Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sheriff Clarke Reminds Us of a Strong Biblical Truth

Yesterday was the first full day of confirmation hearings by the United States Senate Judicial Committee concerning the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to be the new Associate Justice on the Supreme Court.  Judge Gorsuch has an almost impeccable record.  He has a reputation of adjudicating cases based upon the original intent of the law.  He certainly would not be viewed as a judicial activist, or one who made law from the bench.  He was pressed hard by the Democratic members of the committee, but held firmly to his beliefs.  The questioning will continue today.  One could wish that we would as carefully vet those who enter our country as we do those who seek to serve our country.


Over the weekend we learned of the horrific rape and sexual assault upon a young 14-year old girl in Montgomery County, Maryland.  She is a freshman in high school.  She was accosted by two young men, one 18-years old, the second 17-years old, taken into a boys' bathroom, and brutally raped and assaulted.  Both of these boys were also freshmen at the high school even though they were older.  And, one of the perpetrators of this terrible crime was here in our country illegally.  A young girl's life has been torn apart by two men, one of whom should not have even been in that high school.  This is just one more example of crimes that have been committed, almost at will, by some of those in our country illegally.  Yet I keep wondering where the outrage is.  We experience riots when a black teenager is shot by a police officer, but there is hardly a whimper when a life is destroyed by a person who is in our country illegally.  It seems we have a double-standard.  Do we only react with anger when it is a police officer who takes a life while in the line of duty?  Does not the life of this little 14-year old girl matter as well?  Does not the life of the young mother who was recently shot while walking to the store in Chicago matter?  These are troubling questions. 


Recently, while perusing the shelves at our local Barnes & Noble, I came across a book titled, "Cop Under Fire."  It was written by Sheriff David Clarke, Jr. who serves as the sheriff for Milwaukee County, Wisconsin.  I had first heard of Sheriff Clarke when he addressed the Republican National Convention last summer in Cleveland.  I liked his grit, his firm resolve, his passion for what was right.  So I purchased the book and soon was devouring its pages.  In the early part of the book, Sheriff Clarke tells his story of being so strongly influenced by his father to always do what was right.  It is with those memories of truths taught by his father that Sheriff Clarke serves the Milwaukee community. 


In the book, Sheriff Clarke deals with the subjects of illegal immigration, of the fallacies being perpetrated by the Black Lies Matter (that is his term for them) crowd, and of the assault upon traditional, biblical moral values that has escalated since the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the land.  The author does not mince words; he is direct and, often times, very blunt.  But I believe he has touched the stirrings within many of our hearts.  Something has gone horribly wrong. 


One section of Sheriff Clarke's book that I really appreciated was his discussion on the assault upon the American family, especially the family living in today's urban community.  He writes, "For the first time in the history of the United States, fewer than 60 percent of first-born US babies were brought into this world with a married mother and father.  More than one in five first-born children now have parents who are shacking up. [He quotes from an article written by Cheryl Wetzstein and published in the Washington Post on July 8, 2014].  Some researchers describe these 'fragile families' as only strong enough to create children, but not strong enough to support them.  Frequently, these couples break apart after the babies are born." (p. 129). 


Sheriff Clarke points out what the Bible declares with absolute resolve: national failures are the consequence of family failures.  I have been doing some study in the Book of Judges preparing for that portion of my "Thru the Bible: The Thread of Redemption" series.  I have rediscovered that the Book of Judges is not one of those books that you sit back and say, "Wow, I want to be like Samson!"  But what I have seen for the very first time is this startling truth: the nation of Israel failed to keep God in the center of their lives because fathers in the homes failed to teach their children the importance of that truth.  If fathers fail, sooner or later, the nation will experience the same failure.  God was so correct when, through Moses, He proclaimed: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up" (Deuteronomy 6:4-7).  Where does a child go to find that father-figure when there is no dad within the home?  In the urban community, that child will find that "dad" within the gangs. 


Friends, I know I sound like a broken record, but it is time that the Church of Jesus Christ begins to focus its resources, its time, and its leadership to strengthening the home.  God did not call the Church to be a parent-substitute, but to be a parent-supporter, to be a parent-facilitator, to be a parent-equipper.  Yes, a strong, dynamic children's ministry can be one of those tools.  Yes, a strong, dynamic youth ministry can be one of those tools.  Will this be easy?  Of course not...this might be one of the most difficult things a Church can experience.  It is hard to change directions.  But, we cannot let that difficulty be an obstacle that we allow to impede our progress. 


