Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ready for 2014

I trust you all had a wonderfully blessed Christmas Season and are now ready for the adventures of a new year.  As we look ahead toward 2014 one wonders what lies ahead.  Will the weather patterns in 2014 be as crazy as they were in 2013: snow storms in May, drought in July, frigid temperatures in December?  Will our government continue to be as dysfunctional as it is now?  What will be the impact of the mid-term elections next November?  What will the economy do in 2014: will the stock market continue to rise, or will there be a great collapse?  And, on the international scene, will the war in Syria continue almost unabated?  Will John Kerry realize the goal of a peaceful settlement of the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority?  What is going to happen in Iran, in Egypt, in Afghanistan, and in Pakistan?  These are just a few of the many questions that may or may not be answered in the coming year. 

Now for some disturbing news that really is a reflection upon our times.  In an article, published on the WND website on December 18 (www.wnd.com/2013/12/democrat-investigate-every-homeschool-parent) Bob Unruh reports that a "Democratic state senator in Ohio has proposed a law that would require every homeschooling parent to be investigated and approved by social service agencies before they would be allowed to teach their own children."  The bill, known as SB248, would require social workers to interview parents and children separately, conduct background checks and determine whether or not homeschooling is recommended.  The article continued, "If homeschooling is not recommended, parents would have to submit to an 'intervention' before further consideration of their request to homeschool."  This plan would replace parents with "unqualified social workers to make educational decisions for children."  Friends, this is just another step in the government taking over the responsibilities God has assigned to parents.  Will the government next come into private Christian schools and close them down as well because something is not taught the way the government believes it should be taught?  Just another slippery slope we are sliding down.

Another instance where the meaning of Christmas was compromised.  (www.foxnews.com/us/2013/12/19/school-removes-christ-savior-from-silent-night).  "A New York school district is in hot water with moms and dads after educators removed all religious references in 'Silent Night', a religious Christmas carol about the birth of Christ.  'It's kind of insulting,' parent Robert Dowd told television station WCBS.  His child attends Ralph J. Osgood Intermediate School in Kings Park, Long Island.  Many parents and concert goers were stunned last week when boys and girls sang the familiar Christmas carol - sans the references to Jesus.  The words 'Holy Infant,' 'Round yon virgin,' and 'Christ the Savior' were taken out.  Instead, the phrase 'sleep in heavenly peace' was used.  School Superintendent Susan Agruson told the Kings Park Patch that the words were removed to prevent non-Christians from being offended.  'The chorale director thought it was an appropriate way to represent the song without offending those of other faiths,' Agruso told the newspaper.  Outraged parents sounded off at a school board meeting on December 17.  The Board of Education has since posted an apology on its website and noted, they too, were offended."  Why is it no one seems concerned about offending Christians?  When are we going to say, "Enough is enough?"  Christmas is part of who we are as a nation.  It is an integral part of the religious foundations upon which this nation was built.  And the music of Christmas is an integral part of the celebration of Christmas.  If we remove from our schools every vestige of religious music, there will not be much left for our kids to either sing or play. 

This next news article comes from the ContraCostaTimes.com website.  It is titled, "Computerizing people may be next step in tech," and was written by Steve Johnson with the San Jose Mercury News.  The article states, "The move to outfit people with electronic devices that can be swallowed, implanted in their bodies or attached to their skin via 'smart tattoos' could revolutionize health care and change the way people interact with devices and one another.  Critics call the trend intrusive, even sacrilegious.  But others say it ultimately will make life better for everybody.  Some researchers and executives envision a day when devices placed in people will enable them to control computers, prosthetic devices and many other things solely with their thoughts."  Amal Graafstra, who has programmed locks to open with the mere wave of his hands or whose computers start with a similar wave of his hands, has had those hands implanted with radio frequency identification tags.  The article continues, "In a patent application made public in November - Google's Motorola Mobility branch proposed an 'electronic skin tattoo' for the throat - with a built-in microphone, battery and wireless transceiver - that would let someone operate other devices via voice commands. ... Last year, Proteus Digital Health of Redwood City won approval to sell a pill that relays information about a person's vital signs via a mobile phone to their doctor.  And officials at Santa Clara-based Intel envision their microchips one day in devices ingested or implanted for medical and other uses."  Here is a scary thought: perhaps these same microchips will be used by a government to keep tabs on where people are and what they are doing.  Perhaps such microchips might be the means by which a government controls the buying and spending habits of its people.  All of a sudden, the words of Revelation 13 take on a new meaning and one can begin to envision just how the Antichrist and his government will be able to control people.  Perhaps the Lord's coming is not that far away. 

