Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sowell on Health Care

Thomas Sowell has some good thoughts here on the current debate over health care.

What About Playing the Lottery?

What is the Scriptural basis for some Christians believing that the lottery is sinful? And, is it in fact a sin to play the lottery and gamble?

The subject of gambling is not specifically addressed in Scripture, so we can’t turn to a verse in the Bible that says, “Thou shalt not gamble,” or “Blessed are those who bet”! But there are many passages in the Bible that give us general principles of righteous behavior that shed light on the subject.

For instance, there are quite a number of passages that speak of our duty to be responsible stewards of the resources God has entrusted to us. The parable of the Prodigal Son comes to mind here (Luke 15:11-32). The prodigal son is condemned precisely because of his prodigality (i.e., reckless wastefulness). The Bible says he “squandered his estate with loose living.” When he “came to his senses,” he confessed to his father, “I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight.” His wastefulness was a sin.

This certainly discourages gambling, for there is always a high risk of losing money when you gamble. Any money used to gamble, therefore, must be money that can afford to be lost (because it probably will be), and it ought to be money that could not be put to a better use (and it’s not hard to find a better use!)

Remember that with many forms of gambling, especially casino gambling, the odds are purposely stacked against you. Casinos make money when you lose money. They are hoping you lose. They are planning for you to lose. Their whole set-up is designed for most people to lose most of the time. Otherwise they would go out of business. It’s true, there are occasional winners, but only enough to entice people to continue to throw away their money. The vast majority of people who visit a casino lose money (many lose lots of it!). A few break even. It is a rare person that ever makes money.

Under most circumstances, it’s difficult to reconcile gambling with responsible Christian stewardship.

But is gambling sinful per se? There are some forms that are clearly sinful, others that are clearly not, and still others in which it is somewhat difficult to tell.

Under the heading of those forms that are clearly sinful we would have to place compulsive gambling, gambling with borrowed money, or money needed to pay for the basic needs of one’s family (rent, groceries, utilities, etc.), or money owed to God in the tithe.

Under the heading of those forms of gambling that are clearly not sinful per se we’d have to include such things as raffles, low ante bingo games, or a friendly wager on a golf game: “If I win you buy me a soda; if you win I’ll buy you one.”

Recreation is a lawful human activity, provided it is done in moderation. Gambling may be a legitimate form of recreation. What’s the difference, really, if one person spends ten dollars on a slot machine, and another spends ten dollars in a video arcade? Each is plugging quarters into a machine for recreation. The problem comes when the time and money spent, is time and money that cannot afford to be spent. This is true whatever our recreations might be.

Recreation is a gift of God; but like all His gifts it can be corrupted by our sinful hearts. There are temptations to sin with all forms of recreation, but the gambler is susceptible to a particularly ensnaring sin—the love of money. A lawful and innocent hope of gain can easily be transformed into a monstrous obsession. “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Tim. 6:10). We must not think too much of our strength to resist this temptation. The love of money is an insidious evil. It makes us do all kinds of very foolish things—like being overly optimistic that we can beat the odds that are stacked against us.

It would be a very difficult thing to try to justify the operation of a casino as an honorable profession, because in promoting themselves, casinos fill would-be customers with unrealistic hopes of winning. Their promotional advertisements are built on lies. When Kansas first came out with a state-run lottery, the slogan was, “Someone’s always winning!” But truth in advertising would require them to say, “Thousands are always losing!” The fact that so many people play the lottery and really hope to win big, gives credence to the old adage that a fool and his money are soon parted.

The Seventh Commandment

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Let us examine ourselves this morning in light of the seventh commandment, which is: “You shall not commit adultery.”

Adultery is a violation of the covenant of marriage, either one’s own, or someone else’s, or both. It is one of several different kinds of sexual sin, and its prohibition in the Ten Commandments ought to be understood as a prohibition of every kind of sexual sin: not only adultery, but fornication (which is pre-marital sex), and homosexuality, and every other kind of intimate relation other than between a lawful husband and wife.

But the commandment goes further than simply forbidding illicit sexual acts. It forbids everything that leads to or accompanies them.

It forbids all immodesty in talk, dress, and behavior. It forbids flirting with anyone other than one’s spouse. It forbids forming emotional attachments with anyone other than one’s own spouse. It forbids fantasizing about being with someone other than one’s own spouse. It forbids lustful thoughts. And of course it forbids all use of pornography.

