Larry Farlow

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One Size Does Not Fit All

Twice so far this year, the nation has witnessed the death of a citizen at the hands of the police (actually, much more than twice but most were not causes celebre). First Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and now Eric Garner in New York City. In both cases the officer using deadly force was white and the victim was black. In both cases as well a grand jury returned a “no bill” removing the possibility of pursuing criminal charges against the officers.

However, that is where the similarities end.

In the case of Mike Brown, crimes against persons and property were involved – situations in which deadly force is sometimes necessary. I won’t rehash all the particulars as that’s been done ad infinitum. However, based on the evidence, it seems that the officer acted after being attacked.

With Eric Garner the situation is different. From what I can see, Garner was a threat to no person or property. He was suspected of selling a perfectly legal product, cigarettes. The problem is he was doing it in a way that prevented the government from getting their substantial cut of the transaction through taxes. The police in this case were acting as agents of the state on behalf of the state, not on behalf of the citizens of the state protecting their lives and property.

I witnessed something similar earlier this year in Atlanta but with a far better outcome. My teenaged son and I went downtown to see the Gumball 3000 rally cars arrive. As is often the case at events like this, entrepreneurial types began to work the crowd trying to make a buck or two. One was an older black man trying to sell airplane sized bottles of liquor. Most people just waved him off and said no thanks. He was hurting no one. But, because he was trying to sell liquor in a way that cut the state out of the loop, it wasn’t long before the Atlanta Police had him handcuffed at the back of a squad car. A few people in the crowd, which was a mixture of black and white, began to call out to the police to let the man go. To the APD’s credit, after a few minutes they did and the man went on his way. When he was released, the crowd clapped and cheered. Though I realize the circumstances in Atlanta are different from those in the New York case, I still think Garner’s death was a travesty and the officer should probably have been indicted (with the caveat that I’ve not seen all the evidence presented to the grand jury over several months).

But, the issue here is not racism it is out of control government and until we admit that we’ll never solve the problem. Eric Garner might be alive today not, if only he was white, but if only New York City didn’t have the highest cigarette taxes in the nation and a policy of protecting that revenue stream at all costs. Senator Rand Paul makes that point here:

According to Marxist history no matter what happens the reason for it is always class struggle. What started WWI? Class struggle. What caused the fall of the Roman Empire? Class struggle. It’s a one size fits all approach to history designed to validate Marxist policies and ideology.

There’s a similar narrative being told now in the United States. No matter the circumstances if a conflict involves more than one race, racism is automatically the cause and the solution is more government control to combat the racsim. As long as we’re baited into accepting that narrative, the state gets to continue expanding its power.

Since at least the 1960s the left in this country, with overwhelming support from the black community, has increased the size and role of the government exponentially and positioned it as the solution to all problems – supplanting the family, the local community and individual responsibility. In short, whatever the problem, government is viewed as the savior.

But when your messiah is a mere human institution, you’re asking for trouble. Though it may begin by exercising power for your benefit, it will eventually exercise it to your detriment when your goals and the government’s goals conflict – which they invariably do in societies where government is large and powerful and wants to stay that way.

You cannot simultaneously support giving government the power to solve all your problems and then express outrage when they use the power you’ve given them to take down a man selling the cigarettes they’ve decided to protect you from. Paraphrasing George Washington, government is like fire; it’s a dangerous servant at best and a fearful master at worst. And as long as that master can keep us pointing the finger at each other rather than at him, there will be more Eric Garner moments.



What Is Faith?

What is Faith?The Bible tells us without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6) so the answer to the question “what is faith?” is pretty important.

In the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel we see Jesus’ birth foretold to Mary by the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:26-38). Immediately after this Mary leaves to visit her relative Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist whose birth was also foretold by an angelic encounter.

