Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Truth - Where Is It?

It has been awhile since I last posted a blog.  Most of this month has been consumed with the needs of making another major move - this time from Iowa back to Minnesota.  We sold our townhouse in Ankeny, IA and bought a townhouse in Buffalo, MN.  Marlys and I have decided that making two major moves in 13 months should not be something that is aspired toward.  We are hoping that God will give us a nice, long stay in Buffalo - and I know that the folks in my church hope so as well.

These are very interesting times, aren't they?  Last week was the Republican Convention in Cleveland.  I believe we may have seen the creation of a new form of Republicanism.  While I did not always agree with decisions made during the convention, I did admire that the emphasis was upon "Making America Great Again."  It was interesting to visit with one of the men who helped us in our move from Iowa back to Minnesota.  He and his family were refugees from Bosnia and came to Iowa in 2006.  His family learned English right away.  He was able to get a job and not to depend upon governmental handouts.  He asked me why all refugees and immigrants did not do as he and his family did?  He and his family are productive citizens because they have earned that right because they have followed the laws and protocols.  I may not agree with everything Donald Trump stands for, but I believe many middle-class Americans will resonate with his desires to build a stronger military and to get back to the basics of an economy driven by American production. 

This week it is the Democrats turn in Philadelphia.  It is a party that is not as united as it would have us to believe.  But history was made with the nomination of Hillary Clinton to be the standard bearer for them.  Now the race can begin with two candidates that the majority of Americans do not like, nor do they trust.  How did we get into this predicament?  What happened? 

I believe the answer is as simple as this: we have abandoned absolute truth.  Truth today is all relative.  Truth is always changing.  Truth is personal, crafted for each individual.  What are perceived to be lies to one person are truths to others.  When there is no absolute standard for truth, if there is no solid foundation upon which truth is established, then is it possible that there really is no truth?  In the absence of truth all becomes merely opinions.  For example, Hillary Clinton has her opinions as to what happened that night in Benghazi.  The family of those killed that night have their opinions.  The media has formed its opinions.  And the American people are left to wonder: what actually happened that night?  What is the truth? 

Where does a person turn today to find truth?  Opinions are everywhere - everyone has one just about everything.  But what about truth?  As a Christian, I believe that absolute truth is found in the Word of God, known as the Bible.  Jesus, in His High Priestly Prayer, recorded in John 17, said these words, "Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth."  Furthermore, this same Jesus said to His disciples earlier that evening, as recorded in John 14, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."  To know Jesus is to know truth.  To read the Bible is to know truth.  To know God is to know truth because God is incapable of telling a lie. 

Friends, in the absence of absolute truth - of absolute morality, bad things happen.  A priest is murdered while he is performing a mass at a church in France.  Five policemen are gunned down while patrolling a demonstration in Dallas.  Eighty-four people are mowed down by a madman driving a truck in Nice, France.  And the list goes on and on.  In the absence of truth, almost anything is permissible. 

Personally I have decided that I need to spend more time in my own personal Bible study.  I need to spend more time in prayer for my wife, for my children, for my grandchildren, and for my church family.  And every time I step behind that pulpit, I need to be reminded that I am to help people to understand God's truth for the days in which we live.  It is only that truth that truly sets people free.

Monday, July 11, 2016

What Is Going On?

The Fourth of July weekend has come and gone.  The celebration of the birthday of that nation whose foundations were laid upon the strong principles derived from Judeo-Christian teachings, soon descended into the chaos of racial tensions across our nation.  The riots that have occurred over the past few days have not been seen since the 1960's.  It seems that our nation stands poised near the brink of a potential civil war. 

As I have shared with you before, I love studying the era of the American Civil War.  What we are seeing today is not entirely unlike those days preceding that conflagration that literally tore our nation apart.  There was a lot of discrimination in those days - not necessarily between blacks and whites, but between whites who opposed slavery and whites who supported slavery.  It was North versus South.  Our nations leaders, who adamantly held to one opinion or the other, tried to stave off the inevitable with one compromise after another.  Yet, the more the compromises that came from Washington, the more sharply divided our nation became.  America had become a nation where trust was lacking.  The North did not trust the motivations of the South, nor did the South trust the North.  All that was needed was for someone to ignite the fuse that led to the barrel of gunpowder.  And that someone was John Brown whose raid upon the Federal Arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, in October 1859, shouted that the division was so deep that no civil conversations could bring about healing.  Thus, when those first shots were heard at Fort Sumter in April 1860, they were not unexpected. 

