Of “Stolen Elections” and Christian Witness

A few weeks back, I surprised my wife with a trip to New Orleans, a trip made even more exciting by the arrival, from Colorado, of her sister and brother-in-law. The Big Easy was fun; been there now, done that, no need to really go back. I had engaged in this small conspiracy for a matter of weeks; when I say, “small”, the co-conspirators were Karen’s sister and myself, in the main (as in, the only people who might accidentally spill the beans in a conversation with her; she just doesn’t text or call Bill all that often, and the other few folks I had told were sufficiently removed from the situation such that I felt safe letting them in on the secret). As much as I was determined to keep things a secret–and I did succeed in the end–there were at least a couple of times over the course of a few weeks of suspense when I thought about saying something which would have given away the game, only to catch myself prior to opening my big mouth. Conspiracies are not easy things to pull off.

And this brings me to today’s topic, which is two-fold: one, despite the fact that, apparently, a significant percentage of my fellow Christians believe in some way that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen”, I not only do not believe that, but more importantly, I simply am literally unable to believe it; more on this later. Two, and even more importantly, I want to talk about the tremendous importance of loving God with our minds, what that entails (using this narrative to illustrate), and how believers in Jesus need to be careful thinkers if we would have a needy world take our witness for Jesus seriously.

It’s pretty easy to say, “the election was stolen”, particularly if you are a Republican. In fact, if the polling is accurate, a little shy of twice as many Republicans believe that Donald Trump won the election as believe Joe Biden did. Now to be sure, it’s likely that within this group, there is a range of belief levels, from those who say (and believe) so rather casually, to those who support insurrections against the Constitution in order to “stop the steal”. Nonetheless, to say, “I believe the election was stolen” will assumedly still get a person more approval points from GOP-types than saying the opposite.

Now, if this had no ramifications beyond this, though I would consider it misguided, I likely wouldn’t take the time to write this piece. But for the follower of Jesus, it doesn’t end here; rather, any time a follower of Jesus publicly professes to believe things which are not true, the testimony of Christ suffers a bit. And thus my concern: I wouldn’t be particularly bothered by this position–people take positions with which I disagree all the time, and many of them are “no skin off my nose”–were it not for what I believe to be the problem of giving scoffers just one more reason not to take Christian faith seriously.

Christianity is a historically-grounded faith. Despite those who would misrepresent the idea of “faith” as “believing without evidence” or even “believing despite evidence”, this is not at all the Bible’s picture of faith. A few weeks past Easter, the pinnacle event of the Christian religion, believers have only recently been reminded of this fact: if Jesus Christ did not literally, bodily rise from the grave after dying a brutal death, then Christianity is a phony faith and we are fools. There’s really no middle ground on this; our faith rises or falls on the historicity and truthfulness of the Bible’s claims. And the fact that Christianity is a historically-rooted faith, making claims to absolute truths, demands that we provide reasons to believe, intellectually-valid arguments that can stand up to close scrutiny. I am an evangelical Christian for just that reason: I believe that truth matters, and that the Bible is true.

This is why Christian apologetics is an important field, one highly-regarded by most evangelical believers. Prior to his spectacular fall and being exposed as a hypocrite, most evangelicals admired and trusted the work of Ravi Zacharias (and in fact, while I would no longer recommend them, the books he has written are filled with good arguments for the faith). William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, Greg Koukl, and many other evangelical thinkers are highly thought-of, precisely because they offer intellectually-robust arguments for faith. But here is the irony for me: there must be a reasonably-high percentage of professing evangelical Christians who believe in the importance of apologetics, on the one hand, and yet do not employ intellectual rigor in other areas of their lives, with the result being, I believe, harm done to Christian witness.

But I’ve already said that.

So with that as prologue, let me explain why I cannot believe that the election was “stolen”, and then wrap up by urging upon all of my readers a serious consideration of the questions I raise, not so I can win a few folks over to my way of thinking, but so I can encourage upon all my evangelical friends an approach to truth and faith that digs deeper than the surface, that concerns itself with following the truth wherever it might lead, and that ultimately offers to a lost world a credible witness for the gospel.

I go back to the beginning of this piece: conspiracies are hard, even when they only involve a couple of folks for a few weeks. And thus I say that not only am I not convinced by the “evidence” that has been brought forward attempting to prove a conspiracy to steal the election (I will spend only a few words on that alleged evidence), but given what a conspiracy to steal a presidential election would entail, I simply cannot believe that it could happen; I find this implausible to the point of being impossible.

Alleged problems with Dominion Voting Systems. Fishy-looking moves being made by poll workers. Witnesses being kept from watching the ballots being counted. Election officials lying. A math equation which proved the statistical impossibility of a Biden win. Low turnouts at Biden shindigs coupled with SRO crowds at MAGA rallies. Other things. These and more were alleged to prove that the rightful winner of the election was Donald Trump. We have now known for some time that so many of these allegations have been debunked by media sources spanning the political spectrum. We have seen the Trump legal team fail miserably to convince judges that there was something amiss (sure, some of the lawsuits were thrown out on procedural grounds, from lack of standing to the doctrine of laches, but in other cases, Trump’s own attorneys admitted that they couldn’t produce evidence to back up their claims). These things are established matters of fact, and while it would be incorrect to suggest that no election fraud took place–a little bit always does, whether intentional fraud or, often, unintentional–the evidence seems clear enough for those willing to see it.

The lack of convincing evidence is why I do not believe the election was stolen, but sixty years of living and observing human behavior lead me to the conclusion that I simply cannot believe that it was. And here is where I invite intellectually-honest readers to consider the following issues that must be faced and answered if one is to continue to hold to the stolen election narrative.

