Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Thoughts on Syria, Acts of Inhumanity, and Leadership of Dads

There is so much that I could write about in this week's blog.  First, there was an article in this morning's issue of ArutzSheva ( that states that the United Nations nuclear inspection agency (IAEA) will report that Iran has installed another 350 centrifuges since May, adding to the already 1,000 centrifuges it is purported to have.  You will remember that Iran is hosting the Non-Aligned Movement this week.  Iran's envoy, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said before the summit began, "Our enrichment activities will never stop and we are justified in carrying them out, and we will continue to do so under IAEA supervision."  Yet the requests for IAEA acquisition to those nuclear sites continually is denied.

Then there is the report that a second US aircraft carrier, the USS John C Stennis, will soon be joining its sister ship, the USS Enterprise, in the Persian Gulf.  Although scheduled for deployment to the Gulf, the USS John C Stennis is leaving four months ahead of schedule.  The reason: to safeguard against any Iranian attempts to blockade the Straits of Hormuz in the Gulf.  Some wonder if there is any connection with the presence of two carrier groups in the Persian Gulf and the continued speculation that Israel will launch an air attack against Iran within the next few weeks.  Stay tuned as this chapter is far from being over.

Just an update on the situation in Syria - it keeps getting worse, but many experts believe that President Assad will prevail in the end.  What had been suspected became realized when on Monday, the Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, General Salar Abnoush, said, "We are involved in fighting every aspect of a war - military one in Syria, and a cultural one as well."  Also, Mullah Hussein Taeb, the number 2 man in Iran, next to the Ayatollah Ali Khameini, stated in an article in the Daneshjoo News Agency, "Today, Syria is resisting as our front's surrogate, and we all have a responsibility to support it and not to let the line fall."  This, along with the continued support of both Russia and China, leads to the bold and cruel resolve of the Assad regime. 

I am continually being shocked by the lack of any outrage over the inhumanity shown by those in radical Islam to others who do not hold to their beliefs.  Just this past week, seventeen Afghanis, including two women, were murdered and their bodies beheaded.  Their crime - they had been dancing together.  Did you get that - they had merely enjoyed a party where both men and women enjoyed dancing together.  I guess this violated the Sharia Law.  Punishment: death.  And, I have shared with you in previous blogs about the continued persecution of the Christian Coptic community in Egypt.  Several have been crucified by the Muslims because of their Christian beliefs.  I ask myself, "Where is the outrage from within the Muslim community because of these barbaric acts?  By their silence is the greater Muslim community giving assent to such acts?"  If these were Christians acting in such manner upon Hindus, Buddhists, or Muslims, I believe there would be a great outcry from the greater Christian community against such acts and condemning them as being not representative of Christianity.  I know we hear that most Muslims do not support such terroristic acts, but until there is a loud outcry from them, I am not convinced that they do give at least tepid support.

One final thought.  I received from a friend an e-mail with an attached link to a video titled, "Divided."  You can find it on YouTube by typing in "Divided."  It is a rather long video whose premise is that it is time for men to begin discipling their own children.  With that premise, friends, I strongly resonate.  That great passage in Deuteronomy 6 strongly encouraged fathers to teach their children the ways of the Lord - from the time they get up in the morning until they go to bed at night.  And the Apostle Paul, in both his letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians states that fathers are to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  It was Marlys and my desire, as parents, that our three children grow up knowing the Lord and following in obedience to His will.  And, as grandparents, our desire is that our grandchildren would be discipled by their parents.  We praise God for what we are seeing. 

But, I have a strong rejection of the practice that the video "Divided" sponsors.  Throughout the video through a host of interviews with former youth pastors, there is the declaration that the local church is not being biblical in providing ministries to youth and to children because such ministries usurp the God-given roles that fathers have.  I know that youth and children's ministries are not mentioned in the New Testament, but then again, neither are small group ministries or worship services with bands and vocalists.  Friends, those are arguments from silence - never a strong foundation for an argument.  I cannot fail to imagine that the young pastor Timothy did not have younger men gravitate to his teachings.  Here is the question that I had after viewing this video: What about children and youth who are growing up in homes where there is no strong biblical foundation?  What about children and youth who are growing up in a home where there is an alcoholic father, or an absentee father, or an abusive father?  It seems to be that the biblical injunction is that we are to make disciples of all nations - including children and young people.  Where there is a godly father, the ministries of the local church are to reinforce what he is already teaching his children.  But let us not condemn children and youth ministries as such.  Let us strife to make those ministries more responsive to making true disciples. 

