Wednesday, April 26, 2017

13 Reasons Why - It is Time to Engage the Conversation

For the next couple of weeks, the eyes of the world will be focused upon the election of a new president in France.  The two winners, in what we might call the primary election this past Sunday, seem to be polar opposites.  Both candidates are outside of the normal establishment description.  Emmanuel Macron is viewed as being more centrist. He is pro-European Union and has a focus on improving the French economy.  The other candidate, Marine Le Pen is viewed as being from the far right.  She is opposed to the European Union and offers a "France first" policy that would limit Muslim immigration into the country.  The choice is between the philosophy of globalism versus that of nationalism.  The future of Europe could ride on the outcome of this election.  So, stay tuned.

Yesterday, during our weekly staff meeting, one of our staff shared about a new Netflix series that is the talk of high school kids.  The series is titled "13 Reasons Why" and is the story of a young 17-year old girl, named Hannah Baker who commits suicide, but not before leaving 13 cassette recordings for those she believed caused her to commit suicide.  This staff member described the vulgar language that was pervasive during each episode.  What grabbed my attention was the fact that I had just read a review of that series in the April 29 issue of World Magazine. The review was written by Megan Basham.  Allow me to share just a portion of that review which is pretty revealing of the character of this Netflix series.

"The show's language is similarly amped-up for shock value - scarcely a line of dialogue passes without one of the teens dropping an F-bomb, even when talking to their parents.  This profanity is mild, however, compared with the verbal attacks leveled at Hannah and other girls, which includes describing them in the foulest terms as sexual receptacles.

"While the sex-and-drug fests depicted are, I suspect, vastly overblown from reality, the sickening language probably is true to the experience of many high schoolers.  And that bring us to one facet of modern life that isn't present in '13 Reasons Why.'  No one - not school administrators, not students, and certainly not any of the parents - professes any sincere faith or religious conviction.  Strangely, given the subject matter, the nature of the soul or the possibility of eternity never even comes up."

The reviewer concludes, "I wouldn't advise letting my teens watch '13 Reasons Why', but I would use its popularity as an opportunity to remind them of this."

This is a program that is aimed toward juveniles and young adolescents.  This is what young teens are talking about.  Yes, vulgarity is part of the world of adolescents, but must it be amplified.  Yes, sadly, many adolescent boys view girls as objects to be conquered, but this should not be an attitude that is promoted.  And, yes, sadly, suicide among teenagers today is epidemic.  There is something incredibly wrong when a 17-year old believes that life holds no value for him or her any longer and the only recourse is to escape through death. 

Friends, if there is no hope, then why continue to live and continue to endure a pain that shows no sign of healing?  If this is all there is, then why continue the struggle?  What is needed today is for teens to know the healing and the hope for living that is found in Jesus Christ.  Death, for many teens, looks like the ultimate escape.  But, here is what many of them never consider: death is not the end; it is only the step into the next life.  And that next life and its destination is determined by the choice we make in life today concerning our relationship with Jesus Christ.  If I have no relationship with Jesus and I choose death, then what awaits me is even worse that life itself.  I am reminded of those words of the rich man who died and whose story Jesus tells in Luke 16:22-24: "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side.  The rich man also died and was buried.  In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.  So he called to him, "Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire."'"

To teens I would say, "I know there are tremendous pressures placed upon you these days.  I know that Mom and Dad can put pressure upon you to excel.  They mean well, but it is pressure none the less, and you feel it.  I know your friends put pressure upon you to conform to a morality that you might not feel comfortable with.  You don't want to be given a label, but you know that conforming would violate who you are.  More pressure.  There is the pressure of just growing up and the continued search for the answer to the almost ubiquitous questions: Who am I and why am I here?  But, young girl, young guy, I know someone who can help shoulder those pressures with you.  His name is Jesus Christ.  He does not promise to make your life easy.  But, He has promised that He would give you strength for each day.  He has promised that He would never abandon you."  Friends, this is the message teens in America need to hear today: there is hope in Jesus.  When life looks so dark and bleak, it is time to turn your eyes upon Jesus. 

But, in the light of the conversation we had in staff yesterday, I would also add this: parents know what your children are watching on TV, what books they are reading, and what conversations they are having with their peers at school.  Yes, I know we all get busy with our lives, but your primary responsibility is to nurture your children into the things of God.  For this staff member, this Netflix series had provided an opportunity for such discussions.  Listen to your children.  Read what they are reading.  Don't just suppose that because a book was assigned by a teacher that it is okay to be read.  Know who your child's friends are and what those friends believe.  Invite those friends into your own home to share a meal where you can just get to know them.  Or invite them to come and join you for a movie night and show "Woodlawn" or "God's Not Dead" or other films that teach a message and then share with them about it over pizza and pop.  Parents, know what is going on in your child's life.  Don't just suppose that all is okay! 

