Friday, October 12, 2018


"Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.  Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire."
Revelation 20:11-15 (New International Version)

The grisly spectacle is finally over. After what seemed to be an eternity of interrogation and accusations, Brett Kavanaugh has finally been sworn in as the ninth associate Justice to our current Supreme Court. It came after a lot of bloodletting that was reminiscent of the cruel manner the Senate Judiciary Committee treated Clarence Thomas in October of 1991. 

Despite having had multiple FBI investigations, a spotless judicial record and with hundreds of rulings for the Judiciary Committee to see and numerous character witnesses vouching for his character, the Democrats on the committee produced an eleventh hour accuser who claimed Kavanaugh had tried to rape her sometime in 1982 or 1983 or sometime during the 1980's. She also didn't exactly know where it happened. The only thing she knew thirty five years after the attack was that it was him. How could she know it was him when she didn't know anything else about the attack? Her therapist somehow managed to get her to see the light, with the help of an attorney once Kavanaugh was submitted as a candidate for the High Court.

From there, the madness quickly descended from the gutter to the sewer. Another accuser came forward claiming that he had groped her and exposed himself to her, with no evidence whatsoever to back up her allegation, followed by a woman represented by a singularly nasty "porn lawyer." According to the woman, Kavanaugh was once a member of a team of gang rapists who preyed on young women in Maryland sometime during the early 1980's. As it was with his other accusers, there was no one who could corroborate the stories. When all of that became too far fetched to believe, the committee began attacking his high school and college drinking habits, notes made on his  personal calendar and high school yearbook, then his temperament. He was even accused of not having a proper judicial temperament when he had the unmitigated gall to forcefully defend himself before the committee.

As the nasty process ground on, I tried comforting myself with the notion that the Salem witch trials were much worse, but that didn't help. Next, I tried the comedy of Monty Python and the convoluted logic of determining whether or not a woman was a witch.

While Monty Python was hilarious, as they almost always were, it didn't seem very funny this time. The sight  of a man defending his unjustly shredded honor while his wife, two daughters, and the judge's faithful supporters sat helplessly behind him, wasn't hilarious at all. It was an injustice of immense proportions.

Not to be outdone by the antics of the committee, the  news media piled on for good measure. If the Democrats on the committee saw fit to find Kavanaugh guilty of the crimes and misdemeanors  he was accused of without without a shred of evidence to support the accusations, he obviously had to be guilty. The media agreed and began to paint a portrait of a drunken pervert for the whole country to see.
Somehow, thanks to the tenacity of Kavanaugh and his supporters, he survived the ordeal and now sits on the High Court.

In the light of these sad events, I've been giving thought to our notions of what constitutes a Supreme Court and the meaning of justice in America. I've concluded that our only hope for justice will one day be realized, sooner, I hope, rather than later.

More than ever these days I find myself hoping and praying for that justice to be fulfilled, as it has been promised to us in Holy Writ.

On this side of eternity, those who would be deemed qualified to sit in judgement over us and our man-made law, must be made to run the gauntlet. Investigative agencies pore over their past deeds. Legal scholars look in every jot or tittle of  their legal briefs for any hint of error. Politicians scrutinize their histories, hoping to find something they've said that  runs counter to their intertogators' political agendas, Roe versus Wade, for example.The brutal process begins with a select Senate committee and winds its way tortuously to a full Senate for a final vote. That, and the media circus that surrounds it, is about as insane as it could possibly get.

