Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Response to Charlottesville

Over this past weekend violence erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, that resulted in the tragic deaths of three people. Two law-enforcement officers died when their helicopter crashed as it was giving surveillance at the site of the violence and a young woman was struck and killed by a driver who deliberately drove his car into a crowd of people.  Scores more were injured in the clashes between police, the white supremacist groups, and those who opposed the white supremacist group. 




As I watched the images that appeared on television screens across America, one word came flooding into my heart and mind - hatred.  The actions of one person toward another screamed "hatred."  The words, often vulgar, hurled toward one another shouted "hatred."  The descriptions that flowed from the mouths and pens of the media present reinforced that "hatred."  Have you ever witnessed a time in our history when the streets of America are filled with such incredible hatred.  Whites against blacks.  Blacks against whites.  Blacks against blacks.  Whites against Hispanics.  Pro-choice against pro-life.  Progressives and liberals against conservatives.  People have gravitated toward one position or another.


Friends, it is great to have a position and to be able to stand behind that position.  But, to hate another person simply because he or she does not identify with your position is simply wrong.  Where has the civility gone?  Where has the ability to debate, yes with conviction and persuasion, with respect toward one another gone?  We no longer debate.  We pick up our signs, grab the biggest club we can find, and march down the streets looking for places to vent that anger we carry within.  Windows are smashed, but why should I care whose windows they are; after all, I am angry and I feel I have a right to be angry.  Cars are smashed, but why should I care whose cars they are.  Buildings are set on fire, but why should I care.  I am angry about a perceived injustice, so I can do whatever I want to do - right? 


Wrong.  Whatever happened to showing respect for other people's property?  Whatever happened to showing respect toward other people's ideas and opinions?  We have no such respect today because we have abandoned absolute truth and now live in a world filled with nothing but opinions.  Friends, opinion have a very shallow grounding.  That grounding is just me!  And, opinions have no root; they can change almost instantaneously.  So the world is filled with rootless opinions.  Yet we proclaim that these opinions are truth.  But, are they?


Truth is anchored to the past.  It finds its roots in history.  Yes, history is truth.  The Civil War was fought between the years of 1861-1865.  The Civil War resulted in the deaths of over 600,000 men killed during some 10,000 battles and skirmishes those years.  The Civil War was a struggle over an ideology - slavery - that troubled our nation from its very inception.  The Founding Fathers knew of its dangers, but chose to "kick the can down the road" and let others try to fix it.  Slavery was an ideology that was abhorrent to the thoughts of democracy, yet it persisted in the South as a way of life.  But the slaves were freed by an Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863.  And slavery was abolished throughout America because the North won the War in April 1865. 


The winning of the war did not mean that all blacks were considered as free by everyone else.  No, sadly they were considered as inferior by many, including a small minority today.  But our Constitution grants them equality.  They are part of "E Pluribus Unum" - "out of the many, one." 


Back to last Saturday in Charlottesville, what caused the conflict?  It was the proposed moving of a statue of Robert E. Lee, one of Virginia's heroes during the Civil War.  There were those who wanted the statue removed because, to them, it represents a time of oppression - perhaps an oppression they still feel today.  There were those who wanted the statue to be left as is because, to them, it represents a man who stood for what he believed was right.  Many feel that by eliminating statues, monuments, and portraits we are somehow removing that which caused the offense.  Friends, I have news for you - you cannot erase history.  History is what it is - complete with all its beauty and all its ugliness.  Instead of removing those statues, let's ask ourselves this question: How can we take steps so that the offense represented by that statue can be changed today? 


There are many things in this world that can create an offensive situation.  Years ago I had the privilege of walking through the grounds at Auschwitz.  Personally, I found that experience to be extremely offensive.  Yet, should I go to the Polish government and protest that Auschwitz should be destroyed because it represents an ideology that I find extremely offensive?  Of course not.  Thomas Jefferson owned slaves.  Jefferson could have led a charge at the writing of the Constitution to have slavery outlawed in the United States, but he said nothing.  So, should I go to Washington and protest that the Jefferson Memorial should be torn down because it is offensive to me?  Of course not. 


