Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Thoughts As We Enter Into a New Year

Every December 31 I read Joshua 3.  As you might remember, this is the account of the preparation of the people of Israel for crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land.  After forty long years of wandering in the deserts and wastelands, they were finally nearing the end of the journey.  Few of those who were encamped along the eastern shores of the Jordan River remembered the mighty power of God in bringing their fathers and grandfathers out from Egypt.  Oh, they had heard the stories of the crossing of the Red Sea, but most could not remember that momentous occasion. 

Let me share with you just a few verses from the beginning of Joshua 3: "Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over.  After three days the officers went throughout the camp, giving orders to the people: 'When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.  But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between you and the ark; do not go near it.'"

Within the camp of Israel, only two individuals had been to the Promised Land before: Caleb and Joshua.  The multitude had only heard stories.  But there were a few things that the people did know: the land was dotted with large, well-fortified cities; the people living in the land were well-prepared to defend their homes; and the land was abundantly prosperous.  To enter into this vast Promised Land would be foolish for Israel to attempt on its own.  But, that is just it: Israel was not entering into the land alone.  God had promised that He would go before them.  God had promised that He would drive the Canaanites and the other inhabitants from the land.  It was true that Israel had never been that way before, but God had. 

Notice the warning in the last part of verse 4: "But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between you and the ark; do not go near it."  There are two inherent dangers described here.  First, there is the danger of running ahead of God's plan and direction.  God knew the excitement among the people.  They had waited a long time for this day to occur.  And there was the danger that, in their excitement, they would simply dash across that river and attempt to gain control of the land in their own strength.  Friends, there is a danger that, as we enter into a new year, we might choose to run ahead of God's plans for our lives, for our families, for our churches.  When one runs ahead of God only bad things can happen.  One loses direction.  One loses a confident hope.  Instead of joy, anxiety crashes in.  God's word to Israel was - "Don't run ahead of Me."  That is also His word to us as we enter into 2015.

But there was a second danger inherent in that verse: It is the danger of lagging too far behind.  Did you get what God said to the people: Stay behind, but not too far behind Me.  Oh the dangers that come when we choose to lag behind.  We lose our way and we struggle to find it once again.  When the way is lost, fears set in.  God's word to Israel was - "Don't lag too far behind.  Keep me in constant view."  That is also His word to us as we enter into 2015.

Friends, we do not know what 2015 will bring, but we do have some ideas.  The world will continue to experience a lack of peace and the sounds of war will echo from many corners of the world.  Natural disasters will abound with ever increasing fury, destroying lives and property with little abandon.  Immorality will continue to become emboldened as nations and peoples abandon those eternal, godly principles upon which Western civilization was founded.  We know these will happen because this world is still under the curse. 

But, here is the great news: God goes before us.  He will show us the way.  He may choose to lead us through those trials, but He may choose not to as well.  I am reminded of those amazing words of faith from the lips of Daniel's three friends to a very angry king: "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up" (Daniel 3:17-18).

As we enter into a new year, I want to be committed to having God lead the way in my life, in my home, in my family, and in my church.  Lord, keep me from running ahead with all my plans and dreams and aspirations.  And keep me from lagging behind because of a lack of faith and trust.  Drive me deeper into Your Word so that I can see more clearly the direction you would have me to go.  Then, Lord, cause me to have the desire to be obedient to that direction. 

Friends, 2015 just might be the year our Messiah returns.  Let's prepare ourselves for His arrival by keeping our eye upon Him and doing His will in this dark, sin-filled world. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Thoughts for Christmas

There is a very interesting statement made about Mary in Luke 2 that we often give little thought to.  Luke records these words: "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."  I was fascinated by that little word "pondered."  The verb comes from the Latin word "ponderare" which means "to weigh."    It means "to give serious consideration to a matter; to weigh it carefully."

There is a lot we do not know about Mary: her age (we guess she was in her late teens, but she could have been much younger); her family status (we guess she came from a rather poor family, but we don't know for sure - we do know that Joseph was poor because the offering he provided for Mary's purification after the birth of Jesus was the offering of the poor); her educational background (what she had learned at home).

But, this statement from Luke tells me something special about Mary.  She was reflective.  She pondered things.  She did not accept things at face value.  She probed beneath the surface.  Notice what Mary was pondering: the words of the shepherds.  You see Mary and Joseph had not heard the angelic announcement - they were busy giving birth.  They had not heard that stirring anthem: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

So, what did Mary do?  She took time to reflect.  She took time to ponder.  Ah, that is the problem today - we don't take time to reflect!  We simply charge straight ahead with little thought at all.  "Time is of the essence" we shout as we flail madly about.  "He who hesitates is lost" becomes our anthem for activity.  Our sound-byte world does not help us with reflection.  Instead of sitting and reflecting, we grab our phones or ipads and play games, search the Internet, doing something to occupy our time.  As a result, we have become a people who have lost the ability to be reflective, to ponder.

Mary certainly was a busy mother - and she did not even have the benefit of having her mother there to help.  What about diapers?  Had they packed some when they left Nazareth?   There had been no "baby showers" for Mary before she left - in fact, she was shunned because of her pregnancy out of wedlock.  And where were they to stay - a cattle shelter was no place to raise a child?  And what was Joseph going to do for a job?  A lot for a new mom to think about.

And yet she pondered the words of the shepherds.  And the text tells us that she treasured those words she was hearing and tucked them into her heart.

What is the message for us this Christmas Season?  It is simply this: we need to take time to reflect upon the birthday of the Lord Jesus.  Tis the Season that makes great demands upon our time: programs to attend, parties to show up for, presents to purchase - did we forget anyone on our list?  Mary pondered the birth of her son - and we should do likewise.

I want to wish my Jewish friends a joyous Hanukkah Season.  May you know the light of the presence of G-d in your home and in your life.  And I want to wish all of you a most blessed Christmas Season as we ponder the reason why Jesus came.  May you know His presence, His peace, His joy, and the hope that only He can bring. 

Merry Christmas, and, as Tiny Tim would say, "God bless us, everyone."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Angels Message of Peace

Does it seem to you that, at this season of the year when our hearts should be drawn to the thoughts of "peace on earth, goodwill toward men" the exact opposite is occurring?  There are the escalating protests around our country against the recent grand jury decisions in Ferguson, MO and in New York.  Traffic was shut down here in Minneapolis on Interstate 35W.  Violence seems to be growing as the protests become more frequent.  As one reporter said yesterday, "We seem to be on the verge of another civil rights war like was seem in the 1960's."  Peace and good will?  Hardly!

Anti-Semitism is growing around the world at an alarming rate - from New York to Chicago to Paris to London to Jerusalem.  Europe seems to be awash in a strong anti-Semitic propaganda, with some seeing parallels to Germany in the 1930's.  Peace and good will?  Hardly!

The slaughter continues in Syria, although it has become so commonplace that it no longer makes our newscasts.  ISIL continues its march toward another Islamic Caliphate, leaving a wake of terror, destruction and death in its path.  The radical Islamic group from Somalia, known as Al Shabab, has terrorized neighboring villages in Kenya in recent weeks, killing all those who were not Muslims.  And the spirit of animosity between Russia and Chechnya was reignited recently with a violent terrorist attack.  Peace and good will?  Hardly!

Certainly the world needs peace.  The United Nations was formed in 1945 to end war and to establish peace.  Its track record has not been good.  If one looks at all the treaties that nations have signed within the past half century, one would think that there would be peace for sure.  But, as you and I know, peace has been very elusive, even though strong leaders supported those initiatives. 

The announcement of the angels to the shepherds that first Christmas night was "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."  The world was searching for peace when Jesus came the first time.  The Jews living in Judea maintained a rather fragile "peace" with their Roman conquerors.  Everyone knew that it would take just the smallest spark to ignite a great conflagration there; that spark would come some six decades after the birth of Jesus.  Peace on earth - certainly that was merely a dream. 

Yet the reality is this: peace cannot be legislated.  Lasting peace cannot be negotiated.  The reason is very simple: the heart of man is not inclined toward peace.  The heart of man is full of self-centeredness.  The heart of man is full of pride.  The heart of man is full of greed and avarice.  The heart of man is full of envy and jealousy for what he does not have.  And, when self-centeredness, pride, greed, avarice, envy, and jealousy are allowed to be expressed, whether in the lives of individuals or nations, the results are expressed in: war, strife, hostility, murder, chaos, destruction, and death.  So, when a treaty of peace is signed, it is signed by individuals whose hearts are not inclined toward peace.  That is why ceasefires seldom are sustained - they are created by hearts inclined toward evil, not peace.

So, what exactly did the message of the angels mean that evening.  They were announcing that One came who would truly cause men to know what peace really was.  Peace is found in a relationship with a holy God.  And that peace can only be found through the acceptance of His Son Jesus Christ.  Yes, Jesus came to earth to bring us peace.  God's peace.  A peace in knowing that our sins can be forgiven.  A peace in knowing that our relationship with God can be re-established.  Truly the Apostle Paul must have had those thoughts in mind when he wrote to the Romans these remarkable and powerful words: "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).  That is the peace that Jesus came to offer us that first Christmas.  That will be the peace that will characterize the world when Jesus comes again to reign. 

