Monday, October 15, 2018

Israel and Hamas Poised on the Brink of War

The crisis between Israel and Hamas within the Gaza Strip seems near the "boiling over" point.  Tensions have been building since the border-fence riots began last March.  Dozens of Palestinians have been killed as the IDF has retaliated following attacks by Hamas rebels.  Thousands of acres of Israeli farm fields, pastures, and orchards have been scorched by the incendiary balloon and kites launched from Gaza into Israel's Negev communities.  The border crossings have often been closed because of violence that occurred there.  And, when the border crossings are closed, that means that the people living in Gaza are denied those supplies upon which they rely for survival.  But, when Israel does open those crossings, immediately they become the focal points of Hamas attacks.

In today's front page article of the Jerusalem Post, Prime Minister Netanyahu states that unless quiet is restored along the border with Gaza, "fearsome blows" would occur.  He did not detail what those "blows" would be, but it appears that Israel might launch another offensive into the Gaza Strip as they did several years ago.  The continued draining of the financial resources of the people living within the Gaza Strip by the leadership of Hamas certainly demonstrates that they have very little, if any, concern for the welfare of its citizens.  People are starving, but let's spend those dollars sent to us on bullets instead of beans.  Unemployment is high, but, instead of creating jobs that will benefit the welfare of all its citizens, people are told to stoke fires with tires, dig tunnels, and to create mayhem along the borders. 

In spite of the obvious fact, at least to many of us, that Hamas is the chief antagonist, the world continues to condemn Israel, with the Palestinian Authority leadership bringing Israel before the International Court on charges of "crimes against humanity."  If the charges were not so serious, they would seem ludicrous.  I find it fascinating that, when there are days with no Hamas-directed attacks against the frontier fence, the IDF merely monitors as they would any other part of the nation.  It is not the IDF that is stirring up conflict, but Hamas seeking to cause as much destruction and death as it possibly can.  Yet, I don't hear anyone declare about Hamas that it is guilty of "crimes against humanity." 

And the United Nations continues it assault upon the legitimacy of Israel as a nation.  Last Wednesday, the PX Commission of the Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, better known as UNESCO, adopted a resolution that declared the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem to be an integral part of the Palestinian Territory.  I find this to be a resolution based, not upon history, but upon political bias.  The cave of Machpelah in Hebron, was purchased by Abraham from the Hittites to be used for a burial place for his wife Sarah.  Subsequently Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Leah, and finally Jacob were all buried here.  Friends, the history of a Hebrew presence in Hebron goes back nearly four millenniums.  Centuries later, Hebron was given as an inheritance to Caleb who drove out its giants.  The city became one of the Levitical Cities, even being a City of Refuge.  The earliest known Muslim presence in Hebron did not occur until the 7th century AD - some 2700 years after the time of Abraham.  Yet, somehow in the minds of the leadership of UNESCO, Hebron is a Palestinian Historical Site. 

According to an article published on the United with Israel website, "Israel has long criticized the anti-Israel bias within UNESCO, where Israel and its allies are far outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters.  Since 2009, UNESCO has passed 71 resolutions condemning Israel and only two resolutions against all other countries combined."  (

Last year United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Nicki Halley, withdrew the United States from UNESCO citing its increasingly growing anti-Semitism.  (She will be sorely missed as an advocate for our nation and for Israel in the United Nations).  Israel is in the process of withdrawing from UNESCO as well. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu declared that "UNESCO must top the absurdity of passing resolutions which deny the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, between the Jewish people and our eternal capital Jerusalem.  No matter what UNESCO says, the Western Wall is not occupied Palestinian territory and the Cave of the Patriarchs - the burial site of Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah - is not a Palestinian Heritage Site."  On those two issues, the Prime Minister is absolutely correct. 

President Trump has stated that he has developed a plan for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.  His plan has not yet been made public.  Is it a workable plan?  President Trump has declared before the world that he recognizes Jerusalem as the historical, undivided capital of the states of Israel.  The Israeli leaders have categorically stated that the issue of the return of Palestinian refugees is a non-starter for them.  To grant such a request would be tantamount to the destruction of the Jewish State.  And Israel would certainly strongly object to having any Palestinian State become an armed one.  You had to have traveled in Israel in order to understand why Israel would make this demand.  The very survival of Israel would depend upon an unarmed Palestinian state.  So, there are not a lot of substantive issues remaining upon which to broker a deal for a two-state solution. 

