Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Another Assault upon Christmas

If there is one season of the year in which those on the Left unite together against a common foe it is the Christmas Season.  Their assault upon the season of our Savior's birth seems to know no limitations.  Over the years we have seen Christmas programs within our elementary and secondary schools changed to Winter programs.  We now celebrate snow and snowmen rather than the Savior and the shepherds.  (Note: I am grateful for those schools who have not bent the knee to this Leftist lunacy and who still allow their students to celebrate the real reason for Christmas.  I pray that they will continue to be firm in their resolve). 


Municipalities have battled for years the legality of having a Nativity set up on the Town Square.  When I was a boy growing up, nearly every little town in Iowa had its Nativity scene - some more elaborate than others, but each was a declaration by the community of the real reason for Christmas.  Now one must travel for miles in search of such a Nativity display.  The fears of lengthy and expensive litigation has now kept the manger in the warehouse. 


Then a few years ago it became marketable to not use the words "Merry Christmas" within the retail communities.  Yes, you could still use the greeting of "Happy Holidays" which I found to be inconsistent with their thinking.  Let's see, the word "holiday" is a contraction of two words "holy" and "day."  Now, let me ask you, "What makes this season, as opposed to, let's say August 25 or September 25 or July 25, a "holy day?"  Is it not the birthday of Jesus Christ?  So, when I say to a friend, "Happy Holidays," which I am really saying is this is a holy day because of Jesus.


But, just when you think the Left could not get more creative in their assault upon Christmas, a professor at Minnesota State University in Mankato dropped a bombshell this past week.  Dr. Eric Sprankle is a professor in the graduate school of psychology at the university and also teaches classes on sexuality in the undergraduate school.  Here is what Dr. Sprankle tweeted last week: "The virgin birth story is about an all-knowing, all-powerful deity impregnating a human teen.  There is no definition of consent that would include that scenario.  Happy Holidays."  In other words, Dr. Sprankle is accusing God of sexually assaulting Mary against her wishes. 


Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas responded, "Dr. Sprankle's comments are nothing but blasphemous babble from a liberal who is completely ignorant of the Bible." (quote from his interview with Todd Starnes). 


Let's analyze the Biblical story to refute what Dr. Sprankle has said.  First, there is no statement within the Gospel of Luke that records any sexual involvement between God and Mary.  Here is what Luke simply says, "The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35).  Why does Dr. Sprankle accuse God of sexual assault?  It is because he has a limited view of God.  According to him, there is only one way to create a baby and that is through a sexual union.  And, you know, for every human being since the time of Adam and Eve, that is a true fact.  But the conception of Jesus was unique.  There was no sexual union.  Mary remained a virgin until after she had given birth.  So, Dr. Sprankle, there could be no assault because there was no sexual union. 


Second, Luke records that Mary did consent to God's request.  Again, let's read from the Luke text: "'I am the Lord's servant,' Mary answered.  'May it be to me as you have said.'" (Luke 1:38).  Friends, those are words of consent.  Those are words still filled with many unanswered questions.  Those are words still shrouded with fear.  Yet, Mary agreed to this unique invitation from God.  She said, "Yes!" 


Did the angel put pressure upon Mary so that she had no other option but to say "yes?"  Certainly there is no indication of such pressure within the Luke story.  Did Mary fear the reprisals from God if she said "no?"  Again, there is no indication within the text.  No, Luke would have us believe that Mary made her decision based upon faith.  When approached, Mary volunteered for the assignment God had commissioned. 


Dr. Sprankle, you are just wrong in your understanding of the most beautiful birth narrative recorded in human history.  There has never been a baby born, either before or after, like Jesus.  His birth marks the defining moment in the history of mankind.  Calendars were changed because of His birth.  No, Dr. Sprankle, the only thing more difficult to understand than the birth itself, is the reason why God entered into His world.  And that reason can be stated with just one word; love.  Dr. Sprankle, I want you to know that John 3:16 is for you, just as it is for me: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."  Oh that you would know the truth from that text. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

My Annual Christmas Recommended Reading List

Today has been designated as a day of national mourning and prayer in memory of the death of our nation's 41st president, George H.W. Bush, who passed away at the age of 94.  Bush's presidency is often lost as it was sandwiched between that of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.  President Bush completed the process of the tearing down of the Iron Curtain that President Reagan had initiated.  When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991, President Bush quickly assembled a coalition and countered that invasion.  The only blemish in that war, which was won in a matter of days, was that he did not order the coalition forces to sweep on into Baghdad and overthrow the Saddam regime.  If he had, perhaps 9-11 might not have happened. 


Perhaps George H.W. Bush was the most qualified man to have sat in the Oval Office since the time of George Washington.  His resume of political service was a long and distinguished one.  Yet, he will be most remembered for those infamous words uttered during his presidential campaign, "Read my lips: No new taxes."  Yet, he could not honor that pledge and that was his undoing when he attempted to run for a second term.  There are some things the American people are quick to forget - immorality in the White House during the days of Bill Clinton; but there are some things people never seem to forget, especially when it comes to taxes. 


It was right for President Trump to declare today a day of national mourning.  It is right for our nation to honor a man who served us well.  The historians can now tell the story of Bush #41.  It will be a story worth reading, I am sure.


Speaking of stories to read.  I want to highly recommend the newest book from the pen of Doris Kearns Goodwin.  It is titled, "Leadership."  Ms. Goodwin is a gifted writer of history.  She researches her subjects well and she carefully documents her stories.  This book is the study of four American presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson.  Now, friends, you cannot get more diverse than these four.  Ms. Goodwin shares the remarkable story of how each of these men grew up and how each grew in his abilities to lead.  Then she identifies one crisis in each one's administration that tested that leadership ability.  For Lincoln, her focus was upon the Emancipation Proclamation; for Theodore Roosevelt, it was the coal strike; for Franklin Roosevelt, it was the great depression; and for Lyndon Johnson, it was the civil rights act of 1964.  These crises certainly tested the resolve of each man.  At times they walked the pathway alone, yet, all the while, continually teaching their cabinets and other officials of the necessity of following that vision.  Ms. Goodwin closes her book with a study of how the death of each man impacted those that followed.  This is not a difficult book to read.  Ms. Goodwin has a way of drawing you into the story.  I found myself getting involved in the tensions created within each president.  This book would make for an excellent Christmas gift to that person who enjoys American history and to that person who is seeking to cultivate his or her leadership skills. 


A second book that I would recommend is the newest book by Bill O'Reilly and titled, "Killing the SS."  This is the latest book in his "Killing" series.  Like most of his other books, this one reads so easily.  Again it is well footnoted.  The thesis for this book is the intense hunt that took place following World War II for those Nazi leaders who had orchestrated the "Final Solution" which came to be known as the Holocaust.  The center piece of that focus was Adolph Eichmann.  Others included Joseph Mengele, the doctor who performed medical experiments upon victims at Auschwitz, and Klaus Barbie, also known as the "Butcher of Lyon."  One of the facts that surprised me as I read was the number of former SS officers who, following the War, were hired by our CIA to spy on the Russians.  Some were never held accountable for the atrocities committed by the SS during the War.  I found myself getting caught up in the intrigue of the search for Eichmann, of his kidnapping from his hiding place in Argentina, his trial and execution in Israel.   This book would make a great Christmas gift to those readers on your list.


Let me close with two additional titles that were meaningful to me this past year.  The first is titled, "The True Jesus" and was written by David Limbaugh.  This book is a follow-up to a previous book titled, "The Emmaus Code."  In that book, Mr. Limbaugh shares the portraits of Christ found in the Old Testament.  He sort of envisions Jesus' conversation with the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus that first resurrection morning, thus the title.  "The True Jesus" is a look at the portrait of Christ found within the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Mr. Limbaugh attempts to follow the life of Jesus in a chronological sequence, and he does it very well.  Either of these books could be used as a small group resource.  I am anxious to read his latest book in this series, "Jesus Is Risen" which is the portrait of Christ discovered within the writings of the Apostle Paul and the Early Church writers.  I have this on my shelf as a must for 2019. 


The final book I would recommend is titled, "Grant" and was written by Ron Chernow; the same author who gave us the biography of Alexander Hamilton upon which the Broadway musical success "Hamilton" is based.  This book will probably be the definitive study of the life of the man who led the Union to victory in the Civil War.  Having only studied about Grant's war years, it was fascinating to me to read of those tumultuous years he served as President.  Historians have been quick to cast the title of "inept or corrupt" upon the Grant Administration, but Mr. Chernow helped me to see that Grant was too accepting of people - he took them at face value.  This was often the cause for people misusing that trust to accomplish their purposes rather than those of the President.  This is a huge book - don't let its volume of pages deter you from a powerful read.  After the reading I believe you will be convinced that Ulysses S Grant was one of the most dynamic leaders our nation has produced. 


