Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Some Pre-Inaugural Thoughts

We are just days away from the inauguration of a new president and already the divisions within our nation are growing.  There has certainly not been this great a division within the past four or five decades that I can remember.  It is not just a division in ideology that is troubling, but it is the abject hatred that is demonstrated because of ideological differences. 


I have studied the years of the American Civil War and what is happening in 2016-17 is very similar to those events of 1860-61.  The battle cry in those days was, "If Lincoln is elected, then we will secede from the Union."  And secede they did upon his election.  The division became irreconcilable and it took a long, bloody, costly four-year war to restore the Union.  But the division was never truly healed.  Oh, the cause for the division was removed, namely slavery, but the strong feelings have never been healed.  We see evidence of them yet today, especially within our inner cities and urban communities. 


Secession is no longer an option, although some state leaders have threatened it.  The Civil War ended that threat.  The battle cry today is, "Be as disruptive over the course of the next four years as is possible."  Be belligerent.  Be hateful.  Be intolerant.  Spread false news and pretend it is truthful.  Mock our governmental leaders as much as you can.  We saw strong evidence of how this works with the remarks of several presenters and recipients at the Golden Globes Awards this past Sunday evening.  Vitriolic speech never brings people together; it only divides people further. 


(Just an example: I love visiting the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, IL.  I would love working there as a volunteer someday.  But, as part of the museum is a long hallway that is covered with hundreds of political cartoons and editorials from newspapers of Lincoln's day - there were a lot more newspapers then there are today.  The hatred exhibited in those cartoons and editorials riles up my anger.  Seeing those cartoons reminds me of those I have seen in my own local paper and in online sources.  Perhaps someday there will be a long hallway in the Trump Presidential Museum that will be covered with those editorials and cartoons from today's media world.)


Did we elect the perfect president on November 8?  Absolutely not!  To my understanding, no perfect candidate was on the ballot.  Both were flawed with imperfections.  Both candidates did have a vision for what they thought America could be: one candidate saw America traveling down the same path it had for the past 8 years; the other candidate saw an America on a different pathway.  The electorate spoke on November 8 and said they preferred one direction over the other.  The vote was never on who was the perfect candidate either ethically or morally.  The vote was on which vision was best for our nation. 


So, now what should be our attitude as we are only a few days away from Donald Trump becoming the 45th President of the United States?  The Bible's admonition is this: "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness" (1 Timothy 2:1-2).  God is not inviting us to necessarily like the new President, but He is commanding that we pray for our new President.  Prayer is a powerful tool that can overcome differences. 


Secondly, the Bible tells us: "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.  The authorities that exist have been established by God" (Romans 13:1).  Again, God is not saying that we need to approve of everything our new President might decide, but, unless those decisions force us to choose between obeying God's degrees and the President's degrees, we are to submit to the President's authority.  Is this easy to do?  I am pretty sure that Paul struggled with many of the decisions handed down by Emperor Nero, but he submitted himself to that authority. 


January 20 will bring a new era of American history.  For the first time since the election of Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, America will have a President who is neither a lawyer nor a politician.  If my memory serves me correctly, which, at my age, it sometimes doesn't, Donald Trump will be the first businessman to serve in the highest office of our land.  I am confident he is already discovering that being the head of the world's greatest nation is very different from heading one of the world's great companies.  Will he do well?  Only time will answer that question.  Will his vision for making "America Great Again" truly succeed?  Again, only time and his relationships with the men and women in Congress will answer that question.  Will his presidency begin to bring the healing our nation so desperately needs?  I believe the key to answering that question is whether the American people really want that healing to occur.  And, sadly, I do not believe that they do. 


I know most of us have formulated our opinions of the newly elected and soon to be inaugurated President.  You have your reasons for those opinions.  Because you and I know Jesus Christ, who is our King of kings and Lord of lords, let us be obedient to praying for President Trump and his leadership team.  He has invited some strong Christians to be part of that team - Mike Pence and Ben Carson, just to name two - who will pray with and for our new President.  How awesome it would be if God truly touched President Trump's heart and brought him to the cross where he would discover salvation through Jesus Christ.  Amen!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Lesson from the Past We Must Never Forget

I want to wish you all a very Happy New Year.  These are certainly days filled with lots of unrest and uncertainty.  Yet we enter it, as believers, with confidence because we know Who is on the throne.  Our anchor still holds to that Rock of Ages.  Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness - those words from the hymn writer are still true today.


