The Five Solas

The Five Solas or Solae of the Protestant Reformation summarize the Reformation beliefs that differed from the beliefs at that time.  Sola is Latin for alone. The five solas are “grace alone”, “faith alone”, “Scripture alone”, “Christ alone”, and “to the glory of God alone”. The funny thing is the Five Solas were not put together as a group until the 20th century. Some people only count three solas, but I find all five to be important core theological truths. These beliefs are central to my faith.

Sola Scriptura

“Scripture alone” says Scripture is the sole infallible source of authority for faith, doctrine, and practice.  It is the final authority from which other authorities derive their authority.  The 66 books of the Bible are God’s words (2 Peter 1:21), that tells us of God’s salvation for us (John 3:16) and how to live our lives to the glory of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Sola Gratia

“Grace alone” tells us by our own merit we can not save ourselves from the judgment and condemnation of God, because we are not righteous or good (Romans 3:10-12). But God, by his goodness and grace through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, restores us to a right relationship with him not because of anything we did but purely out of his mercy and grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is his gift to us (Romans 6:23).

Sola Fide

“Faith alone” reminds us that we are not saved by anything we do or by who we are, but it is through faith in God, who can justify us (Romans 4:4-5), that we are saved and are made righteous (Romans 5:8-9).

Solus Christus

“Christ alone” points us to Jesus as the only way (John 14:6) to be reconciled with God.  Salvation is found in no one else (Acts 4:23).  Jesus is at the center of the entire story of Scripture (Luke 24:27).

Soli Deo Gloria

“To the glory of God alone” because he is the one who has saved us (Titus 3:4-5).  Out of gratitude for his restoring us to himself and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we live our lives to his glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).

These five core beliefs help define my faith and the Christian faith of the Protestant Reformers, and yet many times we want to add or subtract from these core beliefs.  We want to put reason, culture, and/or tradition at the same level as Scripture so to water it down.  We want to make certain we have something to do for our salvation so we can feel good about ourselves, take credit, and/or feel better than those who do not have faith.  We want Christ to be not the all in all but rather to be only a piece of our lives.  We want him to be just a nice guy and not Lord and Savior.  We want to do our own thing and not to worry if the action glorifies God or not. In all these cases, we are taking the truth found in Scripture and changing it because we think we know better than what God’s Word says.  We do this because we are broken self-centered people.  So we need to take care and not let these five core beliefs be added to, subtracted from, or minimized. These five solas are essential to my faith.

American Caste

When I think of a caste system, I think of India. Though it has been outlawed in India since independence, it is still very much alive.  Much of the time today you know by the surname of the person who is of higher caste and who should be subordinate. “Caste is the granting or withholding of respect, status, honor, attention, privileges, resources, benefit of the doubt, and human kindness to someone on the basis of their perceived rank or standing in the hierarchy.” A caste system has several principles or characteristics that define it.  There is a belief that the inequality is divinely or naturally ordained.  You inherit your inferior status from your parents. This means that it is wrong for people of two different castes to marry. Your caste status decides what job you can do.  There are fears of an upper caste being polluted by a lower inferior caste.  The upper castes are more superior than the lower castes.  The lower castes are less human than the upper castes. Violations of these principles would result in severe punishment.  The resulting caste system is more than just a rank.  It creates a state of mind that affects all in the culture.

I believe there is an American Caste System that is alive and well in the USA.  While it is no longer codified into law and I believe we have made major improvements toward racial and ethic equality, it is still a part of American culture. Like the air around us, we may not realize it but it is there as an unconscious bias in our culture.  We need to be aware of this unconscious bias and fight against it.  Today being racist is a bad thing, but less than 100 years ago skin color was a defining factor and racism was the norm.  African-Americans were considered to be the lowest caste and their status was cruelly enforced in many ways.  

One extreme way of enforcing compliance through terror was by lynching, which was usually by hanging.  Many times it was not a secretive event.  Many times it would be publicized and there would be crowds and a photographer who sold pictures and postcards of the event.  People would buy souvenirs and mail off the postcards.  Lynchings were events that terrified the African-Americans and comforted the Whites in their superior status in society.  More common was the beatings that were inflicted on the lower caste.

According to a 2017 study, 59% of poor people depicted in the news are African-American when they make up only 27% of the poor people in America.  (Only 22% of African-Americans are poor.)  66% of poor people are White and yet the White poor were depicted in the news only 17% of the time. African-Americans represent 37% of criminals shown in the news, but consist of 26% of those arrested.   The FBI crime reports show Whites make up 77% of crime suspects and yet the news media portray Whites as criminals only 28% of the time. Ask yourself, why the disproportionate coverage of African-Americans in poverty and crime.  Could it be an unconscious bias (or a conscious bias) that is supporting the American Caste System?  I believe this is an effect of the caste system, and it is still alive and well today, even if we do not realize it.