Until that second coming of Christ happens, the world will continue seeking for peace, but never find it.  For it can only be found at the foot of the cross - and the cross is certainly not what the world is seeking today.  But, you can find that peace you are searching for.  You, too, can experience the truths of that angelic message to the angels, "and on earth peace to men in whom his favor rests."

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

An Introduction to Advent

We are now into the Advent Season - that very special time of the year when, as followers of Jesus Christ, we take time - or, at least we should take time - to remember and to rejoice in the good news the angels announced to some shepherds many years ago: "Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord!" 

Yet, the world tries to drown-out that message today.  Even we as Christians can get so caught up in the hustle and the hurry of the Season that we forget the real reason for Christmas.  In spite of what the world would say, without Christ there is no Christmas.  As one old preacher used to say, "Take Christ out of Christmas and all you are left with is a mess." 

Speaking of Christmas, I need to share with you another story in the category of "you have to be kidding."  It was reported by Todd Starnes on the Fox News website.  You can read the article at:  As Starnes reports, the latest battleground in the fight over Christmas occurred at the Butler Elementary School in Belmont, MA.  There the PTA canceled a field trip to see "The Nutcracker" because there was a Christmas tree on the stage.  Starnes continues, "Television station WHDH did a stellar job reporting this act of lunacy.  They report that a group of parents were alarmed at the 'questionable content' of the popular ballet.  The questionable content had nothing to do with men in tights.  The parents got their tutus in a twist over 'O Tannenbaum.'  The PTA secretly canceled the field trip which got many of the parents to raise a ruckus; the PTA then reversed their decision to cancel the field trip.  Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous in your life?  Fears that the presence of a Christmas tree on a stage during a performance of one of the most popular Christmas ballets might cause someone to get bent out-of-shape.  I still enjoy a beautifully decorated Christmas tree - and, I am happy to say, my wife does a fantastic job of decorating our tree.  I still enjoy watching any of the versions of Charles Dickens' classic, "A Christmas Carol."  I enjoy saying "Merry Christmas" to people I meet.  I want them to know that Christmas happens because Jesus Christ came.  Friends, let's not be silent any longer.  Let's reclaim Christmas for what it is...a time for reflection and celebration because of the salvation Jesus came to give.

I have not spent a lot of time addressing the situation in Ferguson, MO.  But I read an article today that I want to share with you.  It is too long, so I will just share the website, but the article is worth the read.  It shows how biased our news media are and how, instead of reporting news, they often are the creators of news.  The article was written by Arnold Ahlert, who reports for the Patriot Post.  You can find it at:  The article is titled, "Progressivism's Last Gasp." 

Everything that is happening in the world today has many Christians wondering just when Jesus might return.  Well, I came across an interesting article from the Express - a paper published in England.  You can find the article at:  The article begins with this sentence: "The end of the world will happen in the next SEVEN YEARS with a cataclysm of natural disasters, according to a terrifying prophecy.  Floods, earthquakes and deadly plagues will finish all humanity and the civilized world as we know it."  Now, as I have stated on several occasions during these years of blog-writing, I do not espouse the setting of any dates for the return of Jesus Christ.  After all, Jesus said that "no man knows the day or the hour except my Father in heaven."  But, friends, just look at the world today.  We are seeing a convergence of things Jesus talked about in Matthew 24 such as has not been seen in such intensity before.  I have often remarked how awesome it would be if Jesus Christ came the second time at Christmas.  It certainly would be a Christmas we would all long remember - in fact, we would remember it for an eternity.  Those words of Isaac Watts' carol - "Joy to the world, the Lord is come" - would certainly take on a new meaning.  The shepherds were not expecting the song of the angels that first Christmas, but we should be listening for the sounding of the angelic trumpet this Christmas Season.  We just might hear that joyous melody.

I trust that as you enter into this Advent Season, that you will keep your focus in the proper direction - toward Jesus.  Remember: He is the reason for this season. 

P.S. Keep your eyes upon Israel.  The government of Prime Minister Netanyahu is in trouble.  From reports today from Jerusalem, he fired two members of his cabinet, basically for insubordination.  The coalition has dissolved, or at least appears to have dissolved.  Therefore new elections will be called for sometime as early as March.  Stay tuned...the political climate in Israel is always interesting; and this election could be very interesting.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Thanksgiving Praise

Tis the Eve before Thanksgiving Day.  A light coating of snow dots the landscape of the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities, reminding one of the words to that old Thanksgiving song: "Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother's house we go; the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through the white and drifting snow..." 

So, what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving Day?  I am grateful that I live in the United States.  It is not a perfect nation - the riots in Ferguson, MO the past two nights illustrate those imperfections.  But America is still a blessed nation.  Our church sent a short term missions team that just returned from Ethiopia this past Sunday.  For some on that team it was the first time they saw the "third world" up close and personal.  Poverty and disease were common sights.  Children, who once slept on dirt floors upon straw mats, celebrating that they could now sleep in a bed with a mattress.  Oh, there is a lot I would like to see changed in our nation but I am grateful to God that this is my homeland.

I am grateful for family this Thanksgiving Day.  I am blessed to have a bride who has been my helpmate and closest friend for over 45 years.  I am grateful for my son and my two daughters and their families who have experienced the presence of God this past year as our daughter-in-law slipped into eternity.  But God has been good.  I am grateful for the music my grandchildren bring into my life - sometimes they could play a little quieter, but the music touches my heart.  I am grateful for their abilities to express themselves whether it is through drama, paints, hitting a home run, or putting the ball through the hoop.  I am grateful that my oldest grandson was privileged to go hunting with his Uncle Dan and his Dad, and for the second year in a row, he got a big buck.  And I am grateful that my children and grandchildren all love the Lord and have a desire to serve Him. 

I am grateful for my church family.  I feel incredibly blessed to serve one of the greatest churches in Minnesota.  I have the privilege of working alongside one of the best ministry staffs a pastor could ever hope to have.  What a carrying family Buffalo Covenant is.  And I am grateful that they have the same hunger and passion that I have - to go deeper into the Word of God and to love Him better and to serve Him with more joy and gladness. 

For the past several years I have challenged my church family to read Psalm 103 and Ephesians 1 in order to prepare their hearts for Thanksgiving.  Both David, in Psalm 103, and Paul, in Ephesians 1, identify several things for which we should give thanks: for our salvation - that God chose us and adopted us; for the forgiveness of sins - as far as the east is from the west; that God understands who we are - we are but dust, but He cares for us; for the coming inheritance which is ours through the promise of the Holy Spirit.  Friends, I would encourage you to sit down tonight or tomorrow - take a few quiet moments for yourself - and read Psalm 103 and Ephesians 1.  If those two passages of scripture do not ignite thoughts of thanksgiving to God within your heart, then you have a deeper problem that needs attention. 

So, "Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me; bless His holy name.  Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits."  May your time of thanksgiving be a truly blessed one as you share with family and friends.  God is good all the time! 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Synagogue in Jerusalem and a Cathedral in Washington: Is There a Connection?

Yesterday what can only be described as a horrific act of violence was carried out by two Palestinian men at an ultra-orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem while morning prayers were being said.  Armed with axes, butcher knives, and guns, the two Palestinian cousins entered the synagogue and, before they were shot to death by Israeli police, four rabbis had been killed and one police office who died from wounds received during the gunfire.  When news reached the streets of Gaza City, celebrations erupted and trays of candy were passed out as if this was a party atmosphere.  Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was quick to condemn the act and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu vowed that there would be a swift response.  Three of the rabbis murdered were America citizens who had made their homes in Israel.  The fourth rabbi was a British citizen.  Last month a three-month-old baby, the child of an American citizen living in Israel, was murdered when a Palestinian drove his car into a crowded train station.  CNN reporter Jake Tapper tweeted that "More people with American citizenship have been killed by Palestinian terrorists in the last year than have been killed by ISIS." 

The attack yesterday in Jerusalem was the worst act of violence there since 2008.  The mood within Israel, especially in Jerusalem, is one edged with fear.  And fear is one of the great weapons of the terrorists.  They really don't have to do anything but instill within a people or nation the fear that something will happen. 

The underlying problem in the Middle East can be identified very simply: Israel wants to be recognized as a legitimate Jewish state and the Arab world, as expressed in the charters of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Fatah (formerly known as the Palestinian Liberation Organization - PLO) all demand the total destruction of the State of Israel.  This is what Palestinian children are taught both at home and in their schools.  The cycle of hatred is perpetuated.  Can peace be achieved?  Absolutely not!  Unless there is a change in the climate within the Arab world toward Israel.  The Arab world needs to recognize Israel for what it is: a Jewish State.  The Arab world needs to understand that the Jews want to live in peace with their neighbors, but cannot if the culture of their neighbors is one of hatred toward them.  As long as Palestinian leaders, including Abbas, continue to recognize terrorists as heroes, the culture of violence will continue, meaning more Palestinians and more Jews will be murdered. 