Friends, that is my annual list of books I recommend for those readers on your list.  With the winter months upon us, how refreshing it is to sit by the fireside with a steaming cup of hot tea or hot chocolate, and grab a book that will encourage and challenge us. 
 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

On the Edge of an Ethical Slope

Yesterday there was an article in the "Minneapolis Star-Tribune" that caught my eye.  It was headlined: "Scientist claims first DNA-edited babies."  The article was written by Marilynn Marchione, a writer for the Associated Press.  The substance of this article is bound to stimulate a heated debate among scientists and ethicists around the globe.  Allow me to quote briefly from this article: "Scientists and bioethics experts reacted with shock, anger and alarm Monday to a Chinese researcher's claim that he helped make the world's first genetically edited babies.


"He Jiankui of Southern University of Science and Technology of China said he altered the DNA of twin girls born earlier this month to try to help them resist possible future infection with the AIDS virus - a dubious goal, ethically and scientifically."


Okay, let's think through this for a few moments.  Whenever genetic material is altered either by addition or subtraction, that genetic material is changed forever.  In fact, really it is the creation of a new genetic material.  Recently such genetic-editing has been used in cases of adults who are being treated for serious diseases.  But, in the case of these twin girls whose genetic material was altered while still in the sperm and egg stage, or early embryo stage, these girls were born genetically different from their parents.  They will now pass on to their children this genetic difference.  And here is the problem: scientists do not know the long-term consequences of such genetic editing or alteration for future generations. 


The article quotes from Notre Dame Law School Prof. O Carter Snead, a former presidential adviser on bioethics, who said the report was "deeply troubling, if true."  Snead continued, "No matter how well intentioned, this intervention is dangerous, unethical, and represents a perilous new moment in human history.  These children, and their children's children, have had their futures irrevocably changed without consent, ethical review or meaningful deliberations." 


Friends, if this claim can be substantiated, then the future of "test-tube babies" has risen greatly.  If we can genetically modify the material within an egg and sperm to eliminate the threat of AIDS, could not the same thing be done to prevent Down's Syndrome, or Parkinson's Disease, or leukemia, or, how about, cancers and heart disease?  I know, on the surface we would almost cheer such a happening.  But, here is the dilemma which is played-out in almost every sci-fi movie: for every good that is created, inevitably there is also something bad that is also created.  So, these twin girls do not have to worry about an AIDS infection, but perhaps that altered DNA is now subject to something greater than AIDS.  The scientific and ethical communities pose that question.  And it is a very real one.


What is happening, friends, is that we have taken another step toward playing "god" in our world.  The ultimate goal is to create the perfect world, filled with perfect people, living within a perfect environment.  And, in that process we do not need the presence of God any longer.  Man is the measure of all things; it is no longer God.  Let me phrase it this way: the more man knows, in other words, the more information and knowledge a man has, the less inclined that man is to relying upon God.  I believe this report is just another indicator pointing toward the soon return of the Lord Jesus. 


Meanwhile, the Ukraine is poised on the brink of war with Russia over the latter's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula a few years ago.  The civil war in Yemen seems to have no solution as Saudi Arabia and Iran seem to be using that small nation as the chessboard for who will dominate the Middle East.  The Taliban and Al-Qada have stepped up their attacks upon American troops and Afghan civilians in their attempt to regain control of Afghanistan.  The shaky cease-fire along the Israeli-Gazan border is still holding, but barely.  California seeks to recover from the most devastating wildfires in its history.  And, on America's southern border, pressures are mounting from those who seek to by-pass American law and enter into our country illegally.  I do not doubt that, among the thousands of people crowded into camps around Tijuana, and soon to be other places, there are stories of legitimate need.  These people need to be told that if they proceed with the proper paperwork and applications and follow the required protocols, that Americans will welcome them as they have millions of others down through the centuries. 


I was just reading again the other morning from Matthew 24 - Jesus's answer to the disciples' question as to when the end would come.  I would encourage each of you to read that chapter and then ponder the world in which we now live.  It is almost as if Jesus could peer that day into the heart of the 21st century.  Yes, He is coming! 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

A Spirit of Thanksgiving

As we enter into the season of Thanksgiving, the world continues tottering near the brink.  A fragile cease-fire continues to hold along the Israeli-Gazan border; yet that cease-fire has brought the Netanyahu government to near collapse as one of the centerpieces of his coalition has walked away because of the cease-fire.  As of now, the Prime Minister holds a narrow one-seat majority within the Knesset.  It appears that many Israelis are becoming increasingly frustrated with the "on-again, off-again" mini-wars with Hamas.  They are wanting Israel to step in and create an atmosphere of security and safety.  Will special elections be called in Israel?  Is there anyone who has the political power that Prime Minister Netanyahu has and who will challenge him?  Stay tuned because this could get very interesting.


The devastation from the fires burning in California continues to escalate.  More bodies are discovered amidst the smoldering ruins of homes and automobiles.  And there yet remains a long listing of people who are unaccounted for.  The blame game has already begun as to who is responsible for these fires.  Governor Jerry Brown has declared that it is the consequence of climate change, or global warming.  We do know that California has experienced a series of devastating droughts in the past few years.  President Trump has stated that the fires are a result of poor forest management.  There is a powerful environmentalist movement in California that has greatly influenced laws governing the harvesting of trees.  It has become increasingly more difficult for logging companies to harvest those trees that are either dead or dying.  These unharvested trees create an ample fuel supply for wildfires, such as those we have witnessed these past months.  But, whatever the causes were, the suffering of those people whose lives have been impacted is very real.  Yes, homes and businesses can be rebuilt.  But how does a family rebuild those pictures and memories from the past?  How does one start all over again?  We do need to reach out and help them as best we can. 


And what about the economy?  It is certainly on a roller-coaster ride right now.  As a financial planner shared, "this is not for the faint at heart."  The bulls had a long run - one of the longest in history.  Is it time for the bears to have their say?  If so, how long with it last?  What will be the consequences?  How will the nervousness about the financial markets impact the upcoming holiday shopping season?  How will it impact year-end giving to nonprofits and local churches, most of which are dependent upon substantial year-end gifts?


Yet, Thursday is the day set aside as a day of Thanksgiving.  In spite of the problems that surround us, each of us could compose a long list of things for which we are grateful to God.  We might include on our list our families, our jobs, our friends, our health.  Each year I am challenged with the reading of Psalm 103.  There David composes his list of things for which he is eternally grateful to God.  Allow me to highlight just a few of them.


1.   "He forgives all my sins." - Topping David's list is that of God's forgiveness of his sins.  David will later say, "He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities" (vs. 10).  And he concludes with this amazing statement: "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us" (vs. 12).  Oh how grateful I am that God still forgives  my sins.  Certainly that should be on my "thanksgiving list."


2.   "He heals all my diseases." - I find this very interesting.  Now I don't believe David had in mind those diseases that plague us because of the fallen world in which we live.  But David is referring to that greatest of diseases, that fatal disease we had known as "separation from God."  We call it salvation or "being born again."  David says, "he redeems my life from the pit."  What a gift we have received!  Yes, that most certainly should be on my "thanksgiving list."


3.  "As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him." - I am grateful for the Father's love for me.  I am grateful for those moments when He throws His arms around me and just hugs me tightly.  I am grateful for those moments when I feel His presence so very near and I hear His words of encouragement: "Max, I am right here!  Keep on going!"  That had better be on my "thanksgiving list."


Friends, there are many more suggestions for thanksgiving found within this amazing psalm.  I would strongly encourage you to spend some time these next couple of days prayerfully reading Psalm 103.  Make it your "thanksgiving prayer" to God. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Tensions in Israel with Gaza and in Florida with Ballots

Things had gotten so quiet on the Israeli border with Gaza that we almost came to think that something good had happened.  Then reality returned this past Sunday.  An undercover Israeli commando force traveling within the Gaza Strip was discovered.  A firefight ensued in which seven Palestinian militants and one Israeli officer were killed.  What followed next was one of the most massive rocket attacks upon Israel from the Gaza Strip in recent memory.  Over four hundred rockets and mortar rounds were fired from within the Gaza Strip into Israeli communities across the border.  Over 100 of those rockets were shot-down by Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system.  But those rockets that penetrated that barrier caused damage within some Israeli communities.  Once again Israeli citizens living in places such as Sderot and Beersheba heard the sounds of air-raid sirens.  Fear once again became a reality. 


Israeli war planes responded with over 160 missions over the Gaza Strip attacking those strongholds of Hamas and its sister organization Islamic Jihad.  Yesterday both Hamas and Israeli leaders accepted a Egyptian-brokered cease fire.  As of this morning it was still holding, but is extremely fragile.  We have witnessed previous attempts at a cease fire only to have both sides shooting at each other in a matter of days.