I plan to ask my worldview students this coming Sunday evening what they have heard about "13 Reasons Why."  Perhaps it will be a good conversation starter for us.     

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Lesson from the Neighbor's Front Yard

It was a gray, cloudy morning with threats of rain.  As I looked from the window in the kitchen, I noticed a pair of robins busy cleaning up the dried remains from last years hostas and daylilies.  I could see that it was nest-building time and they were going to have a lovely home for their little brood.  I stepped out the front door to retrieve the morning paper and the beautiful song of a cardinal lightened my footsteps.  I searched but could not locate his presence, but his song filled my heart with joy.  In spite of the clouds, the birds were reminding me that this was another day the Lord had made and my purpose was to rejoice and be glad in it.  I have found that nature has a way of directing us that way if only we would stop long enough to really listen to its song.

I opened the garage door and was backing the car down the drive way when I noticed something that caught my eye.  While gazing in the rear-view mirror, I saw a small hawk come swooping down, landing in the neighbor's yard across the street.  I had seen hawks flying over our neighborhood before, but had seen nothing like this.  I paused on the street to see what might have caused this scene to have occurred.  There to my amazement was this hawk perched on top of a blackbird which had been pinned to the ground by the hawk's talons.  The birds wings were flapping in a desperate attempt to escape, but, as I watched, I knew how this scene would end.  The hawk looked around almost with a sense of pride at his accomplishments - almost as if it was saying to anyone who was looking, "Hey, don't mess with me!"  And soon that sharply hooked beak was tearing into that little blackbird.  And it was over! 

Now I know that scene is played out countless times during the course of a day.  Biologists describe this as the "food chain" whereby the smaller and weaker provide food for the larger and stronger.  As I watched I wondered about that pair of robins building their little home to raise their babies.  Would any of their offspring become an early breakfast for another hawk?  Or would they survive unscathed in the world around them? 

As I watched that scene in my neighbor's yard, I was struck with the thought that there were some spiritual lessons I needed to be reminded of.  First, that hawk was always on the prowl for something to devour and so was always looking for a victim.  I was reminded of that warning given by the Apostle Peter: "Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).  Satan never takes a holiday!  Satan is never satisfied!  He is always looking for one more victim, one more person whose life he can destroy.  And, just as that hawk made little sound as it swooped upon that little blackbird, so, too, Satan often attacks us with stealth. 

Second, there is a need to always be alert.  I don't know what was going through the mind of that little blackbird that morning, but perhaps he was thinking that all was well.  Perhaps he had chosen to venture off from the rest of the flock to explore life on his own.  But he was not aware of the dangers that lurked in the skies above him and, as a consequence, paid the severe consequences.  Friends, Peter warns us that we, too, are to be on the alert.  We are to pay attention to the signs around us.  We are to know the Truth.  We are to never compromise our convictions and beliefs.  The Apostle Paul expressed a similar warning with these words: "Avoid every kind of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:22). 

Third, the consequences of sin are disastrous and often deadly.  And, it is the little sins that can be the most deadly.  Many a recovering alcoholic has shared with me, "If only I had never taken that first drink."  How we need to pray that God would guard the little things in our lives. 

Graciously, for that little blackbird, the end came rather quickly.  But, as I reflected upon many people whose stories I have known, the pain and suffering of a bad choice or a wrong decision can linger for years.  Yet how gracious is our God to bring the healing we need and the forgiveness that we don't deserve. 

On another note, I believe we are seeing the alignment of the nations for Ezekiel's War and for the closing Armageddon.  Russia and Iran have strengthened ties both politically and militarily when it comes to Syria and the Assad regime.  Turkey has just approved the broadening of powers to be granted to President Erdogan which will make that country a marginal dictatorship.  Turkey has straddled the fence between East and West for years, but will soon have to make a choice.  The Bible tells us that it will chose the East and the alliance with Russia and Iran.  And then there are the lingering questions about North Korea and China.  Will China rein in that rogue nation to its north?  Or will that alignment strengthen as North Korea becomes part of that vast army from the East that will invade Israel as part of Armageddon?  The sabers are rattling all around us.  Tensions are high.  Economies teeter.  Uncertainty abounds.  Yet, of this we are most assured: God is still in control!  How we need to view our world through the lens of Scripture.  Keep your eyes upon what is happening in the world around you, but always keep your ears tuned to hear the blast from the trumpet.  I believe the summons to the great marriage feast will soon be given.  Are you ready?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Week That Changed the World

"A Week That Changed the World" is how Dr. Paul Maier, in his video series by that same name, described the remarkable week we know as Holy Week.  Mankind was forever changed with the events that occurred in and around Jerusalem that week so many centuries ago.  What had been foretold by sages and prophets in the centuries before now found completion through the life of Jesus. 

