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True Liberty

The following is a sermon given by Dr. Richard Thompson at First United Methodist Church in Bakersfield, California on July 7, 2014.

 

There seems to be something in the human heart that yearns for freedom.  In my childhood, the “Cold War” between a free U.S. and an oppressive Soviet Union seemed to be a permanent feature of life.  Then, back in 1989, that symbol of imprisonment for millions under the communist yoke, the Berlin Wall, came down.  More than a decade ago, the same cry for liberty was heard in Tiannamen Square, China, but was crushed by tanks.  A couple of years ago, we heard about the so-called “Arab Spring,” starting in Egypt and then spreading to Libya, Syria, and beyond.  It was an expression of the desires of people for freedom from oppressive regimes.  Freedom is still a dream for millions around the globe.  Oh, freedom, how precious it is.  So how is it for the Christian heart?

 

Freedom and the Bible

Freedom has deep roots in the Bible.  The premier story of the Old Testament is of Moses leading the people Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom in a land God provided for them.  The New Testament is about God’s greatest gift to us – Christ Jesus – who frees us from the shackles and burden of sin, and its resulting guilt.  “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that…we should no longer be slaves to sin…” Romans 6:6.  The Christian believes that our greatest freedom is found in freely choosing to obey God through Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to work within us to shape us into Christ’s likeness.

 

Just a couple of days ago, we celebrated the freedom that has been the guiding force of our nation since its inception.  On the Fourth of July in 1776, representatives of the Continental Congress of America signed our country’s Declaration of Independence from England.  In the second paragraph of this Declaration is found these well-known words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

 

Do we really believe that?  Do we really believe that there is a Creator God who made us?  Or are we just an evolutionary accident?  What you believe on this score makes all the difference in how you view life and freedom.

 

Secondly, do we believe that God bestowed upon every person certain rights, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?  Or do we believe that rights are granted by governments?  Do we believe that all people have those rights, or just some?  And that begs more questions, like how are governments to be instituted?  Who should be in the government?  What kind of people should have power over others?

 

And lastly we must ask: is faith in God necessary to sustain a Republic that is founded on the principal of God given rights and self-rule?

 

American as Apple Pie

The rights of the individual and freedom have been the prevailing cries since 1776, at both an individual and national level.  Freedom is as common to America as is apple pie.  Yet, for so central an idea, liberty has been understood in a very superficial way.  Too often freedom is seen as the removal of all immediate constraints.  At many levels in our society “I’ll have it my way” or “I can do whatever I want” has come to define the meaning of freedom.

 

Ironically, that kind of freedom never really brings true liberty.  Look around you today.  In this country of tremendous freedoms, we have many people with messed up lives, slaves to their emotions, passions, prejudices, misinformation, and pride.  The result is unhappiness, misdirected lives, broken families, and crime.  All because people, despite the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, are not truly free.

The founders of our nation understood this.  Those who wrote and signed our Constitution understood that only a virtuous people, upheld by their faith in God (and by and large they understood this to be a Christian faith), would be able to live in political, social, and economic freedom guaranteed by the founding document.  As the Bible reminds us, “…do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather, serve one another in love,” Galatians 5:13.  If people are not virtuous, then no amount of laws can make them do right, and government intervention will not be able to right all the wrongs.

 

Independence Day used to be celebrated more widely as a day to remember the meaning of our nation’s founding: the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were read and explained.  These days, for the majority of Americans, Independence Day is simply an excuse for a three-day holiday, and we are the poorer for it.  Few Americans have actually read the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, neither of which are very long documents.  Christian people, those who have found their freedom in Christ, should read them.

“We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

That one sentence from the Declaration of Independence sets America apart from most all the nations on earth.  The value of each person is not derived from government benevolence or from the mercies of democracy.  Democracy and individual dignity derive from the transcendent reality of a Creator.  Take away the Creator, and we are at the mercy of the powers of the moment.

 

The Declaration of Independence clearly states that freedom of individuals is a divine gift – not something that can be granted by kings or presidents, legislatures or bureaucracies.  The Constitution outlines a form of self-governance that understands that freedom is of divine origin, that humans are sinful and fallible, and that those who govern are just as sinful as everyone.  Therefore, government should be of limited power lest it impinge upon divine-given freedom.  “If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” said James Madison, who wrote much of the Constitution.  But we know that men are not angels, so all the more reason to limit the power of people in government.  These are all philosophical understandings that find their source in the Bible.  Religion influences culture, and culture influences politics.  Religion, then, really does form the foundation.