Jesus shows us something of the scope of the commandment when he says in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28).

Now more than ever, it seems, we must take these words to heart, and stand very careful watch. We live in the midst of an ever increasingly sex-obsessed culture. We live in a time when marriage vows are lightly made and easily broken, and no one seems to care. We live in a time when sex is no longer an exclusive expression of loving commitment between a husband and wife but simply a cheap and casual form of recreation. And we are paying a staggering cultural price for it.

Solomon said a long time ago, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23). In other words, guard your heart! Don’t allow yourself any thought, feeling, or affection that would lead to any kind of sexual impurity.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Sixth Commandment

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Let us examine ourselves today in light of the sixth commandment. The sixth commandment is, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13). It sounds simple enough, and we are all, I’m sure, quite satisfied that we have never violated it. But the Psalmist says that God’s commandments are “exceedingly broad” (Ps. 119:96). That is, they have a very wide application. Jesus shows us how wide in the Sermon on the Mount when he says,
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the fire of hell” (Matt. 5:21-22).
He shows us what we should have already known. The commandments not only deal with the behavior of the body but with the behavior of the heart as well. The sixth commandment not only deals with the act of murder itself, but also with every inward thought, intention, and motivation that might lead to the act, might be precursors to the act, even if the act is never committed. Jesus specifically mentions anger (and from other passages we know he has in mind unjustified anger; or justified anger that exceeds proper limits). St. John mentions hatred. He says, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 Jn. 3:15).

We may summarize God’s will for us in the sixth commandment by saying that we are not to act unlawfully against our own or our neighbor’s health, life, or well-being by any willful or negligent behavior, nor harbor any malice in our hearts toward anyone

And so let me ask you: have you committed murder in thought, word, or deed? That is, have you spoken or acted violently toward anyone? Have you struck anyone? Have you wished harm or death to anyone? Do you harbor hatred or malice in your heart toward anyone? Do you endanger people by negligent or reckless behavior (careless driving; work situations)?

Have you committed character assassination by slandering anyone, saying what is false about him or her? Or by saying what is true, exposing someone’s true faults when there is no need to speak of them?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Do Real Christians Ever Sin?

In 1 John 3:6, the Bible says, “No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.” Explain how this verse can be true when all of us who are Christians do continue to sin after becoming Christians.

It’s important, especially for tender consciences, to understand that the apostle. John is not saying that a true Christian never sins, and that if someone does sin it’s proof that he is not a Christian.

What he is saying is that those who have been born of God have, in principle, broken away from their old sinful ways and have begun a new life of righteousness. There is a change in their relationship to sin. Those in whom such a change is not evident show that they have not been born of God. They continue in sin the same as ever.

In verse six, the verb “sins” in both instances is in the present tense. The same is true of “commits sin” in verse 9. The idea is that those who have been regenerated (i.e., born again) by the power of the Holy Spirit do not, and indeed, cannot make a practice of sinning because something of God’s divine nature has been imparted to them (2 Pet. 1:4). God’s “seed” abides in them. They are no longer merely “natural” people (1 Cor. 2:14) who are “devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 19), and therefore do not belong to Christ (Rom. 8:9). They are instead “spiritual” (1 Cor. 2:15) and will therefore inevitably begin to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). It’s not possible for them to remain the same as they were before. They will begin to exhibit the marks of having been “born of God.”

Some translations attempt to bring out the significance of the present tense here by rendering verse six something like, “No one who abides in him continues to sin” (NIV), or “keeps on sinning” (ESV). His point is that those who have been born of God do not make sin a way of life – rather, they aspire after holiness; they desire to live righteously; and by God’s grace they make progress toward that goal.

Troubled as we are by the effects of the Fall, however, we can never in this life perfectly attain to the standard of righteousness set forth in Scripture. Nevertheless there is a very marked difference in the character of life between the one who has been born of God and the one who hasn’t.

In context, St. John is explaining how “the children of God” and “the children of the devil” are made “evident” (v. 10). The children of the devil do not practice righteousness; they keep on sinning, the same as ever. It’s their way of life. On the other hand, the children of God do not continue in their old sinful way of life, but begin a new life of obedience. It’s imperfect. It grows by fits and starts. Sometimes it seems that they take three steps forward and two steps back; but at least they’re one step ahead of where they were—a change is evident and progress is being made.

