Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Two "Must Read" Books for the New Year

It has been a while since I last wrote any book reviews.  It is not that I have not been reading.  It is just that there has been so many other things to write about.  But I want to share with you about two books that I have recently completed. 

The first is the newest political thriller from the pen of Joel Rosenberg.  It is titled, "The First Hostage."  It is a continuation of the story that was begun in the prequel that came out last year, titled "The Third Target."  The story plot occurs in the Middle East as ISIS has captured the American President and is threatening to execute him unless all Americans either convert to Islam or pay the high tax.  The story line is totally believable considering the world in which we live today.  It is a fast-paced book.  Once you begin reading it is difficult to put it down.  The characters within the story are compelling figures.  While you are reading, you will find that your mind begins to react with horror at the almost total distain for life on the part of ISIS and its leadership.  Warning: there are some pretty graphic depictions of violent acts in this book.  Joel Rosenberg is a tremendous story-teller and creates a narrative that seems to leap off the front pages of our newspapers.  If you have not read "The Third Target," then that is your starting point, and then continue with "The First Hostage." 

The second book I want to highly recommend is titled, "We Cannot Be Silent," and was written by R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  The book's subtitle is, "Speaking truth into a culture redefining sex, marriage, & the very meaning of right & wrong."  This book caught my eye as I was browsing through a Christian bookstore one afternoon just before Christmas.  I am co-teaching two classes at my church on the topic of a biblical worldview and I was hopeful that this book would give me some additional material for our discussion on sexual morality in today's world.  I was not disappointed.  As were many of you, I was angered by the Supreme Court decision in the case of Obergefell vs. Hodges that was handed down on June 26, 2015, that drastically changed the definition of marriage.   Like you, I wondered how something that would so profoundly change culture could have happened.  For, after all, the definition of marriage had not been tampered with since the Garden of Eden.  God's definition was (and still is, by the way) one man united to one woman.  But now that was changed. 

Dr. Mohler began his discussion of this decision, not with the decision itself, but with a history of the sexual revolution of the 1960's and 1970's and how what happened then had its natural consequence in the decision in June 2015.  Dr. Mohler lists four things that happened during those years that began the assault upon marriage.  He states, "Any consideration of the eclipse of marriage in the last century must take into account four massive developments: birth control and contraception, divorce, advanced reproductive technologies, and cohabitation.  All four of these together are required to facilitate the sexual revolution as we know it today.  The redefinition of marriage could not have happened without these four developments." (page 17).  Dr. Mohler then continues with a brief description of how each of these four developments impacted marriage.  Let me just give a quick summary:
     a.   Birth control and contraception: The separation of sex from procreation.  From the very beginning, God's intent for marriage was that it be a tool for "being fruitful and multiplying."  So, the very act of sexual intimacy in marriage created that opportunity for a child to be created.  Now, not every act of sexual intimacy resulted in a child, but there was that thought lingering in the minds of a husband and wife during those times of intimacy: perhaps we will be blessed with a child.  But, what if we desired the sexual intimacy without running the risks of pregnancy, of having a child.  So contraceptive pills and devices were created.  And, according to Dr. Mohler, the Church, with the exception of the Roman Catholics primarily, remained silent.
      "Ultimately, the availability of birth control in a reliable form - particularly in the form of the Pill - unleashed the sexual revolution.  So long as sex was predictably related to the potential of pregnancy, a huge biological check on sex outside of marriage functioned as a barrier to sexual immorality.  Once that barrier was removed, sex and children became effectively separated and sex became redefined as an activity that did not have any necessary relation to the gift of children.  It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the separation of sex and babies from the moral equation" (page 20).

     b.  Divorce: I can still remember as a boy growing up that divorce was talked about in "hushed voices."  Divorce proceedings were very hostile with anger being the result.  One or other of the parties were declared to "be at fault" in the divorce.  Result was bitterness and unresolved anger over the process.  But, during the 1960's the laws began to change and as a society we went from "fault divorce" to "no-fault divorce."  Now the marriage bonds could be easily broken without any one party feeling guilty.  "No-fault divorce is a rejection of the scriptural understanding of covenant that stands at the very heart of the Christian gospel" (page 24).  And, once again, the Church remained silent.  In fact, many evangelicals applauded this new freedom.