It is time we sit down with history and learn from it, not seek to have it erased.  And that is the problem today.  Our young people are not being taught American history, or, for that matter, world history from an objective point of view.  We have adopted this battle cry: "I am offended, so have it removed."  We see that on college campuses: "I am offended by your speech, so ban that person from the campus." 


Our President was correct when he proclaimed that the conflict in Charlottesville was created by both sides.  Neither wanted to listen to the other.  Neither wanted to sit down and have a dialogue about how a certain action - namely, the planned removal of a statue - would impact them.  If such a dialogue had been pursued, I believe three people would be alive today and thousands of dollars spent on policing would have been spared.  Our President was correct when he stated that we should reach out in love toward one another.  Love is the foundation for a dialogue.  Love is the backbone for respect toward one another.  Love say, I may not agree with you, but I will respect your right to have that opinion.  And, I believe that until we rediscover the value of sharing truth with one another in a respectful way, hatred will always win and riots and conflict will become the normal course of action. 


As believers in and followers of Jesus Christ, who is Truth, we need to lead the way in those dialogues.  Let's do our homework with care.  Then let us sit down with others and, in loving respect, share our ideas with them.  Will such dialogues change their opinions?  Perhaps yes; perhaps no.  But we will have side-stepped a reason for conflict.  I believe that is what Jesus would have us to do.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Ridiculous Professor; An Important Invitation

I read a headline yesterday that really caught my attention.  The headline read: "Prof lets students choose own grades for 'stress reduction.'"  I thought to myself, remembering back to those days of sweating out final exams so my grades would improve, "Wow, why didn't they have something like that then?"  Let me share just a couple portions of this article:


  "A University of Georgia professor has adopted a 'stress reduction policy' that will allow students to select their own grades if they 'feel unduly stressed' by the ones they earned."  Well, let's just stop right here.  I work hard in a class - or, at least I think I work hard - and I get a B when I think I should have gotten an A.  I admit that the B does cause the "stress factor" to increase.  Okay, let me share a personal experience with that fact.  I remember being a junior in high school and taking a physics class.  The teacher was a tough teacher.  He had actually done all the experiments that he assigned in class and had all his answers in a little black book hidden away.  Mr. C had to sign off on your experiment before you could move on to the next one, and, just to add stress, your result had to match his result.  If it didn't, well...it was back to the drawing board.  I remember working hard that first semester.  I knew I was right on the border between an A and a B.  I missed an A by .40 of a point.  I went into Mr. C and pleaded my case.  I can still remember that intimidating smile as he said, "Mr. Frazier, I gave you exactly what you earned."  Wow!  Where was this University of Georgia professor and his policy when I needed it back in 1963.  [To complete the story: I worked even harder the second semester and got a solid A, but that B kept me from being first in my class].


Let's continue with the article: "According to online course syllabi for two of Dr. Richard Watson's fall business courses, he has introduced the policy because 'emotional reactions to stressful situations can have profound consequences for all involved.'  As such, if students feel 'unduly stressed by a grade for any assessable material or the overall course,' they can 'email the instructor indicating what grade [they] think is appropriate, and it will be changed' with 'no explanation' being required.  'If in a group meeting, you feel stressed by your group's dynamics, you should leave the meeting immediately and need offer no explanation to the group members,' the policy adds, saying such students can 'discontinue all further group work' with their remaining grade being 'based totally on non-group work.'  Finally, for in-class presentations, Watson will allow 'only positive comments' to be made, while 'comments designed to improve future presentations will be communicated by email.'"


The article, which was written by Anthony Gockowski and published at www.campusreform.org/?ID=9551, concludes: "Watson, notably, does concede that 'while this policy might hinder the development of group skills and mastery of the class material,' those outcomes are ultimately a student's 'responsibility,' though he promises to 'provide every opportunity for [students] to gain high level mastery.'"


What is wrong with this professor's thinking?  His desire is to remove stress from his student's life.  And he understands that grades create stress; therefore, let the student determine which grade to be received that causes the least amount of stress.  Now, what I found interesting is that this professor teaches business courses.  My father was a businessman.  In my ministry, I have met hundreds of business people.  They all shared with me that stress is just part of business.  You had the stress of deadlines.  You had the stress of meeting sales quotas.  You had the stress of market fluctuations.  You had the stress of balancing business with home.  It seems to me that what this professor should be teaching his business students is how to manage stress successfully, not the removal of stress. 


