Monday, June 19, 2017

Reacting to a Verdict

Making headlines here in the Twin Cities area this past weekend was the verdict of acquittal for Jeronimo Yanez, an office with the City of Saint Anthony police department who had been accused of shooting Philando Castile on July 6, 2016 after a routine traffic stop.  According to the Ramsey County Prosecutor's office, the verdict  was "the product of a fair and impartial investigation, thorough prosecution review and a trial by a jury of Ramsey County residents."  According to one juror who was polled following the reading of the verdict, the way the law was written just did not provide any reason for a guilty verdict. 

After the verdict was read, anger began to mount among the black community.  Friday evening protesters took to the streets blocking a major interstate highway causing hardships for those traveling those roadways.  Cries of discrimination filled the airwaves.  Fortunately, there was no violence.

But, as disappointing as the verdict was to many, it was still a verdict that had been reached fairly.  Officer Yanez had his day(s) in court.  A jury impaneled from among his peers heard days of testimony.  Both the defense attorney and the prosecutor brought their "A-game" to the courtroom.  Finally, after hours of deliberation, the jury reached a verdict of not guilty.  This was not a judge's decision; this was the decision reached by twelve members of the community.  For these twelve individuals, there simply was either not enough evidence to bring a conviction or their understanding of the law was not sufficient to render a guilty verdict.  Perhaps it was a combination of both.  This day and age to get twelve people to agree on anything is a minor miracle, let alone an agreement in a criminal case.

A trial among your peers is one of our foundational freedoms.  At times, juries do make a wrong decision, but that does not happen very often.  Yes, we may second-guess the decision.  We may even strongly disagree with the decision, but we must accept it.  Failure to do so will lead to a continued breakdown of both moral and legal authority.  I believe that submitting to a jury's verdict is one aspect of submitting to authority that the Apostle Paul describes in Romans 13.  It is part of our responsibility as a Christian and as a citizen. 

Tensions continue to increase over the skies of Syria where a Navy fighter plane shot down a Syrian warplane yesterday.  I am confident that the Russians will increase the volume of their rhetoric over this incident.  Tensions continue to also increase in London where an attack outside a mosque left one person dead.  Tensions continue to mount in the Korean Peninsula as the North Koreans continue in their attempts to develop a vehicle that could bring death and destruction to Japan and even to the United States.  I am so grateful that the Lord is coming and our hope is to be in Him.

There will be no blogs for the next couple of weeks.  I leave tomorrow with a group of teenagers and parents to spend 12 days in the Holy Land.  This will be my 12th tour to Israel and I am about as excited as I was when I made my very first trip some 38 years ago.  I know our group will appreciate your prayers while we are there.  I believe God has some wonderful truths to teach us as we walk in the footsteps of the patriarchs and of Jesus.  Upon my return, I will give you an update on what is happening there in that strategic part of God's world.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Flag Day - Has It Lost Its Meaning?

Today is Flag Day, a day set aside to give honor to the American flag.  Our flag is a piece of cloth adorned with thirteen stripes alternating between red and white and with a dark blue corner that fields fifty stars, each one representing a state within the Union.  But our flag is much more than a mere piece of cloth.  It is a symbol of American idealism.  It is a symbol of dreams and hopes for tomorrow.  It represents the greatest expression of the freedom of mankind since the inception of the world.  For the past two and a half centuries, people have come to our shores because of what our flag stands for: freedom of expression of ideas and opinions both written and spoken; freedom of worship as our hearts dictate; freedom to have peaceful public assembly; and freedom to even challenge governmental actions and decisions.  All of these, when exercised with propriety and restraint, are not contested by any authority. 

But, on this Flag Day 2017, let's ask ourselves this question: What does America really stand for today?  What does the flag symbolize today?  Allow me to share from two recent events that might bring some clarity.  First is an article that was posted yesterday on the Townhall website.  It was written by Todd Starnes who has become one of the guardians of the First Amendment.  You can find the article at  Let me just share briefly from this article.  "Moriah Bridges wanted to thank God for His immeasurable blessings on Beaver High School's graduating class.  But she could not, because she was told it was against the law.  The Pennsylvania teenager wanted to offer thanksgiving to the Almighty for parents and coaches and teachers.  But again, she could not, because she was told it was against the law.  'Make us selfless.  Make us just.  Make us successful people, but more than that, make us good people,' Moriah wanted to pray.  But that too, was determined to be unlawful.