St. John is saying that the lives of those who have never tasted of God’s saving mercy are characterized by regular and persistent disobedience; whereas the lives of those who have been born of God are characterized by growth in grace and holiness.

We ought always to thank God that our salvation consists of deliverance from both the guilt of sin and from its power. Amen!

Is Obama the Antichrist?

Do you think Barack Obama is the Antichrist?

The short answer is, “No.”

The more detailed answer involves examining the assumptions behind the question. The question assumes a particular eschatology, that is to say, a particular view of Bible prophecy and the end times—a view which I think is fundamentally in error.

The common view, popularized by men like Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye (in his Left Behind series) is that there is coming a world ruler who will be a kind of counterfeit Christ. They take the prefix anti to mean “in the place of,” so that the antichrist is a pseudo-Christ, a false Christ, a counterfeit Christ.

They teach that he will be the leader of a revived Roman Empire, or at least over a confederation of nations that currently take up the territory of the old Roman Empire. Supposedly this figure will suffer a mortal wound but will miraculously recover; or that he will die and be resurrected, mimicking the resurrection of Christ. He will have the power to perform signs and wonders. He will exercise a world-wide tyranny, by requiring people to worship him, or to worship an image of his likeness. This will consist in part of having a computer chip imbedded under the skin with the number of his name, the dreaded 666. Although initially making peace with Israel, he will end up breaking his treaty and seek to annihilate the Jews. This will lead to the battle of Armageddon when Christ returns to save Israel.

There are a number of problems with all of this, however. In the first place, the Bible doesn’t speak of “the antichrist,” as if there is just one. Rather, it speaks of antichrists…in the plural. There is not one, but many antichrists.
“You have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come” (1 Jn. 2:18).

Notice two things: the use of the plural (antichrists); and the time frame (they had already come in John’s day).

Who is he talking about? He tells us in the following verses.
Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son” (1 Jn. 2:22)

He is talking about those who teach what is false about Jesus Christ, specifically those who deny that he is the Christ, as he makes clear in 4:3.
“Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard was coming and now is in the world already” (1 Jn. 4:3)

Then 2 John 7 he says,
“Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.”

He is speaking about those (and there were many) who denied that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and those who denied his divinity. These, he says, are antichrists.

So the first problem with the commonly accepted view is that the Bible doesn’t speak of just one, but of many antichrists.

Second, the view takes elements from several different passages, speaking of several different individuals and rolls them all into one. The view takes passages from the book of Daniel, which prophetically speak of Antiochus Epiphanes, a Syrian ruler who persecuted the Jews nearly two centuries before Christ; and passages from the book of Revelation, which speak of the Roman Emperor Nero, who persecuted the early church in the first century; and then these passages from John’s epistles that speak of religious leaders who denied Jesus’ deity and his office as the Messiah—and puts them all together to form one composite figure. But the passages don’t go together. They’re not speaking of the same person.

The third problem with the common view is the time element. The passages are not speaking about figures who are yet to appear, but about those who have already come and gone.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Fourth Commandment

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Let us examine ourselves this morning in light of what God commands us in the Fourth Commandment:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy (Ex. 20:8-11, NASB).

God requires us to set aside the Lord’s Day. This is what it means to keep the day holy. The basic meaning of the word “holy” is “set apart.” The Sabbath—or in the Christian era, the Lord’s Day—is to be set apart from all other days. It is to be treated differently than other days. How so? By what we do on the day.

There are two things, specifically, that are required of us. The first is obvious from the commandment itself. It is to be a day of rest. We are to cease from all unnecessary labor, especially profit-making activity. We are to sit back and relax and take things easy.

Elsewhere, the Lord tells us that there is to be a holy convocation, that is, a gathering of his people before him, on the Sabbath (Lev. 23:3). We are to gather to worship him each Lord’s Day.

And so let me ask you: Have you kept the Lord’s Day holy? Do you make it a practice to refrain from all unnecessary work? Do you make it a practice to refrain from activities that require others to perform unnecessary work on the Lord’s Day? Are you regular in your attendance in church? Have you skipped church for light and trivial reasons?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Ask the Pastor Questions

How was the earth populated after Adam and Eve had their kids? Who did they mate with? Did God create other people?