When they meet Elizabeth says something to Mary that is one of the most solid definitions of faith found in the scriptures:

Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished – Luke 1:45

The Bible nowhere speaks of faith as wishful thinking or “naming” what we want and expecting God to provide it. Nor does it present faith as belief without evidence as is sometimes alleged. Faith is believing God will do what He’s said He will do. Paul makes this point also in Romans:

For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” – Romans 4:3

God spoke to Mary through the angel Gabriel and she believed Him. God spoke to Abraham and he believed him. God speaks to us today through His word. He tells us if we will repent of our sins and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ we will be saved (Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9). For believers He tells us He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), not to worry (Philippians 4:6) and that He is coming again (Revelation 22:7) among many other things.

A life of faith is a life lived as if the promises of God in scripture are true.

Do you believe Him today?


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Offensive Weapons

Offensive WeaponsOur culture has raised taking offense to an art form. While there are probably many explanations for this, I came across something recently that I think explains it very well.

For my birthday my daughter gave me a copy of Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov.” As I was reading it, a quote jumped off the page at me:

“The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone.”

For those invested in lies, the only protection available is to prevent truth from being heard. And, since lies cannot go head to head with truth and win, you need a secret weapon. In the arena of ideas, that secret weapon is often “offense.” It allows you to shut down discussion on almost any topic before things get out of hand. It steps between you and truth like a celebrity’s bodyguard fending off the paparazzi.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: when you encounter a topic for which only one point of view is allowed, that acceptable point of view is probably a lie. Note carefully what I’m saying. I’m not denying there are issues for which only one view is correct, far from it. I believe in the concept of absolute truth, the law of non-contradiction, etc. I’m saying if the accepted point of view is not open to challenge it’s likely because it cannot stand up to scrutiny and so must be protected some other way such as the tactic of taking offense.

Here are a few things in that category; admittedly some of these are more vehemently defended with the “I’m offended” tactic than others:

  • The unborn are not people, they’re just a mass of tissue
  • Abortion is healthcare
  • Gender is a social construct
  • It’s possible to be physically male yet really be a woman (and vice versa)
  • Man-made global warming is a fact and is a threat to the planet
  • Macroevolution is the explanation for all the life forms we see today.
  • A relationship between two people of the same gender can be a marriage
  • Minimum wage laws help the poor
  • Government spending creates prosperity
  • Islam is a religion of peace

I could go on. To question any of these assertions is to be offensive to many in our culture. Of course the words “I’m offended” may not always be used. You will sometimes be accused of being intolerant or misogynistic or homophobic or a greedy capitalist, etc. but those are just other ways the tactic of taking offense manifests itself.

There’s also an underlying assumption in Dostoevsky’s quote: people know they are lying to themselves about these things.  Of course the transsexual or the abortionist would deny this but deep down they know truth is not on their side. That is why they are so quick to take offense. The apostle Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Romans:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. – Romans 1:18-23

Which brings us to the biggest assertion of all that this tactic is used to defend:

There is no God.

If you want to see people go from 0 to 60 on the “I’m offended” scale in nothing flat, just acknowledge God in the public square. The shortest length of time known to man is the time between when a prayer is said at a city council meeting and a lawsuit is filed by an atheist.

In the end you must expect to be labeled “offensive” if you stand for truth in our day (usually by folks who claim to hate “labels,” I might add). But when you are take heart, for when someone claims your point of view is offensive it’s likely because they have no counter arguments for it.

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The Parable of the Ten Virgins – Matthew 25:1-13

The Parable of the Ten Virgins – Matthew 25:1-13“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

This parable can be confusing if we try to attach specific meaning to each component (lanterns, oil, trimming the lamps, oil sellers, etc.). While it was common in medieval theology to spiritualize every single aspect of a parable (see Augustine’s interpretation of the Good Samaritan parable), parables generally teach one overarching truth and should be understood that way. We’re not called to ferret out the allegorical meaning of each component. There are times when, because of context or other teachings in scripture, symbolic meaning can be assigned. For example, I believe we’re safe in saying the “bridegroom” in this parable is Christ. There are also times when scripture tells us what the components mean as we see in Matthew 13 when Jesus explains the parables of the sower and the wheat and the tares. But, beyond that, we should not speculate.

