Monday, May 29, 2017

A Tribute for Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day - a day that is set aside each year to focus upon those who served our nation in the Armed Forces: Marine Corp, Navy, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and National Guard.  It is a day filled with flag-lined driveways in cemeteries.  It is a day filled with gun-salutes honoring those who died while in the line of service to our nation.  It is a day filled with speeches from those who wish to capitalize on what freedom really means. 

Why do we need a Memorial Day?  The dictionary defines "memorial" as "serving to help people to remember."  It seems that it is easy for us to forget that which is important.  I am reminded of the many "memorials" the children of Israel erected upon their entrance into the Promised Land.  Their memorials were usually just a pile of rocks, but the meaning was just the same" "Don't forget what happened here!"  So, the purpose of Memorial Day is just that - to create an opportunity when we can remember that which could most easily be forgotten. 

According to the Memorial Day website, the very first Memorial Day was observed on May 30, 1868.  It was ordered by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic.  He stated, "The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land."  Why was May 30 chosen?  It was because it wasn't the anniversary of any particular battle.  The first state to recognize Memorial Day as a holiday was New York in 1873, but by 1890 all northern states celebrated Memorial Day.  The southern states did not share in such observances until after World War I when they recognized all war dead.  (

I remember as a young boy spending the day with my grandparents.  After a festive dinner of fried chicken, with all the fixings, as only my grandmother could make, we would load into cars and head to the cemeteries with armfuls of peony flowers.  With reverence we stood beside the gravesites of men and women whom I never knew, but who were a part of who I was.  We paused to remember the heritage that was passed down from them.  I can close my eyes and still hear those quiet breezes that seem to be a ubiquitous part of any cemetery, along with those little flags fluttering proudly those colors of red, white, and blue. 

Memorials - remind us of what was right about our past.  Memorials - remind us of what was wrong about our past.  We are living in an age when there is a storied attempt to erase that part of the past which we have deemed to have been wrong.  Just these past few weeks, the City of New Orleans removed all statues that celebrated the Confederate heroes of the Civil War.  It was almost as if the city leaders said, "If we remove them, perhaps the memories of that awful period of time will just go away."  Historians are rewriting history to whitewash those aspects of history we want to forget.  But, as hard as we might try, history cannot be sanitized.  History is what it is! 

So raise the flag proudly today.  Pay honor to someone who has served his/her country well.  Let them know that you are grateful for their sacrifice.  Friends, how we need to remember this old adage: "Freedom is never free."  The acres of white engraved headstones that are Arlington National Cemetery, that are Fort Snelling National Cemetery, that are Normandy National Cemetery, that are countless thousands of other cemeteries remind us that "freedom is never free."

Perhaps, instead of tearing down "memorials" we should learn from them.  We may not like the stories they have to tell us, but we must never forget.    

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

President Trump, Jerusalem, and Manchester: Time to Wake-Up

This has been an incredible week!  For the first time a sitting American President has visited the State of Israel.  One of the most poignant moments was when President Trump stood praying at the Western Wall or the Kotel as it is known in Hebrew.  He was there for several moments and then reached into his pocket and took out a piece of paper and did as so many have done before him, placed that piece of paper into one of the thousands of cracks within the wall.  I, too, have stood there in prayer before that Wall on many occasions.  I, too, have placed a prayer within one of those myriads of cracks within the wall.  Although I do not know exactly what President Trump had written in that prayer, I am fairly confident that it was a call for peace to come to Jerusalem. 