I have the privilege of ministering in a church where we have an outstanding children and youth ministries - I will not even use the term "program" in referring to them.  Both our children's pastor and her staff of incredible volunteers and our youth pastor and her outstanding staff minister to hundreds of boys and girls and young men and women every week.  Their goal: to make sure each boy and girl has heard the gospel and to help each one grow to become more like Jesus.  I can honestly state that I believe the children's and youth ministries at our church are among the best in the nation.   Warning: church leaders, do not send a search team to our church because both our children's pastor and youth pastor are not available!

Yes, we have a responsibility to help fathers become better equipped to lead spiritually in their homes.  But until that is accomplished, let us not throw out a tool that God has given to help disciple and train the next generation of leaders for our churches.  If you view the video, I would certainly welcome your responses.

One final word: I would strongly encourage you to go and see the movie "2016" which is now playing in theaters across the nation.  It is an eye-opening presentation that must be taken seriously.  It will generate a lot of careful thinking and hopefully a lot of careful praying in the next 70 days. 

Summer is nearly over.  Next week classes begin for those who have not yet started.  Churches will get their fall programs into full gear.  Great time to join a small group, or get involved in a special Bible class and dig more deeply into the Word.  God bless.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Middle East Update and a Recommended Book to Read

There is hardly a week go by when I am not approached by someone with this question: Will Israel launch a strike against Iran?  My response is: I do not know, but I believe that something is going to happen in that part of the world; I just don't know when.  The Israelis have a legitimate fear of Iran - a nation whose leaders have denied the Holocaust, and yet have announced their intentions to create a Holocaust of their own - possessing any type of nuclear weapon.  And Iran enhances those fears with the announcement this week that they have developed a stronger middle-range missile and are also developing a more sophisticated anti-missile defense system to protect its nuclear sites.  So, if Israel is to strike, the window of opportunity where sustained casualties will be minimal is closing.  Many experts believe such a strike will occur before the fall elections here in the United States; others say the strike will not occur until after the elections.  But tensions are definitely increasing.

Tensions are also mounting on Israel's southern border with Egypt.  As I have reported before, since the overthrow of Egyptian President Mubarak in January 2011, terrorist activity in the Sinai has increased dramatically.  The most recent occurred just a few weeks ago when 15 Egyptian security officers were killed by militants before IDF forces stopped them.  Now Egypt has sent tanks and armored personal carriers into the Sinai.  I know you are saying, "So, they are just beefing up their own security."  But, according to the 1979 Camp David Accords, Egypt is to have no military presence in the Sinai unless the Israeli government has given its okay.  With the uncertainty of newly elected President Morsi's government, the increased presence of Egyptian military in the Sinai near Israel's border is cause for alarm.  Such a build up predicated both the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. 

Another week has gone by and the violent civil war in Syria continues almost unabated.  I read this morning that the Russians and Syrian leaders have not ascribed to the US "red line" declaration - the threat of United States military involvement in Syria if Syrian president Assad should decide to move or to deploy unconventional weapons.  Russia is Syria's key ally and its desire is that the Syrians reach their own settlement without foreign intervention.  In spite of various reports, the Assad regime does not appear to be in imminent demise, as the hundreds of innocent civilians that die each day remind us.  The very thought of chemical and biological weapons falling into the hands of Hezbollah create a nervous anxiety within Israel's leadership. 

So, will there be war in the Middle East?  The biblical response is a clearly stated "yes!"  Both Psalm 83 and Ezekiel 38-39 attest to this reality.  Yet, in both instances - for as you know, I believe that these are two separate wars - God will intervene and Israel will be successful.  For that we join with our Israeli friends and say "Praise God!"  I am so grateful that He is in total control, aren't you?

In closing I would like to strongly recommend a book for your reading.  It is titled, STILL THE BEST HOPE, and was written by Dennis Prager - one of the leading conservative talk-show hosts today.  Mr. Prager is an Orthodox Jew with strong moral convictions and conservative ideals.  The central focus of this book is the explanation of why the world desperately needs the values and moral structure that America was founded upon, and how Americans need to rediscover those values.  In the first third of the book, Mr. Prager examines and contrasts the beliefs of those on the Left and those on the Right.  It is not a diatribe against the Left as many others have done, but is a carefully documented and logical presentation of how the Left and the Right have differed on such things as education, the humanities, and government in general. 

