexuality are based in the idea that it is a psychological disorder that can be changed. And this view is what angers me so.

Some of my gay friends have attempted suicide. It is interesting that all of those suicide attempts (and one successful suicide) occurred while or immediately after heavy influence by Christians attempting to “pray away the gay” in one way or another. The suicide of Oral Roberts’ son was a sad result of what happens when a family rejects a gay person on religious grounds.

Homosexuality is a complex thing. I think we are just beginning to understand it. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. However, I know some very loving and caring homosexuals, some of whom are excellent parents. I also know a couple of gay guys who are complete jerks. Gay Americans are a group with a vast diversity of political opinion, occupation, and even religious affiliation. They cannot be pigeon-holed as a homogenic group who all share the same characteristics. Mr. Burress assertion that they were all molested as children is one of the most offensive statements I’ve ever heard on WLW. Opinions like this give rise to violence against gays and discrimination in hiring and employment.

Obviously, I don’t think Phil Burress would ever be violent or encourage violence. But when the less-stable hear that the reason America is in decline is because we tolerate homosexuality, things like the Matthew Shepherd incident occur.

The church’s rigid refusal to come into the 21st Century on this issue is one of the reasons for a mass exodus by 20-40 year olds from religious affiliation. The church is almost always on the wrong side of history on social issues and this one is no exception. Mr. Burress presides over a constituency that is aging. The Republican politicians know this. There is increased uneasiness, especially among younger GOP officials, that their opposition to equality for gay Americans is one day going to be an albatross around their necks.

Phil Burress was right on Thursday. A majority of Americans oppose gay marriage. But CCV will never understand that our constitution protects us from the tyranny of the majority. At one time, a majority of those eligible to vote opposed allowing women to own land or vote. At one time, a majority of Americans opposed civil rights for blacks. At one time, a majority of Americans actually elected Jimmy Carter. Thankfully, we evolve as a society.

I doubt that Phil Burress will experience much social evolution, especially because of the hefty salary he rakes in from his political activities. We don’t know exactly how much Burress makes from CCV, but we do know that it is well north of six figures annually. (I won’t get started on preachers and directors of “non-profits” and their ridiculous salaries. That is another discussion altogether.)

Thankfully, CCV’s arc of influence has peaked. America is moving toward equality for all our citizens, even those who are different.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The End of the World Doctrine (And Why It Matters)

If Facebook keeps records of its most frequently “de-friended” people, I would probably rank pretty high. In the past twelve hours, I think I lost seven. There is no subject that embroils my passions more than discussions of the end of the world. Some of my friends privately asked me to explain some rather scathing remarks I made to a close friend in such a public forum. This is my attempt:

In almost every respect, my childhood was perfect. I had two parents who loved me, provided for me, educated me, and took time for me. I lived in a middle-class neighborhood where we never worried about crime. I really only had one worry. From my earliest memories, it was engrained in my mind that I would never reach adulthood. I was taught that I would probably not graduate from high school. I would not get married nor have kids of my own. Jesus was coming any day. And I had better be ready, or the consequences were dire.

I remember one horror-filled day when I was very young, probably around eight or so. My mother had taken me shopping at the Tri-County Mall Sears store. I wondered off while she looked through racks of dresses. When I returned, she was not in the same place and I panicked, sure that the rapture had taken place and I had been left. I broke into tears and went running through the store looking for my mother. I remember the relief of finally seeing her a few aisles from where she had been.

But this was not just one single experience. Many of my Pentecostal friends recall instances of fear that they had missed the rapture. I can recall making phone calls to a little old lady in our church, just to make sure she was still on earth. Our church provided almost no “assurance of salvation” as Calvinists might call it. We were taught about the cross and the blood of Jesus forgiving sin, but our behavior was the overriding factor in determining who went to heaven and who did not. Any deviating from the straight and narrow path put us in a position to be lost. This mentality became even more burdensome as we became teenage boys. Our hormones were raging and lust became the sin most likely to keep us earthbound in the event of the rapture.