What made that scene at the Western Wall more dramatic was that it came at a time when the State of Israel would celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967.  In fact, today is Jerusalem Day on the Hebrew calendar.   History records it on June 7, 1967.  It was on that date that soldiers from the 55th Paratrooper Battalion of the Israeli Defense Forces entered into the Old City through the Lions' Gate and captured the Temple Mount and the Western Wall from the Jordanian forces.  As stunning as were many of the events that occurred during that Six Day War in June 1967, the reunification of the City of Jerusalem was the most significant and long lasting.  Cries were heard of "never again!"  "Never again" would the city of Jerusalem be divided.  It is Israel's Capitol city.  (By the way, last night Marlys and I and our grandson were privileged to see the CBN docu-drama titled, "In Our Hands: The Battle for Jerusalem."  It was one of those one-night movie moments.  It was extremely well done.  I would encourage you to see it when it comes out on DVD).

The question is asked, "Is a united Jerusalem that important?"  And the answer is, "Absolutely!"  Jerusalem IS Israel.  Jerusalem has had that role since the days when David took it from the Jebusites and made it his capital.  It was here, in Jerusalem, that two great temples to the living God were built - one by Solomon, the second by Zerubbabel and expanded later by King Herod.  This is the city that was the political and religious hub for centuries.  Even after its twice destruction - in 586 BC by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians and in 70 AD by Titus and the Romans - the Jewish people never forgot the importance of Jerusalem.  The last statement of the Passover Seder, proclaimed by Jews all over the world, is "next year in Jerusalem." 

Jerusalem stands for hope.  Jerusalem stands for a future.  Jerusalem - the city that unites Jews across the globe.  And this is God's declaration concerning Jerusalem: "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).  Jerusalem is the epicenter of the world.  It is from here that one day the King of kings and the Lord of lords, Jesus Christ Himself, will reign. 

While in Israel, President Trump had meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Rivlin.  He also met in Bethlehem with Palestinian Authority President Abbas.  As with so many who have preceded him, President Trump left his brief stay in Israel believing that the time is right for a peace accord.  I guess only time will tell if his assertions are true or not.

Before arriving in Israel, President Trump traveled to Saudi Arabia where he delivered a speech before a group of statesmen from 50 Arab states.  The purpose of this meeting was to discuss how the Arab world should respond to the growing threat of a nuclear Iran and to the continued terrorism through ISIS.  I just share with you a couple quotes from President Trump's speech, which has generally been viewed with applause.  "America is prepared to stand with you - in pursuit of shared interests and common security. But the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them.  The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children.  It is a choice between two futures - and it is a choice America cannot make for you."  What do those words mean?  It means that President Trump passed the baton to the Arab States and said, "You need to become leaders in this war against terror and against Iran.  This is your problem even in a greater way than it is America's problem.  What will you do?"  President Trump understands that ownership of the problem is one of the first steps toward the solution of the problem.  And, for too long, the Arab world has not taken ownership of radical Islamic terror. 

President Trump also said, regarding terrorism, "Every time a terrorist murders an innocent person, and falsely invokes the name of God, it should be an insult to every person of faith.  Terrorists do not worship God; they worship death."  President Trump dared to say what past administrations have been fearful of saying. 

Sadly, in response to President Trump's powerful Riyadh speech, ISIS carried out one of its most blatant attacks late Monday night in Manchester, England.  A suicide bomber detonated his vest just as a Ariana Grande concert was closing.  To date, twenty-two people were killed and scores of others were injured, some severely.  Many of those who died or were injured were young teen-aged girls out with their friends at this special concert.  Fortunately the bomber had not entered into the concert arena where the tragedy would have been even worse.  These terrorists have no respect for life, including their own.  They celebrate death.  And yet, even after this tragic event, there is still a strong aversion to stating that the cause is a radical Islamic ideology. 