"She [Moriah] crafted a lovely prayer that mentioned her 'Heavenly Father' and her 'Lord.'  'Lord, surround us with grace and favor everywhere we go,' she prayed.  'Soften our hearts to teach us love and compassion, to show mercy and grace to others the way that you showed mercy and grace to us, even to the ultimate sacrifice.  Help us love our brothers and our sisters deeply.  Lead us to bless them.'

"On May 31, the district notified the teenager that her prepared remarks were unlawful, unconstitutional, and therefore, impermissible.  'The selected students may still address their class and indicate the things that they wish/hope for their class, but they may not do it in the style of a prayer and most certainly may not recite a prayer that excludes other religions (by ending 'in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ' or 'in the matchless name of Jesus,' principle Steven Wellendorf wrote to Moriah in a letter.  The principal flat-out told the young lady that prayer - even student-led prayer - is not permissible by federal law.

"Moriah abided by the school district's edict - and then contacted First Liberty Institute, one of the nation's top religious liberty law firms.  Their attorney Jeremy Dys said that it was the school district that broke the law.  'In short, school officials - in violation of the First Amendment - forced Moriah to censor her personal remarks during the closing exercise of her commencement ceremony merely because of the religious viewpoint of her remarks.  Because of Dr. Rowe's instructions, Moriah was muzzled and restrained by school officials on the penultimate day of her high school career."

So, what does our flag stand for today?  If you are a young teenager denied the opportunity to offer a simple prayer at graduation, it means that you are not as free as you thought. 

Now, let's look at a second example.  Last week the Senate Budget Committee held confirmation hearings for Russell Vought, President Trump's nominee for the position of deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.  Mr. Vought is a graduate of Wheaton College and in January 2016 had written a article published by "The Resurgent" - a conservative outlet.  In the article Mr. Vought made the following statement: "Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology.  They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned."  Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont and former presidential candidate strongly objected to this statement and began to intensely grill Mr. Vought.  He stated: "In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic and an insult to billions of Muslims throughout the world.  This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms...we must not go backwards."  To this line of questioning, Mr. Vought, with a calm demeanor, replied, "Senator, I wrote a post based on being a Christian and attending a Christian school that has a statement of faith that speaks clearly with regard to the centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation."  As he concluded his questioning, Senator Sanders said, "I would simply say, Mr. Chairman, that this nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about.  I will vote no." 

Really, Senator Sanders!  You can't mean that, can you, Senator Sanders?  Senator Sanders, how long has it been since you last read the United States Constitution - you know, it is that which you swore to uphold when you took the office of a United States Senator?  Perhaps you need to reread Article VI which states, in part: "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any offence or public trust under the United States."  Did you get that, Senator Sanders?  What a person's personal faith is shall not be considered when being considered for a public office!  What you are ultimately saying, Senator Sanders, is that persons of Christian faith are not qualified to be in the public arena just because they are Christians.  Senator Sanders, that position is blatantly unconstitutional.  Such a position would have never entered into the minds of our Founding Fathers.  Maybe the reason, Senator Sanders, that you so strongly oppose people like Mr. Vought is that many Christians stand in the way of your progressive agenda.  Yes, I will admit that many of us fear your progressive agenda of a world governed from the top down; where the ordinary citizen has no say.  And, yes, we believe that there will be a day when your progressive agenda will become a worldwide policy; but we also believe that those days will not be described as "paradise" but more like "hell on earth." 

So, what does our flag truly symbolize today?  I say this with great sadness and reservation: I believe the flag is losing it symbolism.  When was the last time you "pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America?"  When was the last time you stood in awe as the colors were paraded down the main street  as part of a community celebration?  Sadly, for many today "Old Glory" has lost its "glory" and is just "old."  It's no wonder that we have a Senator Sanders and a school district declare that the flag doesn't mean what we think it does. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Remembering the Past; Acknowledging the Present; Anticipating the Future

The news coming out of Tehran was stunning this morning.  A team of ISIS attackers stormed the Iranian Parliament building and a nearby shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, resulting in the deaths of at least 12 and injuring scores more.  This was the first attack by ISIS inside of Iran.  The Iranians have been the presumed financial supporters of most terror organizations around the world, so this attack by ISIS upon "the hand that feeds them" was a stunning one.  Reports so far have been hard pressed to understand the exact nature and purpose of these attacks, especially the one upon the shrine to the father of the Iranian Revolution of 1979.  We know that ISIS is being pressed hard in Mozul, Iraq, and now in Raqqah, Syria.  Perhaps it is their way of saying that they are not ready to roll over and play dead.  It will be interesting to see how the Iranian government responds to these attacks.  The leaders in terror have now become the victims of terror themselves.  I wonder how "that shoe will fit?"