The caste system was not just Whites and African-Americans. There were subcategories or classes.  If you were from Northwestern Europe (English, Dutch, German, Scandinavian, etc.) with the exception of the Irish then you were in a higher class than those Irish and those from Southern Europe or Eastern Europe. If you were from outside of Europe, then you were in a lower class than the Europeans. There were also the economic classes where you were of a higher class if you were richer.  But the big difference is that the discrimination was codified for the African-Americans (and in many cases for other non-whites too).  The African-Americans were the lowest level of the American Caste System with Native Americans possibly there too. These caste distinctions still exist today though sometimes “quotas” reverse the discrimination in hiring.

I have a relative who is African-American.  He dresses up to go shopping.  Why?  He wants to avoid being mistakenly arrested.  He has been followed several times through a store by store employees.  He will lead them to a remote part of the store and then turn and tell them they do not need to be following him. He knows what is happening because he was at one time in charge of an anti-shoplifting effort at a store.  He also does not run at night.  He does things that a White person would not consider necessary to do to make certain those around him are not mistakenly concerned.  I believe this fear is a remnant of caste behavior.  Unfortunately there are still good reasons for his behavior, because Whites have a tendency to judge the actions of African-Americans more harshly.  Many Whites expect the worst from an African-American.  Again this is caste behavior by the Whites.  Would you rather meet a big muscular Black person in an alley or a big muscular White person in the alley? I admit I would be less afraid of the White person.  That is an unconscious bias of this caste system that I need to fight against. 

We need to recognize that there is a caste system in place and it will take a lot of effort and time to remove it from the American consciousness.  But to dig deeper into the problem, we find that we are selfish sinful people.  That is the real problem, and that means hierarchical discrimination is worldwide and not just in America and India.  America and India have in the past been more extreme in their discrimination.  

As a Christian, I need to be aware of the caste system, recognize it, and fight against it by giving everyone the love, respect and dignity they deserve as a human being regardless of their skin color.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  We are not there yet. People are still being judged by their skin color. Unfortunately, it still matters in American society.

I was inspired to write this post by the book, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent” by Isabel Wilkerson

PS My thoughts that follow do not apply to caste systems directly but to the poor.  What makes it hard for them to climb the economic ladder? The lack of available cash or inherited wealth can keep a poor person from college or starting their own business.  When you are living from paycheck to paycheck with no funds for anything extra, it becomes hard to improve your life. (Yes, there are some grants and loans available to those who qualify and are able to navigate the requirements.)  My parents paid for my room and board at college.  My grandmother gave me some cash to help me buy a car.  When my parents died, I received some funds that made me feel like I was finally going to have enough money to be able to retire.   Those little gifts helped me.  A poor person does not have access to those funds and opportunities. A rich person has access to a lot more possibilities with all the extra funds that are available to them.  What more can we do for the poor to give them more opportunities?

Adolescent Gender-Affirming Care

Right now you can make comments on the “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance” proposed rule by the Education Department until 09/12/2022. (There is not much time left to comment.)  It sounds not so bad from the title until you realize that “Sex” includes the LGBTQ+ protections with an expanded definition of harassment. For parents, it may not be possible for them to take part in their child’s transgender decisions if they disapprove of the child’s chosen gender identity.  My comment addresses the dangers of “gender-affirming care” and I now realize does not directly address the issues of discrimination in Title IX, but I was rushed to post it before the deadline and to let you have the opportunity to post too. Here is my comment.

Docket ID: ED-2021-OCR-0166

I am concerned with these Title IX rule revisions.  I have many concerns about the rule revisions but my biggest concern is transgender adolescents getting gender-affirming medical care, that is using puberty blockers and then cross-sex hormones and finally surgery. It is dangerous and does not address their psychological issues that often accompany their desire to change gender.  

The FDA has recently added a warning to the “puberty blockers”, gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists, which may cause brain swelling and vision loss in some children.  Sweden and Finland have reversed course and now ban the puberty blockers and hormone treatment in almost all cases of youth transgenderism.  Why?  They say the evidence is lacking and as a result of their study they now assert that the risks of hormonal treatment outweigh the benefits for most transgender youth. Their first treatment now is to deal with the psychological issues that these youth are facing.  There tend to be other issues besides gender dysphoria (transgenderism).  And in the vast majority of cases adolescent gender dysphoria resolves itself during puberty without any medical treatment.  We should follow the example of Sweden and Finland and not go down the hormone treatment route. These treatments can cause irreversible damage to the youth, including permanent sterilization.   Parents need to and must play a role in this too, because in most cases they know their child better than most, so do not allow schools to hide the treatment from the parents. 

I believe these rules will create more problems than they solve.  This can be seen in the UK where they shut down the largest gender-affirming care facility in the country and have removed gender-affirming care from the “affirmative care” model. And they are now facing lawsuits from 1000 families.  Sweden, Finland, and the UK all have reconsidered gender-affirming medical care for adolescents.  America should not make the same mistake and should not allow gender-affirming medical care for adolescents.  The science is not there.  The risks of the treatment outweigh the benefits.

