Wednesday, July 25, 2012

For the Wages of Sin is Death

It has been two weeks since I last posted a blog.  During that time, Marlys and I have traveled with our kids and grandkids (we missed our Texas 4 who could not join us) around the East Coast.  We spent time in Washington DC, then up to Lancaster County PA with a trip to Gettysburg and Philadelphia.  Finally it was off to Niagara Falls, Canada, then heading home.  It was a journey through 11 states and 1 Canadian province.  Lots of memories and highlights were recorded that will forever be etched in our lives.

So much is happening in our world right now that it is difficult trying to keep up.  The situation in Syria continues to deteriorate and has the potential of being explosive.  The prophet Isaiah foretold the destruction of Damascus - could that event be nearer than we realize?  And don't forget Egypt and the ongoing struggle between the new President Mohamed Morsi and the Egyptian military leaders who want to continue controlling Egypt.  Then there was the horrific crime in Aurora, CO where 12 innocent people lost their lives because of one madman.  Remember, the Bible tells us that in the latter days, lawlessness will increase.  I think every major city in America can affirm that.  Even recently near the Twin Cities, in River Falls, WI, a father viciously slashed the throats of his three daughters, then nicely tucked them into bed.  Yes, evil is becoming increasingly more evident.

But I would like to focus for a few moments this week on a story that I found very sad, yet so aptly illustrates the consequences of sin and the impact sin can have upon so many, even those who were not involved.  This past Monday, the president of the NCAA handed down some harsh penalties against Penn State University for its failure to act with regard in the Jerry Sandusky affair.  You will remember that Sandusky was an assistant football coach for the legendary Joe Paterno at the University.  Earlier this summer he was convicted on multiple accounts of sexual assault on minor boys over the course of at least 10 years.  The report of the Freeh Commission investigating this matter indicated that many of the leaders of the University knew about Sandusky and his molestations but turned a blind eye. 

The problem was the fact that football at Penn State had become the god of the university.  Joe Paterno, who coached at PSU for over four decades, consistently had a top ten football program in the country.  The football program at PSU was almost as legendary as was the program at Notre Dame or Southern California.  And, over the years, Paterno had stressed his interest, not just in creating athletes, but men who knew the values of life.  But something happened - and that something was success.  It seems that the more successful we become, the less in touch with life we become as well.  Success breeds as many difficulties, or perhaps even more, than does failure.  As the successful seasons mounted, Joe Paterno grew from just being the football coach, to becoming the living symbol of Penn State University.  Somewhere, back around 1998-1999, Coach Paterno was made aware of the criminal acts of one of his assistant coaches.  And, according to the Freeh report, Coach Paterno turned a blind eye, as did other PSU leaders.  Perhaps they thought this was just a momentary indiscretion that would go away.  Rather it became a monster that would not quit until it had destroyed all in its path.

Now the penalties have been handed down.  Will they remove the stigma that now taints Penn State University?  Should that stigma ever be removed?  What impact do those penalties have upon other major universities who have winked at wrong doing committed by its coaches and athletes?  Is it time for a de-emphasis upon collegiate athletics, especially those who rake in big dollars for universities through TV contracts?  I don't have any answers, but I believe this might be a good place to start.  Historically, colleges and universities had as their primary focus the training of men and women to be educators, architects, business leaders, scientists, physicians, etc.  Now, many have become minor league camps for football, basketball, and other sports.  Now I must admit that I enjoy a Saturday afternoon on a college campus watching my Iowa State Cyclones, but perhaps it is time to rethink the power college athletics have.

One of the strongest penalties was the impact upon the legacy of Joe Paterno.  His reputation went from one of sterling silver to rusted iron.  Forever, when one mentions the name of Joe Paterno, the first thing that will enter one's mind is not the football players and men who he produced, nor the victories he won, but the lives of ten young men who were brutalized by one of his assistants while he turned away.  Perhaps it is good that Joe passed away earlier this year from cancer. 

