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Did Josh Duggar Commit the Unpardonable Sin?

Molestation of children is certainly a deadly serious sin, and it is also a crime.  Therefore it must not be treated casually or dismissed lightly.  Yet I think some perspective is needed when looking at the Josh Duggar case.  From what is being reported, Josh Duggar was only a boy of 14 when over a period of a year or so he inappropriately touched five different girls as they slept (sometimes they were not asleep).  The victims including some of his own sisters.  His young age doesn’t excuse these terrible acts, but perhaps such acts may be understood as a boy not knowing how to deal with awakening sexual feelings and acting upon them in a highly inappropriate manner.  But Josh recognized what he had done was wrong.  He confessed his actions to his parents and before his church, and subsequently received help. The authorities were eventually also contacted and made aware of the situation.  It doesn’t seem any formal charges were ever made by authorities against the boy or his parents.  It might be argued that more severe action should have been taken by the Duggars to deal with their son, in light of the very serious nature of their son’s actions.  Josh Duggar apparently underwent 3 months of Christian counseling, which included hard physical labor.  Was such adequate for him to have overcome the pattern?  I don’t know.

But the thing is, it does seem Mr. Duggar changed.  He did not continue in the sinful and destructive pattern– but rather, it seems he made a complete about-face.  Apparently he went on to become a very different person, eventually maturing into a decent husband and now, a father. And now, twelve years later, when confronted again with his past (which I am sure he wants desperately to put behind him) he does not cover up his guilt, but owns up to his wicked past acts (publicly confessing, apologizing, not excusing his actions; quitting his position with the Family Research Council).

I think there is a big difference between an unrepentant adult pedophile, and a young teenager of 14 who acted inappropriately but then confessed and actually changed his life.  Perhaps if Mr. Duggar had NOT confessed his actions and reached out for help he might have continued his sinful pattern and become irrevocably hardened in it.  But apparently he genuinely overcame his pattern and has left it far behind.  Of course, he will have to live with remorse and with the consequences of what he did, knowing he caused great harm through his sins. It is to be greatly hoped that his victims have also received the help they need to cope with how they were violated, and are finding healing too.

But in a world where few ever even admit they did something wrong, let alone take responsibility for their bad actions, it is commendable that this young man, with God’s help, seems to have turned his life entirely around as he admitted his guilt, and found forgiveness of his sins and power to change through Jesus Christ.  Even if one cynically dismisses the idea that he has really changed, it should still command respect that Mr. Duggar did not continue the pattern of wrong behavior, but owned up to it and changed it.  For those of us who believe God is in the business of changing lives supernaturally, through the precious gospel of forgiveness through Christ and by the work of His Spirit in sinful hearts, the story of Josh Duggar offers hope and encouragement.  It shows God can really change a person who is willing to confess and repent and ask for help.  Let us hope and pray that Mr. Duggar’s repentance was indeed fully genuine, that good fruit continues, and especially that the victims in this case, who have not really been heard from, are finding restoration and healing too.

We must remember that the gospel is about how the Jesus’ death on a cross is a substitute for what we as wrongdoers deserve (Is 53:4-5; 2 Cor 5:21; Rom 3:23-25). We deserve to be punished, but He– though innocent– takes our sin and our guilt and our shame on His own shoulders.  By His blood shed on the cross, He washes sinners clean from the very worst of sins– there is no sin, in fact, beyond God’s redemptive reach (1 Cor 6:9-11; Eph 2:3-6).  The depth of the love, grace and mercy of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ is simply unfathomable.  God not only forgives through Jesus but then by His Spirit begins a powerful process of changing people from the inside out.  He takes murderers, adulterers– the vilest, most wicked and most depraved sinners– and washes them clean, changing the trajectory of their lives by renewing their minds and giving them new hearts (1 Cor 6:9-111; Rom 12:2). He is cleansing and transforming lowly, wicked sinners into His own perfect and spotless image (1 John 3:2-3).  It is a supernatural, lifelong process that won’t be completed in the believer’s lifetime. But this is the redemptive work God is doing (Heb 10:14; Rom 8:18; 1 Tim 2:12-13).

In light of this, is Josh Duggar beyond redemption? Did he commit the “unpardonable” sin? No. The only sin that puts people out of reach of this marvelous redemption is the sin of continued unbelief (John 3:18).  There is no sin so wicked that God cannot forgive it; no life so shameful and vile that God cannot turn it around(1 John 1:9). But if we reject so great a salvation as is available through Jesus Christ, we shut the door upon our only hope as sinners (Heb 2:3).  Josh Duggar is a wicked sinner.  So am I.  So is every one of us.  Therefore let us put down the stones of condemnation, turn to Jesus and find in Him grace to walk as forgiven but transformed sinners, who look ahead to the day when sin will be fully eradicated from our hearts, and we will live together with God in a new and perfect world that shines brightly, lit solely by the holy glory of God.

