Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Christmas Memories

There is an old Christmas song that begins with these amazing words: "It's the most wonderful time of the year."  Truly those words echo within the hearts of many this Christmas Season.  This is the season when scenes of "Christmases long ago" come rushing back into our memories.  This is my first Christmas without my Mom.  The other day I just sat and enjoyed remembering those Christmas scenes when I was a boy.  My Mom loved to bake at Christmastime.  She made dozens of cookies - more than one variety.  She made pounds of candy - her burnt-sugar fudge would literally melt in your mouth.  My Dad's job was to crack all the pecans and walnuts Mom would use in her baking and candy-making.  He also led the charge in the peanut shelling.  I was never very good at cracking a pecan without destroying the nutmeat, but I could shell peanuts.  My siblings and I often had a contest to see who could shell the most peanuts.

Christmas morning would find us off to Yulatta at 6:00 a.m.  You know, we did not even mind getting up early for that service.  The air was crisp, the snow would crunch when you walked on it.  There was a quietness and yet brilliance in the Christmas-night sky.  With joy we would sing "Joy to the World, the Lord is come" and "O, Come All Ye Faithful."  Then, just as the sun was beginning to peak over the horizon, we would hurry home.  Breakfast was always served before the presents would arrive.  Mom always had a Swedish cinnamon-pecan tea-ring that she served, drizzled with powdered-sugar frosting and decorated with red and green maraschino cherry pieces.  A favorite treat were those gigantic Christmas oranges - there would be one beside each place setting.  It was a breakfast that I always treasure.  Then, after the dishes were done - no, we had no dishwasher to put them into - we all had to pitch in - then we gathered around the tree for the presents.  I loved Christmas mornings.  And, to be honest, I still miss an early Christmas morning worship service. 

As I thought of many Christmas memories, I was reminded of a verse within the Luke Advent story that brought special meaning.  Luke writes these words of Mary: "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).  We like to imagine what the scene there in Bethlehem that night looked like.  To be perfectly honest, we have a lot more questions than answers.  Were there animals in that cave?  How many shepherds came?  Did they bring sheep with them?  What kind of a child-birthing experience did Mary have?   What was going through Joseph's mind as tried to comfort and encourage Mary as she delivered her first child?  But, whatever happened that night, Luke tells us that "Mary treasured all those things and pondered them in her heart."  I am confident that every year, around the time of Jesus's birthday, Mary would sit and remember that night.  The story of the angelic visitation and of their anthem as shared by the shepherds brought joy.  She would remember the kindness of Joseph and the smile that crossed his face as he delivered the Son of God. 

Perhaps Mary pondered deeply a truth that still mystifies us today.  That little baby she had just delivered and was now nursing at her breast; that little baby who then was quietly laid within a manger-bed and whose soft breaths gave a signal of peace; that little baby was God Himself!  She had had the opportunity to ponder that mystery for the preceding nine-months.  Yet, even as she saw the fruit of that amazing pregnancy lying there before her, there was still a mystery that surrounded it. 

Friends, have you taken time this Christmas Season to have your mind stirred with the memories of Christmases in the past?  But, more importantly, have you taken the time to just ponder the mystery of the Incarnation?  I am drawn to those mystifying words from the Apostle John: "But the Word (and John has identified Who that Word is with his opening statement - "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God") became flesh and lived among us" (John 1:14).  The Creator of the universe became part of His creation.  The powerful El Shaddai became a helpless little baby.  The One who rained down fire from heaven at a prophet's command, now cries out to His mother for life-sustaining nourishment.  The One who called Himself the "Great I AM" now has a body with a beginning and an ending. 

Friends, that is the mystery of the Incarnation.  That child whose birthday we celebrate on Monday, is the Son of God.  And there was only one purpose for His coming - to provide the way of salvation for sinful men and women, young men and young women, and boys and girls.  I trust you have received that amazing gift that Jesus came to give. 

This will be the final blog for 2017.  Taking some time next week to spend with our family.  So, I want to wish you and your families a very Joyous and Merry Christmas and a Blessed start to the New Year. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Reading Wish-List for Christmas

Christmas is less than two weeks away.  This weekend is our annual Living Nativity which has been hosted by our church family for many years.  It comes complete with camels, a cow, a donkey, some goats, and, this year, some chickens.  There will be some Roman soldiers who will announce that taxes are due to the Emperor.  Shepherds and wise men will roam the hallways sharing their stories with any who will stop to listen.  And all will be directed toward the stable where Joseph and Mary tenderly care for their little baby boy.  This year we have added a main street to our Bethlehem, featuring a woodworking shop, the office of a scribe, and a food vendor offering the delicacies of the First Century.  Last year we had over 1500 people visit Bethlehem and experience in a new way the real reason for Christmas.  Here is my invitation to any of you living near Buffalo, MN: Come and join us this Saturday or Sunday evening.  The Living Nativity is open from 5:00-7:00 p.m.   The cookies will be home-made and the chocolate and coffee will be hot.

It seems that about this time every year I share with you some of the books that I have read and highly recommend.  The winter months are great times to sit near a warm fire with a cup of hot cider and enjoy a good book.  This past year the Church has celebrated the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation.  Several biographies of Martin Luther were published.  Eric Metaxas has written an outstanding biography of this Augustinian monk who dedicated his life to helping people understand that salvation does not come through any efforts of their own.  It comes only through faith.  Metaxas's book is titled, Martin Luther.  I found the book to be a fascinating read.  The author, at times, seeks to enter into the very mind of his subject to better understand why he did what he did.  What I also appreciated about this book was the careful descriptions of those men who influenced Luther and were in turn influenced by Luther.  For example, I was unaware that Luther never personally met the Elector Frederick who was responsible for Luther obtaining a position of teaching at the new university in Wittenberg and who protected Luther when the Church turned against him.  And, of course, Metaxas does an excellent job of helping us to enter into the marriage of Luther and his Katie.  What a remarkable woman she truly was.  Not only will this book help you to better understand the life of this remarkable man, but it will also give you insights into the culture of the sixteenth century.  If you were to read only one book about Luther, this is the book I would highly recommend.

A second book that is recommended is titled, Killing England.  This is the seventh book in the "Killing" series written by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard.  Over the past several years, I have devoted more of my private reading to better understanding the American Revolutionary times.   I have discovered that there is a complexity about that era that truly defines it.  In this book, which I must admit I had a difficult time putting down, the authors portray the ebb and flow of the Revolutionary War.  Although the book does not purport to be written from an evangelical or even Christian perspective, the authors do point out those moments when Someone stepped in just when defeat seemed inevitable.  As with all of the books in the "Killing" series, this book is well foot-noted for further referencing. 

There is one other book that I highly recommend.  It was written by Jim Putman and is titled, Real-Life Discipleship: Building Churches That Make Disciples.  The Adult Ministries Pastor here at our church introduced many of us to this book.  You know we spend a lot of time in our churches talking about being a disciple-making church.  But what does that look like?  How does a church make disciples who, then in turn, make disciples for Jesus Christ?  This book begins that discussion.  There is a 30-week training process that accompanies this book.  I have been privileged to be part of that training process this year.  We are near the half-way point.  It has been refreshing to relate with two other men in my triad on a weekly basis.  We are asking ourselves first, what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus, and then, how can we help others to become disciples.  Discipleship is not a lecture that can be attended, or a course that one can graduate from.  Discipleship flows from an intentional relationship, based upon truth, that I have with someone else.  I have to admit that this book, and the accompanying training, has opened my eyes to see discipleship in a whole new light.  I strongly recommend it for a small group that really wants to see God do something through their lives. 

So, if you are still wondering what to put on your Christmas list, perhaps one of these books might be recommended.  Reading will stretch your minds and also challenge your hearts. 

May God bless you as you prepare your hearts for our Savior's birthday.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Jerusalem: It's Time to Recognize It As Israel's Capital

The world woke up this morning to startling headlines: President Trump is going to declare that Jerusalem is the undisputed capital of Israel and that the United States is planning to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  The announcement is scheduled for today.

Already nations in the Middle East have sounded the alarm.  Hamas has declared Friday to be a "day of rage" following Friday services at the mosques.  They are even advocating violence as part of the demonstrations against this decision.  The president of Turkey has indicated that if President Trump follows through with this declaration that it is a "red line" within the Muslim world.  Other Middle Eastern nations have made similar statements, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia.  Thoughts have ranged from violence on the streets, to demonstrations in front of American embassies, to the total collapse of any further peace-talks between Israel and the Palestinians. 

Of course the sides are divided.  In an article written by Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash from the Washington Post, and published on December 2 in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, several leaders within the Palestinian and Israeli communities were asked about the impact such a decision would have upon the relationships between Israel and the Palestinians.  Gais Abdul Karim, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, when asked about the impact of a Trump declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, said, "This would be even more problematic, as this would involve direct recognition of the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem.  It would also be recognition of the illegal Israeli move to announce Jerusalem as a capital."  He went on to say, "The U.S. will lose its status as a broker and declare itself as an ally to Israel.  It will be a complete catastrophe and perhaps a final end to the attempts by the U.S. administration to start a process."