Now I am not saying that Americans are ready to take up arms against their fellow Americans.  But I am saying that America has become a deeply divided nation.  We continue to witness racial divisions which have persisted for centuries.  We now have gender divisions - something that no other civilization has experienced before.  And that gender division is become more pronounced and the chasm is expanding almost daily.  We have economic division between those who have and those who do not have - and, that divide is expanding as well.  We have divisions concerning matters of life - when it begins and how does it end.  And all of these create a political division that is most pronounced today.  Unlike the America from 1820-1860 which was basically divided into anti-slavery and pro-slavery groups, today's America is divided into many different camps.

Can there be a healing of America?  That is the question that is so critically important to ask and seems to be more difficult to answer.  I believe the answer is found in a return to absolute truth.  And that absolute truth, I believe, is only found within the Word of God - the Bible.  In the early days of the twentieth century, American educators and political leaders began to question absolute truth.  Instead, they anchored to opinions.  Absolute truth was cast aside as being irrelevant.  Truth became personalized.  It become "my truth" or, as they would say, "what is true for me."  Now, let's translate what this might look like in a nation of over three hundred million people: that means that there are over three hundred million "truths" that are held and deemed as being "right."  Is it any wonder that there is division today?

As I shared with my church family yesterday, in the absence of God all that remains is chaos and confusion.  Friends, that is what we are now experiencing.  Back in the 1950's our Supreme Court judges said that God was no longer openly welcomed into the public school classrooms.  Then that same Supreme Court ruled that murder within the womb was acceptable under law - it made no difference what God said about the beginnings of life.  And a year ago the Supreme Court said that God's ethic concerning marriage was no longer the only ethic to be followed - again, an act of willful arrogance against the words of God.  We have lost respect for each other because we have no respect for a holy God who made us in His image.  We have lost trust with each other because we have no common anchorage - all we have are personal opinions.  We have lost hope because our future is only dependent upon ourselves not in a relationship with the holy God.  We have become a nation that is filled with rage and with fear and with uncertainty.  These are the consequences of a nation that turns against God. 

As believers in Jesus Christ, we are not called to despair but to hope.  We are to shine as "stars in the universe" as Paul says in Philippians 2.  And the greater the darkness of our age, the brighter should our lights be.  May we be as "lighthouses" to guide people from the darkness of this age into the light of God's glorious kingdom that is soon coming.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Reality of This Fourth of July

As we near the Fourth of July weekend, it seems that our nation continues to drift further and further away from those principles that guided those men and women whom we honor.  I have often wondered at what those Founding Fathers and Mothers would think should they reappear.  I am guessing that in many ways this country would not be what they had envisioned.  Within their minds they pictured one nation that recognized those sovereign rights granted by the Sovereign God Himself.  In fact, they wrote those words within the first few sentences of the Declaration of Independence.  Yet today our nation has declared that God no longer matters; in fact, in the eyes and minds of many, God simply does not exist anymore.  Man is his own god.  Science, technology, power, sports, and entertainment are among the many gods who now lay claim to our lives.  Yet, those gods do not bring any peace into our inner being.  Those gods do not bring any hope for tomorrow.  All remains an emptiness within.

This past Sunday our church hosted the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge Choir.  My heart was stirred once again with the stories of lives changed by the power of God.  Lives that were broken because of addiction were now healed by God's love.  Desperation had been replaced with hope.  Lives, once filled with drugs and alcohol, were now filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Yet, for everyone of these miracle stories, there are hundreds of others whose lives still are empty.  And our culture, today, continues to foster that emptiness.