These lyrics are from one of my favorite childhood songs:

Jesus is coming soon, morning or night or noon
Many will meet their doom, trumpets will sound
All of the dead shall rise, righteous meet in the skies
Going where no one dies, heavenward bound

We sang a lot of songs in church about the end of the world. In hindsight, it seems that most of those songs combined warnings about our duty to make sure we were ready for Christ’s return. At least in our church, the word “righteous” above had very little to do with Jesus atoning work on the cross and a lot to do with our behavior. Here’s another of my favorites:

I’m getting ready to leave this world
I’m getting ready for the gates of pearl
Keeping my record bright, watching both day and night
I’m getting ready to leave this world

Looking back on my childhood, most people would say I was a pretty good kid. I rarely got in any serious trouble and did okay in school. But “keeping my record bright” was a constant concern. The Grace Movement had not yet infiltrated the Pentecostal church. We were bombarded with “prophetic messages” and the “interpretation of tongues” in which the speaker, claiming to speak directly from God, warned us that “his coming was nigh, even at the door”. The fear was enough to keep most of us from straying too far from the “path of righteousness”. A good sermon about the rapture was always sure to pack the altar with people wanting to make sure they were ready.

Hal Lindsey wrote a preposterous book in 1979 called “The 1980’s, Countdown to Armageddon”. I was a senior in high school and it had not yet occurred to me that it was possible our church could be wrong on this issue. At that time, the bad guys in the Biblical books of Daniel and Revelation were the Soviets. The Godless Commies had nukes and appeared to be the infamous “Bear from the North”. Radical Islam was not yet a threat, so the fear mongers among us were unable to make the connections that seem so “obvious” in 2011. Hal Lindsey, Jack VanImpe, and Tim LaHaye are still raking in millions of dollars in book sales as they change the characters in the same tired drama. And LaHaye’s work is the most egregious, because it targets children and teenagers with this message of fear.

And this brings us to the reason I care so much about this issue: I am in general, a live-and-let-live kind of guy. I almost never engage in religious arguments with friends or on public forums like Facebook. You are free to believe what you will and hopefully your religious tenets bring your life meaning and motivation. But I cannot back down from this issue, as ugly and contentious as the arguments get. I stand amazed that so many of my childhood friends are exposing their children to the same doctrine, continuing the cycle of abuse.

Yes, I said “abuse”. Teaching your young children that they will not live to adulthood can bring about serious psychological problems. It did for me. At a very minimum, they will not be as prepared to succeed as adults as they need to be in a competitive global economy. Why strive for academic excellence if you are convinced that Jesus is coming so quickly? I urge my friends who are so upset with me to consider the damage they are doing to their children. If you believe this doctrine, obviously you consider it a disservice to your children to not warn them. If this is the case, I urge you to offer your children the assurance of their right-standing with God, not by their works, but by the work of Christ on the cross. Allow them to feel the confidence that God loves them in spite of their weakness and frailty as humans. And when they reach adulthood, their faith will not be challenged because they were not taught fearful things that did not come to pass.

I am now 50 years old. The children I thought I’d never have are both in college. Yet the fear-mongering continues within the church, but it need not be that way. I urge my friends to consider Daniel’s prophecy of the “70 weeks of years” in light of the events of 70 AD, when Titus sacked Jerusalem with the Roman army. I urge you to read Matthew 24 in the context of Jesus’ day and his earlier teaching about his death signifying the destruction of the temple. As a believer, you are free to believe Jesus’ words in verse 34. “This generation shall not pass till all these things are fulfilled.” You need not take the giant leap in logic required to believe the “gap theory” or the idea that the “fig tree” represents the Israeli people and their formation of their nation in 1948. There are great resources available on the internet to counter the indoctrination you have on this issue.