Friends, as you have found, life is full of stress.  I was asked to teach a class at a Community College titled, "Stress Management."  I shared with my students that there are values that come along with stress.  Stress can be a useful tool to enable us to grow stronger as we endeavor to accomplish our goals.  Then I shared with those students that I found that taking all my stress loads to Jesus and letting Him carry the burden really helped.  In essence, I let Jesus become my "stress manager."  Friends, allow Jesus to manage your stress.  When you do, you will find that stress becomes not an obstacle but a tool to advance you to where God desires you to be.


One of my friends here at the church that I serve as Lead Pastor and who follows my blog carefully, came up after a service and urged me to invite my blog-readers to strongly consider running for local school boards and other local community offices.  If ever there was a time when Christians needed to get into the arena, it is right now.  Local school boards still have some measure of control over what is taught within their schools.  Wouldn't it be great if every school board had a majority of followers of Jesus Christ as members?  The same could be said of local city councils.  I had the privilege of serving on a local school board for four years.  Yes, it took time.  But I was able to contribute to discussions about curriculum, about policy and procedures, and about relationships between faculty and parents.  There are still a few days left to get your nomination papers filed with the school. 


Before closing let me just challenge you to keep praying for our President and those in positions where important decisions are  made.  The situation with North Korea continues to escalate.  We are learning what happens when a rogue state possesses nuclear capability.  North Korea might think twice before launching a nuclear warhead, but ISIS might not.  I would not be surprised that ISIS has not already contacted North Korea about the availability of a mini-warhead and its price.  Our leaders need the wisdom of Solomon in these days. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Lessons Learned on Tish B'Av

Yesterday was Tish B'Av on the Jewish calendar.  It stands for the Ninth of Av, or the ninth day of the month of Av.  Its significance is that it is the day on which Jews worldwide remember the destruction of both the First and Second Temples.  On Tish B'Av in the year 586 BC, the Babylonian armies, under the leadership of King Nebuchadnezzar, broke through the walls of Jerusalem, set on fire the great Temple built by Solomon, and destroyed the city of Jerusalem.  Over 600 years later, on Tish B'Av in the year 70 AD, the Roman armies, under the leadership of General Titus, also broke through the walls of Jerusalem, set on fire the great Temple built by Herod the Great, and destroyed the city of Jerusalem.  I find it very significant that both Temples were destroyed on the same date. 


On this day many Orthodox Jews will fast and pray as they remember with tears the destruction of those two Temples.  But, last night as I pondered the reality of Tish B'Av, I thought of the reason why both Solomon's and later Herod's Temples were destroyed.  It is not good to just remember the event unless we also learn from the reasons why the event occurred.  And, why were both Temples destroyed by God?  It was a judgment because of sin. 


We read of the destruction of Solomon's Temple in Jeremiah 52:12-14: "On the tenth day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, who served the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem.  He set fire to the temple of the LORD, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem.  Every important building he burned down.  The whole Babylonian army under the commander of the imperial guard broke down all the walls around Jerusalem."  And when the Babylonian army had completed its task, all that remained of Jerusalem was rubble.  Through the prophets God had warned the kings and people of Judah that, unless they repented from their sins, that destruction would come.  Yet the people and their leaders were determined to violate those commands from God.  Destruction came because of sin.


There is no biblical record of the destruction of the Temple built by Herod.  Jesus had foretold of its destruction to His disciples, as recorded in Matthew 24:1-2: "Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings.  'Do you see all these things?' he asked.  'I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.'"  And when the Roman army had completed its task, all that remained of Jerusalem was rubble.  Still today, some of that rubble remains as it fell in 70 AD.  Destruction came because of sin.