For those of us who attended a Christian college or university, the following article is very disturbing, but, again, indicative of our changing cultural norms.  It was written by Todd Starnes and published at the Fox News website.  You can find it at: www.foxnews.com/opinion/2016/06/23/democrats-lgbt-activitists-sinister-plan-to-crack-down-on-christian-schools.  The article begins, "If California Democrats have their way, Christian colleges and universities will no longer be allowed to require students to attend chapel services or require them to profess a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Senate Bill 1148 would close a loophole that lawmakers say allows Christian universities to discriminate against students based on their gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation.  'All students deserve to feel safe in institutions of higher education, regardless of whether they are public or private,' said Senator Ricardo Lara, the author of the legislation.  'California has established strong protections for the LGBT community and private universities should not be able to use faith as an excuse to discriminate and avoid complying with state laws.'  The legislation has already passed the Senate and is expected to clear hurdles in the Assembly.  Thus far, Lara has refused to compromise with the state's Christian colleges and universities. ... If the loophole is closed, it would only exempt schools that prepare students for pastoral ministry.  'It discriminates against religious colleges,' said John Jackson, the president of William Jessup University.  'If we don't play ball with the state - the state will attempt to drive us out of existence.'"

The article continues, "Lee Wilhite, vice president of university communications at Biola University, said they, too, have serious concerns with the bill.  'It functionally eliminates the religious liberty of all California faith-based universities,' he told me.  'It really does infringe on how we carry out our mission. ... We would no longer be able to require a profession of faith for students.  That's something Biola requires of all incoming students.'  Schools would no longer be allowed to integrate faith throughout their teaching curriculum, he added.  Leaders at three universities I spoke to say that they would not be allowed to require mandatory chapel attendance or mandatory core units of Bible courses.  The legislation would also give students a right to sue if - for example - they were offended by a prayer in a class."

Friends, what is driving this "craziness?"  Let me again quote from the article: "Senate Bill 1148 would close a loophole that lawmakers say allows Christian universities to discriminate against students based on their gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation."  Wow!  The proclamation of absolute truth is being threatened because a "handful" of students are confused about their gender identity.  That which has been the heart and soul of a Christian university - that students identify with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord - is suddenly to be cast aside because some lawmakers do not want to offend a "handful" of students.  The Bible declares that in the last days, truth will be suppressed and people will believe the lie.  What is happening in California is certainly momentum in that direction.  And, unfortunately, what happens in California finds its way across our country. 

Let's shift to the east coast - let's say, the University of North Carolina.  Another article written by Todd Starnes and posted at: www. foxnews.com/opinion/2016/06/27/microaggression-madness-footwear-flattery-and-santa-cause-coed-kerfuffle.  'The University of North Carolina has been infected with a micro-aggression pandemic.  We are being led to believe the entire campus has been afflicted with this highly-communicable, politically correct malady.  University officials recently released online guidelines to employees on issues ranging from gender-neutral dress codes to casual conversations about ladies shoes - in hopes of staving off the spread of this heinous disease.  One of the guidelines posted on UNC's Employee Forum warned against complimenting a woman on her choice of footwear. To do so would be considered to be a micro-aggression meaning 'I notice how you look and dress more than I value your intellectual contributions.  How you look is really important.'  Campus Reform was the first to expose UNC's micro-aggression policies - that covered everything from Islam to transgenderism.  For instance, only having 'male' and 'female' as gender options on forms is considered to be a micro-aggression because it implies "you must fit in the gender binary and select among these predefined categories.'  UNC also frowns on dress codes that require men and women to dress differently - warning that not letting a man wear a sun dress and spanx could be a 'violation of anti-discrimination policies.'" 

I read articles like these several times a week and wonder how much longer before the Lord Jesus returns.  Every Sunday, as I stand behind the pulpit in my church, I am reminded of the incredible responsibility to proclaim ALL of God's truth.  I see young families with small children and think to myself - what an awful world my generation has created for them.  Are the sins of the fathers being handed down to the third and fourth generations today?  Are those decisions that our fathers so passively accepted in the late 1950's and early 1960's now the operative principles?  Why was there no outcry when Bible reading and prayer was excised from our public schools?  Why was there no outcry against abortion until after the Supreme Court ruled it the law of the land?  The timidity of the Church over the past decades against the rising tide of immorality and perversion is now reaping its consequences. 