 

The Right Kind of Freedom

Freedom of the right kind is essential for us to become who God intends us to be.  Political and social freedoms actually begin with morality, and morality is founded in spiritual freedom.  The Bible states quite clearly the standards for a moral person and a moral society.  They are contained in the Ten Commandments, are really quite simple, and are rooted in an absolute: God and how God has ordered this universe.  Some reject all this, seeing God as a celestial policeman wanting to spoil their fun.  Some run away from Him for a myriad of reasons.  Some believe they have a better plan for human societies than God’s.

 

Even more, I think there is a widespread assumption these days that there are no standards that have an absolute claim on all people.  Honestly, many folks live as though God is dead.  This assumption says you take your pick of values in the ethical supermarket of life.  If ethics can derive from human custom or personal choice, what happens when your ethics conflict with mine?

 

If morals are simply a matter of head count, if values are relative and depend on personal choice, the world is heading for destruction.  “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”  Proverbs 14:12.  When our morals and ethics are determined by political expedience and power, pushed by the winds of changing human desires, we will surely lose our freedoms.  And I fear this has been happening at a rapid pace in our lifetimes.  Our cherished American liberty is being undermined by our own apathy.

 

When our moral fabric frays, the law and governments fill the void.  They govern by threat of force aspects of life that we used to govern by our own ethical standards.  Eroding morals lead to a loss of our freedom and tyrannical government.  The choice is this: control yourself, or be controlled by your own sin, which leads to oppression.  Our freedom must be rooted in God, or it is no freedom at all.

 

Freedom is more than being happy or choosing a code of conduct.  It has to do with the kind of people we are.  Jesus of Nazareth strikes me as the most liberated man who ever lived.  He knew very well there was a divinely appointed standard of ethics and he framed his life in accordance with it.  He said “I do always those things which please him,”  John 8:29 (meaning His heavenly Father).  But could anyone say that his faith stifled his freedom?  He was utterly free of covetousness, free of hypocrisy, free of the fear of others, free to be Himself.  He was free to look into people’s hearts and tell them the truth about themselves, free to love men and women with purity, and free to voluntarily surrender his life for others.  “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord…” John 10:17-18.

 

Was there ever so free a human being?  He knew the truth that freedom is not the license to do what you want but the liberation to do what you ought.  He has shown that real freedom is unselfish and warm, generous and person-centered, more to do with relationships than role keeping.  Jesus is the free person’s model.  Duty did not stifle him.  Obedience did not obliterate his freedom.  Circumstances did not imprison him.  He was utterly free – free to use his power for others, free to love the unlovely, free to confront oppressors and injustice.  The ultimate liberated man.

 

Cross-Shaped Freedom

True Christian freedom is Jesus shaped.  There is no legalism about it.  It is based on the conviction that there is indeed an absolute in the realm of ethics, and that this ideal can be known to us: clearly seen Jesus of Nazareth.  So Christian freedom has nothing to do with rules and regulations.  It has everything to do with pleasing Christ and allowing him to be the model for our relationships with God and people, a model for our service of others, and our standards of honesty and purity.  It is allowing the best human being who ever lived to be the motivating force within us.  He even sets us free from the limitations of our particular culture and circumstances – free to be the people God created us to be.  That’s a message worth sharing!

 

There are so many, right around here, who go through their lives not really free.  Oh, to be sure, many believe they are free, they have money, or can indulge their desires.  But most are captive to prestige and power, or materialism, unhealthy narcissism, or their sexual urges.  Others are caught in a trap of low self worth, or even a lifestyle that at best might be called plain boring – that’s not freedom!

 

People are hungry for freedom and yet have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.They may have heard about church, or have some opinion about Christians, but have they heard how Jesus has made a difference in your life?

Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few,” Luke 10:2.  How true.  The field of need is all around us.

 

Galatians 5:1 - “For freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  It’s the Good News that makes all the difference in the world!  Freedom in Christ truly sets you free.

In summary, let us remember this:

  • Our true freedom comes from God.
  • Freedom is the work of the Holy Spirit inside us.
  • Freedom begins with each one of us.
  • Our nation’s freedom depends on all of us.

If you have not yet given your life to our Risen Lord, your freedom still awaits you.

Dude, Where’s My Hard Drive?

My latest column is up at AND Magazine.

 

Here is an excerpt:

There seems to be an epidemic of hard drive failure in our federal government. Ever since the IRS came to Congress with the news that so many of Lois Lerner’s emails had disappeared due to a hard drive failure, more and more federal agencies are jumping on the “hard drive failure” bandwagon.