The key to understanding this parable is its context. Matthew includes this teaching immediately after Jesus’ teaching on the end of the age in Matthew 24. The parable is a warning to be prepared for the coming of Christ.

The foolish virgins thought they were ready. However, the unexpected return of the bridegroom exposed them as frauds – and it was too late for them. The response of the bridegroom to their pleas in verse 12 is almost identical to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:23:

“And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

Terrifying words.

We know not the day and the hour. Therefore, we should make our calling and election sure so that when that day comes we will receive a rich welcome into the “eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (II Peter 1:10-11)

Are you ready for the coming of the Lord?

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I Am What (I Say) I Am

I Am What I (Say) I AmIdeas have consequences and in western culture, few ideas have had more consequences (of the negative variety) in the last hundred years than existentialism.

Existentialism is a philosophy of existence that makes the individual primary. Among other things, it teaches that each person has the ability to decide for themselves the meaning of their life and who or what they are. None of that is imposed upon the individual from the outside. There is no such thing as an innate essence or design, no purpose for existence beyond that assigned by the individual.

In other words an individual is whatever he or she claims to be without regard to any external standard of measurement. This particular component of existentialism has been latched onto by modern western culture with a vise-like grip.

As a result, we have for several generations believed we could be things without actually having the characteristics of those things.

This is what allows society to take seriously people with male bodies who claim they are female and vice versa. Common sense and reality scream that human beings are born either male or female and that that can be determined based upon a rather cursory examination at the moment of birth – but existentialism says “not so fast.” It claims the right not to be boxed in by anatomy or any other external. I am the gender I say I am, all other evidence be damned.

This belief is not limited to the culture at large but has found its way into the church as well. It is the root of so-called liberal Christianity. If I call myself a Christian, others must believe it because it is what I believe about myself. I do not have to adhere to any specific beliefs or practices to be considered a Christian. I am one merely because I say I am.

So, according to existentialism, I can be a man without actually being male and I can be a Christian without actually believing what Christians believe. I am an independent free-agent and no one can tell me what to do or who I am but me. Of course this is not consistently applied. Much like the moral relativist who has no trouble identifying right and wrong when their car is stolen, existentialists have no trouble using externals to define those who disagree with them. It’s all well and good for me to claim to be a Christian while disavowing the resurrection but if you question my Christianity because of my view, you’re judgmental. But if existentialism is true, can’t I make judgments about others and still be non-judgmental simply because I believe I am?

The truth is we are defined all sorts of ways external to ourselves, many of which we don’t choose. And those definitions are often more accurate than the ones we come up with on our own. Think of the first couple of “American Idol” shows each season and the mistaken belief so many have about their identity as a singer. However, I am a son, husband and father whether I identify myself that way or not. And despite the cultural noise to the contrary, I am a man whether I see myself that way or not; I did not choose that and have no ability to change it, it is how I was designed – how ironic that that is a controversial statement in our day whereas the notion that one’s “sexual orientation” is fixed is taken as gospel.

If we are to recover as a culture we must jettison this kind of self-deception and hyper-individualism. We must move back within the realm of reality and stop believing the lie that we are completely autonomous self-creations. In short, we must place ourselves back under the authority of our Creator and Designer.

To choose otherwise is to choose destruction. Reality will not be ignored. She will eventually have her way with or without us – whether we believe so or not.

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King Saul’s Bad Theology

King Saul's Bad TheologyThroughout the book of I Samuel, God, through Samuel and others, made it clear to King Saul that the kingdom of Israel was no longer his (15:26). It was also clear that David was God’s anointed and would one day be the king (18:12, 24:20).

Despite this, Saul continued to pursue keeping the throne and as part of that quest he sought to kill David.

In I Samuel 23:7 we read an interesting thing as Saul pursues David:

Saul was told that David had gone to Keilah, and he said, “God has delivered him into my hands, for David has imprisoned himself by entering a town with gates and bars.”

The self-deception here is enormous. Despite God’s clear message to the contrary, Saul believes God approves of his plan to kill David and he even believes God is orchestrating events to help him do so.

Saul is confusing his evil desires with the will of God and is interpreting circumstances in light of those desires rather than in light of the Word of God.