     c.  Cohabitation: Mohler writes, "But just as society grew weary of sanctioning divorce and birth control, it also became lax in policing sex outside of marriage as well.  Marriage itself became more and more marginalized to the moral equation of sex such that in vast sectors of our society today, the old references to 'premarital sex' make no sense at all, since marriage is not even on the horizon" (page 27).  If it is okay to "test drive" a car before purchasing it, why not "test drive" a relationship before making a commitment to it?  Mohler quotes an alarming statement from Karen Benjamin Guzzo who teaches at Bowling Green University.  According to Dr. Guzzo, "cohabitation is no longer a step toward getting married but rather a replacement for marriage as an ultimate expectation" (page 29).  And, again the Church remained silent.

     d.  Advanced reproductive technologies: Now it is possible to have a child without having sex with a partner.  Mohler: "So the Pill allowed sex without babies, and the modern reproductive technologies allow babies without sex" (page 26).

With this background - which, by the way, I found fascinating and, I must confess, I had never made that equation - Dr. Mohler then proceeds into a careful and thoughtful discussion on same-sex marriage.  He deals with the area of gender from a biblical perspective.  He focuses upon those biblical texts that deal with homosexuality.  And his conclusion is that it is time for the Church to speak up.  Allow me to share with you some of Dr. Mohler's conclusions:
     a.   "We must contend for marriage as God's gift to humanity - a gift central and essential to human flourishing and a gift that is limited to the conjugal union of a man and a woman" (page 183).
     b.  "We cannot be silent, and we cannot join the moral revolution that stands in direct opposition to what we believe the Creator has designed, given, and intended for us.  We cannot be silent, and we cannot fail to contend for marriage as the union of a man and a woman" (page 183).
     c.  "We are charged to uphold marriage as the union of a man and a woman and to speak the truth in love.  We are also commanded to uphold the truth about marriage in our own lives, in our own marriages, in our own families, and in our own churches" (page 183).
     d.  "We are called to be the people of the truth, even when the truth is not popular and even when the truth is denied by the culture around us" (page 183). 

Friends, I highly recommend a careful reading of this book.  It would even be worthwhile to discuss within a small-group study.  This is not a book to be read hastily, but almost prayerfully so that the truths from the Word of God can sink deeply into one's heart and mind. 

Both books speak to the day in which we live.  Both should frighten each of us into a deeper understanding of the Word of God and a stronger dependence upon The Truth found only in Jesus. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Another Attempt to Trash "Whiteness"

On Monday the Academy Award Nominations were announced.  I hardly pay attention to this event as nearly all of the movies that are nominated are ones that I have not seen nor care to see.  But what got my attention this year was the incredible backlash because of the absence of people of color who were nominated.  Immediately there were cries of discrimination toward the Academy for their selections.  It was another year where "whites" dominated the Hollywood scene.  Several actors and actresses have indicated that they will boycott this years Academy Award Show, thus expressing their indignation over the lack of people of color being nominated.  The President of the Academy has indicated that he will investigate to see if reforms are necessary in future balloting. 

Now what strikes me is that perhaps, just perhaps, there were no outstanding performances by blacks this past year.  If the Academy votes on those exceptional performances - and I know that judgment is always questioned by many - then the challenge to those who feel slighted is to try harder next year, to create a more powerful movie or performance that will grab the attention of the Academy voters.  My father shared with me these words of advice, "Son, if you feel you are being slighted, don't complain, just try a little harder."  What great advice that was and still is!