Let me close with a disclaimer. There are proponents of a view of church history called Preterism. A few of these people tend to oppose Israel with a subtle anti-semitic viewpoint. I just want to preemptively distance myself from this position. I am a big supporter of the nation of Israel, but not because I believe in their divine right to this land. I support freedom, women’s rights, and democracy all of which are embodied in Israel’s existence. The Jewish people survived the holocaust and I fully support their right to a homeland. Israel stands as a beacon of light in the middle of a dark, Islamic world. My support for Israel is political and practical, not religiously or prophetically motivated.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

49 Things I've Learned in My First 49 Years

Interesting Things I’ve Learned In My First 49 Years

1) Stuff works out.
I have spent way too many of my 49 years worrying about worst-case scenarios that never materialized.

2) There will always be poor people among us.
From Jesus (This is reinforced by the fact that people who watch Jerry Springer almost always produce more kids than those who watch The Discovery Channel.)

3) If you are buying coffee at 7:00 in the morning, it is okay to leave your keys in your unlocked car with the engine running. All the thieves are still sleeping.

4) A musician who masters the art of background vocals is much more likely to get meaningful gigs than one who does not.

5) Love enriches one’s life far more than material things.

6) The Religious Right crucified Jesus.
I first heard this said by a man who would eventually become General Overseer of the Church of God denomination. I was about forty before I realized he was right.

7) The “prayer in schools” debate is seen in an entirely different light when you get a few Muslim kids in your school district.

8) Except for financing a house, there is nothing worth going in debt over.

9) When pulling up to a drive-through car wash, roll your window down and stick your head out. You can see perfectly to align your tires with the metal tracks.

10) Everyone loves a good redemption story. If you screw up, just admit it and move on to the redemption phase. (Remember, the cover-up is what brought Nixon down.)

11) Be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.
From James, the Brother of Jesus (Brilliantly re-packaged as “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” by Stephen Covey)

12) Illegal aliens who work twelve hour days are not nearly as big a problem as people who suck the government tit and watch Judge Judy all day.

13) Macs are better than PC’s. (But PC’s and their software are way cheaper.)

14) When hearing statistics quoted, always ask who paid for the study.

15) Almost all Christians underestimate what happened at the cross.

16) The United States is going bankrupt. Accept the fact and prepare for it.

17) The internet could use a truth filter.

18) Making your house a welcome environment for your kids’ friends is far more important that always having a perfectly clean house. (You can buy new carpet when they go away to college.)

19) When trying to figure out someone’s motivation, follow the money first.

20) One can have major disagreements with his parents on a few issues and still feel like he won the parent lottery. (As hard as I try, I’m not sure my mom and dad will ever understand this.)

21) Several times on your way to becoming a professional musician, you will find yourself in the uncomfortable position of being in way over your head. (See #1.)

22) If there is one trustworthy person working on Wall Street, he is probably a cab driver.

23) A society without plumbers would be in nearly as much distress as one without doctors.

24) After being a husband and father, I am most fulfilled standing on a stage backing up Danny Frazier. (The picture in this post is me being fulfilled.)

25) I have a few friends who love me without conditions. (This makes me wealthy beyond measure.)

26) There are some intelligent, thoughtful, and kind atheists. There are also some intelligent, thoughtful, and kind Christians.

27) Sex with someone who knows what you like is always better than sex with someone who has no idea. (For some reason, men are programmed to believe the opposite.)

28) If your heart is kinder than your doctrine, check your doctrine.
From Michael Williams, my favorite Bible teacher

29) Sometimes, a second marriage can be happier than the first one. (Don’t read anything into that, Deb. I’ve just observed some of our friends.)

30) Raising good kids requires hard work, unconditional love, and luck.
I have seen some wonderful parents turn out some really bad kids. See #1.

31) There is no such thing as unbiased journalism.

32) God put hops on the earth for a reason.

33) Every man or woman who works deserves respect. Those who refuse to work deserve none. (I offer a pre-emptive shout-out to stay at home moms. Of course I know it is work.)

34) Government would have already taken back the bill of rights were it not for the second amendment.

35) Some wonderfully life-enriching things happen when a person reaches out to gay/lesbian acquaintances and simply says, “I think I might owe you an apology.”

36) Filling kids’ minds with fear and alarm is child abuse. (In other words, stop telling little kids about Global Warming or how they might be separated from their parents in an apocalyptic scenario.)