The second part of the book focuses upon Islam.  I thought I had heard all these arguments before, but I was wrong.  Once again Mr. Prager carefully and accurately helps his readers to understand the foundations upon which Islam is fashioned.  He seeks to answer the question: Why do Muslims do what they do?  Why do they believe what they believe?  In answer to those questions he often makes reference to Muslim writers and authorities on the Muslim faith.

The third and final part of the book focuses upon the uniqueness that is America.  According to Mr. Prager, America has three central foundational truths: Liberty - which Mr. Prager does a powerful job of explaining (every American should read this section); In God We Trust - a foundational truth that is little taught any more in our schools, resulting in a generation of Americans failing to understand why America is different than any other nation on the face of the earth; and E Pluribus Unum - that truth that has caused the world to come to our doorsteps.  "Out of many, one" - what an important truth.

Friends, I heartily recommend this book.  It is not one of those books you sit down and read 100 pages at a sitting - no, if you get through 20 pages at a sitting you will be doing well, for this book causes you to reflect and think and then to respond.  You will either say, "America is a special place and its values are truly worth fighting for and holding onto" or you will say, "America needs to become just like all the other nations in the world."

I was recently asked, "Max, do you think it is too late to reclaim America as she once was?"  My response was, "I believe we are down the road of immorality and decadence a great way, but anything that can be done to slow the downward descent needs to be acted upon."  I then shared the story in the Bible of God's judgment upon the nation of Judah.  The reforms initiated by Kings Hezekiah and Josiah could not prevent God's judgment from happening, but they did delay that judgment and gave many an opportunity of being restored into fellowship with God. 

Grab your Bible and a glass of iced-tea.  Head for your favorite porch swing or deck chair.  Prayerfully ask God, "What would you have me to do to begin to make a difference in my neighborhood, in my community, and in my country?"  Then get to work!  God will bless you and as we work together the hand of God's judgment may be stayed a while longer.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Keep Watch on the Middle East on an Important Day

Over the weekend things got very interesting in Egypt - a fact that most of the American media simply overlooked and did not report, at least in depth.  Newly installed Egyptian President Muhamed Morsi asked for and received resignations from key members of the SCAF - the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces - including that of General Tantawi, who, since the ouster of former President Mubarak, had been the power in Egypt.  One of the reasons given for this challenge within the power structure of Egypt was the failure of the military to curb the violence within the Sinai Peninsula; a violence that culminated in the deaths of 15 Egyptian security guards and the involvement of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) in stopping the terrorists before they crossed the Egyptian-Israel border. 

Questions remain as to what this change in power will mean for the Egyptian people and more particularly for the Coptic community within Egypt.  As you know, persecution of the Coptic Christian community has increased in recent months with churches being destroyed, pastors and their families being threatened, and beatings of Christians becoming more common.  President Morsi is a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood whose primary purpose is twofold: the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in the world.  Will President Morsi step in to give constitutional protections to the Coptics and other minority groups within Egypt?  It will be interesting to follow the writing of Egypt's new Constitution in the coming weeks.

A further question concerns the role of Egypt with Israel.  In 1979 then President Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Begin signed the Camp David Accords - a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.  Among the stipulations in the treaty was Israel's signing over the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt.  (You might remember that the Sinai Peninsula was taken by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War).  In return, Egypt would be at peace with Israel; and it has been a peace that has held for the past 33 years.  During the elections in Egypt this past spring many called for the elimination of the 1979 Peace Accords.  Others invited a review of them.  Just a few days ago, momentum was gained in urging President Morsi to review those Accords.  Israel's northern border with Syria has always been on shaky ground - never been any lasting and meaningful peace initiatives with the Syrians.  Now there is the possibilities of Israel's southern border with Egypt becoming more tenuous.  Friends, Egypt is certainly a country I am keeping my eye on - I hope you are too!

Saber-rattling continues within the corridors of Israel's Knesset.  Many believe that Israel will launch a strike against Iran before America's elections in November.  Several present and former Israeli intelligence officers and military advisers have indicated that Iran is advancing more quickly in its development of nuclear weapons than was first reported and that the window of opportunity to stop this development is getting smaller.  It seems that the financial and economic restraints the West has put upon Iran has only impacted the common people, not the nuclear program.  It is almost as if the Iranian Mullahs are shaking their fists at the West.  What is the attitude among Israelis?  In a news story, featured this past week on the news source, many Israelis have lined up to either renew their passports or to obtain passports in the event of a military strike and the subsequent reprisals by Iran.  Gas masks were also being obtained and shelters were being restored and outfitted.  So, at least some of the Israelis believe that an event of some magnitude is imminent. 