What makes this attack difficult to understand is that both the Israelis and Hamas were actually in negotiations over a long-term peace agreement.  The citizens living within the Gaza Strip are among the most impoverished people in the world.  Unemployment is very high.  Corruption among governmental authorities is well documented.  Hamas leadership certainly knows that it would only take a few days for the IDF to completely overwhelm Gaza and bring the entire region back under Israeli authority - much as it was before the 2005 Israeli disengagement from Gaza. 


Yet I don't believe that Israeli leadership desires to have a military intervention in Gaza.  But they would like to strike some type of accord whereby the people living in Gaza would be benefited economically and the Israelis living in those border towns would experience security.  But, in order for this type of accord to be reached, Hamas would have to give up its rockets and its rocket-manufacturing entities.  Hamas would have to turn away the military hardware provided by Iran and Hezbollah.  In other words, Hamas would have to give up its stated purpose which is the total destruction of Israel.  Is the situation within Gaza desperate enough that Hamas would consider such drastic steps?  Only time will tell.  And, if such an accord is made between Israel and Hamas, how would it be monitored?  What guarantees would Israeli leaders have that Hamas would keep the accord?  There certainly is no level of trust that has been created since 2007 when Hamas wrestled the leadership of Gaza away from the Palestinian Authority. 


Underlying all this is the shadow of Iran which has used Hamas as a proxy to provoke Israel, thus keeping Israel away from attacks on Iran itself.  How much longer will Hamas continue saluting the Iranian flag?  The Iranians could care less about those people living in Gaza.  They are mere pawns in a greater contest.  Will the leadership of Hamas wake up to the realization of how they have been used by Iran to accomplish another purpose?  These are questions that linger in the fragile stillness of this cease fire. 


And, as Israel keeps a watchful eye on Gaza, it cannot dismiss the existential threats that lie at its northern borders from Hezbollah and Syria.  Tensions especially remain high along the Golan Heights as Iranian backed Syrian forces battle rebels.  Israel has warned Syria and its coalition partners - Russia and Iran - of the dangers of any type of offensive excursion into Israeli territory. 


As a believer I do keep my eyes focused upon what is happening in the Middle East.  What happens there has a significant prophetic bearing as we anticipate the arrival of the King. 


Meanwhile, the midterm elections are now a week into our rearview mirror.  Once again two counties in Florida have the final outcome of the election hanging in the balance.  I have not heard the term "hanging chads" as was heard following the 2000 election, but mysterious boxes of ballots seemingly appear out of nowhere.  They are found in closets and even in cars.  Why is it that the majority of Americans can go to the polls, cast their vote, and there is very little voter irregularity reported, yet for two counties in Florida, voting becomes a challenge?  Perhaps it is not the system that needs changed so much as it is the personnel operating the system that need changed. 


Here is what I am very interested in observing.  Many of those Democrats who were elected to the House a week ago are rookies.  This will be their first time in Washington.  Many of them ran as centrists and moderates.  Some of them even sounded somewhat conservative in their attitudes about the economy, etc.  Now they come to Washington and into a House that will be lead by "the old guard" under the leadership of Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters, and others.  They have already indicated that their agenda will be to issue subpoena after subpoena against the President and the Administration.  They have indicated very little interest in working with the President to help better the plight of American citizens.  Americans don't want an impeachment, but they do want a solution to the immigration crisis and how our borders can be made more safe and secure.  Americans don't want Congress to conduct a "witch hunt," but they do want Congress to tackle the issue of healthcare.  Americans don't want litigation, they want legislation.  So, will these rookie House members stand up for those promises they made to their constituents that caused them to get elected, or will they buckle under the pressures of party loyalty and become mere pawns in the game being played?  If they will repudiate Nancy Pelosi and her team and take a stand for what they promised, then I believe our President will be able to work in a bipartisan way to accomplish great things for the American people. 


How interesting the world is becoming!  I believe God is in the final preparations before the stage is set for the entrance of the King.  How exciting will that day be!  Perhaps it will happen before this year draws to a close.  "Come, quickly, Lord Jesus."

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Postlude to The Election

Yesterday Americans turned out in record numbers for a midterm election.  Many incumbents were dealt a defeat; many new comers to politics experienced a victory.  Some of the races that were expected to be non-contested,, instead became nail-biters.  Still many of the races are too close to call.  Many will demand recounts, so the final results might be days and even weeks away.  But, the bottom line is this: the Republicans held on to the majority role in the United States Senate - with their margin of majority perhaps increasing; the Democrats regained the majority role in the United States House of Representatives, although by not as great a margin as first guessed. 


Once again our nation is faced with a divided government.  What will be the consequences?  As I have looked at the returns from last night, knowing that some of the races are yet to be decided, there seems to be two ways our government will be impacted.  First, the most negative one is that for the next two years there will be a stalemate with very little being accomplished.  We have seen periods of stalemate before and it has not been beneficial to anyone.  Could this occur once again?  The early indications are that it could easily move in this direction.  Friends, this stalemate or non-stalemate lies within the soon-to-be chosen leadership within the House.  The old-guard leaders quickly went on record that among the first things that they will do is to increase the investigation of President Trump, to subpoena mountains of administrative records.  It will be a House leadership team that will have as its focus the President. 


But, what will be the attitude of some of those first-time elected Representatives?  Many of them ran on a platform of helping their constituents.  Will they continue to affirm those words `of pledge delivered to the people, or will they quickly fall into the desires of the old-guard?  I will be watching closely as new leaders are chosen on both sides of the aisle to get a sense of whether there will be a stalemate or not.


The second result, and one that I certainly am hopeful will occur, is that the leadership of both the House and the Senate will sit down with the President and begin to work through many of the problems facing our nation.  The economy is strong, but how can it continue in that pathway of strength?  Immigration policies need to be changed with loop holes needing to be closed.  Will there even be a civil discussion about that issue?  Healthcare needs continued reforms; again, will civility prevail in those discussions?  Will the leaders in Washington realize the need to work on behalf of all Americans, or will they just follow the "party line?" 


I know that many Christians were praying diligently for this election.  Together we affirmed that God was in control.  So, what is our role now that the election is over?  What should we be doing?  First, and perhaps most importantly, we are to pray for those who have been elected.  The Apostle Paul write these instructions to Timothy: "First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:1-4).  I may not agree with those in positions of authority - I am pretty sure that the Apostle Paul did not affirm everything that the Roman Emperor Nero said and did - yet, I believe Paul prayed for him.  Should we not do the same?  Leaders are in those roles because of the will of God.  Again, I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul: "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.  The authorities that exist have been established by God" (Romans 13:1).  So, our first responsibility is to pray.


Secondly, I need to stay informed.  How can that be done today?  It seems that a person can no longer have confidence in a fair and balanced reporting from the mainstream media.  So, if I am going to be informed, then I need to go outside of the mainstream.  I can have direct communication with my senators and representatives, with my governor, with my mayor.  I can read from papers such as the Wall Street Journal which attempts at a more balanced approach in its news reporting.  There are many online news sources as well.  The better informed I am, the more focused I will be in my prayers. 


Another election has come and gone.  In a few weeks, the focus will be upon the 2020 presidential election.   Every election cycle is a celebration of the genius of our Founding Fathers.  A representative democracy is not a fail-safe method of governing; in fact, the only truly fail-safe government will occur when Jesus reigns upon His throne in Jerusalem.  But until that day, I am grateful to live in a nation where the voice of the people still can be heard. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Anti-Semitism Rears Its Ugly Head; What Can a Believer Do?

This past Saturday, a family gathered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh to celebrate a bris, a special service of the circumcision, in the case of a boy, and the naming of a Hebrew child.  This is a festive event with friends close to the family being invited.  That which was intended to be a time of celebration became instead a time of violence, bloodshed, and death.  Robert Gregory Bowers, a 46-year old man with a strong history of anti-Semitism, entered into the synagogue fully armed and opened fire upon those present.  Eleven people were murdered and six others were injured before the assailant was himself wounded in the exchange of gunfire with authorities.  Bowers told authorities that he "just wanted to kill Jews." 


What happened in Pittsburgh is the greatest massacre of Jews ever in the history of our nation.  And they were killed for no other reason than that they were Jews.  Over the years we have witnessed an increase in anti-Semitic acts in Europe, especially in France.  We have been led to believe that such targeted violence against Jews would not occur here.  But now it has.  In his article, published by The Patriot Post, Dennis Prager writes: "Anti-Semitism is exterminationist.  Anti-Semites don't just want to persecute, enslave or expel Jews; they want to kill them.  On Passover, Jews read the Haggadah, the ancient Jewish prayer book of the Passover Seder.  In it are contained these words: 'In every generation, they arise to annihilate us' - not 'persecute' us; not 'enslave' us; annihilate us.  So, when the murderer yelled, 'All Jews must die,' he encapsulated the uniqueness of anti-Semitism." (www.patriotpost.us/opinions/59150-the-pittsburgh-synagogue-anti-semitism-and-trump.)


