Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Romans 13 and the United States Supreme Court

Yesterday the United States Supreme Court heard arguments concerning making same-sex marriages the law of the land.  Thirty-eight states already have legitimatized same-sex marriages, leaving twelve states that have not made such declarations.  It seems that the Justices have already tipped their hat as to the direction their ruling will be when it is issued the end of June.  In the past several months, the Court has upheld lower court rulings that determined that states with laws banning same-sex marriage were unconstitutional.  Could this be an indication of the way in which the Court will rule?  Probably so.

If the Court rules that same-sex marriage is a right protected by the United States Constitution and can be defined as the law of the land, such a ruling will rival the January 22, 1973 ruling known as Roe v. Wade which made abortion the law of the land.  That ruling in 1973 legitimated the murder of the unborn - many simply because they were an unwanted pregnancy.  Tens of millions of babies have been executed in the womb.  I believe that Roe V. Wade was the beginning of our nation's plummet down a slippery immoral slope.  If the truth about value in life has meaning no longer, then perhaps the truth about anything has meaning no longer.  Truth becomes merely another personal preference. 

Now, the truth about marriage, as declared first within the pages of Holy Scripture - going back to that first family created in the Garden of Eden: one man and one woman - and the centerpiece of cultures and civilizations that have spanned both the civilized as well as the pagan worlds, is about to be declared null and void.  Think about what such a ruling will mean?  Well, we have already seen the results: businesses will be forced to serve gay weddings that violate their own spiritual beliefs.  And, if same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land, then the struggle between biblical truth and constitutional law will become more intense. 

Friends, we are moving into a time when the principles outlined by the Apostle Paul in Romans 13 are becoming a reality.  Let's look briefly at that passage.  First, Paul affirms that governments have been established by God and that it is the responsibility of every citizen - believer as well as nonbeliever - to be submissive to that government.  (I am sure Paul must have struggled writing those words because of the oppressive regime of Emperor Nero).  Second, Paul reminds us that the purpose of government is to protect its citizens and this is done through a sense of fear the government has over its citizens.  A good example of the truth found in verse 3 is the following: you are driving down the Interstate and you see a highway patrol car up ahead parked along the shoulder.  What is you immediate first response?  To touch the brakes, isn't it?  But why would you do that?  Because that patrol car represents the government and you fear what might happen if you are pulled over for speeding. 

But, what if the government, by its declarations wants you to do something that is contrary to your religious convictions?  What if, by obeying those governmental declarations, your conscience is violated?  What should you do?  Paul says that you need to submit to God first.  Was that not the response of those apostles when they were brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish government of the day?  We read in Acts 5:29, "We must obey God rather than men!"  But Paul would add to those words, "When you resist a governmental degree because of your faith in Jesus Christ, then you must be prepared to pay the penalty such resistance demands."  It might mean arrest and imprisonment.  Then, go to jail willingly, counting it a small price to pay for Jesus.  It might mean the loss of a job or of a career improvement.  Then, leave that job willingly, counting it a small price to pay for Jesus.  It might mean that your business will have to close.  Then, close it willingly, counting it a small price to pay for Jesus. 

Friends, I am convinced that the Church of Jesus Christ today is not prepared for the persecution and suffering that is coming.  We need to grow our faith.  We need to have a clearly stated purpose - just as did Daniel and his friends.  We need to have a Godly backbone to stand up for truth.  This needs to be the purpose of our small group Bible studies.  This needs to be the reason why Elders meet.  This needs to be priority in sermons that are preached and classes that are taught.  We need to be equipping the saints for the spiritual warfare that lies before us.  And that spiritual warfare just might be in the form of officers of the state who are enforcing the declarations of the State that has lost sight of its moral foundations. 

Oh how I pray, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus!"

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Thoughts on Earth Day

Today is Earth Day.  Now I am not sure exactly what that means.  It certainly is not a celebration of the earth's birthday because we don't know when that occurred.  Is it a celebration of something that the earth has done?  Well, the earth has been doing what the earth has been doing for a very long time - that length of time dependent upon how one understands Genesis 1 and 2. 