Friends, when a nation sins repeatedly and with arrogance defies the commands of the living God, judgment will fall.  Last night, as I was sitting in my chair on the deck, I began to think of the comparison between the destruction of Israel's two magnificent temples and what is happening in our nation today.  First, sexual sins had become prevalent within the culture of Israel.  That sexual perversion was accentuated with the idolatrous worship on every hill and under every tree.  Sex had become as a god to the people.  Today, legitimacy is given toward almost every type of sexual perversion.  Second, God had warned the people that unless they repented of their sins that a national judgment would come.  In the days of the First Temple Period, that warning came through a multitude of prophets; in the days of the Second Temple Period, that warning came through Jesus Christ.  Today, that warning comes from pastors and teachers, through books and films, and through personal outreach.  The warning is being sounded.  Third, in spite of the warnings, the people laughed at God and continued in their own sinful ways.  They knew better than God.  Today, we shake our fist in the face of God and command Him to stay out of our business.   Should we expect God to let our nation escape His punishment? 


I have shared with you in previous blogs about the condition of our nation morally.  Immorality is
flaunted in nearly every sitcom on television.  It is the theme of many of the hundreds of songs written today.  It is debated among school board members and city council members.  Experts give it legitimacy.  And, for the most part, the Church has been silent.  The longer I thought about Israel's Tish B'Av moments, the more I wondered when America would experience its own Tish B'Av. 


How should we act as believers?  First, we need to pray that God would strongly move in the hearts of His people to get right with Him.  Second Chronicles 7:14 begins with these words, "If my people who are called by my name..."  Will the Church be moved to confession and repentance of sin before a holy God?  In many quarters, the Church has endorsed sexual perversions.  Second, we need to take a strong stand for biblical truth, no matter the cost.  As during the days of Elijah, not all knees bow before Baal.  But it is time to rise up and become a militant Church proclaiming biblical truth.  Not everyone will listen to our clarion call, but some will. 


Tish B'Av - it is not just another day on a strange calendar.  It is God's reminder to us all that, unless a nation changes its ways and returns to the paths of God's commands, judgment will fall upon that nation. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

And the Immorality Continues to Grow

Well, as the old saying goes, "Here we go again!"  Just when you think you can no longer be shocked by what the world tries to foist upon us as being "normal", somehow they do it again.  First, I refer you to an article published by Fox News that stuns one's senses.  You can find the article, written by Todd Starnes, at www.foxnew.com/opinion/2017/07/18/parents-outraged-over-teen-vogue-anal-sex-how-to-column.  Let me warn you that even Mr. Starnes comments on the article are graphic.


"Teen Vogue is defending its decision to publish a graphic tutorial to anal sex for children and teenagers - calling critics homophobic.  'This is anal 101, for teens, beginners and all inquisitive folk,' author Gigi Engle wrote in 'A Guide to Anal Sex.'  ...  Parents across the nation became enraged upon learning that Teen Vogue wanted to turn their children in[to] sexual deviants.  'I was truly flabbergasted,' Elizabeth Johnston told me on my radio show.  'They should not be teaching sodomy to our children.  This is not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue.  This is not a conservative issue or liberal issue.  This is a parent issue,' she told me.  More than 10 million people have viewed a video of Johnston burning a copy of Teen Vogue in her backyard. ...  Philip Picardi, the magazine's digital editorial director, fired back in a flurry of tweets.  'The backlash to this article is rooted in homophobia,' he wrote.  'It's also laced in arcane delusion about what it means to be a young person today.'  Teen Vogue would have you believe it's offensive for parents to be offended by the smut they are peddling. "


Friends, in the absence of any moral truth or any moral absolutes, what had been recognized twenty years ago as being a sexual perversion, now becomes not only acceptable by adults, but promoted among our impressionable teens.  I used to say that our culture today "lowered the bar."  But I have come to believe that they have "removed the bar." 


But, wait, there's more - sadly.  Yesterday I read another article, written by the same author - Todd Starnes - and posted on the Fox News website.  You can find it at: www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/07/25/drag-queen-storytime-for-kids-at-library.  Again, allow me to share portions of this article with you.  "Public libraries across the fruited plain are inviting drag queens to read story books to small children - leading some folks to wonder what in the name of Captain Kangaroo is going on?  A trio of drag queens, decked out in full regalia, recently held court at the Indianapolis Central Library - gabbing about superheroes and cookies.  'Some parents choose to expose their children to religion, some parents choose to expose their children to culture, the arts,' parent Heather Pugh told USA Today.  'I'm working to teach my children to be open-minded, loving, accepting people.'  And that's the point of Drag Queen Storytime - indoctrination.  'I want kids to experience just the fun of being around drag queens, the creativity, their style, their expression of their individuality,' said Stephen Lane.  Mr. Lane is the library's point man for planning programs for children, USA Today reports. 


