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The Scales of Justice

Liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away yesterday evening. And my Facebook and Twitter feeds blew up.

President Trump will nominate a new justice in the coming days. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will bring a vote on the President’s nomination to the Senate floor. We could have a new justice on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) before or shortly after the November 3, 2020 elections.

According to the US Constitution, the President’s job is to nominate SCOTUS Justices and the Senate’s job is to give “advice and consent”. Legally, the process could begin immediately. But is that the right thing to do?

We are a country of Law and Order. The Constitution was written to preserve the rights of the People and restrain the US Government (in sharp contrast to the Left’s suggestions that the Constitution is to restrain the People, preserving the right of the Government).

Our nation is deeply divided among political lines. Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minnesota Police Officer, we have already seen months of nightly riots (called “mostly peaceful protests” by the “mainstream” media) in the streets of Portland, Seattle, New York, among other cities. Conservative activist Candace Owens tweeted, “Ruth Badger (sic) Ginsburg has passed away. Pray for the Ginsburg family, but also pray for America. If you thought you saw the face of true evil with the Democrats’ treatment of Brett Kavanaugh— you ain’t see nothing yet.”

Last night, as Twitter lit up on news of Justice Ginsburg’s death, Reza Aslan tweeted, “If they even TRY to replace RBG we burn the entire f*cking thing down.” I don’t know what Aslan threatens to burn down, but it doesn’t sound good.

Even in the day of “tolerance”, we are at a point where bullies’ comments are taken seriously and played out. But then again, I don’t remember any of President Trump’s “bully rhetoric” played out, resulting in any lives lost. But I digress.

In 2016, SCOTUS Justice Antonin Scalia died. Then-President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill Scalia’s vacancy. Mitch McConnell said that he would block Garland’s nomination until after the upcoming election in order for the People to decide, which resulted in Donald Trump getting to nominate Neil Gorsuch to the SCOTUS.

Many on the Left are calling McConnell hypocritical now. But a few months ago, McConnell clarified his statement by saying that since the President (Obama) and the Senate majority were led by opposite parties, the People should decide in the election which way they want to go. And the People decided. In the interview a few months ago, McConnell said that since the President (Trump) and the Senate were led by the same party, he would have no problem presenting the President’s nominated justice. On a side note, in 2016, then-Vice President Joe Biden was in favor of Garland’s nomination and said the Senate should be allowed to consider Garland.

Senator Ted Cruz pointed out on Sean Hannity’s TV show last night — and Tweeted today — that especially in light of the Democrats’ threats to contest the election — and Hillary Clinton’s admonition that “Joe Biden should not concede under any circumstances”, having an even number of SCOTUS Justices could lead to a Constitutional Crisis if the 2020 election is challenged, as was the 2000 election. Cruz is in favor of the Senate considering a nominee. National Review wrote this article on August 7, 2020, “History Is on the Side of Republicans Filling a Supreme Court Vacancy in 2020“. It’s worth the read.

A couple of friends on Facebook stated last night that the stakes of the election had just been raised significantly. As President Obama stated several years ago, “Elections have consequences.” I agree.

In recent years, SCOTUS has made several anti-Constitutional decisions — at least as I read the Constitution. In fact, the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 was Unconstitutional; the Constitution does not guarantee a “right to privacy” as argued, which was the main reason for approving nation-wide abortions. The SCOTUS decision in the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case legalizing same-sex marriage was decided on a 5-4 split decision. (Note: Ted Cruz, in his recent book One Vote Away, chronicles other narrow 5-4 SCOTUS decisions).

So where does that leave us? Clearly, we are at a crossroads. Clearly, the Rule of Law allows going forward with a Supreme Court nomination. If we — as a nation — choose to postpone the nomination, we should do so independent of threats of riots. We cannot allow bullying to deter following the Law at this crucial time. But the question is, “Is now the time to move forward with a nomination?” This is what Ginsburg said in 2016, “There’s nothing in the Constitution that says the president stops being president in his last year,”… Several months later, Ginsburg said having only eight justices on the Supreme Court is not good.

One friend suggested on Facebook that Trump should go with the “nuclear option”. The Nuclear Option would involve a “Recess Appointment” of a Justice while the Senate is not in session during three consecutive days. This would prevent a Constitutional Crisis for deciding a contested election. But the Recess Appointment would be challenged and there would be a normal confirmation process. The appointment could be short-lived.