  1. First, consider the sheer magnitude of the conspiracy. The first damning reality involves the size and scope of the conspiracy necessary to actually steal an election. In a word, it would have to be massive. It would have to involve officials at various different levels, from both major political parties, and across many states (not only the six contested states which Trump lost, but likely also at least a couple of states (say, North Carolina and Florida, for instance) in which the conspiracy failed. It would involve people at the ground level of counting votes. It would involve election officials, both elected and appointed. It would involve judges. It would involve politicians at various levels, rising to governorships at the state level, as well as (likely) members of Congress. With his refusal to do what he could not constitutionally, was Mike Pence even somehow a participant in this conspiracy? It’s hard to estimate the sheer number of people that a conspiracy of this magnitude would have to entail, but it would have to be numbered in the hundreds, and possibly the thousands. Does it seem plausible to you that a conspiracy this large could have been put together and maintained (even until now? More on that later…).
  2. Further, there is the question of motive. Let’s take just one individual, the much-maligned Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger. This man voted for Donald Trump, contributed to Trump’s campaign, and was vocally supportive, even following the certification of the election results, when he said that he wished the former president had won. Why would a man like Brad Raffensperger–a professing Christian with reported higher ambitions–sabotage his own party’s presidential election? Then ask the same question of every Republican partisan who was “in on it”.The question, then, is not only whether or not you consider it plausible that hundreds of GOP partisans would actively sabotage their own candidate, but why?
  3. Here’s another question about the scope of the conspiracy: when it was being constructed, was there 100% sign-on? In other words, did every single person (at whatever level, from either party) willingly agree to be in on the conspiracy? Is that plausible? Assumedly, we would all agree that this is not believable, and so we are left with the question: what about those (Republicans or Democrats) who refused to be involved in what would be, in many cases, felonies (with the promise of prison time)? Why have we heard from no person who was approached to be on the inside of the conspiracy, who refused? Is there any plausible explanation for this? Perhaps the organizers of this conspiracy offered prodigious sums of money to such folks, but the taking of this would be considered bribery and would surely result in prosecution if found out. Or perhaps the conspirators issued threats to each of these non-conspirators sufficient to secure their silence. Do you find it plausible that one of these explanations (or some other of which I haven’t thought) would suffice to silence every one of these individuals?
  4. Now consider the march of time. I write in late April; it has been nearly six months since the election, and who knows how many more months since the conception of this alleged conspiracy and the beginning of its implementation. During this time period, not one conspirator has had an attack of conscience and come clean about her role in the conspiracy. No conspirator has had a falling-out with the organizers and spilled the beans. Nobody has offered to turn state’s evidence in exchange for a reduced charge. There is no one who has written a book (a sure-fire best-seller, of course) with details from the inside of the conspiracy. None of the right-wing news outlets have found evidence such as I am suggesting here would be necessary. Charles Colson famously testified that it was the failure of the Watergate conspirators–a small band of conspirators sworn to secrecy, who would each pay a tremendous price if they squealed–to conceal their conspiracy more than a few weeks, that convinced him that the resurrection of Christ could not possibly have been a conspiracy concocted by zealous disciples, given that they each were martyred; no one knowingly gives their lives to protect a lie. Do you honestly find it plausible that there has been no crack in this vast, diverse conspiracy of hundreds, yea thousands, in this many months’ time?
  5. Then there is the dysfunctionality of Washington, our elected officials, and the system. As one commentator put it, no one who has spent any significant time in D.C., seeing and understanding how it works (or better put, doesn’t) would believe such a thing as a conspiracy of this magnitude possible.
  6. Finally, there is the overwhelming disbelief of the Republican congressional caucus. Yes, there are plenty of representatives who have offered varying degrees of defense of this “stolen election” narrative, but I have heard more than one Washington insider estimate that the number of Republican congresspeople who actually believe that the election was stolen–based upon private conversations–to be in the single digits, maybe up to a dozen. Granting that this is certainly a bit weaker point than most of the others, I put it last, but do you find it plausible that, if the overwhelming majority of Trump’s Congressional supporters disbelieve in this conspiracy, it is actually true?

As I said earlier, it’s relatively easy to claim to believe that the election was stolen, but in order to argue honestly for that premise, these questions (and likely some I failed to consider) must be answered, at least with a plausible possibility of how such things could take place. If someone has attempted this project, I am not aware of it; I would welcome the reader to direct me to such an attempt.

Fellow Christian, in one very real sense, I don’t care and it doesn’t matter what you believe about this subject; I accept people as brothers and sisters in Christ who believe all manner of things with which I disagree, sometimes vehemently and including this one. But I urge you, for the sake of the gospel, to love God with your mind, to be a rigorous thinker, to follow the truth where it leads, regardless of whose ox is gored thereby. It would seem to be the least we should do.

60 Years of Blessings

Today, I turn 60 years of age. Just writing that seems surreal. I know, “60 is the new 40”, but wow. Just…wow.

And that’s all I have to say about thaaaa-aat.

I decided that the best way I could celebrate would be to “count my blessings”, in the words of the old hymn; to “name them one by one”, sixty blessings for sixty years. I have led an incredibly blessed life. Incredibly blessed, so blessed that it seems almost unreal. This is a long post; I am writing it as much for my own benefit as for anyone else, but feel free to read along.