"The Brooklyn Public Library held a similar event in May - funded by our tax dollars.  Get a load of how the library promoted the event: 'What do drag queens and children have in common?  They love dressing up and all things sparkly and fancy!  Drag Queen Story Hour captures the imagination and play of the gender fluidity in childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models.'  A library spokesperson for the Indianapolis library told me there is nothing wrong with teaching small kids about gender fluidity.  'Young children often exhibit gender fluidity in their play, and Drag Queen Story Hour reinforces for them that there is nothing wrong with that.'"


Wow!  Did you ever think you would live to see the day when sexual perversions would be welcomed and embraced as they are today?  I sure didn't.  But I am not surprised.  When a culture removes God from being part of that culture, all that remains is the sinful nature to be expressed at will.  In the absence of God, there is no moral rightness or wrongness.  Who is going to make that decision?  Only with the acknowledgment of God can there be any moral standard upon which to make a moral choice.  Is it any wonder why home-schooling and privately-funded Christian schooling is exploding with enrollments that are crushing growth barriers.  Families want their children and grandchildren to have some type of moral foundation.  It is not being found in many of our public schools today - although some public schools are fighting hard to maintain that moral foundation.  I pray that those schools will remain zealous and have a firm resolve.


Before I close, let me just touch upon recent events in Jerusalem - especially as they relate to the Temple Mount.  On our recent tour our group spent an hour upon the Temple Mount.  We were amazed by the size of the area - over thirty acres of stone pavement with almost a park-like setting in places.  But, I have to admit - having been on the Temple Mount several times over the years - that there is an uncomfortableness there.  Perhaps it is because of the intense screening Christians and Jews have to undergo to go upon the Temple Mount.  There is only one entry point for Jews and Christians.  You can take no Bibles or prayer books.  You can have no jewelry that is strictly religious.  And, I noticed, that while we were on the Temple Mount there was always someone listening in to what our guide was sharing with us.  As one of our group members said later, "It was sort of creepy up there."  Yet, Muslims have almost unfettered access, especially on Fridays which are the Muslim holy day of the week.  Two weeks ago, two Israeli policemen stationed at the Lion's Gate - which is one of the main Muslim entrances to the Temple Mount - were shot and killed by Arab men who were armed and coming from Friday prayers.  In response, Israeli authorities set up metal detectors at each of the Muslim entry points.  Well, that act of security almost initiated World War III.  Riots occurred.  Police in riot gear fired both live and rubber bullets into the crowds killing several Palestinians and injuring scores more.  The entire Arab world believed that the Israelis were using this security in order to regain control of the Temple Mount.  Pressure built and finally the Israeli government removed the metal screeners.  In their place are facial detection cameras and high image resolution cameras that can detect metal.  It will be interesting to see what impact these will have when Friday prayers on the Mount come this week. 


What is going to happen at the Temple Mount?  The Bible gives us a very clear picture of its future.  First, we know that another Jewish Temple will be built upon that site.  The Bible does not give us a lot of details about it except that it will be the place where the Antichrist will proclaim himself to be God and desire to be worshiped as God.  When will this Temple be built?  Again, the Bible is not clear.  Will it be built before the Antichrist is revealed, or will it be built after his revelation?  I believe it will probably be the later.  But this we do know, an organization known as the Temple Institute has nearly completed all the items necessary for use within the Temple.  They are training priests who will serve the people.  So, it should not take long before this 'tribulation temple" - as I call it - will be operational.  But what about the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque? you ask.  I believe that God will remove those - probably through an earthquake. 


But the story of the Temple Mount is not yet complete, for the prophet Ezekiel describes in detail for us a grand Temple - the size and scope which has never been seen.  It will be the place where our Savior and King will reign.  It will be the place to which the nations of the world will come to worship and celebrate the living God and His Son who sits upon David's throne.  Oh what a day that will be. 