I found Sheriff Clarke's book a timely one.  I highly recommend it.  And, if you read this alongside of Todd Starnes newest book titled, "The Deplorables' Guide to Making America Great Again," you will capture the length and breadth of the problems that have become deeply embedded in American culture.  But, you will be encouraged to begin to take small-steps to move away from those problems and thus rediscover the vision that made America great. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Deception: Its Purpose Is Purely Destructive

"Deception" is a noun derived from the verb "to deceive" which means "to make a person believe what is not true" (Webster's New World Dictionary).  Deception is a deliberate, intentional act of misleading someone to believe something that is not true.  The purpose of deception is cause a person to believe something or someone whose foundation is either non-existent or shaky at best.  And, when deception is done well, it can cause many people to believe the deception to be true and to act as if it were true.


Before we look at the deception taking place today, I want us to look at an old biblical story where deception was practiced well.  The story is found in 2 Samuel 15.  Absalom is David's oldest son, so the kingdom will be his someday - at least that was his thinking.  For the past five years he has been estranged from his father, in fact, Absalom has not seen his father during those years even though for two of those years he has lived in the same city as his father (see 2 Samuel 13:38, 14:23, 28).  David is getting older, yet still has the ear of most of the people he has ruled over for so many years. 


However, Absalom grows impatient in his waiting to become king.  So, he decides to hurry the process.  We read this from the text: "In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him.  He would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate.  Whenever anyone came with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, 'What town are you from?'  He would answer, 'Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.'  Then Absalom would say to him, 'Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.'  And Absalom would add, 'If only I were appointed judge in the land!  Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that he gets justice.'" (2 Samuel 15:1-4).


Wanting to wait no longer, Absalom hired his own PR firm to begin to promote his name before the people.  And Absalom would daily stand by the city gates and politic with the people as they came before the king to have matters settled.  He would say things like, "Well, have you heard that the king really does not care about your problem; he just wants to promote himself?"  Or, something like this: "Do you know how much this king is making and how he is not paying his fair-share of taxes?"  Perhaps Absalom was even able to persuade the media of his day to buy-in to the deception and even to promote it.  Now I know some of you are saying, "Max, I don't think that is what Absalom was saying."  But let's continue reading in the text: "Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him.  Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and he stole the hearts of the men of Israel" (2 Samuel 15:5-6). 


Absalom "stole the hearts of the men of Israel."  He caused the people to begin questioning the validity of their king.  Absalom practiced the art of deception incredibly well.  And he did this for four years.  Everyday, Absalom's purpose was to cause people to question the way the king was ruling, to question even his competence to lead, and to question the legitimacy of his leadership.  And what was the result of this deception?  It lead to a fracturing of the kingdom with people having to decide what was truth for themselves.  The act of deception, when done incredibly well, is amazingly effective and agonizingly destructive to a nation.


So, how does this story relate to today's scene?  I believe we are seeing the powerful impact deception plays right before our eyes.  On November 8, the people of this country went to polling places all across this nation to cast their ballots for President of the United States.  The mainstream media and many political pundits had already decided who would be elected even before the first ballots were cast.  Celebrations were in readiness.  As the first returns came in that night, the choice of those pundits seemed almost assured.  But then something happened that was not on the script.  South Carolina, then Florida, then Pennsylvania, then Ohio, then Wisconsin, then Michigan went off-script.  There were expressions of shock that reverberated through the mainstream media and among those political pundits.  How could this have happened?  There had to be a way that the election of Donald Trump was not an legitimate one.  They searched and found a possible explanation: it was the Russians who had influenced the election in favor of Mr. Trump.  And so that story grew in magnitude.  And, after one governmental agency after another  has claimed there is no relationship between the Russians and the outcome of the election, that deceptive story still grows.  Just as Absalom created the atmosphere of sincerity and concern among the people, so the mainstream media and political pundits create an atmosphere of political concern.  They say, "We are only looking out for the best interests of the people."  Even though Absalom said similar things, his ultimate purpose was to change governmental leadership - to himself.  And the purpose of the deception today is to change governmental leadership - to someone who will acquiesce to the wishes espoused by the mainstream media and the leftists pundits.  They believe that if they keep on stating the deception over and over again, perhaps even expanding it and wrapping it in different trimmings, that eventually they will achieve what Absalom achieved - a change at the top. 


If you go back to the definition that I shared at the very beginning of this piece, deception is based upon a lie, a known non-truth.  It is deliberate and intentional.  And the defense of the deception becomes almost irrational.  It creates an atmosphere of hysteria.  As long as there is a spirit of deception, there can be no unity of either heart or mind. 