This is a question that frequently comes up. Usually it’s framed something like this, “Where did Cain get his wife.” In Genesis 4 the Bible tells us about the birth of Cain and Abel. And it tells us about how Cain murdered his brother, and how God banished Cain, who went and settled in the land of Nod. And then—seemingly out of nowhere—it says, “Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch” (Gen. 4:17). And people think, “Whoa! Wait a minute! Where did she come from?” There is no prior mention of any other woman besides Eve.

Critics of the faith often say this is a contradiction that disproves the Bible. Christians have sometimes wondered if maybe God had created some other people besides Adam and Eve.

But the Bible is very clear (and speaks about this in one way or another in several places) that Adam was the first man and Eve the first woman and that everyone who has ever lived is descended from them (Gen. 2:20; 3:20; Acts 17:26; Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:45).

And if this is so, then Cain must have married one of his sisters. In Genesis 5:4 it says “The days of Adam after he fathered Seth were 800 years; and he had other sons and daughters.” He had other children besides the three sons who are specifically mentioned (Cain, Abel, and Seth), and he had daughters as well. It was one of these daughters of Adam and Eve that Cain married.

It was necessary in the first few generations for close relatives to marry, though this was later forbidden in the law of Moses (Lev. 18-20).

How do you feel about the economic crisis? Do you think it will result in another major depression? How should we prepare for it?

Obviously the crisis is very real and quite serious; but the troubling thing to me is the fact that it was largely due to government policies in manipulating the financial markets that led to the crisis in the first place. And now they’re seeking to do more of the same. It’s like trying to put out a fire by pouring gasoline on it. So I think situation’s likely to get worse before it gets better.

The best economists believe that the Great Depression wouldn’t have been so great—which is to say it wouldn’t have been so deep, nor lasted so long—had the government just stayed out of it and not tried to solve it. I think there can be little doubt that FDR’s New Deal made matters worse and unnecessarily prolonged what would have been a temporary market correction. It turned what might have been a one and a half to two year down turn into a 10 year disaster. It looks to me like we’re making some of the same mistakes again. I think the Fed’s monetary policies are going to destroy the dollar in the next couple of years and we’re going to see massive inflation.

Will this crisis eventually become result in another major depression? I’m not able to say; but government action at this point doesn’t bode will for the future.

Another concern we should have is the way in which the economic downturn is being used to justify a further expansion of federal power. It is often the case that politicians exploit a crisis situation or a perceived crisis situation in order to justify a grab of power for themselves. In times of crisis people are more willing to cede power to the government—to trade liberty for security.

How to prepare? Well specifics depend on your own particular situation. But certainly for most people it’s advisable to get out of debt as quickly as possible, especially credit card debt, and begin to live within your means.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Third Commandment

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Let us examine ourselves this morning in light of the Third Commandment:

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes his name in vain (Exodus 20:7).
The commandment has to do with using the Lord’s name in an oath or vow; not that doing so is sinful in itself. There are occasions when swearing an oath or taking a vow in the name of the Lord is appropriate and necessary (marriage vows, oath of office, giving testimony in a court of law, etc.).

What the commandment forbids is using his name in this way in vain—meaning using his name to deceive, that is, using his name when swearing an oath or taking a vow in order to give credibility to your statements, when in fact you have no intention of following through.

The breaking of any vow is a very serious matter. All the more so when the vow was made in the name of God.

But the implications of the commandment are very far reaching and extend far beyond swearing oaths and making vows. As the catechism says, the third commandment requires of us that we make only a holy and reverent use of God’s names, titles, attributes, ordinances, words, and works. In other words, we are to treat everything having to do with God with the utmost reverence. We are not to use his name, or the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, as a curse word; or even as a mere exclamation. How many times do you hear people say things like, “O my God!”? We should not speak of him or to him in a casual or flippant manner.

And so how is it with you? Are you careful to honor the Lord in the way you speak of him? In the way you speak to him? Have you misused the name of the Lord? Have you taken the name of God in vain? Have you spoken disrespectfully of the faith?

What's Wrong with Socialism?

Why are so many Christians opposed to socialism if socialism is designed to help the poor? Aren’t Christians supposed to care for the poor?

Public policy ought to be evaluated not on the basis of intentions, but on the basis of effects. The intention of socialism is a noble one, but its effects are disastrous.

There are at least three reasons why we ought to oppose socialism.