On a related note, Jerome Corsi writes in an article at www.wnd.com/2013/12/national-id-headed-for-your-wallet-purse, about the National Identity Card that will be required of all individuals by May 2017.  This is part of the REAL ID Act of 2005, enacted after the 9/11 Commission discovered that several of the terrorists had state-issued driver's licenses and were able to freely board airplanes even though they were terrorists who had entered the United States illegally.  Corsi writes about the REAL ID Act "that was set for a phase implementation beginning in January 2014 and full-scale enforcement planned no later than May 2017, at which time the federal government will no longer accept state-issued driver's licenses and ID cards that do not meet the minimum security standards set by DHS."  In other words, without one of these National Identity Cards, you will no be able to get through security at an airport or train station.  As of December 20, 2013, thirteen states had taken no steps to be REAL ID compliant (Minnesota is one of those states).  I am wondering where in the Constitution there is room for a National ID Card.  I think our Founding Fathers would roll over in their graves if they could look in upon us now. 

Friends, I am excited as I anticipate 2014.  I will certainly keep focused upon Israel and the Middle East.  I will certainly keep focused upon the moral decline in our nation.  And I will certainly keep focused upon the world's teetering economic situation.  And, yes, I will keep you posted as to what is happening. 

Yesterday I had the delightful opportunity of meeting for lunch with a group of sophomore girls.  We had a great time interacting about what is happening in our world.  Such a sharp group of girls.  One of them asked me, "Is there any way that the decline in our nation could be stopped?"  What an insightful question.  My response was that I can see no way to stop our nation's moral decline unless there is a great spiritual awakening, but, I further added, I did not think our nation was interested in such a spiritual awakening.  Am I being a pessimist?  I rather think I am a realist and a Biblicist.  But we know we are preparing for the Lord's return.  Perhaps 2014 will be the year! 

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Reality of the Duck Dynasty Controversy

I hadn't planned on writing a blog this week since it was Christmas week, but decided that I would weigh in on the "Duck Dynasty" situation.  Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the Duck Dynasty clan, stirred up a hornet's nest last week when his comments about gays and blacks was published in the GQ magazine.  Immediately there was an uproar.  A&E, the network of the "Duck Dynasty Show," immediately suspended Mr. Robertson from appearing in any new programming, in effect moving the star from the show.  Facebook and Twitter pages lit up with responses, mostly positive toward Mr. Robertson and what he said.  Cracker Barrel, one of the sponsors of the program, immediately pulled all Duck Dynasty merchandise from their stores that contained the picture of Phil.  But, the uproar created caused them to make the following announcement: "We made a mistake, we listened to you, and we apologize.  #DuckDynasty products are back in our stores."

What created the firestorm were, among others, these words from the article: "Everything is blurred on what's right and what's wrong.  Sin becomes fine...Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men."  

According to Fox News, here is what Phil Robertson said yesterday to a Bible-class at his church, White's Ferry Road Church of Christ: "I am just reading what was written over 2,000 years ago.  Those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom.  All I did was quote from the scriptures, but they just didn't know it.  Whether I said it, or they read it, what's the difference?  The sins are the same, humans haven't changed.  If you give them the bad news, they'll start kicking and screaming. But you love them more than you fear them, so you tell them." 

So, why should Christians be concerned about a television reality show?  It is because a pattern is being set, friends, that is leading down a very slippery slope.  Mr. Robertson's statements about the homosexual community came in a private interview conducted by a magazine.  When asked a question, he was very candid and honest with his reply.  As Mr. Robertson said, "I love all men and women.  I am a lover of humanity, not a hater."  Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Southern California, said, in an article published on the World New Daily website: "We believe in God, the Creator and designer of the world and all of its creatures.  We believe He has provided, as the Bible teaches, an intended design for sex and marriage.  We choose to hold to that, while being tolerant of those who choose to disregard it.  And we will continue to tolerate and even love those that disagree with us.  It would be nice if that were a two-way street." (www.wnd.com/2013/12/duck-censorship-a-warning-to-ministers). The article also quoted Doug Napier, senior vice president of legal for the Alliance Defending Freedom: "America's long tradition of free and open discussion about important cultural issues is the cornerstone of a healthy society.  This move is more evidence of the one-sided censorship of the cultural and political elites outraged by such a basic teaching.  Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, president of BOND - the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny - said, "Robertson expressed his personal views about morality, faith and traditional families.  He didn't make the statements on the show.  He did not condemn or attack gays, nor did he single them out.  In fact, Robertson talked about how his Christian faith instructs him not to judge or disrespect others who don't agree with his beliefs." 