 

When the hard drives of Lois Lerner and six other key IRS officials all failed within the same timeframe – the officials and the time frame that Congress just happened to be investigating – it was highly improbable.

 

But then, a few weeks ago, EPA Chairwoman Gina McCarthytestified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, informing them that yet another fortuitous hard drive failure had occurred, this one belonging to a former EPA employee whose emails, once again, were key to the committee’s investigation. Of course, this hard drive, like the ones at the IRS, was destroyed, meaning Congress would have no chance of recovering any data from it.

 

And, of course, it didn’t stop there. The Oversight Committee was informed that yet another federal employee, this one with the FEC, lost yet another hard drive, which was, of course, shredded like all the others. In this case, the lost emails would have proved that the former FEC employee had criminally violated the Hatch Act, which bars government employees from engaging in partisan political activities while on government time or using government resources. Even though this former FEC employee has admitted to violating the Hatch Act, criminal prosecution is impossible without the evidence that was on that hard drive.

Continue reading here.

The 5 Most ________ In ________

Rolling Stone Magazine (the web version, at least) is on a full-court press against the 2nd Amendment.  They are currently running several anti-gun articles, among them this little gem.

 

To save you the agony of actually clicking the link and watching the amazingly in-depth Rolling Stone slide show, the article is titled “The 5 Most Dangerous Guns in America.”

 

These dangerous weapons are (in order):

  1. Reverse HandgunPistols
  2. Revolvers
  3. Rifles
  4. Shotguns
  5. Derringers

 

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, the 5 most dangerous guns in America happen to be the 5 types of guns available for purchase in America.

It’s also notable that three of the categories are rather redundant – “Pistols” is a catch-all for handguns, but revolvers and derringer also happen to be pistols…so really, it’s the 3 most dangerous gun types in America.

The categories are so extremely broad as to be absolutely ridiculous.

But in the tradition of the Rolling Stone, here are the 5 most popular restaurants in America:

  1. Fast Food
  2. Burger Joints
  3. Italian
  4. Mexican
  5. Drive-Throughs

That really is how ridiculous it is.

To make it more laughable, the narrative accompanying each entry is poorly written tripe, obviously thrown together by someone who has no idea what she’s writing about.

For example, “Popular among handgun-owners, pistols are defined by their built-in barrel and short stock.”  Whether they are semi-automatic, revolvers, or single-shot, all pistols are handguns, so it stands to reason that pistols would be somewhat popular among handgun owners.

And if your pistol has a “short stock,” you should definitely get rid of it, or you’ll end up having some rather difficult conversations with your local ATF branch as to why you are in possession of a short-barreled rifle.

This is the kind of ridiculousness coming from the anti-gun Left today.  They have to make stuff up, or they would have no argument at all – like how “Everytown” was caught lying about the number of school shootings in America.

 

And with that, I leave you with this list of the five most popular tourist spots in Las Vegas:

  1. Casinos
  2. Blackjack tables
  3. Hotels
  4. Restaurants
  5. Slot Machines

Take Me To Our Leader

My latest column is up at AND Magazine.

 

Here is an excerpt.

and_image_1334935244The current crisis on our southern border has been building for decades, as America’s political class has repeatedly abdicated their responsibility to protect our nation through the years, allowing lawlessness to prevail along our border, and then citing a history of lawlessness to justify today’s lawlessness.

 

But instead of looking back at the failures of the past to justify the failures of today, it is time to do something novel: it is time to fix the problem.

 

Illegal immigrants are pouring across our border – thousands more every day. And unlike what the mainstream media and the politicians are reporting, it is more than just unaccompanied children crossing our border. These illegal immigrants are bringing diseases with them. There have been reports of scabies, lice, tuberculosis, swine flu, dengue fever, and more as people continue to flood our border. Cramped conditions in processing centers provide ideal circumstances for these diseases to spread; there have already been reports of border agents contracting scabies while working to process the thousands of immigrants that have been dumped on them. And with the presence of Ebola in Africa, which could all too easily spread to Central America, the dangers on our southern border are very, very real.

 

To make matters worse, in order to make room in the overwhelmed processing centers on the border, the federal government has been busing these illegal immigrants all across the nation. In some areas, people have been asked to open up their homes to house illegal immigrant children.

 

Continue reading here.