When asked the same question, Nachman Shai, a member of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, responded: "Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and we want it to be internationally recognized.  When Israel was declared in 1948, some world countries did recognize Jerusalem, and they even had their consulates and embassies here.  But after the 1967 war, some of them moved, and later, following each crisis, even more left.  I understand the issue with territories, but Jerusalem will always be Israel's capital.  And what does it really mean if the embassy is in Jerusalem?  Why should it not be in Jerusalem?  I think every country in the world would expect foreign embassies to be in their capital." 

These are just two differing opinions.  Since its declaration as an independent state on May 14, 1948, the center of Israeli government has been in Jerusalem.  I have driven by the Knesset many times.  The Knesset is the equivalent of our Congress.  Nearby are the offices of the various departments of Israeli government.  The residence of the Prime Minister is located in Jerusalem.  When foreign dignitaries come to Israel, those meetings are held in Jerusalem. 

Yes, for nineteen years - 1948 to 1967 - Jerusalem was a divided city.  East Jerusalem was Arab, while West Jerusalem, where the government was seated, was Jewish.  Jerusalem became an united city following the close of the 1967 Six Day War.  At that time Jewish leaders declared that Jerusalem would never again be a divided city.  And it has not been, although in the eyes of many around the world, there still is that line of demarcation that exists.  One can travel freely today from East Jerusalem into West Jerusalem.  They are no check points.  To the pilgrim visiting Jerusalem, it is one large growing city. 

And yet tensions run high between those living in East Jerusalem from the rest of Jerusalemites.  Just a little spark can set off a massive emotional explosion.  Will this declaration by President Trump today be that little spark?  One can only hope that it is not!  The moving of the embassy will take several years, but this declaration will begin that process.  Here is what is often overlooked in this matter of the embassy in Israel: Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama all declared that they would move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Friends, Congress authorized the funding of such a move decades ago, but it has just been a matter of talk.  Here is where President Trump is different.  He follows through on what he says he will do, and the world is beginning to recognize that he is not your traditional political talking head.  And this is what makes them nervous.  It is what makes leaders in Congress nervous. 

During the campaign, Candidate Trump declared that, if he became President, he would move the embassy of the United States from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Now, it seems that promise is one step closer to being fulfilled.

Friends, you need to remember that Jerusalem's history is not yet completed.  We know that someday - and hopefully very soon - Jesus Christ will reign from David's throne there in Jerusalem.  At that time every nation in the world will come to Jerusalem to worship God and to pay homage to King Jesus.  Jerusalem is still to experience some terrible days of suffering before King Jesus comes, but it will survive. 

I always tell my congregation and students, keep your eyes focused upon Jerusalem for that is where all history will climax.  That is the intentions of our God.  Let me close with these words from the Prophet Ezekiel: "This is what the Sovereign LORD says: 'This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her" (Ezekiel 5:5).

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

November 29 - A Commemoration of a Decision with Lasting Impact

Today, November 29, is one of those dates on the calendar commemorating an event that literally changed the history of the world.  For it was on this date in 1947 that the United Nations formally adopted Resolution 181 which called for the creation of an Arab and an Israeli state in what had been formerly called Palestine.  Resolution 181 also called for the city of Jerusalem to become an internationally controlled city.  Thirty-three nations within the United Nations General Assembly voted for the partition of Palestine, thirteen nations - mainly Arab states - voted against the partition plan, ten nations abstained from voting, including Great Britain who had controlled Palestine since the end of World War I, and there was one nation not present at the time of the vote.  Moshe Dayan, who would become a leader within the IDF during its infancy, wrote: "We were happy that night, and we danced...we dance - but we knew that ahead of us lay the battlefield."

This was a vote that divided the Middle East, a division that persists until this day.  Neither the Jewish leadership, under David Ben-Gurion, nor the Arab leadership, under Haj Amin el Husseini, were excited about the UN partition plan.  Immediately the Arab League announced that it would not support the partition plan, while the Jewish leadership announced that it would accept the partition plan.  Now, friends, when one looks at the UN Partition Map, it was hardly a fair partition - especially if you were a Jew.  Yet, a small-fractured state was better than no state at all.  So, David Ben-Gurion and the Jewish leadership began to make plans for statehood.

The British were just glad to see the end of a difficult time overseeing their British Mandate.  The years preceding the UN vote and now after the vote had occurred would be a deadly time for the British army.  And it was a deadly time for Arabs and Jews as animosities built between the two groups.  Of concern for the Jews was the survival of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Everyone knew that war was inevitable as soon as the British left which was to occur at midnight on May 14, 1948. 

Both sides began to prepare for war.  The Jewish community did not have an organized military - for that creation had been banned under the British Mandate.  There were a few militias basically created for security of Jewish communities scattered throughout Palestine.  Israel had no air force because it had no airplanes.  And, because of the Mandate, the Jews could not legally purchase military equipment - although there are some amazing stories of planes being purchased in Czechoslovakia and in America.  Planes were literally smuggled parts at a time and then reassembled on secret airfields within Palestine. 

The Mandate set a limit on the number of Jewish refugees - many coming out of the concentration and death camps of Europe - who could immigrate into Palestine.  Many were secretly smuggled aboard small vessels that penetrated the British blockade.  As soon as their feet touched the shoreline, they were recruited into the army. 

And, the ink was hardly dry on the documents affirming Israel's creation and independence, when war was declared on May 14, 1948.  It was a war filled with many miracles.  If you would like to read more about this era of history, I highly recommend the book titled O Jerusalem!, written by Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre.  This is a book that I recommend to those who travel with me to Israel as it will help them to understand some of the psychological dynamics that still persist within Israel today. 

Many Bible scholars believe that this UN Resolution 181 - passed on this date in 1947 - and the date of the birth of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948 are important prophetically.  We know from passage after passage within the prophetic writings that God said that He would gather His people Israel once again into the land He had given to their forefathers - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Until this November 29th resolution, it seemed those prophecies were yet distant.  But, with the UN vote that day, those prophecies took on a whole new meaning.  Could it be possible that this was what the Lord had said would happen?  Would it be possible that, after nearly 1900 years, the Jews would once again have a nation to call their own? 

In Matthew 24:34, part of what we know as The Olivet Discourse where Jesus is describing events that will happen at the end of the age, Jesus says: "I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened."  Could we be living in that generation that will not pass away until all these things have been accomplished?  I was 9-months old when UN Resolution 181 was passed, and 15-months old when the State of Israel was created.  If, as some believe a biblical generation is 70-80 years, based upon Psalm 90:10, then I am part of that generation.  Now I am not saying that we have up to ten years before the return of Jesus, but it is exciting to think about it.  Perhaps this will be the Advent Season when Jesus returns again!  How exciting would that be!

November 29, 1947 - an important date for all of us to remember.    

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Call for Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day.  It is an annual reminder that we should pause to remember that what we have received is a gift to us from God.  The roots of a thanksgiving day are deeply embedded within the fabric of American history.  From our earliest school days, we remember the story of the Pilgrims who landed on the shores of Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts in 1620.  They were greeted with a terrible winter that claimed a large number of their group.  Those who had survived that first winter in the New World, began to focus upon how to prepare to survive another winter.  Crops were planted, with the help of some of the peaceful natives who showed those Englishmen how to grow crops in a wilderness setting.  And that fall they celebrated with thanksgiving to God for the bounty which God had supplied.  That event became the model for all the Thanksgiving Days that have followed. 

How do we celebrate Thanksgiving Day today?  Well, we begin with bringing family and friends together.  Often remembrances are shared that encourage our hearts.  Then, we eat way too much.  Who can resist that golden-browned turkey?  Hey, give me that turkey leg!  And the potatoes - oh the piles of mashed potatoes, slathered with hot turkey gravy.  And who can forget the cranberries - I know some of my kids and grandkids could easily forget them, but not me.  Of course Thanksgiving Dinner would be incomplete without a green-bean casserole or a steaming corn-pudding.  Then there are the pies - pumpkin, apple, and pecan.  Oh the choices - could I have a piece of each, lavished with whipped cream on top?  And then we settle in for a long afternoon of football, or we hit the malls for those early "Black Friday" specials. 

But, something is missing, isn't it?  What about thanksgiving?  What about remembering our blessings?  Tomorrow morning for my personal devotions, I will be reading Psalm 103 and Ephesians 1.  These two chapters always help me to focus upon an attitude of thanksgiving that will carry me through the day.  Where does one begin with his "thanksgiving praise list?"  Both David and Paul begin with salvation.  I love the words that Paul uses: "chose us before the creation of the world," "predestined," and "adopted."  Aren't those great words?  Just stop for a moment and reflect upon that amazingly incomprehensible truth: God chose me, God chose you before He created anything.  Friends, before there was a Genesis 1:1, there was you - chosen by God!  Now that is something to give thanks for. 