What I find alarming is that if it had been a gay person who had made similar comments about the heterosexual community, nothing would have been said.  There would have been no outrage.  There would have been no media focus.  But, because it was an outspoken evangelical Christian who made these comments, immediately the response is a negative one.  And, really all Mr. Robertson was doing, was commenting on a biblical passage - Romans 1 - where the Apostle Paul addresses this very issue.  And Paul is very straightforward about the subject, as was Mr. Robertson.  But we don't like what the Bible says about homosexuality.  It is not an unforgivable sin, but it is a sin nevertheless.  I share with my congregation those amazing words from Paul to the Corinthians believers.  I urge you to read First Corinthians 6: 9-11 and notice the tense of the verb Paul uses in verse 11 - "and such WERE some of you," implying that they no longer practiced the sins listed above, including homosexuality. 

Friends, the Bible is not a book where we can "cut and paste" those truths that we want to keep and eliminate all the rest.  The Bible is either ALL God's Word or it is NONE of God's Word.  There is no middle ground.  The Apostle Paul reminds us that "ALL Scripture is inspired of God...and ALL Scripture is useful" (2 Timothy 3:16).  The problem today is that so many people do not know their Bible.  Oh, perhaps every home has a Bible, but it usually just sits on a shelf gathering dust.  It is not read daily.  Its truths are not taken to heart and practiced.  And so, when a Mr. Robertson shares with us thoughts about the Word of God, people who do not know the Word take an immediate negative response.

Here is where it can get very scary to those of us who are preachers or teachers of the Word.  If we preach the whole counsel of God from the Scriptures, it is a guarantee that we will offend someone.  Even Jesus while here on earth, when He spoke, people either accepted His words or walked away from those words.  Will the day come when I could be arrested and put into a jail cell because I dared to proclaim God's Word as it should be?  Absolutely...and, furthermore, I don't believe it is that far away.  Sure hope that someone will look after Marlys while I am put away.  I refuse to water down the Scriptures just to save my reputation.  I want to be like Daniel or his three friends.  And I know that most of you do as well. 

Perhaps this "Duck Dynasty" controversy is a wake-up call for us to arouse out of our slumber and realize that a battle is waging all around us.  It is time to put on the armor of God and to get into the fight.  The eternal state of many souls is the prize.  This is not the time to be wishy-washy, but to move ahead in the power of the Spirit.  That is what Jesus came to do that first Christmas.  And that is what He desires that we do today.   

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Peace on Earth - Really?

The calendar indicates that a week from today is Christmas Eve, the night in which our Savior was born - He whose name was Jesus, "Savior", and Emmanuel, "with us God."  The announcement by the angelic choir to those shepherds that evening trumpeted, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"

Peace - that principle the world so longs for but is unable to find.  Throughout the years of recorded history, the world has known millenniums of war but only a few years of peace.  And yet today men are still striving for peace.  We read this fall of the new initiatives created in Geneva to resolve the problems with Iran's bent toward nuclear capability.  Time will tell if this six-month temporary agreement will bring any peace.  Then I read in yesterday's "Jerusalem Post" a report that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) were in discussions to form a unity government.  The article stated, "PA President Mahmoud Abbas is in talks with Hamas head Khaled Mashaal and Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to unity government ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections, reported Palestinian new agency Ma'an Tuesday. ... This was not the first time that the two parties had announced an agreement to end their differences.  Over the past few years, Fatah and Hamas have reached a number of such agreements that were never implemented. ... The two rival parties have been distant since 2006, when Hamas won the Palestinian democratic elections.  Clashes erupted between Fatah and Hamas the following year, leaving Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip and Fatah in control of the West Bank."  And, into this mix, are the ongoing negotiations between Israel and the PA seeking to resolve the matter of a two-state solution.  Our Secretary of State John Kerry is certainly racking up frequent flier miles for his trips to and from the Middle East. 