As you know, if you have been following this blog for the past several years, I love history and I am a firm believer that if we do not learn the lessons from the past then, sadly, we are apt to repeat those lessons.  When I was born in 1947, the memories of World War 2 were still fresh in my parents' minds.  I remember them sharing stories of where they were when Pearl Harbor was bombed and of how our nation rallied together in support of the war.  Then my Dad shared of his training in the Army Air Corp and how he was on standby-alert to go to Japan just as the war ended.  They knew of friends who had died in the war.  Today, however, that "greatest generation", as Tom Brokaw described them, is dying before our eyes.  Soon the World War 2 generation will only be a memory. 


Today's students do not spend much time learning about World War 2.  Few can even give the names of the Axis or Allied nations involved in the war.  Fewer yet can give the names of those war heroes who helped defeat the Fascist alliance in Japan, Germany, and Italy.  December 7 passes by almost unrecognized, yet it was called by President Roosevelt as "a day that will live in infamy." 


For Christmas I received from my bride a book titled, "All the Gallant Men: The First Memoir by a USS Arizona Survivor."  The author was Donald Stratton, one of only five remaining survivors from the USS Arizona.  The co-author was Ken Gire who did a masterful job of helping this 94-year old World War 2 sailor retell his story.  Donald Stratton grew up in Red Cloud, Nebraska and enlisted in the navy as a way of escaping the boredom of small town America.  After all, the government would pay him to see the world.  He was stationed on the battleship USS Arizona, one of the largest battleships in the US Navy.  He was on board that ship when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941.  His description of the death and carnage that occurred during the two hours of the attack makes for difficult reading.  Over eleven hundred men are forever entombed within the bowels of the USS Arizona.  All told, over 2400 soldiers and sailors died that day, with thousands more being severely burned and injured.  Donald Stratton was one of those who survived, although his body was badly burned. 


As he tells his story, the author is incredibly grateful for those who aided his recovery.  Although he had been discharged from the Navy because of his wounds received at Pearl Harbor, Mr. Stratton, nonetheless, reenlisted in the Navy and was engaged in several battles in the Pacific in the closing days of the war. 


I would like to share a portion of a chapter of this book with you because I found it to grab my own heart.  I trust it will yours as well.


"Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the president, carried a wallet that now resides in the Roosevelt Presidential Library.  It may seem hard to imagine why an insignificant accessory like that would have been deemed significant enough to be put on display so future generations could see it.


"What was so special about it?


"A wallet was a fairly common accessory for women in that time period, so it's not a rare item by any means.  Nothing in its external appearance stands out.  It wasn't made by a famous designer.  In fact, it's quite plain - rectangular in shape, red in color, made out of leather.


"Inside Eleanor's wallet there is a folded-up piece of paper, yellowed with age, its creases well worn, as if it had been unfolded often, then refolded and placed back in the wallet. 


"On the paper is a poem, the same one that opens this chapter.  It ends:
         Somehow out there/A man died for me today.
         As long as there be war,/ I must answer/ Am I worth dying for?


"Eleanor put it in her wallet after December 7, and she was determined to carry it with her until the war ended.  As it turned out, she kept it in that wallet for the rest of her life.  The poem is displayed near the Arizona Memorial, inscribed on a metal plaque that is embedded in a low, rectangular stone along a path that looks out to the sunken ship.


"If you were there on that path, looking out to the sunken remains of what was once the pride of the Pacific Fleet, it would be hard not to pray, not to realize how complacently we live our day-to-day lives, hard not to ask God for forgiveness for our forgetfulness.  We have forgotten so much, not just individually but as a nation.


"A man died for me today.  That sailor, soldier, or Marine was someone's son, brother, husband, perhaps, or someone's father, nephew, cousin, friend.


"A man died for me today.  Two thousand, four hundred and three men perished at Pearl Harbor, 1,177 from the Arizona alone.  Each of those individuals had a name, all of which are on display in the solemn shrine that stands above that ship.


"A man died for me today.  He was there, on that ship, scrubbing the decks, painting the steel, running the drills, and learning the skills to defend us, you and me.  This is what freedom costs.  And these are the men who helped pay for it.  Giving up their dreams so we could have a future.  Sacrificing their lives, so we could live.


"Of all the questions we could ask God in times of war - from the protection we ask for our loved ones to the clarification we ask as to the why of it all - there is one we should not direct to Him but to ourselves.  Am I worth dying for?


