Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Christmas Book "Wish" List

Thanksgiving Day may now be only a memory, but let's not forget that everyday should be a thanksgiving day.  God has blessed us so incredibly that we should never fail to have a note of thanksgiving upon our hearts and lips. 

And one of the things for which we should give praise and thanksgiving to God is the birth of the Lord Jesus - the reason for this Advent Season.  As hard as the world tries to push Jesus away from Christmas, the fact remains that without Jesus there would be no Christmas.  The old cliché is true: He is the Reason for the season. 

One of the important aspects of Advent is the giving and receiving of gifts from family and friends.  I have never been a person who created a long "wish-list" for Christmas.  I remember when I must have been in second or third grade that all I wanted was a Roy Rogers holster set.  Roy Rogers was one of my childhood heroes and I wanted to be just like him.  Wow!  I can still remember opening up that gift on Christmas morning and there was my Roy Rogers holster set. 

I have to be honest, now my list is even shorter - just ask my kids what I want for Christmas and they will tell you: "Dad just wants gift cards to his favorite book store."  Yes, books make me a "happy camper."  And, through the years I have read many books that I highly recommend to others.  So, perhaps a book or two might be on your "wish list."  Allow me to add a few that I think you would find interesting and meaningful.

The first book is titled, Rescuing the Gospel, and was written by Erwin Lutzer, pastor at Moody Memorial Church in Chicago.  The book was published by Baker Books in 2016.  The year 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's posting of his 95 theses on the chapel door at the Castle of Wittenberg beginning which has come to be known as the Protestant Reformation.  Dr. Lutzer has done a remarkable job in helping his readers to better understand the times of Martin Luther and John Calvin and the legacy they have left behind.  I know there will be many other titles available in 2017 on Luther, but this would be a good place to begin.  I found the book to be very readable and insightful.  If you can read only one book on the Reformation, this would be the one I would recommend.

The second book is titled, The Emmaus Code, and was written by David Limbaugh who is the brother of Rush Limbaugh.  The book was published by Regnery Publishers in 2015.  This book begins with the account of Jesus walking on the Emmaus Road with two of His disciples that first resurrection morning.  Luke records that "beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (Luke 24:27).  Mr. Limbaugh seeks to address what that conversation might have been like.  How does the Old Testament prepare us for the story of Jesus?  I bought this book because I thought it would help me with some sermon preps in the series of messages I have titled, "Thru the Bible: The Thread of Redemption."  I found the book to be fascinating.  If you are interested in your own study of how Jesus is portrayed in the Old Testament, this book should be a must reading for you.  Perhaps you could even use this as a small group study.  After reading this book I began to better understand that Emmaus Road conversation.  Perhaps Jesus will share that conversation with us in glory.

A third book is titled, The First Congress, and was written by Fergus M. Bordewich.  It was published by Simon & Schuster in 2016.  For the past few years I have been drawn into knowing the hearts and minds and stories of our Founding Fathers.  I have read, and in some cases reread, many of the books written by Joseph Ellis, who in my opinion, is one of the best and most readable historians of this period.  I have highly recommended two of his books in the past: The Founding Brothers and An American Creation.  I found Dr. Bordewich's book difficult at first, but as he began to portray the scenes of the first Congress meeting in New York City the excitement began to build.  Many of the same men who helped win the War of Independence and later wrote the Constitution, were there for this remarkable first Congress.  They were charting new waters for no one in history had created the kind of government that they had.  There were conflicts over the separations of powers.  There were struggles over how to bring 13 colonies into a unified national interest.  There was the shadow of slavery that lingered over their deliberations.  And the agonizing questions of how a young nation was to pay for its enormous wartime debts needed to be resolved.  There were clashes of personalities - a James Madison vs. a Alexander Hamilton, for example.  There was the bored expressions of a John Adams who disliked being Vice President.  And, over all and probably holding it all together, was the peaceful presence of George Washington, filling that role of our first President.  The story of the First Congress continues the story of God's miraculous hand upon our nation in its infancy.  If you bear with the first couple of chapters, you will be richly rewarded at the end. 

A final book I have read this past year that I recommend is titled, If You Can Keep It, and was written by Eric Metaxas, who is becoming one of my favorite authors.  (If you have not read his powerful biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, you really need to add that to you list.  It is a fascinating and definitive study of the life of a martyr of the Church in the dark days of Nazi Germany).  The book If You Can Keep It was published by Viking Press in 2016.  This book concerns the history of the writing of the Constitution of the United States.  The author tells that story through the stories of those who were involved in that historic moment. 

