Wednesday, May 24, 2017

President Trump, Jerusalem, and Manchester: Time to Wake-Up

This has been an incredible week!  For the first time a sitting American President has visited the State of Israel.  One of the most poignant moments was when President Trump stood praying at the Western Wall or the Kotel as it is known in Hebrew.  He was there for several moments and then reached into his pocket and took out a piece of paper and did as so many have done before him, placed that piece of paper into one of the thousands of cracks within the wall.  I, too, have stood there in prayer before that Wall on many occasions.  I, too, have placed a prayer within one of those myriads of cracks within the wall.  Although I do not know exactly what President Trump had written in that prayer, I am fairly confident that it was a call for peace to come to Jerusalem. 


What made that scene at the Western Wall more dramatic was that it came at a time when the State of Israel would celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967.  In fact, today is Jerusalem Day on the Hebrew calendar.   History records it on June 7, 1967.  It was on that date that soldiers from the 55th Paratrooper Battalion of the Israeli Defense Forces entered into the Old City through the Lions' Gate and captured the Temple Mount and the Western Wall from the Jordanian forces.  As stunning as were many of the events that occurred during that Six Day War in June 1967, the reunification of the City of Jerusalem was the most significant and long lasting.  Cries were heard of "never again!"  "Never again" would the city of Jerusalem be divided.  It is Israel's Capitol city.  (By the way, last night Marlys and I and our grandson were privileged to see the CBN docu-drama titled, "In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem."  It was one of those one-night movie moments.  It was extremely well done.  I would encourage you to see it when it comes out on DVD).


The question is asked, "Is a united Jerusalem that important?"  And the answer is, "Absolutely!"  Jerusalem IS Israel.  Jerusalem has had that role since the days when David took it from the Jebusites and made it his capital.  It was here, in Jerusalem, that two great temples to the living God were built - one by Solomon, the second by Zerubbabel and expanded later by King Herod.  This is the city that was the political and religious hub for centuries.  Even after its twice destruction - in 586 BC by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians and in 70 AD by Titus and the Romans - the Jewish people never forgot the importance of Jerusalem.  The last statement of the Passover Seder, proclaimed by Jews all over the world, is "next year in Jerusalem." 


Jerusalem stands for hope.  Jerusalem stands for a future.  Jerusalem - the city that unites Jews across the globe.  And this is God's declaration concerning Jerusalem: "This is what the Sovereign LORD says: This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her" (Ezekiel 5:5).  Jerusalem is the epicenter of the world.  It is from here that one day the King of kings and the Lord of lords, Jesus Christ Himself, will reign. 


While in Israel, President Trump had meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Rivlin.  He also met in Bethlehem with Palestinian Authority President Abbas.  As with so many who have preceded him, President Trump left his brief stay in Israel believing that the time is right for a peace accord.  I guess only time will tell if his assertions are true or not.


Before arriving in Israel, President Trump traveled to Saudi Arabia where he delivered a speech before a group of statesmen from 50 Arab states.  The purpose of this meeting was to discuss how the Arab world should respond to the growing threat of a nuclear Iran and to the continued terrorism through ISIS.  I just share with you a couple quotes from President Trump's speech, which has generally been viewed with applause.  "America is prepared to stand with you - in pursuit of shared interests and common security. But the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them.  The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children.  It is a choice between two futures - and it is a choice America cannot make for you."  What do those words mean?  It means that President Trump passed the baton to the Arab States and said, "You need to become leaders in this war against terror and against Iran.  This is your problem even in a greater way than it is America's problem.  What will you do?"  President Trump understands that ownership of the problem is one of the first steps toward the solution of the problem.  And, for too long, the Arab world has not taken ownership of radical Islamic terror. 


President Trump also said, regarding terrorism, "Every time a terrorist murders an innocent person, and falsely invokes the name of God, it should be an insult to every person of faith.  Terrorists do not worship God; they worship death."  President Trump dared to say what past administrations have been fearful of saying. 


Sadly, in response to President Trump's powerful Riyadh speech, ISIS carried out one of its most blatant attacks late Monday night in Manchester, England.  A suicide bomber detonated his vest just as a Ariana Grande concert was closing.  To date, twenty-two people were killed and scores of others were injured, some severely.  Many of those who died or were injured were young teen-aged girls out with their friends at this special concert.  Fortunately the bomber had not entered into the concert arena where the tragedy would have been even worse.  These terrorists have no respect for life, including their own.  They celebrate death.  And yet, even after this tragic event, there is still a strong aversion to stating that the cause is a radical Islamic ideology. 