David exclaims that God has forgiven our sins and healed our diseases.  Isn't it great to know that our sins are forgiven?  David, in this same Psalm 103, later will write concerning our forgiveness: "For as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us."  Wow!  And what was this disease from which we have been healed?  Well, it was that fatal disease of spiritual death caused because of our sins.  In Ephesians 2, the Apostle Paul said that "we were dead in our transgressions and sins."  But, through Jesus Christ, God has made us clean as the newly driven snow.  This elicits another "wow!" from our lips. 

David then declares that he will praise God because "he has satisfied his desires with good things."  Oh the incredible goodness of God.  If salvation is at the top of our "thanksgiving list," then what follows?  I can only share with you that for me it is my family - my wonderful bride who has been by my side for over 48 years now; my three kids and their families who constantly remind me of the need to pass down to the next generation the reasons for the hope that lies within me; and for my grandchildren who remind me of the vigor of youth that needs the tempering of maturity. 

Then I am grateful for my extended family - for my two sisters, my brother, and my sister-in-law who carries on the memories of a brother now with the Lord.  I am blessed with a church family that God has brought into my life and whose lives touch mine in so many incredible ways.  They remind me of my need to be that loving, caring shepherd through whom God can speak truth into their lives. 

And one cannot forget to give praise for our country.  I am grateful for the heritage that is ours because others cared enough that they were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.  America is not a perfect place and, often in this blog, I have focused upon those places where that imperfection is clearly shown, but God has used this nation as a tool to bless the world in the past, and hopefully that blessing will continue into the future.

Thanksgiving should be a daily experience of ours.  But I am grateful that there is one day set aside especially for that purpose.  To quote from Psalm 100: "Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name."  And why should we do this?  That Psalm closes with these words: "For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations." 

So, what praises will be upon your lips as you "enter his gates with thanksgiving?"   

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Are We Getting Closer to Peace in the Middle East?

While the focus of our mainstream media has centered upon the continued investigation into some type of collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign - although that very investigation has now ventured into the arena of possible collusion between the Russians and the Clinton campaign, and upon the shocking revelations of sexual assault and harassment both within the entertainment, media, and governmental arenas, silently things have been happening in the Middle East. 

This morning there was a very interesting article, written by Yona Schnitzer and posted on November 14 at:
Allow me to share some of the main points of this article.  "A secret correspondence between the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman reveals the draft of a possible peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, the Lebanese website Al-Akhbar claimed Tuesday.  Al-Akhbar posted what it said was the full text of the document which lists five basic principles supposedly agreed upon between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which would constitute the framework for a regional agreement and the end of the Arab Israeli conflict.

"The five principles are: Jerusalem - The Annexation of Jerusalem to international sovereignty as per the 1937 and 1947 partition plans - two international agreements which have recommended that the city not be annexed to either the Arab or Jewish entities."  Personally, having been to Jerusalem a dozen times over the past 17 years, I would find it very hard to believe that the Israelis would surrender their capital city to the supervision of an international agency.  The cry after the 1967 Six Day War, following the capture of the Old City from the Royal Jordanian Forces, was "never again," meaning that never again would the city of Jerusalem be anything less than an united city under Jewish rule. 

"Palestinian Refugees - Saudi Arabia affirms its aspiration to settle Palestinian refugees in their countries of residence.  The Kingdom can contribute to this effort by supporting innovative solutions such as cancelling the Arab League's decision from the 1950s by which no Arab nation is to settle Palestinian refugees within their borders, as well as divert efforts to the redistribution and settlement of Palestinians refugees throughout the Arab states."   Friends, this point has been a sticking point in any possible peace-plan.  Immediately after the 1948 War of Independence, the Arab League decided that those Palestinians who had fled Palestine during the 1948 War should remain as refugees - they should not be assimilated into other Arab states.  The demand was that all refugees be granted a return status back into the State of Israel.  This would create a logistical nightmare for Israel.  Those properties that had been abandoned by fleeing Palestinians in 1948 now are in the hands of Israelis.  Should they be dispossessed?  And the number of potential refugees has grown almost exponentially.  So, if this "secretly negotiated plan" is true, then this resolution is a huge one.

"American Mediation and Agreed Upon Principles - The United States and Saudi Arabia will reach agreements regarding the main principles for ending the conflict, after which President Trump would summon the foreign ministers of the region to a summit in order to obtain their agreements, and only after all have agreed to the same basic principals, would the actual negotiations begin."  The mainstream media has been rather silent as to the comings and goings of the Trump Administration within the Middle East.  Yes, they covered President Trumps trip to the Middle East last Spring.  Jarod Kushner has made several trips to the Middle East, acting as President Trump's envoy.  Reports surfaced that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia made a secret visit to Israel in September where he met with Prime Minister Netanyahu.  Undoubtedly there have been behind-the-scenes negotiations taking place. 

"Saudi Influence - Saudi Arabia's most effective and important role is to recruit others to support this deal, which will usher in a new era of peace and prosperity between Israel and the Arab and Muslim worlds.  At first, normalization of relations with Israel will not enjoy wide public support throughout the Arab world, but Saudi Arabia believes that the combination of Israeli technology and the Gulf state's economic power and energy markets could bring out the Middle East's full potential and obtain peace, prosperity and stability."  The Middle East is certainly a region filled with resources that could boost any economy.  Israel is the incubator of technological ideas that soon become everyday products affecting life from agriculture to healthcare.  The Arab States still possess massive quantities of energy resources.  If these nations could learn to work-together, they could produce a regional economy that would rival that of the United States or China.

"Iran - The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the longest lasting conflict in the region.  Over the years, it has served as a justification for the actions of extremists, and has also distracted the major players in the region from focusing on the central threat to its stability - Iran.  In accordance to the deal, both Israel and Saudi Arabia must commit themselves to an effective cooperation in order to stop Iran."  Friends, this is a crucial point.  The Saudis are very leery of the actions of their neighbor to the north.  Recently a missile, fired from Iranian-back rebels in Yemen, hit within the Saudi borders.  Many believe that a war between Iran and Saudi Arabia is inevitable and even imminent.  Some are inclined to think that the reason for the "secret" meeting between the Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Netanyahu concerned a possible role Israel might play if such a war became a reality. 

The author of this article then states: "The letter opens with a statement that Saudi Arabia is the most powerful and most important entity in the Arab world, and that any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be supported by the Kingdom in order to gain legitimacy in the Arab world.  It continued to state that dealing with Israel is extremely problematic in the eyes of the Arab world, and that the kingdom would only take such a risk if America was serious in its intentions to act against Iran, and stop them from destabilizing the region."

Friends, if this report is confirmed by both the Saudis and the Israelis, then some giant steps have been taken forward in the region.  I believe the driving force is the escalating threat of Iran.  It continues moving forward toward the creation of a nuclear weapon and the means for the delivery of such a weapon.  Saudi Arabia and Israel are the two primary countries in the Middle East that stand in Iran's path toward total domination of the Middle East.  Therefore, it would seem to be in the best interests of both the Saudis and the Israelis to work together toward an Iran-Solution.  Will it happen?  I guess time will tell. 

Before I close this week's blog, I want to share some "Profound Thoughts."  These were sent to me by a member of my congregation.  He had received them from someone else.  I do not know the origin of these "Profound Thoughts," but thought they might bless your day.

#1 - "Once all villagers decided to pray for rain.  On the day of prayer all the people gathered, but only one boy came with an umbrella.  That's FAITH.
"2 - "When you throw babies in the air, they laugh because they know you will catch them.  That's TRUST.
"3 - "Every night we go to bed without any assurance of being alive the next morning, but still we set the alarms to wake up.  That's HOPE.
#4 - "We plan big things for tomorrow in spite of zero knowledge of the future.  That's CONFIDENCE.
#5 - "We see the world suffering, but still we get married and have children.  That's LOVE.
#6 - "On an old man's shirt was written a sentence 'I am not 80 years old; I am sweet 16 with 64 years of experience.'   That's ATTITUDE."  (I really liked that last one!)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Stunned Nation and a Mocked God

I think we were all stunned with the horrific shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, this past Sunday morning.  From what we have learned, the 26-year old gunman went to that church because he was angry at his mother-in-law who attended services there.  The tragedy was that the mother-in-law was not there last Sunday.  Instead, the shooter entered through the rear doors to the sanctuary and began shooting.  People huddled on the floor between the pews while the gunman walked down the aisles shooting those lying on the floor.  In the end, twenty-six people were murdered and another twenty were wounded.  Eight members from one family were among the victims.  Our thoughts and prayers are focused upon this small church as they mourn the loss of so many.

The first church I pastored was a small church much like the one in Sutherland Springs.  We had a congregation of around 100 or so.  It was a family church with a close bond between those who attended.  How does a church pick up the pieces when a quarter of your congregation is taken so quickly and so needlessly?  I pray for that pastor who not only mourns the loss of so many friends but also the loss of his daughter. 