For those who enjoy historical and biblical fictional stories, I can recommend the new series by Lynn Austin titled The Restoration Chronicles.  There are three volumes in this series.  The first is the story of Zechariah and titled, Return to Me; the second is the story of Ezra and titled, Keepers of the Covenant; while the third and final is the story of Nehemiah and titled, On This Foundation.   The author does an excellent job of staying with the story as told in the Bible, yet she has a way of bringing the story into incredible life - you will feel like you are actually there within the story yourself.  If you begin reading one of these, you find it difficult putting it down.

Finally, there are those classics which never are outdated.  These include the classic on Christian living by C.S. Lewis and titled, Mere Christianity.  By the way, this book would make for an excellent small group study; it generate a lot of discussion about our society and culture and how it views Christ and Christianity.  A second classic was written by A.W. Tozer and titled, "The Knowledge of the Holy."  If you are interested in a readable, yet powerful, study of the character of God, this is absolutely must reading. 

With the long winter evenings lying just ahead, one can never go wrong to put a fire in the fireplace, grab a steaming cup of hot chocolate or coffee, and take a good book off the shelf.  Take a trip back into time and discover people and events that still impact our world. 

Happy reading, everyone!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Word of the Year: Post-Truth

I love playing and using words.  I guess when you are called upon to preach and teach you desire to master the use of words. Words are an essential part of our communication process.  Most of the time we simply use words without really giving those words a lot of thought.  But there are those times when words take on a new purpose.  They become special words.  I woke up this morning and while reading my morning newspaper - yes, I still get a newspaper - I read an article about the 2016 "word of the year." 

According to the Oxford Dictionaries organization, the 2016 international word of the year is "post-truth" which is defined as "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief."  According to the article, published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and first published by Jennifer Schuessler in the New York Times, "The term, whose first known usage in this sense was in a 1992 essay in the Nation magazine, does not represent an entirely new concept.  But it does, Martin (Katherine Connor Martin, the head of U.S. dictionaries at Oxford University Press) said, reflect a step past 'truthiness,' the Stephen Colbert coinage that Merriam-Webster and the American Dialect Society chose as word of the year a decade ago.  'Truthiness is a humorous way of discussing a quality of specific claims,' she said.  'Post-truth is an adjective that is describing a much bigger thing.  It's saying that the truth is being regarded as mostly irrelevant.'"

Emotions and personal opinions now take precedent over truth.  But we see this over and over.  Let's just take a recent example.  Following the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, the President of the University of Virginia sent a letter to students and other campus leaders in which he quoted from Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the University.  That letter sent many who received it into an angry spirit.  Several hundred signed a petition asking the President to rescind that letter omitting the quote from Thomas Jefferson.  Their rationale: Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, thus making what he had said offensive.  Emotions and personal opinions taking precedent over historical truth. 

History cannot be erased.  What happened did in fact happen.  You cannot go back and undo history.  (I think we all would like to go back and rewind the clock and make some changes even in our own history, but we can't).  The facts of history may not agree with my personal opinions today or even with the way that I am feeling today.  Slavery was part of our nation's past.  Yes, it left a stain that is still felt today.  But, removing the statues of Robert E Lee of Nathan Bedford Forrest or Jefferson Davis will not remove that stain.  The same can be said of any truth statement that we do not like - we simply cannot erase it.  Truth is truth.  If it is not truth, then it is mere opinion and mere opinion can provide no foundation for anyone else to build upon except the person with the opinion.  I will respect your opinion but not necessarily make those opinions my own.  But truth is both yours and mine. 

So, how does a Christian live in a "post truth" world?  First, we need to reaffirm that the Bible is God's Word - it is inerrant; it is inspired; it is the final authority for faith and life.  You should be able to answer this question: Why do I believe the Bible is God's Word? 

Second, we need to know what the Bible has to say.  If it truly is God's Word, then, don't you think it is important enough that we should at least read it and probably should spend some time studying it so that we know what it teaches?  And this begins with knowing the stories within the Bible - those of Adam and Eve, of Noah, of Abraham and Sarah, of Isaac and Rebekah, of Jacob and Esau, of Joseph and Egypt, of Moses and the return of the Israelites, of Joshua, Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon, the prophets, the disciples and the stories of Jesus.  These stories contain truth statements God desires for us to know. 

Third, we are to live out that truth before others.  Knowing the Word of God is not some academic experience.  We describe college as being an academic experience, but, truth be told, that experience only becomes realized when a person begins to work in that field for which he/she has trained.  So it is with our experience in the Word of God.  That experience becomes realized only when we begin to live out those truths in our own lives and before others.  Then we do we being to live with incarnational truth. 