  1. I was born in the United States of America, which gave me an automatic leg up on 95% of the world (people who were not born in this land of opportunity).
  2. I was born to parents who gave me unconditional, supportive, nurturing love, and gave me every opportunity to succeed in life.
  3. My parents are still living, soon to celebrate their 64th wedding anniversary, Lord willing, and in good health and good mind late in their 80s. For that matter, my in-laws will soon celebrate their 60th anniversary, and they too are sound in mind and body.
  4. I spent my childhood in a great neighborhood, in a wonderful city (Roanoke) in a beautiful state (Virginia).
  5. I was blessed with a good mind (OK, take it easy on me, since 60-year-olds are definitely old), and a healthy body, which enabled me to play sports.
  6. My mother took me to church as a small boy, prior to my dad ever becoming interested in the things of God. Then, when I was 8 or 9, my father became a follower of Jesus, and began to lead our family in a clear spiritual direction.
  7. When I was a little kid, a family in our neighborhood held a five-day Good News Club, sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship. I memorized the books of the Bible, and have never forgotten them, in order (though I think that I briefly got a little hazy in the middle of the Habakkuks and Nahums).
  8. Our family attended a church that, for whatever weaknesses it may have had, proclaimed the gospel of Christ clearly enough that a 10-year-old boy could understand and place faith in Christ. I was baptized and began to follow Jesus.
  9. I had some good Sunday School teachers in that little church, some of whose names are lost to time, but they each made an impact on my life.
  10. Mom instilled in me proper English (no thanks to Dad!), proper manners (not that I always use them), and a proper reverence for God.
  11. Dad inspired me to think for myself, rather than going along with the crowd. The ethical and moral example that he (and Mom) set were of the highest order. He taught me to mind my own business rather than meddle in that of others, and he (and Mom, again) showed me how to treat people…I have never heard my father tell or laugh at a racist joke, nor ever use racist language. Not. Even. Once.
  12. Dad particularly helped me gain a life-long love of sports. I played eight years of sandlot baseball (mainly 2nd base, but some shortstop and a little bit of catcher thrown in). I became a life-long St. Louis Cardinals fan watching the ’68 World Series, the first baseball I really watched. I started out as a Colts fan in football–like my Dad–but soon found it was more fun to root against him, and the Steelers became my football team.
  13. My sister (my only sibling) and I, despite being a few years apart in age and never really living all that close to each other, get along very well, love each other, and have never had a serious argument (well, that is, after I got past the stage of calling her “fatty” or whatever juvenile things I called her as a child).
  14. When I was in junior high school, my family changed churches (to the church that is, to this day, my parents’ church, Shenandoah Baptist in Roanoke). The ministry of this church had a profound influence on my life, and on the lives of all of those in my family. When I was entering 10th grade, my parents enrolled myself and my sister in Roanoke Valley Christian Schools.
  15. I had the opportunity to serve, beginning as a sophomore in high school, in the AWANA children’s ministry at Shenandoah. My motives in beginning were incredibly noble: I was sweet on a girl who was part of the ministry, and I went so as to hang out closer to her! She, though, was not to be a long-term love interest, while AWANA has been; I’ve had the privilege of being instrumental in beginning two other AWANA clubs in churches and am in the process of another.
  16. As a young person, I had adults who saw potential in me and offered me opportunities to lead. I will always be grateful in particular to Jerry Hayden (in relation to giving me such opportunities through AWANA). Jerry asked me, as a junior, to coach the AWANA Pals Olympic team, and our team of boys brought home a state championship! He also, my senior year, asked me to be the speaker at the year-end AWANA banquet. I am thrilled to report that to my knowledge, there are no extant copies of that speech–I cringe to this day when I think of how awful it was–but nonetheless, he gave me that opportunity.
  17. Still thinking of my time as a teenager, two men came into my life who played an incredible role in my development. The first was my youth pastor, Steve Futrell, whose passion for the Lord, love for the youth, and–gotta say it–slightly zany streak at times, was a catalyst to my desire to follow Jesus more closely. The same can be said–including if not even more so the “zany” part–about a much older gentleman, Dr. Walter Craymer, who taught Bible and Spanish at Roanoke Valley Christian. Words cannot do justice to the debt I owe to those men.
  18. I had some success in sports as a young person, mainly in baseball and soccer. Highlight: in 9th grade, Lucy Addison Junior High won the Roanoke City championship, and I was All-City at 2nd base, batting .429 for the champs (and it was particularly special that we beat Ruffner Junior High, where my lifelong friend Rusty Snyder played, in the championship game.). Also was soccer MVP at Roanoke Valley Christian School in my junior year; I scored the first goal in school history (I believe it was a penalty kick during a drubbing from Lynchburg Christian Academy).
  19. I was class president of the first graduating class (1978) at Roanoke Valley Christian. This was an exceptional class of people, many of whom I still consider good friends to this day. Jim Hill, who as the years have gone by has become a much better friend than ever, has already called me this morning to sing an off-key version of “Happy Birthday”.
  20. I was able to attend Tennessee Temple University and graduate from there–in the used-to-be-standard four years–with a degree in Christian Education. I met many fine people there, and significantly through the magic of Facebook, have been able to continue some of those friendships.
  21. I met my wonderful wife (of 38 years and counting), Karen, as a junior in college, and she has been a faithful companion for all of these years. We met at Zollie’s Pizza Factory (long-since closed) at a birthday party for a mutual friend, Warren Wright.
  22. I worked for a year while she finished college for Little Debbie (yes, I have shaken the hand of the “Little Debbie”), at a wage higher (for that time) than a lot of places for which I might have worked.
  23. Moving back to Roanoke while I went to seminary at Liberty, Karen was able to work (and I had the great privilege of serving in a junior-high ministry internship at Shenandoah Baptist), such that when I graduated seminary, we had no educational debt.