Jesus said that it was TRUTH that set a person free.  Our culture today suppresses that TRUTH.  Instead, truth has become relative and experiential.  There are no longer any absolutes - except for those absolutes like those California lawmakers want to declare or those officials at the University of North Carolina want to declare.  Those become absolute statements whether they want to admit to that reality or not.

Friends, keep on clinging to Jesus.  I know of no other place to anchor my heart and my life these days.  He alone can give rest and peace in the midst of the cultural storms that surround us.  Yes, He is in control.  And to that truth we can all say, "Amen!"

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Peter's Story; Brokennes Before Blessing

This past Sunday I had the wonderful experience of preaching the Word of God in our city park here in Buffalo.  For the past decade or so, our church has had the wonderful privilege of sharing in a community worship service at the close of our community celebration known as "Buffalo Days."  It was a bright beautiful Sunday morning.  The 5K race had just concluded near the band-shell from where the service would be conducted.  Hundreds of people came with their folding chairs and blankets, along with bottles of water, ready for a time of celebration before God.  Our Worship Team had led in some exciting songs of praise and God responded with the quiet whispers of a breeze through the tops of the trees lining the hillsides. 

I had felt led of God to preach on the story of Peter, one of my favorite people from the New Testament.  As I have had the opportunity over the past several years of studying and teaching the life of Peter, I have noticed some traits that characterized his life.  He was a man in whom Jesus Christ saw a great deal of potential because when Jesus first meets Peter, as recorded for us in John 1:40-42, He says this about Simon, "'You are Simon son of John.  You will be called Cephas' (which, when translated, is Peter)."  And what does the name Cephas mean?  It means "the rock."  Okay, that must mean that Jesus saw something instantly in Peter that was positive. 

But, as the story of Peter unfolds in the Gospels, do we see Peter as "the rock?"  Hardly.  We see, instead, a man who barks out orders to others, even to Jesus.  In Luke 5:8, after hearing Jesus preach from his boat and after experienced the miraculous catch of fish, all Peter could do was issue a command to Jesus, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man."  Then, in Matthew 14:22-36, in that most familiar story of Jesus walking on the water, we again hear commands from the lips of Peter, "Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water."  To put it another way, "Lord, I am commanding you to command me to come to you on the water."  And so, Peter jumps out of the boat - I cannot imagine Peter getting out of the boat any other way, can you? - and begins walking to Jesus.  Of course, he takes his eyes off Jesus and begins to sink into the Lake, whereupon he barks out another command, "Lord, save me!"  We are beginning to see that Peter is very adept at ordering others around.

But, let us continue with another scene from his life's story.  We turn to Matthew 16:13-23, another familiar scene of Jesus traveling in the area of Caesarea Philippi.  Now this town was one of the most pagan towns in all of Galilee.  I have been there on many occasions and I still get a sense of the evil that was perpetrated there in the celebration of Pan, the Greek god whose worship included all types of drunkenness and sexual energies.  We are familiar with Peter's bold declaration that "Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God."  Even Jesus commends Peter for this statement, although reminding Peter that this was a revelation to him from God.  Then the text tells us that Jesus began to describe His impending death.  Here is where Peter becomes Peter once again.  Matthew records that Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked Him.  His words, "Never, Lord.  This shall never happen to you!"  Wow!  What a bold, arrogant statement for Peter to make!  Doesn't this pattern fit with what we have seen of Peter before?  He is in charge.  He is in control.  And now he is giving out more orders to Jesus.  Perhaps he feels that he has a large debt to repay to Jesus because Jesus rescued him from drowning.  But, whatever his rationale, Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter.  Yet, as the story of those final weeks and months of Jesus life begin to unfold, this scene is not one that we should soon forget, nor those words from the lips of Peter.