This could be political suicide for Trump and McConnell.

Is it worth the possible political fallout ahead of the election? On the other hand, it could incentivize more citizens — on both sides of the aisle — to vote in November.

But if Trump is able to get a confirmed nomination, a Constitutional-originalist-leaning SCOTUS (not “conservative”) would have ramifications that would last for generations. If Trump wins and appoints additional Justices, in the event they die or retire, that would result in even fewer narrow decisions for SCOTUS. The only way to overcome this, should Biden/Harris win would be to pack the SCOTUS with additional liberal Justices, as FDR threatened to do and add two or four more Justices. After all, the Constitution doesn’t prescribe how many Justices will serve.

The stakes are high.
This election just became less about two candidates
and more about abortion, religious freedom, and Constitutional fidelity.*

If they haven’t begun to already, Christians need to
humbly pray, seek God, and clean up our act and vote
.

2Chronicles 7:14

* I plan to write another post about Constitutional fidelity soon and will post a link here.

exam

I’ve had my share of tests. I’ve done well on many. I’ve done poorly on some. In today’s Bible reading, Paul urges the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they pass the test of faith. (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Actually, Paul asks the Corinthians two question: 1) Are you in the faith? and 2) Do you see Christ in you? Paul implies that if the answer is no, then you don’t pass the test.

Paul uses two different Greek verbs when he asks the questions. The first verb means “to try to learn the nature or character of someone or something by submitting such to thorough and extensive testing.” [1] The second verb means to “try to learn the genuineness of something by examination and testing, often through actual use.”[2]

Another way to ask the questions might be, “Examine yourself to see if you’re you a Believer” and “Test yourself as to how genuine your faith is.” In other words, Paul asks the Corinthians quantitative (yes/no?) and qualitative (how well?) elements of the tests. It isn’t enough to say, “Yes I’m a believer.” or “Yes, I adhere to certain religious beliefs.” Paul digs deeper.

Christianity is unlike every religion. Religions are based on believing certain teachings and seeking to appease a deity and/or to rid oneself of deficiencies. Some religions add an element of eternity, others do not.

But Christianity is a relationship, initiated by God, established by the sacrificial death of Jesus, and sealed by the Holy Spirit. It is completely different when seriously compared to every religion out there.

Application

I believe we need to ask these questions on a regular basis. It keeps us on our toes. It adds a present-day application of our faith test.

I mentioned to our church last Sunday that if you were married several decades ago and you have not had an ongoing and growing relationship with your spouse, something is seriously wrong!” If you claim to have been saved for several decades, but don’t have an ongoing, growing relationship with Jesus, something is seriously wrong!

Christians often rattle off that they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But let me ask with Paul, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” and “If so, then how personal is your personal relationship with Jesus Christ?”

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 331. Print.
[2] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 331. Print.

This devotional was originally published on September 7, 2019.

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Last year, the Parker County Sheriff’s Department (in the county where I pastor) issued a warning about counterfeit money being passed off as being legitimate. In a news conference, they highlighted the easily-discerned marks of these counterfeit bills. Anyone who has handled much money should be able to spot these counterfeits, if you just look at the bills instead of their denominations and the dead president pictures. Instead of noting these were bills of the United States Treasury, these bills clearly state that they are “For Motion Picture Purposes”.

Paul wasn’t happy with the Corinthians. They had lost all semblance of discernment. In fact, in today’s Bible reading, Paul rebukes them for opening wide their doors and accepting people peddling another Jesus, a different Spirit and a different Gospel than what he had preached to them earlier. (2 Corinthians 11:4)

A few years ago, after many hours arguing the details on some tertiary issues with some cultists, it dawned on me that I was arguing the wrong things. Paul squarely hits the nail on the head when he lists these three subjects: Jesus, the Spirit, and the Gospel. Every religion and every cult distort all three of these subjects, or outright reject the historic orthodox Christian belief.

If my doorbell rings tomorrow and some nicely-dressed young men ask me if I want to talk about Heavenly Father’s plan, I’ll invite them in, but I will only discuss three subjects: Jesus, the Spirit, and the Gospel. If an older and younger couple of women knock on my door and ask if I’d like to talk about living forever on Paradise Earth, I’ll invite them in, but I will only discuss three subjects: Jesus, the Spirit, and the Gospel.