Will the time ever come when the "lion will lie down with the lamb?"  The Bible assures us that it will when the Messiah comes and reigns with peace, justice, and righteousness from His throne in Jerusalem.  You can read about this in Isaiah 11.

Returning to events within our own nation.  This past Friday, The Washington National Cathedral was turned into a virtual mosque.  Muslims entered, bowed toward Mecca being careful not to view the Christian cross within the sanctuary.  I encourage you to read the entire article at: www.wnd,com/2014/11/christians-muslims-conquering-washington-national-cathedral. According to the article, "Planners of the event said in a news release that they hoped 'people around the world will take note of this service and the welcome extended by the Cathedral so that Muslims everywhere will adopt a reciprocal welcome of Christians by Muslims."  The Rev. Franklin Graham said, "It's sad to see a church open its doors to the worship of anything other than the One True God of the Bible who sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to earth to save us from our sins.   Jesus was clear when He said, 'I am the way the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me' (John 14:6)."  The author of the article quotes several former Muslims about the symbolism of what happened last Friday.  Mark Christian, whose father and uncle are Muslim Brotherhood members and whose great-uncle was one of its co-founders in Egypt during the 1960s, said, "Islam has a 'supremacy problem' based upon the idea that Islam has perfected the religions practiced by Jews and Christians.  In Islamic tradition, supremacy is demonstrated to all by practicing Islam where Christianity and Judaism once reigned.  This is what animates the building of mosques on the holy sites of other religions.  It is a conqueror's philosophy."  Christian continued by relating that "the decision to allow a Muslim imam to conduct an Islamic service from the altar of the National Cathedral in Washington is to Muslims the functional equivalent of Islam standing supreme atop Christianity in America 'in our own house.'"  Here is what is so astonishing: "According to Pew Research Center, Muslims make up just under 1 percent of the U.S. population."  In today's world, at least in America, it seems that the "tail is always wagging the dog." 

Friends, is there a relationship between what happened yesterday at a Jewish synagogue in Jerusalem and what happened last Friday at the National Cathedral in Washington?  Think about it for a moment and you will discover that there is a connection.  In both instances a Jewish and a Christian place of worship was assaulted by Islam: in the instance of the synagogue, the attack was with violence; in the instance of the Cathedral, it was welcomed with open arms.  We have to remember that the ultimate goal of Islam is the dominance of the world through a newly created Caliphate.  And we are seeing in Syria and Iraq, through ISIS, just what that Caliphate will look like. 

Should we be plagued with fears?  Absolutely not because our hope and our confidence is in Jesus Christ.  Who will be the ultimate Victor?  Will be it be Christ or Mohammed?  Read Revelation 19-22 and you will find the answer that alleviates all fears.  I want to share a powerful passage of Scripture as I close today.  I have taken a few liberties with the text, for reasons you will understand: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation [including any religion that has its roots in being a creation by man] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."  (Romans 8:38-39).  Amen!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

More News from a World Rapidly Preparing for the Coming of the King

I need to share with you more news from a world that is becoming increasingly more tolerant of everyone, except believers in Jesus Christ.  Two stories came to my attention this past week that I want to share with you.  The first can be found at:  The story centers around what happened to Chase Windebank, a senior at Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs, CO.  "Three years ago he started meeting together informally with his classmates for prayer and religious fellowship.  The young people would meet in an unoccupied choir room to sing songs like 'Amazing Grace' and discuss the issues of the day from a religious perspective.  But all that changed on Sept. 29th when Chase was summoned to the office of Assistant Principal James Lucas.  'He was told that he could no longer pray with his fellow students during free time because of the separation of church and state,' said Jeremy Tedesco, an attorney representing the teenager.  'He was told that he could pray before the school day begins or after the school days ends but he could not do it during the school day.'  To make sure Chase got the message - he was hauled into Principal Kolette Back's office the following day where it was 'reaffirmed that his religious speech could not take place during the open time known as a 'Seminar' period."  It is interesting that the school did not say that Chase and his friends could not meet during that 'seminar' period, just that they could not discuss religious issues when they met.  Another interesting thing to consider is that Chase and his friends have been meeting for three years; why are they prohibited now from meeting?  Of course, the school does not have to supply an explanation - they just lay down the rules.

A second article can be found at:  "There's a new battleground in the war on Christmas - the suburbs of our nation's capital.  The school board in Montgomery County, Maryland has decided to appease Muslim families by making the school calendar - religious neutral.  That's bad news for all you Jews and Gentiles out there.  As of next year - all Christian and Jewish holidays will be removed from the calendar.  That means no more Christmas, no more Easter and no more Yom Kippur.  There's no word on whether the board will remove the Irish from St. Patrick's Day or the love from St. Valentine's Day or the trees from Arbor Day.  For years local Muslims had been urging the district to close schools for two of their holidays.  Many gathered outside the school board offices holding signs like 'Support Equality for Eid' and "Because...our children matter too.'  Instead, the school board opted to eliminate all religious holidays.  The school district says kids will still be able to celebrate the holiday formerly known as Christmas and the holiday formerly known as Easter.  Now - they'll be called winter break and spring break."  As I read this article I began to wonder: If I lived in Saudi Arabia, do you suppose I could go to their school board and say that I would like to have the school closed to celebrate Christmas?  How do you think they would respond?  This is America - the nation founded upon Judeo-Christian values, including the celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Easter. 

Is it too late to take a stand for what is right and wrong?  I am almost wondering if it isn't too late?  The Church has compromised its principles for so long in order to seek the approval of the world in order to proclaim Jesus to the world.  And what has happened is that we have lost our platform for being heard.  It is sort of difficult to share how Christ can make a difference in a person's life when the life you are living is the same as that of your neighbor.  You have nothing that he doesn't already have.  The Early Church grew because it was so different from the rest of the Roman world.  People truly saw a difference and were either attracted to that difference or repelled from it.  Sobering thoughts.

Just an update on what is happening in Israel.  Even though there is a declared truce between Israel and Hamas, the violence has seemed to escalate in Israel.  The focal point of the violence is where it has been since the reunification of Jerusalem after the 1967 War - Jerusalem's Temple Mount.  Clashes there have increased with Israel cutting off access to the Temple Mount for everyone one day last week.  Jordan responded by recalling their ambassador from Israel for dialogues on how to respond.  (As you might remember, as part of the negotiated settlement following the Six-Day War, Jordan was given the custodianship of the Temple Mount, or as the Arabs call it, The Noble Sanctuary).  I was reading the paper today where Israeli forces are bracing for a tumultuous day on Friday during Muslim prayer services on the Temple Mount.  All Jews are prohibited from praying on the Temple Mount.  They may have access to the Mount, but cannot hold any religious services there upon the site where the two ancient temples once set.  There is a movement among some highly Orthodox Jewish leaders to allow Jews to have access to the Mount for religious services.  This really has stirred up the Arab World.  "Israeli media debated whether the country was on the verge of a new Palestinian uprising or Intifada, similar to those from the late1980s and the first decade of the 2000s that took hundreds of lives.  'This is the same soundtrack that we all remember from the days of the intifadas,' wrote Alex Fishman in Tuesday's edition of Yediot Ahronot newspaper (

Exciting the Palestinians is a new Hamas song that glorifies the new terror trend of driving a vehicle into a crowd.  The song is called "Run Over the Settler."  This fall a number of Israelis have been killed as they stood in line at bus and train stations as Palestinians have driven cars and trucks into those crowds.  The words of this new Hamas song go like this: "Run them over, burn the next in line, Don't leave a single settler.  Wait for them at the intersection.  Let the settler drown in red blood." 

The flames of a new wave of violence have certainly been lit.  It only waits to be seen if something will cause those flames to become another raging inferno as in the past.  Aren't you glad that God is in control.  Our task is to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.  May we do that well. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Good News for a Change

Today is a good day.  Funny how watching election returns can either be a painful experience (two years ago) or an exciting one (last night).  The pundits will now spend weeks trying to analyze all the data from yesterday's election and then tell us what happened.  Bottom line: the American people are tired of gridlock in our government.  Time will tell if the election will remove that gridlock or make it worse.  But, now the White House will have to at least attempt to work with Congress. 

