Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Of Putin, Russia, Iran, Syria and Israel

It has been an interesting week watching and listening to the world's leaders as they have come and addressed the opening of the United Nations General Assembly.  Each leader has come and basically trumpeted the achievements of his or her country and leveled accusations at those nations who have not agreed with them.  I found it very interesting that both President Obama and Russian President Putin shared speeches on the same day.  As I read their speeches, these leaders could not have been more opposite.  Just from a casual observer's perspective, it seemed that the Russian President came with a feeling of confidence.  Yes, there have been the problems with Ukraine, but Putin has been seen as the one who could solve the problems in Syria.  Now, personally, I don't trust Putin at all, and, if you remember, I have often said that he is one of the most dangerous men in the world.  Yet he is willing to lead, or at least give the perception of leading.  His speech almost had the air of confidence.  On the other hand, President Obama pretty much said the same thing he said last year.  He promised that America would show its determination with its military power, but most of the world knows that our President, over the course of his presidency, has done more to weaken our military than any of his predecessors.  He has made promises before - like his infamous "red line" with the Syrians - but has not followed through.  Is his just an empty rhetoric?  America may claim to still be the greatest nation on earth - and, from many perspectives, I would agree with that - but I wonder if much of the world still sees us in that light? 

Speaking of Putin, the following article from the Jerusalem Post presents some anxious moments if you are an Israeli leaders.  The article, published on September 29, reads in part: "Following a 90-minute meeting on Monday with US President Barack Obama on the conflict in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was concerned with Israel's Sunday strike on Syria, that was prompted by cross-border fire originating from Syrian army positions.  'We respect Israel's interests related to the Syrian civil war but we are concerned about its attacks on Syria,' Putin said, according to Army Radio.  The Syrian projectile exploded in an unpopulated area of the northern Golan Heights, causing no injuries or damage. ... Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said Syrian civil war battles were behind the stray fire into Israel on Saturday and Sunday. 'From our perspective this is a violation of sovereignty and a crossing of a red line.  The State of Israel has no intention of ignoring such incidents, and the IDF therefore attacked two Syrian army artillery positions this evening,' Ya'alon said.  'We view the Syrian regime and its army as being responsible for what happens in their territory and we will not be tolerant in cases such as these,' the defense minister said."

What makes this statement by Putin so alarming is the fact that Russia is now sending military forces to assist the Assad regime in its battle against ISIS in Syria.  Russian forces could soon, literally, be on the doorsteps of Israel in their role to assist Assad.  Can anyone say Ezekiel 38-39?  But, there is another grave concern if you are an Israeli leader.

Again, another article from the same September 29 issue of the Jerusalem Post.  "Likud Minister Steinitz says Israel will make it clear to US, Russia and other world powers that Iranian forces must not be allowed to mass on Israel's border.  Israel is concerned with the build-up of Iranian forces in Syria, near the border with Israel, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said in an interview with Army Radio on Tuesday.  Steinitz's comments came amid the recent addition of Russian troops to Syria to bolster President Bashar Assad in his fight against Islamic State and other rebel groups challenging his rule in Syria.  However, the Likud minister was more concerned with the infusion of troops from Assad's other central backer, Iran.  'Nobody wants to see Russian forces in the area of the Golan Heights, but we definitely don't want to see Iranian forces near Israel,' Steinitz told Army Radio."

The article continued, "A senior Israeli security source said earlier this month that an Iranian Islamic Republican Guards Corp force, comprised of hundreds of soldiers, recently entered Syria to assist the embattled Assad regime.  Tehran dispatched its force 'in light of Assad's' ongoing distress, the source stated, adding that the deployment is part of a wider Russian-Iranian coordinated effort to prevent what remains of the Assad regime from collapsing."

So, there you have it: both Russian and Iranian forces are now in Syria.  We know that both brought sophisticated weapons with them.  One can understand why Israeli leaders are nervous.  I am confident that tomorrow when it is his turn to address the General Assembly, Prime Minister Netanyahu will address these concerns in a very powerful way.  The thought of Iranian forces near their border with Syria, coupled with the recently signed Iranian Nuclear Pact, causes the Iranians to be even more threatening to the welfare of Israel.  Yet, we know that God's hand is behind all these actions.  He is orchestrating the players and the play.  And, we know how the story will end. 