37) Mega-Churches will eventually return the church to meeting in houses, where it started. (The organizations become more important than the people who make up those organizations.)

38) The US desperately needs reporters who are willing to ask tough questions of the powers-that-be.

39) Your FaceBook friend list should have people on it who disagree with you on matters of politics and religion.

40) Viewing yourself as a victim is among the world’s most destructive forces.

41) Never fight a legal battle with someone who has lots of disposable income to spend on lawyers.

42) Don’t be afraid to ask out the hottest girl you have ever met. She might say yes. (Thanks Deb.)

43) You cannot choose your kids’ girlfriends/boyfriends.

44) If you ever get a record deal with a major label, remember that corporate politics is just as important as the music.

45) If you ever become a music director in a mega-church, remember that corporate politics is just as important as the music.

46) When the economy is bad, there are always musicians willing to part with good gear for pennies on the dollar on Craigslist.

47) Verizon sucks. But their network is awesome.

48) Everyone is now carrying around a phone that takes pictures and records video. Be on your best behavior at all times.

49) If someone has a Honda Accord for sale with 100,000 miles on it, buy it. It is just getting broken in.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Moving Beyond the Ten Commandments

“I believe in EIGHT of the Ten Commandments.” - Steve Martin, in his classic video, “What I Believe.”

Were you taught the Ten Commandments as a child? Unless you were raised as a religious Jew, I seriously doubt it. I was raised in church and went three or four times a week until I was in my twenties. Yet, I was never taught the Ten Commandments. I read them a few times while reading the entire Bible through. I heard preachers refer to them. I was taught a list of ten rules that were purported to be the Ten Commandments. But no one ever took the time to teach me the actual commandments.

If you were like me, someone taught you this list of rules in Sunday School.

1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.
5. Honor thy father and thy mother.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
10. Thou shalt not covet.

This list is purported by most Christians to be the Ten Commandments. In fact, you can buy tee shirts, yard signs, bumper stickers, and even a billboard with these rules. They even come with a proclamation that these ten rules are “America’s Moral Foundation”.

I find it odd that the same religious leaders who claim these “commandments” are the moral foundation of America also believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and should not be altered or edited to suit one’s agenda or personal beliefs. Yet they have edited the actual words handed down by Moses and inscribed in stone by God himself. That’s right! The ten rules that get evangelicals so exercised are not in the Bible at all, at least not in the form they claim. Why? Because there are some major problems with the original commandments. Society has evolved to a point where some of the wording is downright offensive, even to the most moral members of the Moral Majority. The scripture references are taken from the King James Version in Exodus Chapter 20.

Verses 1-3. And God spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

So far, so good. At a time when polytheism was dominant throughout the world, Y’WAY wanted to reinforce that He was the God to be worshipped and followed. It is amazing that “God spoke all these words”, yet many of the words are left out of what we teach our children.

Verses 4-6. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Don’t make any graven images? You mean like this one? (Click on the link to see a blatant violation of the Ten Commandments.)

Do not make unto thee any graven image or any likeness of any thing. Christians say that we are not to bow down to them or serve them. But this is not what the original commandment says. It says we are not to make any graven image or any likeness of any thing. This is why some sects of Judaism and Islam have such problems with paintings, sculpture, and photography. They are following the commandment as it was given. Christians say that as long as we don’t bow down to the image and worship it, we are not violating the commandment. This is just not so.

And then comes some very problematic wording directly from the commandment. God promises to visit the iniquity, or violation of the commandment, upon three or four generations of the descendants of the transgressor. Of course, most Christians disregard this wording altogether. (The ones that teach it as written are the psychopaths going around promising to remove generational curses and having their followers blame their parents and grandparents for all their problems. I won’t get started on this crazy, manipulative bunch.) In civilized society, we do not hold one accountable for his parent’s wrongdoing. We would consider this an injustice. If a man is highly in debt at his death, we do not pass that debt on to his children. If a man is a murderer, we do not also imprison his son or daughter. Yet, we worship a god who does this? How strange. Does this seem like the “foundation of America’s morality”? Thanks be to God, it is not.

