Giving Thanks

November 27, 2014

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.
Psalm 136:1

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I agree more

November 26, 2014

In early August my wife and I, along with seven of our nine children, left for a month-long ministry tour in Africa (Kenya, Zambia, and South Africa). It was a couple of days before we got settled and had any access to media. As such, I was taken aback when I began to receive Google alerts, emails, and Facebook and Twitter messages either demanding that I comment on “Ferguson,” or condemning me for failing to do so. The only problem was, I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. Who, what, or where was Ferguson? Why was it such a big deal? Why was I being condemned (along with other “high-profile” evangelicals) for “failing to speak out on such an important issue”?

I eventually got up to speed. Or at least I found out what all the fuss was about. Over the next several weeks I viewed this issue from a unique perspective. I was an American in Africa watching an issue ignite ethnic tensions in my homeland. It was almost surreal.

Who Am I to Speak?

My first response to Ferguson was to say nothing. I was on the outside looking in. I didn’t know what happened. I didn’t know the communities or the issues surrounding the tensions. Second, I chose to remain silent because people were demanding that I speak—even condemning me for my silence. In this age of “I sure would love to hear your thoughts on” I get tired of the sense of entitlement with which people approach those whom they deem to be popular or high-profile Christians. No one is “entitled” to my opinion. Nor is my faithfulness to God determined by how quickly I respond to “relevant” issues.

As a pastor, I have a responsibility to my flock. If those for whose souls I care (Heb. 13:17) want help thinking through these issues, I am obligated to them. I have a duty to walk them through issues like these to the best of my ability, and with sensitivity to their particular needs. What worries me is that Christians in the age of social media care more what “popular” preachers have to say on issues like this (and whether or not they agree with other “popular” preachers) than they are about taking advantage of an opportunity to work through challenges in the context of Christian community. More importantly, it worries me that so many Christians view themselves primarily as members of this or that ethnic community more than they see themselves as members of the body of Christ.

The Plight of Black Men

Rest assured, I do believe there are systemic issues plaguing black men. These issues are violence, criminality, and immorality, to name a few. And all of these issues are rooted in and connected to the epidemic of fatherlessness. Any truly gospel-centered response to the plight of black men must address these issues first and foremost. It does no good to change the way white police officers respond to black men if we don’t first address the fact that these men’s fathers have not responded to them appropriately.

There is indeed an epidemic of violence against black men. However, that violence, more often than not, occurs at the hands of other black men. In fact, black men are several times more likely to be murdered at the hands of another black man than they are to be killed by the police. For instance, in the FBI homicide stats from 2012, there were 2,648 blacks murdered. Of those, 2,412 were murdered by members of their own ethnic group. Thus, if I am going to speak out about anything, it will be black-on-black crime; not blue-on-black. I want to apply the gospel and its implications in a way that addresses the real issue. If a few black men being killed by cops requires a national “dialogue,” what in the world does the overwhelming number of black-on-black murders require? If the police do not see black men through the proper gospel-centered, image-of-God lens, what does the black-on-black murder rate say about the way we see ourselves?

In addition to violence, black men are plagued with criminality. Low-income black communities like Ferguson know all too well that black criminals preying on their neighbors makes life almost unlivable. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, I know all too well what it’s like to have bars on the windows and doors for fear that thugs will break in to steal or kill. I remember being robbed at gunpoint on my way home from the store one day. It was one of the most frightening and disheartening events of my life. The fear, helplessness, and anger I felt stayed with me for years. And it taught me an unfortunate lesson: the greatest threat to me was other black men.

The underlying malady that gives rise to all the rest of these epidemics is immorality and fatherlessness. We know that fatherlessness is the number one indicator of future violence, dropout rates, out-of-wedlock births, and future incarceration. And in the black community, more than 70 percent of all children are born out of wedlock! Fatherlessness is the bane of the black community.

Nor is this plague forced on us. It is as common as morning dew, and as overlooked as dust under a refrigerator. Where are the marches against this travesty? Where are the protestors who demand better? Where are the black “leaders” who . . . oh, that’s right, they have just as many illegitimate children as anyone else. Again, it is common knowledge that this is the most immediate root cause of the ills plaguing black Americans.

But What About Racism?