Let me close by just mentioning the leadership change in the House of Representatives with the announced retirement of Speaker Boehner.  I must admit that I have been one who has been critical of his leadership these past few years.  A lot of promises were made, but still remain on the table. Boehner is a nice guy - I wouldn't mind living next door to him.  But, as with many in Washington today, he was out of touch with the common people.  He had bought into the power that is Washington.  After being in Washington for 25 years, he failed to hear what the common people were saying which was "we don't want things to continue as they have."  It is now time for someone to boldly step forward and lead boldly - not that he will get everything that the people want, but that he will demonstrate that he is not afraid to take a stand.  Can such a person be found?  I guess we will wait to find out.  By the way, I believe the success to date of the candidacies of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carli Fiorina, and also of a Bernie Sanders, is testimony to the deep-seated distrust the American public has with professional politicians.  The election of 2016 could prove to be an very interesting one.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Call for a Faith that Matters

This fall I, along with a former Elder of our church, have had the privilege of teaching a group of 22 high school students about cultivating a biblical worldview.  As churches, we often send our young people away to school or to careers thinking we have prepared them for success as Christians.  But statistics have shown that to be an invalid assumption.  Really less than a fifth of students who grow up in the church continue their walk with the church as they venture away from home.  Many falter along the way. 

As a church we asked ourselves why this occurs so frequently.  We discovered two responses to that question.  First, many of our young people today are not seeing modeled within their own families the viability of having a Christian faith.  What is proclaimed on Sunday is found lacking in the everyday experiences of Monday through Saturday.  Second, many of young people today have never had the opportunity of claiming ownership of their faith.  They have what I call a "second-hand faith."  It has been borrowed from their parents or grandparents or youth leaders.  But it has never become a part of who they are as a follower of Jesus Christ. 

After this discovery, our church proceeded to work toward rectifying both problems.  We began a focus on the family becoming part of the Faith@Home network of churches.  Our ministry purpose is to help parents so that they can disciple their own children in the things of the Lord, modeling after the principles found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Ephesians 6:1-4.  We have created "milestone" moments to assist and to train parents in their biblical responsibilities.  We are seeing families come together for both study and for worship.  As a pastor it is so exciting to see entire families in our Worship Center sharing in worship together.  Yes+-, we get a dropped pacifier from the balcony once in a while, or a toddler will make a fuss, but oh the delight that God must get when He sees entire families worshiping Him.  As a church we still have a long way to go before we feel that we where God would have us to be, but the journey, so far, has been an incredible one. 

As we focused upon our young people God created within us a strong desire to have our teens thoroughly grounded in the Word of God.  We already have a strong AWANA and Sunday school ministry to elementary children and our Middle School ministry is growing.  But we wanted to do even more.  Our eighth-grade students spend a year in Old Testament Survey.  Our ninth-grade students spend a three months in New Testament Survey, thus completing a study of the entire Bible.  Then, those same ninth-grade students will spend four months in a Survey of Bible Doctrine where they are exposed to those basic tenants of the faith.  As part of their homework assignments, they begin to write their own statements of faith - beginning that process of claiming ownership of what they believe.  This year we have added an elective class for high school students on a Biblical Worldview.  During this 22-week class, the students will begin to cultivate disciplined and critical thinking skills as they begin to see their world from a biblical perspective.  Next year a second elective will be offered to high school students that will focus upon a historical geography of the Bible.  Our Youth Pastor spent four-weeks this summer in Israel preparing herself for this class.  The students will once again travel through the pages of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, focusing upon the key events, places, and people.  At the close of this class - if the students have successfully completed all four years of study - these students will have the opportunity of taking a trip to the Holy Land to experience for themselves those places they have studied.  Upon their return, a final elective class on apologetics, now in the planning stages, will be be offered.  The students will once again have the opportunity of revisiting their own statements of faith and cultivate a dense for that faith. 