Friends, I am convinced that there will always be unrest in the Middle East until, first the antichrist comes and declares a time of pseudo-peace in the region which will last for a brief time.  Then he will declare his true intentions and conflict on a scale unseen before will be unleashed in the Middle East.  True peace will only come when The Prince of Peace returns to establish His Kingdom.  And oh what a day that will be.  Perhaps it will occur soon!  Hallelujah!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A New Justice and a New Hurricane

Over the weekend Judge Kavanaugh became Associate Justice Kavanaugh.  But the final decision was wrought with drama.  In spite of an FBI report, which the Democrats had aggressively sought and for which Senator Flake (R-AZ) had requested, that showed there was no corroborative evidence for the allegation that Dr. Ford had brought, the minority party was still not satisfied.  They now yelled that the FBI had not done an adequate job.  But, you can only go as far as the evidence will direct you, and, in this case, there simply was no evidence.  Would the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh be stopped because of unsubstantiated allegations?  The fate of that decision would be decided by the vote of three senators: Collins (R-ME), Flake (R-AZ), and Manchin (D-WV).  Senator Collins, on Friday afternoon, made an impassioned speech in which she affirmed her "yes" vote on the confirmation.  Almost immediately she became the target of the aggressive hatred from the Left.  Senator Collins speech was based upon her belief that a man should not be convicted if there was no evidence to substantiate the charges brought against him.  In fact, Senator Collins spoke in favor of what the United States Constitution declares: a man is innocent until he is proven guilty. 

On Saturday afternoon we witnessed an historic vote.  Judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to sit on the highest court in the land - the United States Supreme Court.  With his confirmation, the Supreme Court has a conservative majority.  This will be a Court that will NOT be inclined to make law, but merely to interpret law.  It is a Court that will ask the question: what was the original intent of the framers of the Constitution.  And with that the Court will be in the place where the framers originally intended it to be. 

I have had people come to me and say that now Roe v. Wade will be overturned.  Friends, I highly doubt that will happen.  If one studies the rulings of the Supreme Court it is very adverse to overturning precedent-setting cases, even if those cases really were bad rulings.  The Dred Scott Decision, perhaps one of the worst rulings ever from a Supreme Court, was not overturned.  Roe v. Wade will not be either.  But, I believe the Court will be more inclined to listen to arguments that might restrict some of the latitude we have seen with recent Roe v. Wade type cases.  There are many interesting and important cases the Court will be hearing in this Fall Session.  Justice Kavanaugh will not have the opportunity to crawl into a corner and just listen.  No, his positions will soon become evident. 

But this is what grieves me - the hostility and hatred shown by the Left and by the mainstream media toward those who voted for this confirmation.  Emails threatening beheadings have been sent to family members of the Senators.  Vicious verbal assaults have been unleashed upon Senators when in public.  Friends, these actions are simply un-American and totally unacceptable.  Yes, we can have disagreements.  Yes, we can choose sides on issues.  But we do NOT have the right to incite riots or to threaten bodily harm to those who disagree with us. 

We are now just four weeks away from the most important midterm election of my lifetime.  The stakes could not be any higher.  The control of the House of Representatives and the Senate are prizes that both parties are eagerly seeking.  Positions of leadership on both the state and local levels are to be determined.  Here in the State of Minnesota we are electing a governor and two United States Senators.  This is not a time when Christians are to sit at home indifferent to what is happening.  This is the time to study the candidates and the issues.  Then, on November 6, it is time to go to the polling places and vote your conscience. 

I want to close with a prophetic weather update.  A 7.2 earthquake with its accompanying tsunami takes the lives of over 1200 people in Indonesia.  One of the strongest cyclones in history brings destruction to the Philippines, Hong Kong, and into China.  Hurricane Floyd left a path of devastation across the Carolinas.  Now Hurricane Michael, one of the strongest storms to hit the northeast coast of Florida in years, is poised to strike.  Portions of the Midwest have been drenched with multi-day rain events.  Rivers are swollen and flooding has become almost inevitable.  Now, we can either blame all these events on climate change, or we can say that God is trying to get our attention that time is running out.  I prefer to believe the latter.  I believe the natural world is probably more conscious of the imminent return of Jesus than are most people.  The Apostle Paul, in Romans 8, proclaims that the creation groans awaiting its redemption.  Seems to me that the groaning is getting louder and louder.  I think this planet is getting excited because its King is soon to come! 

It is time for us to "wake up" from our slumber and apathy.  It is time for us to put on the whole armor of God.  It is time for us to get back into the front lines of the struggle for the souls of lost men and women, teenagers, and boys and girls.  Time is running's time to get going for Jesus!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Why Are People Leaving the Church Today? Two Viewpoints.