Almost immediately the mainstream media placed the blame for this murderous event upon the shoulders of President Trump.  They cited President Trump's identifying himself as being a "nationalist."  According to the Webster's New World Compact School and Office Dictionary, "nationalism" is defined this way: "devotion to one's nation, patriotism."  So, in his interview with Laura Ingraham this past week, when asked about his use of the term "nationalist," President Trump responded with a dictionary definition - "I love my country."  Yet, what has happened is that the term "nationalist" has been commandeered by the media and is now identified with being a far-right white supremacist.  Now, that is not the way the dictionary defines the term, but it has become the way that culture has defined the term.  So, according to the mainstream media, when President Trump says he is a "nationalist" he is saying that he is a white-supremacist. 


Friends, I would love to share with President Trump that the definitions of words change.  For example, one has to be careful how one uses the word "gay" these days.  It used to mean "being joyous" but today it means being a homosexual.  It has changed in its meaning.  We now have to find alternatives to express the idea of what the term "gay" used to mean.  Perhaps, instead of saying "I am a nationalist," it would be better to say, "I am very patriotic."  It is indeed sad that we have come to that point in our cultural history that words need to be chosen carefully for what I intend by their meaning often is not what is heard by others.  I wrestle with that reality nearly every week as I prepare my sermon and teaching materials.  I knew what President Trump meant, but perhaps using the word "patriot" might have been less offensive. 


But this I do know, President Trump is not anti-Semitic.  If anything, he is the most strongly pro-Jewish, pro-Israeli president we have had since President Truman.  His moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem gave strong evidence the he is not anti-Semitic.  Here is what is very interesting: the mass murderer of the Jews worshiping at the Tree of Life synagogue was himself strongly anti-Trump.  He had expressed that he felt that President Trump was merely a pawn used by Israel. 


I have traveled extensively in Israel having visited that nation fourteen times.  I have cultivated relationships with several Israeli-Jews who have become friends.  I have watched with interest the politics of Israel change over the years, and I have observed their wars for survival.  Do I approve of every decision Israeli leaders make?  Of course not, no more than I approve of every decision our leaders make.  But I am continually drawn to those words of God to Abraham as found in Genesis 12: "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." 


As a follower of Jesus Christ, I must expose and oppose all forms of anti-Semitism.  Why?  First, because my Savior lived here upon this earth being raised in a Jewish home, ministered primarily among the Jewish people, and died as a Jewish rabbi.  Second, the Word of God which I proclaim each week was given to us primarily by Jewish authors.  The Bible is a Jewish book which shares with us God's plan for salvation and for abundant living.  Third, the Apostle Paul, writing in the eleventh chapter of his letter to the Romans, shares the truth that we, as Gentile believers, have been grafted into olive tree which is that of Israel. 


Friends, anti-Semitism will finally be destroyed when the King comes to claim His rightful throne in Jerusalem.  The great proponent of anti-Semitism, Satan himself, will be cast into the abyss.  The nations of the world will gather in Jerusalem to worship King Jesus.  What a remarkable day that will be!  But until that day occurs, I am challenged by Scripture to "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: 'May those who love you be secure.  May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.'  For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, 'Peace be within you.'  For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your prosperity." (Psalm 122:6-9).


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

An Invasion from the South and the Rule of Law

Two weeks from today we will be analyzing the results of one of the most contested and important midterm elections of my lifetime.  Not just the control of Congress but the direction of our country will be determined on November 6.  The ideologies separating the two political parties could not be more polar opposites.  The political pundits and prognosticators who had been so confident a few months ago of a massive "blue wave" are now quietly speaking of a possible narrow "blue" victory in the House and possible "red" gains in the Senate.  But the real polling is already taking place and will conclude on November 6.  Let me remind you of how important this election is on both a national and a local and state level.  Some of you live in states where governorships will be decided.  And each of us will be asked to choose a Representative for Congress and perhaps a Senator or two.  Take time to carefully study the positions your candidates take on the important issues of today: immigration, national security, economic well-being, etc.  Do your homework and then vote your choice.  This is not an election to sit on the sidelines and be uncommitted.  Too much is at stake.  So, take time to vote. 


Speaking of immigration, all eyes seem to be focused upon a growing "mob" of people walking through the corridors of Mexico.  Estimates are between 7,000 and 14,000 people in this main body of Central Americans who are walking to the southern border of the United States.  They come from Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Costa Rico.  From video footage, they are mainly men and women in their twenties and thirties, although I have noticed some "grandma and grandpa" types as well.  Included are many children - some accompanied by their parents or other family members, some are traveling alone. 


I am confident that many of those traveling have a story to share.  And, perhaps, many of those stories are legitimate ones.  Yes, they have lived under repressive regimes for many years.  Yes, they have endured a life of poverty, working hard just to eke out of meager living for themselves and their families.  Yes, many have lived in the shadow of a growing and often violent drug cartel and other gangs.  But many others within this group are coming in order to create chaos at the border.  Their stories have no legitimacy.  But how are the agents at the border to know which stories to believe?  That is the timely question. 


The timing of this "march" or "mob" however you want to describe it raises many questions.  How is it that all of a sudden thousands of Central Americans decided that they wanted to seek asylum in the United States?  Repressive regimes are not a new entity within Central American governments.  And why choose the weeks just before a major midterm election in the United States?  Could not this "march" have occurred last February or next January?  Who is providing food and water for all these thousands of people?  If they are coming with little finances of their own, somebody has to be feeding them?  Who is providing the medical treatment many of them have needed and will continue to need in their "march" to America?  Friends, a "march" of this magnitude does not simply happen spontaneously - a hundred people, possibly; seven thousands, absolutely not!  Someone has had to orchestrate and finance this "march."  And it is costing a lot of dollars to do so.  Perhaps it would have been better to simply give each person a $1000 and tell them to stay home. 


But, there is a method to someone's madness with this "march," or as one radio host calls it, "an invasion."  The ultimate purpose is NOT to better the lives of these people.  These people are mere pawns in a greater game.  The ultimate purpose is an assault upon the laws that protect the citizens of the United States.  Yes, we are a nation ruled by law.  I know that many within Congress would like to abolish the rule of law - except for those laws that benefit themselves.  If you listen carefully to their talk, they are for open borders - allow anyone to enter.  Abolish ICE so that we have no knowledge of who enters into our country nor of their intended purposes whether beneficial or nefarious.  Yet these people continue to live in their gated-communities.  They want to be protected from the same people they want to be allowed into our country. 


What is our President supposed to do?  His first responsibility is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.  And, as part of that Constitution and laws based upon that Constitution, there is a legitimate process that is to be followed if a person desires to be granted entrance into our country.  Our borders are never to be opened to an invasion.  President Trump has said that he will call for the military.  Constitutionally that is what he should do.  The borders need to be sealed.  Entry points need to be few in number.  Laws need to be enforced.  These people need to be processed, given forms that can be completed and given instructions about submitting those forms to the United States embassy and/or consulate, and then returned to their respective countries.  We would then have a clearer understanding of those who had legitimate desires to come to America. 


Some of you might say, "Well, Max, that seems unfair.  After all, they have walked for weeks to get here, and you will just tell them to turn around and walk back home?  That seems so cruel.  No, what was cruel was the promise given to these people that when they arrived at the American border they could cross over into our country.  All that promise provided was an empty hope.  If the organizers of this "march" truly cared about these people, they would have provided information to help them get into our country legitimately.  So, I believe it is not cruel to send them away.  And, suppose we do allow them to enter - as we seemingly do for thousands each you; what message does that send to those who chose to enter our country legally.  It is a "slap in the face" to them.  It creates a two-tier level of immigration. 


What should a Christian do?  First, we should pray for these people - many of whom simply need a reason to hope for tomorrow.  Pray that they would receive Jesus as their Savior, knowing that He alone can bring true hope.  Second, we can support those mission organizations who are already working in those Central American countries - teaching people life skills as well as the Gospel message.  Third, we can support Fair Market ministries.  Marlys and I recently visited the Ark Encounter in Kentucky (I will share about that experience another time, but let me just say it was "a WOW!" visit) and in their gift shop was a section titled Fair Market - a collection of products produced by people living in the third world. 


Friends, America has retained its leadership of the free world because it has retained its commitment to the values and laws enshrined within our Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  Adherence to those laws is what has made America great.  Now is not the time to deviate from them. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Israel and Hamas Poised on the Brink of War

The crisis between Israel and Hamas within the Gaza Strip seems near the "boiling over" point.  Tensions have been building since the border-fence riots began last March.  Dozens of Palestinians have been killed as the IDF has retaliated following attacks by Hamas rebels.  Thousands of acres of Israeli farm fields, pastures, and orchards have been scorched by the incendiary balloon and kites launched from Gaza into Israel's Negev communities.  The border crossings have often been closed because of violence that occurred there.  And, when the border crossings are closed, that means that the people living in Gaza are denied those supplies upon which they rely for survival.  But, when Israel does open those crossings, immediately they become the focal points of Hamas attacks.



