Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Thoughts for Holy Week

This is one of the most sacred of weeks in the Christian calendar - a week in which we at least pause, if not come to a complete stop, and remember the suffering and death of our Savior.  And, for our Jewish friends, Saturday will make the first day of Pesach or Passover - a time of remembrance of God's miraculous sparing of their lives moments before they left the slavery of Egypt behind; yet remembering also the sacrifice of an innocent lamb whose blood was applied to the door frames of homes, thus sparing them from the ravages of death.  Jesus Christ was the ultimate sacrifice - as we hear those words from John the Baptist: "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" 

I know that there are a lot of news stories I could cover this week - and they are important stories that impact our lives.  But I want to focus our thoughts for a few moments on Holy Week.  Perhaps it is because I had the privilege Sunday of preaching the "Servant Songs" in Isaiah that I am conscious of the events in those final days and hours of Christ's life. 

The physical suffering of Jesus almost overwhelms our souls.  No other person has suffered as did Jesus.  His was a violent death that came as a consequence of hatred being poured out upon Him.  The Jewish leadership truly hated Jesus.  They hated His person.  They hated His actions.  They hated His words.  So, when Jesus surrendered to their authority, that hatred was heaped upon Jesus.  Isaiah portrays that hatred with these words: "I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting" (Isaiah 50:6).  And that was just the beginning.  The Gospel writers tell us that Pilate had Jesus flogged - an act of violence that often led to death.  A whip with pieces of glass and iron and stone was lashed across the back, but often the thongs would wrap around a person's chest and waist.  The glass pieces would cut deeply tearing away the flesh, often exposing the deep muscular structure and even internal organs.  Friend, the miracle was that Jesus survived that flogging. 

Suffering from acute blood loss and dehydration, Jesus was forced to carry the cross-beam to the place of execution.  His physical strength was nearing the point of complete exhaustion.  Jesus stumbled and fell and so another was commanded to carry the cross piece for Him.  Arriving at Golgatha, the hands and feet of Jesus was nailed to the cross - the Romans doing it in such a manner to create the most excruciating pain imaginable.  And then the cross was hoisted into place, dropping with a thud into the hole.  When that occurred the shoulders separated creating even more pain. 

Friends, Isaiah states something about the appearance of Jesus upon the cross that staggers us: "Just as many were appalled (a better translation of this word is "shocked") at him - his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness" (Isaiah 52:14).  Did you grasp the magnitude of Isaiah's words?  As Jesus hung upon that cross He was barely recognizable as being a human.  Hatred had done its awful work!  The body of Jesus was ravaged in a way no other person ever has been. 

And then there was the emotional pain.  The voices spewing hatred continued almost unabated.  The leaders were not satisfied with a horrific death.  No, they heaped words of hate upon Jesus as well.  And finally there was the spiritual pain.  Darkness enveloped that scene of death and we hear those anguished words of Jesus, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?"  It was for that very moment that Jesus had come to this earth.  It was for that very moment that Jesus had committed Himself before the foundations of the world were laid.  It was at that moment Jesus became "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."  All the hatred, all the evil that this world could create was placed upon the shoulders of one whose physical strength and emotional strength were nearing an end.  Yet the spiritual strength, although wavering, held strong.  Satan had accomplished his work.  Yet, listen to those final words of Jesus: "It is finished!"  This is not the cry of defeat; it is the cry of victory.  With that cry it is almost as if Jesus is anticipating the coming resurrection, the coming glory that would be His.

Friends, I challenged my congregation last Sunday to take some quiet time this week and reread Isaiah 53.  Picture afresh in your mind the cross and Christ's sacrifice.  Remember that He died for you.  He took your place.  It is then that we can sing "Hallelujah, What a Savior!" 

I wish my Jewish friends a Passover filled with the joys of family.  May your Seder be blessed by God.  And I wish everyone else a happy Easter as we celebrate the foundation for our faith - the empty tomb.  "He is risen!  He is risen indeed!"

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

An Important Case Before the Supreme Court and Putin Wins Again

For the past few months I have been following a case that originated in California and yesterday found its way before the United States Supreme Court.  The case is known as NIFLA v Becerra.  NIFLA  stands for the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates - a prolife organization.  Xavier Becerra is the current California attorney-general who is defending the California bill that is being questioned.

Let me give a little background.  In 2015, the California legislature passed a bill known as "The Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency Act" which came to be known as the FACT Act.  The reason for the law was that, it was believed, women who faced an unplanned pregnancy were not being given adequate information regarding the availability of no and low cost medical services, including abortion, which were available through the State of California.  The FACT Act required that all crisis pregnancy centers post information regarding these services which the Sate of California provides and that such information be included in any advertisements for such facilities. 

In other words, if I am operating a nonprofit, prolife crisis pregnancy center, the law now requires that I post on my office walls and also place within my ads that abortions can be obtained through the State of California.  So, a woman who comes to my office seeking help must also be told, either verbally or through the postings, that abortion is an inexpensive option because the State will pay for it. 