It appears that the FBI is nearing the end of its investigation of the allegations made against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanagh.  The findings of the FBI should prove to be interesting as the foundations for these allegations appear to be crumbling - filled with inconsistencies and still lacking corroboration.  It appears, at least from reports from several news sources, that the confirmation vote will occur probably on Saturday.  As people will look back upon this nomination they will certainly discover that this was NOT one of America's finest moments.  It can only be hoped that what happened with this nomination is not setting a trend for future nominations not only to the Supreme Court but to other governmental appointments. 

Last week two articles came across my desk.  One was an editorial, written by Ron Way who lives in Edina, MN, that was published in the September 23 edition of the "StarTribune."  The editorial was titled, "What Churches Get Wrong [and how to repopulate them]."  The second was an article, written by Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Ministries located in Georgia, that was published by Fox News.  It was titled, "Five reasons people leave the church."  This article can be found at:

Both Mr. Way and Pastor Stanley are looking at the growing concern of people leaving American churches today.  As Mr. Way looks at the churches of today he describes the scene of abandonment by many this way: "Sure, folks are busy.  But there's something more basic: The church, broadly, has been hijacked by TV scammers, narrow-interest evangelicals and unending sex scandal.  Too, the church has largely stuck with Sunday school scripture by anecdote and has failed to remain relevant to society's altered priorities.  Frankly, the institutional church has itself to blame.  In a period of social divide and gathering doubts, it's a bit puzzling why so many mainline churches seem mired in orthodoxy and creedal dogma that take us on Sunday morning jaunts through antiquity before sending us out and into today."  Later in the editorial he would write, "Mainline churches too often take the Bible wildly out of context, spread misinformation (no, Jesus did not oppose gay marriage, and it was Romans, not Jews, who crucified Jesus as a Galilean insurrectionist), and insist the Bible was divinely inspired.  As more people peeked behind the curtain as I did, they see a church tied to ancient myth while missing the larger messages for today."  One of Mr. Way's criticisms of the church is that it is "mired" in the scriptures.  He states that is one of the problems that is causing people to leave the church. 

But is proclaiming the Scriptures really the problem?  I am presently teaching a class here at my church on Church History.  It has been a fascinating journey filled with those moments of "Wow! can you believe that!" to moments of "You have got to be kidding."  And yet the Bible was proclaimed.  But something was wrong then, and something is wrong today.  The Bible was preached but it was never made relevant to the needs of the people.  The Bible was proclaimed in a sterile environment.  People never made the connection between what the Bible said and how it was to be lived out in their very lives.  

Furthermore, if the Bible is simply a collection of ancient myths, legends, and fables, as Mr. Way contends, then how can it purport to be relevant to our lives today.  I can read the stories of the ancient Babylonian legends but find no connection between those stories and real life today.  I can read the ancient stories that were a part of the Egyptian history, but again, find no connection between those stories and real life today.  So, if I only believe the Bible to be a collection of myths and legends, then it follows that I really cannot make a relevant connection between those stories and the world in which my congregation and I live.  My understanding of the Bible creates the framework for my proclamation of the Bible.  

But, what if the Bible really does relate to us God's Story?  What if the Bible really does tell us of actual people, living in an actual time period, and facing actual problems and difficulties in life?  If those are true, then the Bible takes on a relevancy for life today. 

So, as I read Mr. Way's editorial I was affirmed with two truths.  First, I affirmed that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired, infallible, authoritative Word of God.  I affirmed that God created the heavens and the earth.  I affirmed that God appeared to Moses in a burning bush.  I affirmed that fire fell from heaven when Elijah prayed.  I affirmed that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin and that He died upon a cross and rose three days later from the dead.  Basically I affirmed that the Bible is true!  Second, I affirmed that I MUST proclaim Biblical truth and make it relevant to the times in which we live.  It was not just good enough for the prophets to say "thus says the Lord" to their generation, but they MUST say "thus says the Lord" to our generation.  So, as much as I struggled with many of Mr. Way's points, I have to say that I believe he had a strong point to make and I appreciated the reminder.

Andy Stanley approached this topic of people leaving the church from a different viewpoint.  He states in his article, "Many people see Christianity as anti-intellectual, overly simplistic, and easily discredited.  For decades, college professors with biases against religion have found Christian freshmen easy targets.  Much of what makes American Christianity so resistible to those outside the faith are things we should have been resisting all along.  While many of us have been working hard to make church more interesting, it turns out that fewer people are actually interested."  He then proceeds to share five reasons why people are leaving the church. 