In today's front page article of the Jerusalem Post, Prime Minister Netanyahu states that unless quiet is restored along the border with Gaza, "fearsome blows" would occur.  He did not detail what those "blows" would be, but it appears that Israel might launch another offensive into the Gaza Strip as they did several years ago.  The continued draining of the financial resources of the people living within the Gaza Strip by the leadership of Hamas certainly demonstrates that they have very little, if any, concern for the welfare of its citizens.  People are starving, but let's spend those dollars sent to us on bullets instead of beans.  Unemployment is high, but, instead of creating jobs that will benefit the welfare of all its citizens, people are told to stoke fires with tires, dig tunnels, and to create mayhem along the borders. 




In spite of the obvious fact, at least to many of us, that Hamas is the chief antagonist, the world continues to condemn Israel, with the Palestinian Authority leadership bringing Israel before the International Court on charges of "crimes against humanity."  If the charges were not so serious, they would seem ludicrous.  I find it fascinating that, when there are days with no Hamas-directed attacks against the frontier fence, the IDF merely monitors as they would any other part of the nation.  It is not the IDF that is stirring up conflict, but Hamas seeking to cause as much destruction and death as it possibly can.  Yet, I don't hear anyone declare about Hamas that it is guilty of "crimes against humanity." 




And the United Nations continues it assault upon the legitimacy of Israel as a nation.  Last Wednesday, the PX Commission of the Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, better known as UNESCO, adopted a resolution that declared the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem to be an integral part of the Palestinian Territory.  I find this to be a resolution based, not upon history, but upon political bias.  The cave of Machpelah in Hebron, was purchased by Abraham from the Hittites to be used for a burial place for his wife Sarah.  Subsequently Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Leah, and finally Jacob were all buried here.  Friends, the history of a Hebrew presence in Hebron goes back nearly four millenniums.  Centuries later, Hebron was given as an inheritance to Caleb who drove out its giants.  The city became one of the Levitical Cities, even being a City of Refuge.  The earliest known Muslim presence in Hebron did not occur until the 7th century AD - some 2700 years after the time of Abraham.  Yet, somehow in the minds of the leadership of UNESCO, Hebron is a Palestinian Historical Site. 




According to an article published on the United with Israel website, "Israel has long criticized the anti-Israel bias within UNESCO, where Israel and its allies are far outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters.  Since 2009, UNESCO has passed 71 resolutions condemning Israel and only two resolutions against all other countries combined."  (www.unitedwithisrael.org/unesco-again-attempts-to-steal-Israeli-heritage-with-lies-and-biases.)




Last year United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Nicki Halley, withdrew the United States from UNESCO citing its increasingly growing anti-Semitism.  (She will be sorely missed as an advocate for our nation and for Israel in the United Nations).  Israel is in the process of withdrawing from UNESCO as well. 




Prime Minister Netanyahu declared that "UNESCO must top the absurdity of passing resolutions which deny the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, between the Jewish people and our eternal capital Jerusalem.  No matter what UNESCO says, the Western Wall is not occupied Palestinian territory and the Cave of the Patriarchs - the burial site of Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah - is not a Palestinian Heritage Site."  On those two issues, the Prime Minister is absolutely correct. 


President Trump has stated that he has developed a plan for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.  His plan has not yet been made public.  Is it a workable plan?  President Trump has declared before the world that he recognizes Jerusalem as the historical, undivided capital of the states of Israel.  The Israeli leaders have categorically stated that the issue of the return of Palestinian refugees is a non-starter for them.  To grant such a request would be tantamount to the destruction of the Jewish State.  And Israel would certainly strongly object to having any Palestinian State become an armed one.  You had to have traveled in Israel in order to understand why Israel would make this demand.  The very survival of Israel would depend upon an unarmed Palestinian state.  So, there are not a lot of substantive issues remaining upon which to broker a deal for a two-state solution. 


Friends, I am convinced that there will always be unrest in the Middle East until, first the antichrist comes and declares a time of pseudo-peace in the region which will last for a brief time.  Then he will declare his true intentions and conflict on a scale unseen before will be unleashed in the Middle East.  True peace will only come when The Prince of Peace returns to establish His Kingdom.  And oh what a day that will be.  Perhaps it will occur soon!  Hallelujah!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A New Justice and a New Hurricane

Over the weekend Judge Kavanaugh became Associate Justice Kavanaugh.  But the final decision was wrought with drama.  In spite of an FBI report, which the Democrats had aggressively sought and for which Senator Flake (R-AZ) had requested, that showed there was no corroborative evidence for the allegation that Dr. Ford had brought, the minority party was still not satisfied.  They now yelled that the FBI had not done an adequate job.  But, you can only go as far as the evidence will direct you, and, in this case, there simply was no evidence.  Would the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh be stopped because of unsubstantiated allegations?  The fate of that decision would be decided by the vote of three senators: Collins (R-ME), Flake (R-AZ), and Manchin (D-WV).  Senator Collins, on Friday afternoon, made an impassioned speech in which she affirmed her "yes" vote on the confirmation.  Almost immediately she became the target of the aggressive hatred from the Left.  Senator Collins speech was based upon her belief that a man should not be convicted if there was no evidence to substantiate the charges brought against him.  In fact, Senator Collins spoke in favor of what the United States Constitution declares: a man is innocent until he is proven guilty. 


On Saturday afternoon we witnessed an historic vote.  Judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to sit on the highest court in the land - the United States Supreme Court.  With his confirmation, the Supreme Court has a conservative majority.  This will be a Court that will NOT be inclined to make law, but merely to interpret law.  It is a Court that will ask the question: what was the original intent of the framers of the Constitution.  And with that the Court will be in the place where the framers originally intended it to be. 


I have had people come to me and say that now Roe v. Wade will be overturned.  Friends, I highly doubt that will happen.  If one studies the rulings of the Supreme Court it is very adverse to overturning precedent-setting cases, even if those cases really were bad rulings.  The Dred Scott Decision, perhaps one of the worst rulings ever from a Supreme Court, was not overturned.  Roe v. Wade will not be either.  But, I believe the Court will be more inclined to listen to arguments that might restrict some of the latitude we have seen with recent Roe v. Wade type cases.  There are many interesting and important cases the Court will be hearing in this Fall Session.  Justice Kavanaugh will not have the opportunity to crawl into a corner and just listen.  No, his positions will soon become evident. 


But this is what grieves me - the hostility and hatred shown by the Left and by the mainstream media toward those who voted for this confirmation.  Emails threatening beheadings have been sent to family members of the Senators.  Vicious verbal assaults have been unleashed upon Senators when in public.  Friends, these actions are simply un-American and totally unacceptable.  Yes, we can have disagreements.  Yes, we can choose sides on issues.  But we do NOT have the right to incite riots or to threaten bodily harm to those who disagree with us. 


We are now just four weeks away from the most important midterm election of my lifetime.  The stakes could not be any higher.  The control of the House of Representatives and the Senate are prizes that both parties are eagerly seeking.  Positions of leadership on both the state and local levels are to be determined.  Here in the State of Minnesota we are electing a governor and two United States Senators.  This is not a time when Christians are to sit at home indifferent to what is happening.  This is the time to study the candidates and the issues.  Then, on November 6, it is time to go to the polling places and vote your conscience. 


I want to close with a prophetic weather update.  A 7.2 earthquake with its accompanying tsunami takes the lives of over 1200 people in Indonesia.  One of the strongest cyclones in history brings destruction to the Philippines, Hong Kong, and into China.  Hurricane Floyd left a path of devastation across the Carolinas.  Now Hurricane Michael, one of the strongest storms to hit the northeast coast of Florida in years, is poised to strike.  Portions of the Midwest have been drenched with multi-day rain events.  Rivers are swollen and flooding has become almost inevitable.  Now, we can either blame all these events on climate change, or we can say that God is trying to get our attention that time is running out.  I prefer to believe the latter.  I believe the natural world is probably more conscious of the imminent return of Jesus than are most people.  The Apostle Paul, in Romans 8, proclaims that the creation groans awaiting its redemption.  Seems to me that the groaning is getting louder and louder.  I think this planet is getting excited because its King is soon to come! 


It is time for us to "wake up" from our slumber and apathy.  It is time for us to put on the whole armor of God.  It is time for us to get back into the front lines of the struggle for the souls of lost men and women, teenagers, and boys and girls.  Time is running out...it's time to get going for Jesus!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Why Are People Leaving the Church Today? Two Viewpoints.

It appears that the FBI is nearing the end of its investigation of the allegations made against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanagh.  The findings of the FBI should prove to be interesting as the foundations for these allegations appear to be crumbling - filled with inconsistencies and still lacking corroboration.  It appears, at least from reports from several news sources, that the confirmation vote will occur probably on Saturday.  As people will look back upon this nomination they will certainly discover that this was NOT one of America's finest moments.  It can only be hoped that what happened with this nomination is not setting a trend for future nominations not only to the Supreme Court but to other governmental appointments. 