On the eternal side of eternity, there are a few things that are  somewhat similar to our way of doing things here on Terra Firma and quite a few that are different. Here on earth, for example, a government body, the Senate, examines every candidate who has been selected for the Supreme Court. It's not that way in the eternal court. There is no candidate to grill for days on end. The position in heaven was filled a long, long time ago and that judge was selected by the Almighty himself.   Also, while our system calls for nine judges to  decide whether or not a law is Constitutional or a plaintiff's arguments have enough legal weight for the High Court to rule in the plaintiff's favor, there is only one judge in heaven. In both cases, the High Court's ruling is final. After that final ruling, there is no other avenue of appeal available. In terms of integrity and character, both courts have high standards. A judge must be honest, unimpeachable, and fair in his or her rulings. A good judge must never show preference for the rich over the poor. A good judge must not kowtow to special interests or  political partisanship. A good judge's reasoning ability must be sound and the decisions he or she renders  should carry considerable moral weight. That's not always the case in our earthly system. In 1857, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Dred Scott, a slave who moved to a free state, had to be returned to his slave owner in the south. The Court's reasoned that, since Scott was not a U.S.citizen by virtue of his slavery, he had to be nothing more than property to be disposed of at the whim of his "owner." One would think that a decision that important would be close. It wasn't. The Court ruled against Dred Scott seven to two. In 1927, Carrie Buck, a citizen of Virginia with limited mental ability (at 18 years of age, she had only gone through the sixth grade in school), was committed to a state facility as a "feeble minded" person. One thing led to another and the board of directors of the institution ordered her to be involuntarily sterilized. Her guardian appealed the ruling and Carrie's case made it all the way to the Supreme Court (Buck v. Bell). Her attorneys argued that her Fourteenth Amendment rights  to procreate had been violated.  The Court' s final ruling was 8-1 and the sterilization order proceeded. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was one of the eight justices who ruled against Carrie Buck. His words in defense of the decision still have the same sting today that they must have had almost a hundred years ago - "Three generations of imbeciles are enough." In a 2005 case, the Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, against Susette Kelo in an eminent domain case in which she sued the City of New London, Connecticut for what she believed was its misapplication of the eminent domain doctrine when the city condemned her property to make room for a business venture that the city thought would provide economic benefit to the entire city. I believe it was a terrible decision. I'm not a legal expert, but the idea that a municipality can take my property and give it to someone who wants to build a pizza parlor is ludicrous.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. Human justice is imperfect. It's sometimes as fallen as the rest of humanity. Even a good judge can render a bad decision (Justice Anthony Kennedy in the Kelo ruling, for example).  This, however, is not the case in the High Court of heavenly justice. The chief justice of that court will rule the world and the people with justice and integrity (Psalm 9:8, Isaiah 11:5, Jeremiah 23:5). When that great day comes, he will not need the approval of a Senate committee or the entire Senate to approve of him. He won the heavenly confirmation battle here on earth and he has the scars inflicted on him in his hands and side during that process to prove it. They won't be rooting around in his high school yearbooks or calendars. In fact, he just might be rooting around in theirs. You've got to know he'll find more dirt in theirs then they ever did in Brett Kavanaugh's. The heavenly judge is well acquainted with the sting of false accusations. He was accused of being a drunkard and a friend of deplorables and dregs (Matthew 11:19). He was accused of blasphemy more than once by the religious leaders of his day (Mark 14). At his trial he was accused of sedition (Luke 23) and saying he would destroy the temple of God (Matthew 26). His accusers twisted his words in order to render a guilty verdict on their charge of blasphemy (Matthew 26:65). From that point on, his accusers had no further need for witnesses against him (Matthew 26:65).  That portion of his trial ended with one final indignity. His accusers spit on and beat him. "Prophesy to us, Messiah," they howled. "Who hit you?"

The entire sham dragged on, with Jesus being dragged from pillar to post, from Pilate to Herod and back again. The climax came when Jesus' accusers demanded that Pilate pronounce the death penalty. They didn't even have the courage of their supposed convictions and had to use a Roman procurator as their hit man. Not long after that, Jesus was nailed to a cross at Golgatha. He was an innocent man. He really was who he said he was, but he died a criminal's death.

When I was young, I used to recite the Apostle's Creed in the Episcopal church I attended. Whenever we got to the place where we were to recite, "He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead," I would either mumble the words or go silent. I didn't believe them back then. I do now!

There is a Supreme Court in heaven and there is a Chief Justice who will one day make the final rulings. As it is with our Supreme Court here on earth, there will be no avenue of appeal available. The Judge's ruling will be final. The parameters of that judgement outlined in Matthew 25:31-46 and Revelation 20:11-15. (see introduction to this post)

Knowing this, a prudent person would retain the services of a skilled advocate/attorney when that inevitable day of judgement comes. Thankfully, the heavenly Court has provided an advocate for all those who admit their guilt and lean on the mercy of the court. That arrangement is available to all, including United States Senators, deplorables, dregs, false accusers, and assorted sinners of all stripes.

That's the plea I intend to make when my moment in the dock comes. And, I've been assured by my advocate that the penalty for every sin I ever committed has been paid for in full because he has told me he was the one who paid the debt that justice demanded.  I know that now by faith, but there is a day coming when I will know it by sight: when I see my advocate's nail pierced hands and wounded side.

Will everyone accept this merciful arrangement? Apparently not. We are all free moral agents. We can choose to either embrace or reject the mercy offered. That choice will be the one that determines our eternal destiny.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

"The Third Compromise"

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.”