One final scene to share with you as a way of introducing ourselves to Peter.  It is found Matthew 26:32-35, a scene within the walls of what became known as The Upper Room.  The mood in the room was changed as Jesus began to describe the events that would soon occur and of His impending death and then resurrection.  He has stated that one of the disciples would betray Him.  That got everyone's attention.  Jesus also said that all of His disciples would scatter and leave Jesus alone.  Peter then makes a rather bold promise, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.  Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you."  This came after Jesus had said to Peter that before the rooster crowed, Peter would deny Jesus three times.  Again, Peter is seen as being in charge.  He declares that he would in control of the events that were about to transpire that evening.  He, and not Jesus.

But, the arrogance, the self-assuredness, the feelings of being in control, were soon to be wiped away with the harsh hand of reality.  All four Gospels record the story of Peter's undoing that night, but there is a moment, in Luke's account, that is so poignant.  It is found in Luke 22:54-62.  The fascade that been Peter began to unravel with the accusations of a little servant girl, followed by those of two others.  Each time, Peter's denial became a little more boisterous, until finally the rooster crowed.  That is when Luke shares with us these words, "The Lord, turned and looked straight at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him."  This was the moment of Peter's brokenness.  This was the moment when the real Peter was revealed.  Peter went from being in charge to being no longer in control, even of himself.  Peter went and wept bitterly.  These were the tears of failure.  These were the tears of brokenness.  These were tears of an awareness that he was no longer in charge. 

Friends, how many times have you been like Peter?  I know I have lost track of all the times I have acted as did Peter.  I remember many a Sunday of entering into the pulpit to preach relying upon just my study and my abilities.  I remember many a time I entered into a classroom thinking to myself, "Max, you really have got it tonight."  I remember many times walking into a board meeting with my notes in hand because I was in charge.  And yet, as I look back upon those moments, there was "failure" written in large letters.  That message did not go well.  That teaching was a disaster.  And that board meeting was one that I often have tried to forget.  You see, I understand Peter.  I have walked in his shoes.  The brokenness is not fun, but it is necessary if Peter is to become "Peter."

I know this blog is getting long, but bear with me for one more scene in Peter's incredible journey to becoming "the rock."  It is found in John 21:15-17.  I love this scene.  I have experienced it often in my own spiritual life.  Peter is back fishing, although he is not very good at it.  He feels like a total failure.  Then he has this precious encounter with Jesus.  And through a dialogue that is rich in its use of the word "love" (which, by the way, is totally not present in our English translation, as the words for "love" which Jesus uses - a godlike love; and which Peter uses - a human, friendship love - are totally different) Peter begins to understand that he cannot escape the love that Jesus has for him.  Jesus fully accepted Peter where he was.  And He has done the same with me - often, I am afraid to say. 

The lesson I have learned from Peter's life is this: Brokenness often precedes the blessing.  I must be emptied of myself, of my arrogance, of my self-assuredness, of my "I can do this" attitude in order to be filled with the presence of Jesus Christ.  "I" don't want to get in the way of what God wants "me" to become.  That's what I shared this past Sunday in that city park in Buffalo, MN.  I can only pray that those seeds God planted with bring forth fruit in His timing. 

Before I close I want to refer you to an excellent article written by Greg Gutfeld, one of the hosts on the Fox News Channel.  It is rather long, but an important article to read.  You can find it at: www.foxnews.com/opinion/2016/06/02/gutfeld-orlando-s-doom-the-most-depressing-article-you-will-ever-share.  Greg is right on the money. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Of Hate Crimes, Baby Fetishes, and Absolute Truth

Capturing the headlines and touching the heart-strings of many Americans was the massacre at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando early Sunday morning.  One lone gunman entered and began firing.  Forty-nine people were murdered and another fifty were wounded; at last report, six of those were in critical condition.  The gunman died in a shootout with the police.  The gunman was an Afghani whose father at one time had run for president of that country.  And, we also know that the gunman had pledged allegiance to ISIS before the attacks began. 

Immediately there were calls that this was a "hate crime" and not an act of terror.  Our President, when he addressed this massacre, used those terms "hate crime."  And, to a certain extent it was a horrific terrorist "hate crime."  Radical Islamists hate homosexuality.  In recent weeks I have seen a video of homosexuals with their hands tied behind their backs being thrown from roofs of buildings in Syria.  I have seen videos of homosexuals being burned alive.  And there have been reports of homosexuals being crucified by ISIS leaders.  So, a gay bar was not an unlikely target for this radicalized Islamist, but really a natural target. 