Last week two articles came across my desk.  One was an editorial, written by Ron Way who lives in Edina, MN, that was published in the September 23 edition of the "StarTribune."  The editorial was titled, "What Churches Get Wrong [and how to repopulate them]."  The second was an article, written by Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Ministries located in Georgia, that was published by Fox News.  It was titled, "Five reasons people leave the church."  This article can be found at: www.foxnews.com/opinions/2018/09/23/five-reasons-people-leave-church


Both Mr. Way and Pastor Stanley are looking at the growing concern of people leaving American churches today.  As Mr. Way looks at the churches of today he describes the scene of abandonment by many this way: "Sure, folks are busy.  But there's something more basic: The church, broadly, has been hijacked by TV scammers, narrow-interest evangelicals and unending sex scandal.  Too, the church has largely stuck with Sunday school scripture by anecdote and has failed to remain relevant to society's altered priorities.  Frankly, the institutional church has itself to blame.  In a period of social divide and gathering doubts, it's a bit puzzling why so many mainline churches seem mired in orthodoxy and creedal dogma that take us on Sunday morning jaunts through antiquity before sending us out and into today."  Later in the editorial he would write, "Mainline churches too often take the Bible wildly out of context, spread misinformation (no, Jesus did not oppose gay marriage, and it was Romans, not Jews, who crucified Jesus as a Galilean insurrectionist), and insist the Bible was divinely inspired.  As more people peeked behind the curtain as I did, they see a church tied to ancient myth while missing the larger messages for today."  One of Mr. Way's criticisms of the church is that it is "mired" in the scriptures.  He states that is one of the problems that is causing people to leave the church. 


But is proclaiming the Scriptures really the problem?  I am presently teaching a class here at my church on Church History.  It has been a fascinating journey filled with those moments of "Wow! can you believe that!" to moments of "You have got to be kidding."  And yet the Bible was proclaimed.  But something was wrong then, and something is wrong today.  The Bible was preached but it was never made relevant to the needs of the people.  The Bible was proclaimed in a sterile environment.  People never made the connection between what the Bible said and how it was to be lived out in their very lives.  


Furthermore, if the Bible is simply a collection of ancient myths, legends, and fables, as Mr. Way contends, then how can it purport to be relevant to our lives today.  I can read the stories of the ancient Babylonian legends but find no connection between those stories and real life today.  I can read the ancient stories that were a part of the Egyptian history, but again, find no connection between those stories and real life today.  So, if I only believe the Bible to be a collection of myths and legends, then it follows that I really cannot make a relevant connection between those stories and the world in which my congregation and I live.  My understanding of the Bible creates the framework for my proclamation of the Bible.  


But, what if the Bible really does relate to us God's Story?  What if the Bible really does tell us of actual people, living in an actual time period, and facing actual problems and difficulties in life?  If those are true, then the Bible takes on a relevancy for life today. 


So, as I read Mr. Way's editorial I was affirmed with two truths.  First, I affirmed that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired, infallible, authoritative Word of God.  I affirmed that God created the heavens and the earth.  I affirmed that God appeared to Moses in a burning bush.  I affirmed that fire fell from heaven when Elijah prayed.  I affirmed that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin and that He died upon a cross and rose three days later from the dead.  Basically I affirmed that the Bible is true!  Second, I affirmed that I MUST proclaim Biblical truth and make it relevant to the times in which we live.  It was not just good enough for the prophets to say "thus says the Lord" to their generation, but they MUST say "thus says the Lord" to our generation.  So, as much as I struggled with many of Mr. Way's points, I have to say that I believe he had a strong point to make and I appreciated the reminder.


Andy Stanley approached this topic of people leaving the church from a different viewpoint.  He states in his article, "Many people see Christianity as anti-intellectual, overly simplistic, and easily discredited.  For decades, college professors with biases against religion have found Christian freshmen easy targets.  Much of what makes American Christianity so resistible to those outside the faith are things we should have been resisting all along.  While many of us have been working hard to make church more interesting, it turns out that fewer people are actually interested."  He then proceeds to share five reasons why people are leaving the church. 


"1.  We tell people that the Bible is the basis of Christianity."  I must confess that I struggled with this thought.  Yet, the more I pondered what Dr. Stanley was saying, the more I had to agree with Him.  Yes, we need to hold the Bible up as our standard of Truth, but the Bible must never replace our focus upon Jesus Christ.  For He alone is the true basis for our faith. 


"2.  They believe suffering disproves the existence of God. ... But the foundation of our faith is not a world without suffering.  Pain and suffering don't disprove the existence of God.  It only disproves the existence of a god who doesn't allow pain and suffering."


"3.  They had a bad church experience."  I have witnessed this many times over the 46-plus years I have been in the ministry.  Those bad experiences are not easily forgotten or overcome.


"4.  We're bad at making people feel welcome. ... It wasn't just his message that made Jesus irresistible.  It was Jesus himself.  People who were nothing like him, liked him.  And Jesus liked people who were nothing like him.  Jesus invited unbelieving, misbehaving, troublemaking men and women to follow him and to embrace something new, and they accepted his invitation." 


"5.  We made 'ekklesia' (the church) a building. ... 'Ekklesia' was not, and is not, a religious term.  It does not mean church or house of the Lord.  It certainly shouldn't be associated with a temple.  The term was used widely to describe a gathering, assembly, civic gatherings, or an assemble of soldiers.  Or as was the case in Acts 19, an assembly of rioting idol manufacturers.  An 'ekklesia' was a gathering of people for a specific purpose.  Any specific purpose.  It's not a building.  It's not a physical location.  It's a group of people.  It's a lot easier to stop showing up at a place than it is to disconnect from a group of people who intimately know, love, and support each other."


Two writers, each looking at the decline of the American Church but through differing lenses.  Yet there is much we can learn from each viewpoint.  I appreciate the way Dr. Stanley closed his article: "If we want people to stop leaving the church - if we want Christianity to be irresistible again to the world - then maybe it's time to take another look at the movement Jesus started 2,000 years ago."  To that I would say a rousing "Amen!" 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A Brazen Attack upon the Constitution by the Left

Tomorrow the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a special meeting to question Dr. Christina Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh.  Dr. Ford has alleged that, while in high school some three decades ago, she was sexually assaulted by Judge Kavanaugh.  Those whom she has recalled being present at the time of the alleged assault do not themselves recall being there.  There is no corroborative witnesses; there is no corroborative evidence.  To date Dr. Ford has not been placed under oath to share here story; that being placed under oath is to occur tomorrow.  I am grateful that Dr. Ford will have this opportunity, as will Judge Kavanaugh. 


But here is where my anger kicks in, friends.  Why is the burden of proof being placed upon Judge Kavanaugh to show his innocence?  Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said, "We have a constitutional duty to get to the bottom of these allegations.  They are serious and credible.  And now, the person with the most knowledge about them, namely, Judge Brett Karanaugh, has a responsibility to come forward with evidence to rebut them."  Really!  You have to be kidding!  This is not the way our judicial system has worked so well these many years.  In American jurisprudence, a person is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. I have watched enough Perry Mason and Matlock shows to know that a client always enters a plea of "not guilty."  That is his/her constitutional privilege.  The burden of proof rests upon the prosecutor with the presentation of evidence to support the accusation, and only then, does the burden of proof rest upon the defense team to refute that evidence and to enter additional evidence in support of the accused.


Yet, even with the complete lack of any evidence to support her allegations, the Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have fully believed her story.  The mainstream media members have trumpeted her story as if it was the only story worth knowing.  And, if polls are to be believed, a growing number of Americans have believed the mainstream media reports and believed Dr. Ford rather than Judge Kavanaugh.  The clamor is for the FBI to investigate these allegations.  But what is the FBI to investigate?  No criminal complaint was ever filed by Dr. Ford after the alleged assault.  No threats were ever lodged against Dr. Ford by Judge Kavanaugh over the years.  There is no evidence to even warrant an investigation.  The reason for the continued clamoring for an FBI investigation is simply to delay the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh to a seat on the United States Supreme Court.


What adds to my anger of what is happening is that those who want an FBI investigation are those who have already said they fully believe Dr. Ford's story and have been on public record as opposing Judge Kavanaugh's nomination since it occurred in July.  It would make no difference to them to have an investigation by the FBI and to have as its final report that Judge Kavanaugh was never involved in this alleged incident; they would not change their vote.  Yes, they have the right to vote no.  That right is accorded to them under the Constitution of the United States.  But, those who desire to vote yes also have a constitutional right to do so.  Right now, that right is being impeded. 