I would like to share with you a very positive story.  I don't get to do that very often in this crazy, wacky world in which we live.  This story actually happened here in Minnesota and involved some teenagers.  The story was reported in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune newspaper this morning with these headlines: "Teens lose meet, but win respect."  The story was written by Mary Lynn Smith and Erin Adler, both staff writers for the paper.  The story begins: "Two Minnesota high school runners have emerged as heroes after being disqualified from the state cross-country race where they helped a competitor who fell."  The two runners who were disqualified were Kailee Kiminski, a senior at Esko High School, and Tierney Winter, a junior from Waterville-Elysian-Morristown High School.  During last Saturday's State High School Cross-Country Meet, held in Northfield, MN, these two runners came upon Jessica Christoffer, a freshman from Jackson County Central High School, who had stumbled about 50 meters from the finish line.  Without thinking, Kailee and Tierney stopped to help the fallen runner.  Miss Winter said, "We're almost done.  Come on.  Let's finish this race.  We're almost there."  After the race, both Miss Winter and Miss Kiminski were told that, according to the rules, they would be disqualified from the race.  The rules stipulate that a runner can receive no assistance during the race.  According to the article, Miss Kiminski replied, "It's much bigger than just a race.  It's more important to help people." 

The girls are being hailed as heroes, as well they should.  They did something that is rare these days.  They thought of someone besides themselves.  The article does not say whether other runners had gone past the struggling Jessica or not.  Perhaps some had.  They wanted to cross the finish line.  They chose not to get involved. 

As I read this story this morning, I was drawn to a story that Jesus told.  It is found in Luke 10.  We know it as the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  In that story, another person had fallen along the wayside - not in a race, but in a journey along a road home.  Jesus tells of at least two individuals who noticed the fallen man but chose not to get involved.  They had their excuses, but the bottom line was their focus was upon themselves.  Then, along came a Samaritan who stopped, gave comfort to the fallen man, and took him to a nearby inn where he could receive medical attention.  To get involved with this fallen man cost the Samaritan much time and some financial resources.  Yet he knew it was the right thing to do.  Life was more than just getting from point A to point B.  As Miss Kiminski said, "It's more important to help people." 

I applaud those two young runners.  I don't know anything about their background, but their actions speak volumes as to the type of instruction they have received at home.  Put others before yourself - always good advice for all of us. 

Friends, I share this story to remind each of us that there still is good in the world.  It often does not make the headlines, as did this story.  But there are people who are spending themselves in service for others.  That is what God has called us to do.  I trust we will do it as well as did Kailee Kiminski and Tierney Winter.  (You know, it is more enjoyable writing about something good for a change!)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On Being an Ambassador for Jesus Christ

At my church, I have been preaching a series of messages going through the book of Second Corinthians.  We recently completed our study of chapter 5. As you might recall, Paul closes that chapter with a strong reminder that God has called us to be His ambassadors in a world that needs to hear the message that sinners can be reconciled to a holy God.  As ambassadors, our responsibility is to represent Jesus before others.  I reminded my congregation that, if we are God's ambassadors, then what we say and what we do are a reflection upon God.  When we speak, it is as if the world is hearing the words of God; when we act, it is as if the world is seeing the acts of God.  Pretty serious responsibility He has given to us. 

As I look out over the world today, I wonder how effective is our ambassadorship for God.   The world is becoming increasingly more hostile toward those who have resolved to live for Jesus Christ.  To be a Daniel today is not to win any popularity contests, but it just might cost you a job or some friends at school. 

I want to share a story from the pages of the Old Testament of a man whose life had no impact upon the community in which he lived.  This man had everything that the world would consider to be of value.  He was part of a dynamic family that had become very successful because of God's blessings.  And he, too, had experienced that success and had become almost as wealthy as had his uncle.  Yet he longed for even greater things and so separated himself from his family.  He traveled to a distant city that had a known reputation for immorality.  But, into the city he went.  How long he lived in this city the Bible does not tell us.  But, we can infer from the text that he lived there long enough that he became recognized as one of the city leaders.  Perhaps, it was during this stay that he had met his wife and she gave birth to two daughters that grew up in this immoral environment.  Again, the text does not tell us.  By now you have surmised that the man I am referring to is Lot, and you would be correct.  His story is told in Genesis chapters 13, 14 and 19. 

Now the Bible calls Lot a righteous man.  But what was his influence all those years while living in Sodom?  We get two pictures of that influence from the Scriptures.  First, in Genesis 18, God relates to Abraham, Lot's uncle, that He is about to destroy Sodom.  Abraham knows that Lot lives there and begins to intercede on behalf of the city.  He first asks if God would spare the city if there were 50 righteous souls there, and God said He would.  Abraham continued the intercession, each time reducing the amount of righteous souls within the city until he stopped with 10 righteous ones.  And God said that He would spare the city for 10 righteous souls.  You would think that, given the time Lot had lived in the city, that he would have shared his knowledge of God with at least 10 people.  But, alas, he had not! 

The second picture, in Genesis 19, is one that is almost too abhorrent even to describe.  On the evening of the arrival of the angelic guests into Lot's home - yes, he had given up the tenting life - a mob of men and boys assaulted the front door demanding that Lot bring out the two guests so that they could engage in homosexual acts with them.  Lot steps out of his doorway and, instead of offering the two guests for their immoral pleasures, he offered his two daughters who were virgins but about to be married.  Friends, when I think of that scene I cringe.  Lot, an ambassador for God, had adopted the practices of the community in which he lived.  Ten righteous people in Sodom?  There was only one - and his righteousness was suspect.

What a contrast with a Daniel!  Daniel dared to be an ambassador for God in godless Babylon.  Did Daniel's presence make a difference in the lives of those around him?  Absolutely because Daniel refused to become like Babylon; unlike Lot who chose to become like Sodom.  Interesting that we name our sons after Daniel; but I know of no person named Lot.  Was it easy for Daniel to be in that role of God's ambassador?  No - he was always under someone's microscope being examined for flaws.  But, I believe Daniel could lay his head on his pillow at night knowing that he had represented God well.  I question whether Lot ever had that evening of peaceful sleep.  How we need Daniels today.  It will not be easy.  It will not be comfortable.  It will not come without some costs.  But it will come with the peaceful assurance that we are doing what God asks of us. 

Now for a reminder of the need to be an ambassador.  The following news story can be found at:  The article was written by Todd Starnes.  He tells the story of an eight-year old boy who came home from school one day with a handout from the Nation of Islam that portrayed the presidents on Mount Rushmore as being racists.  And he had received this handout at his school: Harold McCormick Elementary School in Elizabethon, TN.  His mother contacted the school teacher: "at first, she (the teacher) did not recall which paper it was.  Later in the day, she found and told me she didn't like what is said - and said she must have printed it by mistake."  The article then states, "The teacher also told Sommer that her son was not supposed to take the Nation of Islam handout home.  It was supposed to stay in the classroom.  That bit of news caused her great alarm."  Mrs. Bauer, the boy's mother, is quoted as saying, "I was caught off guard.  I reassured my son that he needed to feel safe enough to bring anything that the school gave him home to me.  Ultimately, while his teachers do care for him, his mother and his father have his absolute number one best interests at heart."  A very wise mother and father. 

And the events in Houston, TX continue to unfold.  This coming Sunday evening, there will be a community-wide rally in Houston to stand in solidarity with those churches and pastors who have been at the center of the ire of Houston's lesbian mayor.  The meeting will be held at Grace Community Church in Houston and will be simulcast across the country.  If you would like to be a part of this event, I would encourage you to go to the website and get the information of how you can participate from your own home.  It is time for us to be like Daniel - to resolve to take our stand for Jesus. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Another Revisiting of the First Amendment

I want to revisit the assault upon the First Amendment this week.  But before I look at the assault, I thought perhaps it would be good for all of us to just re-read that First Amendment to our United States Constitution, passed by Congress in 1789 and ratified in 1791.  The First Amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."  It seems to be rather straightforward in what it says, and yet the First Amendment has been the topic of more confusion than perhaps any other section of the Constitution.  And the assault upon it's foundational truths continues yet today.  Here are a few examples:

In Idaho, Pastor Donald Knapp and his wife Evelyn have owned The Hitching Post wedding chapel for 25 years.  Both are licensed ministers.  They have been informed by their city government that refusing to "marry" a same-sex couple will cause them to be sent to jail.  Earlier this month the State of Idaho approved same-sex marriage and, as in other states where similar measures have been adopted, problems for those who hold to a biblical view of marriage become evident.  According to an article in Tony Perkin's Washington Update, dated October 20, 2014, "For Donald and Evelyn, there was never any question what the duo would do.  Unapologetically Christian, the husband-and-wife team is overtly religious, marrying couples with faith-driven vows, and even offering marriage sermons on CD to newlyweds."  Yet the city authorities have said that unless they conformed to the new law, they would be fined up to $1,000 a day for every day they refuse to perform the ceremony and have 180 days in jail. 

"FRC (Family Research Council) warned this movement was coming, but even we didn't expect the government to move this quickly.  'The other side insisted this would never happen - that pastors would not have to perform same-sex marriage,' ADF (Alliance Defending Freedom)'s Jeremy Tedesco told Fox News's Todd Starnes.  'The reality is - it's already happening.'  Government officials are making it clear that they'll use their power to punish anyone who opposes the agenda of homosexual activists.  It's a scary turnaround for a nation founded on the same free exercise of religion, which is now punishable by six months in prison.  When there are plenty of other options for homosexuals seeking a marriage license, why should they be able to use the power of government to force Christians to participate?"