Several nonprofit centers decided that such a law was an infringement upon their rights of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  They had the right to not share with their clients that abortion was an option because they had taken the position that abortion was wrong.  In 2016 the NIFLA sued the State of California on behalf of nonprofit crisis pregnancy centers claiming "that the law unfairly targets crisis pregnancy centers because it does not apply to clinics that perform abortions, and because it forces crisis centers to provide information they do not endorse" (

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard arguments from both sides  and will make a ruling sometime in June.  Each side had 25 minutes to present its case.  The heart of the argument made by NIFLA is that the government should not force individuals, or in this case a crisis pregnancy center, to promote a message that contradicts their sincerely held beliefs.

What I find very interesting is that the California law does not require that state-operated abortion clinics post information within their offices nor to have it published on their advertisements telling women that there is another option beside abortion.  No, this law seems to have had only one focus - upon those nonprofit crisis pregnancy centers, most of whom have some type of religious, prolife foundation.  This is just another attempt by "big government" to curtail the freedoms and rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution. 

I am grateful for the NIFLA and its willingness to take on this case.  And I am grateful that the United States Supreme Court decided to add this case to its spring docket of cases.  Now we just need to pray that, as they deliberate a decision, that they will be focused upon what is truly best for that mom and her unborn baby.  I will keep watch and will let you know when the Supreme Court has reached its decision. 

Meanwhile, President Putin has won another election in Russia.  Of course there was little opposition - the recent assassination and attempted assassination of dissident Russians living in England testify to what potentially can happen when a person falls out of favor with Putin.  Will Putin continue to bully his way with those Eastern European countries?  Probably.  Will Put continue to bully his way with the United States?  Probably.  But the Bible reminds us that as we near the end of the age, Russia will become stronger and will gather a coalition together to destroy Israel.  Will Putin be the leader of this Ezekiel-described coalition?  I can't speak with authority that he will, but I can state that the leader described in Ezekiel 38 will be someone with the nature of a Putin.  Wow1  Are these exciting times in which we live!  I am grateful that my hope is placed on the solid Rock Jesus Christ. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Dr. Hawking - A Man Who Missed God

One of the headlines today is that of the death of Dr. Stephen Hawking.  Dr. Hawking was one of the greatest thinkers of our time, especially in the realms of cosmology and quantum physics.  Dr. Hawking taught for many years at Cambridge University.  He specialized in the study of black holes.  While a graduate student at Cambridge, he was diagnosed with ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.  His doctors gave him two years to live, yet he lived with the disease for 55 years.  When asked how he coped with his disease after the diagnosis, Hawking said, "Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.  Try to make sense of what you see and about what makes the universe exist.  Be curious.  And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at.  It matters that you don't just give up."  Well, Stephen Hawking did not give up.

Dr. Hawking was not a believer in God.  He once said, "There is probably no heaven, and no afterlife either.  We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe, and for that, I am extremely grateful."  (

In one of his last interviews before his death, Dr. Hawking stated that he had discovered what happened before the dawn of time.  (  Allow me to quote briefly from this article, as I found it fascinating.  "'The boundary condition of the that it has no boundary,' Hawking tells the National Geographic's Star Talk show this weekend.  In other words, there is no time before time began as time was always there.  It was just different.  He tells physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson that amid the almost infinitely small quantum foam of the singularity before the Big Bang, time existed in a 'bent' state.  It was distorted along another dimension - always getting fractionally closer to, but never becoming, nothing.  So there never was a Big Bang that created something from nothing.  It just looks that way from our point of perspective."

So, how did Dr. Hawking discover this 'different form of time?'  "Quantum theory introduces a new idea, that of imaginary time.  Imaginary time may sound like science fiction, and it has been brought into Doctor Who.  But nevertheless, it is a genuine scientific concept.  One can picture it in the following way.  One can think of ordinary, real, time as a horizontal line.  On the left, one has the past, and on the right, the future.  But there's another kind of time in the vertical dimension.  This is called imaginary time, because it is not the kind of time we normally experience.  But in a sense, it is just as real as what we call real time."

So, according to the late Dr. Hawking, there has always been time, but just of the imaginary type.  So, there really could not have been "a beginning."  That seems to make the very first statement in the Bible to be false.  Genesis 1:1 states, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."  This verse seems to strongly indicate that, at some moment in eternity past - before there was time - God created the universe and the world around us.  There was a moment when we can say, "This is when it all began."  Some will say that that moment is known as "the Big-Bang."  But, that theory is fraught with problems and questions: Where did the materials come from that will explode and become the universe and our world?  Where did the energy come from that caused the explosion?  Who or what caused the explosion to occur?  The better alternative, it seems to me, is to believe what the Bible states so confidently: That God caused everything to come into being at a moment known as "the beginning."  This is very straight-forward and answers those questions raised by "the Big Bang" theory. 