"Am I worth the sacrifice of who they were or someday would become?  I've reflected on this question every day since December 7, 1941.  Am I?"


What sobering words!  As I reflected upon those words, I was drawn back to the ultimate sacrifice that was ever made - that of Jesus Christ upon the cross.  Jesus died for me.  Was I worth dying for?  And God's response is a resounding, "Yes, my child!  You were worthy not because of who you were, but because of Who I Am!"  Oh how grateful I am.  Eternity shall not be long enough to render thanksgiving and praise.


Friends, I highly recommend this amazing book to you.  For some of you it will draw you back to memories of those days and times.  For most of you it will cause you to reflect upon an era of our nation's history that we MUST NEVER FORGET!  December 7, 1941 is one of those dates that we should never forget, just as September 11, 2001 will never be forgotten.  We become a nation imperiled if we ever forget. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Terrible UN Resolution - A Legacy of Hatred Affirmed

This past Friday may go down in history as one of the darkest days in American foreign policy.  On the day before the start of the Hanukkah celebrations in Israel and the start of Christmas Eve in the United States, the United Nations Security Council voted on a resolution that declared that the nation of Israel was a foreign occupier of lands won through wars in 1948 and again in 1967.  Samantha Powers, our Ambassador to the United Nations, knowing the language of the resolution, decided to abstain from voting thus allowing the resolution to pass with a 14-0 vote. 


Before we look at the consequences of that vote, I want to remind you that when the United Nations was created following World War 2, five nations were granted a permanent seat on the Security Council: the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, and China.  These were the Allied Nations against Germany and Japan during the War.  (The other nine nations are appointed to specified terms on the Security Council).  Those five member nations have incredible powers on the Security Council.  A veto from any of them stops a resolution dead in its tracks.  In the past the United States has used that veto power to protect Israel from resolutions that threatened the sovereignty of Israel.  When the resolution condemning Israeli settlements in what was deemed "occupied territories" was first introduced last Thursday by the Egyptian representative on the Security Council, immediately Israel spoke out strongly against the resolution as did President-elect Trump, so the Egyptians withdrew the resolution.  But on Friday, four nations - Venezuela, New Zealand, Senegal, and Malaysia -  reintroduced the resolution.  It was at that point that Ms. Powers, under authority from the Obama Administration, abstained from voting. 


What does this resolution say?  It basically condemns the continuation of settlement creation by Israel in those lands Israel achieved through victories over the Arab States in 1948, again in 1967, and again in 1973.  These lands include Judea and Samaria - commonly called the West Bank - and East Jerusalem which is home to the Old City, the Western Wall, and the Temple Mount.  When one reads the resolution with a deeper resolve, one finds that the intent is to declare that Israel has no right to East Jerusalem, Samaria, and Judea.  There should be no Jews living in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City - which is the way it was from 1948 to 1967 when the Jordanians controlled East Jerusalem.  There should be no Jews living in Judea and Samaria as well.


The reactions from our Congressional members was strong and bipartisan.  Why would the outgoing administration take such a drastic measure against our strongest ally in the Middle East?  Immediately questions were asked as to how this resolution could be undone.  But, that is just the fact - it cannot be undone.  Why? Because Russia and China have veto power over any resolution that would seek to overturn the one passed on December 23. 


Yesterday Secretary of State John Kerry, in a 70 minute speech, sought to explain why the United States had abstained from voting on the resolution.  He explained that the United Nations vote was about preserving the two-state solution.  He went on to say, "If the choice is one state, Israel can be Jewish or Democratic - it can't be both."  Let me remind Secretary Kerry that on more than one occasion, dating back to the days of Yassir Arafat, Israel has agreed to the creation of a Palestinian State, even to acceding land for its purposes.  Each time such a proposal has been made, the Palestinian leadership has rejected that proposal - wanting more.  Here is the question that should be asked, Secretary Kerry: Why don't the Palestinians want to live in a peaceful way with their Israeli neighbors?  Instead of Israel being condemned, I believe it is time that the nations of the world wake up and realize that it has been the Palestinian leadership that should be condemned.  It is their leadership that keeps the people stirred up.  It is their leadership that honors those who die as supposed martyrs.  It is their leadership that trains children to grow up hating Jews and those who live in Israel.  Mr. Secretary, why aren't those questions being asked? 


Furthermore, Palestinian President Abbas has stated strongly that in a Palestinians state there would be no room for any Jews.  Really?  Does that mean that Israel should retaliate and say that in Israel there would be no room for any Arabs?  Does anyone think that Israel would do that?  Of course not, Israel is a democratic state and welcoming. 