Allow me to share one more biblical scene, only one that is yet to occur, but I believe we are seeing the beginnings of that scene today.  I point you to the text found in 2 Thessalonians 2 where the Apostle Paul states clearly that the time is coming when the world will bow before a powerful delusional effort on the part of the Antichrist.  It will literally be the "lie from hell" that will cause many to believe the lie.  How will this lie be promoted among the peoples of the world?  I believe we are seeing "the how" right before our eyes - through the mainstream media.  They will be the first to swallow the lie.  They will be the first believers in the lie.  And soon through every possible media source available the lie will be proclaimed, not as a lie, but as the truth.  This is known as The Great Deception.  And the effects of this deception will be divisive and catastrophic.  Revelation 6-18 record just a brief summary of its impact. 


Friends, as I have shared with you so many times recently, as believers in Jesus Christ we need to be solidly anchored in His Truth.  It is only His Truth that will expose the lie, the deception.  It is time to get involved in a study of the Scriptures, not just for devotions, but for its deep truths.  Jesus exposed the deceptive statements of Satan there in the wilderness not by sharing opinions, but by quoting Truth.  If you are not involved in some type of Bible study that probes deeply into the Word, get started now!  If you are not sharing with your children the truths from the Word of God, get started now!  Don't believe the lie.  Search diligently for the Truth.  Remember, it is only the Truth that will set you free.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

"Jesus' Sermon and Today's World"

I have been reading through the Gospels this year with the intent of rediscovering those key moments in the life of Jesus.  Immediately one thinks of His baptism which was that significant introduction of Jesus into ministry.  That was followed quickly with the testing that took place in the wilderness where Satan unsuccessfully challenged Jesus' deity and humanity.  There were the multitude of miracles - events that greatly changed the lives of many.  And there were the stories - lots of stories.


But as I read through Matthew 24 the other day, I wanted to focus upon this strong teaching of Jesus about the last days through the eyes of today's world.  I truly found it fascinating - alarming, yet hopeful.  Allow me to invite you to open your Bible to Matthew 24 and let's examine it together.


First, Jesus points to a strong spirit of deception that would come with its focus to deceive the followers of Jesus Christ.  "Jesus answered: 'Watch out that no one deceives you.  For many will come in my name, claiming, "I am the Christ" and will deceive many'" (Matthew 24:4-5).  How strong is that deception today.  I believe it is couched in that growing belief that "all roads lead to God."  It goes something like this: It makes no difference what you believe, as long as you are sincere in what you believe.  In our rush to be inclusive and tolerant, we have allowed that deceptive spirit to penetrate into our teachings.  We may not have people rushing around saying that they are Jesus, but we do have many who are teaching that Jesus is just one way to God, but there are other ways just as effective.  How tragic is this deception!


Second, Jesus strongly states that there would be wars and rumors of war.  "You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed.  Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom" (Matthew 24:6-7a).  Let's just take a snapshot this morning.  Iran is testing their long-range ballistic missiles.  After the development of their nuclear capabilities - which, by the way, we know will occur within the next decade or even earlier - with these missiles the Iranians will be able to deliver a nuclear warhead certainly to any city in Israel and to many cities in Europe.  We have also witnessed Iran's navy getting belligerent with American Navy vessels sailing in the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz.  Iran is already at war with its neighbors and seems to be preparing itself for a broader war, especially against Israel.  (Read Ezekiel 38-39 about the reality of this war).


Then there is North Korea.  American leaders are fairly confident that North Korea does possess some type of nuclear capability.  As recently as this past week, they tested some long range ballistic missiles and boasted that they could now attack American bases.  In response to these tests, yesterday our government sent one of our best strategic missile defense systems to South Korea, which prompted an immediate reply from China that questioned the American intent, thus elevating their military presence near the North Korean border. 


China has recently launched its very first aircraft carrier.  Over the past several years they have created artificial islands in the South China Sea for the sole purpose of establishing military bases there.  Their strong presence has escalated the threats of a regional war in southeast Asia. 


And then there is Russia.  I believe that Russian President Putin - he is certainly not a president like we think a president should be; he is more like a dictator in the mold of a Stalin - has eyes on reestablishing the strength of Russia as it was years ago.  He annexed the Crimea.  He has threatened Ukraine repeatedly.  Many former Soviet Republics have felt his intimidating threats as well.  Poland's leadership is uneasy about what is transpiring on its eastern border.  Along with China, Russia is investing heavily in its military might. 


Finally, there is the continued threat of radical Islamic terror.  Syria is awash in blood.  Hamas and Hezbollah are just awaiting a green light from Iran to explode against Israel's northern and southern borders.  The war with these radicals has touched nearly every country in Europe as well as here in America. 