Yet, as terrible as was that terrorist act in Orlando, equally troubling, or at least it should be, is the continued slaughter that occurs every weekend in Chicago.  This past weekend, forty-four people were shot in Chicago with seven of those being fatalities.  Since January 1, the number of people who have been shot in Chicago number more than 1,650, with 282 of those victims dying.  That averages to more than ten people a day being shot in the city of Chicago.  Yet we hear little outcry over this continued slaughter on those streets.  Why is it that Americans get all up in arms when a gunman kills forty-nine people in a gay-bar, but those same Americans seem almost apathetic to the violence that is a daily occurrence within our nation's cities?  One is labeled an "act of terror" while the other is simply labeled, "gang violence."  Yet, are not both acts of terror?  Should not our President act with the same anger at the reports that come from his city Chicago as much as he did for those victims in Orlando? 

Friends, I am convinced that we will see a continuing escalation of violence in the coming days and weeks.  Our nation has become so divided that I am fearful of what might happen.  The media continually reminds us that there is a growing chasm between the "haves" and the "have-nots" and between the races.  Exacerbating this divide is the increasing tension exhibited by the "transgender" community over bathrooms and sports teams.  It would not take much of a spark to set off an explosion that would rock our nation.  I am so glad I am anchored in Jesus.  

And, just when you thought you had heard all that could possible be defined as "ridiculous," I read the following article posted at www.cbsnews.com/news/locals-up-in-arms-over-new-fetish-store-in-illinois-town.  This article was posted on June 9.  "A new business, a baby store for adults, is sparking outrage in suburban Mt. Prospect, Illinois, CBS Chicago reported.  Dozens of residents showed up at village hall Tuesday night, calling for the business to be shut down or moved.  However, officials said they had no legal basis to bar the business, Tykables, which includes features such as a seven-foot crib, an over-sized high chair and adult-sized playpen.  'Things for people to come and play, take pictures with.  Not everybody has access to a nursery,' the owner says in a YouTube video.  The owner of the store on Northwest Highway said the primary focus of the business is selling adult diapers for medical needs and for 'ABDL' or 'Adult Baby Diaper Lovers,' some with baby or sexual fetishes.  Residents, however, said what's going on inside the store has no place near schools and homes.  'It's hard for us to swallow in this community,' one concerned resident said at the village hall.  'He's getting his party go in there, and we're supposed to sit back and watch,' another resident complained.  The doors are locked at the store and customers can only enter by appointment.  White panels cover the windows, for privacy.  'They're not have sex with their diapers on, they're having people feed them and act like a baby,' explained one resident at the meeting.  'It's a business that many people find at best distasteful, but that is legal,' said a village official at the meeting.  The village is investigating whether the store owner lied on the business application.  However, the village attorney said civil rights laws may protect against any action against the business." 

I read this and could hardly believe it.  At first I want to laugh.  Then the laughter stopped and bewilderment set in.  Why would adults want to act like babies?  Why would a grown man want to play in a playpen?  Why would a grown woman want to sit in a high chair?  One wonders how far this will go?  Will McDonalds soon have to supply an "adult" playground?  Will the perversion never stop?  The answer is "absolutely not" because there is no absolute truth that will stop it.  When truth is denied, then perversion has no brakes.  It becomes more important for those of us who know The Truth that is rooted in a relationship with Jesus Christ and a knowledge of His Word, to stand strongly for that Truth.  If we fail, then truly there is little hope.  We cannot fail!  We simply cannot!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

More Digusting "Bathroom" News

Just when I convince myself that I will never, never read another article about "bathrooms", I find a article that hauntingly needs to be read.  I remember with great fondness - and it wasn't that long ago, come to think of it - when a person who needed to go to the bathroom followed this very simple formula: if you were a male, you went into that bathroom marked "MEN," and if you were a female, you went into that bathroom marked "WOMEN."  Of course, back in those days - and, remember, they were not that long ago - there was hardly any confusion as to which bathroom you entered.  That was then...this is now.