"1.  We tell people that the Bible is the basis of Christianity."  I must confess that I struggled with this thought.  Yet, the more I pondered what Dr. Stanley was saying, the more I had to agree with Him.  Yes, we need to hold the Bible up as our standard of Truth, but the Bible must never replace our focus upon Jesus Christ.  For He alone is the true basis for our faith. 

"2.  They believe suffering disproves the existence of God. ... But the foundation of our faith is not a world without suffering.  Pain and suffering don't disprove the existence of God.  It only disproves the existence of a god who doesn't allow pain and suffering."

"3.  They had a bad church experience."  I have witnessed this many times over the 46-plus years I have been in the ministry.  Those bad experiences are not easily forgotten or overcome.

"4.  We're bad at making people feel welcome. ... It wasn't just his message that made Jesus irresistible.  It was Jesus himself.  People who were nothing like him, liked him.  And Jesus liked people who were nothing like him.  Jesus invited unbelieving, misbehaving, troublemaking men and women to follow him and to embrace something new, and they accepted his invitation." 

"5.  We made 'ekklesia' (the church) a building. ... 'Ekklesia' was not, and is not, a religious term.  It does not mean church or house of the Lord.  It certainly shouldn't be associated with a temple.  The term was used widely to describe a gathering, assembly, civic gatherings, or an assemble of soldiers.  Or as was the case in Acts 19, an assembly of rioting idol manufacturers.  An 'ekklesia' was a gathering of people for a specific purpose.  Any specific purpose.  It's not a building.  It's not a physical location.  It's a group of people.  It's a lot easier to stop showing up at a place than it is to disconnect from a group of people who intimately know, love, and support each other."

Two writers, each looking at the decline of the American Church but through differing lenses.  Yet there is much we can learn from each viewpoint.  I appreciate the way Dr. Stanley closed his article: "If we want people to stop leaving the church - if we want Christianity to be irresistible again to the world - then maybe it's time to take another look at the movement Jesus started 2,000 years ago."  To that I would say a rousing "Amen!" 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A Brazen Attack upon the Constitution by the Left

Tomorrow the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a special meeting to question Dr. Christina Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh.  Dr. Ford has alleged that, while in high school some three decades ago, she was sexually assaulted by Judge Kavanaugh.  Those whom she has recalled being present at the time of the alleged assault do not themselves recall being there.  There is no corroborative witnesses; there is no corroborative evidence.  To date Dr. Ford has not been placed under oath to share here story; that being placed under oath is to occur tomorrow.  I am grateful that Dr. Ford will have this opportunity, as will Judge Kavanaugh. 

But here is where my anger kicks in, friends.  Why is the burden of proof being placed upon Judge Kavanaugh to show his innocence?  Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said, "We have a constitutional duty to get to the bottom of these allegations.  They are serious and credible.  And now, the person with the most knowledge about them, namely, Judge Brett Karanaugh, has a responsibility to come forward with evidence to rebut them."  Really!  You have to be kidding!  This is not the way our judicial system has worked so well these many years.  In American jurisprudence, a person is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. I have watched enough Perry Mason and Matlock shows to know that a client always enters a plea of "not guilty."  That is his/her constitutional privilege.  The burden of proof rests upon the prosecutor with the presentation of evidence to support the accusation, and only then, does the burden of proof rest upon the defense team to refute that evidence and to enter additional evidence in support of the accused.

Yet, even with the complete lack of any evidence to support her allegations, the Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have fully believed her story.  The mainstream media members have trumpeted her story as if it was the only story worth knowing.  And, if polls are to be believed, a growing number of Americans have believed the mainstream media reports and believed Dr. Ford rather than Judge Kavanaugh.  The clamor is for the FBI to investigate these allegations.  But what is the FBI to investigate?  No criminal complaint was ever filed by Dr. Ford after the alleged assault.  No threats were ever lodged against Dr. Ford by Judge Kavanaugh over the years.  There is no evidence to even warrant an investigation.  The reason for the continued clamoring for an FBI investigation is simply to delay the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh to a seat on the United States Supreme Court.

What adds to my anger of what is happening is that those who want an FBI investigation are those who have already said they fully believe Dr. Ford's story and have been on public record as opposing Judge Kavanaugh's nomination since it occurred in July.  It would make no difference to them to have an investigation by the FBI and to have as its final report that Judge Kavanaugh was never involved in this alleged incident; they would not change their vote.  Yes, they have the right to vote no.  That right is accorded to them under the Constitution of the United States.  But, those who desire to vote yes also have a constitutional right to do so.  Right now, that right is being impeded. 