When will we wake up?  When will Congress wake up?  When will our national leadership wake up?  We are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating a possible collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign to influence last year's election.  So far there has not been one shred of evidence supporting such collusion - NOT ONE.  Yet, every day people enter into this country who are not properly vetted.  Our borders are porous.  Our resources are inadequate to protect Americans from those who attempt to enter into this country for the sole purpose of destroying it.  Manchester should be a wake-up call to us.  The words of President Trump to the Arab world should be a wake-up call to us.  But, and I am saddened to say this, I don't believe there will be a wake-up.  At least not until we have a "Manchester" of greater proportions here in America - another 9/11 moment.  But, when that happens - and it is not a matter of "if" but "when" - the cry will be "Why didn't someone do something?"  By then, it will be too late!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Crisis of Truth Leads to a Crisis of Guilt

If you are following the recent events in Washington, D.C., you have heard reporters, primarily from the left, say such things as "we are in a crisis of credibility."  What they are saying is something like this, "we don't like what was just said."  The dictionary defines the term "credibility gap" as "a disparity between what is said and the facts; the inability to have one's truthfulness or honesty accepted."  Really what we have today is a crisis of truth - we are not confident in knowing what is true or what is false today.  How did we get to this problem?

This crisis of truth is part of a much larger picture of American moral values today.  According to a recent Gallop poll, cited in an article found at The Patriot Post website - - Americans are becoming more socially liberal in their thinking over the past 15 years.  Of the 19 values listed in this poll, all were trending toward the liberal or libertarian perspective, not one toward the conservative one.  Let me cite just a couple of examples:
a.   69% accept sex between an unmarried man and woman
b.  63% accept gay or lesbian relationships
c.  62% accept having a baby outside of marriage
d.  57% favor doctor assisted suicides

Allow me to quote from the last paragraph of this article because it is so telling.  "While this poll is honestly disheartening, especially when considering what this holds for nation's future, it's helpful in effectively displaying just how pervasive has been the impact of postmodernist ideology upon American culture.  When the concept of absolute truth dies, those values based upon those standards quickly collapse, and pretty soon people have a difficult time distinguishing right from wrong or good from evil."  That last sentence hits the "nail on the head."

Let me give you an example of how far we have come.  Yesterday, Todd Starnes posted an article on the Townhall website:  "A school worker in Augusta, Maine was ordered to stop using religious phrases like 'I will pray for you' and "you were in my prayers' because such language is not allowed inside a public school building - even in private conversations with coworkers.  The Augusta School Department launched an investigation of Toni Richardson after they alleged she 'imposed some strong religious/spiritual belief system' towards a coworker.  The memorandum Ms. Richardson received from the school included: "In the context of the 'separation of church and state,' this case prohibits public school-sponsored religious expression.  Therefore, in the future, it is imperative that you do not use phrases that integrate public and private belief systems when in the public schools."

Friends, why would anyone get "bent out of shape" over someone praying for them?  It would seem that we could use all the prayer we could get these days.  I believe the answer is quite simple: To pray is to believe in a God to whom prayer is directed; to believe in a God is to believe in an absolute truth which our contemporary culture is vigorously denying exists.  If prayer in the public place can be snuffed out, it is just another affirmation that absolute truth does not exist.

I was forwarded an article this week by a friend which was also from The Patriot Post.  The article was written by Arnold Ahlert and is titled "Leftist Ideology's Greatest Threat: Guilt-Free Americans."  It can be found at:  Space does not allow me to quote all the article, but I highly recommend you download it and read it for yourself.  But let me just share a couple of paragraphs with you.  "In the last 50 years of culture wars in America, there has been no stronger weapon than guilt.  It is the Left's greatest hammer of progress - Mark Bauerlein, Professor of English at Emory University.  In an insightful column for American Greatness, Bauerlein nails the Left's fundamental reason for despising Donald Trump, 'He has not white guilt.  he doesn't feel any male guilt, either, or American guilt or Christian guilt,' Bauerlein explains.  'He talks about the United States with uncritical approval - "America first" - and that a thought crime in the eyes of liberals.'"