I have been pulled over by police for no apparent reason. In fact, it has happened on more than one occasion. I was stopped in Westwood while walking with a friend of mine who was a student at UCLA. We found ourselves lying face down on the sidewalk while officers questioned us. On another occasion, I was stopped while with my uncle. I remember his visceral response as he looked at me and my cousin (his son). The look in his eye was one of humiliation and anger. He looked at the officer and said, “My brother and I didn’t fight in Vietnam so you could treat me like this in front of my son and my nephew.”

Again, this experience stayed with me for years. And for many of those years, I blamed “the system” or “the man.” However, I have come to realize that it was no more “the system” when white cops pulled me over than it was “the system” when a black thug robbed me at gunpoint. It was sin! The men who robbed me were sinners. The cops who stopped me were sinners. They were not taking their cues from some script designed to “keep me down.” They were simply men who didn’t understand what it meant to treat others with the dignity and respect they deserve as image bearers of God.

It does me absolutely no good to assume that my mistreatment was systemic in nature. No more than it is good for me to assume that what happened in Ferguson was systemic. I have a life to live, and I refuse to live it fighting ghosts. I will not waste my energy trying to prove the Gramscian, neo-Marxist concept of “white privilege” or prejudice in policing practices.

I don’t care what advantages my white neighbor may or may not have. If he does have advantages, God bless him! I no more fault him than I fault my own children who have tremendous advantages due to the fact that they were raised by two educated, Christian parents who loved, disciplined, and taught them. Ironically, when I think about THAT advantage, I am filled with joy and gratitude to God for his faithfulness. People are supposed to bequeath an advantage to their children and grandchildren (Prov. 13:22). Why, then, would I be angry with my white neighbor for any advantage he is purported to have? And what good would it do? How does that advance the gospel? Especially in light of the fact that growing up with the gospel is the ultimate privilege/advantage! It is the advantage that has granted us all “American privilege”! Are we guilty for being citizens of the wealthiest republic in the history of the world? I think not!

As a father of seven black men, I tell them to be aware of the fact that there may be times when they may get a closer look, an unwelcome stop, or worse. However, I do not tell them that this means they need to live with a chip on their shoulder, or that the world is out to get them. I certainly don’t tell them that they need to go out and riot (especially when that involves destroying black-owned businesses). I tell them that there are people in the world who need to get to know black people as opposed to just knowing “about” us. I tell them that they will do far more good interacting with those people and shining the light of Christ than they will carrying picket signs. I tell them, “Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’” (Rom. 12:19). And I tell them that there are worse things than suffering injustice. That is why we must heed Peter’s words:

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Pet. 3:15–17)

In the end, the best lesson my children can learn from Ferguson is not that they need to be on the lookout for white cops. It is far more important that I use this teachable moment to remind them that “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). Moments before his death, Michael Brown had violently robbed a man in a store. A man doing the best he could to make a living. Minutes later, Brown reaped what he sowed, and was gunned down in the street. That is the sad truth.

My sons have far more to fear from making bad choices than they have to fear from the police. The overwhelming majority of police officers are decent people just trying to make a living. They are much more likely to help you than to harm you. A life of thuggery, however, is NEVER your friend. In the end, it will cost you . . . sometimes, it costs you everything.

Voddie Baucham is the pastor of preaching at Grace Family Baptist Church in Spring, Texas.

I disagree

November 26, 2014

America has not failed us. We have failed America. “America” represents a set of ideals, a set of values organized into a polity and a promise. The thing about ideals and values is that we either live beneath them or we live up to them. What’s broken in the country is not the values and ideals, but the people who espouse but fail them. Last night Americans failed America.

We saw an American prosecutor fail the principle of “blind justice” by handling court procedure in a way most legal experts found a dereliction of duty. Over and over again we heard that the grand jury bar for an indictment is so low all it takes is a ham sandwich. Prosecutors who want to prosecute don’t “present all the evidence;” apparently, they present only that evidence that gets them the indictment and commences the trial. If that’s true, and I have to trust the majority opinion of legal experts since I’m not one, then Ferguson’s prosecutor failed to even live up to the low-bar ideals of his profession, much less America.

Shortly after President Obama took the podium, speaking from the bastion of American ideals and principles to all American people. Television broadcasts flashed the jarring juxtaposition of a President calling for peaceful demonstrations while tear gas canisters flew and angry protestors began the night’s destruction. President Obama began exactly where he should have: by reminding us that America is a country under the rule of law. It’s good for us to remember and respect that, the alternative played out in places like Syria and Iraq and the Sudan is too disastrous to entertain. The problem with Mr. Obama’s comments wasn’t the beginning, but the conclusion. With what did “the highest office in the land” leave us, but a few general admissions that “there is a problem” and an unhelpful rebuke aimed at media about riots making “good television.” In times of crisis our leaders must lead. That, too, is an ideal too many of us have not lived up to. The fact that the situation is difficult does not absolve us of leadership responsibility; rather, it heightens it.