Jesus said, "Don't be alarmed when you hear of these things, for this is just the birthpangs of the end."


Third, Jesus predicted an increase in the persecution of believers.  "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me" (Matthew 24:9).  A recent article described that in 2016, there were over 90,000 Christians worldwide who were martyred for their faith.  And the attacks upon faith-communities worldwide reached to heights not seen before.  It is not easy being a Christ-follower any longer.  Even here in the United States, we have seen a dramatic uptick in persecutions.  (I strongly recommend Todd Starnes newest book, "The Deplorables' Guide to Making America Great Again" where he documents some of these acts of persecution. 


Fourth, Jesus made this statement to His disciples: "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold" (Matthew 24:12).  I don't think I need to remind you of the reality of that statement.  On every hand we see the often violent increase in wickedness.  Just look at what is happening in the city of Chicago, for example - a city where its citizens are dying in record numbers at the hands of others of its citizens.  And look at the hatred that is spewed everyday across our nation, beginning with our main stream media, where one group is showing hatred toward another.  We would rather show hatred than show civility.  Yes, our love toward others has grown incredibly cold.


Finally, Jesus said, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14).  Ah, some good news about the Good News.  Bible translation work is proceeding at a record pace.  The number of tribal groups without at least a portion of the Bible in their language is getting smaller and smaller.  The Jesus Film is being produced in increasingly more languages.  One believes that within this generation all peoples on the face of this earth will have had the opportunity of hearing the Good News about Jesus. 


Friends, although these words of Jesus were uttered nearly twenty centuries ago, it is almost as if He were saying them new to us today.  We should not be shocked at what is happening.  The reason why we are shocked is because we have not studied this passage and seen its truths in the light of today's world.  It is time to take the blinders off.  It is time to sharpen our swords - to really get serious about our study of the Word of God.  It is time to begin serious training for the days that lie ahead for us.  I am drawn to the words of that old hymn, "Who is on the Lord's side? Who will serve the King?  Who will be His helpers, other lives to bring?  Who will leave the world's side?  Who will face the foe?  Who is on the Lord's side?  Who for Him will go?"  Oh that we might answer as does that hymn writer: "By Thy call of mercy, by Thy grace divine, We are on the Lord's side, Savior, we are Thine."  Amen!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

"To be Tolerant or Not to be Tolerant: Ah, That Is the Question"

Tolerance - it is a word that is repeated hundreds of times daily during newscasts and talk shows.  I find it to be a fascinating word.  It comes from a Latin word that meant, "to lift up, to bear."  The word is defined: "to allow; permit; not to interfere with" (from Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language).  I think we all believe that to act with tolerance is a good thing.  It is an act of respect that we show toward one another. 


The opposite of tolerance is, of course, intolerance, which is defined as "not tolerant; unwilling to tolerate others' opinion, religious beliefs, etc.; bigoted; illiberal."


So, two very important words.  But what happens when these two words collide?  Let's see if I can illustrate with a couple of recent stories.  The first is an article from the Patriot Post and was published this past Monday - February 27.  (You can find the article at: www.patriotpost.us/posts/47686). It is titled, "School Band: No More Music Composed by White Guys."  The article relates the story of the Spring Lake Park High School here in Minnesota that decided to stop purchasing music composed by white composers.  "We made a commitment this year to only buy music from composers of colors," marching band director Brian Lukkasson shared with National Public Radio.  One student, Kia Muleta, also told NPR that "there's a kind of an ideological segregation of who can and cannot be in band, based on who the composers are, and what the music is like.  I really, really want other students of color to be able to feel like they are welcomed and appreciated anywhere, that they don't have to check themselves at the door." 


Friends, I am not sure what the skin color of a composer has to do with his or her music.  When my daughter was in high school, her marching band did a halftime performance that featured many of the songs from Aaron Copland.  I am not sure my daughter really cared what his skin color was.  All she knew was that the music was fun to perform.  All I can say is that if this school persists with their decision, they are denying those students the opportunity of playing some pretty fantastic band music.  And that would be sad!  I think John Philips Sousa would roll over in his grave at such a thought.  In our rush to be tolerant, we instead become very intolerant. 


The second story was reported by Fox News and can be found at: www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/02/27/town-hall-agitators-explode-at-name-jesus.  The article titled, "Town hall agitators explode at the name of Jesus," was written by Todd Starnes.  There was a video that accompanied the article at the Fox News website.  Allow me share from the article: "A group of enraged protesters exploded in anger after a chaplain prayed in the name of Jesus at a town hall meeting in Louisiana hosted by U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy.  The verbally-abusive crowd also heckled a Vietnam War veteran who attempted to lead the group in the pledge of allegiance.  It was one of the most heinous acts of un-American, anti-Christian behavior I've ever seen, folks."