The Importance of Corporate Personhood

hobby-lobby1

 

You hear it all the time these days from the Left: “Corporations are not people!” they cry, as though their repeated insistence could make it true.  The truth is, U.S. law defines just who is and isn’t considered a “person,” and corporations are included in that definition.

 

From Title 1, Chapter 1, Section 1 of the U.S. Code: “the words ‘person’ and ‘whoever’ include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals.”

 

The Supreme Court’s opinion in the Hobby Lobby case over the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate made this especially big news.  According to the Court, Hobby Lobby, as a family-owned corporate entity, has the same rights as any individual to not have the federal government trample all over their religious values.

 

The big question is, why?  Why give massive corporate monoliths the same rights as the lowliest of their minimum-wage employees?

 

The problem with freedom is that it either means something, or it doesn’t…and according to the Left, the Bill of Rights just doesn’t apply to corporations.  Thank God that U.S. law states otherwise.

 

Imagine a world where the Constitution does not apply to jointly-owned businesses.

If the First Amendment no longer applies, then businesses would have no right to stand for any religious values, but it wouldn’t stop there.  Political speech – whether in the form of donations or statements – could be regulated by the government, and those regulations could change depending on who controlled Congress or the White House at any given time…and the businesses couldn’t really do anything about it, because they would have no right to petition the government for redress of their grievances – no standing for any law suits.

The Second Amendment would no longer apply, so private security firms wouldn’t be able to own any firearms.

The Fourth Amendment would no longer apply, meaning that any incorporated business could be searched by the government, and their property seized, for any reason.  No warrant needed.

The Fifth Amendment would be invalid for corporate officers as related to their roles in the company.  Failure to testify = jail time.

And on that note, the Sixth Amendment would be nill, so no jury trial – sentences could be handed down by committee.  And no right to face your accuser, so anonymous tips could lead to prison sentences.

No Eighth Amendment, so any bail can be set, if any is set at all.

 

Under these conditions, no new businesses would ever be created.  Existing businesses would disappear one by one, as federal, state and local governments pile regulation on top of regulation.  Complete economic collapse would be an eventual certainty.

Of course, there is always the possibility that this is what the Left wants – and it is certainly what they will strive for…until they realize the true consequences of their actions.

Redefining Rights

My latest column is up at AND Magazine.

 

Here is an excerpt:

It’s amazing how easily a non-issue can be blown so far out of proportion – even to the point of becoming a case before the United States Supreme Court.

 

To hear the Left tell it, you would think that the Supreme Court just declared Christianity to be America’s supreme religion, and made all contraceptives illegal in the U.S. for the rest of time and all eternity. The truth, of course, is a different matter.

 

The owners of Hobby Lobby, a company that provides insurance (which includes contraceptive coverage) to its employees, sued the federal government over a provision of the Affordable Care Act which has come to be known as the contraceptive mandate. It’s important to note that the contraceptive mandate was not part of the Affordable Care Act when it was passed by the Democrat majority in 2010. This mandate was added to the law later on by the department of Health and Human Services, thanks to one of several clauses in the ACA that enabled HHS to make all kinds of changes to the law after its passage, basically ensuring that Nancy Pelosi was correct: we really did have to pass the law to find out what was in it, because a good portion of it hadn’t even been written yet.

 

The biggest problem with the controversy surrounding the Supreme Court’s decision is that it is based entirely on lies and misinformation.

 

Continue reading here.

Border In Crisis

My latest column is up at AND Magazine!

 

Here is an excerpt:

The situation on our Southern border has reached crisis levels. Tens of thousands of people from Mexico and countries south are crossing every day, many of them unaccompanied children. This has all been brought on by the political climate in Washington, where increasingly out-of-touch politicians continue to push for amnesty, driving more and more people to flee to the United States in hopes of gaining that free pass to U.S. citizenship.

 

While the buzz-word in Washington has long been “comprehensive immigration reform,” that is perhaps the most unwise course we could possibly take.

 

The huddled masses fleeing from the third-world hell-holes to our South have come running toward the promise of American freedom and freebies, and even now, as our border is overwhelmed, Democrats express their continued desire to give them whatever they want.

 

Only now, as thousands enter America illegally each day, do we see the true consequences of our politicians’ continued failure to follow through on their promises to secure our border. We see the lie that was President Obama and then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s repeated pledges our border was more secure than it had ever been with their so-called “virtual fence.” Only now do we see their words for what they truly are: just more bullshit heaped atop the pile of bullshit that is politics in Washington, D.C.

 

Continue reading here.

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