Then there were those people in the Ferguson crowds who rioted. They, too, betrayed their own calls for justice as they fell well beneath the ideals of a country that protects civic protest as a right. A just cause may be destroyed by the use of unjust means. Watts, L.A., Harlem and D.C. still teaches us that burning down the communities in which you live can soothe unrestrained anger but it can’t produce justice. Those who live by the sword die by the sword. If anyone wanted to honor the life of Michael Brown and a lengthening list of others killed by police officers in suspect circumstances, they failed that ideal the moment the first match was lit or window broken.

And here we stand amidst smoldering flames, armored vehicles, television lights. Almost everyone angry–whether it’s the anger of riots in the streets or the quiet riot of the human heart. The question still remains: How shall those who believe in and love the country’s ideals respond?

Three broad courses are possible, only one righteous.

We may turn the television and turn our heads and continue the unusual business of business as usual. It’s an unusual business for anyone who claims to believe in American ideals, especially those who believe those national ideas at least resonate with deeper biblical ideals. Indifference is no option for the righteous.

Or, we may declare the matter resolved and proclaim from the burning rooftops, “The system worked.” It seems to me any robust measure of “the system” must include more than the verdict reached, but must also take an accounting of fair process and even the system’s response to its verdict. Even if we think everything happened as it should, that doesn’t mean our work is done. For that system needs nurturing and strengthening. It needs explication, inculcation, and protection. Our civic ideals require we remain involved in an open, honest discussion about what worked and what didn’t so that what we cherish isn’t slowly eroded by our inattention. That inattention is no option for the righteous, either.

The only course forward for all of us is that active engagement that applies and seeks to live up to our highest ideals. The debate about what constitutes “justice” is part of the process. The review of our systems and the amendment of laws is part of our highest ideals. The righteous must work to keep the foundations from being destroyed. They must walk by faith and they must do the good deeds that lead to life.

In this instance, I am a firm believer that Lady Justice miscarried. She lost the baby of righteousness in the first trimester, in the 100 days it took a grand jury to fail to find “probable cause” and the one hour it took a prosecutor to mutter his way through chastising television and social media on the way to prosecuting the evidence. Nothing about this situation seems just to me–from what we know of the shooting itself to last night’s verdict and riots. Nothing, except that we do have a legal framework and process and officials in that process sworn to uphold justice.

This means that from the miscarriage life may still spring. There’s recourse–even if historically it hasn’t always been offered to African Americans. There’s a way to honor our best ideals and to seek the elimination of similar situations, to seek a more life-protecting and just society, especially from its elected and commissioned officers.

What would that look like? Here are my first thoughts, admittedly offered in the groggy fog of a long night watching everything happen that should not happen. Feeling that strange sense of disbelief while knowing this would be the outcome. Here’s how I wish the President had ended his comments and what I pray the remaining movement in Ferguson, New York, LA and other parts of the country would commit itself to.

A National Campaign to Protect Citizens and Police Officers

Forming a National Commission for Reviewing the Use of Deadly Force by Police Authorities. The aim of the commission would be to form a panel to (1) review the common factors leading to the deaths of unarmed persons in confrontation with or custody of police authorities; (2) review the grand jury process for ways to improve the representation of victims and further inform deliberations with juror legal education; (3) review definitions of imminent threat to officers and probable cause in grand juries; and (4) recommend effective community relationship and policing strategies with special focus on serving communities disproportionately detained, arrested, incarcerated and injured/killed in police interactions.

There really is no excuse why such a commission could not be formed today. The President could make this happen with another press conference and stroke of the pen.

Federal Requirement and Funding of Police Body Cameras

It’s no fix-all remedy. But the use of body cameras have been shown to improve interactions between officers and the persons they police. The technology is inexpensive and non-invasive. The Federal Government should require and fund the use of such cameras immediately.