Today is June 7 - a day in which history remembers the reunification of the City of Jerusalem as part of the Six Day War of 1967.  For fifty years Jerusalem has remained a united city in spite of concerted attempts by the world leaders to render it asunder once again.  But the cry of June 1967 was "Never again!" and it has resonated among the Jewish people with solidarity these past years.  In just a few days I will have the privilege of standing before that Western Wall and giving thanks to God for His faithfulness.  It is always a moving moment. 

Today also marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, the greatest naval battle in history.  A battle that turned the fortunes of World War II in favor of the Allies.  This battle marked the beginning of the ending of the visions of empire by Japan.  I guess we could say it was World War II's equivalent to "Gettysburg," but it would take another three long years before the War would end.  And, of course, yesterday marked the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, really the battle that changed the fortunes of war in Europe.  These are dates that should never be forgotten. 

Making headlines yesterday was the arrest of Reality Winner, an employee of a company contracted by the National Security Agency.  Ms. Winner has been accused of passing classified materials to a news organization, thus violating federal law and potentially putting American interests at risk.  So, a leaker has been arrested.  The question I have is this: how many more "Reality Winners" are there within our government?  These people are traitors to their government.  If they had reservations about the direction their government was going, the only right thing to do was to resign and move on to another place.  But somehow these people believe they have the right to expose that which they personally do not like in the hopes of bringing about the collapse of a government they do cannot endorse.  And these people feed right into the hands of a liberal, main-stream press that is ravenous for such materials.  The MSM salivates for these "juicy morsels" of leaked information.  In many ways, they are as complicate as is Ms. Winner.  The government must prosecute Ms. Winner to the full extent of the law in order to send a strong message to other leakers who are undermining our government.  If they fail to do this, then the leaking will not only continue, but more people will be encouraged to become involved in the leaking. 

As I read articles about Ms. Winner, I was drawn to the story of Achan, found in Joshua 7.  Achan was just another of the nobody members of the family of Israel.  He had heard the commands that emanated by God through the voice of Joshua stating that everything within Jericho was to be totally destroyed - EVERYTHING.  That word leaves NO ROOM for any exceptions!  Yet, Achan felt that the decree from his governmental leader was too restricting.  He did not like it.  So, he took some clothing and some gold and silver.  I don't know if Achan thought to himself "I'll show Joshua that he is wrong and I am right" or if he merely was looking out for himself.  But his actions had fatal consequences to the family of Israel - defeat and death and despair.  Through a legal process, Achan was exposed and punished severely - I would say being stoned to death and then having one's body burned was pretty severe.  Yet, from that point on we read of no one else who tempted to take that which did not belong to him or her.  The punishment of Achan sent a strong message to all. 

Attention will be focused tomorrow morning on the testimony of former FBI director James Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee.  The buzz is "what will he say?"  What I find difficult is the acceptance of anything that is said.  We are living in a time when truth has been "kicked under the bus."  Truth is now what I think truth should be.  Will James Comey tell the truth?  In his eyes he will.  In the eyes of those who approve of what he says, he will.  But in the eyes of those who disapprove of what he say, he will not.  How is one to know truth these days?  In the absence of any moral foundation, truth just becomes personal opinion.  So the testimony will take place tomorrow but, upon its completion, there will still be this nagging question - "Did he tell the truth?" 

Marlys and I had a great few days of vacation last week.  We went to Branson and parts of Northwest Arkansas.  If you will be in the Branson area, we highly recommend you get tickets for the Sight & Sound Theater production of "Moses."  It is outstanding!  And, if you want an outstanding meal served with youthful exuberance, then we recommend the Dobyn Room located on the campus of the College of the Ozarks.  You will not be disappointed. 

In these troubled days, it is good to know where our destiny really is.  And how we need to stay focused upon the certainty of the promise of Jesus - "I will come again."  May it be soon!