Earth Day is a relatively new celebration having first been celebrated in 1970, thus making the event 45 years old.  Its purpose was to call people's attention around the world concerning the needs of environmentalism.  The Bible calls us to be good stewards of the earth that God has created for us to enjoy.  We read of God's first commandment to mankind following their creation: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground'" (Genesis 1:27-28).  Man, the last in God's creative order, was given the task of superintending the earth.  Man was to be a good steward of the world God had entrusted to his care. 

As a Christian, I have a responsibility to use the resources of this earth wisely.  I need to exercise care in how I use the water resources around me.  Should I pollute a nearby lake by throwing my trash along its shores?  Absolutely not!  Should I exercise care in how I use herbicides and pesticides on my lawn so that they will not damage the water table?  Yes, absolutely...I have used those sparingly, but I have used them.  A Christian forester exercises care in his logging operations, carefully replanting replacement trees for everyone he has harvested.  A Christian fisherman exercises care in his fishing operations, guarding carefully those spawning beds so future generations can enjoy fishing as much as he does.  A Christian farmer exercises care in his tilling of the soil making sure that both wind and water erosion is minimal on his lands.  Those practices model what God's first command to mankind really meant.  Yes, a Christian is to be an environmentalist.

But here is where the problem comes.  Many of today's environmentalists have elevated the status of this earth to that of being like God.  We hear of those who worship Mother Earth, as it is called.  At times there is almost a silliness to some of the decisions that are reached: a beneficial dam that would bring necessary irrigation to parched farm ground cannot be built because such a dam would endanger the life of a little snail.  And the list of such silliness grows each year.  Friends, this planet earth is not a god to be served, but is a creation by our God to be used and enjoyed with careful stewardship.  Perhaps, instead of celebrating Earth Day, as Christians we ought to celebrate Creation Day.  That way we keep the priorities right. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What Is Iran Up To?

The race for the White House in 2016 is heating up.  The Republican field is getting crowded with strong candidates representing strong conservative values throwing their hats into the ring.  And it is sounding as if the first non-politician in a long time to run as president will soon declare.  The momentum for Dr. Ben Carson has grown, especially since his address before the National Presidential Prayer Breakfast two years ago.  As a non-politician he certainly sees the office through a different lens than do others.  It will be very interesting to see how far his candidacy will go and what following he will have in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina during the early days of the process. 

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton did what she was supposed to do.  But it is interesting the manner in which she entered the race.  The clouds that hang over her head are many.  The questions about Benghazi - what she knew and when she knew it, and about her deleted emails while Secretary of State will linger, demanding answers - and not just pat-ones.  And she will need some transparency which she has always found difficult to do.  I think it will be interesting to see whether any other Democrats will challenge her "already crowned nomination."  If they do, it could be very interesting.

I continue to watch with great interest the alignment of powers in the Middle East.  No sooner had the ink dried on the agreement that outlines the continuation of the Iran Talks, then the Iranians make two items non-negotiable.  First, President Rouhani stated that Iran will NOT give regulators access to all nuclear sites, and second, that Iran DEMANDS that all financial constraints placed upon Iran be lifted immediately the day the accords go into effect.  I wondered why they could make those types of demands so quickly.  Then I remembered seeing a picture in a newspaper of the celebration on the streets of Tehran at the announcement of the signing of these preliminary accords.  Friends, you only celebrate if you feel you have won.  There certainly was no celebration on the streets in London or Paris or Berlin or Washington.  The Iranians believe that they have won; that the P5+1 nations will not do anything.  Therefore the quick demands. 

