Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Lesson from the Neighbor's Front Yard

It was a gray, cloudy morning with threats of rain.  As I looked from the window in the kitchen, I noticed a pair of robins busy cleaning up the dried remains from last years hostas and daylilies.  I could see that it was nest-building time and they were going to have a lovely home for their little brood.  I stepped out the front door to retrieve the morning paper and the beautiful song of a cardinal lightened my footsteps.  I searched but could not locate his presence, but his song filled my heart with joy.  In spite of the clouds, the birds were reminding me that this was another day the Lord had made and my purpose was to rejoice and be glad in it.  I have found that nature has a way of directing us that way if only we would stop long enough to really listen to its song.


I opened the garage door and was backing the car down the drive way when I noticed something that caught my eye.  While gazing in the rear-view mirror, I saw a small hawk come swooping down, landing in the neighbor's yard across the street.  I had seen hawks flying over our neighborhood before, but had seen nothing like this.  I paused on the street to see what might have caused this scene to have occurred.  There to my amazement was this hawk perched on top of a blackbird which had been pinned to the ground by the hawk's talons.  The birds wings were flapping in a desperate attempt to escape, but, as I watched, I knew how this scene would end.  The hawk looked around almost with a sense of pride at his accomplishments - almost as if it was saying to anyone who was looking, "Hey, don't mess with me!"  And soon that sharply hooked beak was tearing into that little blackbird.  And it was over! 


Now I know that scene is played out countless times during the course of a day.  Biologists describe this as the "food chain" whereby the smaller and weaker provide food for the larger and stronger.  As I watched I wondered about that pair of robins building their little home to raise their babies.  Would any of their offspring become an early breakfast for another hawk?  Or would they survive unscathed in the world around them? 


As I watched that scene in my neighbor's yard, I was struck with the thought that there were some spiritual lessons I needed to be reminded of.  First, that hawk was always on the prowl for something to devour and so was always looking for a victim.  I was reminded of that warning given by the Apostle Peter: "Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).  Satan never takes a holiday!  Satan is never satisfied!  He is always looking for one more victim, one more person whose life he can destroy.  And, just as that hawk made little sound as it swooped upon that little blackbird, so, too, Satan often attacks us with stealth. 


Second, there is a need to always be alert.  I don't know what was going through the mind of that little blackbird that morning, but perhaps he was thinking that all was well.  Perhaps he had chosen to venture off from the rest of the flock to explore life on his own.  But he was not aware of the dangers that lurked in the skies above him and, as a consequence, paid the severe consequences.  Friends, Peter warns us that we, too, are to be on the alert.  We are to pay attention to the signs around us.  We are to know the Truth.  We are to never compromise our convictions and beliefs.  The Apostle Paul expressed a similar warning with these words: "Avoid every kind of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:22). 


Third, the consequences of sin are disastrous and often deadly.  And, it is the little sins that can be the most deadly.  Many a recovering alcoholic has shared with me, "If only I had never taken that first drink."  How we need to pray that God would guard the little things in our lives. 


Graciously, for that little blackbird, the end came rather quickly.  But, as I reflected upon many people whose stories I have known, the pain and suffering of a bad choice or a wrong decision can linger for years.  Yet how gracious is our God to bring the healing we need and the forgiveness that we don't deserve. 


On another note, I believe we are seeing the alignment of the nations for Ezekiel's War and for the closing Armageddon.  Russia and Iran have strengthened ties both politically and militarily when it comes to Syria and the Assad regime.  Turkey has just approved the broadening of powers to be granted to President Erdogan which will make that country a marginal dictatorship.  Turkey has straddled the fence between East and West for years, but will soon have to make a choice.  The Bible tells us that it will chose the East and the alliance with Russia and Iran.  And then there are the lingering questions about North Korea and China.  Will China rein in that rogue nation to its north?  Or will that alignment strengthen as North Korea becomes part of that vast army from the East that will invade Israel as part of Armageddon?  The sabers are rattling all around us.  Tensions are high.  Economies teeter.  Uncertainty abounds.  Yet, of this we are most assured: God is still in control!  How we need to view our world through the lens of Scripture.  Keep your eyes upon what is happening in the world around you, but always keep your ears tuned to hear the blast from the trumpet.  I believe the summons to the great marriage feast will soon be given.  Are you ready?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Week That Changed the World

"A Week That Changed the World" is how Dr. Paul Maier, in his video series by that same name, described the remarkable week we know as Holy Week.  Mankind was forever changed with the events that occurred in and around Jerusalem that week so many centuries ago.  What had been foretold by sages and prophets in the centuries before now found completion through the life of Jesus. 