When will we wake up?  When will Congress wake up?  When will our national leadership wake up?  We are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating a possible collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign to influence last year's election.  So far there has not been one shred of evidence supporting such collusion - NOT ONE.  Yet, every day people enter into this country who are not properly vetted.  Our borders are porous.  Our resources are inadequate to protect Americans from those who attempt to enter into this country for the sole purpose of destroying it.  Manchester should be a wake-up call to us.  The words of President Trump to the Arab world should be a wake-up call to us.  But, and I am saddened to say this, I don't believe there will be a wake-up.  At least not until we have a "Manchester" of greater proportions here in America - another 9/11 moment.  But, when that happens - and it is not a matter of "if" but "when" - the cry will be "Why didn't someone do something?"  By then, it will be too late!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Crisis of Truth Leads to a Crisis of Guilt

If you are following the recent events in Washington, D.C., you have heard reporters, primarily from the left, say such things as "we are in a crisis of credibility."  What they are saying is something like this, "we don't like what was just said."  The dictionary defines the term "credibility gap" as "a disparity between what is said and the facts; the inability to have one's truthfulness or honesty accepted."  Really what we have today is a crisis of truth - we are not confident in knowing what is true or what is false today.  How did we get to this problem?


This crisis of truth is part of a much larger picture of American moral values today.  According to a recent Gallop poll, cited in an article found at The Patriot Post website - www.patriotpost.us/posts/49067 - Americans are becoming more socially liberal in their thinking over the past 15 years.  Of the 19 values listed in this poll, all were trending toward the liberal or libertarian perspective, not one toward the conservative one.  Let me cite just a couple of examples:
a.   69% accept sex between an unmarried man and woman
b.  63% accept gay or lesbian relationships
c.  62% accept having a baby outside of marriage
d.  57% favor doctor assisted suicides


Allow me to quote from the last paragraph of this article because it is so telling.  "While this poll is honestly disheartening, especially when considering what this holds for nation's future, it's helpful in effectively displaying just how pervasive has been the impact of postmodernist ideology upon American culture.  When the concept of absolute truth dies, those values based upon those standards quickly collapse, and pretty soon people have a difficult time distinguishing right from wrong or good from evil."  That last sentence hits the "nail on the head."


Let me give you an example of how far we have come.  Yesterday, Todd Starnes posted an article on the Townhall website: www.townhall.com/columnists/toddstarnes/2017/05/16/school-praying-for-a-colleague-is-unacceptable.  "A school worker in Augusta, Maine was ordered to stop using religious phrases like 'I will pray for you' and "you were in my prayers' because such language is not allowed inside a public school building - even in private conversations with coworkers.  The Augusta School Department launched an investigation of Toni Richardson after they alleged she 'imposed some strong religious/spiritual belief system' towards a coworker.  The memorandum Ms. Richardson received from the school included: "In the context of the 'separation of church and state,' this case prohibits public school-sponsored religious expression.  Therefore, in the future, it is imperative that you do not use phrases that integrate public and private belief systems when in the public schools."


Friends, why would anyone get "bent out of shape" over someone praying for them?  It would seem that we could use all the prayer we could get these days.  I believe the answer is quite simple: To pray is to believe in a God to whom prayer is directed; to believe in a God is to believe in an absolute truth which our contemporary culture is vigorously denying exists.  If prayer in the public place can be snuffed out, it is just another affirmation that absolute truth does not exist.


I was forwarded an article this week by a friend which was also from The Patriot Post.  The article was written by Arnold Ahlert and is titled "Leftist Ideology's Greatest Threat: Guilt-Free Americans."  It can be found at: www.patriotpost.us/articles/49085.  Space does not allow me to quote all the article, but I highly recommend you download it and read it for yourself.  But let me just share a couple of paragraphs with you.  "In the last 50 years of culture wars in America, there has been no stronger weapon than guilt.  It is the Left's greatest hammer of progress - Mark Bauerlein, Professor of English at Emory University.  In an insightful column for American Greatness, Bauerlein nails the Left's fundamental reason for despising Donald Trump, 'He has not white guilt.  he doesn't feel any male guilt, either, or American guilt or Christian guilt,' Bauerlein explains.  'He talks about the United States with uncritical approval - "America first" - and that a thought crime in the eyes of liberals.'"