Creation of a Mechanism for Appointing Prosecutors

According to most accounts, a grand jury indictment depends largely on the recommendation of the prosecutor. If he/she wants an indictment, they tend to get one. They present the parts of the evidence that lead to the conclusion. In this case, a prosecutor with a history of close affiliation with police officers and no record for ever bringing an indictment, “rigged the system,” according to one analyst, to get the result he wanted. He took the unprecedented steps of giving the grand jury “all the evidence” and allowing the accused to testify to the grand jury for hours instead of leading a prosecutorial effort with integrity. In this case, justice may have been served better by the prosecutor recusing himself, or, failing that, granting the aggrieved the opportunity to appoint a prosecutor better suited to lead the process. There needs to be a review of this part of the judicial process given the pivotal roles prosecutors play. There should be an ability to supplant a prosecutor suspected of conflicts of interest with an independent prosecutor.

The Demilitarization of Local Police Departments

In a country that cherishes the rule of law, there’s no good reason for small town police departments to be stocked with military surplus equipment–equipments whose sole use is the lethal restraint of enemy combatants. Ferguson is not Iraq. The African-American residents there are not ISIS militants beheading civilians. The possession and use of this equipment is immoral, unjust and provocative. Police departments have successfully quieted riots and looters without such equipment for decades now. In cases where more personnel and equipment are needed, the National Guard should be mobilized. The Federal Government should immediately remove weapons and vehicles from local departments where officers have zero training in its proper use.

Conclusion

I am no politician or elected official. I’ve been around public policy enough to know that it’s no cure-all. I’m not misplacing my hope. I have no sense that doing these things will fix everything or usher in the kingdom of God.

But this I do know: There is no way people of good conscience or people of Christian faith can look at the events in Ferguson and conclude there’s nothing left for us to do or nothing that can be done. No, both pure religion and good citizenship require we not settle for what’s happened in the shooting of Michael Brown and the aftermath of the grand jury’s decision. The Ferguson grand jury has given us our marching orders. They have ordered us to march for a more just system of policing and the protection of all life. We are obligated–if we love Christ or love this country–to find a way forward to justice, a way suitable to the dictates of our individual consciences and the word of God. Perhaps you don’t agree with my feeble recommendations above. Great! That’s freedom in action. Now propose something better and let’s get to work.

Thabiti

Quote of the Day

November 22, 2014

“A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear.”
― Marcus Tullius Cicero

What’s Worse?

November 20, 2014

TV Land dropping the Cosby Show or our lawless prez caring more about illegals than its own citizens?

Christmas Tree Tax

November 17, 2014

Live Christmas trees just got a little more expensive. Thanks to a little known provision passed by the government, a fee will be imposed on every fresh-cut tree sold in the U.S.

According to Breitbart, the federal government created a national marketing program to promote the virtues of real Christmas trees, and it is being funded by a 15-cent surcharge added to the cost of each live tree sold.

Times are difficult for Christmas tree growers. An industry task force reported that the market share for fresh-cut Christmas trees in the U.S. declined by 6 percent from 1965 to 2008, while the market share for artificial trees increased by 655 percent in that same period.

Several years ago, the task force asked the federal government for help, and earlier this year, the Department of Agriculture gave them a way to fund a marketing program to compete with the heavy advertising by the artificial Christmas tree industry.

Despite what it appears to be, though, the government insists the surcharge is not a tax – it is simply a fee you have to pay if you buy a live Christmas tree.

“Congress required that the research and promotion program for fresh cut Christmas trees move forward in the Agricultural Act of 2014,” a U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesperson said. “The Christmas tree industry requested this initiative to fund Christmas tree research and marketing, the program will be funded solely by the industry and the government is not imposing any tax on Christmas trees.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that the surcharge on Christmas trees was originally announced in 2011. But the fee was put on hold after Republicans voiced their opposition, as reported by the Inquisitr.

“It’s the single stupidest tax of all time,” said Republican Sen. Jim DeMint at the time it was proposed.

The fee, however, was quietly imposed as part of the 2014 Farm Bill signed by President Obama earlier this year, and very few people even noticed it.

The Heritage Foundation opposed the rule, urging the USDA to withdraw it and saying it was “an inappropriate use of governmental power in a society based on free markets, limited government, and individual freedom.”

Others supported it, however, including third-generation Christmas tree grower Jack W. Wiseman, Jr.

“My father and grandfather planted the first trees on the farm in 1959,” Wiseman said. “The real Christmas tree industry desperately needs this for research and marketing purposes to spread the message about the environmental advantages of a real Christmas tree and to help save our family farms and our farm heritage.”