Verse 7. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Christians vary widely in their interpretation of this commandment. Some say this means we are not to swear falsely by the Lord’s name. Others say we are not to use God’s name as a vulgarity or profanity. But the original understanding was that God was so awesome that his people were not to mention his name out loud. Even to this day, many Jews will write Yahweh as Y’weh or Y’wa to avoid even fully mentioning the name of God. I am not going to quibble about this one. I think the world might be a better place with less profanity. And I think a man’s oath should be his bond.

Verses 8-10. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

Do Christians have a Sabbath day? Seventh Day Adventists are correct that Saturday was the Sabbath. They still recognize and claim to honor this commandment. Most Christians have adopted Sunday as the traditional day of worship and rest. Yet almost no Christian groups enforce the traditional Jewish understanding of the Sabbath. In the wilderness, God supplied enough manna on Friday to feed the Jewish people for two days. This was because even going out and collecting manna was considered work and a violation of the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy. Most Christians have completely ignored this commandment as it was given.

Next, we come to the biggest problem with the commandments as given. God seems to imply that slavery is accepted as long as those manservants and maidservants do not labor on the Sabbath day. Did God endorse slavery? American southerners certainly argued that he did. Our history shows that verses like Genesis 20:10 were used to argue for the morality of a slave-owning society. Why? Because that’s what it says! Right there in the Ten Commandments, God says a man should not allow his slaves to work on the Sabbath. The Old Testament is replete with references to slavery and forced servitude. In other places, the Bible refers to “hired servants” or those receiving a wage for their work. But it is also clear that there was no prohibition against owning slaves.

Even the New Testament book of Philemon seems to endorse slavery as acceptable. The Apostle Paul asks Philemon to receive Onesimus, a runaway slave, back as a brother. Philemon, a slave owner, was called “our dearly beloved and fellow labourer” in the Bible, the supposed inerrant Word of God. Paul does not ask Philemon to free his slaves. Does this sound like the “moral foundation of America”? Many African Americans might agree that it does. Thankfully, American Christians, especially Quakers and Northern Baptists were steadfast in their opposition to slavery. And in opposition to the prevailing thought in the 1700’s, our founding documents proclaim all men to be created equal. This was in obvious contradiction to reform theology, or Calvinism, which taught that some men were created for God’s glory and others were created for God’s wrath.

The next commandment offers a promise to those who keep it. But the promise is only meant for the Hebrew people.

Verse 12. Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

This was a direct reference to the specific land given to Hebrew people by God. While honoring one’s father and mother seems to be a good thing, the promise of long life is only offered to those who live “upon the land” given by God to the Hebrew people. This is a clue that the commandments were given to the Hebrew people and not to everyone. In fact, the commandments were not given to everyone. They were given to Moses to help bring the people to the conclusion that they needed a savior. I will address this later.

The next four are important rules that have helped to shape western morality.

13. Thou shalt not kill.
14. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
15. Thou shalt not steal.
16. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

These rules are great guidelines, but adultery is not considered criminal anymore. It brings bad consequences, but no one has gone to prison for adultery in quite some time. And if bearing false witness was enforced as criminal, most of Congress would be serving hard time. This demonstrates how morality has evolved. As a society, we have decriminalized actions that would have resulted in death by stoning in Jesus’ time. There is a raving lunatic named Roy Moore who is running for Governor of Alabama. His claim to fame is that he fought to keep the Ten Commandments posted in his courtroom. But did he? No. He fought to keep the little edited version posted in his courtroom.