In many ways we forget the many ironies of that week.  For example: The cries of the throng on that Sunday of "Hosanna!" were answered with the cries of perhaps that same throng on Friday of "Crucify Him!"  On that first Palm Sunday, the people cried out "save us!" as Jesus rode down that winding pathway.  They were full of expectations that this amazing man from Galilee who could feed multitudes with a few crackers and some fish and who could heal the sick and drive out demons and even bring people back to life would begin a revolution of liberation from Rome and bring in a new kingdom era for them.  "Save us from Rome" was what they implied. 

And yet, as the week proceeded, the people could see that the revolution was not going to happen.  And so, in their disappointment, they turned against the very one whom they had asked for salvation and demanded that he be crucified.  Here is the irony: It was through the crucifixion of Jesus that a greater salvation would be provided for the people; a salvation that would be greater than one from Rome.  This would be a salvation from the chains of sin that had kept them in spiritual bondage. 

And so the Savior died.  It was a death that was filled with all of the grossest indignities that any human could heap upon another human.  One reads the Gospel accounts so matter-of-factly.  It is almost as if the writers themselves could not bear to fully describe that awful scene at the cross.  Perhaps it was intentional on their part forcing us to use our minds to recreate that horrible scene.  There were the cruel accusations from the religious leaders - words filled with the poison of hate, words meant to pierce the heart and mind of Jesus.  There were the demanding shouts from the Roman soldiers as they kept the crowd at bay, a crowd that was ever encroaching upon the cross.  Their eyes were glazed over to what was happening.  They had crucified so many; this was the only way they could keep a measure of psychological sanity within themselves.  There were the shrieks of pain as a threshold was neared that stretched the limitations of physical endurance.  And there were the sobs of loved ones gathered around the cross in vigil until that last breath was taken.  And death did come for Jesus as he commended his soul into the hands of the Father. 

But, if that is where the story ended...well, we would be in pretty sad shape.  A lot of good men and women have died as a martyr for a cause.  They set an example, but their deaths certainly did not change the world!  What makes this story so unique is that death did not end it!  In fact, death was merely a prelude to something even greater - a resurrection!  Three days later the tomb was empty.  Jesus was gone.  The absence of a body invoked a myriad of questions: who had taken the body? where had he been taken? why would the body be stolen away?  Finally, two angels provided an answer: Jesus has been raised from the dead; he is alive!  Easter had arrived!

This "week that changed the world" has also divided the world.  Just this past Sunday, two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt became the scenes of suicide bombings resulting in the deaths of over 40 believers.  The hatred shown at the cross continues today.  Just as Satan tried to destroy Jesus at the cross, so men and their philosophies are seeking to destroy Jesus today through attacking the Church and the followers of Jesus.  Yet the Church moves forward because its anchor is in the risen, living Jesus Christ.  Satan was defeated at the cross and the resurrection of Jesus was the exclamation point of that defeat. 

Friends, take time these next few days to reread at least one of the Gospel accounts of that first Holy Week.  Take time to meditate upon what Christ's death and resurrection mean to you personally.  And, then join with hundreds of thousands of believers around the world on Sunday to proclaim with triumph "He is risen; He is risen indeed!"

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Where Has the Truth Gone?

I watched last night the discussion about the revelation that Susan Rice, President Obama's National Security Adviser, had unmasked at least some of President Trump's transition team prior to his inauguration.  Two weeks ago she denied knowing anything at all about the matter, but yesterday she changed her story, although claiming that it was not done for political purposes.  What is interesting, if it was not for political purposes, is that only Trump campaign people were unmasked.  If it were for other purposes, wouldn't you think that some other people would be unmasked as well? 

Senator Paul Rand stated yesterday that Susan Rice should be put under oath and made to testify before Congress.  But here is the problem: Susan Rice has publicly lied before.  Remember those Sunday show appearances after the Benghazi tragedy.  What she stated as truth was found to be a lie.  But they were truth to her.  She can be put under oath, but she will only tell what is truth to her.

Susan Rice and her allies in the main-stream-media are perfect examples of the new reality: there is no absolute truth any longer.  Truth is relative.  Truth is in the eye of the beholder.  Truth is merely personal opinion and personal bias.  Truth needs a stable foundation if it is to be believed.  It needs some anchor point.  Stability is not found with personal whims.  People change, therefore, if truth is based upon a person's opinions, that truth will also change.  Susan Rice will hold to her story no matter how much you place her under oath because she believes the story to be truth for her and, in her opinion, that is all that matters. 