Following Secretary Kerry's long speech, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu issued a rebuttal.  As part of that rebuttal he made this statement: "We have it on absolutely incontestable evidence the U.S. organized, advanced and brought the resolution to the Security Council."  He promised that the evidence would be shared with President Trump following his inauguration.  If such evidence does occur and can be produced, it will be a condemning act of a desperate out-going Administration seeking to leave some kind of legacy behind. 


What can a President Trump do?  First of all he can join with members of Congress to defund the United Nations.  Right now, the United States funds 22% of the expenses of the UN, so hitting them in the pocketbook would be a good place to start.  Second, he can affirm his strong support for Israel by visiting there early in his administration or by inviting the Prime Minister to come to Washington.  Third, he can move forward with a peace initiative - not dictating the terms, but being the silent partner in the negotiations. 


Before I close this final blog for 2016, I want to make one comment concerning the timing of the resolution last week.  It strikes me that the resolution was aimed not just at Israel as a political state, but at both the Jewish and Christian communities.  Hanukkah is an Israeli celebration of peace over anarchy.  You can read about this story in the First Book of Maccabees.  We know it as the Festival of Light.  Christmas is a time of peace and hope because the Messiah has been born.  Let us remember that Jesus Christ was a Jewish Messiah.  Perhaps I am reading too much into the timing of the resolution, but it just did not seem coincidental that it came when it did.  So the attack upon Judeo-Christian beliefs continue.  And, as we enter into a new year, I believe those assaults upon biblical foundational truths will continue.  The world is coming apart at the seams and the hatred being shown against Christian principles is becoming more intense than at any time I can remember in my lifetime.  Perhaps 2017 will be the year "the trumpet blows!"  With that thought I can say, "Hallelujah!"

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Christmas - "It's the most wonderful time of the year" - at least that is what the song writer expressed.  For those of us who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, Christmas is one of the most meaningful times of the year, second only to Good Friday and Easter.  But, come to think of it, if there had not been a Christmas, there could not have been either a Good Friday or an Easter. 


It seems that the attacks of Satan become more pronounced this season of the year.  It is almost as if by attacking Christmas  he is attacking Christ Himself.  Just this week, a terrorist drove a large truck into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring scores of others.  These people were there in that marketplace preparing themselves for the joys of the upcoming Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebrations with family and friends.  Suddenly those happy lives were snuffed out.  And you remember it was a year ago that two terrorists in San Bernadino opened fire in an office Christmas party killing scores of people.  Christmas has become a target, not just of the active jihadi terrorists, but of the more subtle, yet as dangerous, liberal secularists.  Let me cite one more example before I share with you the good news of Christmas.




Todd Starnes writes this week in his Townhall.com column about an elementary school in Pennsylvania who canceled a decades old tradition of a Christmas play.  The article can be found at www.townhall.com/columnists/toddstarnes/2016/12/19/scrooged-parents-furious-after-school-boots-tiny-tim.   "The fifth graders at Centerville Elementary School in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania have been performing 'A Christmas Carol' for decades.  But this year that tradition came to an abrupt end.  Parents told local reporters the play was canceled because two parents complained about a line in the Charles Dickens holiday classic.  The unnamed parents took offense at the words uttered by Tiny Tim, 'God bless us, everyone,' television station WHTM reported.  'I was very surprised because it's going on for decades and it's a tradition at the school that everyone looks forward to,' resident Jane Burkhart told the television station.  Like many in this deeply religious community, she was saddened by the cancelation.  'One little line shouldn't ruin it for every kid,' Burkhart said.  ' Charles Dickens is a class author, not a religious author.'


"Principal Tom Kramer addressed the controversy in a message posted on the elementary school's website.  (You can access his letter at www.hempfieldsd.org/doman/185).  'We understand that some parents are upset that the play was cancelled, but we have heard from families on both ends of the spectrum, including those who expressed appreciation that the play, as it had traditionally been prepared and delivered, was cancelled,' he wrote.  Kramer went on to reject reports that their decision was based on one or two families.  'That's just not true,' he said.  He did not specifically address the parents' allegations that the play was cancelled because of the line, 'God bless us, everyone.' But he did seem to hint at some sort of issue.  'Our decision is rooted in the desire to be respectful of the many cultural and religious backgrounds represented by the students attending Centerville Elementary,' he wrote.  That's a mighty big clue, folks.  In order to be tolerant and diverse, public schools have to eradicate any mention of God.