I have not heard Senator Feinstein request those 65 women, who have worked alongside of Judge Kavanaugh and have known him these many years, to come and testify.  Sixty-five women - that is a significant number who have knowledge of the character and conduct of Judge Kavanaugh.  But, does their testimony count for anything?  Of course not because those women's stories do not agree with the outcome Senator Feinstein and her allies desire: the derailing of this nomination.  Friends, if you are going to request testimonial evidence - which, right now, in this case, is basically hearsay evidence as there is a lack of physical evidence - then seek the complete testimonial evidence.  Yes, invite Dr. Ford and those one or two others who have allegedly come forward with accusations.  But also invite as many of those 65 other women to testify as are able to come and do so.  That is the American way of jurisprudence.  But sadly it seems to be lacking in this case. 

Ultimately, friends, this is a Constitutional matter.  On Monday night, Tucker Carlson, a Fox Channel news host, shared a monologue which appeared in written form on Tuesday.  This monologue can be found at:   This is an article that every American needs to read.  It is alarming!  Allow me to share five brief sentences from Mr. Tucker's monologue: "If the Bill of Rights doesn't apply to Brett Kavanaugh, it probably doesn't apply to you, either. ... It's not just Kavanaugh under assault.  Elected officials have announced they no longer believe in our Western understanding of justice.  There's no precedent for that.  It's stunning."

Last week, Thomas Gallatin wrote an editorial that was published by the Patriot Post.  It is found at:  This is another highly recommended article to be read.  Mr. Gallatin writes: "Democrats' calls to immediately halt the confirmation vote on Kavanaugh in order to investigate this allegation undermine the very spirit of the Constitution and the American judicial system.  The foundational concept of 'innocent until proven guilty' is what has made the U.S. justice system the envy of the world.  Democrats are pushing the dangerously flaws concept of assuming guilt based solely on the seriousness of the accusation and then demanding that the accused prove his innocence.  Make no mistake, this is an assault on the Constitution - and today is, ironically, Constitution Day."

So, what can we do as Christians?  It is time that we join hands in praying for that Senate Judiciary Committee hearing tomorrow.  To pray for Senator Grassley as he chairs that committee.  For Judge Kavanaugh and his family as they endure another day of accusations.  For Judge Kavanaugh to be open and transparent with the committee members.  And that a decision will be reached, not based upon a political mindset, but upon the truth that is revealed.  I invite you to join with me in prayer tomorrow morning as these hearings begin.  God is still in control.  And I know His purposes will be accomplished.  Thanks for praying. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Whatever Happened to Innocent Until Proven Guilty?

I am leaving for a conference in Greensboro, NC tomorrow morning so decided to get my blog out early this week.  The conference several of the leaders from our church are attending is a D6 Conference.  D6 stands for Deuteronomy 6, a passage that refers to the challenge to parents to disciple their own children.  I am looking forward to going and being challenged to help do just that with many of the families within my congregation. 

I am not sure how you are responding to the events surrounding the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court, but I have become angry in my spirit.  I can almost imagine what that special Judiciary Committee hearing on Monday will be like.  It will be partisan and contentious.  Angry voices will be heard.  Diatribes will be offered by senators.  Dialogue will be absent and decorum not present.  This has all the bearings of the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill. 

This entire last-minute desperation act by Senator Feinstein is just that - desperation.  She has known of this story since last July.  She had numerous opportunities to address this alleged act with Judge Kavanaugh both in private conversations as well as during the public hearings.  But she said nothing until the hearings were over.  Then she brings out this alleged "smoking gun."  Why?  Because she saw that Judge Kavanaugh had conducted himself with decorum and class during the confirmation hearings.  He did not become argumentative.  He held firmly to his beliefs that a judge should not make law, only interpret law according to the dictates of the Constitution.  She and her Democratic allies had to do something to derail this man from serving on the Court. 

Here is what is so sad to me and what makes me angry in my spirit.  Judge Kavanaugh has been tried and found guilty in the eyes of many of the members of the Senate and in the eyes of the media.  To listen to the mainstream media, Judge Kavanaugh should withdraw his name from consideration, not withstanding his own assertions of innocence.  According to the Constitution, a person is presumed to be innocent until he or she is found to be guilty.  This has been the legal discourse that has made the American system of jurisprudence so special.  But that discourse does not apply in the case with Judge Kavanaugh it would seem. 