Friends, aren't you glad that you are safely in the hands of Jesus Christ?  Aren't you glad that you can rest secure knowing that God is in total control.  He knows about drag-queens in public libraries.  He knows about articles in Teen Vogue magazine.  And, I can assure you, God is much more outraged about those matters than either you or I can be.  They are an affront to His holiness.  And, friends, someday His judgment will be poured out upon this sinful world.  Once again, God's righteousness will prevail.  Hallelujah for that moment!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Commencement Address with Purpose

Suppose you were invited to give the commencement address before a ninth grade class, what would you share with these young people?  They have completed middle school and now before them await three years of high school and then college and university.  Perhaps many of these young people have not yet decided upon a course of study or even what direction they want for their lives.  They are just happy to have survived early adolescence without major damage.  How would you challenge them?  What words of advice would you share with them? 


This past Sunday on the back page of the Opinion Section of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, portions of an address that Chief Justice John Roberts delivered at his son's ninth-grade commencement program was printed.  Chief Justice Roberts offered some wise advice to that class, words that should be shared with every young person today.  Allow me to just quote a few paragraphs from that speech.


"Now around the country today at colleges, high schools, middle schools, commencement speakers are standing before impatient graduates.  And they are almost always saying the same things.  They will say that today is a commencement exercise.  'It is a beginning, not an end.  You should look forward.'  And I think that is true enough.


"However, I think if you're going to look forward to figure out where you're going, it's good to know where you've been, and to look back as well.  And I think if you look back to your first afternoon here at Carigan, perhaps you will recall that you were lonely.  Perhaps you will recall that you were a little scared, a little anxious.  And now look at you.  You are surrounded by friends that you call brothers, and you are confident in facing the next step in your education.


"It is worthy trying to think why that is so.  And when you do, I think you may appreciate that it was because of the support of your classmates in the classroom, on the athletic field and in the dorms.  And as far as the confidence goes, I think you will appreciate that it is not because you succeeded at everything you did, but because with the help of your friends, you were not afraid to fail.


"Now, the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you.  I will not do that, and I'll tell you why."


Friends, the next part of Chief Justice Roberts speech is actually very alarming, yet also very profound.  Listen to this sage advice:


"From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly - so that you will come to know the value of justice.  I hope that you will suffer betrayal - because that will teach you the importance of loyalty.  Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time - so that you don't take friends for granted.  I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time - so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life, and understand that your success is not completely deserved, and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.  And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then your opponent will gloat over your failure.  It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship.  I hope you'll be ignored - so you'll know the importance of listening to others.  And I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.  Whether I wish these things or not, they're going to happen.  Whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortune."


Chief Justice Roberts is a realist, not an idealist.  In many commencement addresses this spring, the speakers stated that the goal of life was to succeed, to live the good life.  Did you hear what Chief Justice Roberts said to those boys: I hope you experience some of the hardships of life, because it is how you face those difficulties that you grow to become the person you were intended to be. 


As I read this speech - and I applaud the Start-Tribune for printing it - I was reminded of many of the words Jesus shared with His disciples.  Jesus certainly never told them that success would come easily.  In fact Jesus shared just the opposite: life would become more difficult.  Listen to these words of Jesus:
     "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12).
     "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.  That is why the world hates you" (John 15:18-19).
     "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).


Friends, it is through difficulties that we grow.  The butterfly struggles to be released from the cocoon, but it is that struggle that strengthens its wings so it can fly.  A shoot struggles to break through the soil, but it is that struggle that strengthens that developing root.  Chief Justice Roberts told those boys and their families he wished life would become difficult at times for them so that they would grow stronger.  Jesus wishes for us difficulties so that we become stronger in our relationship with Him.  I am reminded of those familiar words from the Apostle Paul as he wrote to the believers living in Rome: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).  What a great promise to always keep before us.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Words That Descrbe Our Times

If I were to ask you the following question - What words would you use to describe our world today? - how would you answer?  One word that immediately comes to mind is "terror-filled."  Almost weekly we hear of a terror attack somewhere in the world.  Whether it is a suicide bombing in Afghanistan or a runaway car in London or an ambush of a New York City policewoman, our minds have become almost numbed with the reports of innocents dying at the hands of terrorists. 


