We talk a lot about freedom. It is part of our fallen nature to dislike someone telling us we can’t do something. In one sense this is good. I’ve told my kids not to tell me they can’t do some task. They should at least give it their best try. But freedom must be within boundaries. Many years ago Solomon wrote that “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.”(Proverbs 16:25) There must be a guide, a standard, a set of values that guides our use of freedom. Civil governments set laws for this purpose. Various Ethics Commissions set standards in government, and industries. In theology we talk about the “third use of the law” which basically means a right understanding of the Ten Commandments as a guide for a Christian’s behavior. Freedom cannot be unlimited, or as Solomon taught, “it leads to death”. The best guide, if we would head it, is attributed to a sermon of St. Augustine, the 4th century bishop. Paraphrased he said, “Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.” We would do well to follow that.
Many today deny the existence of absolute values, things that are always right for all time. Rather, each individual decides for themselves what values they follow, and aren’t to impose those values on others. OK, I understand that. Each person does make a choice of the values they follow, and we don’t make laws for each other saying that one must do this or that. However, that does not change the truth that Christians proclaim. We declare that Almighty God created us. That because we are His idea, His creation, He has established a way of life that is for our best good. This way of life is not a law that say you automatically go to hell if you don’t follow it precisely. It is an invitation to find the best life within the plan for which we were created. Even further, God came among us Himself in Jesus Christ to provide the way for our life in Him. Finding God’s good life is not being required to follow some set of laws, but yielding to the One who loves us and gave Himself that we might know the true life for which we were created.
I probably should apologize for some of my comments in my Good Morning message this past Friday. I was talking about the expressions on the faces of soap opera actors, and the people on the fashion runways in New York. I know nothing about the individuals who earn their living in those lines of work. I certainly do not know any of their hearts, and it is not my place to judge any of their motives. But we do see what is portrayed, which in greater or lesser degrees is a reflection of the values of the world in which we live. We must make judgments about those values, and seek to guide our lives by all that God has give us for our best good. Our Lord always wants so much more for us than what can be found in seeking worldly peace and prosperity. He has given the life of His Son so that we could have life to the fullest extent (John 10:10) both now and eternally. That is something the world cannot give.(John 14:27)
There is a great outcry today against so called hate speech coming from various groups. There are demonstrations and protest on college campuses against certain invited speakers. A local college in our area had an outcry from students over a bulletin board the Republican Club put up with material they felt was offensive. Certainly there have been some terrible crimes that have happened because of deeply held hateful attitudes, like the murder of a young black Army lieutenant just a week before his college graduation. These acts must be condemned, and punished to the full extent of the law. But we are a nation founded on the principle of freedom, and especially that of speech, press, and assembly. We must be willing to listen to one another even if we don’t agree with what is said. An opposing view, especially to society’s currently held standard of diversity, is not in itself hate speech. Christians are committed to the truth of God’s Word, the Bible. We do speak in opposition to the accepted values of the LGBT community. But we do not, we must not, hate anyone. We are all sinful beings for whom our Lord Jesus died. Yet there are values and standards for life that our God has given for our best good. As believers in Christ, and in the truth of God’s Word, we must uphold these God-given values. By so doing we are not bigots. We are simply trying to speak the truth God has given for the good of all mankind. I would hope it is possible, at least is some areas, to listen to one another without having to shout and demonstrate.
On one wall of my office I have four shelves of antique radio parts. There are capacitors, variable resistors, meters and a variety of other items. One variable capacitor is 12 inches in diameter and 8 inches deep. By today’s standards these 100 years old parts are gigantic. Everything today has been miniaturized. But one thing has remained constant, the laws of physics that govern the flow of electrons in devices we build. We’ve learned how to make things smaller and more efficient, but we can’t change the governing principles that make the devices work. Of course, this has its counterpart in life and society. Our God, the God who devised our being and brought us into life has established the laws by which we function best. We may manipulate all manner of things in society, but we can’t change the laws God has established for our best good. Perhaps we should look again at the Designer’s schematics.