Mr. Starnes continues, "The Feb. 22 town hall meeting in Melairie, was quickly overrun by the angry mob - much like other town hall meetings hosted by Republican lawmakers across the country.  The mainstream media would have us believe the unruly demonstrations are part of an organic, grassroots effort.  But I sincerely doubt many in the mob were actually residents of Louisiana - because I know the good people of Louisiana and nobody behaves like that in the Bayou State. ... I'd be willing to bet a cup of Community Coffee that the Jesus-hating rabble-rousers were shipped in from some God-forsaken place like Berkeley or Brooklyn.


"Chaplain Sprague had barely invoked the name of the Almighty when the heckling began.  'Pray on your own time.  This is our time,' someone shouted.  'Amen.  Let's get on with it.'  Others chanted, 'Separation of church and state' and so on and so forth.  Someone filmed the prayer and words do not do justice in the amount of hate directed at the chaplain.  'I've never been shouted down throughout a time of prayer like that,' Chaplain Sprague told me.  'I've never been in a situation like that.  It's sad there wasn't honor and respect for God.'  But they became absolutely unhinged when he concluded his prayer in the name of Jesus.  'Wow, they booed the name of Jesus,' Cassidy said in remarks reported by the Times-Picayune. 


"The chaplain was especially disappointed by how the mob insulted the Vietnam veteran.  'There was a lot of shouting.  Some turned their backs.  Many didn't stand or put their hand on their heart,' he said."  One could interpret the attitudes and actions of that crowd with this simple sentence: We want to be tolerant of everyone, except those who believe in Jesus and the American flag. 


Todd Starnes has just released his newest book titled, The Deplorables' Guide to Making America Great Again.  I am presently reading this book.  It is very disturbing as story after story is told of how really intolerant America has become.  I highly recommend it.  Have your teenagers read it.  Sit down and talk about it as a family.  Begin to practice some of the strategic steps that the author places at the end of every chapter. 


Friends, let me share one more story with you.  The previous two are alarming and disgusting.  This story is scary because it involves the invoking of demonic control.  The article can be found at: www.wnd.com/2017/02/witches-target-trump-with-mass-occult-ritual.  "It's not just a political battle anymore.  It's spiritual warfare now.  Exorcists, witches and occultists 'in a number of magical groups' are announcing plans for a ritual designed to 'bind Donald Trump and all who abet him.' ... The rite, requiring a stub of a candle, a pin, salt, matches, a tarot card, a feather and other odds and ends, calls on spirits to ensure President Trump will 'fail utterly.'  It also includes burning a picture of the commander in chief, visualizing him 'blowing apart into dust or ash.' ... Among the various spirits invoked are the 'demons of the infernal realm.'"


The article goes on to quote Jan Markell of Olive Tree Ministries here in Minnesota.  She said that the left's open embrace of demonic imagery is revealing.  'It shows that the level of hatred against Donald Trump is generated by Satan himself,' she said.  'Donald Trump is not a perfect man. But he is trying to stop the runaway freight train of evil that has existed for eight years emanating out of Washington and the Democratic Party.'"


"Karl Payne, the former chaplain of the NFL's Seattle Seahawks and an expert in exorcism who penned 'Spiritual Warfare' as a guide for Christians dealing with unseen forces, denounced those behind the spiritual attack on Trump as 'so ideologically driven, they do not see straight.'  But he also warned occult forces are being increasingly normalized in popular culture through an anti-Christian media.  'It is not possible to watch major television stations, cable stations or movies without being inundated with shows and movies on the paranormal,' he said.  'To think that the constant exposure to these types of shows will not have an impact on those watching them is as na├»ve as it is to believe people can watch and play hours of video games glorifying murder and mayhem and it not make an indelible impact on their minds.  Garbage in, garbage out.  In the computer world, this used to be voiced as a truism.  Now walking and talking with the dead, casting spells, witches, warlocks, zombies, blood, guts and horror are promoted as innocent entertainment and people's minds and lives are being destroyed as a result in some cases.  Those denying this are typically those with private agendas hoping to see occultism normalized, and those who profit financially from it with no care or concern for the destructive collateral damage incurred as a result.'"