  24. I was able to graduate magna cum laude from Liberty Seminary, where I sat under some great teachers. I did this by getting seminary credit–and my readers will be tempted to call me a liar here–for 36 semester hours between January and May of 1985. I don’t recommend that course of action, by the way, but I am proof it can be done. Oh, and my “formal education” was completed just a few years ago when I had the opportunity to take on class on the D. Min. level, at Reformed Seminary here in Atlanta. I made an “A”, so my final doctor’s level GPA is 4.0. For what it’s worth. Which isn’t a great deal, truth be told.
  25. God allowed me to learn some important life and ministry lessons through two short-lived ministry experiences in Colorado upon graduation from seminary. Even though neither would be considered “successful” by typical norms, I thank the Lord for friends made through those situations (ironically, I made more lifelong friends–at least by Facebook standards–in the more difficult of the two than in the “easier” one. Go figure.).
  26. While living in Colorado, our first child Anthony was born. He brought a lot of joy into our lives with his arrival; he was always the happiest little kid! He is married and living in Durham with his sweet wife, Ellery, and we look forward to seeing them both at the beach next Saturday! Still no grandkids yet, though… 🙂
  27. First Baptist of Bassett, Virginia was for Karen and myself a wonderful place of healing. The people there were–and are–some of the finest people I have ever known. They took Karen, myself, and Anthony in, and loved us and cared for us and made us feel part of the family–and we still do. I served only two-and-a-half years there, first as Minister of Education and Youth, and then, for 14 months, as Interim Pastor, but God used that time to heal us and to prepare us for other ministry opportunities.
  28. I was privileged to serve Brentwood Baptist Church in High Point, NC, as pastor for just over three years. It wasn’t all peaches-and-cream; there were some rough spots. Probably rougher on the congregation having to deal with a young (29 when I began) pastor making many dumb young pastor mistakes, but we all persevered together. Still count some of those folks as good friends to this day.
  29. During our time in High Point, our second son, Brent, was born. Brent was the absolute best little kid. He made us laugh on a daily–sometimes hourly or…minutely?…basis. He always had something silly–sometimes ingeniously funny–to say. The stories could go on for hours.
  30. In October or November of 1992, seeing that my time at Brentwood was likely drawing to a close, I contacted Chuck Byers, who was serving as the head of the search team for a little church in a place I’d never heard of–Mercer, Pennsylvania–as that little group of folks was looking for its first pastor as they were planting themselves as a new church in Mercer County. That blossomed into a thirteen-plus year pastorate, with so many wonderful things that it’d take a separate document to try to count them all. God did some great things as we tried to be faithful.
  31. Our baby girl, Chiannon, was born a little less than two years into our Pennsylvania odyssey. There’s a special bond between daddies and daughters, and there was no exception for us. She’s continued to be such a blessing, and now she has this fella Grant…no, he’s a separate post.
  32. Grant is our son-in-law, and he’s become, literally and not just in words, one of my best friends. What an absolute joy for me to be able to say that. And the cool thing is that he would say the same.
  33. Back to Fellowship Community Church in Mercer: that wonderful little church was privileged by God to work with hundreds of college students through the years, most, thought not all, from Grove City College. Many alumni and faculty from Grove City remain friends to this day; I argue with some of them on Facebook regularly (but more often, agree, and definitely on the most important things–for the most part). I love college students!
  34. In 2006, we moved to Georgia, where I was involved in attempting to replant a very small church. Ultimately, it didn’t “take”, but God is sovereign, and some good things happened for the kingdom even in this.
  35. I began working at Chick-fil-A right about the time that I left that little church. I had a wonderful (and patient) boss, Zach Thomas, who is and will remain a lifelong friend. I learned new skills at Chick-fil-A, made more great friendships, and felt like I made a real contribution. God used this time off from “vocational ministry” to help me develop in various ways.
  36. I also am very blessed that, just at seemingly the right time, opportunities in the “gig economy” became available to me. I have driven for Uber for going on six years, and for Lyft for over a year-and-a-half. I am thankful that I can make money on my time and my terms in these ways.
  37. I am grateful for Grace Community Church in Marietta, where I’ve now been on staff part-time for over two-and-a-half years, but where we’ve been attending ever since I left the church plant in Marietta. This church has been and continues to be a blessing in our lives!
  38. I have been blessed through the years–beginning with little Billy Gray while I was in high school and continuing through the present day–to be able to share the gospel in conversations with a number of people, and to see many of them decided to commit their lives and eternities to Jesus. I get to do that very thing this very evening (in a teaching format). What an incredible blessing that God allows believers to have!
  39. I have had the privilege of making some tremendous friends. What a blessing they have been throughout my life! If I were to start naming them, I’d surely leave off some that I dare not. You know who you are. Thank you.
  40. I have been incredibly blessed with the spiritual leaders I have had in my life. Specifically, four pastors: Bob Alderman, Lee Roberson, Lew Bennett, and John Harris, each of whom have played a significant long-lasting role in my spiritual development, and three of whom I consider close friends.
  41. I have had some unusual (and exceptional) experiences. I was on a game show, Scrabble with Chuck Woolery, and was the champion on the first two days. In total, I won $13,500. It’s an experience I will never forget.
  42. That wasn’t my first TV game show, though. When I was in maybe 5th grade (?), I was on the Fairview Elementary team on “1-2-3”, a math quiz show on educational TV in Roanoke where various elementary schools competed against each other in a math competition. We made the playoffs (where we were summarily bounced in the first round).
  43. I drove an actual race car in an actual race…you know how there are not a whole lot of things in life that don’t actually end up being as much fun as you thought they’d be? Yeah, this was not one of those. I drove in the “Faster Pastor” race in 2006 at Sharon Speedway in Ohio, a 3/8 mile dirt oval in Hartford, Ohio. Sliding a car through the corners on a dirt track, then picking up the throttle and flooring it in the straightaway…man, I’d do that again tomorrow.