I have encouraged classes at church to limit their conversations with cultists and other religious adherents to these three subjects. Why? Because it keeps you on task on three of the most important subjects in light of eternity. If you only discuss three subjects, you know very clearly where you stand on these important doctrines, and you can easily demonstrate where they don’t line up Scripturally … where things really matter.

When discussing the nature of the Gospel in Galatians, Paul says that if anyone — including an angel from heaven — preaches a Gospel contrary to the one he preached, let that person be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9)

I’ve heard that no one is taught how to recognize counterfeit money. Instead, bank tellers and even the checkers at your local big box retailer are trained in some key features of real money. Just a few months ago, I was waiting for the customer ahead of me to check out, when the checker told the customer she couldn’t accept her $100 bill. The marker the checker used to validate the bill didn’t reveal the correct color. She called in a supervisor who also swiped the bill with the marker and immediately told the customer they couldn’t accept her money. This customer was trying to make off with goods she hadn’t legitimately paid for, and the checker would have been disciplined for accepting funny money.

Application

So how do you recognize spiritual counterfeits? The same way the checker recognized counterfeit money. She was familiar with the real thing. When the customer presented the fake bill, it didn’t bear the marks of the real thing.

The only way you’ll recognize spiritual counterfeit is to know your Bible. Read your Bible. Study your Bible. Read and study with other Believers. Carefully choose whose books you read and whose teachings you listen to and watch. The more familiar you are with the real deal, the more easily you’ll recognize a fake.

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chalkboard, books, and chalk

In today’s Bible reading in 1 Corinthians 4, Paul tells the church at Corinth that he wants to be a good manager of the mysteries of God. As I read that in the CSB, I thought, that really sounds strange. The ESV translates the word as steward, a word that sounds more applicable. The Greek word here means, “one who has the authority and responsibility for something—‘one who is in charge of, one who is responsible for, administrator, manager”[1]

The bottom line is, Paul says that everyone, including the Apostles, are accountable. One might think that the Apostles are at the “top of the food chain” so to speak in authority. But Paul says that he only wants to be seen as a good administrator of God’s mysteries. He doesn’t really care what the Corinthians — or anyone else for that matter — think of him; he is only accountable to God.

I shared a meme on Facebook a few days ago that took on a life of its own as a “Facebook Friend” took it completely out of context, making it appear to say something it clearly didn’t say. It showed a young lady gleefully saying that only God could judge her. Just below her picture was a picture of Charles Spurgeon saying, “That should scare you.”

Narcissists think that “Nobody can judge me.” So this meme takes it one step further and says that God is the only one who can judge me. Indeed! But they don’t realize the gravity of standing before a holy God to account for their life.

I remember taking a few classes in college on a pass/fail basis. It meant that at the end of the semester, my grade average could be anything from a 100 to a 70 (or whatever the bell-curve worked out to be) and still pass the course. Guess what! I didn’t push myself very hard in those classes. Why? Because there was very little incentive to put in the extra effort. In hindsight, those classes didn’t leave enough of an impression on my mind to be able to remember which classes I took as pass/fail.

In our attempts at self-justification, we must realize that — as Paul did — God doesn’t grade on a curve. A sliding scale doesn’t appear in God’s grade book. It’s either pass or fail. And for all eternity past and future, Jesus blew the curve! So you either score 100% or you fail. It doesn’t matter if you score in the top 10% or even in the top 1%, you still fail! God doesn’t compare us to Hitler. If He did, most of us would be in pretty good shape. God compares us to Jesus! Ouch! So yes, only God can judge us. And that should scare us!

But the Good News of the gospel is that I can have Jesus’ 100% score put in the place of my score. I can score 2% and Jesus turns that into 100% because of what He’s done. Now, I can tell you that this unfair crediting my grade with Jesus’ grade makes me work so much harder than I ever dreamed of in my pass/fail college classes. And my motivation to work hard isn’t in order to receive the 100%. My motivation to work is because I already have the perfect score and I want to please the One Who gave me the perfect credit.

