Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Death of a Hero and the State of Politics

This past weekend America lost one of its heroes from the Vietnam War Era.  I remember seeing those pictures of John McCain arriving back in California after being held in the "Hanoi Hilton" for over five years.  His survival did not come without a moment of breakdown when, after days of severe beatings, he signed an anti-United States propaganda sheet.  He later wrote, "I had learned what we all learned over there.  Every man has his breaking point.  I had reached mine."  He continued, "It was as a prisoner that I fell in love with my country.  I had loved her before then, but like most young people, my affection was little more than a simple appreciation for the comforts and privileges most Americans took for granted.  It wasn't until I had lost America for a time that I realized how much I loved her." 

John McCain would serve as the distinguished Senator from the state of Arizona for several decades.  He ran for the office of President of the United States on two occasions.  In 2000 he lost in the Republican primaries to George W Bush, and then in 2008, although winning the Republican nomination, he was defeated by Barak Obama.  In recent years he became an outspoken critic of many of the policies of President Trump.  Although he was a Republican, he often was viewed as being more of an Independent. 

In yesterday's Minneapolis Star-Tribune newspaper, there was an editorial written by Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times.  He wrote, "After his cancer-diagnosis, McCain wrote in his recent memoir that because his career was nearing its end, 'I'm freer than colleagues who will face the voters again.  I can speak my mind without fearing the consequences much.  And I can vote my conscience without worry.'"  McManus then writes, "Have three sadder sentences ever been written about American politics?"

If John McCain felt that way, then there must be about another 534 men and women in Washington who also can express similar thoughts.  What is the state of politics in America today?  I have in my library a book written by Joseph Ellis and titled, "An American Creation."  It is the story of the writing of the United States Constitution.  It is an amazing story.  Gathered in Philadelphia were a group of the most independent, strong-willed thinkers perhaps ever assembled on American soil.  They were tasked with the responsibility of finding a better way of governing America as the Articles of Confederation had proven to be inadequate.  Under the leadership of a young man from Virginia, named James Madison, a new concept began to emerge.  Oh the incredible debates that occurred within those committees and upon the floor of that convention.  Yet, what that group of men had that I find sadly missing in the halls of Congress today was the determination to find a solution that would actually make America a stronger union.  And in order for that to be achieved, these men - as strong-willed and independent as they were - compromised many of their aspirations.  Thus one of the greatest documents ever written in the English language was created - a document that has become the model for scores of nations who have sought to become independent and self-governing. 

Very seldom do we hear the word "compromise" today when it comes to political dialogue.  Instead we draw the proverbial "red line" and refuse to cross it.  I understand that each party holds to its own distinctive philosophical leanings.  The two party system is one of America's strengths and it has been since the election of 1800.  Whatever happened to asking the question, "What really is best for our country?" instead of "What is best for my party?"  Debate - yes we need that, and the more lively the debate, the better for everyone.  Freedom to speak what is upon one's heart - absolutely, for it is safe-guarded in that Bill of Rights.  But when the time for debate is closed, it is time for the dialogue to begin with this question ever before those who represent us: What is best for America and for Americans? 

Speaking of democracy, the mainstream media, in fact, most media today have failed to chronicle what is happening in South Africa.  A friend of mine sent me the following article that opened my eyes to an impending tragedy that I was unaware of.  The article was written by Robin Smith and can be found at:  let me quote a few paragraphs from this article.  "It's South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, working with the communist African National Congress, who is proposing changes to that nation's constitution to take land from white farmers.  Those farmers are the descendants of the European colonists who first settled the region and fought subsequent battles for the geographically favorable land at the southern-most tip of the African continent.  Ramaphosa is working to collectivize and control the country's farming infrastructure.

"But why?  Why would a nation ranked 77th in the world by The Heritage Foundation's 2018 Index of Economic Freedom, with relatively positive commentary about the improved investments and reduction in tax burdens and trade barriers, seek to turn an entire sector of its economy into a state-controlled industry by the confiscation of private property to be reassigned to other owners?

"In the name of social justice, the president of a nation with a very high unemployment rate of over 25% has determined that the remedy to its out-of-work blacks (almost 30%) is to change its 'laws' to permit the theft of legally possessed land of white farmers to redistribute the possession to nonwhite citizens.  And, you might be asking, what crime has the white citizen population committed that has been supported by evidence and convicted in a court of law to have such restitution enforced as part of an act of justice?  Good question.