That is my comment to the Federal Register. You can make a comment too before 09/12/2022.  Some more information is available.  (Be sure to include ‘Docket ID: ED-2021-OCR-0166’.)

Puberty is a time of big change.  It is not only a time of physical change but it is also a time where the youth becomes more independent.  I once heard that the teenage years are like “having a car with the brakes on backorder”.  Looking back at my life, puberty was a time of uncertainty.  Parental involvement is needed to provide stability for a teenager. The teenager should not be making life changing irreversible decisions about one’s gender.

If you are thinking that the idea of choosing your gender is crazy, you are not alone but this is where the emerging culture has taken us. Biologically we are binary, male and female, and yet the idea that you can look inside yourself and find the real sexual you is popular.  Reality is in love God made you.  He did not make any mistakes in choosing your sex.  Because of this broken world and our sinful nature, you may feel out of place but know that God has your best interests at heart.  You are loved and he is there for you.  Let Jesus be your Lord and Savior. Turn to him and let him lead.


Photo of wheat by Jimmy Lemon

It seems to me what is lacking today is grace and the recognition of grace.  Grace is a word that has many meanings, but I think a core meaning to grace is “free and unmerited favor”, or a similar definition is “undeserved love”.  With these definitions you think of God and his grace.  A related definition for us also is “courteous goodwill”.  That seems to be lacking today.  

Another way of looking at grace is to look from a justice perspective.  Justice is you getting what you deserve.  Mercy is not getting the bad that you deserve, and grace is getting the good that you do not deserve.  Some people argue that grace and mercy (and forgiveness) promote injustice. Practicing grace, mercy, and forgiveness is not fair, and today some people are against this leniency. Maybe the unfairness of showing grace is why we do not see more gracious behavior today. It is always the person showing grace, mercy and/or forgiveness who sacrifices their personal right for a fair outcome.  Without mercy, grace, and forgiveness, reconciliation becomes very difficult.

Pondering the gracelessness of today’s society, I am reminded of a book that I first read about 25 years ago called “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” by Philip Yancey.  It is an excellent book that I have read several times and it helped me grow in my faith.  Now I just got done defining the word grace, but Philip Yancey avoids those definitions and instead uses stories to describe grace.

For me,  one great story told in the book is “Babette’s Feast”.  (The Danish movie is worth watching too.) This great French cook, Babette, flees for her life and arrives in Denmark at this small strict pietistic aging congregation where she begs to be taken in by these two aging sisters of the founding pastor.  She works for free, cooking their bland food in keeping with their belief to avoid the pleasantries of the world.  A friend in Paris keeps buying a lottery ticket for her every year.  After many years, she wins 10,000 Francs in the lottery, and she buys and prepares this fabulous feast. The small congregation decides not to offend her and to eat this exotic meal but they decided they would not speak of the pleasures of the meal.  Of course, they can not help but enjoy this fabulous meal.  During the meal, various relationships are restored. The sisters thank her for the meal and ask when she would be leaving.  Babette replied that she had spent all the money on the feast and she would be staying.  That story of a free undeserved feast illustrates grace wonderfully.  There are so many good stories in the book.

In the book, we have the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).  Philip Yancey modernizes the story in his chapter called “Lovesick Father”.  Think of the concern and agony a parent feels when a child rebels and disappears.  It is because the parent loves them and is concerned for their well being.  The parent rejoices when the child finally reappears.  Throwing a party is not out of the question.  The child does not have to prove their worth.  In the same way God loves us unconditionally (Romans 5:8), and because of his love he sent Jesus (John 3:16) so that we might be reconciled to him (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

On the other side of grace, there is a story of a grandmother who was unwilling to forgive and see her formerly drunk abusive father, even after he cleaned up and found Jesus.  That unforgiveness was passed onto her daughter and onto her estranged grandson who spoke the exact same words of ungrace about his ex-wife, “I hope I never see her again as long as I live”.  The lack of forgiveness in each generation results in broken relationships.   Your words and attitudes create a culture that can affect generations.  My dad had a coworker who had not seen his mom in many years even though he drove past her house everyday on his way to work. It is hard for me to imagine the hardness of heart in that broken relationship.

Attitudes of grace can affect political situations.  South Africa’s transition away from apartheid to an open and free democracy was bloodless.  This was because of grace and forgiveness that was offered.  Grace brings reconciliation.   The fall of the Berlin Wall was in part due to the churches having candlelight vigils and processions.  It was another peaceful transfer of power.

Are we being gracious? Do we give people the benefit of the doubt or do we assume the worst?  Are we willing to forgive? Jesus forgave those who accused and put him to death (Luke 23:34).  Can we not do the same?  Jesus also tells us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44).  So as we imitate Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1), we should be able to show some grace.

I have read most of Philip Yancey’s books and they are all good and insightful.  I highly recommend his books, especially “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” and “The Jesus I Never Knew”.