Friends, as I have shared with my congregation many times, Satan does not play games.  Satan does not just dabble, he is intentional.  Spiritual warfare is a reality for each of us as believers.  And, I believe that as we get closer to the return of Jesus Christ, the intensity of that warfare will only increase.  We are seeing evidence of that today - just be reminded of what happened in Louisiana.  But we need not be filled with fear or despair.  God has provided powerful armor for us and commands us to put each piece on daily, along with prayer (read Ephesians 6).  God has declared that greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).  And remember these words from the Apostle Paul: We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37).  So. let's be diligent in our prayers for our President - he needs to be surrounded with God's hedge of protection.  Let's pray for those men and women in our Congress and in our state legislatures who boldly represent Jesus Christ daily.  Let's pray for men and women in the workplaces of America who also boldly take a stand for Jesus, often in a very unfriendly environment.  And finally, prepare yourself to be a strong soldier for Jesus.  Remember that old hymn: "Onward Christian soldiers, marching off to war."  For that is what we are to be and to do.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What Is Missing Today?

There is something missing in our nation today and, because of its lack, our nation appears to be unraveling at its seams.  America has always been the melting pot of ideas - both religious and political, educational and economic.  In fact, as one remembers his/her class on American History - what was it, in eleventh grade? - our nation was founded upon great political, economic and religious differences.  And, following the War of Independence, those differences became the strength that resulted in the writing of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights - two of the greatest documents in the English language and models for other aspiring peoples around the globe.  Many held strongly to one side or to the other, but the vision of a greater good for the nation brought resolution through compromise.  (By the way, I highly recommend Joseph Ellis' book titled, "An American Creation," if you want to get some great insights into this particular time). 


But the greatest divider of our nation was not dealt with by those Founding Fathers - the matter of slavery.  Debates, followed by compromises, followed by more debates, followed by more attempted compromises ensued.  And, as you remember, this divisive matter was only resolved through a long and bloody civil war.  And yet, was the matter really resolved?  The Proclamation had been issued in 1863 by President Lincoln and the war had been won, so, technically, slavery was over.  Yet, it would take another century before attitudes would be changed.  Yes, people would march.  Yes, people would cause riots.  Yet, as I look back upon those first historic images I remember as a child, I hear the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. urging people to protest with civility.  And many did.  And the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law.


Friends, our nation has always had strong differences of opinion.  Sides have been drawn and held with strong convictions.  But, as I read American history, there was usually a strong sense of civility in dialogue present.  I may strongly oppose you on the floor of the debate hall, but I will go out for a cup of coffee with you afterwards.  In other words, I may oppose your beliefs but I do not oppose you as a person.  And that makes all the difference. 


Civility, which the dictionary defines simply as "politeness", is missing today.  We no longer have debate.  We have firestorms on the street.  We no longer have meaningful dialogue.  We carry placards filled with hate-speech.  We no longer have respect toward one another.  Often with words filled with anger we let others know of our animosity toward them.  There is little thought given to smashing someone's storefront window because we are angry at the outcome of an election or even a sporting event, forgetting that window is someone else's property and should be treated with respect.  We mock and belittle men and women in authority over us - those who put their lives on the line each and every day - failing to show them the respect they are due.  With little thought we impugn the character and reputation of those around us simply because they do not agree with our opinions. 


Why is this happening?  Again, let me draw upon what I have learned from years of reading American history.  The key pronoun in America's past has been "us."  Yes there were differences.  And yes, sometimes those differences were strongly voiced.  But the greater good of America was always in the forefront.  The question asked was "What is best for us?"  As I look at our nation today, that pronoun has been changed to "me."  And the question now being asked is "What is best for me?"  We are becoming a nation of individualists.  When over three hundred million people focus only upon themselves and not the greater good of the nation as a whole, we are in trouble.  And, at times, in order for the greater good of the nation to be achieved, I must surrender my needs of the moment.  When that happens, a nation becomes strong.  The sacrifice and surrender of personal goals that the national goals might be achieved is what made America what it became.  Perhaps President Kennedy stated that principle well when he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."  It is not about "me" but it is about "us."  How I wish we could get back to that philosophy. 


As I have been thinking about this, it suddenly occurred that that should be the operative principle of the Church.  It is not about my needs being met.  It is about my helping meet the needs of others around me.  As a child I learned the following acronym for "joy" - Jesus, Others, You.  It is so simple, yet so very difficult to practice.  We can only do it with the help of Jesus.   And, perhaps, just perhaps, if Christians would begin to model civility toward each other, it might set a model which others in our nation could accept and follow.  Just maybe!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

An Important Visitor to the White House Today: What Does It Mean?