Friends, aren't you glad that somehow in the process of life we finally do grow up.  We are not what we once were.  I think of those stories of our heroes from the Bible.  Take Abraham for example.  Because of fear he placed his wife in a difficult place not once but twice.  We almost could accuse Abraham of spousal abuse today because of that.  Yet God gave some powerful promises to Abraham.  Take David as another example.  David was the king, yet he violated God's commands by having an adulterous relationship with not just another man's wife, but the wife of one of his closest advisors and friends; then having that friend put in a position within a battle where he would knowingly be killed.  Yet God gave to David the promise of an eternal throne.  Let's look at another example, this time from the New Testament.  How about Peter: impulsive, impetuous, a denier of his Lord.  Yet God uses Peter to become the leader of the Church. 

If each of these men were living today and were being considered for a leadership role each would probably be denied not because of something "allegedly" done in their past, but knowingly done.  I can hear the voices of the confirmation hearings on Abraham challenging him on why he abused his wife by putting her into harms way.  Perhaps David might be excused for his sexual indiscretions because, after all, we have had experience of Presidents doing something very similar. 

People can change and I am eternally grateful for that powerful truth.  God changes people's lives.  If one would carefully examine the life of Judge Kavanaugh with care, one will notice that he has a strong record of moral decency and community service that is impeccable.  Many are those who would come forward to substantiate his decency as a man, as a husband, as a father, and as a judge.  This is who he is.  And it is upon this fact that the confirmation of this man either rises or falls. 

I will be praying that truth will be revealed at those hearings on Monday.  That there will be civility in the dialogue.  That the United States Senate will rediscover the roots that have made it the august body that it has been historically.  That at the close of those hearings there will be clarity on how to move forward.  And I know you will join me in that prayer.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Of Weather, the Palestinians, and Nike

This is beginning to look like it will be a very active hurricane season for both the Atlantic and Pacific regions as well as the Caribbean coastlines.  As Hurricane Florence continues its migration toward the regions of Coastal Carolina, gaining strength with each surpassing hour, two other hurricanes are forming in the Atlantic, and a strong low-pressure system is forming in the Caribbean that might impact the Texas coast.  Meanwhile Hawaii is being threatened with its third hurricane of the season: Hector, Lane, and now Olivia.  It is almost as if the storms are lining up on both coasts just taking turns in causing devastation.

Then there are the increase in the frequency of earthquakes, such that they are hardly reported in the news any longer.  It almost takes a catastrophic quake to make the major news sources.  Then I saw a picture of giraffes standing in snow as a almost-unheard-of snowfall occurred in Africa.  It seems the weather patterns are following a path that is less than normal.  I keep returning to those words of Jesus to His disciples as they asked about the end of days.  He said that there would be earthquakes and famines in diverse places.  And I remember reading the Apostle Paul's words to the Roman believers about how creation moans awaiting its redemption (see Romans 8).  There seems to be a lot of moaning taking place right now, and it is growing in its intensity. 

There are two news stories that I want to focus upon this week.  The first is the decision that the Trump Administration made on Monday to close the offices of the Palestine Liberation Organization, also known as the PLO, in Washington, DC.  Two reasons were given for its closure.  First, the failure on the part of the Palestinian Leadership to participate in meaningful negotiations with the Israelis seeking to finalize some type of two-state solution.  Second, the continued threat of the PLO to take Israel before the International Criminal Court (the ICC) and charge them with war crimes because of the actions in the conflict with Hamas in Gaza.  Neither the United States nor Israel recognize the existence of the ICC.

In addition the United States has moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thus recognizing that city as the capital of Israel.  The United States has severely reduced its funding to UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency) which has overseen the care of those Palestinian refugees since the 1948 war of independence.  This follows the drastic cuts in funding given to the Palestinian Authority itself.  That number of refugees has grown from nearly 700,000 in 1948 to over 5 million today.  And days ago the United States cut its funding for hospitals in East Jerusalem.  It is the hope that such financial cuts would bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table in good faith.  Instead the response from PLO leadership has been defiance and determination to proceed with their case against Israel in the ICC. 

I was asked recently my response to these decisions by the Trump State Department leaders.  I have applauded the move of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem.  Friends, it should have been done years  before, but everyone thought that such a move might be the catalyst for World War III.  Well, now that it has been done, we are not in that type of war.  And I have applauded the drastic cuts in American taxpayer dollars going to a Palestinian leadership that rewards those who kill Israelis.  And I applaud the continued pressure - both financially and diplomatically - being placed upon Palestinian President Abbas in order for him to see the reality of the world in which he lives.  Will these actions bring the intended consequence?  I guess only time will tell.  Israel is certainly not a perfect state filled with perfect leaders, but then again neither is the United States - if the stories we hear coming out of Washington are correct.  But Israel has always been our closest and most dependable ally in that stormy region of the world.  I saw a T-shirt while in Israel this past spring that read: "Don't worry America, Israel has your back."  Do we have Israel's back?  For the present moment, I think it is safe to say that we do.