Countless times this past year I have shared with my Worldview Class of high school sophomores and also with my congregation that the only truth to be anchored to is found within the Word of God because it is the words of a God who NEVER changes.  His truth is THE Truth.  So, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I am to let my words always be truthful words.  I am to let my yes be yes and my no be no.  I am to be a person of integrity.  I am to cling strongly to God's Word because it is Truth.  Friends, it is okay to have opinions...we all do with just about everything.  But, don't allow your opinions to become truth statements.  Make sure there is a foundation to those truths.  Yes, I know this is counter to prevalent cultural norms, but it is the biblical way to live.

I want to share with you a story that never made it to the pages or stages of any main-stream-media outlet or newspaper.  The article was written by Todd Starnes and published at the website.  You can find it at  Let me share a portion of the article.  But let me warn you that it truly is disgusting.

"A teenage boy was told by his principal that he had to 'tolerate' undressing in front of a female student and to make it as 'natural' as possible, according to a blockbuster lawsuit filed in a Pennsylvania federal district court.  The lawsuit, filed Tuesday by Alliance Defending Freedom and Independence Law Center, alleges the Boyertown Area School District shamed the teenage boy and violated his personal privacy.  They are also alleging sexual harassment.

"'No school should rob any student of this legally protected personal privacy,' ILC attorney Randall Wenger said.  'We trust that our children won't be forced into emotionally vulnerable situations like this when they are in the care of our schools because it's a school's duty to protect and respect the bodily privacy and dignity of all students.'  In the case of 'Joel Doe' - they clearly ignored that duty.

"Last Fall, the teen boy was standing in his underwear inside a locker room at Boyertown Area High School preparing to change for a physical education class.  'He suddenly realized there was a member of the opposite sex changing with him in the locker room, who was at the time, wearing nothing but shorts and a bra,' the lawsuit states.  The boy, along with several of his classmates reported the incident to Assistant Principal, named as a defendant. 

"'Dr. Foley indicated that the legality was up in the air but that the students who mentally identify themselves with the opposite sex could choose the locker room and bathroom to use, and physical sex did not matter,' the lawsuit states.  The teenage boy asked the assistant principal if there was anything that could be done to protect him from the situation.

"'Dr. Foley told Joel Doe to 'tolerate' it and to make it as 'natural' as he possibly can,' the lawsuit states.  As the boy got up to leave the office, the assistant principal allegedly told the youngster to again 'be as natural as possible.'

"Even more disturbing, parents were not told of the school district's decision to let students of one sex use the locker rooms and bathrooms of students of the opposite sex.  'The District's directive to Joel Doe was that he must change with students of the opposite sex, and make it as natural as possible, and that anything less would be intolerant and bullying against students who profess a gender identity with the opposite sex,' the lawsuit states. 

"The young man's parents made an appointment to school leaders and were told that the district is 'all-inclusive.'  The lawsuit alleges that Foley told the boy's parents their son could use the nurse's office to change - if he had a problem changing in front of girls.  Supt. Richard Faidley suggested if 'Joel Doe was uncomfortable changing with those of the opposite sex, or with using the nurse's office, then he could just withdraw from school and be home schooled.'"

Wow!  How much lower can we go morally?  Why didn't those school officials say to the girl that she could undress in the nurse's office?  Or, perhaps it would be better if she was home-schooled?  The answer is very simply this: that would not be politically correct.  Deviant behavior has become acceptable behavior.  That which was considered to be unnatural, is now the new natural; and that which was considered to be natural, is now the new unnatural.  How messed up can we get?  Many of our schools today have become merely laboratories for social and cultural experimentation. 

What is the underlying cause for the problems Joel Doe is experiencing?  Again, the answer is very simply stated: there is no longer any absolute truth.  The absolute truth is this: God only created two sexes - male and female.  But, because we have denied the existence of God, then what God has declared is no longer viable for our consideration.  Thus, instead of two sexes and two genders, there are dozens of genders and there is no connection between gender and sexuality.  In the absence of absolute Truth, all truth becomes relevant, a matter of personal opinion. 

Friends, when I read stories like this and countless others, I can almost see the lines of anger being inscribed upon the face of God.  And I wonder how much longer, O Lord, before your righteous indignation is poured out upon the blatant sinful acts of our age.  And, until that happens, it is our task, as believers in Jesus Christ, to proclaim that Truth as boldly as we can.  Friends, don't waver from the anchoring of your soul in that Truth that has set you free.