In our modern culture, when one holds to certain standards and values, about marriage for example, they are often called “old fashioned”. Many are so taken with the idea of progress that they believe anything older than 50 years is long out dated, and must be discarded. But there are certain values given by our Lord for the good of the people He created. These do not change. When we speak of the sanctity of marriage as God intended, sexual relations only within its heterosexual context, and all of the values coming from the Ten Commandments, these are not old fashioned. They are the way God intends that we find the best life for ourselves, and in harmony with Him. God’s word to our world through the Prophet Jeremiah is fitting. “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”(6:16) As much as people would like to remake the world by their modern values, there are some things that cannot be improved. “I the LORD do not change.” (Malachi 3:6)
I used the word tolerance a couple of days go. It is important how word usage and language has changed over the years. Looking back in a dictionary from the 19th century tolerance meant “the power or capacity of enduring or acting”. In the early 20th century it added “endurance of the presence or actions of objectionable persons, or of the expressions of offensive opinions”. The first definition in modern dictionaries states that tolerance is “the willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own”. The meaning has changed from endurance to acceptance. This has given Christians a serious problem by bringing on the charge of bigotry when we oppose certain behaviors accepted in modern society. Being bound by God’s holy word we cannot accept sexual practices contrary to God’s design. We cannot accept the human sacrifice of killing the unborn. But at the same time we are not against anyone. Our Lord died for all mankind, and it is not our place to condemn anyone, and we don’t. By not accepting actions contrary to God’s word, we are simply trying to say that, within God revealed will, He is offering the fullest life possible. People are very complex beings. That’s the way God made us. So, each person has individual cares, and needs. Each must be treated with God’s love and compassion even if we don’t agree with their manner of life. Our opposition in areas that God declares to be wrong is not bigotry. It is love seeking to share God’s best.
There has been a lot of publicity in the last couple of weeks about one of the presidential candidates off color and degrading comments about women. He has tried to justify it as “locker room talk”. Unfortunately it is not that easy to push aside. For all their lack of practice, Christian values are still called upon by public officials. Both candidates profess their Christian faith. We should be able to expect Christian values to govern their lives. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”(4:19) Lewd comments, even off handed and off the record, should not be a part of one who professes Christ. Jesus went even further saying, “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come–sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.”(Mark 7:20-22) Course speech, lies, deception, justifications, and excuses have marked this election cycle more than any in recent memory. I have no advice, and I support no candidate, but, as Christians, we must be guided by the values of our faith, and seek to uphold those things that bring honor to our Lord.
Poland has the strictest abortion laws in Europe. Their parliament just rejected another law that would have made them even more strict, and with greater penalties. An interviewer was asking about the rights of women to make their own choices in the matter. One of the legislators responded with a question, “Are there some values that are beyond the choice of the individual?” That is a powerful and difficult question. Clearly society has said that there are. Otherwise we would not have laws against premeditated murder, driving under the influence, or others. Of course we can violate these and other laws, but they have still been established for the good of society. The question is, which values are beyond individual choice? And a companion question, what is the source for establishing those values? Now there is conundrum that occupies many volumes. Yet it is one we must all think about in order to set the values by which we live. And God’s revealed word can’t be left out of consideration.
My wife and I had the privilege of sharing in a family reunion on Saturday evening. It was not our family, but one we have known and loved for more than 40 years. They are an old farm family with roots at least five generations deep in the community. Devoutly Christian, their faith has been passed down through each generation, and has sent out into the world’s harvest fields a number of missionaries, evangelists, and pastors. Farming is no longer their central occupation, but common values and a love for Christ still continue to bind them together. The reunion was also the occasion for laying to rest the ashes of an elderly aunt who had been a missionary in Costa Rica for years, and had had a deep influence on all the family members. We live in a world where many of these values have been lost to our modern liberal culture. But there are places where they still exist, and maybe it is something all should give some though to. Our Brave New World cannot top the values and way of life that our Lord has given us in His Word.