The author goes on: "Guilt - brilliantly sold as 'political correctness' to make it more palatable for an unsuspecting public - has enjoyed a long and prosperous run.  One that allowed leftists to dismiss every challenge to their agenda with epithets designed to simultaneously induce guilt and end debate.  Americans opposed to open borders or sanctuary cities?  Xenophobes.  Americans who eschew the LGBT agenda?  Trans- and homophobic.  Americans who question 'refugees' from terror-torn nations being granted asylum?  Islamophobic.  And son on and so forth.  'If you can persuade an opponent that he's wrong about a political issues, you can win the day's debate,' Bauerlein explains.  'But if you can make him feel guilty about his opinion, you've got him on the defensive forever.'"


As I read this article I began to see what is happening in Washington in a whole new light.  Much of the ineffectiveness of Congress today is due to these guilt feelings.  There is a guilt about the past: we attempt to remove Confederate statues as if their removal will change history.  But it won't.  There is the advocacy that all black people receive compensation from white people for the years of slavery in the past.  Friends, how long will we continue to live with that guilt?  America is no longer a slave nation; it has not been for over 150 years.  In fact, it took the lives of over 600,000 Americans to end slavery.  No white person today has owned slaves.  No black person today has been held in slavery.  yet we continue to live as if both still existed.  Guilt. 


This article got me thinking about the impact of guilt in one's life.  Guilt is a huge chain that enslaves one with an oppressive slavery.  What one sees and experiences is channeled through the lens of guilt.  Guilt is one of the major causes of depression today.  But there is a solution to guilt.  It is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Only Jesus can set you free from the heavy chain of guilt.  It was Jesus who set Peter free from the guilt of his denial of Jesus as they talked along the shores of the Sea of Galilee (see John 21).  With Jesus, our past no longer is master over us, but, with the Apostle Paul we can say, "Forgetting what is behind, I strain forward to what lies ahead." 


Friends, we come full circle, don't we?  It is the truth found in Jesus Christ that sets us completely free.  When that truth is abandoned, then guilt becomes the inevitable consequence.


Heads-up: This next week President Trump travels to Israel and the Middle East.  This should be provide for some interesting news.
 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Crisis of Integrity

Headlining yesterday's news stories was the seemingly abrupt firing of James Comey as the Director of the FBI.  Immediately sides were drawn as to the propriety of his firing.  Some proclaimed that Mr. Comey was fired because the investigation into whether the Russians had colluded with the Trump Campaign to influence last year's elections was getting rather close for comfort.  Immediately that group issued a call for the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to investigate.  Other reporters speculated that this firing was long in the pipeline and simply awaited the time when President Trump had those of his choosing heading up the Department of Justice.  When Rod Rosenstein was confirmed as the Deputy Attorney General two weeks ago, the door was now open for the firing of Comey. 


I listened to some of the talk programs last night.  The conversations were very energetic and interesting, to say the least.  But, as I listened to those who supported the firing and those who strongly opposed it, one word kept coming into my mind that I believe is key.  That word is integrity.  One of the dictionary definitions of integrity is "honesty, sincerity."  Interestingly, the word integrity comes from the Latin word "integer" which means "whole." 


FBI Director Comey has not been immune to being the subject of headlines.  Those headlines began on July 5, 2016, when, after an investigation into the email server scandal that plagued the Clinton Campaign, he went on national television and said that, although what Clinton had done was "extremely careless", there were no grounds for prosecution.  The investigation was perceived to have stopped.  Then, on October 28, just days before the November election, Comey related, via a letter to Congress, that he was reopening the email-server investigation based on new evidence.  That announcement sent shock waves, as you will remember, throughout the country.  The timing of the release of this information seemed more than coincidence and Comey was accused of aiding the Trump Campaign. 


In recent weeks, Comey has testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the investigation into a possible collusion between Trump campaign advisors and the Russians has been on-going but that no evidence of such collusion has occurred.  But, I believe the straw that finally broke the back of Mr. Comey came just moments before his firing yesterday.  Comey had sent a letter yesterday to Congress back-pedaling from some of his prior sworn testimony regarding the emails send from Hillary Clinton to her long-time advisor, Huma Abedin.  His testimony changed from "hundreds of thousands of emails" to "a small number."  And that produced this crisis of integrity for Mr. Comey.