I have not heard Senator Feinstein request those 65 women, who have worked alongside of Judge Kavanaugh and have known him these many years, to come and testify.  Sixty-five women - that is a significant number who have knowledge of the character and conduct of Judge Kavanaugh.  But, does their testimony count for anything?  Of course not because those women's stories do not agree with the outcome Senator Feinstein and her allies desire: the derailing of this nomination.  Friends, if you are going to request testimonial evidence - which, right now, in this case, is basically hearsay evidence as there is a lack of physical evidence - then seek the complete testimonial evidence.  Yes, invite Dr. Ford and those one or two others who have allegedly come forward with accusations.  But also invite as many of those 65 other women to testify as are able to come and do so.  That is the American way of jurisprudence.  But sadly it seems to be lacking in this case. 


Ultimately, friends, this is a Constitutional matter.  On Monday night, Tucker Carlson, a Fox Channel news host, shared a monologue which appeared in written form on Tuesday.  This monologue can be found at: www.foxnews.com/opinion/2018/09/25/tucker-carlson-kavanaugh-chaos-if-youre=republican-may-be-wondering-why-should-bother-to-vote.   This is an article that every American needs to read.  It is alarming!  Allow me to share five brief sentences from Mr. Tucker's monologue: "If the Bill of Rights doesn't apply to Brett Kavanaugh, it probably doesn't apply to you, either. ... It's not just Kavanaugh under assault.  Elected officials have announced they no longer believe in our Western understanding of justice.  There's no precedent for that.  It's stunning."


Last week, Thomas Gallatin wrote an editorial that was published by the Patriot Post.  It is found at: www.patriotpost.us/articles/58294-democrats-assault-the-constitution-over-kavanaugh.  This is another highly recommended article to be read.  Mr. Gallatin writes: "Democrats' calls to immediately halt the confirmation vote on Kavanaugh in order to investigate this allegation undermine the very spirit of the Constitution and the American judicial system.  The foundational concept of 'innocent until proven guilty' is what has made the U.S. justice system the envy of the world.  Democrats are pushing the dangerously flaws concept of assuming guilt based solely on the seriousness of the accusation and then demanding that the accused prove his innocence.  Make no mistake, this is an assault on the Constitution - and today is, ironically, Constitution Day."


So, what can we do as Christians?  It is time that we join hands in praying for that Senate Judiciary Committee hearing tomorrow.  To pray for Senator Grassley as he chairs that committee.  For Judge Kavanaugh and his family as they endure another day of accusations.  For Judge Kavanaugh to be open and transparent with the committee members.  And that a decision will be reached, not based upon a political mindset, but upon the truth that is revealed.  I invite you to join with me in prayer tomorrow morning as these hearings begin.  God is still in control.  And I know His purposes will be accomplished.  Thanks for praying. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Whatever Happened to Innocent Until Proven Guilty?

I am leaving for a conference in Greensboro, NC tomorrow morning so decided to get my blog out early this week.  The conference several of the leaders from our church are attending is a D6 Conference.  D6 stands for Deuteronomy 6, a passage that refers to the challenge to parents to disciple their own children.  I am looking forward to going and being challenged to help do just that with many of the families within my congregation. 


I am not sure how you are responding to the events surrounding the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court, but I have become angry in my spirit.  I can almost imagine what that special Judiciary Committee hearing on Monday will be like.  It will be partisan and contentious.  Angry voices will be heard.  Diatribes will be offered by senators.  Dialogue will be absent and decorum not present.  This has all the bearings of the 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill. 


This entire last-minute desperation act by Senator Feinstein is just that - desperation.  She has known of this story since last July.  She had numerous opportunities to address this alleged act with Judge Kavanaugh both in private conversations as well as during the public hearings.  But she said nothing until the hearings were over.  Then she brings out this alleged "smoking gun."  Why?  Because she saw that Judge Kavanaugh had conducted himself with decorum and class during the confirmation hearings.  He did not become argumentative.  He held firmly to his beliefs that a judge should not make law, only interpret law according to the dictates of the Constitution.  She and her Democratic allies had to do something to derail this man from serving on the Court. 


Here is what is so sad to me and what makes me angry in my spirit.  Judge Kavanaugh has been tried and found guilty in the eyes of many of the members of the Senate and in the eyes of the media.  To listen to the mainstream media, Judge Kavanaugh should withdraw his name from consideration, not withstanding his own assertions of innocence.  According to the Constitution, a person is presumed to be innocent until he or she is found to be guilty.  This has been the legal discourse that has made the American system of jurisprudence so special.  But that discourse does not apply in the case with Judge Kavanaugh it would seem. 


Friends, aren't you glad that somehow in the process of life we finally do grow up.  We are not what we once were.  I think of those stories of our heroes from the Bible.  Take Abraham for example.  Because of fear he placed his wife in a difficult place not once but twice.  We almost could accuse Abraham of spousal abuse today because of that.  Yet God gave some powerful promises to Abraham.  Take David as another example.  David was the king, yet he violated God's commands by having an adulterous relationship with not just another man's wife, but the wife of one of his closest advisors and friends; then having that friend put in a position within a battle where he would knowingly be killed.  Yet God gave to David the promise of an eternal throne.  Let's look at another example, this time from the New Testament.  How about Peter: impulsive, impetuous, a denier of his Lord.  Yet God uses Peter to become the leader of the Church. 


If each of these men were living today and were being considered for a leadership role each would probably be denied not because of something "allegedly" done in their past, but knowingly done.  I can hear the voices of the confirmation hearings on Abraham challenging him on why he abused his wife by putting her into harms way.  Perhaps David might be excused for his sexual indiscretions because, after all, we have had experience of Presidents doing something very similar. 


People can change and I am eternally grateful for that powerful truth.  God changes people's lives.  If one would carefully examine the life of Judge Kavanaugh with care, one will notice that he has a strong record of moral decency and community service that is impeccable.  Many are those who would come forward to substantiate his decency as a man, as a husband, as a father, and as a judge.  This is who he is.  And it is upon this fact that the confirmation of this man either rises or falls. 


I will be praying that truth will be revealed at those hearings on Monday.  That there will be civility in the dialogue.  That the United States Senate will rediscover the roots that have made it the august body that it has been historically.  That at the close of those hearings there will be clarity on how to move forward.  And I know you will join me in that prayer.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Of Weather, the Palestinians, and Nike

This is beginning to look like it will be a very active hurricane season for both the Atlantic and Pacific regions as well as the Caribbean coastlines.  As Hurricane Florence continues its migration toward the regions of Coastal Carolina, gaining strength with each surpassing hour, two other hurricanes are forming in the Atlantic, and a strong low-pressure system is forming in the Caribbean that might impact the Texas coast.  Meanwhile Hawaii is being threatened with its third hurricane of the season: Hector, Lane, and now Olivia.  It is almost as if the storms are lining up on both coasts just taking turns in causing devastation.


Then there are the increase in the frequency of earthquakes, such that they are hardly reported in the news any longer.  It almost takes a catastrophic quake to make the major news sources.  Then I saw a picture of giraffes standing in snow as a almost-unheard-of snowfall occurred in Africa.  It seems the weather patterns are following a path that is less than normal.  I keep returning to those words of Jesus to His disciples as they asked about the end of days.  He said that there would be earthquakes and famines in diverse places.  And I remember reading the Apostle Paul's words to the Roman believers about how creation moans awaiting its redemption (see Romans 8).  There seems to be a lot of moaning taking place right now, and it is growing in its intensity. 


There are two news stories that I want to focus upon this week.  The first is the decision that the Trump Administration made on Monday to close the offices of the Palestine Liberation Organization, also known as the PLO, in Washington, DC.  Two reasons were given for its closure.  First, the failure on the part of the Palestinian Leadership to participate in meaningful negotiations with the Israelis seeking to finalize some type of two-state solution.  Second, the continued threat of the PLO to take Israel before the International Criminal Court (the ICC) and charge them with war crimes because of the actions in the conflict with Hamas in Gaza.  Neither the United States nor Israel recognize the existence of the ICC.


In addition the United States has moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thus recognizing that city as the capital of Israel.  The United States has severely reduced its funding to UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency) which has overseen the care of those Palestinian refugees since the 1948 war of independence.  This follows the drastic cuts in funding given to the Palestinian Authority itself.  That number of refugees has grown from nearly 700,000 in 1948 to over 5 million today.  And days ago the United States cut its funding for hospitals in East Jerusalem.  It is the hope that such financial cuts would bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table in good faith.  Instead the response from PLO leadership has been defiance and determination to proceed with their case against Israel in the ICC. 


I was asked recently my response to these decisions by the Trump State Department leaders.  I have applauded the move of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem.  Friends, it should have been done years  before, but everyone thought that such a move might be the catalyst for World War III.  Well, now that it has been done, we are not in that type of war.  And I have applauded the drastic cuts in American taxpayer dollars going to a Palestinian leadership that rewards those who kill Israelis.  And I applaud the continued pressure - both financially and diplomatically - being placed upon Palestinian President Abbas in order for him to see the reality of the world in which he lives.  Will these actions bring the intended consequence?  I guess only time will tell.  Israel is certainly not a perfect state filled with perfect leaders, but then again neither is the United States - if the stories we hear coming out of Washington are correct.  But Israel has always been our closest and most dependable ally in that stormy region of the world.  I saw a T-shirt while in Israel this past spring that read: "Don't worry America, Israel has your back."  Do we have Israel's back?  For the present moment, I think it is safe to say that we do.