And, one further thought - I was reading this morning one writer crying out that the penalties hit young men who were not part of the Sandusky years.  Their lives have now been altered.  Were the penalties fair to them?  Of course not!  But penalties often are imposed upon the innocent as well as the guilty.  Take, as an example, the story of King Zedekiah - the last king of Judah.  Although warned time and again by the prophet Jeremiah that he needed to repent of his evil ways and lead the people of Judah back to God, the king consistently refused.  And so judgment came upon him and the people as well in the form of captivity into Babylon.  Were there people who were taken into captivity who had not bowed to idols or partaken of the evils of the day?  Absolutely.  The consequences of sin impact not only the sinner, but others as well.  David's sin with Bathsheba impacted his family for generations. 

Let's learn the lesson of Joe Paterno and Penn State's football program.  When sin is known it is always the right thing to do to expose it and get rid of it.  When sin is allowed to be hidden, it will grow and become a monster that will eventually destroy all around it, including legacies of those now longer alive.  Let us remember - "the wages of sin is death..." 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Review of Rosenberg's Book "Implosion"

I recently completed the reading of Joel Rosenberg's newest non-fiction book titled, Implosion: Can America Recover from its Economic & Spiritual Challenges in Time?  The book is published by Tyndale House Publishers out of Carol Stream, IL.  I had looked forward to reading this work from the pen of a man whom I highly respect both for his passion for Israel and those prophetic events, and for his careful research. 

This book is really divided into three parts.  In the first part, chapters 1-8, the author examines what is happening in the United States at the present moment.  Although I had read the facts and figures before, they were still chilling to read in the context of the question: Is America on the road to implosion?  Joel first examines the case for those whom he calls the pessimists - those who believe that America's best days are behind her, that all indications are that we are about to fall over the cliff into the abyss below.  The reader certainly does not feel any confidence after reading that section.  Then he follows with an examination of the case for those whom he calls the optimists - those who believe that America will pull itself up by the boot-straps and become what it once was.  Finally, Joel encourages us to look at America's situation through the lens of Scripture - what does the Bible say about America's future?

In the middle third of the book, chapters 9-12, the author looks at some possible scenarios that could greatly impact America's survival.  Included are a financial implosion - and we know that an economic collapse certainly seems a reality; a war and terrorism event - how would our nation respond if another terrorist attack on the magnitude of a 9-11 should occur?; a natural disaster event - again what would happen should another Katrina hurricane hit our nation, this time not in New Orleans, but in New York or Washington DC?; and finally Joel wrestles with the impact the Rapture of the Church will have upon our nation as millions of believers are caught up to be with the Lord.  Each chapter focuses upon a possible scenario.  Joel writes, not as an alarmist, but with a realism that awakens the soul of his readers to the possibilities. 

The final third of the book, chapters 13-17, I found to be the most fascinating.  Here the author presents his thesis that what America needs is a Third Great Awakening.  Because he understands that most of his readers are totally illiterate concerning the First and Second Great Awakenings, he takes time to relate the key people and events of each one.  America's First Great Awakening occurred prior to America's Revolutionary War, featuring the strong preaching of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and John and Charles Wesley.  The author strongly makes the claim that this First Great Awakening set the foundations upon which our nation was given birth. 

America's Second Great Awakening occurred prior to America's Civil War.  Joel Rosenberg focuses upon the ministry of Francis Asbury, the Methodist circuit riding preacher whose messages stirred revival west of the Appalachians.  He also tells the story of Timothy Dwight, a grandson of Jonathan Edwards, whose leadership at Yale College resulted in a revival among the students there.  He closes his study of the Second Great Awakening with a discussion of perhaps the most controversial of the revivalists - Charles Finney.  Yes, I have some problems with the techniques Charles Finney used, but one can little deny the impact that his life and ministry had upon America's frontier. 

Rosenberg then asks the question whether a Third Great Awakening could occur here in America.  This chapter was a challenge.  The impetus for revival must begin within the churches of America.  Joel asks whether people want to have a spirirual awakening.  Our age can better be described as one of apathy and indifference, of toleration for the rights of others to believe whatever they want to believe, for after all, we are all going to heaven.  Joel strongly desires to see a Third Great Awakening, but his confidence level in its happening is not strong. 