I am reminded of the words of Paul to his young disciple Timothy: "I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your other Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also" (2 Timothy 1:5).  Timothy had learned the foundations of his faith at home from his mother and grandmother.  Or there are these words from Solomon, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it" (Proverbs 22:6).  Again the focus is upon the home.  Parents are to help their children begin to form that foundation upon which those children will build their lives.  They can do this by reading the Bible to their children.  I believe that by the time a child reaches kindergarten, they should have been exposed to the major stories within the entire Bible.  David and Daniel, Moses and Noah, Peter and Paul, as well as Jesus Himself should be names that your child is familiar with.  Then they proceed through Sunday school and AWANA clubs, (or any program like that), and begin to hear those stories told once again.  Then, during those middle school and high school years, those students are given tools and opportunity to add some superstructure to that foundation upon which they have grown their lives.  Then, the church, working hand-in-hand with parents, will see more young people leave home fully equipped unto every good work. 

Friends, the times demand that the church equip parents to do ministry within their own homes.  The pressures upon families today are intense with our culture seeking the destruction of the family.  The Church has failed in thinking that their role was to usurp that God-given responsibility entrusted into the hands of those families.  But the Church working together with families, like putting a hand into a glove, can confidently grow children into young men and women who have a passion to serve the Lord and to remain strong in their faith.  This may be our last opportunity, so let's use those moments well.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Fall, Faith, and Politics

I love the fall season of the year.  Soon the hillsides will be alive with color.  The crops are beginning to show signs of maturity - can combining be far behind.  The apple trees hang heavy with fruit this year.  Reports say it will be one of the best apple harvests that Minnesota has had in recent years.  Marlys and I had fun with a couple of our grandkids going to the orchard to pick apples and raspberries.  What a great morning!  The Friday night skies are brightened with the lights from football fields that dot many a small community.  In those communities, high school football becomes a premier social event for the community.  Ah, the majesty of fall.

Another fall scene is of yellow buses carrying eager young minds to our many schools.  As parents we gladly send our children off to school trusting that they will receive, not only a quality education, but also cultivate skills that will enable them to celebrate life.  Now I must admit that I loved school.  In fact, I would have enjoyed going to school year round.  I was the kid who enrolled into the summer school program.  I was the kid who kept his nose in a book over the summer.  I loved learning - in fact, I still do. 

But, alas, all is not well in our schools.  Bob Unruh posted this article on the WND website:  He writes, "Amid a new report of Islamic indoctrination in public schools, the American Center for Law and Justice is fighting back with a petition drive that already has garnered 120,000 signatures.  Earlier this year, public-school students in Madison, Wisconsin, were given an assignment to 'pretend you are Muslim,' while students in Florida were instructed to 'recite the Five Pillars of Islam as a prayer, make Islamic prayer-rugs and perform other Muslim rituals,' ACLJ said Monday.  Now, parents of public-school students in Tennessee are protesting assignments that include writing a declaration that Allah is supreme and textbooks that recount Islamic doctrines as facts instead of beliefs."  

Does this pose a problem for you?  What would the response be if students were asked to memorize the Lord's Prayer or the Ten Commandments?  What would the response be if students were asked to write a paper on the life of Jesus and to understand and then state that He is the Son of God?  The ACLU and the Freedom from Religion Foundation get into an uproar when a teacher merely has a Bible on his/her desk.  They cry, "First Amendment," and "separation of church and state."  Yet their voice is silent when it is the Koran that is studied; when it is the life of Mohammed that is studied; when it is the tenants of Islamic faith that are not just taught but memorized. 

Friends, if I were living in a Muslim country, I would expect that, when my children went to the public schools, that they would be taught the facts and beliefs behind Islam, for after all, the Islamic faith is the foundation of that country.  If I wanted my children to understand their Christian beliefs, I would do so in the confines of my own home.  Now we live in a nation that has as its foundational roots, not the Koran and Islam, but the Bible and Judeo-Christian faith.  The Supreme Court ruled that the Bible and Judeo-Christian faith cannot be taught in our public schools, except as referenced in a history or literature class and then only as how that faith impacted a culture or civilization.  And, as much as I have never liked that ruling, I have accepted it.  My children learned those foundational principles of faith at home and while attending church.  I did not expect the public schools to teach my children a Christian faith.  However, I also did not expect the public schools to tear down those faith principles that I was teaching my children.  I did not want that institution to belittle my children because of their beliefs. 