The second story is one that truly grieves me.  It is the decision that the leadership at Nike made to have Colin Kaepernick be the spokesman for their "Just Do It" campaign.  Colin Kaepernick was the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers a few years ago.  He had a fleeting moment of glory, then his flower began to fade.  Last year, Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee in protest as the national anthem was being played.  Soon other NFL players joined with him in this protest against cruelty by police departments across our country toward blacks.  Football fans were caught in this storm of protest.  Attendance at NFL games began to plunge.  Television ratings dropped like lead sinkers on the end of a fish line.  Talk show hosts pontificated over the merits and demerits of what these Colin Kaepernick inspired players were doing.  Many felt that such a protest against the American flag was almost a sacrilege to those who fought and died defending that flag and the nation it represented. 


In spite of these strong feelings on the part of average Americans, Nike announced that Colin Kaepernick would be the face of the new "Just Do It" campaign.  In the commercial, Mr. Kaepernick says, "Believe in something.  Even if it means sacrificing everything."  I ask myself this question: What has Mr. Kaepernick sacrificed?  He is presently unemployed, which may say more about his football skills than about his protest.  When I heard that statement, friends, I wanted to say to him, "Mr. Kaepernick, if you want to know what it means to sacrifice everything, then let me take you to any of the national cemeteries that dot the American landscape.  Let's begin at Arlington.  Mr. Kaepernick, there are rows and rows and more rows of crosses that mark the graves of those who truly sacrificed everything.  Mr. Kaepernick, let me show you those opening scenes from that incredible movie 'Saving Private Ryan' as American forces hit the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.  Now that is sacrificing everything.  Mr. Kaepernick, if you feel you need to protest, then choose a different way than desecrating our nation's flag and its national anthem.  For as that national anthem so pointedly proclaims: 'This star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.'" 


The leaders at Nike have every right to select whom they desire to be their spokes person.  But I applaud those schools that have chosen to no longer use the Nike brand as the athletic wear of their choice.  And I agree with the letter from the National Association of Police Organizations and their president Michael McHale asking their members to boycott all Nike products. 


One final item worthy of news is the release of photographs and an accompanying story that trumpeted the appearance of the red-heifer in Israel.  This calf has been fully authenticated and certified by Jewish rabbis as being a fully red-heifer.  This is a major story as it relates to the last days.  According to Number 19, a red heifer was sacrificed and its ashes were mixed with water to form the agent that would purify those articles used within the tabernacle.  According to the news source, a red heifer has not been born for the past 2000 years.  If this calf truly is the red heifer, that means that the Jewish religious leaders have an animal which can be sacrificed and then burned, with those ashes being used to purify those implements for use in the third temple; which, by the way, are now completely built - I have seen them with my own eyes while in Jerusalem.  With the birth of this red heifer we are one step closer to the return of the Lord Jesus.  And I will say a full and loud "Amen!" to that. 


And to my Jewish friends I do want to wish you a "shana tova" as the new year begins. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

A Congressional Brawl and a Conflicted Church

Yesterday confirmation hearings for President Trump's nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to be an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court began.  Even before the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Senator Charles Grassley, could gavel the hearing's beginning, several Democratic senators boisterously demanded that the hearings be halted because of the lack of sufficient time to read the documents representing Judge Kavanaugh's extensive judicial portfolio.  Yet more documentation has been provided about Judge Kavanaugh than any other Supreme Court appointment in American history.  And, those that requested even more information were senators who had already gone on record as opposing Judge Kavanaugh's confirmation. 


But, as I watched some of the video from that opening day, what grieved my heart was the complete lack of civility within that hearing room.  Seventy people were arrested by Capital Hill Police because of unlawful demonstrations.  The vitriol became so intense that Judge Kavanaugh's wife had to usher their two daughters from the hearing room in order to spare them from hearing what was being said about her husband and their father.  How sad that at a moment in which a family should take incredible pride, there will only be memories of slanderous words being used against those girls' father.  What an image of American democracy at work - or should I say, a failure of that democracy to work as the Founding Fathers envisioned it.


Yes, there is a need for a hearing on this appointment.  Yes, there is a strong need to have dialogue on the issues.  But, Americans today have forgotten how to have a dialogue.  But we certainly have lots of practice in having arguments complete with vicious slander and name-calling.  We have created a society where "I am right and you are wrong" becomes the dominant theme.  We no longer listen with open minds or open hearts because our minds and hearts are already cemented in what we believe to be right.  Truth is no longer applicable as there is no longer an absolute standard of truth.


We hear arguments that Judge Kavanaugh's confirmation will mean the end of Roe v. Wade.  But Judge Kavanaugh has made it abundantly clear in previous decisions that he strongly holds to legal precedent.  That means that Roe v. Wade will not suddenly disappear under the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh any more than it did under the confirmations of Judges Thomas, Roberts, and Alito.  The threat of overthrowing Roe v. Wade simply does not hold water any longer. 


Hearings continue through the remainder of this week.  One can only imagine the intense grilling this man will have to endure before he is confirmed.  After watching a portion of yesterday's Congressional brawl, I wonder who, in their right mind, would want to be a public servant?  Oh the depths to which America has plunged. 


There is a second momentous event that is shaking the foundations of American beliefs.  This concerns the continued exposure of decades of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.  I read a fascinating article in the National Review, written by David French, and published on August 27.  It is titled, "Protestants Should Care Deeply about the Catholic Catastrophe."  Allow me to quote a few paragraphs from this article:


"As I watch the crisis engulfing the Catholic Church, an analogy one of my pastors once made comes to mind.  It will likely make some of my Catholic friends uncomfortable, but it's helpful for understanding the way many Protestants view the larger body of Christ, the 'Holy Catholic Church' of the Apostles' Creed, so here goes: The Church is like a navy, a collection of ships united in purpose and in destination.  Each denomination is like a different ship in that navy, and while each crew is primarily tasked with the health and well-being of its own vessel, it's also deeply invested in the strength of the fleet.  Each vessel is more vulnerable as the fleet weakens.  Each vessel is stronger surrounded by its protective armada.


"If the analogy holds, then one of the mightiest battleships in the fleet, the Catholic Church, is taking torpedoes left and right.  It's now rocked by allegations of wrongdoing that go all the way to the Vatican, to the pope himself. .... Protestants cannot and must not view these events with a kind of detachment or distance, for numerous reasons.


"First, we cannot forget that each and every revelation of abuse is the revelation of a life-altering (and sometimes life-shattering) event for the victim and a faith-crippling moment for friends, family, and countless others.  Second, given the plethora of recent sexual scandals in Evangelical churches and seminaries, the Catholic catastrophe should remind us that perhaps only the lack of an equivalent hierarchy has spared Evangelical churches from similar, systemic sin.  'Our' scandals are more fragmented only because our churches are more fragmented.  Yet the entire church should be galvanized by what's happened and diligently consider the extent to which our own congregations are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.


"Third, reputational harm to the church can sweep far and wide - well beyond the guilty parties themselves.  No one should presume that in an increasingly secular world our fellow citizens can so easily discern the good guys and the bad guys.


"Finally, and critically, there are immense theological stakes for the larger church.  While condemnation of child abuse is universal, the recent spate of claims of consensual sex between two priests or between priests and other adults is leading once again to confrontation along the old fault lines, between traditionalists and those who seek greater 'inclusion.'"


David French concludes his article with these words: "It's fashionable for modern Christians to slide past the Old Testament and linger on the New.  But as secular and religious institutions collapse around us, it's hard to escape the feeling that we live in a period of Old Testament-style rebellion against God.  Our Catholic cathedrals and suburban mega-churches alike are shot-through with the same sins that pollute the world.  None of us has the luxury of believing 'our' institutions are safe or that 'our side' of the Christian divide has adequately guarded itself against the demonic spirit that stalks the land.  Ships in the Christian armada are ablaze.  We must not simply sail on and leave them to their fate."


Friends, Jesus admonished His disciples that there were to be "wise as serpents and harmless as doves."  Yet He also stated that "the gates of hell would not prevail against the church."  Jesus never promised that the Church would have an easy road.  Since its inception on that Day of Pentecost so many years ago, it has been the recipient of Satan's broadsides.  Yet we have this sure and certain promise from the Savior Himself - "in the world you will have tribulations, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world."  This does not mean that we can be apathetic about what is happening around us.  Instead it means that we need to guard with more diligence and care those foundational truths that have been entrusted to us (see Jude 3).  Yes, we are in a war...but we know how the war ends!  Hallelujah for that great truth!