And, yes we should pray.  What I found almost nauseating were the responses of many within the mainstream media, especially, who mocked those praying.  Jeremy Hunt responded with a posting at  He writes: "Yet somehow, as our country mourns the loss of innocent life, there's a new wave of indignation directed at people who dare to pray for the victims.  That's right.  As well-intentioned Americans pray for their countrymen who were just gunned down while worshipping God, gun control advocates are bashing them for their expression of faith."  He then gives a few examples: from John Pavolovitz - "If you pray for victims of gun violence while doing nothing else - your prayers may as well be bullets for the next mass shooting."  From Paula Poundstone - "Dear Pres. Trump + V.P. Pence, If prayers were the answer 2 gun violence wouldn't people at a church service be safe? Pleas make gun laws."  And this from Keith Olbermann - "Speaker Ryan, bluntly: shove your prayers up your a-- AND DO SOMETHING WITH YOUR LIFE BESIDES PLATITUDES AND POWER GRABS." 

Mr. Hunt goes one to write: "It's one thing to hold strong opinions about gun control.  But it is entirely different to direct anger towards people of faith after such a horrific tragedy.  Just because you might not believe in prayer, doesn't give you the right to publicly insult those who do. 

"In some ways, this outrage against prayer is emblematic of national trends.  As America grows increasingly hostile to Christianity, inappropriate and insensitive rhetoric regarding expressions of faith has become more acceptable.  It seems the same people who pride themselves on advocating for religious and cultural 'tolerance' are the least tolerant when it comes to American Christians."

The author concludes: "As long as there is evil in this world, Americans should continue to exercise their right to pray for a brighter day.  This is - no doubt - a troubling time for our nation.  But it's times like these that often bring forth the best that our nation has to offer.  Slandering the faithful among us isn't the path to a unified, peaceful America.  We can do better."

The God-deniers are marching strongly and boldly today.  They shake their fists in the face of a God whose existence they deny.  They show open contempt for anyone and anything that reminds them of what they are trying so desperately to deny. 

Let me share another article that reminds us of how far down the slippery slope of immorality we have gone.  The author is Todd Starnes and his article was published on the Townhall website:
"White boys could soon self-identify as black girls in Delaware," he begins his column.  "The state Department of Education is considering sweeping regulations regarding discrimination that would allow children to determine their gender and their race.  The proposed 'Regulation 225 Prohibition of Discrimination' could set the stage for a gender-bending, cultural appropriation free-for-all in the nation's first state.  'All students enrolled in a Delaware public school may self-identify gender or race,' the proposed regulation states.  The state educators use a term called 'Protected Characteristics' to describe race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender, gender identity and other characteristics protected by state or federal law.  And the proposed regulation should scare the living daylights out of every mom and dad in the state.  It clearly states school leaders would not necessarily be required to notify parents if Billy suddenly decides to identify as Sally. ... The Delaware Department of Education believes it is best equipped to handle your child's gender or pigmentation change.  In other words, government knows best."

Starnes continues, "But this is what happens when the government assumes they can do a better job than you when it comes to parenting your child. 'This is a 5-alarm alert for parents,' Theis told me. (Nicole Theis, president of the Delaware Family Policy Council). 'The effects of the deliberate conditioning of children as early as pre-school into believing they can deny biological facts and realities and identify as whatever gender or race they feel, and to what end?'"

Friends, we are living in a world that has lost its moral bearings.  "Every man did that which was right in his own eyes" has become the clarion call of our age.  As a culture we have abandoned the belief in any type of absolute moral truth.  To put it bluntly, we have abandoned God!  God said that He created males and females (Genesis 1:27).  But, because we no longer value what God has said, we have created, at last count according to what I heard yesterday, sixty-two different gender categories.

What is happening in Delaware should frighten us.  Can I be a white male today and tomorrow be a black female?  What if I would then want to be a black male or a white female?  Could I change my gender and race depending upon how I feel when I wake up in the morning, thus resulting in my being gender-confused and racially-confused my entire life?  And then we wonder why so many of these confused people end up taking their own lives.  It is because they have no anchor.  It is because they have no sense of direction or of purpose.  God is never the author of confusion, but the Enemy uses confusion as one of his chief strategies. 

Friends, yes, it is time to wake-up.  Yes, it is time to sound the battle cry!  Yes, it is time to proclaim God's Truth into every avenue of culture today.  I believe there is not much time remaining in this present age, but, until the trumpet sounds, we have a responsibility to be witnesses of God's saving grace. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

An Attack in New York City: What Does It Mean?

The war against ISIS may be nearing an end in Syria and Iraq, but, the event yesterday in New York City shows that ISIS is not destroyed.  The push for a worldwide caliphate may be in its waning days, but the spirit behind that caliphate continues to thrive in the hearts of those who follow diligently that radical ideology.  And always the target is the innocent - those individuals just going about their everyday life.  Yesterday it was those biking along a city street or pedestrians walking on a sidewalk.  Those people were full of dreams and aspirations.  They were loved by a spouse, by a Mom and Dad.  They had careers.  They celebrated life. 

Suddenly, without any warning, eight of those lives were snuffed out.  They did not know the one who perpetrated this hateful act.  They did not even have the opportunity of defending themselves.  In a matter of moments, eight individuals were ushered into eternity.  One can only hope that they were ready to meet God. 

The investigation will continue for weeks, if not months.  The one who used the rented truck to destroy lives will be interrogated.  The content of his computer will be analyzed and re-analyzed looking for a motivation for such a horrific act.  The media will hurl accusations against governmental agencies whom they believe should have done something so this act would have been avoided.  Conversations will be held that will center around the theme of "what did we do that would cause a young man to do something so violent?"  Many will begin to bear the guilt that perhaps, just perhaps, they are responsible for the decisions this young man made. 

But, friends, what happened yesterday in New York City - and what we have seen happen in London, Barcelona, Madrid and countless places elsewhere - is a product of a radical interpretation of Islamic ideology.  Radicalized Islam believes that they are the only conveyors of Allah's will upon the earth.  They further believe that everyone must come to the place of accepting Allah's will, which is a universal Islamic state, known as the Caliphate.  Furthermore, they hold strongly to the belief that it is permissible to destroy any who would oppose their plan.  Innocent bikers on a street - they need to die.  Innocent people on a sidewalk - they need to die.  Innocent people standing on a train platform - they need to die.  Innocent tourists crossing a famous bridge in London - they need to die.  And so the slaughter from these radicalized Islamic terrorists continue worldwide. 

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the beginning of the practice of a Communist ideology.  And what was the operating mantra of the Communists?  It was the extermination of all those who opposed it.  Thus, tens of millions of Russians perished, many within the Soviet Gulags in Siberia, especially during the Stalin-years.  And what of the tens of millions of Chinese who perished, often after being brutally tortured, under the rule of Chairman Mao?  Hitler also had his own version of eliminating those who opposed Nazism, employing death camps where millions of people perished.

Do you see a common denominator here?  A radical ideology, whether it is Communism, Nazism, or Islam, resorts to programs to destroy those who oppose that ideology.  And the most common form of destruction is to cause people to die.  (By the way, the Church has not been immune from such practices as the Crusades and later Inquisition will attest to).  The philosophy is this: I am right, you are wrong; if you don't agree with me, then you deserve to die. 

How did Jesus instruct us with regard to those who oppose us?  And, yes, He knew that His teachings would create all kinds of opposition.  Jesus even warned His disciples that He would be the reason for divisions within a family (Luke 12:51-53).  In fact, it would almost seem that Jesus guaranteed His disciples that they would encounter opposition (John 16:33 and Mathew 5:11-12).  Was Jesus' instructions to His disciples to go out and retaliate against those who opposed them?  Did He give instructions that they should seek to destroy them?  Listen to these amazing, yet startling, words of Jesus: "I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).  No death camps.  No gulags.  No rented trucks mowing down bikers and pedestrians.  Jesus's command was simply: love them and pray for them.  Now, friends, that is a radical thought! 

And which method do you think will prevail in the end?  The death camps of the Nazis are now museums.  Many of the gulags of the Soviets are now crumbled.  And the terrorist threats from the radicalized Islamic extremists will also fail.  For, as the story of this world comes to a close, the plan of Jesus will prevail.  It is not a kingdom of Nazis, nor a kingdom of Communists, nor a kingdom of Islam, but a kingdom of followers of Jesus Christ that will prevail.  And with that truth I will close with a big "Hallelujah!" 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Where Is the Good News?

I don't know about you, but I hunger for a newscast that contains just one piece of good news, one story that will encourage my heart, one example that would shine as a light in the midst of the darkness of our times.  But such stories are not easily discovered.  And so we become overwhelmed with the magnitude of evil that is around us. 