  44. Continuing the theme, I’ve driven up Pike’s Peak, parasailed in the Carolinas, hiked up Duns River Falls in Jamaica, climbed to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, swam in the Mediterranean, skied Keystone, and gone over Niagara Falls in a bucket. OK, I’m lying on that last one.
  45. Mom and Dad never, ever neglected to take a vacation. While my parents worked hard, they were never workaholics and understood the value of getting away…I cannot for the life of me fathom people who never take a vacation; I think that they do so to their own detriment. We were fairly routine in our choices: a lot of years we went to Myrtle Beach, while others we went to Virginia Beach (often to Seashore–now First Landing–State Park). The vacation of our family’s lifetime was a two-week jaunt down the Gulf side and back up the ocean side of Florida, with the requisite trip to Disney World; this took place in 1975, and we all still think back fondly to it.
  46. I have traveled across a lot of these United States in my sixty years. Following my parents’ lead–but expanding the parameters a good bit–we always took the family on regular vacations. Our favorite spot is Avon, on Hatteras Island, NC (where we head in just a few days, as a matter of fact!). We’ve been to the Grand Canyon, to Las Vegas (not a penny was gambled!), to Mount Rushmore, to the Great Salt Lake and Rocky Mountain National Park and the Riverwalk in San Antonio and the ocean in Santa Barbara, to Cape Cod and the Liberty Bell and NYC. We’ve been to Florida many times, to the “Redneck Riviera” (look it up), to beautiful Charleston and lovely Savannah, to the Jersey shore and the St. Louis Arch and the Windy City and Malibu and Niagara Falls and the UP. Oh, and Bonsack, of course (Roanoke friends will appreciate). And I could add a lot more places to the list!
  47. I’ve also traveled to a number of foreign countries, some via cruises and some via…not cruises. Favorite spot? Italy, hands down. I’d go back in a heartbeat. Sunset on Sugarloaf (Rio), though, ain’t bad either.
  48. Some of my overseas trips have not been for “pleasure” (mostly), though. In 1979, I was able to go to Guatemala and help build a Christian school. In 1992, I went with a Baptist group to Sao Paulo (ending up in Rio for a day-and-a-half, hence the “sunset on Sugarloaf” comment above). During the past decade, I’ve traveled to Nigeria, El Salvador, and Ecuador, all on trips to do the work of ministry and share the love and gospel of Christ.
  49. I have been privileged to become an instructor with Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, teaching the Bible in various places (including Nigeria, above). Walk Thru the Bible presents the timeline of a given Testament and explains how the Bible is laid out, pointing to Christ. If you have never taken part in a Walk Thru Live Event, you must. Better yet, contact me and I will come and do it at your church!
  50. What wonderful things are pets! We’ve had three cats (Ozzie, named after Ozzie Smith, not Ozzy Osbourne; Muffin, and Smuckers, who technically is our daughter’s cat but who has remained with us since Chiannon moved to Greenville) and two dogs (Swee’Pea, a wonderful little Jack Russell–or rat–terrier, we’re not sure which, and our current little beast, Gilligan, who is part dachshund and part Jack Russell). What wonderful companions they are; Gilligan has been such a blessing during Covid lockdown!
  51. Through my friend Luke Livingston, I came to learn of Elm Street Cultural Arts in Woodstock (at that time, it was Towne Lake Arts Center), a community theater where I have been able to reignite a passion for acting that lay dormant for decades, and where I’ve also developed a new hobby, improv. I’ve also done a few things with other theatres. Favorite roles include Harold Hill in The Music Man, Putti van Daan in The Diary of Anne Frank, Daddy Warbucks in Annie, Papa Murphy in Bright Star, and Buffalo Bill in Annie, Get Your Gun. What fun…time to get involved in another (once this infernal Covid thing is past).
  52. I’m incredibly blessed to have a rich diversity of Facebook friends. Being involved in the theatre is one key reason, but there are others. I want to be able to have intelligent, reasoned, respectful discussions with people of various stripes. Sometimes, it’s just…discussions…but not usually! There’s more common ground between us than a lot of us realize or will admit, and I appreciate and try to build on that. We certainly need more understanding and civility. A lot more.
  53. God has blessed us with a beautiful home to live in. We were able to pick it up 12 years ago as a foreclosure, and we’ve tried to make improvements as we’ve had money and time. It’s now a lot more house than we need, but that’s enabled us to have the blessing of
  54. Renters, to help pay bills and get us on firm financial footing. We’ve had some great ones as well, including our current tenants and, for a few years, some young Saudi students. Yahya al-Dosary…what a joy to know that goofball and consider him a friend (and if we ventured to Saudi Arabia today–and one day we might–we would be treated like absolute kings and queens).
  55. I mentioned “healthy body” early on, and on that point, I have been–to this point of my life–almost never sick. I can’t remember the last time I had the flu, and have never really had anything more serious than that in my entire life. At the risk of grossing you out…I have not thrown up since my oldest was in diapers. Literally. Oh, I get a cold occasionally–and the older I get, the more that knocks me for a loop–but if that’s the worst it’s been at age 60, I cannot complain. Yeah, I’ve got a bum knee–two surgeries on my right knee have left little to no cartilage–but I manage, and it doesn’t typically give me a lot of pain. The blessing of good health is one we should not take for granted.
  56. I’ve not often been closely touched by tragedy; with one exception, none of my closest family or friends have died young. That exception was when one of my very closest friends in life, Rusty Snyder, died suddenly at age 47. That was a hard loss. But it was the exception, not the rule.
  57. I have been in the same fantasy football league for 31 years, a league I started when I was turning 30. I’ve been in the league half my life now, and have made some great friendships through it. It’s a blessing (if not also a frustration, since I’ve only won the championship three times; it’s been 15 years since my last championship; this year doesn’t look good).
  58. I have a great library full of good books (many of which I have actually read!). My theological library isn’t as extensive as I’d like it to be, but that sentiment can be echoed, in almost those exact words, by every pastor in the world.
  59. Mostly, and I alluded to this earlier, I am incredibly blessed in that, being a sinner through and through as I am, God saw fit to choose to save me by His amazing grace. This is the greatest blessing of all.
  60. Finally, I am absolutely certain that I am forgetting–or failing to see–a lot of blessings that God in His grace has bestowed upon me, and I am absolutely certain that He will continue to do so in whatever remaining years He gives me. Soli Deo gloria.