Then I came across an article, written by Peter Fricke, and published at the Campus Reform website.  It was titled, "Portland Community College to devote an entire month to 'whiteness' - shaming."  The subtitle was, "The schools says the month is an 'educational project' exploring how the 'construct of whiteness' creates racial inequality."  I think you already are getting the drift of where this article was going.  Allow me to share with you a couple of paragraphs from this article.  (

"'Whiteness History Month: Context, Consequences, and Change' is a multidisciplinary, district-wide, educational project examining race and racism through an exploration of the construction of whiteness, its origins, and heritage," PCC states on its website.  "Scheduled for the month of April 2016, the project seeks to inspire innovative and practical solutions to community issues and social problems that stem from racism.  Whiteness does not simply refer to skin color, but to an ideology based on beliefs, values, behaviors, habits, and attitudes, which result in the unequal distribution of power and privilege based on skin color."  In other words, white-skinned people are responsible for the problems of our nation.  But let me continue with another sentence or two from the article: "Not only does the concept of whiteness allow those who are 'socially deemed white' to accrue benefits, the page asserts, but those benefits 'are accrued at the expense of people of color, namely in how people of color are systemically and prejudicially denied equal access to those material benefits. The ideology of whiteness, it continues, dates back to 'at least the seventeenth century, when "white" appeared as a legal term and social designator determining social and political rights,' a concept that eventually grew to include 'thousands' of 'special privileges and protections' for white citizens." 

Now Portland Community College is not the first college or university to begin to gang up on being white.  Others have tried it as well.  And we have seen offshoots of this philosophy recently on campuses in Missouri and in Minnesota. 

Friends, I did not know that because I am a white person that I was the problem.  I like to think that I am where I am today, not because of my color, but because of my work-ethic and values beliefs and with the help of God.  I would like to think that a person of color who had my same work-ethic and values beliefs and same dependence upon God would be in a similar position today as well.  We celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,'s birthday this past Monday.  Perhaps in one of the greatest speeches in American history, we remember those words of his great "I Have a Dream" speech, where he declared that he hoped the day would come when we would see beyond the color of a person's skin to see the integrity and character of his heart.  I guess the folks at Portland Community College belief that we can by-pass the issues of integrity and character and just look at skin color. 

I am drawn back to those very early words in Genesis where God states that He created men and women in His image (Genesis 1:26).  I am not certain that I will live long enough to see the erasing of racism, where I, as a person, am judged, not on the color of my skin, but on the character of my heart - of what I say and what I do.  People of color in Hollywood, this recognition cannot be forced, but must be earned.  People of color at Portland Community College, this recognition cannot be forced through the trashing of "whiteness" but must be earned through a dedication of heart and soul.  Can it be done?  Absolutely!  And the place where this can best be started is in the local church.  May the church be the haven for all people no matter the color of their skin.  When this happens it will be a foretaste of heaven.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Where Has the Leadership Gone?

What has happened to America's influence around the world?  What a change from the days of Teddy Roosevelt and his "walk softly but carry a big stick" policies!  America used to be the nation everyone wanted to be like.  People came to the shores of America because it offered a haven from oppression and the opportunities for a better life.  Yes, they brought their languages and customs, but they became part of who we were.  They learned our language.  They became productive citizens.  They fought in our wars to keep others free.  They became law-makers and law-keepers.  America became great because of their presence.

But what has happened to America's presence around the world?  Yesterday ten America sailors were arrested by Iranian Revolutionary Guards when their ships became crippled and drifted into Iranian waters.  Fortunately they were released this morning.  But how did Iran become so brazen that they thought they could do what they did?  America's leadership has changed!  The days of Teddy Roosevelt and his "walk softly but carry a big stick" policies are over.  The days of FDR and the desire for victory over an enemy are over.  America has lost the will to win.  America has lost the will to maintain its leadership in the world.  I think we have been led to believe that just because we are America the world will acquiesce to our desires.  But, friends, leadership has to be earned first and then it has to be maintained.  Well, we earned our right to leadership through two World Wars and the reconstruction of both Europe and Japan after those wars.  But we began to lose our leadership capital with the collapse in Vietnam.  The Iranians laughed at us in 1979 when they stormed our embassy in Tehran and held our staff captive for over 400 days.  I remember those days of Iranian intimidation and America's tepid response.