"But to be fair - the school administration says their decision was mostly because of the amount of time it took to produce the show (about 20 hours).  'Given the changes in state standards in recent years, we could not defend the commitment of this kind of instructional time to something not part of the fifth-grade curriculum,' he wrote.  Heaven forbid the teachers try to introduce the children to the world of performing arts.  The principal also pointed out that 'producing and performing a play is not part of the written curriculum for fifth grade.'  So, after more than 40 years of Christmas productions featuring Tiny Tim and Ebenezer Scrooge, he's just now figuring that out? 


"Randy Wenger is the chief counsel for the Independence Law Center in Harrisburg.  He's also a longtime resident of Lancaster County.  'As a constitutional attorney I hate to see traditions taken away in my own community,' he told me.  'What does this communicate to our kids?  It says that anything religious is really not appropriate in public life.  It's something you're supposed to keep to yourself. ... It seems like people are trying to take away our traditions left and right.  We need to do something to push back.'  But this year, I'm afraid Tiny Tim's goose has been cooked - done-in by the Ghost of Christmas Intolerance.  Bah, humbug, indeed."


Now allow me to share with you another story.  This past weekend our church held its annual Living Nativity.  Because of the unseasonably cold weather - Sunday morning's low was 25 below zero - most of the Living Nativity was moved inside for both Saturday and Sunday night.  We have scores of volunteers who help to make this Christmas-gift to the community a reality.  I wandered over the pen where some goats were devouring bales of hay, when a young boy, dressed as a shepherd, came to me and asked if I would like to hear his story.  I agreed to listen and for the next few minutes he shared with me the story from Luke 2.  My heart rejoiced.  Dressed as a shepherd, this young boy began to understand what happened that first Christmas Eve so long ago. 


Friends, Christmas is a fact of history.  Jesus Christ came.  He was born.  He lived.  He died.  He rose again.  Jesus Christ is an historical reality.  The attack upon Christmas today is almost as if Satan would have us believe that if Christmas is destroyed so is the message of Christmas that God came in the flesh to redeem us to Himself.  But, erasing Christmas can no more erase Christ than destroying statues of Robert E Lee can erase the American Civil War.  Christmas is Jesus Christ.  He and He alone is the reason for the Season. 


And so, in the words of Tiny Tim, "God bless us, everyone."  And I wish you a very Merry Christmas as we celebrate the birth of our Savior. 





Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Christmas: Light Exposing Darkness

Christmas is just a few days away.  We have watched in amazement as boys and girls have retold the Christmas story through drama and song with an excitement that many of us adults have lost.  It is almost with a reverence they gently rock the baby Jesus in their arms as they sing "Away in a Manger."  Our Lord must truly smile upon them. 


We have sung many of the great songs of Christmas, somehow never tiring of those timeless melodies or the even more timeless words.  How could one ever grow tired with "O Come, All Ye Faithful" and its powerful, yet reverent refrains, "Oh, come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord?"  Or how could one not be amazed with those marvelous words, "O little town of Bethlehem...the hopes and fears of all the years are instilled in thee tonight?"  And there are those almost immortal words, "Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright... sleep in heavenly peace."  Generation after generation has never grown tired of singing those carols. 


And yet not everyone is excited over the music of Christmas.  I share the following story from the pen of Todd Starnes.  It can be found at www.townhall.com/columnists/toddstarnes/2016/12/14/school-choirs-barred-from-performing-at-annual-nativity-celebration.  This is another one of those attempts by one or two individuals whose desire in life seems to be to attack the person of God.  The article begins, "School children in Wake County, North Carolina will no longer be allowed to sing Christmas carols at an annual Nativity celebration after they received a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group of atheists, agnostics and free-thinkers."  Let me just add that the day will come when these people will be privileged to live in a world that will be completely devoid of the presence of God.  As joyous as they might think that would be, I highly doubt, that when it happens, there will be much joy.  Now, back to the article.


"The Freedom from Religion Foundation said the performance at the annual Apex Christmas Nativity Celebration were unconstitutional and could not continue.  'The whole purpose of the event is to display and honor nativity scenes, which highlight an exclusively Christian aspect of the holiday season, rather than a secular Christmas celebration,' FFRF attorney Patrick Elliott wrote in a complaint to the district last year.  'Students are intentionally brought to the church to be exposed to hundreds of depictions of the Christian legend of Jesus' birth.'  Legend?  Well, if that doesn't jingle your bells...