The Most Important Vote I Will Cast this Year…

does not involve deciding between presidential candidates.

I want to begin this piece with two truths that seem obvious to me. I say the first one first because when you read the second one, you may be tempted to doubt that I am serious about the first one. So the first one is this: you should vote in the election. There are many reasons why this is true. We have the unique privilege as Americans, and as a result of our Constitution and the sacrifice of millions, to select those who would govern us. I don’t do a particularly good job of voting in local elections–and I really need to do better, though I often find it difficult to cast a knowledgeable vote in these–but I always vote in national elections. I have never failed to vote in a national election and I have no intention of beginning. I think it’s so important to vote that I would encourage you to write in a name, if there’s no one for whom you can vote, rather than simply ignore the privilege and responsibility. So vote. And because of what I am about to say in the next paragraph, I’m going to reiterate about 11 times: vote. Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote your conscience. Vote. Please vote. Vote knowledgeably. Vote this year. Vote. Vote, for goodness’ sake!

Second truth: your vote won’t make any practical difference. Let’s just be honest here and not pull any punches: the chance that your vote will actually decide an election is a lot less than the chance you’ll get hit by lightning. The larger the race, the truer that is. Oh, occasionally we hear about some local race in a very small municipality that is decided by a vote. Even that is rare…but on a statewide scale–much less a national–your vote isn’t likely to matter. Even the 2000 election “fiasco” between Bush and Gore in the state of Florida–which did decide the election–was settled by 537 votes…not by 1.

If you think I am “dissing” voting, I refer you back to paragraph one. Vote, in case it wasn’t clear.

The point of this piece isn’t to talk at all about who to vote for, but to talk about the most important “vote” that Christians will “cast” this fall. The chances are strong that this vote will matter very greatly. This vote very potentially has very real, eternal consequences. I am talking about “voting” to honor Jesus in every way possible in these times of dissension and discord. And I want to talk about how to do that, several suggestions about how to navigate these perilous and divisive times in a way that honors the Lord Jesus Christ.

First, make honoring Jesus your clear, number one priority. That should go without saying, but it very obviously needs to be said. I can’t help but wonder (I’m being very generous in my phraseology here) if that’s something which a lot of professing followers of Jesus are forgetting. I represent Jesus in the words I speak and write, in the attitudes in which I speak and act, in the motives behind all that I do. I fear that we have all too often sent mixed messages, given an unbelieving world plenty of ammo to persist in their unbelief. Next,

See the person who disagrees with you as a person for whom Jesus died. I don’t see other people as the “enemy”, regardless of their political beliefs, their disposition toward me or the gospel, their political party affiliation or lack thereof, or anything else. According to the apostle Paul, for the Christian, it’s not “flesh and blood” against whom we have our battles; it’s against Satan and his forces. Granted, people are often used by Satan; they often fall for his devices and lies; they often espouse beliefs that are harmful and detrimental to truth, freedom, and the well-being of people. Opposing bad ideas, lies, and systems of government that would wreak havoc and bring misery on people is a responsibility that we ought to take seriously. That said, the people who advocate such things are fellow human beings made in the image of God who often desperately need the gospel. In our urgency to argue our positions, we can often forget this critical truth.

Tell the truth at all times, and tell it in love, at all times. No one who knows me would ever suggest that I shrink back from calling things as I honestly see them, and I would never encourage you otherwise. Tell the truth; sometimes the truth is ugly, painful, convicting, contrary to established thinking, difficult to swallow, and any number of other descriptions. Tell it anyway (making sure of course that it is truth; if it’s opinion, please be careful to label it such, but don’t be afraid to share properly-labeled opinions either). But it’s not enough to simply tell the truth, according to the Bible, because the truth can be used in brutal, destructive fashion. The Bible says that without love, whatever we do is without value. Our words are like the annoying clanging of a single gong; without love, I am nothing. Couch the truth clearly in love.

Make honest arguments. All too often people, including professing followers of Jesus, present caricatures of their political opponents rather than honest portraits, and all too often, they do the same with the arguments that political opponents make. This takes actual work and actual thinking, which too many people seem unwilling to do. Ask yourself, “would my political opponent himself characterize his position as I have characterized it?” If not, you have (perhaps unwittingly) borne false witness. People who call themselves “pro-choice” don’t “love killing babies”, nor do people who call themselves “pro-life” love “controlling women”. Those are disingenuous arguments, but such are rife in the contemporary political landscape. They are not befitting Christians.