All eyes are on Washington today as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes his first visit with President Trump.  During his campaign Donald Trump was enthusiastic in his support of Israel, our nation's only democratic ally in the Middle East.  One would think that the greeting of the Prime Minister today would be greatly different from those times under the previous Administration where the relationship between President Obama and the Prime Minister could be described as "cool" at best. 


Several topics will be addressed at today's meetings.  One such topic will be the belligerence of Iran after the nuclear treaty has been signed.  At the time of its signing both Donald Trump and the Israelis declared that the treaty was bad for Israel, bad for America, and bad for the world.  Yet the Iranians laughed all the way to the bank with palettes full of American taxpayer dollars.  Since that treaty was signed - by the way, without Congressional approval as required by the Constitution - Iran has developed and tested long range ballistic missiles, has threatened U.S. Naval ships in the Persian Gulf, and has declared with braggadocio that they could destroy Israel in a matter of minutes.  The Iranians have also stepped up their presence in Yemen and in Syria, and their financial and military backing of both Hamas and Hezbollah continues.  The Iranians have let the world know that they desire to be the "king makers" in the Middle East.  What should be done to begin to curtail this rogue nation who will soon have access to a nuclear weapon?  Should the Trump Administration reinstate financial sanctions against Iran?  Should steps be taken to refreeze Iranian assets?  What steps should the United States take to assure Israel of our guarantee of their security?  How I would love to eaves-drop on that conversation in the White House today.


A second subject will be the continued building of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, known to us as the West Bank.  The question remains as to whom does this area belong?  If you remember your modern-day history of the Middle East, you know that what the Jordanians called the West Bank was captured from the Jordanians in the Six Days War of June 1967.  (This June will make the 50th anniversary of the liberation and unification of Jerusalem as Israel's capitol city).  Furthermore, the Israeli army defended that area when the nation was again attacked in the Yom Kippur War of 1973.  Israel claims that territory as the right of conquest.  The Palestinians, under the tutelage of the Jordanians, claim that Israel merely occupies land that rightfully belongs to them.  And thus the debate has been waged since 1973.  And so, Israel has built dozens of new communities in Judea and Samaria and also in East Jerusalem.  If you remember this past December the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution, over the abstention of the United States, that declared such settlement communities to be a violation of United Nations past resolutions and to be illegal, and that Israel must walk away from the West Bank to the agreed upon pre-1967 lines.  Israel's response was to continue building settlements.  Although President Trump has not been crystal clear in how he viewed those Israeli settlements, I am confident that that discussion will take place today in the White House.  It is important for both nations that there be clarity in this issue.


A final topic that, in all likelihood will be discussed, is of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.  Talks have been started and stopped dozens of times over the past years; most times the stoppage has been the result of the Palestinians desiring a "little bit more" from the Israelis.  Here is the $64 million question: Can there be an effective two-state solution?  Would an independent Palestinian State really remain at peace with Israel, or would the situation in Gaza - which Israel disengaged from in 1995 - become a reality on Israel's eastern border?  Could it be possible for Israel to be a united Jewish-Arab state and still remain a recognized Jewish State?  (That might be difficult as the Arabs would suddenly become the majority population).  President Trump has indicated that he would like to negotiate a peace settlement of some kind.  Perhaps a businessman, who is used to making deals, will have more success than politicians. 


Friends, we know that the Bible declares there will be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question.  In fact, there are two solutions, one following upon the other.  The first solution is that of the Antichrist who, according to Daniel 9:27, will enter into a covenant with Israel that will last for seven years.  But, as the people of Israel will discover, the Antichrist does not have the welfare of the Jewish people in mind, only his international ambitions.  At the end of the seven years, the second solution will be presented.  This is recorded for us Zechariah 14.  Jesus Christ will return to Jerusalem to establish His throne and to reign over the world from there.  Only then will the people of Israel know true peace.  What a glorious day that will be! 


Before I leave the subject of Israel today, I want to share some exciting news.  Another Dead Sea Scrolls Cave has been located.  This is number 12.  The cave had been looted - how long in the past no one knows.  But there was abundant evidence that scrolls had been hidden in this cave as well.  The many times I have stood at Qumran and looked across that deep chasm into the mouth of Cave 4, I have often wondered how many more hidden caves contain even more scrolls.  Perhaps this discovery of Cave 12 will spur others to explore even deeper. 


As I have shared many times in the past, keep your eyes upon the Middle East, especially upon Jerusalem.  That city is right in the center of the world, placed there in importance by God Himself.  (Read Ezekiel 5:5).  God is not finished with His people.  Let's pray that our President and his team will understand the value of standing with Israel.  There are times when one can and should be critical of some of Israel's policies, but we can never walk away from Israel.   