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Using the Word “Thugs” Not Clear Evidence of Racism

A friend from Facebook posted the NYT opinion piece “Of Bikers and Thugs” by Charles M. Blow.  I find the article both flawed and annoying. In fact, more than that, the article made me angry– I feel it is trying to accuse folks of universal prejudice based on very flimsy evidence. And I don’t want the guilt. I have enough personal sins to deal with, thank you very much. I don’t deny racial prejudice exists, and that some are perhaps guilty of it on an unconscious level. But I think it is a huge leap to locate unmistakable evidence of universal and deep racial hatred towards blacks simply because the term “thugs” was used in describing events in Baltimore, but not applied to the recent biker riots. The author argues this is not semantics. I say that it is exactly what it is.

The author himself unwittingly provides a good example of how this is semantics when he notes that the President of the United States and the Mayor of Baltimore (both whom happen to be black) used the term “thugs” in describing the riots happening in Baltimore. Is he suggesting the President and this Mayor are both motivated by deep or even unconscious racial animus towards blacks by using this term? Is anyone who uses the term “thugs”, white or black, guilty of prejudice and perpetuating stereotypes against the black community? Well, I don’t think so. The President used the word “thugs” because it was appropriate– the rioters were acting like thugs (i.e., “brutal ruffians”)– which has no connotation of anything racial, sorry. One does not hesitate to use this word of whites. Or at least I never received the memo that this word when applied to blacks signifies that you are a racist.

If you read economist and social theorist Thomas Sowell on these issues (he also happens to be a black man), he regularly notes that breakdown of the family, not only for blacks but also for whites, is a factor contributing to increased violence and crime, in both black and white communities. But he finds much statistical evidence that this breakdown of the family with its negative effects has been much more common in recent decades (from the 1960s forward) following the embracing and implementation of liberal policies. Prior to this, blacks were rioting less and were more likely to have two-parent households. Sowell makes the case that liberal policies have not been helping blacks or whites.  For an example of Sowell’s work, check out his recent article titled, The Inconvenient Truth about Ghetto Communities’ Social Breakdown.

I fully agree with Mr. Blow when he writes that under certain conditions all human beings are “capable of primal, animalistic violence.” As a Christian, I recognize the fact of universal sin. This means Christians should especially be willing to examine their own hearts, to see if prejudice or other sin lurks there. But I’m not sure this means one should rummage around for evidence of sin within where it does not seem to exist. Such as simply using the word “thugs.” What a sin!

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“Net Neutrality”- Orwell Couldn’t Have Said It Better

President Obama recently shared his view that ‘the Internet as we know it’ is in jeopardy, unless the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) swiftly adopts new regulations to ensure ‘Net neutrality‘.  He claims the new rules are needed so Internet Service Providers (ISPs) cannot be the ‘gatekeepers’ that get to decide which content consumers have access to, nor control access speed.  The principle behind the notion of Net neutrality is that “Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.”

First, let’s ask this question: what real problem(s) are these new regulations intended to solve? Is the Internet now broken and needing to be fixed?  Are most people unhappy with their Internet access?  The answer is no.  According to a recent Rasmussen poll, “Americans really like the online service they currently have and strongly oppose so-called “net neutrality” efforts that would allow the federal government to regulate the Internet.”

Net neutrality supporters argue that net neutrality will ensure that free and unfettered access continues, by making sure Internet access providers don’t control who gets to access certain websites.  President Obama implies that big Internet providers currently wield too much power over access to content, and that they are somehow stifling free access.  He claims principles of “net neutrality” have always been part of the Internet from its beginnings, but must be preserved by these new rules so that the Internet remains “free”. Let’s take a closer look at the definition of net neutrality.

Some say net neutrality, the idea that Internet access providers must treat all content equally, is

… similar to the engineering concept known as the “end-to-end principle,” which dates to the early days of the Internet. This concept holds that “intelligence” (i.e., processing of information) should be confined to the two ends of the network: the origination of content and receipt by the end user, or consumer. In between, the pipes connecting these pockets of intelligence should be “dumb,” i.e., confined to simply transporting content without modifying it.

Yet in practice, this “neutrality” principle has always been enforced loosely, for several reasons.  One is the recognition that in fact there are often good reasons for prioritizing some content over other content.  “For instance, network operators have long actively managed their networks to filter out spam and to ensure network security. Network operators consider each of these functions on a case-by-case basis, rather than apply an unbreakable rule built into the fabric of this ever-changing technology.