Then, this past Monday, Fox News reported that Russia has agreed to deliver to Iran a sophisticated S-300 anti-missile system.  Iran had initially purchased this system in 2007, but Russia had halted the shipment to Iran in 2010.  Russia, one of the signatory nations of the P5+1, by virtue of its lifting the shipment ban is declaring that Iran has won.  The American response from Secretary of State John Kerry was, "We don't believe it's constructive at this time for Russia to move forward with this but we've worked very closely with the Russians on the P5+1 negotiations.  We don't think this will have an impact on unity in terms of inside the negotiating room."  Are the Israeli's concerned?  Yes they are.  Iran has always been a major threat to them.  They worry about the impact of a nuclear Iran upon Israel and upon the entire Middle East. 

Then, just this morning, Christianity Today reported that "influential Egyptian TV personality Tawfik Okasha has reportedly told Israel to bomb Iran. ... 'Put your trust in God and bomb it.  We are with you and if you need fuel for the jets, we will give it to you,' Okasha said." 

This strengthening alignment between Russia and Iran makes others in the Middle East very nervous.  And it certainly has shades of Ezekiel 38-39 written all over it.  For there, in those familiar prophetic verses, we see a strong alignment between Persia (today's Iran) and the ruler of the land of Magog (modern day Russia).  Are we nearing the end of the days of waiting for the sounding of the trumpet?  I cannot speak with absolute authority, but the Scriptural texts do seem to come alive right before our eyes.  Friends, Iran is not going away.  They have a mission to bring in the Twelfth Iman.  And, according to their understanding, he will come during a time of chaos and war. 

What should be the attitude of the believer?  Fear?  Absolutely not!  Apathy?  Definitely not!  Excitement?  This is a must.  Energized?  Yes, for we have a great task that still is unfinished.  These are great days.  

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Ministry With a Purpose

For the past two years, I have had the privilege of leading a group of 30 men through a verse-by-verse study of the Book of Romans.  We have met on Tuesday mornings at 6:00 a.m. for an hour of study and 30 minutes of prayer.  This time with these men has been a highlight of my week.  Oh the truths that God has taught us as we have dug deeply into His Word.  I must admit that there have been weeks when we have only delved into one or two verses, but the discussion has been so incredibly rewarding and encouraging.  God has been strengthening our walk with Him.  We are now nearing the end of that two years, as we are now in Romans 15.

This week I wanted to share with you some truths that God challenged me with in Romans 15:14.  There the Apostle Paul writes, "I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another."  God impressed upon my heart that this verse really is an outline of effective purposeful ministry.  There are three parts to it.  The first part is found in that phrase "You yourselves are full of goodness."  I believe this has reference to having a high moral character.  Moral integrity is lacking in our world today.  In fact, quite honestly, the lack of moral integrity is championed through the various media sources.  Honesty is no longer a desired feature in many corporate structures today; it is "get ahead at all costs" that brings success.  A strong work ethic is no longer built into the American workforce; it is to get paid as much as you can for doing as little as you can, and who cares if the work is done well.  One of the purposes of ministry is to help people rediscover the values of moral integrity; to be people who always take the moral high ground.  To be people who do not compromise their moral integrity for any purpose; in other words, to be like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Okay, you say, that is a very good purpose.  But how can a person get there?  That brings us to the second phrase Paul uses in this verse: "complete in knowledge."  I do not believe that Paul is talking here about learning that comes through an educational system, although that is very important as well.  But today's educational system and its values hardly guide a person to cultivate a high moral character.  So, where does this knowledge come from?  It comes through the study of the Word of God.  You see, as I dig more deeply into the Scriptures, I get a much clearer understanding of what God's desires are for my life.  I get a much clearer understanding of what God considers to be right and wrong.  I hear His heart as I read.  Now I am not talking about a brief devotional exercise - although I do not discount that God can work through His Word in any amount of time that we give to it.  But I believe the thought Paul would have us understand is that we need to commit ourselves to a serious study of the Word.  He advised Timothy, "Study to show yourself approved unto who handles the Word of God correctly" (2 Timothy 2:15).  Small group Bible studies are important for this reason.  Adult Sunday school classes are important for this reason.  Online studies are important for this reason.  As we study the Word, we grow in our moral integrity and our moral character becomes more defined.

