Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Message from a Strong Leader

I would like to write on something very different from past blogs. I would like to focus upon one passage found in the book of Nehemiah that God has recently impressed upon my heart. First, let me explain my interest in this book. At Buffalo Covenant Church - the place where I am serving as Preaching-Teaching Pastor - I have the privilege this fall of leading nearly 50 men through this book. It is a class we are calling Deep Waters, whose purpose is to prepare men for leadership roles in the home, in the workplace, in the community, as well as in the church. Nehemiah truly represents a man with profound leadership skills.

Let me set the background for this text. Nehemiah and the people have been working on rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem for nearly two months. It has not come without its share of trials and frustrations. There was the constant harassment of Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem and their friends (chapter 4). There were the internal difficulties associated with severe financial stress (chapter 5). And here in chapter 6, as the work nears its completion, the enemy makes one last determined effort to stop the work. This time they begin by inviting Nehemiah to attend a conference. Perhaps it is one on "Effective Wall-Building" or "How to Be More Tolerant to Your Neighbors." Nehemiah assumes that the purpose of this meeting was to bring him harm - and he was probably right.

But it is how he responded that has ignited my own heart. Listen to his words: "I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?" (Nehemiah 6:3). To paraphrase: "I am really busy right now and cannot take time off. Why don't you give me a call in a week or so?"

I have found that one of Satan's most effective tools is to get us sidetracked from what our real purpose and mission is. We lose sight of our vision. Without vision leadership fails and people soon perish. Because Nehemiah was driven by his vision of a city surrounded with solid walls and strong gates, he could refuse an invitation that, if not costing him his life, certainly would have delayed the completion of the project. Nehemiah kept his focus on his vision.

I believe one of the reasons why many churches are in trouble today is because they have lost their vision. I also believe a lost vision is the reason why America is headed in the wrong direction. We have forgotten why our nation was founded 235 years ago. We talk about greatness, but we have lost the vision of what generated that greatness.

I am grateful that Nehemiah never lost sight of the vision within his mind and his heart. And I am confident that the people of Jerusalem were equally grateful. Sometimes, as leaders, we need to say "no" in order to complete the work God has given to us.

I would encourage you to work slowly through this amazing book. I know that God will touch your heart with the life of this giant of a leader.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What Is the Value of a Human Life?

What is the value of a human life? In the field of medicine, a life is so valuable that we will spend thousands of dollars to treat an illness, conquer a disease, or provide normalcy for someone with a disability. In the field of business, hundreds of dollars are spent to train an individual with needed skills to fill a company vacancy. In the field of sports, a team will often sacrifice the future by trading high draft choices to obtain a player that will provide instant help for a struggling team.

Yesterday we learned the value of one soldier's life in Israel. After spending more than five years in captivity in the Hamas-held Gaza Strip, Gilad Shalit was exchanged for 1,027 Palestinian terrorists, murderers, and men convicted of other crimes within Israel. The nation of Israel has as part of its ethical philosophy that they will leave no soldier behind. So one soldier's life was valued at over one thousand lives of others. Was everyone in Israel rejoicing in this prisoner exchange? To quote from the family whose 15-year old daughter had been stabbed in the heart by one of those Palestinians released yesterday, "We feel like our daughter has been murdered all over again." The question being asked among many Israelis is this: How much more Jewish blood will be spilt by those who have been set free? We know that during their incarceration in Israeli prisons, these men did not have pangs of conscience that told them to change their ways. Many , if not most of them, will quickly be persuaded to return to their terrorist and murderous ways. One of the military leaders of Hamas has gone on record to state that Hamas will attempt even more kidnappings of Israeli soldiers until all Palestinian prisoners have been set free with future prisoner exchanges.

What is the value of a human life? Let's ask God that question. And what is His response? "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Now that is an incredible statement affirming human value. God loved us enough that He sent Jesus Christ, His Son, to die for us. Now here is the amazing thing: Gilad Shalit had been a loyal soldier in the IDF before his capture - perhaps we could say that he was worthy to be redeemed. But, you and I were enemies of God. The Apostle Paul proclaims that we were strangers and aliens from Him (Colossians 1:21). There was nothing worthy about us at all. And yet God still redeemed us with the life of His Son. This is one of those biblical truths that defies our comprehension. But praise God it is true!

What is the value of a human life? It is worth the life of God's Son! That fact alone should give meaning and purpose to all of life. I truly am special because of what God did for me there on the cross. And, as an old preacher once said, "Jesus Christ would have come and died for you if you had been the only person on the face of the earth." Think about that truth for a moment or two!

From my heart I echo these words from the pen of Charles Wesley: "Amazing love! How can it be! That Thou my God shoulds't die for me?" Gilad Shalit is free today because the Israeli government released 1,027 prisoners in exchange for his life. I am free today because God willingly sacrificed His Son on a cross in exchange of my life. Have you experienced that freedom today? Have you discovered the value of your life?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What a Messy and Interesting World!

Saturday night riots erupted in Cairo, Egypt that quickly spread through the streets of that city reaching Tahir Square, the site of the Arab Spring revolution this past January. Unlike that protest which was peaceful, this one resulted in the deaths of 24 Egyptians, including 3 Egyptian soldiers. What made this protest so unusual was the initial participants. Coptic Christians had taken to the streets in protest of the lack of governmental intervention to the increasing attacks upon Coptic churches by Muslim radicals. And, furthermore, making this protest even more interesting was that many Muslims joined the protest. The target of the protests was the Egyptian military regime that has ruled Egypt since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak back in January. As one analyst said, the Egyptian military has tried to tread the middle ground, but it has not been working very successfully.