Another factor that enters into this discussion is, of course, the free market.  In a free marketplace there are always consumers willing to pay more for premium access.  This is an essential aspect of a free market, not a threat to the Internet as we know it, as the President grandiosely and falsely claims.

Yet another factor involved in varying prioritization of data is technical.  Different types of data require higher or lower levels of bandwidth and speed. For example, the data transfers involved in reading a blog or a website are slower and smaller that that required for viewing a video or for conducting a phone or webcam conversation.  This kind of traffic requires regulation if the Internet is to run smoothly and effectively.

In a field that is one of the America’s best and brightest–, technology and communications– we must guard the freedoms that allowed the Internet to flourish and innovate.  Turning the Internet into a public utility subject to more government regulation does not seem a good prescription for encouraging a climate of innovation.  Does government regulation produce creativity and competition, or does it rather stifle them?  Besides, it is not as if the current Internet is not under laws that bring protections to the public.  In fact, “existing federal competition laws and consumer protection laws — and strict penalties — protect Americans from harmful ISP behavior.”

Finally, here’s what I view as the truly Orwellian aspect of this.  President Obama says unless we act now and impose these brand new, unprecedented rules, we will lose the Internet as we now know it– because the big bad ISPs are actively suppressing people’s access to the Internet and websites.  Where is the evidence for this?  In any case the rules he is proposing grant huge power to a Federal government agency (FCC) to oversee and regulate how the Internet works.  Introducing new levels of bureaucracy into a system that has been working well ( precisely due to light regulation and free market principles) is a sure path to higher costs and ultimately, less neutrality.  If the Internet becomes a “public utility”, it can be taxed.  And once the government controls costs, how soon is it until they will also be in a position to regulate content?  Judge Napolitano sums it up well in this video, arguing that the Internet was created by a free market, and that these new FCC rules introduce unnecessary bureaucracy into the system making it less free, more expensive, and in danger of government censorship and control.

As you may have heard, today the FCC narrowly passed the new rules, which are expected to face many legal challenges ahead.

 More resources:

Eight Myths About FCC Regulation of the Internet

Five Myths about Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality’s Technical Troubles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bible Reading Plans: ReformingChristianity.com Resources

At the beginning of the a new year,  many Christians will want to challenge themselves to read through the Bible.  Why?  Because we understand that regular intake of God’s word is critical to developing our relationship with God, and to our daily vitality as believers.  Through the Bible, God speaks His truth to us by His Spirit.  We come to know who God (Jesus) is more and more, and this strengthens our faith in Him, which helps us believe and act upon the truth that living for Him brings us into an abundant life full of purpose, meaning and blessing.  The Bible imparts supernatural wisdom, its truths challenging and correcting us, convicting and conforming our hearts and minds to His will, teaching us to think and act in accordance with God’s ways. Yet, it is a spiritual battle to read the Word and to stay in it– our natural selves resist spiritual food, and the world’s distractions and spiritual forces of darkness also conspire to keep one from reading the Word.

But we are truly blessed these days to have so many free resources and tools we can use to help us in our goal of Bible reading.  At my ReformingChristianity resources site I’ve collected many different Bible reading plans, all designed to help one read through the Bible, in part or in whole, according to some kind of schedule.  Using one of these plans, you might choose to read and/or listen to the Bible everyday online; or you could download and print out a plan to guide you in your daily “offline” reading.  You could have the reading plan sent to you by email.  Many plans may be done via your mobile phone.

Classic reading plans (e.g., “M’cheyne“) have been used successfully by many for years to read through the entire Bible, and are typically designed to have one read from different sections of Scripture each day, a few chapters a day.  There are also “partial Bible” reading plans (e.g., just New Testament, or Proverbs and Psalms).  There are plans to take you through the Bible in historical order, or in just 6 months, or according to different topics.  There is even a site that lets you design your own customized reading plan.  You’ll find all these variations and more, at my resources site.

If you’re like me, so many choices may actually be too much of a good thing– you may get paralyzed just trying to decide which plan to use!  But I would suggest you not overthink the decision; simply choose a plan that is easy and practical and suits your style.   If you like to read from your print Bible, print out a plan and mark readings completed as you go.   If you like to read and listen on the go, download an app like YouVersion or BibleGateway for your cell phone or tablet.

Whichever plan you choose, do try to pick a plan that will help you read all of Scripture, not just your favorite parts, for we know all Scripture is inspired. All of the Bible therefore contains something of importance God wants to communicate to us.  Also, I think plans which allow one to read through entire books of the Bible may be better than those which have you reading from different parts each day, because you may be able to better grasp the thought of the book you’re reading if not distracted with reading from many other books simultaneously.  On the other hand, some may find it more interesting (and therefore be better able to stick with it) if they read from different books.