Now I know that God has filled many a public school classroom with godly teachers who are committed to biblical truth.  We have some amazing Christian teachers who attend our church and who work within the local public school system.  I know their heart and that, in their own ways, they seek to be an encouragement and blessing to their students.  When I have the occasion to share with such teachers, I remind them that they are on the front lines of one of the most important mission fields today.  And I pray for them.  And I am grateful for godly men and women who still are willing to be part of the local community school board.  Theirs is a difficult and often thankless task, but they see their roles as one to guard the interests of the children. 

But what is happening in the public schools is accelerating those home-schooling their children.  It is advancing the creation of Christian school - based both on a traditional learning style and the Classical learning style.  Because of what is happening in the public-school arena, it becomes more critically important that moms and dads truly become engaged with their sons and daughters and teach them or disciple them into the heritage of their faith.  Faith at home does matter today, perhaps more so than at any time in our recent past.  Those principles shared by God through Moses in Deuteronomy 6 are as important today as they were when they were written down some 3500 years ago. 

I also want to share with you one other article that greatly interested me.  It was written by David Limbaugh and focuses upon the phenomenon of Donald Trump.  You can find the article at:  I am not going to quote from the article.  I will let you read it for yourself.  Now I am not a Trump-fan or supporter.  However, I do believe that he is striking a cord with grass-roots America.  It is almost as if he has looked into America's soul and is articulating what is there.  He understands America's growing distrust of professional governmental leaders.  He understands America's growing distrust of promises to gain an election but then are never fulfilled following that election.  What I find very interesting is the silent rise of Ben Carson in the polls.  He, too, is speaking to the heart of main-stream America but in a quieter, gentler way.  One views Dr. Carson as a person you could have absolute confidence in to tell you the absolute truth, just as you would want your family physician to do.  We are a long way from those early caucuses and primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.  But, for this political-junkie, these are amazing days. 

Friends, I want to wish you all a "shana tova" on this Rosh Hashana week.  Yom Kippur is a week from today, followed by the Feast of Tabernacles.  Many believe that Jesus Christ will return during the Jewish celebration of the fall feasts.  Perhaps they are right.  But, as I look out over a world that is teetering on the edge, I draw hope from the fact that Jesus Christ will return.  Perhaps it might be this fall.  Wouldn't that be great?  Are you ready for the trumpet to blow?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

It Is Back to School Time

Today the United States Congress will begin deliberations on the nuclear arms agreement recently signed between the P5+1 and Iran.  (It is interesting that this is an agreement and not a treaty, thereby skirting the constitutional requirement that all treaties pass by a 2/3 vote in the Senate.)  President Obama has been able to get the required 34 votes from senators that would prevent any over-riding of his threatened veto of a congressional declaration against this agreement.  In reality, any vote of the Congress would have little effect on the agreement as President Obama side-stepped the Congress and took this agreement directly to the United Nations Security Council where it was approved overwhelmingly. 

What will the impact of this agreement mean?  I read an interesting article this past weekend written by one of my favorite editorialists.  Her name is Caroline Glick.  She published this on September 3 in The Jerusalem Post.  She writes in part, "Sometimes you have to fight battles you cannot win because fighting - regardless of the outcome - advances a larger cause.  Israel's fight against the nuclear deal the major powers, led by US President Barack Obama concluded with Iran was such a battle.  The battle's futility became clear on July 20, just six days after it was concluded in Vienna.  On July 20, the US administration anchored the deal - which paves the way for Iran to become a nuclear power and enriches the terrorism-sponsoring ayatollahs to the tune of $150 billion - in a binding UN Security Council resolution.  Once the resolution passed, the deal became unstoppable.  Most of the frozen funds that comprise the $150b would have been released regardless of congressional action.  And the nonproliferation regime the US developed over the past 70 years was upended the moment the deal was concluded in Vienna.  The fight in Congress itself probably couldn't have succeeded even if the administration hadn't made an end run around the lawmakers at the Security Council.  After Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, passed the law obligating Obama to secure the support of a mere third of the members of either House to implement his nuclear deal, its implementation was a foregone conclusion.  The US Constitution gives sole power to approve international treaties to the Senate and requires a minimum of two-thirds approval for passage.  Corker turned the Constitution on its head when he went forward with his bill. Far from curbing Obama's executive outreach, Corker gave Obama unprecedented power to enact his radical, reckless nuclear agenda."