How often we can do this!

Many times we want things God’s word says we cannot have – a romance with someone other than our spouse, something our neighbor owns, marriage to an unbeliever, etc. We sometimes want these things so badly that to get them we are willing to ignore God’s Word or, like Saul, twist it so that God appears to approve of what we want.

However, our theology must be grounded in the word of God and not our desires. God has never promised to fulfill all our desires but he has promised to work all things together for our good if we are His followers (Romans 8:28). Simply put, nothing we desire that God forbids is good for us.

Take time to examine the desires of your heart. Are you willing to give up pursuing those things not in conformity to the Word of God? Pray and ask God to mold your desires until they are shaped like His.


Equality versus Justice?

Equality vs Justice

You may have seen this picture floating around Facebook or Twitter. Every time I’ve seen it posted it receives a bevy of positive comments and “likes.” But is it an accurate representation of justice? Most attempts to boil down complex issues to a bumper sticker or a meme fall short and this is no exception. There’s too much we don’t know about the scenario. I think by answering a couple of questions, we can show this is not a good example of injustice being rectified:

Where did the boys get the boxes?

How did the box redistribution happen?

First of all, where did the boys get the boxes? This matters. Resources don’t just appear out of thin air. Did they earn them (or buy them with their earnings)? Did someone give them to them? Were they already there? If the boys worked to earn the boxes, how is it unjust for them each to have what they worked for? Say they earn the equivalent of a box an hour at some job and each boy worked an hour – then each boy has received justice, what he was owed. If someone gave them the boxes how is it unjust for each of them to have what their benefactor provided at no charge? If the box fairy wanted one or more of them to have an extra box he could have provided that but he was under no obligation to do so since the boys did nothing to earn them in the first place. Finally, if the boxes were already there, again, the boys did nothing to earn them. None of them had a claim on any of the boxes, much less more than one of them. The boxes belong to someone else so they, in fact, have no rights to them at all.

Secondly, how did the box redistribution happen? Did the boys decide among themselves to share the boxes? Did someone force them to redistribute them? If the boys decided among themselves to share the boxes that’s great, but that’s not justice, that’s charity. Justice is giving what is owed, generosity is not. Forced generosity is an oxymoron. I pay taxes every year not because I have compassion for the federal government or am generous towards a bloated bureaucracy but because if I don’t they’ll put me in jail. Which brings us to the other possibility. If the boys were forced by someone bigger or stronger than themselves to redistribute the boxes that’s not only not justice, it is injustice. And depending on how the boys got the boxes, it might also be theft or extortion.

Bottom line, all the boys wanted to see the game but they did not all have the resources to do so. That’s not injustice. That’s just life. Not having enough boxes to see the game is no different than not having enough money to buy a ticket to see it. Is it unjust if one of the boys has enough money for more than one ticket but chooses not to give the extra money to his friend who is short of funds? Of course not. He may be ungenerous or stingy for not buying his friend a ticket (or he may just need that money for something else) but he’s not being unjust.

It’s great when we do things for our fellow man, sharing with them out of the abundance of the blessings God gives us. We should do that. However, let’s not confuse that with justice. Justice is getting what is owed me. If I work 40 hours for an employer who promised to pay me for those 40 hours, justice is getting what I earned at the end of the week. If I rob a liquor store at gunpoint, justice is the judge meting out the sentence I’m owed for that crime. However, in the normal course of life, I’m never entitled to the fruit of someone else’s labor. Again, I’m not saying it’s not right and good to share our resources with one another. But if we insist that equality of outcome be the measurement of a just society (which is what this meme is suggesting), we need to realize the only way that can be achieved is through forced redistribution, usually at the hands of government. And history has shown us that never works as promised unless the promise is that most people will be equally poor.

One final thought:

How is it just for three kids to see the game for free when everyone on the other side of the fence had to buy a ticket? These boys have cheated the players (if they’re being paid), cheated the owners of the ballpark and cheated their fellow citizens who spent hard-earned money to buy a ticket.


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