If you lapse in your reading and miss a day or two (or more), don’t fret too much– simply pick up where you left off.  Don’t be overly perfectionistic (as I tend to be) and feel if you’ve missed a few days you have to start all over, or that you’ve failed totally.  The important thing is, we’re reading so we may connect with God through His Word on a regular basis and thus deepen in love and devotion to Him. He in turn blesses us with His fellowship, His peace, His joy and His power, as we walk with Him and obey the truths we learning.

Another factor that may be helpful for consistency is accountability– tell a friend you’re reading through the Bible and ask them to pray for you, and check up on you.  Many of the web-based and mobile apps include this helpful “social” component.

What Bible reading plan do you currently use?  Is it online, offline, mobile?  Do you have someone helping you with it?  How’s it going?

May the Lord bless all those who seek to meet with Him faithfully through reading His Word.

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Gingrich’s “Moment”- Why Did It Resonate?

During the Republican Debate Thursday evening, January 19, just 2 days before the South Carolina primary,  the opening question from debate moderator John King is directed to candidate Newt Gingrich, and it’s a highly provocative one:

As you know, your ex-wife gave an interview to ABC News and another interview at the Washington Post and this story has now gone viral on the Internet.  In it she says that you came to her in 1999 at a time when you were having an affair. She says, you asked her, Sir, to enter into an open marriage.  Would you like to take some time to respond to that?

While the question is being asked, Gingrich’s demeanor is calm, but his eyes cast a steely glare towards King, as if he is ready to pounce.  Gingrich’s response is cool but forceful.  “No… but I will.”    The audience erupts in loud applause.

I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that,

continued Gingrich.  Suddenly the audience is on its feet, giving Gingrich a standing ovation.  King asks if he is finished, but clearly Gingrich isn’t. He continues,

Every person in here knows personal pain. Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things. To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary, a significant question in a presidential campaign, is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.

My two daughters, my two daughters wrote the head of ABC and made the point that it was wrong, that they should pull it, and I am, frankly, astounded that CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate.

It was an amazingly dramatic moment in these debates.  Two days later, Gingrich went on to win a resounding 41% victory in South Carolina, besting chief rival Romney by a whopping 12 percentage points.  Analysts and commentators credited this key Gingrich debate moment to his strong  showing in South Carolina, as well as his continued momentum as the Republican nomination contest headed to the next state battleground in Florida.

That Gingrich’s debate “moment” generated such visceral empathy for him, with people apparently flocking to his side because of it, reminds me how certain well-made movies get audiences to root for the anti-heroes–charming guys who  just happen to be bank robbers, ex-convicts, Mafia, even serial killers.   These movies stir us to feel for these ethically-challenged characters by potraying them as flawed yet very human.

Perhaps the empathy for Gingrich in this case is quite understandable.  Just as we mistrust government leaders, the media likewise seems untrustworthy in its biases.  In our Internet age of reality shows, Twitter, Facebook and Google, it’s isn’t just public figures whose lives are continually exposed to all.  The average person may also feel that their privacy is being eroded.  Maybe we empathize with Gingrich because of our own growing discomfort with the overly intrusive presence of media in our own daily lives.

And yet the fact remains that Gingrich is a thrice-married man who carried on adulterous affairs during his first two marriages.  Does such behavior reveal something negative about the moral character of a man and thus his ability to govern?  Would it be unreasonable to surmise that Gingrich may have divorced his former wives as they became liabilities to his political ambition?  Or is he a dramatically changed man, as his daughters from his first marriage have testified, one whose new religious faith has made him a very different person today than he was then?

Despite sharing the empathy many felt for Gingrich in his “moment”, I still think that the questions about character that arise from personal behavior are legitimate things to look at as we evaluate the worthiness of candidates for high office.

I’m not concluding Gingrich is one of the bad guys.  He says he’s gone to God for forgiveness for his past mistakes.  As a Christian, I certainly believe that the grace of God offered through Christ gives believers the chance to start fresh.  Embracing Christ, we’re challenged to walk away from our past life of self-centered sin.  We do so eagerly, knowing Christ died to give us this opportunity for a new life, and trusting that God will work in us to make us progressively less sinful and more like Christ.  Is this what has happened in Gingrich’s life?  Time will tell.

So perhaps we got behind Gingrich in his “moment” because we’re all longing for a more dignified national discourse, one where noble ideals and solutions are what is served up for discussion, rather than reality-TV trash fare.  But intuitively and rightly, people still assess the moral character of a man based on behavior both public and private.  If Gingrich is truly a changed man who aspires to greatness for this country and as a leader, he’ll need to acknowledge that as he moves forward.

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