Our criminal code is not based on the Ten Commandments. If it were, the following things would be illegal and punishable in a court of law:

Worship of any god other than Yahweh (We would lock up Pagans, Hindus, Scientologists, and all others who worship another deity.)
The making of graven images or likenesses of anything and especially the worship of them (Do you think we have enough prison space to lock up all the artists and photographers? How about Catholics who incorporate images of the Virgin Mary or other icons in their worship?)
Working on Saturday
Speaking out against one’s parents who have abused or molested them
Sexuality outside of one’s marriage

These things may or may not violate someone’s personal morality, but they are no longer considered criminal. Thank God that these rules, in their original form, were not the basis for the laws that govern us today. Thank God that we universally view the Dred Scott Decision as one of America’s darkest moments. Thank God that Southern Baptists, whose denomination was formed out of a split with northerners over slavery, no longer use scripture to justify laws that deprived blacks of their basic rights as human beings.

(For those who question why I would bring up the Dred Scott case, I suggest you read the whole text of the court’s majority opinion. It thoroughly demonstrates that many of the original colonial and state laws endorsed slavery and used Christianity in support of the opinion that blacks were vastly inferior to whites. Even in states where slavery was illegal, blacks and mixed race persons were bound by laws not affecting whites. The Dred Scott Decision is the most disgusting legal document in our history. Yet it opens our eyes to the way many of our founders viewed Africans. And much of that opinion was based in the prevailing Christian opinions of the time. It can be found here.)

So am I a left-wing hater of all things American? On the contrary, I believe the United States is the greatest country ever created. We overcame the prevailing prejudices our forefathers brought from other parts of the world. Our freedom of speech and the press helped change opinions rooted in ignorance.

This brings us to the final commandment.

Verse 17. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

Anyone who has spent much time in church knows of a minister who was removed from his position for committing adultery. But does anyone know of a minister who was removed from his church for thinking about committing adultery? But if we truly believe we are to follow the Ten Commandments as originally given, thousands of ministers should be honest and resign their positions instantly.

Jesus was the last, and greatest, teacher of Moses’ Law. Jesus taught the law as it was given, not as it was edited. Jesus taught the parts of the law that the Pharisees overlooked so they could appear righteous. Simply put, the law was harsh. And Jesus taught it that way. He said this in Matthew, Chapter 5:

Verses 27-30. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

Jesus’ teaching was intended to remind us that no flesh is justified by the Law. The Law of Moses was our harsh schoolmaster, showing us our inability to measure up and our need for a savior. Was Jesus hopeful that his followers would heed his words and begin hacking off their extremities and pulling eyeballs from their sockets? No. Jesus was teaching the law in its comfortless reality. He uses the last commandment to show us the futility of trying to please God in the flesh. We place emphasis on the act of committing adultery. But Jesus said that if we even think about it, we are found guilty in God’s sight. Who can measure up to such a standard? I will admit that I cannot.

There was a reason the Ten Commandments were given in stone. That was because we were not supposed to edit them. So why do Christians get bent out of shape when secularists try to remove their little edited list of rules from a courthouse wall? The little edited list is not the Ten Commandments. It is a little edited list of rules and nothing more. And the little edited list is not even our list. The Ten Commandments were given to the Hebrew people. They were not given to us. How do Christians miss this point?

It is time for Christians to move on from the glory that faded to the glorious liberty we have been given in Christ. Moses put a veil over his face to hide the fact that the glory of the law faded away. But we still blindly seek to please God through the keeping of the law. Even worse, we condemn others who don’t follow our little edited list and further alienate them from the one who came to fulfill the law. Our ministry is supposed to be one of reconciliation. But we have traded it for a ministry of condemnation.

Paul said that when Moses is read, a veil appears over the heart. As Christians, it is inexcusable for us to read Moses’ Law to unbelieving people and expect that they follow it. Our job is to remove the veil, not to continue placing it on the unbeliever’s heart by insisting they measure up to our little edited list. I am no longer ashamed to say that I have moved on from the faded glory of the Ten Commandments into the freedom and liberty given at the cross by Jesus. Get over the Ten Commandments. They are not ours. Some of them are no longer relevant. Some are even offensive.