Then there is the case of a young student attending the University of New Mexico who was punished for criticizing lesbians.  The article is posted at:  The article was written by Bob Unruh and posted on October 20.  "The University of New Mexico and one of its professors will face trial on a charge of violating the constitutional rights of a student punished for expressing her opinions about lesbianism in a class described by the instructor as having 'controversy built right into the syllabus.'  Chief U.S. District Judge M. Christina Armijo denied a motion by the university to dismiss a case brought by student Monica Pompeo, who claimed she was improperly dismissed from the class for describing lesbianism as perverse in an assigned critique of a lesbian romance film.  The course, 'Images of (Wo)men: From Icons to Iconoclasts,' was taught by professor Carolyn Hinkley in 2012.  Judge Armijo, in her Sept. 29 order, wrote that the First Amendment 'violation in this case arises from the irreconcilable conflict between the all-views-are-welcome description of the forum and [the professor's] only-those-views-with-which-I-personally-agree-are-acceptable implementation of the forum.  "Hinkley wrote in the syllabus: 'It's quite clear that we do not expect anyone to necessarily agree with the positions and arguments advanced in our work.  There's controversy built right into the syllabus, and we can't wait to hash out our differences.  But when she assigned students to watch and write about 'Desert Hearts,' a 1985 lesbian romance film, Pompeo said Hinkley refused to read beyond the first two pages of her harsh critique.  The professor described Pompeo's opinion as 'inflammatory and offensive' hate speech and said it would be in her best interest to drop the class."

In a rare victory, Judge Armijo ruled on behalf of the plaintiff, Ms. Pompeo.  She wrote, "Plaintiff has made out a case that no reasonable educator could have believed that by criticizing lesbianism, plaintiff's critique fell outside the parameters of the class, given the description of the class set out in the syllabus.  The court questions whether a university can have a legitimate pedagogical interest in inviting students to engage in 'incendiary' and provocative speech on a topic and then punishing a student because he or she did just that.  Simply because plaintiff expressed views about homosexuality that some people may deem offensive does not deprive her views of First Amendment protection.  Plaintiff has made out a plausible case that Hinkley ostracized her because of Hinkley's personal disagreement with plaintiff's ideology, and not for legitimate pedagogical purpose."  May this judge's kind increase.

And the battle continues in Houston.  The Mayor changed the language of the subpoena last week, dropping the word "sermon" and replacing it with the word "speech."  In effect, it did not change the subpoena at all.  But the nation, despite the lack of any media coverage, except by Fox News, has rallied around those five pastors.  Former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee, encouraged pastors across America to send Houston Mayor Annise Parker a sermon, and perhaps send her a Bible as well.  Martial arts champion and television star, Chuck Norris, said the action of the Houston Mayor reminded him of the words of Forrest Gump and his mother, "Stupid is as stupid does."  In an article, posted at, Bob Unruh quotes from Pastor Wilfredo De Jesus of the New Life Covenant Church in Chicago: "It's a sad day in the United States of America, in the land of the free, when the First Amendment rights of religious leaders are being trampled on by a mayor for political gain and/or exposure.  I accept the fact that what I preach may be considered by some as controversial and not accepted as popular.  What I will not accept is a government body deploying bullying tactics that perpetuate an environment of hate toward Christians and bigotry toward Christian beliefs."  Stay tuned - this conflict in Houston is not over, yet. 

I want to close with a reference to some thoughts from Billy Graham.  You can find the entire article at:  Dr. Graham states, "Even though America is just as wicked as Sodom and Gomorrah ever were, and as deserving of the judgment of God, God would spare us if we were earnestly praying, with hearts that had been cleansed and washed by the blood of Christ.  The problems of the world will never be settled unless our national leaders go to God in prayer.  If only they would discover the power and wisdom that there is in reliance upon God, we could soon see the solution to the grave problems that face the world.  Today the world is being carried on a rushing torrent of history that is sweeping out of control.  There is but one power available to redeem the course of events, and that is the power of prayer by God-fearing, Christ-believing people."  And to that I will said a hearty "Amen!"

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Another Wake-Up Call in the Battle for Truth

If you have been following my blog for the past seven years, you will remember that I have stressed that the day will come when Christians will be put under the microscope and condemned for what they say and do in the name of Jesus Christ; that the day will come when pastors will be arrested and put in jail because of the truths they proclaim from the Word of God.  Friends, that day is getting closer than we realize.  Allow me to share a story that was reported on several of the conservative news sites yesterday.

The article can be found at  The author of the article is Bob Unruh, one of the featured writers with WND.  Allow me to quote from the article.  "Officials with the City of Houston, Texas, who are fighting for a controversial ordinance that would allow men to use women's restrooms there now have demanded to see the sermons preached by several area pastors.  The recent move came in a subpoena from the city to pastors for copies of their sermons - and copies of other communications from the pastors to their congregations - in the city's fight over a 'non-discrimination' plan that allows 'gender-confused' people to use whatever public restrooms with which they identify.  A legal action challenging the city's move has developed because the city allegedly violated its own charter in the process of adopting the Equal Rights Ordinance, which in May designated homosexuals and transgender persons as a protected class.  Critics say the measure effectively enables sexual predators who dress as women to enter female public bathrooms, locker rooms and shower facilities.  And a coalition of activists that includes area pastors filed suit Aug. 6 against the city and lesbian Mayor Annise Parker after officials announced a voter petition to repeal the measure didn't have enough signatures to qualify for the election ballot." 

So, let's just stop right here and ascertain the gravity of the situation.  The city council of Houston, Texas, adopted an ordinance that made it possible for persons who are confused about their gender to use any public bathroom facility that they choose.  The people of Houston strongly disagreed with that ordinance and filed a petition signed by many of its residents urging the city council to repeal the ordinance.  And, several of the area pastors spoke out against that ordinance through sermons, e-mails, blogs, etc. to their congregants.  What was the response of the Mayor and the Council?  They challenged the signatures on the petition and they decided to subpoena the sermons and other forms of communication from those pastors on record as opposing the ordinance.  The Mayor and the Council members are not interested in hearing the Gospel; they just want to know if what is said from the pulpit aligns with the will of the Council. 

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorney working on behalf of the pastors said that "the city is illegitimately demanding that the pastors, who are not party to the lawsuit, turn over their constitutionally protected sermons and other communications simply so the city can see if the pastors have ever opposed or criticized the city.  'City council members are supposed to be public servants, not 'Big Brother' overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge,' said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley.  'In this case they have embarked upon a witch hunt, and we are asking the court to put a stop to it.'"  ADF Litigation Counsel Christiana Holcomb said, "The city's subpoena of sermons and other pastoral communications is both needless and unprecedented.  The city council and its attorneys are engaging in an inquisition designed to stifle any critique of its actions.  Political and social commentary is not a crime; it is protected by the First Amendment."

Friends, this is a very serious matter.  I have been teaching a class on Church History on Monday evenings in my church.  I have been noticing an interesting trend when it comes to the conflict between the teachings of the Gospel and the world.  What happened in the Book of Acts when the disciples dared to proclaim boldly the resurrection of Jesus Christ?  They were arrested and threatened by those who opposed that message.  In fact, we read where James was arrested and martyred, and a similar fate awaited Peter, except for the divine intervention of God.  The Apostle Paul knew the difficulties of opposing those with divergent positions: imprisoned, beaten, and even stoned.  The world is frightened when confronted with the truth. 

And, as one continues in the study of the history of the Church, the assault upon truth is obvious.  Our great nation was founded by those who were being persecuted because of the truths they held regarding the Word of God.  And, as a consequence of that persecution, when this nation was founded, one of its foundational principles was that truth should not be quieted by government.  This is the reality of the First Amendment. 

And yet now that foundational principle is being assaulted.  If the courts rule in the favor of the Mayor and Council of Houston, Texas, then pastors in this country will be faced with the reality of choosing whether to: a) continue preaching the truths of the Bible and speaking boldly those truths, knowing that to do so will most certainly lead to a jail sentence, or b) to compromise on biblical truth so as to preserve their freedom from jail.  And the issue that will create this dilemma will be that of homosexuality and gender equality.  We have seen it already in Canada and places in Europe.  Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have already embraced the transsexual agenda.  It is on our doorsteps, and the situation arising in Houston is a strong clarion call that the battle is now engaged. 

It is becoming increasingly clear that my role as a pastor/teacher is to proclaim the truths of the Scriptures as clearly and as powerfully as the Spirit of God gives the ability.  And then to help the families within my church to own those truths as their own so that they, in turn, can instill them into the hearts of their children.  If America is to be saved, it will only come through a cooperative and dedicated effort on the part of homes and churches strongly committed to knowing and proclaiming truth, even if it means a sacrifice might be required.  I challenge you to re-read the book of Daniel, especially those first six chapters.  "Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone; Dare to have a purpose firm, dare to make it known."