But Paul is not yet finished.  He concludes by adding, "competent to instruct one another."  Let us follow the train of thought here: Our purpose in ministry is to help people to cultivate a high moral character.  This is done through helping them grow in their understanding of the Word of God.  But, real ministry does not end there.  No, those who are growing in their understanding of the Word of God need to reach out and share with someone else.  We call this discipleship.

Discipleship, for many churches, is a program that is done for several week.  I may go to a class for a few weeks, read a couple of good books, and then be declared that I have been certified as a disciple-maker.  And, unfortunately, that is where discipleship sadly ends for many churches.  Friends, discipleship is not a program.  Discipleship is a lifestyle.  Discipleship does not happen in a few weeks.  Discipleship happens over the course of many months and even years.  Jesus built into His disciples for three years.  Paul spent many years building into the life of Timothy.  Discipleship is sharing with another what God is doing in your own life.  It is sharing with another what you are learning from the Word of God.  It is building the moral character that God has been cultivating in your own life into the life of another.  And then, discipleship is completed when your disciple becomes a disciple-maker himself.

Friends, I have now claimed Romans 15:14 to be my focus for the remaining years of ministry that God will give to me.  I want to help those within my congregation to begin to value being men and women who take the moral high ground with their lives; it makes no difference if they are 15 or 35 or 65.  I want to challenge them to dig more deeply into the Word of God.  I want to preach and teach the Word with more clarity so it can be better understood by all.  And I want to continue building into the lives of the men within my congregation, so that they, in turn, can build into the lives of their families and of those with whom they work.

We do not have much time left before the trumpet blows.  The tragedy in Kenya last week and the kidnapping of hundreds of Christians in northern Syria and Iraq remind us that followers to Jesus Christ are marked by Satan for attack.  The owners of the Indiana Pizzaria better understand now what Jesus meant when He said, "the world will hate you because it hated me first."  Will you and I take the moral high ground when we are confronted with being a Christian?  Will we dare to be like Daniel and his friends?  Will our character withstand the assaults because it is firmly established upon the Word of God?  We will be skilled in the use of the armor that God provides for us?  Let's get started before it is too late.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Iran, Indiana, and Knowing God is in Control

The negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries have been extended for at least one more day.  One wonders if we will ever know exactly what is happening behind those closed doors.  One wonders who is in the driver's seat there in Switzerland; one can almost imagine that the Iranians are feeling pretty good.  From initial leaked reports, the Iranians will be allowed to keep approximately 6,000 centrifuges operating - this is out of an estimated 10,000 or more centrifuges that they presently have.  They will have to scale back on their nuclear development program for ten years.  And, in return, many of the economic sanctions will be lifted.  What happens at the end of ten years?  It looks like it could be full-speed ahead toward the creation of enough nuclear material for a bomb. 

I am left wondering why the United States is all of a sudden trying to curry the favor of the Iranians.  The Ayatollahs ruling Iran today represent a government that has not changed since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.  I remember those anxious days when many Americans were humiliated by the Iranian revolutionaries for over a year.  The chant then was "Death to Israel and Death to America."  Perhaps the "Death to America" is not being trumpeted as loudly today as back in 1979, but you know that the intent of the Iranian regime has not changed.  Just look at what the Iranians are doing right now in the Middle East:  1) they are backing the Houthi rebels who are seeking to bring Yemen into the radical world of ISIS; 2) they are sending advanced missile systems to the Hezbollah rebels in Lebanon.  According to an article published today at the website, "A senior Israeli security source revealed on Tuesday that Iran is smuggling rockets souped-up with advanced guided warheads to its terror proxy of Hezbollah in Lebanon, posing a direct threat to the Jewish state of Israel from right over its northern border.  Col. Aviram Hasson, a leader in the IDF's top-level missile defenses ... said Iran is taking unguided Zitzal rockets and upgrading them into guided M-600 missiles by swapping out their warheads with more advanced components.  The Islamic regime is a 'train engine that is not stopping for a moment.  It is manufacturing new and advanced ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.  It is turning unguided rockets that had an accuracy range of kilometers into weapons that are accurate within meters.' ... The assessment posited that Hezbollah would hit Israel with 1,000-1,500 rockets every day, and the number of Israelis killed daily will be in double or even triple digits." 