  • Exodus 8:1 (New International Version)
A few weeks ago, I went over to Haag Pharmacy to pick up a prescription for my wife. As I walked toward the entrance, I found myself caught up in the sights and sounds of children playing and laughing in the adjacent playground of Emporia Christian School. If I could have, I’d have lingered a while longer. It just felt so good, for an all too fleeting moment, to be transported away from the insanity of modern life.
When I got inside the pharmacy, I was re-transported back into the realities of adult life in America. That’s the world where about 40 million of us are taking prescribed anti-depressants and psychotropics. It’s a world dominated by Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, Xanax, Ativan, Ritalin, or some newly concocted chill pill. There are millions more of us taking Demerol, Oxycodone, and Percocet for our pain. Too often, the reward for using these painkillers is addiction. I’ve heard that using them for only five days can turrn a corporate executive, an undertaker, a truck driver, or a college professor into a mumbing, toothless junkie. And, wonder of wonders, it’s all approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Now, mind you, I don’t fault  Amber and her crew. They’ve absolutely delightful people. They’re not the ones responsible for society’s ills. They’re only doing what the doctor ordered and the doctor is only trying to fix problems that he or she didn’t create.  But, I digress. I need to move on.
I was greeted by a smiling face as soon as I got to the counter. “How are you, Phil? It’s good to see you.  How can I help you?” “I’m good. I’m here for Nancy’s regulars,” I responded.
With my mind still trying to wrap itself around the joy those kids were experiencing in the playground next door, I paid for the prescriptions and made a bit of small talk before I left. “The kids next door are absolutely wonderful. They’re infectious, don’t you think?” The clerk smiled and nodded in agreement. I closed the conversation on a somber note. “The sad thing is, some of these happy kids are going to grow up and become United States Senators some day. I can’t figure it out. How does something like that happen? How does it all go off the rails?”
Realizing it wouldn’t be fair for me to expect an answer to the question, I made my way to the exit.
The questions have been nagging at me ever since. How? How? How? One day these kids are happy and content. Then, gradually, they get pumped full of Ritalin, Prozac, or painkillers and their heads are turned inside-out. The process repeats itself over time and they’re ruined. The only thing they’re good for in the end is the United States Senate.
I’ve been giving this thought since that brief encounter, racking my brain for solutions to the problem. I’ve concluded the only thing that makes much sense to me is for those of us who are Christian to never send our kids to  public school at all. Let them learn about life on their own. They seem to do a far better job of learning how life is supposed to work without a lot of adult interference and instruction.
“Why, Phil,” you say. “That’s a bit too radical; it’s insane. Our children need to get an education. After all, how are they ever going to succeed in this world without an education?
That argument might have worked well on me a few years ago, but not these days. If  what the world considers success and God considers success could be put side by side into writing, one thing would become abundantly clear. God’s ideas about success are radically different than the “world’s.”
It’s been that way for millennia.
When I was in graduate school, I became acquainted with the work of Peter Marshall, a Presbyterian minister who emigrated from Scotland in the 1920’s and by the 1940’s had become Chaplain of the United States Senate. He died when he was in his forties. While his life was short, his legacy was rich and full. Whatever he was given in life, he used for the glory of God and the good of mankind. That was especially evident in the way he used worldly wealth. He died nearly penniless, with just a few dollars in his accounts to pass on to posterity.  Some people thought that this was a terrible thing for him to do to his family, but his wife, Catherine, thought otherwise. She once observed that she was quite proud of the example he'd set in life. She let the critics know that he had used every resource he had been given in life to the best possible end.
I think of a man like Peter Marshall and ask myself what he might have to say about our children and the educational system we plunge them into these days. I believe I know the answer. In fact, I’m sure I know.
Some time during the 1940’s, Peter Marshall preached a sermon that is now best known as “The Third Compromise.”
What, you might ask, was or is “The Third Compromise?” It was Marshall’s commentary on the contest of wills between God and Pharaoh recorded in the book of Exodus. “The Third Compromise” can be found in chapter 10 of that book.
Prior to chapter 10, Moses outlines God’s requirements for his people, under the broad umbrella of the now famous words, “Let my people go that they may worship me.” In response, Pharaoh offers a series of compromises -  (1) the people may go, but they must worship in the land of Egypt, (2) the people may go, but they cannot go too far, (3) the men can go, but the children must stay in Egypt, and (4) All can go, but their possessions cannot go with them.
In the end, every compromise is rejected. The first is rejected when Moses tells Pharaoh that the children of Israel are to leave Egypt and go three days into the wilderness to worship God. Pharaoh responds by telling Moses the people can go, but not too far, which was another way of saying, “Don’t get too carried away with your religion business." It was a very twenty-first century response, but it was also rejected.
This brings me to “The Third Compromise.” Pharaoh’s offer and Moses’ and God’s response are outlined in the 10th chapter of Exodus, which follows
“Then Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh. “Go, worship the Lord your God,” he  said. “But tell me who will be going.” Moses answered, “We will go with our young and our old, witth our sons and our daughters, and with our flocks and herds, because we are to celebrate a festival to the Lord.” Pharaoh said, “The Lord be with you—if I let you go, along with your women and children! Clearly you are bent on evil. No! Have only the men go and worship the Lord, since that’s what you have been asking for.” Then Moses and Aaron were driven out of Pharaoh’s presence.” (Exodus 10:8-10, New International Version)