From what I understand the role of the FBI is that of the investigative arm of the Department of Justice.  They seek to produce either the evidence or the lack of evidence for a particular case on behalf of the DOJ.  But, it is not the role of the FBI to determine whether a case should be prosecuted or not.  That belongs to the Attorney General and his staff.  So, back in July, Mr. Comey assumed a role that was not his.  The determination to prosecute Mrs. Clinton belonged to Attorney General Lynch.  Yes, she had compromised herself with her secret meeting with Bill Clinton at an airport tarmac in Arizona, but, nonetheless, it was her department that was responsible for making the decision, not the FBI Director's.  So, Mr. Comey had overstepped the parameters of his office - although I am sure he thought he was justified in doing so.


Did Mr. Comey's letter to Congress on October 28 sway the electorate away from Mrs. Clinton?  Only the historians will wrestle with that one.  But it was not for Mr. Comey to make that decision.  His role is that of an advisor to the Attorney General.  He speaks at the wishes of the Attorney General.  Another instance of a crisis of integrity.


What is the "take away" from the fall of James Comey?  It is imperative that we guard our integrity for upon its collapse, great is the fall.  The Bible reminds us that our "yes" is to be "yes" and our "no" is to be "no."  That is a sign of integrity.  We are to be people of our word.  Our youngest daughter reminded me of that fact more than once as she was growing up.  I would often make a rash promise which, when I said it, I had no intentions of keeping, but I said it nonetheless.  Later she would challenge me on that promise with these words, "But, Daddy, you promised!"  That was my crisis of integrity.  I had two options at that moment: I could sit down with my daughter and explain to her why Daddy could not fulfill what he had said he would do - which, often did not go well in her eyes; or I could tell her that Daddy would try his best to fulfill that promise he had made. 


I have been studying the life of David preparing for a summer series on his life as part of the longer series of preaching through the Bible.  David was a man of integrity.  This is best seen in those two occasions when he spared the life of Saul.  On each occasion he proclaimed that he would not raise his hand to strike the Lord's anointed.  That is a mark of integrity. 


My Grandfather was a man of integrity.  He always did business with a mere handshake.  After his funeral, I had one of the leaders of the community in which my Grandparents had lived for decades come to me and say, "I just want you to know that your Grandfather was always a man of his word.  A handshake with Hans Wunder was as good as a name on a dotted line."  What a sterling reputation!


Friends, integrity is the key in our walk with the Lord.  How we live defines who we are.  The words we say, Jesus proclaims, gives evidence of what is in our hearts.  The old saying that actions often speak louder than words is usually true.  When we lose our integrity, it does not take long for the rest of our lives to collapse.  Just ask Mr. Comey.       

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Judges - A Reflection of Life Today

For the past couple of Sundays I have been preaching in the book of Judges.  What a fascinating book!  What an interesting group of individuals used by God!  How would one describe their stories?  Interesting might describe them best.  They certainly did not fit any particular mold.  I have taught the Book of Judges often and have focused on the cycle that is repeated some seven times within the book: sin, slavery, supplication, and salvation.  I have even preached concerning that cycle and how it often describes our lives.


But, as I have spent the past few months working through Judges, God has impressed upon my heart a few truths I had not seen before.  The first truth is found within the following passages: Judges 3:7, 12; Judges 4:1; Judges 6:1; Judges 8:33; Judges 10:6; and Judges 13:1.  That truth can be summarized with the following words: "Israel did evil in the eyes of the LORD."  After all the amazing victories that God brought about through Othniel, Ehud, Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson and others, the people turned away from God.  Furthermore, if one reads these passages more carefully, one will discover that this turning away from God occurred within the space of forty years - one generation. 


As I pondered that reality, I began to ask myself this question: Why did Israel so quickly abandon God?  There had to have been a reason.  My search to find a root cause drove me back to that foundational text concerning families found in Deuteronomy 6:4-7.  There God instructs the people that the foundations of faith lie within the home.  Fathers, teach your children about God.  Make this a daily occurrence.  Use those moments within life to share with your children who God is.  That was the heartbeat of God for the family.  But, when fathers fail to teach their children, then children tend to abandon God.  Failure within the home often becomes failure within a nation.  The home is a window into the soul of the nation. 