Ms. Glick then asks the question of why Israel fought so hard against this agreement.  She writes, "By fighting Obama's nuclear deal, Israel seeks to advance two larger efforts.  First, it uses the battle to expand its capacity to act without the US to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.  Second, it is shaping its relations with the US both for the duration of Obama's presidency and for the day after he leaves office."  I would encourage each one to read this fascinating article.  You can find it posted on The Jerusalem Post website:

A second article that I highly recommend was one written by Marvin Olasky and published on the website:  He begins the article by stating, "E=mc2 is a simple equation compared to the mystery of what goes into good education. But I'll take a shot at proposing an education equation."  That equation he proposed is E=R3WCG.  The three Rs are: reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic.  The W is "wonder."  He writes, "If children don't develop a sense of wonder about this astounding, God-created world, they'll miss a lifetime of excitement.  Music, art, history, science, foreign langauges, and more should all make school wonder-full.  Our new testing regime doesn't have much time for wonder, and educators pay attention to the W only if they answer accurately a basic question: Who are my students?  Are they animals with above-average intelligence (compared to horses and caterpillars, but maybe not dolphins)?  Are they low-grade computers with below-average memory and above-average weight (compared to a MacBook Air)?  Or are they human beings created in the image of a God of wonder?"

He then describes C, which stands for specifically Christian education, "for only in Christ do all things hold together.  If students don't understand that God created us, they are likely to become practical atheists.  If they don't understand that God gives history meaning, they are likely to become nihilists.  Schools cannot give kids faith in Christ - only God can - but they can help students recognize their need, yearn for meaning, and not be content with wasting their lives.  If teachers want to be educators rather than prison wardens, it's vital for them to think Christianly about their students.  If they see students as bucking broncos, they'll think the job of schools is to break them.  if they see students as fleshly computers, they'll want to perform an information dump.  But if they understand that students are God's children and have souls that never die, they'll understand that just teaching to the test fails the biggest tests."

Finally, there is the letter G, "the four-letter word that more than any other determines educational and occupational success: grit."  He states that "part of grit involves fighting the desire for immediate gratification, an impulse measurable at age 4 via the marshmallow test, which starts with a small child in a room with a marshmallow and an adult. The adult tells the child he's leaving the room to run a short errand.  During that time the child is free to eat the marshmallow - but if he waits until the adult comes back, he can then eat not only that marshmallow but a second one as well."  He then cites a study done by Stanford psychology professor Walter Mischel, the inventor of the test.  A decade after administering the test, he looked in on those 4-year olds.  "He found the impatient eaters had 'lower SAT scores, higher body mass indexes, problems with drugs and trouble paying attention. ... The seconds of time preschool children were willing to delay for a preferred outcome predicted their cognitive and social competence and coping as adolescents.'"  Who would have thought that "grit" would impact education, but it does.

The writer then closes his article with these words: "But don't take school formulas too seriously: Kids are individuals and flexibility is important.  Please do take Christian education seriously: No other work is more important.  May God bless all those who make large sacrifices to bless other parents and children." 