Grace and peace.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Thoughts on Adam's Graduation Day

Adam graduated from Kings High School today at the Cintas Center on the campus of Xavier University. Earlier this morning, we attended the funeral of my friend, Tony Glass, about two hundred yards away in Xavier’s Belermine Chapel. It has been both a difficult and wonderful day. I cried more today than I have in the past year. I learned that my friend of twenty-five years was awarded the bronze star for bravery in combat in Vietnam. He had never told us. Five hours later, I watched young men receive diplomas who I coached as tee ball players.

I felt an empty feeling because one of Adam’s friends did not graduate with his class. He is a kid that I really like who had a little trouble with the law. He should receive a diploma in August after completing a couple of online courses. I cried when Brandon Berman accompanied a soloist on guitar. He is a brilliant Jewish kid who, at sixteen, engaged me in an enlightening conversation about Frederich Nietchze. I advised him to postpone Nietchze and chase girls. Brandon plays music with Adam and I think he has all the tools to be a very special songwriter. I cried when they read a list of young men already enlisted in the armed services. The entire crowd, including the graduates, gave a long, standing ovation to these seven young men. One of them, Brandon Hayes, is one of Adam’s good friends.

We saw Adam’s beautiful girlfriend, Jenny, receive her diploma. She is going to study nursing at the University of Kentucky. We screamed loudly for Adam’s best friend, Javier Fransisco Cordero, as he walked across the stage. Javier is like a second son to me. His father is an executive with Procter and Gamble who was transferred to Cincinnati from Mexico City when the boys were in fifth grade. They are nearly inseparable. Javier speaks Spanish and English without the trace of an accent. And he is fluent in French. He will study international business at Kent State and something tells me he might run P & G someday.

There is something very special about Kings High School. It is a wonderful learning environment that feels like a family. Both Sarah and Adam blossomed there. Kings just might be the area’s best kept secret. It feels like a small school, but offers the opportunities of a larger high school. The sports, music, and drama programs are top notch. They stress math and science and nearly every freshman passes the Ohio graduation test on the first try. It seems like most of the kids are bright, polite, adventurous, and optimistic. Adam and Sarah attended kindergarten through twelfth grade at Kings. Many of their elementary teachers attended today’s graduation and sought out the graduates they taught years before. Mrs. Weed grabbed Adam and gave him a big hug.

Kings lost a very special principal during Adam’s freshman year. Mr. Higgins was loved by the student body and his untimely death brought the school together. Mr. Mader has stepped in and done a wonderful job. The teaching staff is a highly dedicated group that brought out the best in my kids. Sarah is a pre-med student at the University of Cincinnati. Adam has been accepted into the engineering program at Ohio University, in Athens. We feel that their high school education is nearly on par with the top private schools in the area.

As we stood outside the Cintas Center after the graduation, I remarked to one of the parents that I regretted that Nick Kurtz did not graduate with this class. Nick played sports with Adam and attended Kings from kindergarten through his junior year, when the family moved to Columbus. Just then, I heard someone say, “Mr. Amburgy, I’m right here.” Nick was standing right behind me. He drove down to see all his friends graduate. It was a wonderful coincidence. It was a wonderful day.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

1st Adam versus Last Adam

My friend Tom was a preacher's kid in the same denomination I grew up in. Last week we both tried to remember if we had ever heard anyone refer to Jesus as the Last Adam. Neither one of us could remember ever hearing this mentioned, even out of context. The reason this is so amazing is that we have more than fifty years of combined church attendance in our former denomination. And we went to church services at least 3 times each week and went to Sunday School once a week. We went to countless revivals, campmeetings, and church camps and we attended Bible School every summer. Yet in a very minimum of 10,000 meetings, the two of us never heard anything about Paul's comparison of Jesus to Adam.

There is a very good reason for this. Evangelical Christianity simply cannot justify their doctrine with Paul's teaching on this subject. Paul taught that Adam sinned and brought death to the entire human race. Of course, anyone steeped in Evangelical doctrine certainly understands and believes this half of the equation. But Paul also called Jesus the Last Adam and emphatically proclaimed that his sacrificial death and resurrection resulted in the eradication of Adam's transgression and the redemption of all mankind. In fact, Paul boldly wrote that Jesus accomplishments far outweighed Adam's disobedience.