The Identity of the Expressive Individual

Living Network 2 (Peter Farkas Photo)

The individual is king in today’s Western Culture. I  just finished reading a very enlightening book that made sense of how this messed up world in the West has changed in the last 50+ years.  This excellent book is “Strange New World” by Carl R. Trueman.  While reading it, there were times, I stopped and said to myself, “So that is why those people think that way” and by the end of the book I was also wondering how much of my thinking has been influenced by these ideas. The problem is every good lie has a kernel of truth in it.  That is what makes these false ideas believable for many people.

The expressive individual wants to be authentic and to express the real person they are, so they look inside themselves to find their core feelings and intuition, while dismissing any external influences, such as the surrounding culture. That defines them and gives them their identity. The person then expresses their inner core to be an authentic individual. The authority is only in themselves.  Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) developed the idea and you can see his influence in the following centuries.  The traditional identity authorities of nation, family and faith would say of me that I am an American, son of Erwin and Irene Hein, and a Christian.  And there are also other ways to identify oneself (e.g. occupation, sex, marital status, etc).  Whereas the expressive individual rejects all that and only looks to oneself as the only authority.

Along comes Friedrich Nietzsche and Karl Marx who both said that morality is society’s way of oppressing or controlling the individual.  In other words, they believe that there is no natural morality. It is only a societal construct used to oppress or control us.  That idea is present in today’s culture.  Also today’s cultural thinking was strongly influenced by Sigmund Freud, who declared sex is fundamental to human happiness.  He considered that the inner self was primarily defined by our sexual desires. Because of Freud, our identity became our sexual psychological self,  His student, Wilhelm Reich, a Marxist, put it all together to form the intellectual underpinnings of today’s culture change.  Only one thing missing was the technology to make it practical.  The birth control pill allowed sex to become much more recreational, and the internet allowed the porn industry to easily reach us and influence us in all things sexual.  (Note the author of the book, Carl Trueman, said the evolution of this culture change is more complicated than his broad overview, and in this post I have significantly simplified it a whole lot more.)

So an expressive individual today will usually look inside oneself and decide one’s identity with the eye on one’s sexual desires. With the collapse of the traditional identities (nation:loss of trust in government, family:high divorce rate, and faith: church scandals), the LGBTQ+ community has stepped in to encourage the individual to consider their alternate sexual identities.  They have become a major influencer, in part, because they also provide a sense of belonging as they praise you and validate your chosen sexual identity.

With the individual being the only authority, it has left Western Culture in a very unstable fluid state.  Your self, your identity, is fluid.  It can change. It can be anything.  Nothing seems to be solid. You get to decide.  With your identity being personal and psychological (and many times sexual) that sets situations where one’s identity can offend another identity. Or one finds a viewpoint to be oppressive to them and an attack on who they are. Dealing with a variety of identities can be tricky business. This is especially true with transgender people. How do you handle a boy who identifies as a girl or vice versa? Do you let a transgender boy, who is biologically a girl, use the boy’s locker room? Or let a transgender girl, who is biologically a boy, use the girl’s locker room?  This is happening today.

Also today’s thinking is that moral codes of society are oppressive and  support the (past) status quo (where white heterosexual males dominate). So then, one needs to rebel against this systematic bias, and oppose all institutions (like the Christian Church) who were part of the old culture.  They declare that they are victims of this systematic bias, and therefore deserve our support.  If this sounds a lot like Critical Theory, that is because it is at least related to it.  Anyone who does not support them is an oppressor who is attacking their identity, the core of their being.  Those whose identity is found in the past status quo could be considered to be a threat to the emerging status quo and must be censored and in this way prevent hurting the feelings and thus the identity of the oppressed victims. Thus, this radical freedom of the individual can end up restricting freedom of speech, in the name of preventing an attack on an individual’s identity and feelings.

As Christians, we need to realize that this emerging culture is not friendly to the Christian Faith. Because of this we need to have strong communities in our local churches. We need solid meaningful worship services. We do have our identity as forgiven and loved children of God, being found in Jesus Christ.  We are his. We need to know that and have a firm foundation in the who, whats, and whys of the Christian Faith.  Though the Bible is our authority, it is not an authority for many people today, so we will need to also use Natural Law to help share our Christian ideas.  Those ideas are quickly becoming lost to Western Culture.  We need to stand firm in the Christian Faith.

The book ends with this paragraph:

The world in which we live seems set to be entering a new, chaotic, uncharted and dark era. But we should not despair. We need to prepare ourselves, be informed, know what we believe and why we believe it, worship God in a manner that forms us as true disciples and pilgrims, intellectually and intuitively, and keep before our eyes the unbreakable promises that the Lord has made and confirmed in Jesus Christ.  This is not the time for hopeless despair, nor naive optimism. Yes, let us lament the ravages of the fall as they play out in the distinctive ways that our generation has chosen. But let that lamentation be the content for sharpening our identity as people of God and our hunger for the great consummation that awaits at the marriage feast of the Lamb. 