Another word I would use is "truthlessness."  I think I just created a word.  By it I mean that as a culture we have abandoned a moral standard for truth.  I am continually drawn to that question Pontius Pilate addressed to Jesus as He stood before him - What is truth? (see John 18:38).  Pilate had heard many arguments based upon truth-perceptions.  Now before him stood Jesus who declared that He had come into the world to testify to the truth (John 18:37).  So, whom was Pilate to believe?  What was really truth?  Because we have abandoned an absolute moral foundation, there is no standard of objective truth any longer.  We now live in a world of opinion.  We expect to find opinions expressed on the editorial pages of our newspapers.  But now we find only opinions expressed in the headlines and on the front pages.  There is no objective reporting of news any longer because journalists today no longer have an absolute moral platform from which to measure the truthfulness of their stories.  If Jesus was correct when He stated that it was the truth that will set us free (see John 8:32) - and we know that Jesus only spoke truth - then we have now enslaved ourselves into a world of relativity and opinions.  What can we really know today?  That is the question that needs to be answered.


Another word I would use is "confusion."  I believe this naturally follows upon the waves of abandoning truth.  I read an article, published on the Townhall.com website, that exemplifies this word "confusion."  The article was written by Christine Rousselle and can be found at www.townhall.com/tipsheet/christinerousselle/2017/07/04/canadian-baby-given-unknown-as-a-gender-on-id-card.  "A baby in Canada is believed to be the world's first to be not designated a gender due to a parent's request.  Baby Searyl Atli was born in November to Kori Doty, who identifies as 'non-binary' and does not identify as male or female (and prefers the pronoun 'they').  Doty does not want a gender to ever be listed on their child's birth certificate or identification documents, and while British Columbia has so far refused to issue a birth certificate sans gender, the government did issue a state health card for Searyl with a 'U' as the gender.  Without this card, Searyl could not see a doctor.


"Doty wants Searyl to eventually decide on his/her own gender, and believes that assigning a gender to an infant at birth is a human rights violation.  'I'm raising Searyl in such a way that until they have the sense of self and command of vocabulary to tell me who they are, I'm recognizing them as a baby and trying to give them all the love and support to be the most whole person that they can be outside of the restrictions that come with the boy box and the girl box,' Doty said."


This is "confusion."  A child is born and can usually be distinguished as being male or female.  (I do understand that, on rare occasions, a child can be born with a sex that is indistinguishable).  But, in this case, we have a mother who is confused about her own gender identity, although she just gave birth to a child.  "I don't want to be a male; I don't want to be a female; I just want to be a 'them' whatever a 'them' is." Friends, in the absence of absolute, moral truth based upon the holy and righteous character of God, confusion reigns. 


But, in closing, I want to share another word to describe the times in which we live.  And that word is "hope."  Not everyone in our world today has "hope."  But, because of the cross of Jesus Christ, the potential is that everyone could have "hope."  For believers, for those who are Christ-followers, "hopeful" is who we are.  We anchor securely upon the Blessed Hope of the return of Jesus Christ.  As we survey the world's scene, that hope rises even higher.  We also have "hope" in a new and better world that is coming.  Someday sin will be eradicated from this world.  Someday God will recreate this world and it will be as God intended from the very beginning.  We have a "hope" beyond the grave.  Because of this "hope" we are not filled with fear or despair.  We are anchored to the Rock, Christ Jesus. 


Friends, so what words would you use to describe  our world today?  Whatever those words might be, I trust you would also be able to add to that list the word "hope."  And with that "hope" we look up and await the coming of our redemption.
  

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Reflections from Israel

I have just returned after spending 12 days in the land of Israel.  I had the privilege of helping to give leadership to a group of teenagers and parents from our church.  These teens had successfully completed a four-year course of Bible study.  There were 28 in our tour group. 


Our group had a wonderful time while in Israel.  The days were hot - near triple digits almost every day.  So, needless to say, we drank gallons of water and slathered on lots of sunscreen.  One of the highlights for our group was the morning we spent at an archaeological dig at Marasha which is located southwest of Jerusalem.  We entered a couple of small caves, grabbed our little picks and spatulas, along with some empty buckets, and went in search of evidence of ancient life.  We did find many pieces of broken pottery, some small pieces of ancient glass, a few small bones, and even an olive pit or two.  But one of our teens hit the jackpot.  Just before we left, he unearthed a beautiful clay jar that was still in one piece.  We stood amazed to think that no one had seen this beautiful jar for over 1700 years.  As a result of that morning's work, we all came to better appreciate the painstaking work of an archaeologist. 