Regulators defended the new fee by pointing out that other products, including pork, beef, and milk have federally funded advertising campaigns.

What do you think? Is this really a tax? And should the government be able to force consumers to help industries in trouble market their products?

Psalm 132

November 17, 2014

3 “I will not enter my house or get into my bed,
4 I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids,
5 until I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”

Open Border

November 16, 2014

That’s a good question isn’t it? The Constitution does NOT charge the Federal government with controlling our diet, overseeing (taxing and spying on) our internet , building our roads, or regulating our education, but it is charged with securing our borders. So, I ask again, Why,Mr. President, do you insist on opening our borders?

We hear about it every day, we see partisan factions fighting back and forth. The political rhetoric spews out of every orifice on the hill, but no one seems to be able to give the American people one good reason for opening the borders.

That’s all it would take, one good reason and we’d all vote “yes” and go back to work.

You might wonder why I am tearing down the fence around my yard until I explained that I no longer have a dog, I bought the house next door, the fence is obstructing my view, or I’m building a new fence. One good answer and it all makes sense. Such it is with immigration, just give us one good reason.

Immigration reform is fine, reform of any kind is fine, but why do you insist on forcing legislation making front door entry so egregiously difficult and at the same time opening the back door to anyone? We have absolutely no idea who is coming in the back door. Do we really want unfettered criminals, terrorists, welfare parasites, drug dealers and gang members pouring into our cities? How about disease control? and how do you feel about the Hamas, Isis, and other terrorist organizations joining the parade?

I’m all for immigration, but consistent, regulated immigration that protects “We the People” from the undue burden of unregulated immigration. Two of my friends returned to England last night. Because of their exceptional talent they were invited here to work, to contribute, to help enhance the well-being of the American populace. They have spent years and tens of thousands of dollars on immigration lawyers trying to secure the right to stay in our country. “Why not run down to Mexico and swim back?” I asked. That is what they may actually do. It’s fast, easy, free, and they might even get some cash out of the deal.

What is wrong with this picture?

Why does Obama fight the will of the people so vigorously? I can’t come up with a valid explanation, can you? I’ve read all of the amnesty rhetoric. I find all sorts of strategy and legal discourse, but no where can I find even a remotely valid reason for opening the border. I’ve heard it was:

• To import more Democratic voters?
• To provide under-the-radar workers who can work for less than minimum wage?
• To further burden the already burdened American people?
• To expand the minority voting base? (works well without vote ID doesn’t it)
• To further undermine the stability of the US economy?
• To help those less fortunate that us?

Did you know that the United States is second in obesity to only one country – that would be Mexico. If we are doing this for the benefit of the less fortunate, why aren’t we hauling in shiploads of Bangladeshis? They are starving to death daily, Mexicans are not. Did you know that right now, in our country:

• More than 20 percent of the children in our country live in poverty.
• 50 million Americans do not feel secure that they will continue to eat every day (food insecurity)
• Government dependence is already at an all-time record high
• About half the country currently receives some type of monthly benefits from the federal government every month.
• The number of women receiving food stamps recently exceeded the number of women that have jobs.
• The U.S. government has spent a mind-boggling 3.7 trillion dollars on welfare programs over the past five years.
• The number of Americans on food stamps has gone from 32 million to 47 million during Obama’s tenure
• More than one out of every seven Americans is on food stamps.
• According Infowars, the number of Americans on food stamps is now greater than the combined populations of “Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.”

There are now more Americans on food stamps than the total
population of most countries in the world.

Don’t you think, Dear President, that you should give us one good reason for opening OUR border?

Don’t you think, as your employer, we deserve one good explanation for your actions. We’ll be glad to support you, vote for you, even finance your folly – if you will simply give us one good reason for doing so.

Controlled immigration is fine, that’s how we all got here, but your policy of making it incredibly difficult for honest people to come in through the front door while opening the back door to virtually anyone is a recipe for national suicide.

We hired you to take care of us. When are you going to start doing so? You owe us an explanation. Please, before you get out your pen and phone, please answer one question Mr.President.

As your employer, Mr. President, please tell us: Why do you want to open our borders?

Good Intentions?

November 2, 2014

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Judges 21:25

But good intentions are not enough. Good intentions often produce bad outcomes. What we need is good judgment. And that comes from beyond ourselves. It comes from King Jesus, who rules through his Word.