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sukkot, ISIS, and a Frightening Decision

Tonight is the Eve of the Jewish Festival known as Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles.  As with Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), this annual celebration has its roots planted deeply in the wilderness wanderings of Israel following the exodus from Egypt.  This Feast is first mentioned in Leviticus 23:33-43.  As part of this remembrance of God's provision for Israel during those 40 years of wanderings, Israel was to live in booths constructed of tree and palm branches.  I have seen some pictures of some incredibly beautiful sukkots today.  The Feast of Tabernacles lasts for eight days.  It is the last of the fall festivals in Israel.  As with all of the Hebrew feasts, this one is a reminder of what God has done in the past and a celebration of what God is doing in the present and a hope for what God will do in the future.  Perhaps we need more celebrations like this in our Christian experience.

I want to share with you two articles I received this morning.  Both were reported on the Fox News website.  The first was titled, "Congressman: 'At least 10 ISIS fighters caught trying to cross into US."  The article can be found at:  Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, said that he had learned that "at least" 10 Islamic State fighters had been caught trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border into Texas.  He had learned this from people at the Border Patrol.  Rep. Hunter went on to say, in the article, "ISIS is coming across the southern border.  They aren't flying B1 bombers bombing American cities, but they are going to be bombing American cities coming across from Mexico.  I know that at least 10 ISIS fighters have been caught coming across the Mexican border in Texas."  He then speculated that if 10 fighters had been caught, how many were not caught by the Border Patrol. 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) denied this claim by Rep. Hunter.  One senior DHS spokesman said, "The suggestion that individuals who have ties to ISIL have been apprehended at the Southwest border is categorically false, and not supported by any credible intelligence or the facts on the ground.  DHS continues to have no credible intelligence to suggest terrorist organizations are actively plotting to cross the southwest border."  A spokesman for the Congressman responded, "The congressman was conveying what he knows - and what he was told.  It make sense that the left hand of DHS doesn't know what the right hand is doing - it's been that way for a long time and we don't expect that to change." 

The porousness of the border between Mexico and the United States has long been documented.  For every illegal who is caught there are dozens who are not caught.  Reports have circulated that radical Islamic terrorists have been in Mexico and the assumption is that some have crossed over into the United States.  Could it be that we will have to fight ISIS or other radical Islamic groups here on our soil?  It certainly is a greater possibility than some might want to admit. 

The second article, also on the Fox News website, is titled, "Commission says Christian business owners should leave religion at home."  The article was written by Todd Starnes, whose book, "God Less America" I have reviewed in a previous blog.  (By the way, it is a must read).  The article can be found at:  The article begins, "The Human Rights Commission in Lexington, Kentucky, has a chilling message for Christian business owners who refuse service to LGBT organizations: leave your religion at home.  'It would be safe to do so, yes,' Executive Director Raymond Sexton told me.  'Or in this case you can find yourself two years down the road and you're still involved in a legal battle because you did not do so.'"

"On Tuesday, a Lexington Human Rights Commission hearing examiner issued a recommended ruling that the owner of a T-shirt company violated a local ordinance against sexual-orientation discrimination.  The examiner concluded that Blaine Adamson of Hands On Originals broke the law in 2012 by declining to print shirts promoting the Lexington Pride Festival.  The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization subsequently filed a complaint.  Alliance Defending Freedom, a law firm that specializes in religious liberty cases, represented Adamson, a devout Christian.  'No one should be forced by the government or by another citizen to endorse or promote ideas with which they disagree,' said ADF attorney Jim Campbell.  'Blaine declined to the request to print the shirts not because of any characteristic of the people who asked for them, but because of the message that the shirts would communicate.'"

What did this ruling require?  "First, Hands On Originals cannot discriminate against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  In other words, the T-shirt company must service LGBT customers - no questions asked.  The examiner also ordered Adamson to attend 'diversity training' conducted by - wait for it - the Lexington Human Rights Commission."  Todd Starnes writes, "Take just a moment and let that sink in - a Christian business owner is being ordered to attend diversity training - because of his religious beliefs.  That's a pretty frightening concept and a mighty dangerous precedent. ... In essence, the Human Rights Commission is telling Christian business owners they have to change their religious beliefs.  It's the idea that the government knows best and Christians must reorient their beliefs." 

Oh the power of a minority - and the LGBT community represents less than 5% of the American population; yet it has enough influence to attack small business owners and giant business enterprises, like Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A.  And the decision, this past Monday, by the United States Supreme Court certainly did not help the conservative Christian cause at least for the immediate moment.  The Court refused to consider appeals from lower courts that had been brought to the Supreme Court.  Thus the door was opened for the recognition of gay marriage in states such as Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Utah.  But I took hope in the article Tony Perkins wrote in his "Washington Update" for the Family Research Council.  "While the Left races to spin the news as a victory for its cause, the reality is that today's announcement doesn't mean that the justices would rule against marriage.  What it does show is that the Court is hesitant to jump into the fray and impose a 'Roe v. Wade' type decision on a nation still sharply divided on the issue. ... If the Supreme Court thinks America isn't ready for same-sex ',marriage,' they're right.  As more states are forced to recognize it, people will see the ensuing attacks on religious freedom.  They'll feel the wedge driven between parents and their children when school curriculum is changed to contradict the morals moms and dads are teaching at home.  They'll shudder as more people lose their jobs because they refuse to celebrate (not just tolerate) same-sex 'marriage.'  Maybe then they'll realize that the true goal is not about the marriage altar - but fundamentally altering society." 

So, we have the threat of ISIS crossing our border intent upon destroying the Great Satan.  Yet, at the same time, we have the decline in morality that is destroying us from within.  Perhaps there won't be much left for ISIS to take.  But aren't you glad that you are in the hands of a great God?  I know that I am!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Yom Kippur and the United Nations General Assembly

This coming Saturday is one of the highest and holiest days in the Jewish calendar.  It is known as Yom Kippur, or The Day of Atonement.  The roots for this holy day go back to the commandments given by God to Moses upon Mount Sinai following the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt.   The details of this special day are found in the following texts: Leviticus 16:1-34, Leviticus 23:26-32, and Numbers 29:7-11.  This was a national day for fasting and repentance of sins.  On this day, the High Priest would enter into the Most Holy Place and there sprinkle the blood of a bull and the blood of a goat upon the cover of the Ark of the Covenant.  This cover was known as the Mercy Seat.  The blood of the bull was representative of the sins of the High Priest, while the blood of the goat represented the sins of the people.  Thus both the priest and the nation were represented.

Following the sprinkling of the blood upon the Mercy Seat, the High Priest would then, in the presence of the people, lay his hands upon the head of a second goat confessing the sins of wickedness and rebellion of the people, thus transferring those sins now to the goat.  Then that goat would be taken by a chosen individual deep into the wilderness and released never to be seen again.  This represented that God had removed the sins from the camp and the people were forgiven.  Some final sacrifices then completed the events of this important day. 

Are there any lessons we can learn from The Day of Atonement?  And the answer is "yes."  First, there is the reminder that the way to forgiveness is through following the plan of God.  Moses did not just think up this way.  It was given to him by God Himself.  "Moses, if the people want to know My forgiveness, then this is the avenue they must take."  There was only one way to repentance and forgiveness!  Sounds pretty narrow, doesn't it?  But the way to God is a narrow way.  It is only through Jesus that one can experience the forgiveness of sins.  Remember those words of Jesus: "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).  The Day of Atonement was God's plan.

Second, there is the reminder that the way to forgiveness comes through the shedding of innocent blood.  That bull and goat had done nothing deserving of death.  They did not need to be forgiven.  Yet they gave of their lives so that the people might be forgiven.  What a picture here of what Jesus Christ did for us upon the cross!  He had done nothing deserving of death.  He did not need to be forgiven.  He freely gave of Himself for us: "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). 

Third, there is the reminder that when God forgives our sins, they are totally removed from us.  That goat, called the scape-goat, was taken so far outside the boundaries of the camp, that it was never seen again.  No one ever knew what became of that goat; perhaps it wandered in that wilderness until it died, or perhaps it became a meal for a lion or a pack of wolves.  The Bible affirms for us that God, also, has removed our sins from us: "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:12).  What an amazing statement!  Those sins will never be seen again. 

The Day of Atonement really becomes a portrait for us of what Jesus Christ would do upon the cross.  So, perhaps it might be good on Saturday to just take a few moments to simply thank God for the forgiveness of your sins through the blood of Jesus Christ.  Of course, it is good for us to do that on a regular basis. 

Before I close, I just wanted to make a quick comment upon some of the speeches given by world leaders at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly.  Last week, Palestinian Authority Chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, used his time to rail against Israel, accusing them of "crimes against humanity" during the recent Operation Protective Edge.  He also indicated, although he did not give specifics, that he intends to appeal to the United Nations Security Council to set a date whereby Israel must exit Samaria and Judea (the West Bank).  Reading between the lines in his speech, one comes to the conclusion that the Palestinians are no longer interested in a face-to-face peace process, but want a declaration by the international community that will force Israel to either leave the West Bank or to defy the wishes of that international community by remaining.