The author goes on: "Guilt - brilliantly sold as 'political correctness' to make it more palatable for an unsuspecting public - has enjoyed a long and prosperous run.  One that allowed leftists to dismiss every challenge to their agenda with epithets designed to simultaneously induce guilt and end debate.  Americans opposed to open borders or sanctuary cities?  Xenophobes.  Americans who eschew the LGBT agenda?  Trans- and homophobic.  Americans who question 'refugees' from terror-torn nations being granted asylum?  Islamophobic.  And son on and so forth.  'If you can persuade an opponent that he's wrong about a political issues, you can win the day's debate,' Bauerlein explains.  'But if you can make him feel guilty about his opinion, you've got him on the defensive forever.'"

As I read this article I began to see what is happening in Washington in a whole new light.  Much of the ineffectiveness of Congress today is due to these guilt feelings.  There is a guilt about the past: we attempt to remove Confederate statues as if their removal will change history.  But it won't.  There is the advocacy that all black people receive compensation from white people for the years of slavery in the past.  Friends, how long will we continue to live with that guilt?  America is no longer a slave nation; it has not been for over 150 years.  In fact, it took the lives of over 600,000 Americans to end slavery.  No white person today has owned slaves.  No black person today has been held in slavery.  yet we continue to live as if both still existed.  Guilt. 

This article got me thinking about the impact of guilt in one's life.  Guilt is a huge chain that enslaves one with an oppressive slavery.  What one sees and experiences is channeled through the lens of guilt.  Guilt is one of the major causes of depression today.  But there is a solution to guilt.  It is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Only Jesus can set you free from the heavy chain of guilt.  It was Jesus who set Peter free from the guilt of his denial of Jesus as they talked along the shores of the Sea of Galilee (see John 21).  With Jesus, our past no longer is master over us, but, with the Apostle Paul we can say, "Forgetting what is behind, I strain forward to what lies ahead." 

Friends, we come full circle, don't we?  It is the truth found in Jesus Christ that sets us completely free.  When that truth is abandoned, then guilt becomes the inevitable consequence.

Heads-up: This next week President Trump travels to Israel and the Middle East.  This should be provide for some interesting news.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Crisis of Integrity

Headlining yesterday's news stories was the seemingly abrupt firing of James Comey as the Director of the FBI.  Immediately sides were drawn as to the propriety of his firing.  Some proclaimed that Mr. Comey was fired because the investigation into whether the Russians had colluded with the Trump Campaign to influence last year's elections was getting rather close for comfort.  Immediately that group issued a call for the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to investigate.  Other reporters speculated that this firing was long in the pipeline and simply awaited the time when President Trump had those of his choosing heading up the Department of Justice.  When Rod Rosenstein was confirmed as the Deputy Attorney General two weeks ago, the door was now open for the firing of Comey. 

I listened to some of the talk programs last night.  The conversations were very energetic and interesting, to say the least.  But, as I listened to those who supported the firing and those who strongly opposed it, one word kept coming into my mind that I believe is key.  That word is integrity.  One of the dictionary definitions of integrity is "honesty, sincerity."  Interestingly, the word integrity comes from the Latin word "integer" which means "whole." 

FBI Director Comey has not been immune to being the subject of headlines.  Those headlines began on July 5, 2016, when, after an investigation into the email server scandal that plagued the Clinton Campaign, he went on national television and said that, although what Clinton had done was "extremely careless", there were no grounds for prosecution.  The investigation was perceived to have stopped.  Then, on October 28, just days before the November election, Comey related, via a letter to Congress, that he was reopening the email-server investigation based on new evidence.  That announcement sent shock waves, as you will remember, throughout the country.  The timing of the release of this information seemed more than coincidence and Comey was accused of aiding the Trump Campaign. 

In recent weeks, Comey has testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the investigation into a possible collusion between Trump campaign advisors and the Russians has been on-going but that no evidence of such collusion has occurred.  But, I believe the straw that finally broke the back of Mr. Comey came just moments before his firing yesterday.  Comey had sent a letter yesterday to Congress back-pedaling from some of his prior sworn testimony regarding the emails send from Hillary Clinton to her long-time advisor, Huma Abedin.  His testimony changed from "hundreds of thousands of emails" to "a small number."  And that produced this crisis of integrity for Mr. Comey.