Subsidiarity is a word and concept I did not know existed until recently. One of the first places the word first appeared for me was in a list of 10 Principles of Catholic Social Teaching. I am fairly certain this is not an official list, but it appears to be a summary of Catholic social teaching. I found the list interesting and well thought out.  The list got me thinking.  I am not certain of all the implications of the list, but I like it. 

The list starts with a foundational principle that every person has dignity and is invaluable, because they have been created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ.  So we must consider the common good, so that all may prosper.  We are all part of the human family and all in this together (solidarity).  We need to take care of the needy and the poor.  We also need to take care of the earth.  The government has a role to play to promote human dignity, protect human rights, and develop the common good.  This should be done at the most immediate, or the lowest local level possible (subsidiarity).  We all are entitled to participate in all aspects of the community.  No one should be excluded.  We all have human rights and responsibilities that need to be protected.  We all have a right to fair wages, good working conditions and dignified work.  The goal, the end result, of all of this should be a wholesome peace between us and God, and us and others.

It is hard for me to argue with the list, except possibly with subsidiarity and that may be me just having a hard time getting my head around how that works in real life. So I am going to explore more of this concept of subsidiarity.

Subsidiarity has been described by Pope Pius XI with “Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.

Pope John Paul II with regards to the principle of subsidiarity saysA community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”  

With these two descriptions, I take this to mean that the top down approach to society’s organizations, institutions, and governments is considered to be wrong.  I would say communism breaks the principle by setting up community life from the highest level, and I would say laissez-faire capitalism also breaks the principle by not actively supporting the lower community for the good of all. Subsidiarity seems to plot a course between individualism and collectivism. 

Also I see this principle as a bottom up approach to social work.  We need to involve those who are being affected by the ministry.  They need to have ownership as much as they are able. It should not be a top-down-one-size-fits-all program.

Subsidiarity also shows itself in the economic theory of Distributism, which states the belief that wealth should be widely owned instead of being concentrated in the hands of a few corporations and individuals.  Distributism is in favor of small family or locally owned businesses and is against large corporations controlling a market.  It is in favor of competition.

I am not certain how to put subsidiarity into practice in today’s world and how well it would work but I can see it working in some small ways.  I like a lot of what I learned about subsidiarity.  I am not certain I agree 100% with it but I do appreciate all the thought that has gone into it.  Catholic social teaching has been well thought out and I appreciate the effort over the centuries that have been put into it.  Again the key Biblical foundation principle is every person has dignity and is invaluable, because they have been created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and redeemed by Jesus Christ (1 John 2:2).

God’s Holiness

Rays of light in a forest

When I think of God’s holiness, I think of his moral perfection (Matthew 5:48) and my sinful behavior (Romans 3:23), but there is more to God’s holiness than just his purity.  God’s goodness, his moral perfection, is definitely a big part of his holiness, but there is also his transcendence and his otherness that sets him apart and makes him holy.  He is the Creator of the Universe (Jeremiah 10:12).  He gives life (Acts 17:25).  He is totally unique (Jeremiah 10:6).  He is above and beyond all of us, above and beyond everything. He is incomparable (Psalm 89:6-8).  And God is changeless (Psalm 102:27). God is self-existent.  He has always existed (Genesis 21:33).  He is 100% independent.  He has no needs (Acts 17:25), so he is totally self-sufficient.  He is complete in himself.   He is without fault.  He is transcendent in all things. There is no one like him.  He is very different from us, and yet we are made in his image (Genesis 1:27). God is faithful, and there is no falsehood in him (Numbers 23:19).  We can trust his love and goodness (Psalm 145:8-9), and God is worthy of our worship and praise (Revelation 4:11).

This excellent Bible Project video on God’s holiness inspired me to write this post. (I would rather read, so I tend to avoid videos, but Bible Project videos are very well done.) Do watch the video! I am going to ruminate on what the video talked about.  The video starts out by comparing God’s holiness to the Sun as a metaphor. Our Sun is unique, the only star in our solar system.  It is powerful and its rays give life to us on Earth.  It is also dangerous.  If you get too close, you can burn up.  The same is true of God’s holiness.  God’s holiness can be dangerous too.  Because we are morally impure (i.e. sinners) we can not abide in the presence of God because he is so very good.  Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush illustrates this.  He was told to take off his sandals and not get too close (Exodus 3:1-6).  God’s holiness is intense. Moses never got to see God’s face.  He could only see God’s backside from a protected place (Exodus 33:18-23).  Another example is only once a year on the Day of Atonement could the High Priest enter the Holy of Holies, where God was in the Temple, and atone for the sins of the people by sprinkling the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat..  Any other time was certain death (Leviticus 16:2). 