"Anyway, the school district decided it would be best to ban student choirs from taking part in this year's celebration - most certainly breaking the hearts of children who wanted to spread a bit of Christmas cheer.  'No one was particularly happy with the outcome of this,' school district spokesman Tim Simmons told The News & Observer.  'Some schools had been participating for several years.'  The annual event is a three-day 'celebration of the birth and ministry of our Lord and Savior, Jesus  Christ,' sponsored by the Church of Latter-day Saints in Apex.  ...  I reached out to Steven Bodhaine, who oversees nine Mormon congregations in Wake County - a very nice gentleman.  He assured me there has never been any proselytizing at the celebration.  'There's never been a single incident or concern in the past 13 years,' he said.  'In fact, these schools often look forward to this because it's such a beautiful venue to perform.'" 


Mr. Starnes concludes his article this way: "The Freedom From Religion Foundation says they are dedicated to the 'separation of church and state.'  But in reality they are a bunch of mean-spirited Christophobic agitators who prey on small towns and innocent school children. ...  What a heartless thing for someone to do - setting loose a bunch of godless Grinches so they could bully children.  Folks, if that doesn't curdle your egg nog, I don't know what will."


It seems that we encounter this agnostic, even atheistic, attitude every Christmas Season.  Just as His birth created an uproar in Jerusalem when King Herod heard of it through the magi, so His birth continues to create an uproar with many who have turned away from Him as had King Herod of old.  The only recourse for King Herod was to eliminate Jesus, thus his insane order to have all the baby boys under the age of two in the area surrounding Bethlehem killed.  So also the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and their partner in crime, the ACLU, seek to destroy those venues where the story of Jesus is proclaimed.  Herod could have sought the Truth that Jesus came to bring...but he did not.  Those who belong to the FFRF would be welcomed by Jesus...but they, too, have walked away.  How sad to miss the real Reason why we celebrate Christmas.


But let me share some great news.  This article was written by Bob Unruh and can be found at: www.wnd.com/2016/12/major-decision-on-gender-mandate-for-churches.  You might remember earlier this fall I had written about a push both in Iowa and in Massachusetts that would force churches to have all their bathrooms be gender neutral because their buildings were seen as being places of public accommodation.  This designation came because a church might host a fund raiser for a youth initiative and invite the city to come for a spaghetti dinner or an ice cream social.  But, in the State of Massachusetts, state officials reversed their decision after being sued over alleged constitutional violations.  "The Alliance Defending Freedom says four Massachusetts churches and their pastors are voluntarily dismissing their lawsuit after the state changed its 'Gender Identity Guidance.'  ADF brought its complaint in October against Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination commissioners Jamie R. Williamson, Sunila T. George and Charlotte G. Richie, and Attorney General Maura Healey.  Massachusetts makes 'gender identity' a special class, granting more protections than ordinary citizens.  Under the measure, the attorney general had claimed 'houses of worship' are places of 'public accommodation,' and members, therefore, cannot even express ideas concerning 'religious expression regarding biological sex and gender identity.'  The complaint alleged state officials decided to interpret the law 'to force churches to open church changing rooms, shower facilities, restrooms, and other intimate areas [to people] based on their perceived gender identity, and not their biological sex, in violation of the churches' religious beliefs.' 


"Now the case is being dismissed, because the state has retreated.  State officials admitted the First Amendment protects a church's freedom to operate consistently with its faith even when engaged in community outreach activities, such as spaghetti suppers."


This decision is a huge one for churches.  I am grateful to the lawyers and staff at ADF for their tireless work on behalf of the Christian community to help safeguard our rights to proclaim the message of salvation through Jesus Christ. 


When the light of Jesus Christ penetrates the darkness of this fallen world, one of two reactions occur.  People either retreat more deeply into the darkness or they cautiously approach the light.  King Herod and those who identify with today's Freedom From Religion Foundation retreat into their darkness, while others, like the magi and those with the Alliance Defending Freedom, approach the light and have lives forever changed. 