There is the cesspool that is Hollywood in particular and the entertainment business in general.  It seems that almost daily another woman steps forward with a lurid story of sexual harassment, and at times, sexual debasement she was forced to endure just to obtain employment.  And these predators were not just "back-alley thugs" but men respected by the entertainment and film industry.  "Back-alley thugs" we lock up in our jails and prisons; these people were wined and dined by others with power.  Oh the rumors were there, but silence became the norm. Friends, I believe we are just now beginning to see the tip of the iceberg of the immorality and debauchery that has been part of the Hollywood scene for decades.  America has its own Sodom and Gomorrah. 

Then there is the continued assault upon the truth that is as old as time itself.  "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27).  Did you notice that God created males and females only.  There are only two sexes.  Yet, the State of California has just approved a third gender option when you apply for a driver's license within that state.  There is male, female, and now nonbinary, which means "I don't know what I am! I am confused about my gender." 

I understand from conversations with physicians and psychologists that a very small percentage of the population is born with a lack of gender clarity.  In other words, this phenomenon is rare.  But what is happening today, I believe, is a direct assault upon the character of God.  It is as if we have said to God, "We don't have to recognize what you have said.  From now on, it is all about us and not about you!"  If we want to create a dozen different options concerning gender, then who is to stop us?  In these days I am drawn back to the words of Paul to the church in Rome, words that probably stirred as much controversy in the first century as they still do in the twenty-first century.  Paul writes: "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse" (Romans 1:18-20). 

Paul is saying that there is a willful and deliberate suppression of God's truth by godless and wicked men.  They know exactly what they are doing.  There is no "wow, I guess I messed up!"  There is, however, a "Wow! Let's continue to mess up!"  The evil heart of man knows exactly what it is doing.  There is no accidental turning away from God.

Let's continue in the text: "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles" (Romans 1:21-23).  When one turns away from God, the only thing that remains is either the worship of self or the worship of the world around us.  And, when a person begins to worship himself or herself, then it is so easy to defend any action you make, no matter how perverse it might be. 

Paul continues, "Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.  They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator - who is forever praised" (Romans 1:24-25).  Later Paul will say that God gave them over to shameful lusts (Romans 1:26) and then to depraved minds (Romans 1:28). 

Friends, the cesspool of Hollywood and the explosion of transgenderism and gender confusion can be laid directly upon the abandonment of absolute truth found in the person of a holy God and expressed through His Holy Word.  Now I know some of you will say, "But Max, there has always been the expression of immorality throughout the generations and cultures."  And you are right, with this exception: In the past, immorality has been looked upon as a deviation from acceptable behavior; today immorality has lost its stigma.  But, the Apostle Paul warned us that this would happen when he wrote: "Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them" (Romans 1:32).  "It's wrong, but let's do it anyway!  What can God do about it?" 

Finally, there is the escalation of violence in our communities.  We have almost become numbed to the weekly totals of shootings and homicides that come from Chicago.  But it is happening all around us.  Small town are not immune to murders or assaults upon others.  People are murdered by complete strangers for no reason at all.  Whether it is on a train platform in France or on a crowded street corner in London or riding the subway in New York City, one must be alert to those around him or her. 

But I do want to close with one tremendous piece of good news.  It is simply this: Jesus Christ is coming again!  Each day we draw one day closer to His coming!  My hope is not anchored in CNN, ABC, NBC, or even Fox News.  My hope is built on nothing else - except the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.   When I am tempted toward despair, I simply look up ready to hear the trumpet.  And then I focus upon what God has commanded me to do: to proclaim His Truth unashamedly to others and to encourage them in their faith.  I trust that is your practice as well.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Great Book and A Great Article - Both Must Reads

I just finished reading the newest book by Dinesh D'Souza which is titled: "The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left."  First, let me warn you that this is not one of those books that you can sit down and read in the space of an evening.  Oh, I suppose you could, but you would miss much of what the author intended you to receive.  I found that I could only read a few pages before I would ask myself the following: "Wow! How did that happen?" or "That can't be true, can it?"  or "Now it makes sense." 

The premise of Dr. D'Souza's book is that there is a strong relationship between the policies and foundations that caused the rise of Fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany in the 1920's and 1930's and the American Left today.  In fact, D'Souza makes a strong case that Mussolini fashioned his Black Shirt Fascism in Italy around the teachings of Woodrow Wilson and then Franklin Roosevelt.  His conclusion is that the real Fascists in America today is not Donald Trump and ultra right, but the Left.  The problem is that the real Fascists, namely the American Left, has attached that title to the American Right.  And this "big lie" has been promoted by both the mainstream media and the Hollywood entertainment industry, both of which are dominated by those on the Left. 

This is an important book that I believe every American should read.  It is not an easy book to read.  It is a book that requires its reader to stop and do some critical thinking.  At times I know you will strongly object, but just read the footnotes and pay attention to the sources that are cited.  There is nothing secret about what D'Souza writes.  It is all very public.

I have shared with several that this book and a book written by Jonah Goldberg titled "Liberal Fascism" has really influenced my understanding of the current political and cultural climate in America today. 

Speaking of America's cultural climate, I received an article yesterday from one of our church leaders.  It is an article written by Jeannie Cunnion and found at the Fox website.  (

"I sat on a parenting panel last month with a well-known and widely respected counselor by the name of Sissy Goff, M.Ed, LPC-MHSP.  She is the Director of Child & Adolescent counseling at Daystar in Nashville and when asked about the biggest issue facing kids today, she confirmed what you've probably read about recently on your news feed or even your Facebook feed - the increasing anxiety epidemic in our country.  But it's not just an epidemic among our kids.  It's an epidemic among us - their parents.

"According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety is the most common mental-health disorder in the United States affecting nearly one-third of both adolescents and adults.  In a recent article entitled, 'Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering from Severe Anxiety' we glean significant insight into the anxiety epidemic:
a.  Privileged youths are among the most emotionally distressed young people in America.  These kids are incredibly anxious and perfectionistic.
b.  For many of these young people, the biggest single stressor is that they never get to the point where they can say, 'I've done enough, and now I can stop.'  Kids have a sense that they're not measuring up.  The pressure is relentless and getting worse.

"We have to be willing to take an honest (maybe painfully honest) look at how we may have contributed to the anxiety our kids feel with the pressure we just might be passing down.  With our unrealistic expectations and impossible standards of ourselves, and of them.  See, we parents aren't the only ones linking accomplishment to acceptance and success to significance.  Our kids are attempting to answer the question, 'Is who I am enough?' by how well they perform on the field, how much they excel in school, and how many likes they get on their Instagram feed.  They are attempting to answer that question, 'Is who I am enough?' by proving they can do enough and be enough.  Whatever 'enough' is.  Because you and I both know enough is never enough when the goal is perpetual perfection.  The primary message our kids receive is that they'd better be the best at everything, and this leaves them afraid to reveal their inadequacies and insecurities - and hiding behind the best version of themselves.

"A key ingredient in helping our kids overcome their anxiety is facing and working through our own anxiety.  It starts with us.  It doesn't end with us.  But we are part of the solution.  We have to be willing to take an honest (maybe painfully honest) look at how we may have contributed to the anxiety our kids feel with the pressure we just might be passing down.  With our unrealistic expectations and impossible standards of ourselves, and of them.

"And ultimately, it is our responsibility to help our kids push back the pressure they face with the truth of God's Word.  I am not at all suggesting that therapy and medication aren't part of the solution.  They often times are.  But please let us not forget the alive and powerful Word of God that has the absolute power to show us where our significance comes from and ultimately set us free from proving our worth and our value in our performance.

"We need to know that failing doesn't make us failures and succeeding doesn't make us significant.  At least not in the eyes of our Creator - the only One whose opinion of us really matters in the end.  In God's eyes we are of great worth, not because of anything we have or haven't done, but because of what has been done for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  The cross has the final word on our value.  Believing that truth and embracing that truth isn't the only thing we need to do.  But it is a firm foundation on which to build a life of freedom from anxiety and the exhausting endless quest to prove our value through our performance."

What an amazing article!  Perhaps as parents, and even as grandparents, we are not fully aware of the pressures we place upon our children and grandchildren.  Our goal is not to have them conform to our image, but to conform to the image of Jesus Christ.  They are not to be "mini-me's" but to be reflections, in their own way, of Christ.  Challenge them - absolutely!  Admonish them - absolutely!  Drive them - absolutely not!  Paul said it best, "We are to bring our children up in the admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Of Paddock, Weinstein, and Columbus Day Mobs: Is There a Common Denominator?

Marlys and I have had the privilege of spending the better part of the past six days driving down to Carrollton, Texas and spending some time with Greg and Beth and Ethan and Max.  It certainly was a hot time down in Texas; guess it is still summer time there.  We enjoyed seeing both our grandsons run cross-country.  Not sure why anyone would want to run over 3 miles in 90 degree heat.  Also got to see Max in a baseball game - he has come a long way in his baseball playing abilities.  And also got to attend a high school pep assembly - I forgot how loud those could be.  And, of course, we ate a lot of Tex-Mex - couldn't be in Texas without that.  Now we are back into the coolness of the fall season here in Minnesota.  The trees are beginning to show some vibrant shades of reds, oranges, and yellows.  Landscapes are shrouded with the colors of fallen leaves, and bright orange pumpkins grace many a front porch.  It truly is a wonderful time to be in Minnesota. 