Besides us being morally impure, the Old Testament law designated several things that could make you ritually impure, things like menstruation, childbirth, nocturnal emissions, touching a corpse, certain types of skin diseases, and eating ritually unclean food. There was a lot that could make you ritually impure.  A ritually impure person was unable to worship in the Temple and had to be isolated (Numbers 5:1-4). Touching an unclean person or thing could make you ritually impure. There were a variety of ways to become ritually clean, varying from washing (Numbers 19:11-12) to sacrifice (Leviticus 15:25-30).  Leprosy is the skin disease I am most aware of in the Bible and it has a pretty serious procedure for one to be proclaimed clean (Leviticus 13).  These ritually impure things point out how God’s holiness is something to be taken seriously and that sin has corrupted us and broke the world. Our impurity (sin) must also be taken seriously.

When Isaiah had a vision of being in the presence of God, he cried out that he was done for, because of  his uncleanliness (Isaiah 6:5) , but he had his lips touched by a burning coal from the altar and he was cleansed of his sin (Isaiah 6:6-7).  God’s holiness went out with forgiveness and made him clean.  That was his commissioning as God’s prophet. Similarly, Ezekiel has this vision of water flowing from the Temple (Ezekiel 47:1-12).  It creates a river and brings life to the land with fish and fruit trees and more.  Here again we see God’s holiness going forth and restoring the brokenness of the world.

This all comes together with Jesus.  He was and is morally perfect,  the human embodiment of God’s holiness (John 6:68-69), because he is God.  Jesus went around and instead of becoming impure when touching a leper (Matthew 8:1-4) or a dead person (Matthew 9:23-26) or being touched by a woman with chronic bleeding (Matthew 9:20-22), he remained pure and instead brought healing and restoration to those in need.  The holiness flowed out from him to heal and restore.

By the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are God’s Temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and we have “rivers of living water” flowing from us (John 7:37-38).  We have the ability to heal and restore. That is our calling. We can be a part of the Lord’s business of reconciling the world to himself.  One day at the end of time, we will be totally free from sin, pure, and fully restored. Ezekiel’s vision of the River of God will then be fully realized (Revelation 22:1-2).

Let us praise God now for he is a mighty and holy God!

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100)

The Wings of Politics

American Flag Photo by Lisa Setrini-Espinosa

On American Independence Day, I am going to speculate on our two parties and their wings.  Note most of these thoughts are purely my opinions based on what I have observed.  I may be wrong, but hear me out. The Republican Party has its right wing, the far right,  and the Democratic Party has its left wing, the far left.  I believe those two wings drive much of the politics today and the change in politics today.  I believe much of the division in our country comes from the two wings affecting the politics of each party.  The Republicans seem to be more conservative than before and the Democrats seem to be more liberal or progressive than before.  As I write this, voting for the Colorado primaries has just happened, and during the run up to the primaries, I saw Republicans touting who was more conservative, and at the same time Democrats touting who was more progressive.  According to politics today, it is good to be a more strident conservative or a more progressive liberal.  And I believe this drift to the extremes is dividing the country.

There are two interesting surveys that have taken the political pulse of America. The Pew Research Center’s Political Topology Poll and “The Hidden Tribes of America” Poll.  The Pew poll divides up America into 9 groups and the Tribes poll divides America into 7 groups.  Looking at the wings, the Pew poll has Progressive Left with 6% of Americans, and the Faith and Flag Conservatives at 10%.  The wings for the Tribes poll are the Progressive Activists with 8% of Americans and Devoted Conservatives at 6%.  You can see some variation in the numbers depending on the survey, but the point is the percentages are small and yet I believe they have a large influence on where the country is headed (depending on who is in office).

And from a past post, you know that I am an Independent.  Neither party shares the values I have well enough for me to set my party affiliation.  As an Independent, I want valid information on the candidates.  I want to see TV ads where the candidate shares what they stand for.  Instead I see TV ads and mailings sharing how extreme their opponents are, and sadly most of the time the TV ads and mailings are sharing at best half truths.  I have voted against candidates because of continuous single issue attacks against their opponents.  I wonder if candidates are afraid to share the truth, because of these political wings.  They are forced to take extreme positions in the primaries and then forced to be more moderate in their positions for the general election.  So where do they really stand?  Many times, it is hard to tell, because they want to appeal to the general public and at the same time keep the political wing of their party happy. That is what I think is happening.

Today it seems that the parties are only concerned with appealing to their members, especially to the political wings.  They want to get their members out to vote and not the other party members. Their goal seems to be getting their candidates elected or reelected at all costs.  In Colorado, before the primaries, Democrats spent millions of dollars on TV ads saying this Republican primary candidate was “Too Conservative for Colorado”.  Until now, I had never seen the opposing party interfering in the other party’s primary. Political commentators agreed that the Democratic Party was thinking that Republicans would vote for the more conservative candidate and thus make it easier for Democratic candidates to win.  The funny thing is those more conservative candidates were also given the first spot on the primary ballot set by the Colorado Republican convention.  With primary results now in, it appears that the TV ads worked better than expected.  Those more conservative candidates did not win the primary.  If the political commentators were right, it backfired for the Democratic Party.  I think what happened is that in Colorado the independents had a chance to vote in one or the other party’s primaries and since there were few contests in the Democratic Primary more independents voted in the Republican Primary.  This meant the more conservative candidates did not win, even though both parties wanted them to win.  I also think that the right wing of the Republican party dominated the convention and put out candidates that were more conservative than the average rank and file Republican in Colorado. That also made a difference in the results.  Note I think those TV ads were pure politics of the worst kind.  Let the candidates win on their merits.