Then, yesterday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed that same United Nations General Assembly.  He spent a good amount of time making the case that Hamas and ISIS or ISIL or IS are simply branches off the same tree.   Both Hamas and ISIS have as their stated intent the destruction of Israel.  He then addressed the accusation of "crimes against humanity" by showing photographs of Hamas rocket launchers on school grounds and in neighborhoods.  He used these words, "Ladies and Gentlemen, As Israeli children huddled in bomb shelters and Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system knocked Hamas rockets out of the sky, the profound moral difference between Israel and Hamas couldn't have been clearer: Israel was using its missiles to protect its children; Hamas was using its children to protect its missiles."  The Prime Minister also seemed wearied by the lengthy peace process, but also appeared to keep the door open for future talks. 

The focus of the world is upon ISIS right now.  Even our own governmental leaders have failed to "connect the dots" between ISIS and Hamas and Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda.  The Israeli Prime Minister is correct - there is an obvious link.  I think the Australians are beginning to see the link with their recent uncovering of a plot that is almost too grisly to even think about.  There is a link with the recent terrorist murder in Oklahoma: this was not an act of workplace violence, but an act of terrorism, a hate-crime if you will.  Is it ever possible to totally eradicate the radical Islamists?  No.  We tried in World War 2 to eradicate Nazism and Fascism and were successful in damaging its influence, but both Nazism and Fascism still exist today, especially among those white-supremacist groups.  No, we will never totally destroy radical ideologies, but the world - including, and most importantly, the Arab world - needs to join hands to do all it can to destroy as many of those radical ideologies as possible.  The world was successful in World War 2.  It can be again, but it will take some bold leadership - a Roosevelt or a Churchill - to make it happen; and, I am afraid, as I look out over the leadership landscape today, such leaders are sorely missing.  Leadership today is through accommodation rather than through courage.  Leadership today is achieved by popularity polls rather than through assertive visioning. 

Who will the world listen to?  The Palestinian Authority Chairman or the Israeli Prime Minister?  I know whom I am inclined to listen to...but I don't believe the world is listening to the right voice.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

ISIS, Khorasan, Israel and Shana Tova

Eyes are focused upon the Middle East right now.  Earlier this week, IDF (Israel Defense Forces) shot down a Syrian fighter plane that had strayed into Israeli air space along the Golan Heights.  This was the first time since the 1980's that Israel had actually shot down a manned Syrian fighter.  I believe it was a strong statement by Israel that they will tolerate no one encroaching upon their space. 

And yesterday American warplanes and tomahawk missiles hit ISIS targets within Syria - the first time American planes have actually entered Syrian air space to deliver warheads against ISIS.  They were joined by five other Arab nations (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain) in a coalition whose purpose is to destroy the capabilities of ISIS.  The contributions of these ally nations was not described.  In addition to ISIS targets, American planes also struck targets belonging to another radical offshoot of Al-Qaeda, known as Khorasan.  According to American intelligence, this group was actively engaged in making plans to attack either the United States or a Western European target by blowing up a plane.  Attorney General Eric Holder said, "We hit them last night [Tuesday] out of a concern that they were getting close to an execution date of some of the plans that we have seen.  And the hitting that we did last night, I think, will probably continue until we are at a stage where we think we have degraded their ability to get at our allies or to the homeland."  This comes after repeated declarations by the Administration that the core leadership of Al-Qaeda has been decimated such that they are no longer a threat to the United States. 

President Obama stated yesterday that "the fight will take time."  And I believe he is correct.  ISIS is a formidable foe.  It is well armed, well financed, and well advertised.  Its tentacles reach deep into both Western Europe and the United States.  Dying for a cause is appealing to many young men and women whose lives really have no hope.  They are trapped in poverty in our inner cities.  Many have dropped out of school thus creating a more hopeless situation for them.  So, when the Facebook and Twitter images of the glory of fighting for a cause and dying as a martyr for that cause appear, interest is piqued.  Estimates are that as many as 2,000 Westerners have joined ISIS.  Some are turned away at the border before they cross and they then return home but with a mindset of martyrdom.  And they have as their intent to destroy as many other lives as they can before they themselves are destroyed.

Friends, it will be interesting to read the speeches from many of the world leaders over the course of the next few days as the United Nations opens its fall season.  I am sure there will be the usual "Israel bashing" which almost seems universal these days.  And, of course, there will be dialogue about global warming, or is it climate change.  Don't turn a deaf ear to what these leaders say for they are a barometer of where the world is heading. 

Tomorrow is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  It marks the beginning of the year 5775.  It also marks the beginning of one of the most celebratory months in Judaism.  Rosh Hashanah is followed by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement which falls on October 4 this year.  It is a day spent in fasting and prayer.  The Feast of Sukkot or Feast of Tabernacles begins on October 8 and lasts for seven days.  This Feast commemorates Israel's 40 years of wanderings in the wilderness.  Many Jews will create "booths" or outdoor living quarters for those seven days. 

Some of you may be asking yourself, "I have always wanted to go to Israel and to walk where Jesus walked and to hear the echoes of the voices of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."  I have traveled to Israel 8 times and can honestly say that each time I am in His Land, I grow to have a deeper understanding of the Word of God.  The Bible literally comes alive as one threads his/her way through those winding streets of the Old City.  To sit in quiet in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and view the surrounding countryside and then to read the stories of Jesus and His miracles there brings a new excitement to one's heart. 

I am privileged to be leading another tour to Israel in 2015 - leaving on February 27 and arriving back home on March 8.  We will be visiting such places as Joppa and hear the story of Jonah; Caesarea where Paul was imprisoned for two years; Megiddo and stand look out over the valley of Armageddon; Capernaum, the adopted hometown of Jesus; the Mount of the Beatitudes and reconnect with the Sermon on the Mount; and of course we will take a boat out on the Sea of Galilee.  After our time in Galilee, we will journey down the Jordan Valley, visiting En Gedi, the fortress where David and his men hid from King Saul; Qumran - where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered; and Masada, whose story thrills the imagination.  And, of course, there will be time to take a dip in the Dead Sea - one of the most unique places on this earth.  Then we will conclude with four incredible days in Jerusalem itself.  There will be time for prayer at the Western Wall.  Visits to the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, the Upper Room, and the House of Caiaphas will draw us more deeply into those final hours of Jesus' life.  We will traverse portions of the Via Dolorosa and make our way to the Garden Tomb where, with a special Communion Service, we will celebrate our Savior's death and resurrection.  The tour is for 10 days - days that will impact your life forever.  And the cost for the tour is under $4,000 per person, including airfare, hotels, two delicious meals per day, all gratuities, entrance fees, deluxe motor coach and an outstanding guide. 

If you would like to receive an informative brochures detailing this tour, please send me a message via Facebook, including your e-mail address and I will forward to you information.  Registration for our tour closes on November 1, but there are still seats available.  I can assure you, your life will be forever changed and your study of the Word of God will become more special. 

So, I wish you a "Shana Tova."  It means in Hebrew, "The year is good."  And I trust it will be for each of you.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

An Apology

Yesterday I included at the close of my blog some information regarding an e-mail our church had received asking for urgent prayer for those Christians suffering in Iraq.  The e-mail, purported to be a letter from a Crisis Relief International worker, related about children being beheaded.

That e-mail was a bogus one I came to find out.  The reference is the following web-address:  That website will share the fallacy of the e-mail I related yesterday.

I try to do my best to make sure that all my facts are straight and the e-mail links are vetted as well as I know how to do, but this one just slipped by.  So, please accept my apologies. 

But the message to pray for the suffering believers in the path of ISIS is not a bogus event.  They really do need our prayers for God's strength to be given to them. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Warning That Needs to Be Heeded

I read an article this morning that I found very disturbing.  It was an article written by Chelsea Schilling and posted at "Islamic State terrorists are recruiting women from Western countries to fly to the Middle East, marry jihadists and bear their children in a 'cash-for-babies' scheme.  The depravity of ISIS Muslims already has been well-documented, with their torture and murder of children in Iraq, their crucifixions of adults and their use of women as sex slaves.  But observers are saying the latest report, how ISIS is luring American women by promising money in return for bearing children for militants, takes the jihadist group to a whole new level."  And, once again, Minnesota takes center stage.  The article states, "Female members of at least three Somali families in Minneapolis have gone missing in the past six weeks.  A 19-year-old from the area is known to have flown to Turkey in secret before crossing the border into Syria. ... It was reported one of the missing Somalians from Minnesota 'left home saying she was attending a bridal shower [but] instead flew to Turkey.'"

According to the article, "'They [speaking of ISIS] are selling them [these young girls] this mystical sisterhood of going to the caliphate and being able to be Muslim in this idealized, utopian society,' warned Mia Bloom, a professor at the center for terrorism and security studies at the University of Massachusetts.  'They are targeting these young girls in a very predatory way - the way child sex abusers target young children.'  .. Bloom also expressed concern that ISIS will use the women as suicide bombers.  She said, while most women would stand out on a military installation, in most other public places, people wouldn't expect a woman to carry out a suicide attack.  'If you change your tactics and target mosques or schools, that's when women are really quite ideal,' she explained." 