A lot has happened since I last wrote to you.  A lone gunman, sequestered in a 32nd floor hotel room, suddenly breaks windows and begins shooting down on a crowd of people who had gathered in a park below to share in a country-music festival.  Stephen Paddock fired hundreds of rounds, killing 58 innocent people and wounding over 500 others.  It was the largest mass shooting in American history.  We may never know exactly what prompted him to commit such a heinous crime, but this shooting has once again revived the calls for stricter gun controls.  There have even been a few voices that have demanded the repeal of the Second Amendment which protects a citizen's right to have and to bear arms.  It is almost as if these people actually believe that guns are the problems.  Friends, there are more people killed via automobiles each year than via all types of weapons combined, and yet I have never heard anyone champion stricter controls on who can drive a car.  The problem exhibited in Las Vegas is more serious than just a matter of controlling guns.

Then this past weekend multiple allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault were brought against one of the most powerful men in Hollywood - Mr. Harvey Weinstein.  And, since that story first broke, others have begun to share their stories.  This was not a once or twice moral failure, but a repeated culture of moral failure on the part of Mr. Weinstein.  And, because he wielded a lot of power that could make or break a young aspiring actress or actor, and because he had a lot of money, Mr. Weinstein's immoral behavior was never questioned in public.  The silence of many allowed for this culture to continue, almost as if it was approved.  But there is a deeper problem in Hollywood than just Harvey Weinstein.

This past Monday was Columbus Day - a day commemorating the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492.  Although Columbus was considered a hero when I was a student in school (of course that was 60 years ago), today Columbus is considered to be a monstrous villain.  The genocide of the Native Americans is laid at his feet.  The enslavement of minority people is laid at his feet.  And so there is a "mad" rush - and I do mean that it is a rush toward insanity - to destroy every vestige of Columbus that remains today.  Statues were assaulted with red paint, at best, or totally destroyed, at worst.  But there is a deeper problem than just statues of Columbus in the United States.

What is this deeper problem?  To put it very bluntly: It is the consequence of the abandonment of moral clarity based upon absolute truth.  When absolute truth is cast aside, then moral relativism reigns.  To put it very succinctly, when absolute moral truth is absent, then there is no measuring rod by which to measure another person' actions or attitudes.  So, Mr. Paddock can shoot dozens of innocent people because for him there is no absolute moral truth.  So, people can desecrate public statues of Christopher Columbus because they have no absolute moral truth.  And Mr. Weinstein can impose his will upon vulnerable young actresses because he has no absolute moral truth.  To be perfectly honest with you, I am very surprised by the outcry against Mr. Weinstein, for, after all, he is one of "them."  He could most assuredly wear the title of "Mr. Left."  Yet I applaud those women who came forward to expose Mr. Weinstein for the immoral creep that he was. 

But, here is where it gets very interesting.  Suppose I were to ask Ashley Judd, for example, why she believed the actions of Mr. Weinstein were wrong.  What would be her response?  Now, she would have to be very careful with that response.  She might say, "Well that type of behavior is very demeaning toward women."  And my response would be, "Why is that behavior so demeaning toward women?"  She might hesitate and say, "Well, it is just wrong!"  And, again I would ask, "How do you know it is just wrong?"  You see, what those on the Left refuse to state is that something is wrong because there is an objective standard of right and wrong that necessarily demands that there be an absolute truth with a foundation firmly planted in God.  But the Left cannot just come out and say that for that statement destroys the very foundation upon which they have built their belief structure. 

I have been teaching a class on Apologetics this fall here at our church.  I have nearly 40 students in two sections.  Over the past several months I have had the privilege of reading and studying about those questions the skeptics and agnostics ask concerning the Christian faith.  And one of the things I have discovered is that deep down in their hearts, skeptics and agnostics recognize that there is a moral reality.  Just try to break into the home of an agnostic and they will have you arrested as a burglar.  With that very action they have affirmed that there is a moral reality.  But you won't hear them talk about this or trumpet moral reality before the television cameras.  Why is that?  Because moral reality forces us to ask the question, "What is the foundation for that moral reality?"  And, of course, you and I know it as abiding in the person of a holy, righteous, loving, and just God.

Friends, great are the depths to which the human heart can fall when all restraint is cast off.  The prophet Jeremiah expressed that thought with these words, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).  "But for the grace of God..."  What powerful words!  God could have changed Stephen Paddock's life.  God can still change Harvey Weinstein's life.  God can change your life as you acknowledge Jesus as Truth. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

To Kneel or Not to Kneel - Connecting the Dots

"To kneel or not to kneel - ah, that is the question" that is the latest attempt by the liberal left to divide America.  What is a person to do when our national anthem is played in a public setting?  What is a person to do when our flag is presented?  Is the "Stars Spangled Banner" just another song, another piece of music?  Is the flag simply a piece of cloth?  Of course we should know the answers to those questions.  Both our flag and our national anthem are symbols that represent our nation.  When one sees the flag, one should see America - its strengths and its weaknesses.  When one hears the national anthem being played, one should hear the sounds of America's past: the thump of the gavel in Independence Hall as the Declaration of Independence is affirmed; the roar of cannons on a hot July day in Gettysburg; the powerful thrust of rocket engines launching the Space Shuttle into orbit; the anguished cries as a nation mourns its fallen leader. 

And what were we taught as children about the national anthem and the flag?  We were to show respect for both by standing when the anthem was sung or played and when the flag was presented in a public setting.  Furthermore, we were encouraged to put our hand over our heart when the anthem was played or sung and the flag was presented.  This was to show honor to what our nation has stood for; to show respect for the many men and women who died so that we might enjoy our freedoms.  This was our privilege as Americans. 

But for many Americans today, the flag no longer is a symbol of all the things that made and continue to make America great.  Instead, the flag is a symbol of what divides America today.  It is a symbol of racism, of oppression, of inequality.  It is not to be shown respect, but to be held in contempt.  Rise when the national anthem is played or the colors are presented?  No, instead I will kneel to show my utter contempt for both. 

Allow me to connect some dots.  Dot #1 - the elimination of Columbus Day making it Indigenous Americans Day.  Many states have changed the focus of the Columbus Day holiday.  After all, Columbus did a great disservice to the human race by discovering the New World.  Just look at what Columbus brought with him: weapons of mass destruction - muskets using gun powder; disease - small pox especially; enslavement - someone had to work the gold and silver mines.  But, look at what else Columbus brought: Christianity and the message of the Gospel; civilization and the advancement of learning. 

Dot #2 - the attempted eradication of symbols of the Civil War.  Robert E Lee - has to go because he was a traitor to his country, besides he was a slave owner.  Thomas J "Stonewall" Jackson - well, he has to go as well.  And so we remove those statues, or we at least shroud them in black. 

Dot #3 - the attempted removal of those Founding Fathers - Washington and Jefferson - who owned slaves.  Thomas Jefferson might have been the author of the Declaration of Independence and our third President who expanded our nation with the Louisiana Purchase, but he owned slaves, thus he is not fit to be memorialized.  The same is true with George Washington. 

Dot #4 - the disrespect shown to the flag and the national anthem. 

Dot #5 - the rewriting of American history texts that are used in our public schools.  In these new texts we see a revisionism of history.  The Pilgrims did not come to America for religious purposes, but the greed of gold and silver.  Those writers of the Constitution had as a goal the creation of a government run by men who were white supremacists.  And on and on the list would go.  This is what is being taught to your children and grandchildren as being historical fact. 

Is there a common link between these dots?  I believe there is.  It is the attempt by the radical left to destroy America by destroying its past.  America's greatness is built upon her past.  But, if that past is called into question as to its validity, then the foundations begin to shake and soon the nation will totter and finally tumble. 

Friends, we need reminders of our past - both the great as well as the not-so great.  We need the Mount Rushmores and the Gettysburgs.  We need the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial as well as the Lincoln Memorial.  We need the Trail of Tears as well as the Santa Fe Trail.  America has never claimed to be perfect.  Our nation was birthed as a grand experiment of men governing one another - not via dictates, but via ballots.  Yes, it has had some times when things were not as they should have been - the Civil War and the Vietnam War are two examples.  But, there have been many more times when America rose to the challenge and stood as an anchor for many - the Marshall Plan, following World War II, and the rush to provide assistance for hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquake ravaged countries demonstrate the beneficent heart of America. 

Let's not erase America's past that we dislike or strongly reject, but let us have a civil dialogue and learn from those periods.  Yes, there is much we can learn from one another when our objective is to truly listen to each other.  We have lost the art of dialogue today and have instead cultivated the art of demonstration which often ends in violence, destruction, and sometimes even death. 