It is this “Third Compromise” that far too many Christians have been willing to embrace and they have done it to the detriment of the faith they profess in.
In his sermon on the subject, Reverend Marshall puts the peril of the compromise succinctly:
“This was perhaps the most subtle and the most successful of all the compromises, because even the most godly parents today desire worldly prosperity and position for their children. They want their children to stay in Egypt, they want their children to find success and approval in Egypt. One of the greatest problems facing the church today is the fact that so many children and young people are still in Egypt with the approval and the consent of their parents.”
While some Christians opt for Christian schools or homeschooling, most send their children to public schools, which are supposedly neutral on the subject of religious faith, to learn the skills they’ll need in life to become “successful.”
In this regard, Reverend Marshall’s words from the 1940’s are prescient and powerful:  “If you give to your children an account of the world from which God is left out, you will teach them to understand the world without reference to God.”
I see 21st America and see the results of the “Third Compromise.” I see it in the ever increasing cohort of young people who want nothing to do with Christianity and even when they do, their belief systems are based on what the “world” believes it  should be, not God’s. The current moniker for this cohort is “Nones.” How’s that for a belief system? It might just as well be Bette Midler’s famous “Whatever!”
Does this mean that the parents who have made this compromise don’t care about their children? No, of course not. As Reverend Marshall also observed, these parents give their children the best medical and dental care. They make sure their children's posture is perfect and their grasp of social graces are outstanding. They pay fortunes for college tuition. But while “their bodies and their minds are carefully nurtured and trained while their souls are starved and neglected.”
I think of young children today and conclude, sadly, that this is how our children become United States Senators or anything else we deem to be important in life. Far too many of them enter the fray without much of an internal rudder to guide them other than ambition and self-interest. They are thrown into a world where that ethic prevails. It’s every man for himself. It’s do whatever ambition and self-interest tell you to do, even if it means destroying your fellow travelers.
Peter Marshall hasn’t been the only one who has seen the peril before the Christian world. About a year ago, I read Rod Dreher’s “The Benedict Option - A Strategy for Christians in a Post Christian Nation.” Dreher has observed what Peter Marshall observed more than a half a century before him. He has seen that “Christians often talk about “reaching the culture” without realizing that, having no distinct Christian culture of their own, they have been co-opted by the secular culture they wish to evangelize.” In other words, they have fallen prey to Pharaoh’s “Third Compromise.”
Dreher sees all to well that “American Christians are going to have to come to terms with the brute fact that we live in a culture, one in which our beliefs make increasingly little sense. We speak a language that the world more and more either cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears.”
But how can we come to our senses? Dreher’s prescription is simple, right to the point:
“If we are going to be for the world as Christ meant for us to be, we are going to have to spend more time away from the world, in deep prayer and substantial spiritual training—just as Jesus retreated to the desert to pray before ministering to the people. We cannot give the world what we do not have.”  
As it was in the time of Moses, I believe it’s time for Christians who truly want to live the Christian life to go into the wilderness, as it were, to worship God without the influence of the “world" to corrupt us. I don’t have a clear idea of what that life looks like. Like most people, I’ve been too caught up in the affairs of this world to see the objective clearly. But, I am convinced that it is time for us to tell the Pharaohs of our time, “Let my people go, that they may worship me.”
Peter Marshall closed that famous sermon with a critical question. It was critical back in the 1940’s. It’s even more critical today.
I’ll close with that question and leave it with you, the reader:
“What is the good of your son's phi-beta-kappa key, or your girl's successful career in music or art or journalism, if they don't know God, if they are not saved, if they have not entered into a saving relationship with God through Christ, if they are spiritually illiterate or spiritually dead? That’s the question you will have to answer if your children are left in Egypt.”