Evangelical Christianity teaches that all men are fallen because of Adam's sin. And while Jesus helped out a little bit by dying on a cross, man's redemption is still largely up to each individual man. He must accept by faith what Jesus did, repent of his sins, and then strive to live in such a way that will result in his being saved. To Evangelicals, Jesus becomes a "personal savior" providing the believer does all the right things and continues to perform works consistent with that church's requirements for salvation. (It should be noted here that almost all Evangelical churches claim that we are saved by grace apart from works. However, I have never actually been to any church that does not at least preach some works required for salvation.)

At this point, I ask you to click the links and read the entire 5th Chapter of Romans and First Corinthians 15:20-28.

In studying the First/Last Adam comparison, the church is quick to accept the work of the First Adam, plunging all men into a state of sin regardless of his individual level of righteousness or unrighteousness. This is nearly universally accepted throughout Christianity. The church cannot however, accept that the last Adam may have eradicated the result of the first Adam without man's help. You cannot say that Adam's disobedience brought death to all and also say that Jesus' sacrifice just gave some men an opportunity. If this is what you believe, then Adam wins the comparison over Jesus hands down.

Romans 5: 12-21 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: Notice the parenthesis. (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification. For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) End of parenthesis. Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

My research indicates that Charles Spurgeon was probably the culprit who made popular the phrase, "Where sin doth abound, grace doth much more abound." He changed the tense of the word from abounded to doth abound and reinforced the evangelical doctrine that sin is still abounding in the world. His conclusion was that sin was everywhere and God's grace was just existent in small pockets throughout the world. In other words, Adam's sin was far more powerful than Jesus' sacrifice.

But Paul shows us abounding grace that overpowered man's sin. And this occurred at the cross, not when a man accepts that grace through his actions. The result of Jesus' obedience, as the Last Adam, greatly exceeded the result of the First Adam's disobedience. If it did not, then we should sing worship songs to Adam and call ourselves Adamites. Thankfully, this is not the case.

I Timothy 4:10 says "For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe."

Fathers Day Letter to My Dad

June 15, 2008

Dear Dad,

The older I get, the more I realize how wonderful it was to have you as my father. As a little boy, I did not realize that there were fathers who did not have anything to do with their sons or their sons’ mothers. I never knew there were fathers who did not get up and put in a hard day’s work so their family always had food and shelter. I did not know there were fathers who verbally and sexually abused their children. I did not know there were fathers who routinely beat their sons and told them they would never amount to anything.

I had no idea there were fathers who ran around on their wives and put their families in jeopardy. I did not know there were fathers who, by example, taught their sons to lie, to cheat, and to steal. Later in life, I realized there were fathers who knew nothing about God and who cared very little about morality and always trying to do the right thing.

I did not know there were fathers who had no backbone and would not speak the truth when everyone else was afraid to. I did not realize there were fathers who were ungrateful to live in the world’s greatest country and neglected to teach their sons patriotism. I did not realize there were fathers who gave their sons everything and never instilled a proper work ethic that allowed them to succeed in life.

I took it for granted that fathers who discovered their sons had a little musical talent automatically bought them expensive instruments and made sure they got proper instruction. I thought all fathers encouraged their sons to take risks and follow their heart. I did not understand that all fathers do not model how to be good husbands and create a peaceful, happy home for their kids.

I did not realize there were fathers who lived only for themselves, never sacrificing for the good of their friends and family. I thought all fathers quietly gave money to poor people and expected nothing from them in return. I thought all fathers taught their sons that forgiveness is essential to happiness, even when you are severely wronged.

As I grew older, I came to realize that there are a lot of bad fathers in the world. The years have taught me that I had one of the best. You probably look back and think of things you might have done differently. I am sure you made some parenting mistakes. But I don’t remember them. The good far outweighed any mistakes you made. You taught me how to be a good father to my kids, how to love my wife, and how to put my family first. I am proud of the job I have done as a father. And I learned how to do it from you. Thanks.

Love Always,