The Egyptian leadership has called for elections beginning in November. The process will take until at least March 2012 to complete (still shorter than the American election process). Speculation abounds that the Muslim Brotherhood could be the big winner...and I underscore the words "could be." Presently they are one of a few organized opposition groups to the military leadership in Egypt. We already know that one of the strong agenda items on the platform of the Muslim Brotherhood is the elimination of the State of Israel. But would they act immediately upon that threat? Would they threaten but show no response because of their need for the continuation of American economic aid to Egypt? Not sure I want to go out on the limb to make a guess as to what will happen, but I can assure you that it is imperative that Christians keep their eyes upon what is happening in Egypt. I believe it holds a key to the entire well-being of the Middle East.

On another front, this afternoon I was reading an article focusing upon a problem that I have not given much thought to lately. It is a re-visitation of the area of human cloning and genetic engineering. The thrust of the article written by Ken Klein was that we have very little idea of how the world of human cloning has evolved over the past few years. This past spring I had read an article about a genetic engineering firm in Britain that was experimenting with mixing human and animal genes. The goal was to develop a super human race that could withstand disease, etc.

In the article, based upon his documentary film titled "Trans-Humanism", Ken Klein develops upon the concept that God took centuries - beginning with Abraham, through David and Solomon down to Mary - to prepare the genetic line for the body that Jesus Christ was to inhabit here on earth. Could it be, Klein asks, that Satan is presently preparing a body for his representative, the Antichrist, to inhabit. This would not be a normal human body, but one that has been genetically prepared for him.

Honestly, I had never given this any consideration before. Still have lots of questions - sort of is too much science fiction for me. But the thought, I must admit, intrigued me. I will want to do some further study on this idea. We do know that there is experimentation being done today that borders on the absurd. Hitler wanted to create the super-race. Could it be happening once again? To be sure, it is not happening without being under the watchful eye of our Almighty God. He is orchestrating every thing that is happening with the express purpose of announcing the entrance of His Son and our Savior as the King.

So, friends, whether it is Egypt, Israel, Syria, the United States, Europe, or some genetic laboratory out in the middle of nowhere, God is working out His purposes. We may not fully understand them - in fact, let's just be honest - we won't fully understand them - but we must have a heart that trusts Him. The world may seem to be spinning out of control, but I can assure you that it is not! God still has it firmly in the palm of His hand. As the old spiritual says, "He's got the whole world in His hands." Amen!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

One Headline That Raises Serious Questions

It is hard to believe that we are into October already. Here in Minnesota it feels like summer with record setting heat and drought. But the colors of the trees has been fantastic. How creative is our God in His selection of paints from His magnificent palette.

The headlines just keep reaffirming daily the eternal truths of the Scriptures. Now I know that the vast majority of those writing for the various reporting agencies are not students of the Bible, but at times their writings certainly cause a person to focus in that direction.

Let's begin with the headlines in this morning's Minneapolis Star-Tribune - "Bernanke: Economy Near Faltering." The article, written by Binyamin Appelbaum of the New York Times, goes on to quote the Federal Reserve Chairman: "the recovery is close to faltering. We need to make sure that the recovery continues and doesn't drop back." Bernanke has repeatedly called on Congress to adopt a plan for paying down the nation's debt and to close the many tax loopholes. This news from the Federal Reserve Chairman, coupled with the increasing fears of a total collapse of the Euro-Zone economies, has caused the financial and stock markets around the world to teeter precariously near the brink. Will Greece survive? The opinion of many financial experts is a resounding no. Then I hear this morning of the riots taking place in Greece as people are demanding their rights...even though the Greek government has no money to give to them. (Because Greece is part of the Euro-Zone, it is unable to print its own money). Unless the people are swilling to make the sacrifices, which it appears they are unwilling to do, it looks as if Greece will default. Who knows what will happen them. And many of those same financial experts state that it is only a matter of time until Italy will be the next to fall. Standing in line are Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and France. And the German people are saying that they want no more German taxes gong to bailout these faltering governments. (By the way, I think the British are giving thanks that they never got involved in the Euro-Zone confederation).

Here comes the hard question: Are we willing to make the tough sacrifices that will be asked of us in order to divert an economic collapse here? My gut-instinct tells me that we will riot just as the Greeks are presently doing. We are already seeing the forerunners in the many Wall Street demonstrations taking place around our country. Government: do something about the high prices. Government: do something about the lack of jobs. Government: do something about the inequities around us. What has happened to the American ideal of ingenuity and hard work? What has happened to that American spirit that says "together we can do anything?" We have become to dependent upon someone else orchestrating our lives, solving our problems, taking away the pain. We have forgotten what it is like to work together as a people for a common goal and purpose. This is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad. This is the nation that carved a canal through the jungles of Panama. This is the nation that sent men to the surface of the moon. What have we labored together to accomplish lately? What has happened to that spirit of cooperation between the public and private sectors of our country? Cooperation has been replaced with competition. The result has bordered on the catastrophic.

I am asked if our nation can be turned around. My response is usually very negative, I am saddened to admit. I just do not see a spirit of sacrifice among the American people. Our demands are too great. Our dependency is too entrenched.

I believe that leadership for any type of turn around must begin with those who are called by Jesus Christ. It is time for us to take our focus off the things of this world and begin to prepare ourselves for that which is to come. It is time for the Church to become the hands and feet of Jesus. David Plat is correct when he writes in his best-seller "Radical" that Christians need to begin down-sizing and to begin focusing upon the needs around them.

One headline in today's paper. Is my hope based upon an economy that is near faltering? Or is my hope based upon a coming King and His kingdom?