So, how has Jesus Christ impacted your life this Christmas? 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Remembering 75 Years Ago Today

"December 7 - a day that will live in infamy."  That is how President Franklin Roosevelt described this day seventy-five years ago.  What had begun as a quiet Sunday at Pearl Harbor soon became a scene of death and destruction as squadron after squadron of Japanese fighter planes attacked and bombed the U.S. Naval fleet that was anchored there and the Army Air Corp planes hangared at nearby Hickam Field.  Over two thousand soldiers, sailors, and airmen died that day, some of whom are still entombed within the ship that they were stationed upon.  Not since the British invasion of our country in 1812 had our nation experienced an attack by a foreign enemy upon its shores.  The consequences of this Japanese attack were swift with the United States Congress declaring war upon both Germany and Japan just days afterwards.  America was now at war.  Young men enlisted to join the fight against America's enemies in Europe and in Asia.  America had not been called upon to fight a war on two battle fronts since the days of the American Civil War.  America's factories began to turn out war materials.  People began united with the one goal of winning this war.  The war on both fronts was a slugfest with devastating casualties on both sides.  Yet, the American soldier, sailor, and airman prevailed. 


I just finished reading a remarkable book titled, "The Killing of the Far East."  It is another in a series of "Killing" books written by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugan.  Within the pages of this book, the authors relate the story of the development of the atomic bomb and explain why it was used as an instrument of last resort to force the Japanese into an unconditional surrender.  The book does not avoid the awful pictures of the devastation those bombs wrecked upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki - the details are graphic; the images stagger our imaginations.  Yet the authors also do not avoid the conflicted emotions of President Truman and General MacArthur over such a plan.  The dropping of the atomic bomb indeed shortened the war and, as a result, saved many American and Japanese lives.  And, gratefully, it was America who developed the atomic bomb first; we know the Germans were working on creating a nuclear device as the war in Europe was winding down. 


Only two atomic bombs have ever been unleashed against an enemy nation - both occurring in August 1945.  Would some nation dare to use even more powerful bombs today?  Some would say that any sane nation would not, but, perhaps that might have been the thinking in 1945.   But what about a rogue nation like North Korea or Iran; would they dare to use such an instrument of destruction?  One would hope not.  What was to America's advantage in 1945 - no other nation had a nuclear weapon - is no longer an advantage today with nearly a dozen nations possessing nuclear capabilities.  So, perhaps there might be more caution exercised before the nuclear option would be exercised.  One would certainly hope.


Seventy-five years ago today, our nation entered into a new era.  Yes, the War was won, but a lasting peace as a result of that War has never been achieved.  The "wars and rumors of war" that Jesus related to His disciples there on Olivet's Hill, have been the daily reality in our lifetimes.  In fact, we have seen an escalation in those "wars and rumors of war."  America's confidence in World War II was in its military superiority which did prevail.  But where is our confidence today?  Where is your confidence?  Yes, I am grateful for a strong military and I am hopeful that a President Trump will strengthen our military even more.  But my ultimate confidence can best be expressed with these words from the Psalmist David: "Some trust in chariots and some in horses (horses and chariots represented the military might of the ancient world), but we trust in the name of the LORD our God" (Psalm 20:7). 


Jesus Christ came that first Christmas to offer us a new hope, a new confidence, a new purpose for life.  Yes, my confidence is in Him because I know that He has all things under His authority.  Christmas is the reminder that this is His Story.  How wonderful it is to know the Christ of Christmas.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Christmas Book "Wish" List

Thanksgiving Day may now be only a memory, but let's not forget that everyday should be a thanksgiving day.  God has blessed us so incredibly that we should never fail to have a note of thanksgiving upon our hearts and lips. 


And one of the things for which we should give praise and thanksgiving to God is the birth of the Lord Jesus - the reason for this Advent Season.  As hard as the world tries to push Jesus away from Christmas, the fact remains that without Jesus there would be no Christmas.  The old cliché is true: He is the Reason for the season. 


One of the important aspects of Advent is the giving and receiving of gifts from family and friends.  I have never been a person who created a long "wish-list" for Christmas.  I remember when I must have been in second or third grade that all I wanted was a Roy Rogers holster set.  Roy Rogers was one of my childhood heroes and I wanted to be just like him.  Wow!  I can still remember opening up that gift on Christmas morning and there was my Roy Rogers holster set. 


I have to be honest, now my list is even shorter - just ask my kids what I want for Christmas and they will tell you: "Dad just wants gift cards to his favorite book store."  Yes, books make me a "happy camper."  And, through the years I have read many books that I highly recommend to others.  So, perhaps a book or two might be on your "wish list."  Allow me to add a few that I think you would find interesting and meaningful.