The world has declared that truth is not as relevant in the public square as it once was.  Perhaps it is not relevant at all.  But a culture cannot exist on the beliefs only in emotions and personal opinions.  So, friends, let's cling tightly to truth - God's truth. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


What an amazing week this has been!  A week ago tonight, at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio, a team that had not won any championships since 1908 (that was 9 years before America entered into World War I!) finally achieved baseball's highest prize - the World Series Championship.  I have rooted for the Chicago Cubs for many years and it seemed that, not too long into many of those seasons, I could be heard saying, "Wait until next year!"  But now the wait is over!  A young team believed in themselves even when their backs were up against the wall to a very good Cleveland Indian team.  They were a fun team to watch.  They played with enthusiasm.  I think Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Jack Brickhouse, and Harry Carey would have approved of the 2016 Chicago Cubs team.  They won a title, not just for themselves, but for a city and for a group of legendary players who had donned a Cubs' uniform but never knew the thrill of a game 7 in the World Series.  November 2 was a very fun night!

Then, what about last night?!  Wow!  Political pundits are speechless.  Pollsters are wondering what happened.  The main-stream media is scratching its head.  Establishment leaders on both sides of the aisle are regrouping and trying to decide what the next step is.  It was sort of fun watching their consternation last night.  To be honest, I went to bed before the final call was made, but it appeared that Donald Trump had the election secured. 

So, how did it happen that a man who had absolutely no political experience could be elected to the highest office in the land and the most important office in the world?  Here was a man who did not have the endorsement of many within the Republican establishment, even after he had won their party's nomination.  Many sought to distance themselves from him.  And Trump certainly was the target of the main-stream media from the very beginning.  His life was put under the microscope, and, yes, there were some things that caused disappointment and embarrassment.  But those same media-pundits were not as quick to examine Secretary Clinton until Wikileaks began dumping huge quantities of revealing emails into the public's lap.  From a logical perspective, there was no way that Donald J Trump should become the 45th President of the United States let alone would become that.

So, again, how did it happen?  Let me share with you two reasons that resonate with me.  I will share the lesser important one first.  Donald Trump had a message that, from the very beginning of his campaign, appealed to the common people who had come to feel very disenfranchised by politicians.  He echoed their concerns.  It was almost as if he had peered into their hearts and saw the anguish that was there.  He saw that most politicians would only talk about issues...he wanted to do something about those issues.  When you look at the map of the popular vote, it truly is amazing.  Michigan - predominately red.  Wisconsin - predominately red.  Iowa - predominately red.  Even Minnesota - predominately red.  Farmers, auto workers, coal miners, textile workers, day laborers found a hope in the message Donald Trump offered.  He was not a politician.  He was a very successful businessman.  Perhaps he could get things moving in a right direction.  And, when Secretary Clinton described those who followed Trump as being a basketful of deplorables and unredeemables, well that just increased the momentum.  People truly believed those words of Trump, "What have you got to lose by voting for me?" 

But, as I still process the result of this election, I believe we have seen a miracle from God because many of us were driven to pray diligently for this election - perhaps as we have never prayed for an election before.  Franklin Graham called people to pray yesterday.  Others did as well.  It was almost as if there was this feeling that America was running out of time.  We pleaded with God for one final opportunity to have a "Josiah" experience - a national turning to God.  And God heard our prayers.  But now is not the time to stop praying.  It really is time to continue praying for God's healing to be upon our land.  Wouldn't it be great if God would get hold of Donald Trump's heart?  He has invited some very outspoken evangelicals to be part of his team as a candidate; let's pray that those same men will be invited to give counsel now that he is president-elect.  And how we need to pray that our new president will surround himself with men and women of strong convictions and not just swayed by the winds of cultural change.  Wouldn't it be great if those advisors really had a heart for a nation envisioned by our Founding Fathers?  And how we need to pray that our new president will cultivate a strong working relationship with the Congress - that he would not see them as adversaries, but as team members to work together to accomplish some great things for America.  We see such scenes in the Old Testament: the stories of Hezekiah and Josiah come to mind, as well as those of Nehemiah. 

These are historic days.  I believe God is giving America one last chance.  The spiritual battle will rage more intensely...but let's join hands and hearts to claim the victory through Christ Jesus.