The second story is one that truly grieves me.  It is the decision that the leadership at Nike made to have Colin Kaepernick be the spokesman for their "Just Do It" campaign.  Colin Kaepernick was the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers a few years ago.  He had a fleeting moment of glory, then his flower began to fade.  Last year, Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee in protest as the national anthem was being played.  Soon other NFL players joined with him in this protest against cruelty by police departments across our country toward blacks.  Football fans were caught in this storm of protest.  Attendance at NFL games began to plunge.  Television ratings dropped like lead sinkers on the end of a fish line.  Talk show hosts pontificated over the merits and demerits of what these Colin Kaepernick inspired players were doing.  Many felt that such a protest against the American flag was almost a sacrilege to those who fought and died defending that flag and the nation it represented. 

In spite of these strong feelings on the part of average Americans, Nike announced that Colin Kaepernick would be the face of the new "Just Do It" campaign.  In the commercial, Mr. Kaepernick says, "Believe in something.  Even if it means sacrificing everything."  I ask myself this question: What has Mr. Kaepernick sacrificed?  He is presently unemployed, which may say more about his football skills than about his protest.  When I heard that statement, friends, I wanted to say to him, "Mr. Kaepernick, if you want to know what it means to sacrifice everything, then let me take you to any of the national cemeteries that dot the American landscape.  Let's begin at Arlington.  Mr. Kaepernick, there are rows and rows and more rows of crosses that mark the graves of those who truly sacrificed everything.  Mr. Kaepernick, let me show you those opening scenes from that incredible movie 'Saving Private Ryan' as American forces hit the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.  Now that is sacrificing everything.  Mr. Kaepernick, if you feel you need to protest, then choose a different way than desecrating our nation's flag and its national anthem.  For as that national anthem so pointedly proclaims: 'This star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.'" 

The leaders at Nike have every right to select whom they desire to be their spokes person.  But I applaud those schools that have chosen to no longer use the Nike brand as the athletic wear of their choice.  And I agree with the letter from the National Association of Police Organizations and their president Michael McHale asking their members to boycott all Nike products. 

One final item worthy of news is the release of photographs and an accompanying story that trumpeted the appearance of the red-heifer in Israel.  This calf has been fully authenticated and certified by Jewish rabbis as being a fully red-heifer.  This is a major story as it relates to the last days.  According to Number 19, a red heifer was sacrificed and its ashes were mixed with water to form the agent that would purify those articles used within the tabernacle.  According to the news source, a red heifer has not been born for the past 2000 years.  If this calf truly is the red heifer, that means that the Jewish religious leaders have an animal which can be sacrificed and then burned, with those ashes being used to purify those implements for use in the third temple; which, by the way, are now completely built - I have seen them with my own eyes while in Jerusalem.  With the birth of this red heifer we are one step closer to the return of the Lord Jesus.  And I will say a full and loud "Amen!" to that. 

And to my Jewish friends I do want to wish you a "shana tova" as the new year begins. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

A Congressional Brawl and a Conflicted Church

Yesterday confirmation hearings for President Trump's nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to be an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court began.  Even before the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Senator Charles Grassley, could gavel the hearing's beginning, several Democratic senators boisterously demanded that the hearings be halted because of the lack of sufficient time to read the documents representing Judge Kavanaugh's extensive judicial portfolio.  Yet more documentation has been provided about Judge Kavanaugh than any other Supreme Court appointment in American history.  And, those that requested even more information were senators who had already gone on record as opposing Judge Kavanaugh's confirmation. 

But, as I watched some of the video from that opening day, what grieved my heart was the complete lack of civility within that hearing room.  Seventy people were arrested by Capital Hill Police because of unlawful demonstrations.  The vitriol became so intense that Judge Kavanaugh's wife had to usher their two daughters from the hearing room in order to spare them from hearing what was being said about her husband and their father.  How sad that at a moment in which a family should take incredible pride, there will only be memories of slanderous words being used against those girls' father.  What an image of American democracy at work - or should I say, a failure of that democracy to work as the Founding Fathers envisioned it.