Be consistent. Don’t ignore (or worse, praise) in your favorite politician that which you would castigate were it done by your political opponent. This, sadly, happens all the time; partisans of one party will have a field day criticizing a political opponent for doing something, then look the other way at similar words or actions done by their guy (or gal). If it’s wrong for one party to do it, it’s wrong for all parties to do it. Period. End of story.

Finally, listen. We have gotten really good at talking past each other. It often seems that we are so concerned to get our points across–sometimes via whatever silly, half-truth meme or “gotcha” photograph–that we don’t care to even hear what other people are saying. Of course, sometimes that’s because their words drip with venom, we think, and so instead of defusing the situation, by listening, asking questions, considering the merits of their position (instead of only looking for the demerits and capitalizing on them), we fight fire with fire, forgetting that “a soft answer turns away wrath”. I don’t have to ultimately agree with a person to do her the courtesy of listening to her argument; I don’t have to adopt another person’s political solutions, but I can take the time to try to understand why he believes in them. To listen doesn’t mean we have to agree, in the end, but sometimes, if we’ll take the time to do that, we might just find that–horrors!–there is some common ground upon which we can build, and some respect that we can have for each other, even as we disagree.

I haven’t spent one word, in this election cycle, trying to convince others of how they should vote (well, OK, several months ago, I announced who I’d be voting for, and urged others to consider that candidate, whereupon he summarily left the presidential race only a few short weeks later). I do not intend to try to convince you for whom you ought to vote. I have, though, spent way too many words responding to well-meaning friends, people of sincere conviction, explaining why certain candidates will not receive my vote. I’m done with that; too much time and too many words spent, to my regret. Instead, my focus now will be to encourage believers in Jesus to be very careful to “vote” to honor Him in everything they do–including voting–for the sake of His name, for the glory of the gospel, and for the good of the world. Because unlike the votes you cast on November 3, which will not ultimately be difference-makers, the “vote” you cast to honor Jesus will almost certainly make a difference.

Oh, and for the love of all that is good and your responsibility as an American this November, vote.

Dr. MacArthur Has Altered the Gospel

Last evening, I began a four-part teaching series entitled, “What is the Gospel?”. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the center of the church; absent the gospel, the church…isn’t. The gospel must be treated with utmost seriousness, proclaimed with utmost urgency, and guarded with utmost security. If you are my friend, and you mess with the gospel, I will call you out. If I mess with the gospel, I implore you to call me out.

And if an esteemed Bible teacher messes with the gospel, I will call him out.

Dr. John MacArthur is the closest thing imaginable to an “evangelical pope”. His Bible teaching has impacted multiplied millions around the globe for a number of decades, and I count myself among that number. For me, it’s his excellent, thoughtful, faithful-to-the-Scriptures Bible commentaries that have had the most impact. If I have a MacArthur commentary on a passage of Scripture I am called to exegete, you can be pretty certain that I will consult it. In other words, there’s a little bit of John MacArthur in a lot of sermons I have preached through the years.

This isn’t to say that I agree with everything Dr. MacArthur teaches or says, but so what? I sometimes don’t agree with myself, for goodness’ sake, and so I can’t name a person on earth with whom I agree 100% of the time. Big deal. And while I’ve grown a bit concerned in recent years over some of the things Dr. MacArthur has said and done, I still count him a faithful Bible teacher.

But he has messed with the gospel. And nobody—NOBODY—is above the gospel.

Yesterday, it was revealed by Dr. MacArthur in an interview, that he had had a recent phone conversation with President Trump. During that conversation, Dr. MacArthur confesses that he told the president, “any real true believer is going to be on your side in November.” These are his words.

And they are wrong. Period, end of story.

This strikes home personally, because as many of my readers know, I am not “on (the) side” of Donald Trump; I will not vote for him in November (nor for Joe Biden). Now, you can disagree with my decision, and I understand that. You can tell me I am “wasting my vote”, and while I will disagree, that’s an acceptable viewpoint. You can roll your eyes at some of my political leanings, and that’s perfectly fine, too; sometimes I roll my eyes at myself (and at you, too). You can talk to me all day about how bad you think the Democratic platform and is, how problematic for our nation’s future you think electing Joe Biden would be. At least to a significant point, chances are that I will agree with you.

But I am not weighing in, here, on the wisdom of voting for Donald Trump. Nor, for that matter, do I concern myself here with the platform of the Democratic Party, or Joe Biden, or frankly, with politics in general, but only as it is germane to the subject of messing with the gospel, as Dr. MacArthur has now done.

Dr. MacArthur is tying salvation, purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, to voting for one particular individual. He is judging the hearts and conditions of the eternal souls of professing believers on the basis of (certainly among other things) whether or not an individual will, or will not, vote for Donald Trump. This is disappointing, yes, but it’s truly infuriating, and frankly, it would be so even if the person in question were not Donald Trump.

Are we to understand an addition to Paul’s list of the “fruits of the Spirit”? Love, joy, peace, long-suffering…and a vote for Donald Trump? Or should we amend sola fide to include a vote for the president (guess it wouldn’t be sola any longer)? Perhaps a vote for Trump is like an indulgence, like the ones sold by the Catholic Church back in the days of Luther.

OK, I’m being facetious, but the words of Dr. MacArthur, so egregiously and theologically incorrect, richly deserve scorn. They do so, not only because they are wrong, but precisely because of the worldwide scope of his influence. Already, I have seen one Christian Facebook friend quote his words approvingly, and I have no doubt there are plenty of others, following Dr. MacArthur’s lead down the path to a conclusion that simply does not square with, but instead does injury to, the precious gospel. Further, his words give even more ammunition to the charge by some that evangelicals—and I still call myself that, though I’m reconsidering terminology—have thoroughly mixed Republican politics with their faith, such that the evangelical church is little more than an adjunct of the GOP. Further yet—and perhaps most importantly—his words which confuse the gospel tarnish the witness of Jesus Christ to a world and to individuals that desperately need the good news of the gospel.