Furthermore, I believe what we are seeing today is part of a larger plan to create a one-world government.  For that to happen, nationalism must be destroyed, thus the continued assault upon President Trump who has a strong national heart.  America is one of the last strongholds remaining of a nationalistic spirit.  But erasing its past and discrediting its founding, that spirit can be destroyed.  And, once it is destroyed or at least severely damaged, I believe we will see the ascent of the Antichrist who will complete the formation of that one-world government and rule all nations who have surrendered their nationalism for globalism and one-worldism. 

So, to kneel or not to kneel - ah, that should not even be a question.  I will rise to my feet when the flag is paraded in front of me.  I will rise to my feet, remove my cap, place my hand over my heart when our national anthem is played or sung.  I will do that because I honor my country and those who sacrificed their lives so that I could live in the "land of the free and the home of the brave."  And I will no longer support any team that shows disrespect to the anthem and the flag of our nation.   

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Another Hurricane, Another Earthquake: God Is Stil Shouting

Another hurricane is churning through the Atlantic at break-neck speed.  Hurricane Maria brought near total devastation to the island of Dominica.  The island's governor declared yesterday that to his knowledge not one roof remained in place on any building on the island.  Now the hurricane has Puerto Rico in its crosshairs.  This island territory received just a glancing blow from Hurricane Irma just two weeks ago, but it looks like it will take a full-frontal blow from Hurricane Maria. 

Resources are being stretched as first responders deal with a third major hurricane to hit the United States or its territories within the past four weeks.  Hurricanes Harvey, then Irma, and now Maria have caused untold billions of dollars in property and infrastructure destruction.  The suffering of those caught within the wake of those storms has been intense.  Yet Americans have pulled together in these moments of crisis to help others in their times of need.  America has always been good at this.  It is just sort of in America's DNA structure. 

And then there is the earthquake, measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale, that hit Mexico yesterday.  The number of dead keeps steadily rising as the damage becomes more visible.  This is the second major earthquake to hit Mexico in recent weeks. 

Friends, I believe that God is sounding a wake-up call.  Time to get out of our apathy.  Time to clean the rust off the armor of God.  Time to get some Holy Spirit anointing and enter into the battle for God's Kingdom.  These are not days to be timid.  These are days for boldness and courage. 

I met this morning with a great group of men for a study in the book of Nehemiah.  This study is part of our discipleship-leadership development for men within our church.  This morning we were in Nehemiah chapters 2 and 3.  We talked about the opposition that Nehemiah received as he began work on his vision of seeing the walls around Jerusalem rebuilt.  Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem the Arab certainly did their best to cause a disruption of Nehemiah's plan.  Their primary weapons - fear and intimidation.  Do we not experience those same two threats today?  We constantly face the intimidation of Satan.  Don't speak out against the gay community because you might go to jail for hate-speech.  Don't speak out against evolution in your school because you might be branded a Bible-thumper.  And the list goes on and on.  And what has the Church done?  It has caused its voice to be silenced because of fears and intimidation.  As one young man said this morning, this has been going on for a long time. 

It is time to stand up for the Truth.  I like these final words of David to his son Solomon.  His advice to his son was this: "Be strong, show yourself a man, and observe what the LORD your God requires" (1 Kings 2:2-3).  What great advise!  "Be a man!"  Stand with a firm backbone upon those convictions of your heart.  Don't compromise your values.  Never back-down on what you know to be right.  Always follow the leading of the Lord.  How we need this today!  We need men, and women for that matter, who will get up in the morning and declare with all the authority of God, "Satan, you can't have me today!  I am serving Jesus!"  That is boldness inspired by the will of God.

Yesterday our President delivered what, in the eyes of many, was one of the most powerful speeches given by an American President at the United Nations.  He was unwavering in his commitment to "America first," but then urged the other national leaders to always put their nations first.  Nationalism before globalism.  He also addressed the threat from North Korea in no uncertain terms: you fire the first shot, we will totally destroy you.  That speech certainly repositioned the role of the United States within the international community: a role of strength and resolve; a role as leader.  How we need to keep our President and his team ever in our prayers. 

Before I close I want to wish all of you a "shana tova" as we enter into the celebration of Rosh Hashanah.  Actually Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown this evening.  It marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year - the year 5778.  So, to all my Jewish friends I wish you a year that is good.  A year of G-d's peace.  A year of light in the midst of darkness.  Shana tova!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

God: "Can You Hear Me Now?"

Another week and another part of our country has been devastated by another hurricane.  This time it was Hurricane Irma wrecking havoc upon Florida.  I must admit that it is hard to comprehend a storm that was 400 miles in diameter.  And to see pictures of the bay at Naples completely dried was mesmerizing.  I read an article that this storm changed the coastal line of western Florida.  Now that was one powerful storm.

Hurricane Irma following so closely upon the heels of Hurricane Harvey has caused many to ask the question: why did this happen?  We know that the property damage alone will reach into the hundreds of billions of dollars.  But no price can be placed upon those lives that have been turned upside-down.  Slowly the pieces of life will be rebuilt but the memories will often haunt those people for years.  So, what caused these two powerful storms to occur? 

But let's broaden the question.  Why is there evil in this world?  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why is there pain and suffering?  Why are homes being destroyed and lives uprooted by the wildfires out west?  Why is violence on the increase within the urban centers of our country?  Why was a police officer struck and killed while doing his duty?  Why was a young would-be mother kidnapped, brutally murdered so that someone else could have the baby?  And the list of questions could go on and on for page after page. 

According to the actress Jennifer Lawrence, the hurricanes are a direct result of the election of Donald Trump as President.  According to Ms. Lawrence, Mother Nature is angry with the election results and is spilling out her fury.  One almost has to laugh at the foolishness of such thinking.  Yet I am sure that she is not alone with that opinion. 

I found a very interesting passage of Scripture that speaks to this matter of evil in the world.  It really is Jesus' comments about two tragic news stories of His day.  You can read the account in Luke 13.  The first news item Jesus comments upon is the violence that had occurred at the temple while some were making sacrifices.  For reasons not known, many were killed by Roman soldiers under the authority of Pilate.  People were shocked and asked Jesus about it.  Here was His reply: "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no!  But unless you repent, you too will all perish."  It is as if Jesus is saying to those who asked the question: "Bad things happen to people.  The question that should be asked is this: Why didn't this happen to you?  How you need to be ready to die because you do not know when it will happen?" 

The second headline concerned eighteen people who died when a tower in Siloam fell on them.  We are not told how it happened; it was just some sort of construction accident.  These people just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Again, listen to the words of Jesus: "Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no!  But unless you repent, you too will all perish."  Jesus is saying, "Accidents do happen.  The question that should be asked is this: Why didn't this happen to you?  How you need to be ready to die because you do not know when it will happen?" 

Friends, we live in a fallen world; a world under the curse of sin.  Storms happen as a result.  Wildfires happen as a result.  Innocent people are murdered as a result.  Bad things happen to people because we live in a fallen world.  Hurricanes Harvey and Irma occurred because we live in a fallen world.  Car accidents happen.  Innocent children die in our city's streets.  Property is destroyed.  And it is all because of a sin-ridden world we live in. 

But there is hope.  Tragedies happen, but God is always in control.  I was just reading this past week the account in Acts 27 of Paul's shipwreck.  The thing I rediscovered within that story is that the shipwreck did not need to occur.  It happened because of a foolish choice made by the captain of the ship.  If Paul's advice had been heeded, the ship and its cargo would have been spared.  The owners of the ship would not have suffered loss.  And the sailors, passengers, and prisoners would have been spared much trauma.  Yet through it all God was in control and He was exalted as that chapter of Paul's story came to a close.  And I believe we will see such closings as the stories of Harvey and Irma begin to unfold. 

But allow me to share just one final thought.  Let's see: two hurricanes, among the most powerful in recent times, a 8.2 magnitude earthquake that rocked southwestern Mexico, dozens of wildfires that are destroying hundreds of thousands of acres in California and the Pacific Northwest.  Is there a message to be heard?  Could it be that what Paul says in Romans 8 is happening right before our eyes.  You will remember his words: "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time" (Romans 8:22).  Could it be that the earth itself is yelling at us to get ready because the end is soon at hand and it, too, will be freed from the curse placed upon it there in the Garden of Eden? 

Yes, bad things are going to continue to happen to all people.  Yet we take solace in knowing that God is in control.  And we also heed God's warnings through nature that His return is soon.  (By the way, if you want to do a very interesting Bible study, look at all the references to how God will use His creation - nature itself - in the last days.  It is a fascinating study).


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Tolerance and Respect: Both Are Needed

The word "tolerance" is derived from a Latin word meaning "to bear."  The Webster's New World Dictionary defines this word: "to allow" or "to respect (other's beliefs, practices, etc.) without sharing them."  America's heritage is strongly rooted in the concept of tolerance.  The colony of Pennsylvania was founded with a religious tolerance, a place where all faiths could be accepted.  The First Amendment to the United States Constitution proclaims the foundation for the freedom of expression through speech and religion, which is the bedrock of tolerance. 