First, it’s unconstitutional. Second, it’s immoral. And third it ends up hurting the very people it’s supposed to help.

First, socialism is unconstitutional. There’s nothing in the Constitution that grants the federal government the authority to take wealth from one segment of the population and give it to another.

And if the Constitution doesn’t authorize an activity the federal government is not to be engaged in it. This is Constitutional law 101. And if this one basic principle were observed, then the size, scope, and activity of the federal government would be greatly reduced, resulting in greater national prosperity and greater personal liberty.

So the first problem is that socialism is unconstitutional.

Second, socialism is immoral. It’s nothing less than state-sponsored theft. This is a rather strong statement, but let me explain. Let’s say I’m not too well off, just barely getting by. But there’s a very wealthy man who lives down the street from me. And let’s say that I gather several of my neighbors together who are in the same predicament as me—people who are just scraping by, finding it difficult to make ends meet, and desiring a better life. And let’s say I successfully talk them into going down the street with me to our wealthy neighbor and demanding that he give us his money. If he refuses, we threaten to take him hostage until he pays up. We’ll imprison him in one of our basements until he forks over the dough.

We would rightfully be considered a criminal gang.

But what if instead I gather several of my neighbors together and I persuade them to vote for a candidate who promises to do the dirty work for us: to pass legislation to tax our wealthy neighbor, with the tax revenue finding its way into our pockets through some government program? What’s the difference? Why is this considered any more acceptable than the other? Is it because threats and intimidation are used in the first case, when I and my friends personally confront our wealthy neighbor and demand his money? Aren't threats and intimidation used in the second case also? If our wealthy neighbor refuses to pay the tax, he’s threatened with fines and imprisonment until he pays.

If we vote for a candidate who promises to tax others so that we may benefit, then we are participating in state-sponsored theft. Basically we are hiring someone to do our stealing for us. The eighth commandment says, “You shall not steal.” It doesn’t say, “You shall not steal, except by majority vote.”

So the second—and biggest—problem, then, with socialism is that it is immoral.

The third thing is that it ends up hurting the very people it’s designed to help. There is (at least at first) an apparent benefit to those at the lower end of the economic system; but there is a very hefty price to pay down the road.

Here’s why. The thing that provides the most help for the poor is low prices on goods and services. If prices are low, goods and services can be afforded by the poor. And what drives prices downward is production. The more goods and services are available, the lower the prices, because businesses have to compete with each other for customers. And the way they do this is by trying to offer better products at lower prices. The result is, everyone benefits.

Say for instance that there is only one pair of shoes in the country, and everyone would like to have them. What’s the high demand for a scarce product going to do to the price? It’s going to make the price very high. If my neighbor offers $20 for the shoes, I’m going to offer $25, and someone else is going to offer $30, and someone else will offer $35. And this will continue until someone who is very wealthy is going to offer a price that no one else can match. Maybe he’ll pay as much as $5,000 for the shoes. The market place is like a huge auction. When something which is in high demand is scarce, people bid up the price, and only the very wealthy can afford it.

Let’s say this pair of shoes fetches $5,000. Some enterprising entrepreneur is going to see an opportunity here for making money. He sees the high demand for shoes and he’s confident he can set up a shoe-making business and sell shoes for a lot less money and still make a nice profit. And so he begins to make and sell shoes at $1,000 a pop...and makes money hand over fist.

Someone else comes along and thinks to himself, “I want a piece of the action,” and so he also starts a shoe-making business. Then there’s a third and a fourth and fifth shoe-making business. The number of shoes is constantly increasing and each shoe-maker is competing with the others for a share of the market. And one of the ways they compete is by attempting to offer shoes for a lower price than their competitors. When there is an abundance of goods, producers bid the price downward to get customers. And they’ll continue to do this so long as they can make a profit.

Enter the tax man. Increased taxes in order to support a welfare state, or a socialist state, end up hurting the poor even when the poor are not taxed directly. Taxes, whether income taxes or sales taxes, or whatever, are a part of the costs of doing business. These costs are passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices, which of course hurts the poor. Also if taxes are raised high enough, they serve as a disincentive to further production. The cost of doing business simply becomes too high and the potential for profits too low to stay in business. This hurts not only the employees who are out of a job, but also consumers as a whole because now there are fewer goods available for purchase.

The best thing government can do for the poor is to provide the basis for a capitalist, free-market, business-friendly environment.