I finish by saying that I don’t relish writing this. I don’t lightly take to task a man who has been so greatly used of God for decades. My influence, such as it is, is utterly insignificant in comparison with his. I thank God sincerely for John MacArthur’s role in my life. Some may be upset with me that I would dare to criticize a man that many of us—myself included—would call a “giant of the faith”.

But the gospel is so very, very much more important. It’s so much more important than you or me…and it’s also infinitely more important than Bible teachers like John MacArthur.

How to Elect a President

Short answer: NOT the way we are doing it.

As I write this, Americans are looking at a choice that many find very unappealing: Donald Trump or Joe Biden will be sworn in on a cold Wednesday in January. This on the heels of the election of 2016, where both candidates were loathed to a historical degree. For what it’s worth, my opinion isn’t that Donald Trump is the “only person who could have beaten Hillary Clinton”, but rather that “Hillary Clinton was the only person who could have lost to Donald Trump”…but of course, that’s only speculation, and it serves no purpose now to dissect it further. This time around, Joe Biden doesn’t arouse the visceral disgust that Hillary did–you may not care for Joe, but he certainly doesn’t produce nearly the vitriol summoned by Hillary–but there are concerns that he’s aging quickly, that his long-standing proneness to gaffes is now something well beyond that, that he’s really losing it. I honestly think that if Joe were elected, it’s about 50/50 that he has the chops to finish even one term. And then there is President Trump; I won’t belabor this point, but suffice it to say that there are a whole lot of people who dread having these as the only two people with a realistic chance of being sworn in in 2021. The question is, why do we now seem to be finding ourselves again in the position of having two candidates that a significant percentage of Americans find to be some degree of awful? And what can we do about it?

I lay the blame in large measure on the process. We have a process perfectly designed to achieve the results we are getting…and so if our results are poor, then if we were smart (unfortunately, if by “we” I mean “our two primary political parties”, then the answer is, “we are categorically not smart”), we’d fix it; we’d overhaul the process. A futile endeavor, then, might the writing of this turn out to be, but it won’t be the first time I offer suggestions that will go unheeded, and I doubt seriously it will be the last.

The fix, as I see it, begins with our primary system. How do we fix it? Pretty easily, in my judgment: with the largest wrecking ball we can find. With strategically-placed explosives. With a wipe-the-slate-clean-and-start-over approach. In short, we abolish the entire primary system as we know it. No more of this inanity of pandering pols pretending that Iowa and New Hampshire actually matter to them. No more of these states’ inflated-beyond-all-sense-of-proportion influence on our presidential election system. No more of worthless primaries held well after outcomes have been decided. Yep, just burn down the primary system and don’t look back.

Next, limit the choices that party voters have to choose from. “What? We’re ‘Murricans. We want to be able to vote for whomever we darn well please!” To that I’d ask, “how’s that workin’ out for ya?”

Instead, the parties should limit the choices we have…to three, I would suggest, but no more than five. Period. Full stop. No more of these ridiculous 16-25 candidates being presented to voters. Chuck that. Forever. How to accomplish this? Let party leadership–make it a broad representation, sure, but the people who have risen to leadership roles within the party–engage in a vetting process. Instead of silly/pointless “debates” (that term is only barely descriptive of the charade that goes by the name), where voters get to see snippets of contenders sniping at each other in a made-for-TV extravaganza, where little substance issues forth and where the main thing seems to be to avoid some gaffe that could doom a candidacy, let those policy differences be discussed behind closed doors. No cameras. Let each candidate explain in detail his/her position on various issues. Let there be a free-wheeling discussion, but in front of the people best positioned to know what they are looking for in a candidate–and what they aren’t.

Further, let the party fund advertising that is divvied up equally between its 3-5 candidates. On as level a playing field as possible, we get to know where the candidates stand on the issues rather than slickly-produced silliness such as most political commercials are. If a political party is functioning as it should, it will do what it can to field electable candidates and inform the electorate on why its policies should be preferred; advertising could be used to accomplish this, were there the political will to do it.

Next, whatever replaces our hopeless primary system, whatever method of voting parties use, make that voting closed to all but people who are members of that given party. That means I (an independent) get no vote. This is a good thing. I don’t deserve a vote in these matters, any more than a person who is not a member of my church gets a vote on who our church’s elders should be. I am not disenfranchised by this; I get my vote in November like everyone else. But I am not owed a vote or any say in the affairs of any entity to which I do not belong, such as a political party. ‘Tain’t my business. Both parties, spurred on by Limbaugh-types, have had people who engaged in “crossover” primary voting, in states where primaries are open. It’s legal. It’s also wrong, and for that reason, it shouldn’t be legal. The determination of the nominee of a given party ought to rest solely with the members of that party.

So at some point, on one day all across the country, Democrats and Republicans head to the polls to determine which nominee they believe will be the best representative of their party in the general election.

Does this guarantee great candidates? No, but it should go a long way toward keeping us out of the situation that seems to be regularly presenting itself to us these days, the sense that, of 330+ million people in this country, these are the two we consider the best for this job?

Finally, in the general election, adopt ranked choice voting. It just makes sense. For that matter, use ranked choice voting in every election we have.

In the end, what do we have to lose? Seems to me that just about anything beats the way we do it currently.