I read an article that was written by Cheryl Chumley and was published by at www.wnd.com/2016/06/transgenderism-added-to-kindergarten-curriculum.  I guess it was the title that grabbed my attention.  Let me share from that article.  "President Obama's transgender bathroom guidance has schools in an uproar.  Students as young as five years old - kindergartners - are going to be taught about the ins and outs of 'transgenderism' in all public schools in Washington, beginning in the fall 2017 semester.  That's according to the Daily Caller, which reported on the state's new health-education learning standards, which have been broadened to include 'gender expression' as a mandatory teaching.  The curriculum states that children as young as age five will be taught to 'understand there are many ways to express gender,' all as part of the 'self-identity' sex education classes that are mandatory for public schools, GOP USA reported.  Among the course training: 'Gender is no longer determined by a person's biological characteristics at birth,' as GOP USA put it.  And further, 'teachers will inform children through the curriculum that gender expression is now subjective to individual preference, and not limited to one's actual sex,' the news site continued.  By the time a child in Washington's public schools enters third grade, he or she will have to be able to 'explain that gender roles can vary considerably,' according to the course outline."

As I read this article a couple of things disturbed me.  First, that this curriculum is mandatory in all public schools.  I remember serving four years on a local school board back in the late 1980's and early 1990's.  It was a small school located in a small northwest Iowa community.  But the members of that community were proud of their school.  I remember at our school board meetings that the superintendent would bring to our attention "new mandates" that he had received from either the Federal Government Department of Education or the Iowa Department of Education.  To be quite honest, most of those "new mandates" had very little to do with improving the quality of education of the students attending that school.  The purpose, at least historically, of a local school board was to govern the education of the students within that community.  Today, most school boards are merely "rubber stamps" for those "new mandates" which come down from bureaucratic authorities - such as those mandates concerning "transgenderism."  Friends, these are not mere "suggestions" being given to local schools, but "mandatory" orders.  It is declaring to those local school officials, "Either do this, or else!"  And, the "or else" most often comes with serious financial repercussions.

The second things that disturbed me was that the goal of these "new mandates" is to create within the minds of our young children an uncertainty as to who they really are.  Let me share that statement from the article once again, "By the time a child in Washington's public schools enters third grade, he or she will have to be able to 'explain that gender roles can vary considerably,' according to the course outline."  It seems to me that many third grade students struggle with knowing their math facts - that is a normal fact.  Many struggle with knowing how to define and create sentences - and, sadly, that struggle continues even into adulthood.  Many struggle with how to read a book with meaning.  They should not have to struggle knowing what gender they are?  How tragic!

I think Joel Belz summarized the real issue with these words found in his editorial in the May 28 issue of WORLD Magazine - which, by the way, I highly endorse and read almost religiously.  "Make no mistake. The debate in North Carolina and across the nation is not first and foremost about rights for sexually bewildered people.  To a certain extent, the discussion is not even about sexual privacy - although there is an obvious connection between that colorful topic and the ultimate issue.  As I stated in my March 19 column: The real matter at stake is our culture's constant rejection of God's creation order and its blatant denial that God created us male and female - and then called that very good."  Thank you, Mr. Belz, for reminding us that the "bathroom issue" is truly a spiritual issue.  And where will this journey eventually end?  Read Romans 1:18-32 to discover the painful answer.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Lessons from the Holy Land

I have recently returned after leading my 10th tour to Israel.  There were 23 of us in our tour group and we were blessed to be in Israel from May 17-28.  A great majority of our tour members were "first-timers" to the Holy Land.  It is always fun to see the Land once again through their eyes - eyes of amazement and wonder; eyes of faith as they seek to recall those biblical stories heard many years ago. 