Just look at the status of the home today.  We have homes where a father is either absent physically or absent emotionally.  Many dads have checked out of their family's lives.  Where do children turn when dad is gone?  For those within the urban areas sadly it is often to gangs.  A gang leader becomes that missing father-figure within a young person's life.  Other homes are consumed with the drive to obtain more things.  For those homes and families, success is defined by the number of "toys" stored in the garage.  I find it fascinating that we build houses with three-car garages, but have to leave the cars outside because the garage is filled with stuff.  Still other homes are possessed with the drive for status and community acceptance. 


So, what has happened?  We have witnessed a generation who have grown up and have abandoned God.  Mary Eberstadt, in her book titled, "How the West Really Lost God," writes: "The fortunes of religion rise or fall with the state of the family."  One could say that was true of the nation as well.  She goes on to state that many youth of today have had no - or very limited - exposure to adult role models who were strongly committed to living out their faith.   I believe America is in a state of moral and spiritual decline today because America's homes have been in a state of moral and spiritual decline for the past fifty years or even longer. 


The second truth I have discovered is this: the cause for this abandonment of God by families is a time of peace and prosperity.  Look at the following texts: Judges 3:11, 30; Judges 5:31; Judges 8:28.  When everything is going smoothly, when the seas are calmed and the winds blow gently, it is then that we tend to put God on the shelf.  We don't need God.  We can do things really well ourselves.  Just look at America's history since the close of World War II.  I know there have been those times of economic recession, but, for the most part, Americans have known peace and prosperity.  We are not sending America's youth off to war in the millions as was done between 1941-1945.  Yes, there have been those engagements that were costly - Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  But for most of us, those military engagements have hardly had an impact upon our everyday lives.  And so, as a nation, our families have forgotten God. 


A third truth that was extremely difficult to accept was this: It often took years of slavery and oppression before the people of Israel came to their spiritual senses and cried out to God.  The only answer that I could arrive at is this: It takes a long time for a people to be humbled before God.  How pride interferes.  It is so difficult to surrender and to admit, "God, we are the problem!"  Has America gotten to that point yet?  Generally speaking the answer is "No, we have not!"  We rely upon the government to substitute that which God intends the home to supply.  We rely upon our armies and navies to shore us up militarily, but discover that military might cannot remove the moral and spiritual degradation infecting the land.  Friends, I have come to the conclusion that the Book of Judges has a lot to say about 21st century America. 


But there is one final truth that I also discovered that encouraged me greatly: God can and will use anyone to bring about a spiritual renewal.  As you read this book, you quickly notice that these men and women, used by God, were really nobodies.  They were unknown.  They were merely ordinary people but who had a heart to serve God well.  I believe the judges God is raising up in America today are fathers and mothers who have a heart to serve God well by beginning with serving their families in matters of the heart.  Fathers and mothers who take time to share the Scriptures with their children.  Fathers and mothers who use those golden moments within everyday life to share what God is doing and desires to do.  It is time to attack at the root of the problem - the home.  It is time to return to those Godly principles found in Deuteronomy 6:4-7.  That is God's plan...and it works!


I have been doing some study on how to reach Millennials, those born between 1980-2000.  But, God is laying upon my heart a strong desire to reach Generation Z, those born after 2000.  Many of these are in their high school years.  They are searching to find significance for their own lives.  I have been asking God to use me as a tool to help them find that significance in a close relationship with Jesus Christ.  And I want them to see that God desires to be the center of the home they will establish someday.  How we need to model Christ before them. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

13 Reasons Why - It is Time to Engage the Conversation

For the next couple of weeks, the eyes of the world will be focused upon the election of a new president in France.  The two winners, in what we might call the primary election this past Sunday, seem to be polar opposites.  Both candidates are outside of the normal establishment description.  Emmanuel Macron is viewed as being more centrist. He is pro-European Union and has a focus on improving the French economy.  The other candidate, Marine Le Pen is viewed as being from the far right.  She is opposed to the European Union and offers a "France first" policy that would limit Muslim immigration into the country.  The choice is between the philosophy of globalism versus that of nationalism.  The future of Europe could ride on the outcome of this election.  So, stay tuned.