Friends, I would strongly urge you to read this article.  This is the world we are living in.  The power of radical groups, such as ISIS, is not to be overlooked.  Historically there have always been those who seek to be identified with such groups, whether it is out of the sense of adventure, or just to escape their own problems back home, or to feel that they are part of a new world order. 

Giving our young people today more things does not fill that void within their hearts, yet that is what our society through the tentacles of the media would have us believe.  Every ad on television or on Facebook or on Twitter is a reminder that "things bring happiness."  But they don't.  That ache within the hearts of many of our young people today also cannot be filled with religion.  Young people today are fed-up with the false promises and the hypocrisy they have seen in religious ceremonies and rites and so they have bailed out of organized religious practices by the hundred of thousands. 

That void, that emptiness, can only be filled with the presence of Jesus Christ.  I believe that young people today are truly seeking for truth.  Many are tired of "the game of life" and want to know what life is really about.  As a Christian parent, I have a strong opportunity to influence my children for Jesus.  As a Christian grandparent, I need to use those opportunities to influence my grandchildren for Jesus.  I need to model before them what "Jesus in the flesh" looks like.  I need to share truth with them - not just opinions.  I need to let them know that the Bible is the foundation upon which I make the choices for everyday living.  Friends, this MUST begin in the home.  For too long we have thrust this responsibility upon our schools and upon our churches.  Both have failed - in some cases failed miserably.  In Deuteronomy 6, God instructs Moses to tell the people that "dads, get involved in the lives of your children from the time they get up in the morning until they go to bed at night.  Use those moments to share truth with them."  Yes, I know dads are busy these days - there are a lot of demands upon them.  But, Dad, don't just shower your children with things; shower them with who you are - the real you. 

I believe that if we model this well - and it will take some time because it is a whole new way of parenting and grandparenting than what has been in the recent past - then, perhaps we will not have young girls running off to join radical groups.  We will not have young people abandoning the church as they grow older. 

As I close this blog this morning, I want to share an urgent prayer request my church received from a neighboring church.  They concern e-mails received from missionaries working in the area where ISIS has been active.  "Missionaries who are in the areas that are being attacked by ISIS are asking to be showered in prayer.  ISIS has taken over the town they are in today.  He said ISIS is systematically going house to house to all the Christians and asking the children to denounce Jesus.  He said so far not one child has.  And so far all have consequently been killed.    But not the parents.  The UN has withdrawn and the missionaries are on their own.  They are determined to stick it out for the sake of the families - even if it means their own deaths.  They are very afraid, have no idea how to even begin ministering to these families who have seen their children martyred.  Yet he says he knows God has called them for some reason to be His voice and hands at this place at this time."

Friends, will you pray for these who are serving Christ in these war-torn places?  Will you pray for those Christians in northern Iraq who are paying the ultimate sacrifice because of their love for Jesus?  Our God is still in control!  Amen!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On the Eve of ... What?

Tonight our President will address the nation on his plans to contain and destroy the Islamic State (IS) or also known as ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).  Perhaps it is no coincidence that this speech comes on the eve of 9/11 - one of the darkest days in our recent past; a day in which we witnessed the boldness and determined face of terrorists committed to a radical ideology that has no respect for life, only for principles.  Over three thousand Americans died that day and a nation that had assumed that the war on terror was "somewhere over there" was rudely awakened to the reality that terror respects no boundaries.  Al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, was focused on the destruction of the twin evils of Zionism (Israel) and Western civilization, best represented by the United States.  And so he led his followers to perpetrate acts of horrific destruction around the world, culminating in the attacks on the World Trade Center towers and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. 

But, as many analysts have written, ISIS is a greater threat than was Al-Qaeda.  Yes, ISIS has a documented history of systematic and horrific violence.  The brutality with which they have attacked Christians in Iraq is well documented.  The pictures of captured Syrian soldiers being marched into the desert and executed are difficult to view.  And the recent beheadings of two American journalists repulsed many in the civilized world, as well they should.  Here is what I find so incredibly sad.  Those images of Christians in and around Mosul being literally butchered by the ISIS soldiers caused little uproar among many in the world; they certainly did not grab the heart of our governmental leaders.  It took the ghastly beheadings of those two American journalists to final awaken our leaders to the imminent threat that ISIS continues to be.  But the greatest threat from ISIS is not what it seeks to destroy, but what it seeks to create - a new world order based upon the radical interpretations of Islam.  The leaders of ISIS envision a world - a caliphate - that is under the rule of radical Islamic law.  They are seeking to recapture those days when the Islamic Caliphate ruled with strength, especially in the Middle East and reaching into Europe. 

Last week Maajid Nawaz, a former radical leader in Egypt who once believed in building an Islamic Caliphate through terrorism, was interviewed on the Fox News Channel's "The Kelly File."  Mr. Nawaz said, "There is absolutely no justification for what they've done.  We must not only condemn ISIS' tactical beheading of innocent people, including journalists from across the world and in particular Sotloff today, but we must go further than that because mere condemnation is not enough.  We've got to actively work to undermine not just them as an organization, but to undermine the ideology, the poisonous ideology that they are based upon.  Calling them psychopaths does kind of let them off too easily.  They bear 100 percent responsibility for their actions.  They subscribe to a dogma that they justify in their own minds what they're doing.  They think somehow they're serving a higher, noble cause and it's that cause, it's that narrative, it's that ideological world view that we need to undermine.  We need to actively work to undermine it on a civil society level so that it becomes unattractive and as unappealing as Soviet Communism has become today."  As the interview closed, Mr. Nawaz compared ISIS and Nazi Germany, stating that we are seeing that same evil now in a different form. 

On September 4, former CIA operative Bob Baer told CNN's Jake Tapper that ISIS is in the United States and capable of carrying out an attack.  He told Mr. Tapper, "The people who collect tactical intelligence on the ground, day-to-day, and this isn't Washington, but people collecting this stuff say they're here, they're capable of striking.  They don't know what their plans and intentions are.  But it's a definite concern.  The people who do this for a living are very alarmed."  Of special concern is that ISIS terrorists could easily enter the United States through our porous southern border. 

It will be interesting to see how President Obama will describe ISIS this evening - will he dare to use the term "radical Islamic terrorists" - a term he has not used in the past?  Will he share with us how a coalition is being formed?  Will he share how his administration is actively courting real help from Middle Eastern Islamic states: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, just to name a couple?  Friends, this war with ISIS cannot be seen as another attempt by the West to thwart an advance of Islam.  The world needs to see that Muslims band together to destroy a group that has radicalized Islam and used it to accomplish terroristic purposes.  The President does not need to give us more "red-lines" that become meaningless.  The President does not need to give us vitriolic rhetoric, for words have little meaning unless they are supported by actions.  The President does need to give the American people a clearly stated action plan for the destruction of ISIS.  Polls show that the American people are willing to support some type of military campaign against ISIS.  But they want clarity and bi-partisan support.  The time for political grandstanding is over. 

Political intrigue continues to plague Israel and its neighbors.  Saturday evening, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas spoke to journalists in Cairo, warning that the unity deal he and his party Fatah reached with Hamas in April, was on the brink of collapse.  Abbas said, "I don't trust Hamas much because they change their words all the time.  There must be a united Palestinian Authority."  He then accused Hamas of smuggling arms into the West Bank, not for the purposes of fighting Israel, but to hold a coup against the Palestinian Authority.  Abbas stated, "Hamas has been trying to cause the Palestinian Authority to fail since the day it was formed."  Abbas then went on to state that while he is in New York to attend the opening week of the United Nations, he will present a plan to have the United Nations set a timeline demanding Israel withdraw from the those territories captured in 1967.  (Friends, the United Nations begins its fall session this coming week.  Look for lots of barbs to be thrown at Israel during the various speeches by world leaders.  It could be a very interesting week).

We are living in a world that is caught in the grips of fear.  Many parents are not sending their children to school tomorrow because of 9/11 and the threat of another attack.  Many employees are staying home from work tomorrow for fear that their building might be attacked.  There is a fear that the world is coming to an end.  There is a fear that the world will just continue as it has in the past.  Recently I have been drawn to those words of Jesus to His disciples: "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, isn't that reassuring - Jesus has overcome the world!  He is in complete control!  Nothing happens without His permission!  As  believers we are in the safest place in the world - we are in the hands of Jesus, and nothing can snatch us away.  So, friends, rest secure in the arms of Jesus.  Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.  Pray for wisdom for world leaders as they seek to prevent another holocaust, not just of Jews, but of all those who oppose radical Islam.  And, as you pray, share the love of Christ with those in your neighborhood and in your workplace.  Tell them that the only real hope we can have is found in Jesus.  And keep listening for the trumpet to sound.  Amen!