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.