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Response to Hatred: Grace-Filled Speech

How does one begin to describe the times in which we live?  One word that could be used is "riots."  America has seen its share of riots in the past - almost from its founding.  Perhaps the very first riot was known as the Shays Rebellion that occurred in Massachusetts in 1786-87.  It was a very isolated event, but it tested the resolve of the new nation.  Then there were the Draft Riots that occurred in New York City in 1863, protesting President Lincoln's call for the drafting of men to serve in the Union Army.  These riots lasted four days and dozens of people, primarily blacks, were beaten or killed.  Again, it was a very isolated event, but it tested the resolve of the President to bring an end to the Civil War.  There were the Rodney King riots that occurred in 1992 in Los Angeles following on the heals of the alleged police brutality of this cab driver.  But, once again, this was a very isolated event.  There were the riots in the Deep South in the late 1950's and into the 1960's that formed the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement.  These riots expanded beyond the localized events of the past.  Again, a nation's resolve toward the inclusion of all was tested.  In many ways that resolve is still being tested.


But what we are seeing today is a proliferation of riots across our country.  It seems that nearly every major city in America has had some type of "march" these past few weeks.  These events are filled with the voices of deep seated hatred.  These riots have been the scenes of the destruction of property and the harming of human lives.  Are these riots and demonstrations the result of grass-roots outcries against injustice?  From some of the interviews I have heard and read from those who have participated in such events, there is a voiced uncertainty over the exact reason for those events. 


As I have watched those riots and marches, my mind was drawn back to those final days in the life of Jesus Christ.  Listen to these words as recorded by Matthew:  "Now it was the governor's custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd.  At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas.  So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, 'Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?'  For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him. ... But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. ... When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd.  'I am innocent of this man's blood,' he said.  'It is your responsibility!'" (Matthew 27:15-18, 20, 24). 


Picture the scene:  It is Passover time which meant that there were hundreds of thousands of people in Jerusalem.  The previous week, Jesus had been greeted with a hero's welcome as He entered into the city.  The Pharisees and religious leaders quickly sensed that they were losing control.  How could they accomplish their intended goal, namely the death of Jesus, without arousing the wrath of Rome?  What better way to do that but to stir up the crowd.  And so "plants" were placed among the crowds that milled around the streets and alleyways of Jerusalem.  They targeted a few key individuals who could be counted on to get the crowd aroused.  And soon, Pilate had a full scale riot on his hands.   I believe that if you had asked the common person, who was shouting "Crucify him!", why he was making those statements, few could really answer.  Perhaps the strong majority really did not care one way or the other who was released, Barabbas or Jesus.  They were just caught up in the excitement of the moment.  It was a typical crowd mentality. 


When I see those crowd-pictures flashing on the network screens, I ask myself this question: "How many of those people can clearly articulate why they are there?"  I believe the strong majority cannot.  They just want to be included in something. 


Friends, what I grieve most for these days is that we have lost the ability to sit down and have a civil conversation with another over the differences we might have.  We have lost respect for each other.  We descend into the morass of vitriol and name-calling.  We no longer can listen with an open-mind, seeking to find a foundation of truth upon which we can safely anchor.  The voice of reason has been silenced.  The voice of objectivity has disappeared.  Now it seems that the one who has the sharpest invectives is the one whose voice is most strongly heard.  Thus the proliferation of hate-filled speech.  Thus the rise of the crowd-mentality. 


So, how is a believer to respond?   I am reminded of those words of admonition from the Apostle Paul, "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone" (Colossians 4:6).  Grace-filled speech shared with others can bring a calming impact.  Grace-filled speech means that I have carefully considered both sides of the argument.  Grace-filled speech means that I seek the betterment, not of myself, but of the community around me.  Grace-filled speech means that I am careful about the terms I use to describe someone else.  But, grace-filled speech is not easy to give.  I believe it can only be given as we have given ourselves personally into that marvelous grace of Jesus.  He floods us with His presence and He then speaks through us. 


Sadly, I believe that the hatred we are seeing evidence of today, will only increase in the coming years until Jesus returns.  The Apostle Paul, in his final letter written to Timothy, describes how he envisioned the attitudes of people in the last days.  Let me share just a few of his descriptors: people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, unholy, unforgiving, without love, slanderous, brutal, treacherous, and lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:1-4).  We can either cower in fear or we can boldly, with grace-filled speech, declare the love of God to a world that continues to shout, "Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!"