There was a brief moment of recovery when President Reagan demanded that the Russians tear down the Berlin Wall.  And, not only did that wall come down, so did the Iron Curtain which had isolated Eastern Europe from the West for over four decades.  The Cold War was over...or, to perhaps express it better, it went into hibernation.  America had bested Soviet leadership; she could now lay claim to being the leader of the free world. 

That leadership was tested a short time later when Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait.  How would America respond to this threat to an ally that many of us knew nothing about?  Leadership was precise and direct.  Hussein went back to Baghdad to lick his wounds.  And the world celebrated America's leadership.  But America could not rest upon its laurels.  The world, the Islamic world in particular, began to take shots at American leadership testing the resolve of Washington and the American people.  The navy ship Cole was attacked while in a Yemeni harbor.  Our embassy in Kenya was attacked with hundreds dead.  The World Trade Center in New York was the target of aggression; the attack failed, but was a portent of things to come.  What was America's response?  It was certainly not "with a big stick." 

Then came 9/11 - a day most of us will always remember as our "Pearl Harbor Day."  This was the ultimate attack upon America's leadership.  The response was a calculated one.  We knew who the enemy was - at least we could identify a person.  But we were afraid to identify the ideology that framed the intent of that person.  [We are still hesitant to identify that ideology even though it has been nearly 15 years since that fateful day].  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were political wars.  They were military wars.  They were not American people wars.  Few of us were encumbered with the war unless we knew of someone who was "over there."  So, collectively, the American people did not have the will to win.  And so both wars just seemed to come to an end.  There was no decisive victory in either Iraq or Afghanistan; in fact, some pundits would say that both nations are worse today than before 9/11. 

The lack of a strong resolve on the part of America's leaders is now being tested by ISIS and Al-Qaeda and their off-shoots.  There were the attacks in Paris this past fall.  There were the brazen attacks at a Christmas party in San Bernadino, California.  The year began with a police officer in Philadelphia being shot while in his patrol car by a crazed terrorist.  And yesterday a megamall in Istanbul, Turkey, was bombed.  In each of these assaults, both here and elsewhere, responsibility for the attack was claimed by ISIS.  From testimony yesterday in Congress, we now learn that ISIS has cells in 20 countries around the world, including right here in the United States.  This radical Islamic faction is as great a threat to the world as was Nazism of sixty years ago.  Can ISIS and its allies be destroyed?  They may think that they are invincible, but so did Hitler.  Their defeat will only come if America will become a strong leader once again.  Victory in both Europe and Japan did not come through negotiations; it came through military strength.

Friends, the outside threats upon our nation are very real.  The events of 9/11 should have opened our eyes that we could no longer be isolated from the world.  What happened in Paris can happen here.  What happens in Great Britain can happen here.  In fact, it is happening here already.  As a result, fear has become a part of who we are.  The fears of terrorism will dominate the presidential campaigns this year.  Let's hope that someone will develop a plan that will work.

But, as I shared with some of my congregation this past weekend, my confidence is not in presidential campaigns, nor in military prowess, nor in legislative dictates.  No, my confidence is in God because I know that I am in His hands - there can be no safer place ever.  I trust that is where you have placed your confidence.  If you haven't, you still can reach out to Him and know that peace and presence and protection. 


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A Journey to be Always Treasured

The year is just a few days old, yet the problems of 2015 persist into the new year.  Violence continues around the world.  The Middle East is a powder-keg that seems nearing an explosion.  The execution by Saudi Arabia of a Shiite cleric this past weekend has triggered emotional responses from Iran and other Shiite dominated nations in the region.  Threats and counter-threats have been exchanged between Tehran and Riyadh, with both nations expelling each other's ambassadors.  The stock markets around the globe have the jitters - too much oil, not enough manufacturing, fears of what China is up to.  In our nation the debate surrounding the Second Amendment just intensified with the President issuing more executive regulations yesterday.  And the Presidential campaign is nearing the starting line with the Iowa Caucuses just a few days away.  2016 seems to hold more of what 2015 offered. 