The first book is titled, Rescuing the Gospel, and was written by Erwin Lutzer, pastor at Moody Memorial Church in Chicago.  The book was published by Baker Books in 2016.  The year 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's posting of his 95 theses on the chapel door at the Castle of Wittenberg beginning which has come to be known as the Protestant Reformation.  Dr. Lutzer has done a remarkable job in helping his readers to better understand the times of Martin Luther and John Calvin and the legacy they have left behind.  I know there will be many other titles available in 2017 on Luther, but this would be a good place to begin.  I found the book to be very readable and insightful.  If you can read only one book on the Reformation, this would be the one I would recommend.


The second book is titled, The Emmaus Code, and was written by David Limbaugh who is the brother of Rush Limbaugh.  The book was published by Regnery Publishers in 2015.  This book begins with the account of Jesus walking on the Emmaus Road with two of His disciples that first resurrection morning.  Luke records that "beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (Luke 24:27).  Mr. Limbaugh seeks to address what that conversation might have been like.  How does the Old Testament prepare us for the story of Jesus?  I bought this book because I thought it would help me with some sermon preps in the series of messages I have titled, "Thru the Bible: The Thread of Redemption."  I found the book to be fascinating.  If you are interested in your own study of how Jesus is portrayed in the Old Testament, this book should be a must reading for you.  Perhaps you could even use this as a small group study.  After reading this book I began to better understand that Emmaus Road conversation.  Perhaps Jesus will share that conversation with us in glory.


A third book is titled, The First Congress, and was written by Fergus M. Bordewich.  It was published by Simon & Schuster in 2016.  For the past few years I have been drawn into knowing the hearts and minds and stories of our Founding Fathers.  I have read, and in some cases reread, many of the books written by Joseph Ellis, who in my opinion, is one of the best and most readable historians of this period.  I have highly recommended two of his books in the past: The Founding Brothers and An American Creation.  I found Dr. Bordewich's book difficult at first, but as he began to portray the scenes of the first Congress meeting in New York City the excitement began to build.  Many of the same men who helped win the War of Independence and later wrote the Constitution, were there for this remarkable first Congress.  They were charting new waters for no one in history had created the kind of government that they had.  There were conflicts over the separations of powers.  There were struggles over how to bring 13 colonies into a unified national interest.  There was the shadow of slavery that lingered over their deliberations.  And the agonizing questions of how a young nation was to pay for its enormous wartime debts needed to be resolved.  There were clashes of personalities - a James Madison vs. a Alexander Hamilton, for example.  There was the bored expressions of a John Adams who disliked being Vice President.  And, over all and probably holding it all together, was the peaceful presence of George Washington, filling that role of our first President.  The story of the First Congress continues the story of God's miraculous hand upon our nation in its infancy.  If you bear with the first couple of chapters, you will be richly rewarded at the end. 


A final book I have read this past year that I recommend is titled, If You Can Keep It, and was written by Eric Metaxas, who is becoming one of my favorite authors.  (If you have not read his powerful biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you really need to add that to you list.  It is a fascinating and definitive study of the life of a martyr of the Church in the dark days of Nazi Germany).  The book If You Can Keep It was published by Viking Press in 2016.  This book concerns the history of the writing of the Constitution of the United States.  The author tells that story through the stories of those who were involved in that historic moment. 


For those who enjoy historical and biblical fictional stories, I can recommend the new series by Lynn Austin titled The Restoration Chronicles.  There are three volumes in this series.  The first is the story of Zechariah and titled, Return to Me; the second is the story of Ezra and titled, Keepers of the Covenant; while the third and final is the story of Nehemiah and titled, On This Foundation.   The author does an excellent job of staying with the story as told in the Bible, yet she has a way of bringing the story into incredible life - you will feel like you are actually there within the story yourself.  If you begin reading one of these, you find it difficult putting it down.


Finally, there are those classics which never are outdated.  These include the classic on Christian living by C.S. Lewis and titled, Mere Christianity.  By the way, this book would make for an excellent small group study; it generate a lot of discussion about our society and culture and how it views Christ and Christianity.  A second classic was written by A.W. Tozer and titled, "The Knowledge of the Holy."  If you are interested in a readable, yet powerful, study of the character of God, this is absolutely must reading. 


With the long winter evenings lying just ahead, one can never go wrong to put a fire in the fireplace, grab a steaming cup of hot chocolate or coffee, and take a good book off the shelf.  Take a trip back into time and discover people and events that still impact our world. 


Happy reading, everyone!