From what I understand the role of the FBI is that of the investigative arm of the Department of Justice.  They seek to produce either the evidence or the lack of evidence for a particular case on behalf of the DOJ.  But, it is not the role of the FBI to determine whether a case should be prosecuted or not.  That belongs to the Attorney General and his staff.  So, back in July, Mr. Comey assumed a role that was not his.  The determination to prosecute Mrs. Clinton belonged to Attorney General Lynch.  Yes, she had compromised herself with her secret meeting with Bill Clinton at an airport tarmac in Arizona, but, nonetheless, it was her department that was responsible for making the decision, not the FBI Director's.  So, Mr. Comey had overstepped the parameters of his office - although I am sure he thought he was justified in doing so.

Did Mr. Comey's letter to Congress on October 28 sway the electorate away from Mrs. Clinton?  Only the historians will wrestle with that one.  But it was not for Mr. Comey to make that decision.  His role is that of an advisor to the Attorney General.  He speaks at the wishes of the Attorney General.  Another instance of a crisis of integrity.

What is the "take away" from the fall of James Comey?  It is imperative that we guard our integrity for upon its collapse, great is the fall.  The Bible reminds us that our "yes" is to be "yes" and our "no" is to be "no."  That is a sign of integrity.  We are to be people of our word.  Our youngest daughter reminded me of that fact more than once as she was growing up.  I would often make a rash promise which, when I said it, I had no intentions of keeping, but I said it nonetheless.  Later she would challenge me on that promise with these words, "But, Daddy, you promised!"  That was my crisis of integrity.  I had two options at that moment: I could sit down with my daughter and explain to her why Daddy could not fulfill what he had said he would do - which, often did not go well in her eyes; or I could tell her that Daddy would try his best to fulfill that promise he had made. 

I have been studying the life of David preparing for a summer series on his life as part of the longer series of preaching through the Bible.  David was a man of integrity.  This is best seen in those two occasions when he spared the life of Saul.  On each occasion he proclaimed that he would not raise his hand to strike the Lord's anointed.  That is a mark of integrity. 

My Grandfather was a man of integrity.  He always did business with a mere handshake.  After his funeral, I had one of the leaders of the community in which my Grandparents had lived for decades come to me and say, "I just want you to know that your Grandfather was always a man of his word.  A handshake with Hans Wunder was as good as a name on a dotted line."  What a sterling reputation!

Friends, integrity is the key in our walk with the Lord.  How we live defines who we are.  The words we say, Jesus proclaims, gives evidence of what is in our hearts.  The old saying that actions often speak louder than words is usually true.  When we lose our integrity, it does not take long for the rest of our lives to collapse.  Just ask Mr. Comey.       

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Judges - A Reflection of Life Today

For the past couple of Sundays I have been preaching in the book of Judges.  What a fascinating book!  What an interesting group of individuals used by God!  How would one describe their stories?  Interesting might describe them best.  They certainly did not fit any particular mold.  I have taught the Book of Judges often and have focused on the cycle that is repeated some seven times within the book: sin, slavery, supplication, and salvation.  I have even preached concerning that cycle and how it often describes our lives.

But, as I have spent the past few months working through Judges, God has impressed upon my heart a few truths I had not seen before.  The first truth is found within the following passages: Judges 3:7, 12; Judges 4:1; Judges 6:1; Judges 8:33; Judges 10:6; and Judges 13:1.  That truth can be summarized with the following words: "Israel did evil in the eyes of the LORD."  After all the amazing victories that God brought about through Othniel, Ehud, Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson and others, the people turned away from God.  Furthermore, if one reads these passages more carefully, one will discover that this turning away from God occurred within the space of forty years - one generation. 