Now, by being tolerant, it does not mean that I have to personally accept a different lifestyle or manner of living.  But it does mean that I must show respect for that difference.  For example, if I go into a retail store and discover that many of the clerks identify with being Muslim by their manner of dress, I do have to show them respect even though I disagree with their belief-system. 

The problem in American culture today is that we have lost the sense of respect.  We want conformity, not tolerance.  We want everyone to be alike.  There is little room for differences and certainly there is no room to show respect for those differences.  This concept is dramatically displayed on college and university campuses where those who hold to a belief contrary to the majority on the campus are shouted down or prohibited from even speaking.  Why is that?  It is because they are not like the majority and, let's remember, everyone must learn to think alike and to believe just like everyone else.  Let's all be "inside-the-box-thinkers."  That is the safe place to be.  It is dangerous to be an "outside-the-box-thinker."  So, many of our colleges and universities today are educating our young people to be "inside-the-box-thinkers" focused upon only those ideologies and principles that have been approved by the mainstream educational organizations. 

Let me give you a recent example of how conformity was exacted in the guise of practicing tolerance.  The article was from the National Review, published on August 29, 2017.  The article, titled, "Catholic School Removes Jesus, Mary Statues Because They're 'Alienating' to Non-Catholics," was written by Katherine Timpf.  Allow me to share a portion of the article:

"The San Domenico School, the first Catholic school in California, has removed all but 18 of its 180 religious statues in an effort to be more 'inclusive' and 'forward thinking.'  Several parents have complained about the decision, accord to Marinij.  'Articulating an inclusive foundation appears to mean letting go of San Domenico's 167-year tradition as a Dominican Catholic school and being both afraid and ashamed to celebrate one's heritage and beliefs,' one of these parents, Shannon Fitzpatrick, told the news source.  'In our time here, the word "Catholic" has been removed form the mission statement, sacraments were removed from the curriculum, the lower-school curriculum was changed to world religions, the logo and colors were changed to be "less Catholic," and the uniform was changed to be less Catholic,' she continued. 

"Head of School Cecily Stock, however, said that the school is an 'independent' as well as 'Catholic' school - a whopping 80 percent of the school's students do not identify as Catholic - and that the move was simply meant to make the campus more attractive and 'inclusive' to students of other faiths.
Amy Skewes-Cox, who heads the school's board of trustees, doubled down on the idea that the statues could potentially make students with other beliefs feel too uncomfortable.  'If you walk on the campus and the first thing you confront is three or four statues of Saint Dominic or Saint Francis, it could be alienating for that other religion, and we didn't want to further that feeling.'"

Before I share with you the conclusion of the author of this article, let me ask you this question: Is there a fallacy within the argument of the San Domenico School's leadership?  You are a Catholic School which means that you celebrate your Catholic beliefs through many different avenues within the school.  If I, as a parent, would decide to send my child to this school, should I expect that the school would tone-down its Catholic beliefs just so my child, being raised as a non-Catholic, would feel comfortable?  Of course not!  Here is how the author of the article closed: "As an independent school, San Domenico obviously has the right to make whatever statue-related decisions it wants to make.  Still, there's certainly something to be said for keeping true to an institution's history and tradition - and I'm not entirely sure just how triggering these statues really could have been to non-Catholics, anyway.  I know, after all, from my own experience that I would not have been bothered: I attended a Lutheran high school as a non-Lutheran, and I never got upset at seeing or hearing 'Lutheran' things at school.  We had chapel every day where speakers taught the Lutheran faith - I even had to take Lutheran theology classes to graduate - but I never once considered that things should have been any other way.  Why?  It was a Lutheran school, and so I kind of expected that I'd probably be seeing some Lutheran things around me if I decided to attend.  I never felt that I was any less of a person, or even that I was unwelcome; it just seemed like something that made too much logical sense even to question."

The San Domenico School, in the guise of being tolerant of others, instead practiced conformity.  We will become like other schools because we want you to attend here.  The bottom line is the respect that should be shown to one another was missed.

Let me cite one more example.  This article was published by Townhall just today and was written by Todd Starnes.  You can find it at:  "A Georgia high school teacher compared the 'Make America Great Again' slogan to a swastika and ordered students wearing t-shirts supporting President Trump to leave her classroom.  The incident happened Aug. 31 at River Ridge High School in Cherokee County - north of Atlanta - and it was all captured on video.  Turning Point News first obtained the exclusive video and it shows the teacher explaining to students that they could not wear pro-Trump clothing 'just like you cannot wear a swastika to school.' ... 'It's ironic to me that the political left claims to promote free speech, but then attempts to silence conservative free speech,' State Rep. John Carson told  Parents reached out to local news reporters and local lawmakers and the school district had no choice but to apologize.  The school district said the unidentified math teacher 'erroneously' told the students that shirts with campaign slogans were not permitted in class."

Just another case where "tolerance" equals "conformity" to the wishes of the majority.  Unfortunately this seems to be a growing phenomena within our culture today.  I may not agree with your position, but that does not give me the right to show disrespect toward you.  R-E-S-P-E-C-T - how we need to rediscover the wealth of relationship building found within that word.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Harvey: When Americans Come Together

All eyes have been riveted on those scenes coming from Houston that stagger our minds.  Homes which one week ago were filled with the sounds of life are now filled with flood waters.  People, who one week ago were dreaming of vacations, of work opportunities, and of the start of another school year are now in a state of shock and asking how they will be able to pick up the pieces and start all over again.  In a matter of hours last Friday evening, lives were unalterably changed.  The Houston area was forever changed. 

But, as I have sat and watched those images and listened to many of the stories, I was encouraged that, for all our differences, when a crisis occurs Americans band together.  As those boats went from house to house, they did not ask whether a person was gay or straight, whether a person was a Christian or not, whether that person was a Democrat or a Republican.  No, all were welcomed into those life-saving boats.  And, upon arrival at those mega-shelters people were not separated according to any particular system.  All were accepted because they were folks who needed help given in a loving way.  This is what Americans do best.  We saw it after 9-11.  We have seen it during those horrific wildfires in America's west.  We see it through the open arms of volunteers from the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Samaritan's Purse and other relief agencies. 

Why can't America act this way all the time?  Why must every weekend dozens of people living in Chicago be shot?  Why must Antifa react with violence when anything occurs that differs from their attempt to change American culture and history?  Why has violence become so embedded within our culture?  Whatever happened to civilized conversations?  Whatever happened to those times of civil debate?  Whatever happened to Jesus' command that we should love our neighbors as ourselves?  You might remember that Jesus said this was the second great commandment. 

I believe the answer to our dilemma is found within that first great commandment.  And what is that?  Jesus said that we were to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and spirit.  This is first, not just in its listing, but in its importance.  This first commandment has a vertical component.  It is how God desires we relate to Him.  We are to love Him wholeheartedly.  We are to be fully committed to Him as Lord of our lives.  He is to be the centerpiece around which everything else in our lives revolves.  Friends, when the vertical component is as it should be, then the horizontal component - that second commandment - will also be as it should.  If I have a deep love relationship with God, then I will also have a deep love relationship with those around me, whether it is in my home, my neighborhood, my community, or my nation.  It is a love that is shown through giving respect even when there are points of disagreement. 

I have to admit that I have almost come to the point of anger at how the main-stream media has covered Hurricane Harvey.  Yesterday's coverage of Melania's shoes almost was the final straw.  Who cares what shoes she was wearing as she walked from the White House to Marine 1?  Yet, her shoes became a feeding frenzy.  That became a point of fixation.  She and the President were on their way to bring encouragement to people who had lost everything, including their shoes, and all you could do was to criticize the First Lady's choice of shoes.  Let's see: there are hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have been shattered and, for many of them, they will spend the rest of their lives trying to recover from this powerful storm, and yet you focus upon Melania's shoes.  How far removed from real life has the main-stream media gotten?  They really are out of touch with reality.

Since the time of the Great Flood, the world has experienced many natural disasters.  Innumerable earthquakes - some more devastating than others.  Floods - some that have swallowed up entire communities.  Tornadoes and hurricanes - think of Katrina, Sandy, and now Harvey.  Yet, each disaster was just a small microcosm in that it impacted only a small area.  Think of those pictures you have seen of the devastation from Harvey.  Now, imagine what it would be like if there were a hundred Harvey's all occurring at the same time.  Yet I believe the Bible tells us that in the last days that is exactly what is going to occur.  The prophetic passages describe earthquakes occurring that will literally change the landscapes of our planet.  Natural disasters will increase.  The death and the destruction will be incalculable.  Could Harvey be a wake-up call?  Is Harvey another one of nature's groanings as it senses its soon redemption?  I can't declare that with certainty.  But of this I am certain: the coming of the Lord Jesus is getting closer every day.  Are you excited for that day?