Yes, there is a need for a hearing on this appointment.  Yes, there is a strong need to have dialogue on the issues.  But, Americans today have forgotten how to have a dialogue.  But we certainly have lots of practice in having arguments complete with vicious slander and name-calling.  We have created a society where "I am right and you are wrong" becomes the dominant theme.  We no longer listen with open minds or open hearts because our minds and hearts are already cemented in what we believe to be right.  Truth is no longer applicable as there is no longer an absolute standard of truth.

We hear arguments that Judge Kavanaugh's confirmation will mean the end of Roe v. Wade.  But Judge Kavanaugh has made it abundantly clear in previous decisions that he strongly holds to legal precedent.  That means that Roe v. Wade will not suddenly disappear under the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh any more than it did under the confirmations of Judges Thomas, Roberts, and Alito.  The threat of overthrowing Roe v. Wade simply does not hold water any longer. 

Hearings continue through the remainder of this week.  One can only imagine the intense grilling this man will have to endure before he is confirmed.  After watching a portion of yesterday's Congressional brawl, I wonder who, in their right mind, would want to be a public servant?  Oh the depths to which America has plunged. 

There is a second momentous event that is shaking the foundations of American beliefs.  This concerns the continued exposure of decades of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.  I read a fascinating article in the National Review, written by David French, and published on August 27.  It is titled, "Protestants Should Care Deeply about the Catholic Catastrophe."  Allow me to quote a few paragraphs from this article:

"As I watch the crisis engulfing the Catholic Church, an analogy one of my pastors once made comes to mind.  It will likely make some of my Catholic friends uncomfortable, but it's helpful for understanding the way many Protestants view the larger body of Christ, the 'Holy Catholic Church' of the Apostles' Creed, so here goes: The Church is like a navy, a collection of ships united in purpose and in destination.  Each denomination is like a different ship in that navy, and while each crew is primarily tasked with the health and well-being of its own vessel, it's also deeply invested in the strength of the fleet.  Each vessel is more vulnerable as the fleet weakens.  Each vessel is stronger surrounded by its protective armada.

"If the analogy holds, then one of the mightiest battleships in the fleet, the Catholic Church, is taking torpedoes left and right.  It's now rocked by allegations of wrongdoing that go all the way to the Vatican, to the pope himself. .... Protestants cannot and must not view these events with a kind of detachment or distance, for numerous reasons.

"First, we cannot forget that each and every revelation of abuse is the revelation of a life-altering (and sometimes life-shattering) event for the victim and a faith-crippling moment for friends, family, and countless others.  Second, given the plethora of recent sexual scandals in Evangelical churches and seminaries, the Catholic catastrophe should remind us that perhaps only the lack of an equivalent hierarchy has spared Evangelical churches from similar, systemic sin.  'Our' scandals are more fragmented only because our churches are more fragmented.  Yet the entire church should be galvanized by what's happened and diligently consider the extent to which our own congregations are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

"Third, reputational harm to the church can sweep far and wide - well beyond the guilty parties themselves.  No one should presume that in an increasingly secular world our fellow citizens can so easily discern the good guys and the bad guys.

"Finally, and critically, there are immense theological stakes for the larger church.  While condemnation of child abuse is universal, the recent spate of claims of consensual sex between two priests or between priests and other adults is leading once again to confrontation along the old fault lines, between traditionalists and those who seek greater 'inclusion.'"

David French concludes his article with these words: "It's fashionable for modern Christians to slide past the Old Testament and linger on the New.  But as secular and religious institutions collapse around us, it's hard to escape the feeling that we live in a period of Old Testament-style rebellion against God.  Our Catholic cathedrals and suburban mega-churches alike are shot-through with the same sins that pollute the world.  None of us has the luxury of believing 'our' institutions are safe or that 'our side' of the Christian divide has adequately guarded itself against the demonic spirit that stalks the land.  Ships in the Christian armada are ablaze.  We must not simply sail on and leave them to their fate."

Friends, Jesus admonished His disciples that there were to be "wise as serpents and harmless as doves."  Yet He also stated that "the gates of hell would not prevail against the church."  Jesus never promised that the Church would have an easy road.  Since its inception on that Day of Pentecost so many years ago, it has been the recipient of Satan's broadsides.  Yet we have this sure and certain promise from the Savior Himself - "in the world you will have tribulations, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world."  This does not mean that we can be apathetic about what is happening around us.  Instead it means that we need to guard with more diligence and care those foundational truths that have been entrusted to us (see Jude 3).  Yes, we are in a war...but we know how the war ends!  Hallelujah for that great truth!