But such preparations could also be because of concerns the Israeli leadership have with regard to Syria's many chemical and biological weapons.  Into whose hands would these fall if the Assad regime is toppled?  I read an article that stated that it was imperative that the IDF move into Syria and retrieve these weapons before they fell into the hands of Hezbollah.  So, keep focused on the Middle East.  I think things are getting very interesting there.

Here in America we finally have the identification of the candidates for President and Vice-President.  Romney's pick of Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan underscored the importance the economy and future financial direction for our nation will have in this election.  Already both sides have gotten out the sledge hammers and have begun the attack.  How imperative it will be for all of us in the coming weeks to listen carefully to the debates and speeches and to study carefully the issues at hand.  I believe this election will determine the direction of our nation for the coming decades. 

I want to end on a happier note.  It was 43 years ago today that I stood at the head of the center aisle at the Evangelical Covenant Church in Des Moines, IA, and watched my bride come down that aisle arm-in-arm with her Dad.  Soon that arm was extended to me and I have been holding it ever since.  It was one of those hot, sticky days in Iowa, and literally the candles melted as quickly as they were lit.  The frosting slid off the wedding cake.  The person responsible for recording the service forgot to turn on the recorder.  Two of my groomsmen, who had spent the day at the Iowa State Fair and had eaten too many footlong hotdogs, got sick during the ceremony.  The ring bearer untied the ribbons on the pillow and the rings rolled on the floor.  But, the magic of that evening has remained for the past 43 years.  I have been blessed to have had Marlys as not only my wife, but my friend.  And I pray that God will give us many more incredible years together. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Thoughts from the Olympic Games

For the past few days I have enjoyed watching some of the Olympic events.  I have been amazed as I see little Gabby Douglas fly high in the air, make several twists and turns in the matter of a split second and then grasp the bar on her way down.  I know I could not do that...not even fifty years ago when I was much younger.  My body simply doesn't do things like that.  Or I watch a Missy Franklin - just another high school girl, but hardly an ordinary one - swim so effortlessly through the water setting record after record.  Yes, I know some of them are professional athletes - competing is what they do for a living.  Others, like Franklin, are amateurs - competing is what they enjoy doing. 

There are a couple of lessons that I have re-learned while watching the Olympics from London.  First, there is a tremendous sense of national pride in all of the athletes.  One can see it written on the faces of those as they stand on the medal podium - whether it is a gold, silver, or bronze medal that is placed around their necks.  And often the tears of joy flow as the national anthem is being played.  The Olympics is still that one venue every four years when I can be an American, or a Canadian, or Japanese, or Moldovian, or Irish and take pride in my national country - no matter how large or small my country is.  All athletes march into the arena during the Opening Ceremonies with a vision in mind - of representing their country's hopes and dreams well.  Most will return home without any medal, but relishing the experience of representing their country as well as they could. 

The second lesson is that of the time it has taken for each athlete to train and prepare himself or herself just to be in the Olympics.  One athlete shared that he had been training every day for four years.  He had lost count of the number of miles he had swum during the course of those four years.  One just does not wake up one morning and say, "I think I will compete in the Olympics today."  No - every athlete is tested with perseverance and dedication.  These two qualities are often lacking in many people's lives today.  We want someone else to do something for us.  We have lost that ability to see something through to the very end; to have a goal and purpose that drives us to do those incredibly difficult things - things we thought we could not do. 

As I read through the life of the Apostle Paul, I believe he was a great fan of sporting contests.  Perhaps he had even attended an Olympics or two while growing up.  He understood the spiritual nature of athletic competition.  He wrote these words to the Corinthian believers: "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.  No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize" (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).  Notice Paul says that in a race there are many runners, but only one gets the prize; yet every runner has trained diligently for the race. 

Here is the good news - in serving Jesus Christ we all have the opportunity of receiving not just one prize, but many prizes.  The Bible describes these as crowns.  These come through our faithful service for Jesus Christ.  And such service and such winning is dependent upon our dedication and perseverance to what Jesus has called us to do.  Not only is everyday a day of training, but everyday is also a day of racing.  It was the Apostle Peter who boldly stated that we were to be "always prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have; but do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15).  Our goal is to train well so that we can run well everyday for Jesus Christ. 

Now, in order to do that well, often we will have to sacrifice something that we might enjoy doing or experiencing because that something might cause our service for Christ to be impeded.  A dedicated athlete often has to give up something in order to concentrate on his training.  But he or she considers such sacrifices as merely being steps to help in winning the prize that he or she has set out to accomplish.  I love the way the writer to the Hebrews expresses this truth in a spiritual way: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith ..." (Hebrews 12:1-2a). 