In many ways we forget the many ironies of that week.  For example: The cries of the throng on that Sunday of "Hosanna!" were answered with the cries of perhaps that same throng on Friday of "Crucify Him!"  On that first Palm Sunday, the people cried out "save us!" as Jesus rode down that winding pathway.  They were full of expectations that this amazing man from Galilee who could feed multitudes with a few crackers and some fish and who could heal the sick and drive out demons and even bring people back to life would begin a revolution of liberation from Rome and bring in a new kingdom era for them.  "Save us from Rome" was what they implied. 


And yet, as the week proceeded, the people could see that the revolution was not going to happen.  And so, in their disappointment, they turned against the very one whom they had asked for salvation and demanded that he be crucified.  Here is the irony: It was through the crucifixion of Jesus that a greater salvation would be provided for the people; a salvation that would be greater than one from Rome.  This would be a salvation from the chains of sin that had kept them in spiritual bondage. 


And so the Savior died.  It was a death that was filled with all of the grossest indignities that any human could heap upon another human.  One reads the Gospel accounts so matter-of-factly.  It is almost as if the writers themselves could not bear to fully describe that awful scene at the cross.  Perhaps it was intentional on their part forcing us to use our minds to recreate that horrible scene.  There were the cruel accusations from the religious leaders - words filled with the poison of hate, words meant to pierce the heart and mind of Jesus.  There were the demanding shouts from the Roman soldiers as they kept the crowd at bay, a crowd that was ever encroaching upon the cross.  Their eyes were glazed over to what was happening.  They had crucified so many; this was the only way they could keep a measure of psychological sanity within themselves.  There were the shrieks of pain as a threshold was neared that stretched the limitations of physical endurance.  And there were the sobs of loved ones gathered around the cross in vigil until that last breath was taken.  And death did come for Jesus as he commended his soul into the hands of the Father. 


But, if that is where the story ended...well, we would be in pretty sad shape.  A lot of good men and women have died as a martyr for a cause.  They set an example, but their deaths certainly did not change the world!  What makes this story so unique is that death did not end it!  In fact, death was merely a prelude to something even greater - a resurrection!  Three days later the tomb was empty.  Jesus was gone.  The absence of a body invoked a myriad of questions: who had taken the body? where had he been taken? why would the body be stolen away?  Finally, two angels provided an answer: Jesus has been raised from the dead; he is alive!  Easter had arrived!


This "week that changed the world" has also divided the world.  Just this past Sunday, two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt became the scenes of suicide bombings resulting in the deaths of over 40 believers.  The hatred shown at the cross continues today.  Just as Satan tried to destroy Jesus at the cross, so men and their philosophies are seeking to destroy Jesus today through attacking the Church and the followers of Jesus.  Yet the Church moves forward because its anchor is in the risen, living Jesus Christ.  Satan was defeated at the cross and the resurrection of Jesus was the exclamation point of that defeat. 


Friends, take time these next few days to reread at least one of the Gospel accounts of that first Holy Week.  Take time to meditate upon what Christ's death and resurrection mean to you personally.  And, then join with hundreds of thousands of believers around the world on Sunday to proclaim with triumph "He is risen; He is risen indeed!"

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Where Has the Truth Gone?

I watched last night the discussion about the revelation that Susan Rice, President Obama's National Security Adviser, had unmasked at least some of President Trump's transition team prior to his inauguration.  Two weeks ago she denied knowing anything at all about the matter, but yesterday she changed her story, although claiming that it was not done for political purposes.  What is interesting, if it was not for political purposes, is that only Trump campaign people were unmasked.  If it were for other purposes, wouldn't you think that some other people would be unmasked as well? 




Senator Paul Rand stated yesterday that Susan Rice should be put under oath and made to testify before Congress.  But here is the problem: Susan Rice has publicly lied before.  Remember those Sunday show appearances after the Benghazi tragedy.  What she stated as truth was found to be a lie.  But they were truth to her.  She can be put under oath, but she will only tell what is truth to her.