Yesterday, during our weekly staff meeting, one of our staff shared about a new Netflix series that is the talk of high school kids.  The series is titled "13 Reasons Why" and is the story of a young 17-year old girl, named Hannah Baker who commits suicide, but not before leaving 13 cassette recordings for those she believed caused her to commit suicide.  This staff member described the vulgar language that was pervasive during each episode.  What grabbed my attention was the fact that I had just read a review of that series in the April 29 issue of World Magazine. The review was written by Megan Basham.  Allow me to share just a portion of that review which is pretty revealing of the character of this Netflix series.


"The show's language is similarly amped-up for shock value - scarcely a line of dialogue passes without one of the teens dropping an F-bomb, even when talking to their parents.  This profanity is mild, however, compared with the verbal attacks leveled at Hannah and other girls, which includes describing them in the foulest terms as sexual receptacles.


"While the sex-and-drug fests depicted are, I suspect, vastly overblown from reality, the sickening language probably is true to the experience of many high schoolers.  And that bring us to one facet of modern life that isn't present in '13 Reasons Why.'  No one - not school administrators, not students, and certainly not any of the parents - professes any sincere faith or religious conviction.  Strangely, given the subject matter, the nature of the soul or the possibility of eternity never even comes up."


The reviewer concludes, "I wouldn't advise letting my teens watch '13 Reasons Why', but I would use its popularity as an opportunity to remind them of this."


This is a program that is aimed toward juveniles and young adolescents.  This is what young teens are talking about.  Yes, vulgarity is part of the world of adolescents, but must it be amplified.  Yes, sadly, many adolescent boys view girls as objects to be conquered, but this should not be an attitude that is promoted.  And, yes, sadly, suicide among teenagers today is epidemic.  There is something incredibly wrong when a 17-year old believes that life holds no value for him or her any longer and the only recourse is to escape through death. 


Friends, if there is no hope, then why continue to live and continue to endure a pain that shows no sign of healing?  If this is all there is, then why continue the struggle?  What is needed today is for teens to know the healing and the hope for living that is found in Jesus Christ.  Death, for many teens, looks like the ultimate escape.  But, here is what many of them never consider: death is not the end; it is only the step into the next life.  And that next life and its destination is determined by the choice we make in life today concerning our relationship with Jesus Christ.  If I have no relationship with Jesus and I choose death, then what awaits me is even worse that life itself.  I am reminded of those words of the rich man who died and whose story Jesus tells in Luke 16:22-24: "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side.  The rich man also died and was buried.  In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.  So he called to him, "Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire."'"


To teens I would say, "I know there are tremendous pressures placed upon you these days.  I know that Mom and Dad can put pressure upon you to excel.  They mean well, but it is pressure none the less, and you feel it.  I know your friends put pressure upon you to conform to a morality that you might not feel comfortable with.  You don't want to be given a label, but you know that conforming would violate who you are.  More pressure.  There is the pressure of just growing up and the continued search for the answer to the almost ubiquitous questions: Who am I and why am I here?  But, young girl, young guy, I know someone who can help shoulder those pressures with you.  His name is Jesus Christ.  He does not promise to make your life easy.  But, He has promised that He would give you strength for each day.  He has promised that He would never abandon you."  Friends, this is the message teens in America need to hear today: there is hope in Jesus.  When life looks so dark and bleak, it is time to turn your eyes upon Jesus. 


But, in the light of the conversation we had in staff yesterday, I would also add this: parents know what your children are watching on TV, what books they are reading, and what conversations they are having with their peers at school.  Yes, I know we all get busy with our lives, but your primary responsibility is to nurture your children into the things of God.  For this staff member, this Netflix series had provided an opportunity for such discussions.  Listen to your children.  Read what they are reading.  Don't just suppose that because a book was assigned by a teacher that it is okay to be read.  Know who your child's friends are and what those friends believe.  Invite those friends into your own home to share a meal where you can just get to know them.  Or invite them to come and join you for a movie night and show "Woodlawn" or "God's Not Dead" or other films that teach a message and then share with them about it over pizza and pop.  Parents, know what is going on in your child's life.  Don't just suppose that all is okay! 


I plan to ask my worldview students this coming Sunday evening what they have heard about "13 Reasons Why."  Perhaps it will be a good conversation starter for us.     

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!"