Why do these political wings have such a large influence? I think there are several reasons. One reason is that these wings appeal to the sense that one needs to have a consistent stand for the values of the party and to take those values to the next level.  Another reason is a sense of loyalty to those in the party which causes a positive spin to be put on those who extend the values into something that is not so positive.  You support those in the party even if you disagree. And a third reason is the effect of social media.  Social media plays a role because social media will put out in front the extreme statements and downplay the more reasonable and factual statements because they will allow more ads to be viewed.  This means you see the extreme viewpoints and not as much the more reasonable statements. So you may start wondering if the extreme is true since it seems like everyone on social media is saying that.  And you never hear the other side because social media has decided which group you belong to inorder to keep you engaged and seeing ads.  I believe these things have divided the country.

Consider how you have been influenced by the right and left wings of America’s parties.  One check is to ask, do you see the radical left wing as including most all Democrats, or the radical right wing as including most all Republicans?  If so, you have been influenced by the Republican right wing or the Democratic left wing. By my figuring the left and right wings of American politics are not that large and should not have as large of an influence as the wings do have.  Do not give the wings undue influence.  We are not enemies of each other.  We are all Americans that need to work together to help make a better America for all.  We can do it.  Let us try to avoid being divisive.

Let me give an example.  Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in America.  In Colorado, you can get an abortion at any point in a pregnancy.  Over the years, several attempts to limit abortion have failed.  Perhaps those who are pro-life could work with those who are pro-choice at making abortion rare.  (The national platform for Democratic Party until recently was that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare”. Unfortunately the party has dropped the rare part. I believe this was due to the influence of that left wing of the party.)  I believe one way to help make abortion rare is to deal with the poverty of those seeking abortions. Three quarters of the women getting an abortion are poor.  Financial concerns must be a major factor in abortions, so dealing with their poverty and creating financial security for them could help reduce abortions.  This example is one of many ways where we can work together to make a better America for all.

Do Justice

What does justice or injustice look like?  How do we live life so that we “do justice”  (Micah 6:8)?  I see Genesis 1:27 as being a foundation verse from which justice should flow.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  (Genesis 1:27)

We all have been created in the image of God, and that means everyone deserves dignity and respect.  There needs to be equal treatment for all. Whether you are rich or poor, the Lord is the Maker of them all (Proverbs 22:2).  Justice is for all.  This means there is no place for bias, partiality, or bribery (Deuteronomy 16:19).  The same laws apply to all, whether immigrant or native (Leviticus 24:22).  People, regardless of race, class, gender, ability, and behavior, must be treated equally with fairness and respect.  Justice means there is equal treatment for all.

Justice also is about being generous.  The Bible is very clear that private property exists.  We own, create, and produce stuff that is ours.  It is clear that we should not steal (Exodus 20:15), and that includes kidnapping, stealing of a person (Exodus 21:16).  And yet at the same time God reminds us that reality is that we really own nothing. We are only stewards of what God has given us. He is the real owner (Deuteronomy 10:14). Even our abilities are a gift from him (Deuteronomy 8:17-18a).  In Israelite society, the farmer was required to leave some of the crop for the poor to be able to glean (Leviticus 19:9-10). This allowed those lacking to be able to eat.  Also debts were forgiven every seven years (Deuteronomy 15:1-2), so that no one would be in a situation they could not recover from.  The principles derived from these passages lead not to strict socialism, and they are also not laissez-faire capitalism.  Either extreme is not Biblical. God calls us to be generous with what he has given us.

Doing justice, also means being an advocate for those without power. The wealthy have the power and money to take care of themselves.  The poor, the needy, the destitute, and the oppressed need us to advocate for them and defend their rights (Proverbs 31:8-9). They too were created in the image of God and need to be given dignity and respect. Back in Zechariah’s day, God said:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”  (Zechariah 7:9-10)

Who are the oppressed today?   How can we stand up for them and defend their rights?