In these final few days of the London Olympics, more gold, silver, and bronze medals will be won.  Many more athletes will return home with the prize of having competed on the world's stage, being numbered among the world's best.  You and I, as followers of Jesus Christ, also compete on the world's stage, not for gold or silver or bronze, but that we might share the life of Christ with others.  Our prize is not a medal that will soon be forgotten, but the lives of precious men and women, boys and girls who are rescued from darkness and transferred into the kingdom of the light of Jesus Himself.  Oh may we do this with enthusiasm, patience, and great resolve. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chick-fil-A: A Wakeup Call to All Believers

Have you had your Chick-fil-A today?  Unfortunately we do not have one close by in our part of Minnesota, but if we did, I told Marlys we would have been there for lunch and dinner tonight.  I am sure you have been following the story of Chick-fil-A and the courageous and biblical stance of its president, Dan Cathy, regarding the issue of gay marriage.  In a radio interview a few weeks ago, Cathy made this statement: "We're inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.  And I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude that thinks we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about."  That statement has created a firestorm of controversy. 

Immediately the mayors of Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and San Francisco said that Chick-fil-A was not welcomed in their cities.  Left-wing groups have enacted a boycott and protest at Chick-fil-A restaurants nationwide.  Philadelphia City Councilman Jim Kenney even introduced a resolution condemning Chick-fil-A and Dan Cathy: "This particular individual is rabidly homophobic and wants to deny Americans civil rights that are enjoyed by every other American." 

In response to this protest, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee initiated today as being a day to support Chick-fil-A.  This is an organization that was founded upon biblical principles.  They are one of a few restaurants that remain closed on Sundays.  And they believe strongly in the teachings of the Bible regarding marriage as being between one man and one woman. 

In another response to the protest, Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, stated: "Individuals have the right to decide whether or not to 'eat mor chikin.'  But no government leader should restrict a business or organization from expanding to their district based on the personal or political views of the owners.  Such evident discrimination and attempts to marginalize those with religious values have no place in American democracy." 

Friends, what is happening?  We are seeing the growing assault upon the values upon which our nation was founded.  I know that not all our Founding Fathers were believers, but each one did have a high view of Scripture and of Providence.  One can hardly read those treasured documents - now encased at the National Archives in Washington DC - without understanding that each signer understood that a strong moral foundation based upon the teachings of the Bible was absolutely necessary if their young nation was to succeed and become that "city on the hill."  A Civil War was fought because many recognized that the slavery of one to another was a violation of those moral and biblical principles.  And at the heart of those moral principles was the definition of family and marriage - a definition that has stood the tests of time, culture, and civilizations.  Dan Cathy is right when he stated that we now have "a prideful, arrogant attitude that thinks we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about."  The oldest definition of marriage is that found in Genesis 2:24, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh."  If that is not clear enough, then consider these words of Jesus: "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female.' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'?  So they are no longer two, but one." (Matthew 19:4-6).  Both God Himself and His Son clearly defined marriage as between one man and one woman.  But today we seem to know more than God does!  We know what is better for us than God does!  We understand our culture better than God does!  How arrogant of us!  We have swallowed the lie that Satan shared with Eve in the Garden of Eden so long ago - "you will be as God."  We have now reached that point where we have replaced God with ourselves.  Did that thought work for Lucifer?  Read Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:11-19.  If we persist, great will be the fall of our nation as well. 

I close with a quote from an editorial written yesterday that can be found at  It was written by Todd Starnes of Fox News Radio.  He quotes from Pastor Charles Lyons, pastor of Armitage Baptist Church in Chicago, in a response to Chicago Mayor Rahn Emanuel's threat to keep Chick-fil-A out of Chicago.  Pastor Lyons said, "Mr. Mayor, do not dismiss us.  Do not disrespect us.  We too, are Logan Square.  We too, are Chicago.  If the thought police come to Armitage Baptist Church, we will meet them at the door, respectfully, unflinchingly, willing to die on this hill holding a copy of the sacred Scriptures in one hand and a copy of the U.S. Constitution in the other."  Starnes then concludes with these thoughts: "Pay attention, people of faith.  Dark clouds are gathering. The winds of intolerance are blowing.  There's a great storm approaching.  The days of persecution are upon us." 

Would some one of you go to Chick-fil-A today and have a bowl of their delicious chicken soup and a peach shake on my behalf?  And then pray that God will give us more backbone as we fight for what is right in a world where right and wrong are so confused.