Another highlight was the morning we walked upon the Temple Mount.  The Muslim Waqf keeps a tight control of who can be on the Temple Mount.  They restrict what you can take upon the Mount.  No Scripture readings are allowed and no prayers are permitted.  Wherever we went while on the Temple Mount, there was someone listening in.  The Temple Mount is huge in size, covering over 26 acres, which makes it somewhat overwhelming.  We all felt a different emotion while on the Temple Mount.  It was almost as if an oppressive spirit were present there.  Perhaps it is no different than the oppressive spirit present upon this same place during the days of Jesus as the Pharisees and other religious leaders ruled the attitudes and actions upon the Temple Mount with a restrictive force.  There was little joy experienced there.  I think we were all relieved to walk across the Mount and enter into the beautiful sanctuary of the Church of St. Anne where we joined in singing "How Great Thou Art."  What a wonderful place to make beautiful music.


Taking a ride upon the Sea of Galilee on a beautiful morning is always a highpoint.  The skies were clear.  The breeze was enjoyable.  The boat we were on is the only one operated by a Christian captain - Danny.  As worship music quietly played in the background we sailed those ancient waters pointing out place after place where the stories of Jesus played out.  How those waters became an integral part of His ministry life - from Migdal to the slopes of the Mount of Beatitudes to Capernaum to Bethsaida to Kurzi which is on the "other side."  I think one could easily spend hours just sitting on the Sea reflecting upon the Gospel accounts.


Finally, Jerusalem continues to be a city that fascinates.  It is the meeting place of the ancient and the modern.  If only its ancient stones could talk, what stories would be shared.  I am continually impressed with the excavations being done in the City of David.  The archaeologists have hit upon a treasure-trove of important artifacts that are revealing the magnificence of David's capitol city. 


So, have I whetted your interest in going to Israel?  I would like to announce that I will be leading a tour to Israel next Spring.  The dates are April 20-May 4, 2018.  On Tuesday evening, July 11, there will be an informational meeting here at Buffalo Covenant Church for all interested in knowing a little bit more about the tour.  This meeting will begin at 7:00 p.m. Space is limited to 35 and should fill quickly.  But I would love to have you join me in the Holy Land.  It definitely is the tour of a lifetime that will change the way to read and understand the Bible.


Now, just a few thoughts about what is happening in our world.  While we were in Israel, just moments after we had left an overlook of the Syrian border, Syrian mortar fire was received by Israel.  We heard what sounded like small bombs, little knowing what had happened.  Israeli planes quickly retaliated.  But it was another reminder that Syria is a nation at war.  The Middle East never rests in peace and, if my understanding the Scriptures is correct, it will not know peace until Jesus Christ returns. 


Yesterday the North Koreans launched their first ICBM missile.  With a known production of a nuclear warhead, the North Koreans now seem to have the capability of reaching almost any place they would desire.  The South Koreans and Japanese governments are on high alert with this perceived threat.  The question is: Is this just a perceived threat or a real threat?  Would the North Koreans jeopardize their own existence by launching a nuclear strike at Seoul or Tokyo or even Alaska?  Jesus' statement that in the last days there would be wars and rumors of war is becoming a reality. 


Before I close I would like to extend another invitation to those living within the Greater Twin Cities area.  On Thursday evening, July 13, we have the privilege of hosting Rabbi Baruch, a leading biblical teacher and scholar from Israel.  Rabbi Baruch continues to instruct people around the world through his video teaching ministry, as well as the classes he conducts in Israel.  Many in the Twin Cities have heard him before.  You know you will not be disappointed.  Rabbi Baruch will be sharing in two teaching sessions that evening, the first beginning at 7:00 with the second to follow around 8:00.  I invite you to come and hear God open His Word through this amazing teacher of the Word.  Our address is: 1601 Highway 25 North, Buffalo, MN 55313. 


Friends, keep on praying for the "peace of Jerusalem."  Keep on praying that God will reveal Himself to us more powerfully in these closing days of the age.  And keep looking up because our redemption draws nigh.