I identify three strengths of this book.  First, the author has done an excellent job of presenting facts without getting into the mire of political wrangling.  He has allowed the facts to speak for themselves.  For many conservative authors today, this has been difficult.  Second, the author has done an excellent job of laying a foundation from history.  He has understood that the problems of today, as well as a possible solution, are grounded in history.  Again, this is an area that many authors seem to overlook.  Finally, the author has done an excellent job of helping his readers to understand that it is imperative that we look at today's scene in America through the lens of Scripture and seek to understand what God is saying. 

As I read this book I thought to myself, "This is a book that would make a great study for a small group to interact with or for an adult Sunday school group to dialogue about."  The challenge is to us as believers in Jesus Christ.  But, we do not have much time left! Implosionm

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Record Heat, Lack of Power, Preparation for War, and Happy Birthday America!

The thermostat has definitely been turned up in most parts of our country.  Triple digits - if not in actual air temperatures, then in the heat index readings - dot the landscape from America's southwest into the East Coast.  Record heat blankets nearly two-thirds of the nation.  Compounded with fierce storms that knocked the power out for many cities, especially along the East Coast, the misery index is at an all time high. 

When the pictures are seen of what happened in Washington DC when the power went out - and that for an extended period of time - one begins to understand the magnitude of what could happen if one of the electrical grids that feed power to our nation was to suddenly go down - not just for a few days, but for months.  How would we survive?  It seems we could live without a lot of things, but electricity has become one of those staples for living that we overly depend upon.  Without electricity, how would we fill our cars with gasoline?  In fact, how would we drive our cars that are dependent upon electrical configurations to operate?  For many, land line phones have given way to cellular phones, but how effective will those phones be if electricity is out for a prolonged period of time?  So, communications will be more difficult.  Of course, refrigeration will cease.  Foods will spoil.  Bank transactions will have to be made in person as there will be no electronic transfers.  Perhaps there will be a revival in the postal service as we will need to pay bills via check rather than with a few clicks of a mouse.  Without electricity, each one of us will have our lives turned upside down.  If one electrical storm can cause this type of suffering in Washington DC, imagine what an EMP explosion in the atmosphere over America will do.  So, the next time you flick that electrical switch, say a prayer of thanks to God that the current is still flowing.

Now for some other world news headlines.  The New York Times reported yesterday that the United States has deployed warships and aircraft into the Persian Gulf region.  According the article, this is a clear warning to Iran that "the military option is on the table" if Iran should do anything so foolish like to block the straits of Hormuz.  One defense department official was quoted as saying, "Don't even think about closing the strait.  We'll clear the minds.  Don't even think about sending your fast boats out to harass our vessels or commercial shipping.  We'll put them on the bottom of the gulf." 

Also in the news, the Fars News Agency, one of the arms of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, reported on Tuesday that Iran had successfully launched multiple missiles from various places within Iran to a designated hypothetical enemy airbase target.  Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh said, "Long, medium and short-ranged surface-to-surface missiles will be fired from different locations in replica airbases like those used by the trans-regional military forces."  The threat is aimed at those US airbases in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia - Iranian targets should a joint US-Israeli air strike be carried out against Iran. 

One final headline - one that received little emphasis in the American press, but does have great ramifications for Palestinian efforts toward being recognized as a state without going through the dialogue process.  Over the weekend, UNESCO declared that the Church of the Nativity be declared a Palestinian Authority heritage site.  What this declaration does is to give legitimacy to the PA because world heritage sites can only be designated in recognized states. 

Tomorrow is America's 236th birthday.  Americans will find a variety of ways to celebrate.  Some will gather for a family outing to the lake - on a hot day, being in the water will sound great.  Others will attend patriotic concerts and parades.  One can hear those stirring strains of "America the Beautiful" and "Stars and Stripes Forever."  Then there will be the fireworks displays that will announce to a watching world that America is still the land of the free and the home of the brave. 

I close today with a verse from Psalm 20 - "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God" (Psalm 20:7).  We still engrave on our coins and print on our paper currency these words, "In God We Trust."  It is time that America begin to act upon what is puts on its coins.  It is time for us as Christians and as Americans to lead the way back to God.  If we truly seek Him, He will be found. 

I wish you a joyous Fourth of July.