Susan Rice and her allies in the main-stream-media are perfect examples of the new reality: there is no absolute truth any longer.  Truth is relative.  Truth is in the eye of the beholder.  Truth is merely personal opinion and personal bias.  Truth needs a stable foundation if it is to be believed.  It needs some anchor point.  Stability is not found with personal whims.  People change, therefore, if truth is based upon a person's opinions, that truth will also change.  Susan Rice will hold to her story no matter how much you place her under oath because she believes the story to be truth for her and, in her opinion, that is all that matters. 




Countless times this past year I have shared with my Worldview Class of high school sophomores and also with my congregation that the only truth to be anchored to is found within the Word of God because it is the words of a God who NEVER changes.  His truth is THE Truth.  So, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I am to let my words always be truthful words.  I am to let my yes be yes and my no be no.  I am to be a person of integrity.  I am to cling strongly to God's Word because it is Truth.  Friends, it is okay to have opinions...we all do with just about everything.  But, don't allow your opinions to become truth statements.  Make sure there is a foundation to those truths.  Yes, I know this is counter to prevalent cultural norms, but it is the biblical way to live.




I want to share with you a story that never made it to the pages or stages of any main-stream-media outlet or newspaper.  The article was written by Todd Starnes and published at the Townhall.com website.  You can find it at www.townhall.com/columnists/toddstarnes/2017/03/22/school-orders-boy-to-tolerate-undressing-with-girl-and-make-it-natural.  Let me share a portion of the article.  But let me warn you that it truly is disgusting.




"A teenage boy was told by his principal that he had to 'tolerate' undressing in front of a female student and to make it as 'natural' as possible, according to a blockbuster lawsuit filed in a Pennsylvania federal district court.  The lawsuit, filed Tuesday by Alliance Defending Freedom and Independence Law Center, alleges the Boyertown Area School District shamed the teenage boy and violated his personal privacy.  They are also alleging sexual harassment.


"'No school should rob any student of this legally protected personal privacy,' ILC attorney Randall Wenger said.  'We trust that our children won't be forced into emotionally vulnerable situations like this when they are in the care of our schools because it's a school's duty to protect and respect the bodily privacy and dignity of all students.'  In the case of 'Joel Doe' - they clearly ignored that duty.


"Last Fall, the teen boy was standing in his underwear inside a locker room at Boyertown Area High School preparing to change for a physical education class.  'He suddenly realized there was a member of the opposite sex changing with him in the locker room, who was at the time, wearing nothing but shorts and a bra,' the lawsuit states.  The boy, along with several of his classmates reported the incident to Assistant Principal, named as a defendant. 


"'Dr. Foley indicated that the legality was up in the air but that the students who mentally identify themselves with the opposite sex could choose the locker room and bathroom to use, and physical sex did not matter,' the lawsuit states.  The teenage boy asked the assistant principal if there was anything that could be done to protect him from the situation.


"'Dr. Foley told Joel Doe to 'tolerate' it and to make it as 'natural' as he possibly can,' the lawsuit states.  As the boy got up to leave the office, the assistant principal allegedly told the youngster to again 'be as natural as possible.'


"Even more disturbing, parents were not told of the school district's decision to let students of one sex use the locker rooms and bathrooms of students of the opposite sex.  'The District's directive to Joel Doe was that he must change with students of the opposite sex, and make it as natural as possible, and that anything less would be intolerant and bullying against students who profess a gender identity with the opposite sex,' the lawsuit states. 


"The young man's parents made an appointment to school leaders and were told that the district is 'all-inclusive.'  The lawsuit alleges that Foley told the boy's parents their son could use the nurse's office to change - if he had a problem changing in front of girls.  Supt. Richard Faidley suggested if 'Joel Doe was uncomfortable changing with those of the opposite sex, or with using the nurse's office, then he could just withdraw from school and be home schooled.'"


Wow!  How much lower can we go morally?  Why didn't those school officials say to the girl that she could undress in the nurse's office?  Or, perhaps it would be better if she was home-schooled?  The answer is very simply this: that would not be politically correct.  Deviant behavior has become acceptable behavior.  That which was considered to be unnatural, is now the new natural; and that which was considered to be natural, is now the new unnatural.  How messed up can we get?  Many of our schools today have become merely laboratories for social and cultural experimentation. 