Peace - will there be peace in 2014?  Peace - will there be peace any time soon?  Look at our world: tensions mount between China and Japan; uncertainty of what is happening in North Korea keeps the Korean peninsula on the brink; Central African Republic is ready to explode and with it the possibilities of spill over into neighboring countries; the government of the Ukraine is heading in one direction (toward Russia) while its people want to head in another (toward Europe).  And who can forget the ongoing warfare in both Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria where the bloodshed has become so commonplace that it often fails to make news headlines anymore.  These are just a few of the hot spots in these closing days of 2013.    Peace - not this year; and probably not next year as well.

Yet the angels calmed the terror and anxieties that the shepherds were experiencing by saying that peace would come to the world in the person of the infant who had just been born.  Jesus, the Prince of Peace, stepped into a world that knew no peace.  There was the unrest between the people and their Roman oppressors.  There was the unrest between the people and their religious leaders who oppressed them with merciless rules and regulations.  There was the unrest between geographical locations, often seen in the way the Judeans looked down upon the Galileans. 

But Jesus came to bring peace.  Jesus shared with His disciples, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" (John 14:27).  And later that same day, Jesus reiterated a similar thought when He proclaimed to them, "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).  Now some of you will recognize that these words of Jesus came the evening of His betrayal.  Certainly not a night of peace for the disciples, in fact, they fled in panic when the arrest of Jesus came.  Certainly not a night of peace for Jesus as the suffering lay before Him. 

The peace that Jesus came to bring was not a freedom from wars or unrest - yes, that will happen when He reigns here during those thousands years, but that is still future.  The peace that Jesus came to bring was not a freedom from personal clashes or sectarian differences.  The peace that Jesus came to bring and what He reminded His disciples of was that peace that could be established between them and God.  The Apostle Paul expressed it well with these words to the Romans, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).

I believe the "peace on earth" the angels announced to the shepherds was the peace of a right relationship with God.  This peace becomes ours when we surrender our self-will and selfish ambitions to Jesus Christ; when we accept His gift of salvation that He came and purchased for us there on Calvary's cross.  Friends, that is why Jesus came.  It was not to bring peace between the Jewish people and the Roman authorities.  It was not even to bring peace between the people and their religious leaders.  To be honest, the coming of Jesus made both scenarios more difficult.  But Jesus came so that man might be at peace with God.  This was what mankind most needed.  This was what mankind could not experience by his own efforts.  This peace with God could only be provided by God Himself.  And so the journey toward that peace began in a manger-bed in Bethlehem that first Christmas Eve so many years ago and continued toward a cross and then an empty tomb.  It was a journey that only God could take.  Oh we have so much to celebrate this Christmas Season.  Take time to thank God for that peace you have because of Jesus.  And if, friend, you have not experienced that peace, then I would urge you to hurry off to find Jesus, even as the shepherds did.  And accept for yourself the free-gift of salvation that Jesus came to provide for you.  Then you, too, will know that "peace with God." 

Marlys and I want to wish each of you and your families a most Blessed and Merry Christmas. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Thoughts on World Leaders and Advent

The eyes of the world have focused upon South Africa as leaders from around the world came to pay their last respects to one of the great leaders of the last century - Nelson Mandela.  He had a vision of a country where both whites and blacks could live side-by-side in peace and prosperity, and even though imprisoned for 27 years, he never lost that vision.  It was that vision that caused Nelson Mandela to rise eventually to the presidency of South Africa and oversee the destruction of apartheid.  Today's South Africa is the result of that dream.

Perhaps Nelson Mandela was the last of the great leaders of the past century.  And there were some incredible leaders in that century: Winston Churchill, David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Lech Walensa - just to name a few.  Each of these leaders commanded respect even if you disagreed with them.  These were individuals who had a vision and a strong commitment to that vision.  These were individuals who commanded respect while serving in those leadership positions.  Even in death, these leaders are still respected.  As I look out over the landscape of those who purport to be today's leaders, I am afraid that I do not see men or women of the stature of a Churchill, or a Reagan, or a Mandela.