So how does injustice happen? It can happen in two ways, directly and indirectly.  If I am robbed, injustice to me has directly happened.  And there can be socially institutionalized ways of life that promote sin, and/or favor the rich and powerful allowing the poor and the disadvantaged to suffer injustice. We may not directly be involved in those sins, and yet we may be complicit and responsible as a society. God can hold and has held families, groups, and nations corporately responsible for sins that others committed in the past.   The consequences of those sins can linger for generations.  There is a corporate responsibility for injustice that lingers.  Daniel repented for the sins of his ancestors (Daniel 9:3-19) even though it is likely that he was not directly guilty of those sins.  In Amos, God pronounces judgment for the past sins of the surrounding nations (Amos 1), as well as the sins of Judah and Israel (Amos 2).  Those nations bore the responsibility and all in those nations suffered the consequences. What are those national sins today? What consequences of past national sins still linger today?  What past and present national sins do we need to repent of?  How do we do justice and work to make things right?  In America, racism is still affecting Americans of all colors. It is one old national sin that continues to produce consequences that still needs to be dealt with.

So we need to treat all people equally because we all are made in the image of God.  This can be done by being generous to those in need.  That includes standing up for the powerless and oppressed, and helping them get by in today’s society.  And it also means taking responsibility for past national sins and working to make things right. Let us do justice.

For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear.  (Deuteronomy 10:17-20)

This was inspired by a section in Timothy Keller’s book, “Hope in Times of Fear: The Resurrection and the Meaning of Easter”.  Timothy Keller also has a book on how God’s grace empowers us to be gracious, generous, and just.  It is called “Generous Justice” and is also an excellent and inspiring book.

A New World

You have been set apart and chosen. Photo by Gift Habeshaw.

Today, we in the West are living in a new era or a new world that is very different from the one 50+ years ago.  Today, there is no social benefit to being a Christian. In fact in many cases, there is a social cost.   Christian values are seen by many as oppressive, incomprehensible, and/or outdated.  Today, Christian values are very countercultural.  So how does a Christian interact in this new world?

We need to be intentional.  We can not wait for people to ask about our faith.  We need to identify ourselves as Christians, and explain what we believe.  Note today many people think they have an idea of what a Christian believes, but many times they have wrong ideas.  Christian ideas can seem strange to a non-Christian (e.g. people are not naturally good).  We may need to start by explaining some very basic Christian concepts, because these concepts have been forgotten by society.

Society today is hyper-individualistic.  Everything revolves around oneself, and freedom is a key concept.  The ideal that is promoted is that you are free to be whoever you want and to do whatever you want.  Ultimately this means everything is dependent on you.  All moral values are determined by you.  All relationships end up being transactional since you are at the center.  Your identity is fragile because it depends on you and others’ opinions.  And life fulfillment is also dependent on you and your circumstances. The end result is that many of today’s young adults are struggling with anxiety and depression, and with life in general. 

We Christians have the answers for a full life with purpose.  Because of Jesus Christ’s saving work, we have a purpose and meaning to life that suffering cannot take away.  Circumstances cannot take away our joy or satisfaction with God in control.  Because of our secure identity as a loved and forgiven child of God, our relationships can be more than just transactional.  Because of God’s forgiveness, we do not need to be burdened by guilt and we can offer forgiveness to others.  We also can offer a generous justice to those oppressed without becoming an oppressor, because of God’s love for all.  And because we know God is good, we can face the future with a sure hope that not even death can take away. We Christians have a lot to offer this hurting world.  We need to help them see that their needs and longings are really echoing their need for God.  We have God’s love as our driving force, not power or the need for freedom.

And it all comes down to the fact that throughout history our attempts to create a utopia, a good full life for all, have utterly failed. We are broken beyond our repair.  We can not save ourselves, but God can and in Jesus Christ he offers freedom from our brokenness, so we can live that full life to his glory.

Because society in the West today is at best neutral-Christian and at worst anti-Christian, we need to make certain ourselves and our children are well grounded in the faith. The dominant worldviews today are not Christian. We need to not only know why the Christian worldview is the right one but why the dominant worldviews are lacking when compared to the Christian worldview.  This way we can be “vaccinated” against the dominant worldviews.  Not only should we teach ourselves, but we need to let society know the love of God and what Christians are all about.  One of the best ways to do that is for Christians integrate their faith life into their work life. Do not compartmentalize your life.

The early Christian church formed a unique community.  They were racially, ethically, and economically diverse.  Everyone was welcomed.  They were highly committed to caring for the poor, the sick, and the marginalized.  They did not retaliate but rather were committed to forgiving.  They were strongly against abortion and infaticide, so to make certain any unwanted baby was cared for. And they had a unique stance on sex.  It is only for married couples.  Today when we look at these five characteristics we would call the first two liberal and the last two conservative.  You can not pigeon hole the early Christian church, so we Christians in today’s non-Christian culture should not be pigeon holed. We might want to model that early Christian community today.

Looking at what is happening in the West, one might think Christianity is on the decline, but that is not the case.  By God’s grace, Christianity is growing (but not in the West).  At least 70% of Christians live outside the West.  The Christian Church is definitely global, and because of that there is hope for a revival in the West.  God can do it.  God has started sending missionaries from “deepest darkest Africa” to the West.  Some have already arrived.

This post was based in part on the article “How to Reach the West (Again)”.