Because Jesus’ perfect obedience has been applied to my account, my motivation to obey God has been turned on its head! I want to spend time in God’s Word. I want to pray. I want to worship. I want to be a good steward of my finances so that I can give more to help further the work of the Gospel in my church, in my city and in the world. I want to tell other people about Jesus. And I want to spend time helping other people to grow in their relationship with God.

Application

Have you ever realized your inability to please God? Have you ever really given up your attempts to make God happy with you? Have you ever asked God to apply Jesus’ perfect score to your score?

Jesus’ perfect score is available for the asking! God isn’t stingy with His grace and His mercy! He lavishes them on us as the Perfect Father would!

If you haven’t turned your life over to God, today’s a good day to do it! And once you’ve done that, watch how He empowers you to please Him. Watch how He gives you new desires to please Him.

This devotional was originally published August 3, 2019.

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 476. Print.

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Has Jesus changed your life?

Today’s Bible reading presents the famous story of the “wee little man”, Zacchaeus.

From an early age, I felt like I could relate to Zacchaeus. Those of you who have met me know why. Neither Zacchaeus nor I will ever be the tallest man in the room! It doesn’t bother me so much now compared to my “wonder years”. At some point, I finally embraced the fact that it is what it is.

But Zacchaeus’ stature isn’t what the story is about. The Sycamore Tree isn’t what the story is about. The central focus of the story is Zacchaeus’ radical transformation from being a greedy tax collector to a repentant Christ-follower after his encounter with Jesus.

As I just typed that, I realized how strange that redundancy should sound: a repentant Christ-follower. Every Christ-follower should be marked by a changed life as a result of encountering the One we follow. And following Him involves — even requires — repentance: Turning from us and turning to Him.

Tax collectors weren’t the most popular people of Jesus’ day. Evidently, tax collectors lined their pockets with whatever extras they could exact from their taxpayers. And from Dr. Luke’s description, Zacchaeus was really good at his job. Dr. Luke even hints at that in naming Zacchaeus a “Chief Tax Collector”. (Luke 19:2)

Other than the disdain of the religious leaders that Jesus had gone to “stay with a sinful man”, Dr. Luke doesn’t give us any details of Jesus’ visit to Zacchaeus’ home. He only gives us the result of the encounter: Zacchaeus will never be the same. His behavior changes because his heart changes. An encounter with Jesus is always a heart encounter first. Then it overflows into a behavior change. In expressing his repentance (Luke 19:8), Zacchaeus promises restitution to those he has wronged. This is straight out of the Law (Leviticus 6:5, Numbers 5:6–7)

Philosophers will sometimes use the “Prime Mover Argument” in an effort to prove God’s existence. It says that everything in the universe is in constant motion. Therefore, there had to be a Prime Mover who set the first thing into motion; that Prime Mover is God.

Zacchaeus climbed the tree because he wanted to see Jesus. But before Zacchaeus needed the tree, God put that tree where Zacchaeus would need it. God is always the “Prime Mover”. God is the One Who seeks. Jesus said that the Father seeks spirit-and-truth worshipers. (John 4:23) That’s a good thing! Because on our own, not one of us would seek God! (Romans 3:10–12) And in our reading today, Jesus said that He was sent to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:10) And the day our first father sinned, it was God who was seeking. (Genesis 3:8–9)

Application

The religious leaders criticized Jesus for being with sinners. The underhanded accusation was that Jesus was with hanging out with sinners because he was one, too. But note that in every situation where Jesus hung out with sinners, the sinners changed but Jesus didn’t. Every situation. He never compromised on the Truth of His message. And neither should we.

It is admirable when Christians reach outside our comfort zone and roll up our sleeves to rub elbows with people unlike ourselves. But in reaching out, we must be very careful to “love the sinner” and not share in their sin, nor encourage them in their sin. Like Jesus, believers should love the sinner out of, and away from, his/her sin.

In case you’ve missed this major theme, everyone is a sinner. Our goal in discipleship/becoming more like Jesus is to become in our experience who we already are in Christ Jesus. In Jesus, we are saints. But until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will struggle with becoming more saintly in our beliefs, our attitudes and our behavior, and less as a sinner.

The Christian life isn’t about behavior change. If it were, it would be just like all of the other religions. Instead, the Christian life is about having a relationship with Jesus Christ. But as we grow in our relationship with Jesus, our behavior will change. Just like Zacchaeus!

This devotional was originally published July 23, 2019.

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