A great article with some great thoughts to begin another school year. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Insanity Continues to Grow

Today is decision day for the Rowan County (KY) Clerk Kim Davis.  She has resolutely held her ground in refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses because doing so would violate her strong religious faith.  This past Monday, the United States Supreme Court denied her request for a stay of a judge's order from a lower court that she issue those marriage licenses.  Bob Unruh reports that "Justice Elena Kagan, who oversees the district, was one of the two justices, along with Ruth Ginsberg, who defied conventional judicial ethics and performed a 'same-sex wedding' while the Obergefell case establishing the legality of same-sex marriage was under consideration.  She had received the request for a stay in the Davis case and referred it to the whole court.  But the justices refused to consider Davis' constitutional religious rights and, without comment, refused to act."  ( 

Friends, the four dissenting justices on the Obergefell case, cited that there would be a clash between the new "marriage right" and the First Amendment right of the free exercise of both religion and speech.  In his article, Unruh cites Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver, who is representing Ms. Davis in this matter.  Staver said, "Providing religious conviction accommodations is not antithetical for public employees.  Throughout our history, the courts have accommodated people's deeply held religious beliefs.  The Supreme Court's marriage opinion does not suggest that religious accommodations cannot be made or that people have a fundamental right to receive a marriage license from a particular clerk.  There is absolutely no reason that this case has gone so far without reasonable people respecting and accommodating Kim Davis' First Amendment rights.  The SSM Mandate demands that she either fall in line (her conscience be damned) or leave office (her livelihood and job for three decades in the clerk's office be damned).  If Davis' religious objections cannot be accommodated when Kentucky marriage licenses are available in more than 130 marriage licensing locations, and many other less restrictive alternatives remain available, then elected officials have no real religious freedom when they take public office."

This afternoon, Kim Davis and her office staff have a meeting with elected officials.  At that time the Rowan County Clerk will be told to have her office begin issuing "same-sex" marriage licenses, or, if she continues to refuse, she will be held in contempt of court and could face jail time and a fine, or, she will be terminated from her office.  And so the "snowball effect" of the Supreme Court's decision keeps on rolling down the hill.

I want to also share with you this week my troubled heart over the attacks upon our nation's law-enforcement officials.  Four policemen have been murdered in the past eight days.  The latest being a policeman from Illinois.  Now I realize that there are good cops and bad cops - just as there are good doctors and bad doctors, good lawyers and bad lawyers, good pastors and bad pastors, good parents and bad parents.  And I realize that mistakes in judgment can be made by any of us. But,  our police and law officers should not be wearing a target on their backs.  They should not be "open game" to anyone who wants to get some revenge for some supposed hurt they have been nursing for years. 

And I believe it is sadder yet that some organizations can get away with their blatant anti-law enforcement rhetoric.  Just to give you an example: Last Saturday there was a march organized by Black Lives Matter in front of the entrance to the Minnesota State Fair Grounds.  One of the slogans that they shouted was, "Pigs in a blanket, fry 'em like bacon!"  It does not take a rocket scientist's reasoning to know exactly what they were saying.  The target of their venom was at those very same law-enforcement men and women who were protecting them as they marched down Snelling Avenue in front of the Fair Grounds.  Were any arrests made for "hate speech?"  Of course not!  Did the media report this as "hate speech?"  Of course not! 

Townhall published an article, written by Dennis Prager, that I highly recommend for your reading.  You can find it at

Perhaps I am more sensitive to this issue because we have several families within our congregation who are law-enforcement officials.  I remember them in prayer often.  And I often wonder what it is like to send your spouse off in the morning or afternoon, wearing the uniform that in the past has meant "to protect and to serve", and not knowing if you will ever see that spouse alive at the end of the day.  Friends, our law-enforcement officials need some encouragers right now.  They are in the front lines of a war and it seems the deck is stacked against them.  So, give a word of blessing to an officer this week.  Share a word of thanks with them.  You can even tell them you are praying for them and their families.  I believe that this is what Jesus would do.

Before I close I want to share with you an opportunity to join me in a visit to the Holy Land next May 17-28, 2016.  We will be in Israel 12 days, walking where Jesus walked, sharing in the stories of the Patriarchs, and visiting those places you have read about in the Bible.  If you would like to have information on this tour, please just respond with a Facebook message and share your address.  I will get information in the mail to you immediately.

So, keep looking up....our Redeemer is coming soon!