I never cease to be amazed at how the Land changes.  More of the desert is being reclaimed and one will find date palms and grape vines growing where they should not - yet, there they are and producing in abundance.  More of the spaces in and around Jerusalem are being settled.  In fact, one hardly knows where one is leaving the city limits of Jerusalem any longer.  And, what really fascinates me, is the growth in the field of archaeology, not only around Jerusalem, but throughout the countryside.  Using both the Bible and the archaeological brush, researchers are reaching even deeper into Israel's past and making some startling discoveries.  Life in the times of King David, who was once considered just to be a folklore legend, has been brought to life in The City of David.  If one closes his/her eyes and listens carefully, the sounds of a much earlier time echo among the rocky ruins. 

One of the new places we visited on this tour was the Armor Museum located at the Latrun Police Station.  If you have read Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre's book, "O Jerusalem!", you will remember the incredible battle that was waged at this very spot.  One can still see some of the residual damage caused back there in 1948.  So, we touched base with the War of Independence there - truly some amazing stories arise from those days.  I highly recommend that book to you.  And, we visited the display and development of the Israeli tanks over the years.  The early ones were French made and American made (the Shermans) and left-overs from World War 2.  Our guide, Amnon, had a great time showing us the tank that he was part of during his days of military service.  It was the Centurion.  On a large wall at Latrun were inscribed the names of those Israelis who had died while in the Armor Division of the IDF.  There were quiet moments as one gazed on those men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their nation. 

Speaking of wars, a highlight for many of us was our visit to ancient Megiddo.  This strategically located city had been destroyed and rebuilt dozens of times over the course of ancient history.  The Egyptians had fought here.  Gideon fought the Midianites here.  Saul met his demise on Mount Gilboa which was near here.  The Assyrians fought here, followed by the Babylonians, followed by the Greeks, followed by the Romans, followed by the Crusaders.  As he looked out over this broad, expansive valley of Jezreel, Napoleon is heard to have said that this is one of the greatest locations in the world for a battle.  As we stood on the top of that tel overlooking what is today a fertile, lush valley filled with barley and wheat fields, I read from portions of Revelation that deals with what we know as Armageddon.  To be honest, it is very difficult to envision all the carnage that John describes.  But it will happen...and then the Messiah will come.  He will usher in a new Kingdom that will be based upon righteousness and justice. 

Since returning I have been asked if the people living in Israel are fearful.  Perhaps the best way for me to answer that is to say that our final night in Jerusalem we walked down Ben Yehuda Street.  This street is lined with little shops and ice cream cafes.  Although there was a rather biting northwest wind, crowds filled the streets.  Mostly of young people hanging out with friends, sipping a cup of coffee or eating an ice cream bar.  The music was loud.  Everyone seemed to be having a great time.  If there was any sense of fear, it was well masked.  I think, for most Israelis, they have chosen not to let their lives be governed by fear.  And fears do exist.  While we were in Israel, the Ayatollah in Iran made the boastful claim that he could destroy the entire state of Israel in 8 minutes.  ISIS is nearing the Golan Heights border line - it might already be there.  Hamas keeps threatening from Gaza.  And Hezbollah is just across the border in Lebanon.  Not exactly the best neighborhood in which to live.  The strong majority of the Israeli people, it seems to me, have chosen not to let fears dominate their lives.  They have chosen to go on living - going to classes at the university, attending the theater, dining in one of the many fine restaurants, having fun at the beach, and shopping a variety of specialty stores. 

Friends, there is much we should learn from the attitudes of the Israeli people.  Everyday is a gift to us from God.  And, most amazing of all, He allows us the choice of how we will use each day.  We can choose to allow our fears to become the foundation for that day, or we can choose to allow our faith in God to become that foundation.  I am reminded of what Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount:  "Man cannot serve two masters."  One cannot serve both fears and faith.  Many of today's Israeli people have chosen the pathway of faith - perhaps in their military preparedness, perhaps in their educational abilities, perhaps in their own ingenuity more than in a personal God, yet even religious zealousness is growing in Israel.  I chose faith and not fear!  How about you?

A tour to Israel - I highly recommend it.  It is a trip you will never forget.  People have already inquired as to when I will be returning with another group.  Although no official dates have been set, it will probably be sometime in either late winter or early spring of 2018.  If you would like to be on a list to receive information when it become available later this year, just let me know.