But, of course, Dr. Hawking could not travel the Genesis 1:1 pathway because he denied the existence of God.  And so he has to create a concept known as imaginary time.  How can one prove the existence of imaginary time?  How can one observe imaginary time?  What are the laws that govern imaginary time?  How does imaginary time differ from our real time?  It seems that, because Dr. Hawking has denied the existence of God, that he has to create some type of hypothesis - even if his hypothesis does not seem to have logic. 

Dr. Hawking was a man of strong resolve; how else can one explain living with ALS for over fifty years.  Dr. Hawking was a man with a keen intellect which he used to advance the field of quantum physics and cosmology.  But, Dr. Hawking was a man who lacked any relationship with the living, holy, amazing God.  When he passed away yesterday, Dr. Hawking came to realize that, although he knew many things, he had failed to know one thing that would have changed his life - he had failed to know the Lord Jesus.  I believe Dr. Hawking illustrates those words of Jesus: "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?" (Luke 9:25). 

What a contrast between Billy Graham and Stephen Hawking.  Both men influenced a generation.  Both men sought to help men to understand the world around them.  Yet, Billy Graham did something that Dr. Hawking could not do - he shared with people that the only way they could understand the world around them was to understand their need for a relationship with a holy God through His Son, Jesus Christ.  One will hear those amazing words - "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joys of your Lord", while the other will hear those words of judgment - "Depart from Me, for a never knew you."  How do you want to be greeted by our Savior?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Why Young People Are Leaving the Church?

This past Saturday, the Minnesota Star-Tribune published an article written by Jean Hopfensperger.  The article was titled, "A Look At Why Young Catholics Leave."  I found the statistics offered in this article very interesting.  They follow a trend that has been observed within all churches the past ten years or so.  The basic theme from several surveys, including this one, is that young people are leaving the Church today in droves.  Few have any intent of returning.  George Barna observed this several years ago.  Others have done similar studies.  And, it is found that young people are "checking out of" the church at an earlier age.

"They stopped believing in God.  They saw a disconnect  between what Catholics say and what they do.  They disagreed with the church's stance on social issues such as homosexuality and birth control."  With these words, the author begins her piece.  "They are the growing numbers of young Catholics living the church - the focus of a new national study to examine why they're departing and where they're landing.  It's an issue that worries church leaders across the country."  To be honest, it should worry not just Catholics, but all of us.  Why are young people leaving the church?  And why are they leaving at such an early age?

The article continues: "'Leaving the [Catholic] church crosses all age groups, but the fastest-growing demographic is age 18 to 29,' said John Vitek, president of Saint Mary's Press in Winona, which commissioned the study.  'Our data shows the median age for leaving the church was 13 years old,' he said.  'That was a surprise to everyone...and something we really have to take note of.'" 

"The survey found that the biggest reason young Catholics bailed was that they no longer believed in God.  One in five cited that lack of faith."  The author quotes from a young woman who said, "'I would like to believe that something happens when you die, that you don't just rot in the ground, but I don't know.'"

"Another 16 percent said family experiences shaped their misgivings.  Divorce, death, illnesses and perceived 'hypocrisy' were cited.  'Although my grandparents took me to church every weekend...we found out that my grandfather was having an affair,' said another respondent.  'I don't think that's part of the Catholic faith.'"

"Among other findings: Three in four said they stopped viewing themselves as Catholics between age 10 and 20; Nearly half said they were searching for spiritual practice in tune with their beliefs; About a third said they are 'done' joining churches."

Friends, the results of this Catholic survey should give us a "wake-up" call.  The church continues to fail the next generation.  According to another report I read last fall, although still being brought to church every week, a number of young people in the 6th grade had already decided that, when they left home, they would leave the church.  One has to ask the question of "why?"

First, I believe that hypocrisy with the home is a leading reason why young people are leaving the church.  They have watched mom and dad go to church every week, but when they are at home all they do is argue with one another by yelling and screaming.  Forget about "loving your neighbor as yourself" when love is absent at home.  What is said and done at home is completely different from what is said and done while at church. 

To counter this reason, many churches have become very active in a reformation-type movement to minister to parents so that they can disciple their own children.  It is known as Faith@Home or D6.  But the focus is to help parents model 24/7 their faith before their children and grandchildren.  We have been modeling this for the past six years and have seen some incredible turn-arounds within families attending our church.  It does work! 

Second, I believe that the lack of relevancy between the Gospel and contemporary culture contributes to young people leaving the church.  They have witnessed a disconnect between the Scriptures and culture.  I believe today's young people are looking for some anchor for their lives.  They want to know that the Bible has the answers.  A watered-down Gospel does not satisfy those needs.  It is time to rediscover the power of the unadulterated, passionate, authoritative teaching of God's Word. 

The focus in the past within youth ministries was to "have fun."  There is still a need for that today, but there is a greater need to teach truth.  The very future of the church depends upon it.