Friends, that is what Iran is doing?  And, if their intentions are not clear enough, the Commander of Iran's Basij Force, Brigadier General Mohammed Reza Naqdi, said, "wiping Israel off the map is not up for negotiation." 

Meanwhile, the rift between the United States Administration and the State of Israel continues to widen.  This past week our government declassified a report on Israel's nuclear capabilities.  I know you did not hear it on the main stream media, but it happened nonetheless.  I read a fascinating op-ed piece this morning, written by Lee Kaplan and posted on the website.  You can access this very important article at  I encourage you to read this article. 

I also wanted to share with you some thoughts about the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act that has caused an uproar in Indiana.  Basically, the bill is no different from the national RFRA that was passed and signed into law in 1993 by President Clinton.  This bill was passed by the Indiana State Legislature and signed by Governor Mike Pence in order to protect Hoosier citizens from being compelled to conduct a business practice that was against their religious convictions.  The bill was not intended to be discriminatory, but was to be a tool to help ordinary citizens should the government of Indiana call into question an action based upon religious convictions and beliefs.  The freedom of religious expression is one of the basic rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  The Supreme Court has recently upheld that expression in a recent case involving Hobby Lobby. 

Of course, immediately the mainstream media picked up on this Indiana law and proclaimed that it was discriminatory toward the homosexual community.  And so the marches began.  The vilifying began.  The accusations were hurled.  The threats were made. 

Let's look at this law from a different angle.  Supposed I operated a hardware store.  Included among those items that I sold were various poisons used to kill rodents.  Now suppose someone came into my store and inquired about purchasing some poisons because they wanted to kill their child.  Now, I believe that one of the Ten Commandments clearly states that it is wrong to take another person's life.  So, do I sell the poisons that are requested?  Of course not!  Am I being discriminatory?  Yes I am because selling a poison to a man whose intentions were counter to my belief system would be wrong.  And no one would condemn me for my actions in refusing that person's request, anymore than if I refused to sell someone a gun, knowing the intentions for the gun were to harm someone else.  Here is where the ridiculousness of the mainstream media is shown: The law does not preclude a homosexual person from purchasing either goods or services; he has that freedom.  If he wants a cake, he can purchase a cake; in fact, he can buy the cake from me, if I am a baker.  If she wants flowers, she can purchase flowers; in fact, she can purchase the flowers from me, if I am a florist.  But the law does state that I can refuse to provide either goods or services if, by providing those goods or services, I violate those religious beliefs that I strongly hold to.  Such a refusal does not mean that I am making a value-judgment against that person.  It simply means that what he or she is requesting is something I simply cannot do.  As a business owner, I should have that right without being accused of being discriminatory.  In other words, I may sell you a cake or flowers, even though I know you are gay; but I cannot make your same-sex wedding cake or arrange flowers for your same-sex wedding because that would violate a strong biblical belief that I hold dear.

The problem is that the gay community wants everyone to endorse their manner of living.  So, instead of simply walking down the street to another vendor who is willing to provide the requested goods or services, they force the issue because they want universal acceptance. 

Friends, do you feel that the world is spinning out of control?  Well, let me assure you that it is not!  Our God is powerfully in control.  The God who rolled away the stone that first Easter morning and raised His only Son to life, is the same God who is now preparing the world for the return of the King.  Perhaps we will hear the sound of the trumpet on Easter Sunday as we echo those wonderful words, "He is risen!  He is risen indeed!"