What is the underlying cause for the problems Joel Doe is experiencing?  Again, the answer is very simply stated: there is no longer any absolute truth.  The absolute truth is this: God only created two sexes - male and female.  But, because we have denied the existence of God, then what God has declared is no longer viable for our consideration.  Thus, instead of two sexes and two genders, there are dozens of genders and there is no connection between gender and sexuality.  In the absence of absolute Truth, all truth becomes relevant, a matter of personal opinion. 


Friends, when I read stories like this and countless others, I can almost see the lines of anger being inscribed upon the face of God.  And I wonder how much longer, O Lord, before your righteous indignation is poured out upon the blatant sinful acts of our age.  And, until that happens, it is our task, as believers in Jesus Christ, to proclaim that Truth as boldly as we can.  Friends, don't waver from the anchoring of your soul in that Truth that has set you free.


Friday, March 31, 2017

Memories

This is a Friday edition of my weekly blog.  For two days this past week I was down in my home town helping to clean out Mom's apartment.  It has been sold and we needed to get it ready for the new tenants.  I joined my sister from California, my sister from Chicago, and my brother from Colorado as we began the process of sorting through a lot of Mom's things.  Her furniture was disbursed quickly after her funeral to grandchildren.  But there are always those things that beg the question, "Should this be saved or not?"  In many cases, those were not easy questions to answer.


It was a cold, rainy, windy day as we sorted through old pictures.  The winds howled driving the rain against the windows.  Five piles were created - one for each of the siblings.  Graduation and wedding pictures - knew right where to put those.  Grandchildren and great-grandchildren - also dispatched with ease.  But then came those pictures that were "questionable."  What do you do with old family vacation pictures?  How many pictures of zoo animals did we want to save?  How many pictures of tree-covered mountainsides?  How many pictures of blooming plants in an arboretum?  Yet, each picture told a story.  It brought back memories of different times. 


The pictures were just black and white snapshots and sometimes were so small it was hard to see detail.  Often these words were heard, "Hey, do you remember?"  And we would stop and share happy memories.  Of times in Colorado visiting our grandmother.  Of times in Upper Michigan sitting in a small boat trying to catch fish - the pictures showed no fish, but lots of baling water out of the boat.  Of times in Washington DC the summer before the Kennedy assassination.  Of stopping at an uncle and aunt's home in Wisconsin and having Uncle Les take us down to the nearby candy shop where we could pretty much get what we wanted, to the chagrin of Mom and Dad.  Oh the memories from the past.  Happy memories for which we are very grateful.  But, we could not possibly save all those pictures.  So many of them, after their story was relived, were discarded forever.


Other pictures told the story of family.  Pictures with grandparents.  Pictures with cousins.  With pictures with friends who have long since passed into eternity.  Those names are forever etched into our memories.  They helped us celebrate birthdays and graduations and special moments.  Those friends modeled for us what a walk with Jesus Christ should be like.  It is amazing how some people are so part of who we are.  A picture that brought back a treasury of memories that seemed as fresh as yesterday.  How could those people be cast upon the discard pile?  They could not!  They are a part of the story of our family.  It is hoped that someday a book will be created that will tell our family's story.  And in that story, will be their stories. 


As the evening entered its waning hours, the final pictures were viewed.  The final memories were recited.  The final decisions were made.  And, as I left yesterday morning, knowing I would not ever return to Mom's place she called home these past nearly 11 years, I was excited over the memories God had allowed me to participate in these past 70 years.  I treasure my family - my brothers and sisters.  I treasure the fact that I had a godly father and mother who instilled a deep faith within each of us.  They practiced faith@home before such a concept had been conceived.  I treasure the deep love they had for us and for our families.  How they loved their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren!  Yes, a chapter in my life has been closed.  But I am grateful for the memories.


I am reminded of how many times God encouraged His children to stop and to remember.  Remember all I have done for you.  Remember all you have experienced of My presence and power.  Remember the many goodnesses I have done for you.  Friends, God created our minds with the amazing ability to remember because God knew the value of memories.  Yes, I know that for some, memories can be painful; but praise God for His healing.  As the prophet Joel says, "God restores the years the locusts have eaten."  Praise God for that powerful truth.


My friends, I would encourage you to stop for a few moments this weekend and take some time just to remember.  Remember old friends and new ones.  Remember family moments.  But, more importantly, remember the blessings of God.  And, as you draw your time of remembering to a close, thank God for the ability to remember.  It is a gift from Him.   

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!