As I pondered that reality, I began to ask myself this question: Why did Israel so quickly abandon God?  There had to have been a reason.  My search to find a root cause drove me back to that foundational text concerning families found in Deuteronomy 6:4-7.  There God instructs the people that the foundations of faith lie within the home.  Fathers, teach your children about God.  Make this a daily occurrence.  Use those moments within life to share with your children who God is.  That was the heartbeat of God for the family.  But, when fathers fail to teach their children, then children tend to abandon God.  Failure within the home often becomes failure within a nation.  The home is a window into the soul of the nation. 

Just look at the status of the home today.  We have homes where a father is either absent physically or absent emotionally.  Many dads have checked out of their family's lives.  Where do children turn when dad is gone?  For those within the urban areas sadly it is often to gangs.  A gang leader becomes that missing father-figure within a young person's life.  Other homes are consumed with the drive to obtain more things.  For those homes and families, success is defined by the number of "toys" stored in the garage.  I find it fascinating that we build houses with three-car garages, but have to leave the cars outside because the garage is filled with stuff.  Still other homes are possessed with the drive for status and community acceptance. 

So, what has happened?  We have witnessed a generation who have grown up and have abandoned God.  Mary Eberstadt, in her book titled, "How the West Really Lost God," writes: "The fortunes of religion rise or fall with the state of the family."  One could say that was true of the nation as well.  She goes on to state that many youth of today have had no - or very limited - exposure to adult role models who were strongly committed to living out their faith.   I believe America is in a state of moral and spiritual decline today because America's homes have been in a state of moral and spiritual decline for the past fifty years or even longer. 

The second truth I have discovered is this: the cause for this abandonment of God by families is a time of peace and prosperity.  Look at the following texts: Judges 3:11, 30; Judges 5:31; Judges 8:28.  When everything is going smoothly, when the seas are calmed and the winds blow gently, it is then that we tend to put God on the shelf.  We don't need God.  We can do things really well ourselves.  Just look at America's history since the close of World War II.  I know there have been those times of economic recession, but, for the most part, Americans have known peace and prosperity.  We are not sending America's youth off to war in the millions as was done between 1941-1945.  Yes, there have been those engagements that were costly - Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  But for most of us, those military engagements have hardly had an impact upon our everyday lives.  And so, as a nation, our families have forgotten God. 

A third truth that was extremely difficult to accept was this: It often took years of slavery and oppression before the people of Israel came to their spiritual senses and cried out to God.  The only answer that I could arrive at is this: It takes a long time for a people to be humbled before God.  How pride interferes.  It is so difficult to surrender and to admit, "God, we are the problem!"  Has America gotten to that point yet?  Generally speaking the answer is "No, we have not!"  We rely upon the government to substitute that which God intends the home to supply.  We rely upon our armies and navies to shore us up militarily, but discover that military might cannot remove the moral and spiritual degradation infecting the land.  Friends, I have come to the conclusion that the Book of Judges has a lot to say about 21st century America. 

But there is one final truth that I also discovered that encouraged me greatly: God can and will use anyone to bring about a spiritual renewal.  As you read this book, you quickly notice that these men and women, used by God, were really nobodies.  They were unknown.  They were merely ordinary people but who had a heart to serve God well.  I believe the judges God is raising up in America today are fathers and mothers who have a heart to serve God well by beginning with serving their families in matters of the heart.  Fathers and mothers who take time to share the Scriptures with their children.  Fathers and mothers who use those golden moments within everyday life to share what God is doing and desires to do.  It is time to attack at the root of the problem - the home.  It is time to return to those Godly principles found in Deuteronomy 6:4-7.  That is God's plan...and it works!

I have been doing some study on how to reach Millennials, those born between 1980-2000.  But, God is laying upon my heart a strong desire to reach Generation Z, those born after 2000.  Many of these are in their high school years.  They are searching to find significance for their own lives.  I have been asking God to use me as a tool to help them find that significance in a close relationship with Jesus Christ.  And I want them to see that God desires to be the center of the home they will establish someday.  How we need to model Christ before them.