Last week Marlys and I had the privilege of being in the Holy Land with our three kids, their spouses, and our seven grandkids.  We flew from Philadelphia on Christmas Day night, arriving in Tel Aviv the following afternoon.  Our first stop was the Joppa port, seeing if we could catch sight of that ancient prophet as he boarded a sailing vessel while running away from God.  By the way, Israel is a great plan to use one's imagination.  From Joppa we drove up the Mediterranean Coast to our hotel in Netanya.  The next day saw us creating in our minds the ancient city of Caesarea, built by that master builder Herod the Great.  Oh what a city it must have been.  Then we looked for that gnarly old prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel, looking out over the Sea to see if we could see a cloud appearing on the horizon.  No clouds today - would that mean more lack of rain? 

Then it was off to Megiddo.  We climbed the tel and stood atop it overlooking the Valley of Jezreel.  It is always such a beautiful sight that one forgets that the Bible tells us that it is here that the final battle of the age will be fought and that the blood will flow as high as a horse's bridle for over 180 miles.  We stood that morning and listened to the words of the prophet Zechariah and the apostle John.  One can hardly begin to imagine the carnage that will follow that incredible event!  I am glad I am on the winning side!  Our day concluded with this proud Grandpa baptizing five of his grandchildren in the waters of the Jordan.  It was a time that I shall always treasure. 

Our stay along the shores of the Sea of Galilee was wonderful.  The winds would come up in the evening and early morning hours and one could hear the pounding of the waves against the rocky shorelines.  What a wonderful sound!  We ventured forth in a ship onto the Sea seeking to better understand what this area meant to the life of Jesus.  So much of His life was devoted to this region.  From the boat we traveled north into the Golan Heights, being reminded by our guide of how important those high mountains are to the people of Israel.  Syria lay beneath our vantage point - no gunfire this time.  When one is in the Golan, one can understand why the nation of Israel will never surrender those grounds ever again. 

While in the northern regions of Galilee we stopped at Caesarea Philippi and asked ourselves this question: Who is Jesus?  Next followed a visit to Dan - one of my favorite places in the Galilee.  We concluded our stay in Galilee with stops at Capernaum and the Mount of the Beatitudes. 

Down the Jordan Valley we went seeking to climb the slopes of Masada.  Well, we actually took the cable car up those slopes, but the younger set did walk down the "snake path."  A float in the Dead Sea is always an interesting experience - nothing like it to be found anywhere else in the world. 

While on our way up to Jerusalem we hiked back to the fortress of David at En Gedi, along the way seeing several ibex and a few hyraxes.  It was so beautiful back there.  A visit to Qumran meant that we would soon begin the climb up the mountains of Judea to Jerusalem.  But first there would be a stop for lunch and camel rides.  We met Abraham and his servant Eliezer who invited us to dine with them in their tent. 

Jerusalem is always the crown of any visit to Israel.  It is a city where, within a matter of minutes, you can journey back in time hundreds of years.  Although the weather was rainy and cold, our spirits were undeterred as we walked the stone sidewalks in search for hints of the presence of Jesus.  In so many places we were able to touch base with the Scriptures and, if we were quiet enough, we could hear the stones tell a remarkable story. 

All too soon our time ended, but the memories were being burned deeply into our hearts and minds.  It was a Christmas that we will always treasure and remember. 

I have been asked by several since our return, "Did you feel safe?"  Friends, we had no fears at all.  Walking the streets of Jerusalem is safer than walking the streets of Chicago.  Besides, we knew we were in the Lord's hands.  Is there any safer place to be?  So, if you are thinking of visiting the land of the Patriarch, the prophets, and of Jesus, I strongly urge you to follow through and go.  Your heart and soul will be blessed greatly. 

So I wish you a very Happy New Year - or, as they say in Hebrew, "shana tova."