Finally, over the weekend I went to see the new movie directed by Mel Gibson.  "Hacksaw Ridge" is one of the most intense movies I have seen - possibly since "Saving Private Ryan" or "The Passion of the Christ."  The movie follows the story of Desmond Daws, the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The film is not for the weak-in-heart.  If the sight of blood and mangled bodies makes you squeamish, then this is not for you.  Gibson does not pull any punches with regard to the horrors of war, nor of the courage of one young man to risk his own life to rescue those of his comrades, many of whom had been hostile toward him during basic training.  As I left hat theater after seeing what so many of our young men went through in order that I could enjoy the freedoms that I have, I became very angry at those NFL players who have decided to dishonor our flag and our national anthem.  I would like to roundup all those players, strap them in theater seats and show them this movie and then explain to them that those young men fought and died to defend our nation's flag and the anthem that represents us.  I highly recommend this movie.  Its story needs to be told.  Its spirit needs to be resurrected in our nation's psyche. 

Yes, it has been a pretty incredible last few days.  Praise God He is still in control.  He continues to be our hope.  Even so come, Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

More Police Officers Murdered - Why?

Overnight it happened again, this time in Des Moines, Iowa, where two police officers were gunned down while sitting in their patrol cars.  At this time a suspect has been identified but not yet apprehended.  With these two deaths, fifty law enforcement officers have been murdered while in the line of duty this year.  To put on the blue uniform seems to also include putting a target upon your back.  Now law enforcement officials have always been targeted.  The stories of the gunning down of sheriffs and marshals in the Old West are legendary.  And then there are those horrific stories that appear during the days of Prohibition and the rise of the gangsters who took out their wrath upon those who wore the badge.  But it did not seem that even with those stories that law enforcement officials were hunted down just because they wore a badge as they are today. 

Why is this happening? is a question we all are asking.  I am not sure I have a definitive answer but I believe it stems from a society and culture that has a blatant disrespect for authority.  When I was a child growing up my parents taught me to always respect those who wore the badge of law.  I was to be courteous to them if I was pulled over for a traffic offense.  And, what my parents taught me was also amplified with what I was taught in school. 

But all that changed when I went away to school.  For two years I worked as part of the campus security team at Wheaton College.  It was a great job and I loved the hours and the people with whom I worked.  But I kept noticing a lack of respect on the part of many students for the position that I held.  (And this was a Christian college).  I think I was called every name possible that reflected disrespect for the badge that I wore and for the authority that was vested in me and my fellow officers.  That generation includes in its historic landscape such events as Woodstock and the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.  Now that legacy of disrespect has found roots in their children and in their grandchildren.

And look at our presidential candidates, one of whom will become President of the United States next Tuesday.  One candidate has willfully broken the law by lying to Congress and by defying the subpoenas that were issued.  There is a ruthlessness about that campaign that almost staggers our imagination.  And the other candidate may have violated laws regarding his taxes, although those have not yet been substantiated.  Where is the demonstrated respect for authority?

Interestingly enough, I have found a time very similar to what we are experiencing today within the Bible.  It certainly is not a time that ancient Israel was particularly fond of.  But it did happen.  And I am speaking with regard to the time of the judges.  The attitude of the people can be summed up with this scriptural passage (in fact, it is repeated twice): "In those days Israel had no king, everyone did as he saw fit." (Judges 17:6, 21:25). 

Let me see if I can paint the picture.  There was no national leadership.  It was "every tribe for itself" as best seen in those closing chapters of Judges.  It seems that even the religious leadership was corrupted and incapable of truly leading under God's banner.  And, in the absence of God, truth becomes at best marginalized, if not abdicated altogether.  And, when truth is cast aside, personal opinions become dominate.  And, when personal opinions take priority, then everyone is right and no one is wrong.  Therefore, respect for authority collapses.  Those who seek to enforce laws become targets.  Thus, police officers are murdered at the rate of over one per week. 

But, let's draw this even wider.  In the absence of God, not only does truth become marginalized, respect for others becomes marginalized as well.  Take the city of Chicago for example.  This past weekend 17 people were murdered in Chicago within the space of just over 48 hours, making a total of over 600 people murdered on the streets of this amazing city over the past ten months - 60 people per month; 2 people per day.  Staggering.  And this could be added to with one city after another.  What has happened?  We no longer show respect for one another as we should.  And  believe it all stems from the direction our culture has gone in walking away from God and from God's truth.  The consequences are overwhelming.

Is there any hope for our nation?  That is the question I have been asked on several occasions these past few weeks.  My honest response is, "I don't know, but I think the answer will become clearer on November 8."  As I shared with you last week, I am NOT voting for a personality, I AM voting for an ideology and the contrast could not be clearer, at least in my mind.  Will I vote?  Absolutely as it is not only my Constitutional privilege, but it is my Christian obligation.  God is not calling us to stay at home.  God wants you to be involved in this process.  So, I will vote and I will pray, knowing that, whatever the outcome God is still on the throne and that the world will continue to move toward that ultimate purpose for which God has designed it.  And that gives me great peace!