Yet the world cries out for leadership today.  The problems continue to grow.  Political unrest in Thailand, in Ukraine, and in Central African Republic.  And, in Iran, that nation that seeks to be a full partner within the world community once again, executions of those who oppose the ayatollahs rises at an alarming rate.  (Interesting note: This past week the United Nations appointed Iran to be a member of the committee that oversees human rights violations around the world.  Sort of makes you wonder about the wisdom within the United Nations.  Sort of like asking the fox to guard the chicken coop).  And one wonders when the world's economic foundations will crumble, even as the stock market continues to rise.  And the political divide within our nation continues to widen.  Even with yesterday's announcement that an agreement had been reached to solve the budgetary crisis for the next two years, the reaction was negative.  One senses the needs for a strong leader in Washington.  As I look out over the landscape, I believe the world is preparing itself - perhaps unknowingly - for that strong world-leader the Bible says will come, namely the Antichrist.  Perhaps 2014 will be the year of his unveiling.  Of course, that would mean that Jesus would come (at least for those of us of the pre-tribulational mindset).  Wouldn't that be a great thought?

Advent continues as we look forward to the celebration of the birth of our Savior.  Yet the hurry and the worry of the season intensifies as one prepares all that we have forced into this season.  Now I am not saying that what we do during this season is wrong.  I love the programs, the lights, the music, the gifts, the food, the tree.  But perhaps the pressures we put upon ourselves to make sure everything is "just right" is wrong.  I was thinking of the shepherds the other day.  After they had received the announcement of the birth of Jesus, what was their immediate response?  Did they say, "Wow, that was great, but we need to find someone first to come and look after the sheep while we are gone!"  Did they say, "Well, that was something.  Perhaps we should look into it tomorrow."  No, the Bible simply says, "they hurried off to Bethlehem."  Routine - interrupted.  A night of sleep - vanished forever.  Worry over what might happen to the sheep - not a concern at the moment.  Their focus was upon getting to Bethlehem and finding Jesus.  Friends, this season, in the midst of the hurry and worry that this season brings - and there seems to be an almost endless supply - let us not forget to hurry to Jesus first.  After all, He is the reason why we hurry and worry in the first place.  And, when we bow before Him as He lies in that manger, we will discover the peace and joy that He has come to give.  And, for a moment anyway, the hurry and worry will fade into the background as we worship the Prince of Peace.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Greatest Mystery of All - The Incarnation

We are now a few days into the Advent Season, a joyous time in which we remember the birthday of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Christmas is a time filled with the mystery of that event we call The Incarnation.  Now that word is derived from two Latin words: "in" - a preposition meaning "in", and "carnis" - a noun meaning "flesh."  Thus, "incarnation" means "the endowment with a human body; appearance in human form"  or simply put "in flesh."

There are two strong biblical passages that teach the doctrine of the Incarnation without using that term.  These passages are so familiar to many of us, yet, for me, they are shrouded with a deep mystery - a mystery that, I believe, will not be resolved through all of eternity.  And, what is that mystery, you are asking?  It is how God became a man!  Yet it is even deeper than that, for in both the Roman and Greek worlds, their gods and goddesses often appeared to be human, although they never took on a human body.  The deeper mystery is that God became a baby!  Thank about a baby for a moment.  A baby is completely helpless.  A baby can do nothing for himself or herself.  A baby is dependent upon someone to feed him or her.  A baby is dependent upon someone to protect him or her.  A baby is unable to communicate clearly his or her desires with those around.  A baby needs guidance and discipline as he or she grows.  A baby needs to have his or her mind trained and educated. 

And that is what Almighty God became - a baby!  The One who holds the world in the palm of His hand (Isaiah 40:12) was Himself lovingly held in the arms of Joseph.  The One whose claim is that "nothing is too difficult for Him" (Luke 1:37), became One who could do nothing for Himself.  The One who provides food for the birds of the air (Matthew 6:26), was nursed at the breast of His mother, Mary.  The One whom King Solomon proclaimed that even the highest heavens could not contain Him (2 Chronicles 6:18), was gently laid in a manger.  Friends, God became a baby!  Even Mary, when told that she would be the mother of Jesus, exclaimed to the angel Gabriel, "How will this be?" (Luke 1:34).  Mary did not question the proclamation; she questioned the process.  How would the infinite God become a child within her womb? 

Friends, let us not forget this Christmas Season that wonderful, incomprehensible mystery we know as the Incarnation.  I would encourage you to re-read once again those two powerful passages: John 1:14 - "The Word (that is Jesus Christ, the Eternal Logos) became flesh (He became a baby!) and lived for a while among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth," and Philippians 2:6-8 - "Who, being in very nature God (He and the Father were one!), did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (He became a baby!).  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! (that was the reason why He came!)" 

Oh what a glorious mystery!  Let's proclaim it this Advent Season with passion and joy!