"Has this ever occurred?  Surely, such tyrannical behavior has no place in modern-day history!  Well, um, South Africa's neighbor had its own 'Land Reform' back in 1980 and it kinda didn't work out so well.  Zimbabwe, as described by Wikipedia, engaged in 'an effort to more equitably distribute land between black subsistence farmers and white Zimbabweans of European ancestry ... to alter the ethnic balance of land ownership.'  From its beginnings, the program paid white farmers of European descent for their land.  When this money ran out, the Zimbabwe government engaged in a 'fast track' program to take the properties with no compensation.  Not only were political structures shaken, the banking system was rocked with violence spurred by the natural conflict of government-sanctioned theft.  That was followed by food shortages and two decades of economic loss, all in the name of some manufactured social justice."

The policy of "taking from the rich to give to the poor" has seldom worked.  Yes, the stories of Robin Hood glamorize that idea, but Robin Hood's efforts soon lost their steam.  In 1917 Communists took over the Russian State imposing harsh economic policies where equality was mandated.  People lived on collectivized farms or worked in collectivized factories.  They lived in apartment complexes that all looked alike.  Yet, even hard-core Communist leaders realized that de-incentivizing people led only to unrest and economic collapse; thus the revolution of the late 1980's when the Iron Curtain was torn down. 

When a government or a society takes from its rich and gives to its poor two things happen, both of which are bad.  First, there is no longer any incentive to begin factories or to own shops or to advance oneself economically because your wealth is no longer your own, it belongs to someone else - in all likelihood the government.  Why should any entrepreneur invest "blood, sweat, toil, and tears" to increase his profit-margin when someone will take it away?  Second, just to give money to the poor without holding them accountable is simply instilling within them the mentality of entitlement; that they are owed.  If I am given money, why should I look for a job?  If I am given money, why should I seek to advance myself? 

Free college education - sounds great, but who is going to pay for it?  Are America's colleges and university faculty and staff suddenly going to work for nothing?  I hardly think so.  So, where does the money come to pay them?  Free medical care - sounds great, but who is going to pay for it?  Are America's physicians and hospitals suddenly going to work for nothing?  I hardly think so.  So, where does the money come to pay them?  It can't come from the poor because they have no money; therefore, it can only come from those who are creating wealth.  Socialism becomes a very slippery slope that ends within a gigantic puddle of mud. 

Friends, as strongly as I oppose any thought of socialism, I do believe it is on the horizon because the Scriptures state clearly that after the Church has been raptured away, there will be a one-world government, a one-world economy, a one-world system.  Yet, in the end this, too, will fail when the King of kings and Lord of lords arrives and creates a kingdom based upon the principles of God.  Oh what a day that will be!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Banning of Truth Has Serious Consequences

I never cease to marvel at the attempts of the world to snuff out the light of the Truth.  This past July, Marlys and I spent 23 days living in Fredericksburg, Virginia - right in the Bible-belt.  In fact, as we drove hundreds of miles through the winding Virginia back-country roads and through small towns and villages, we commented on how we saw more churches than bars.  While in Fredericksburg we were privileged to attend three churches - very different each from the other - but whose message was that of Truth. 

So I was surprised to read a report from Todd Starnes this past week about a pastor living in Fredericksburg who faced eviction from his apartment because he was leading a Bible study in his home.  You can find the article posted at:  "A semi-retired Lutheran minister in Fredericksburg, Virginia, faces the possibility of being evicted from a senior living community because he's been hosting a small Bible study in the privacy of his apartment, his attorney alleges.  First Liberty Institute, a law firm that specializes in religious liberty cases, is representing Pastor Ken Hauge.  They accused the management of  The Evergreens at Smith Run of a pattern of verbal abuse and harassment directed at Christians who live in the complex.

"'The threat of eviction follows repeated religious discrimination by Evergreens management, including forcing Hauge to refer to his event as a "Book Review" rather than a "Bible Study,"' First Liberty attorney Hiram Sasser wrote in a letter to the corporate owner of the community.  Sasser told the 'Todd Starnes Radio Show' that management also withdrew support of a social event because a resident said grace over a meal.  It also banned all religious activities from the community room.  He is calling on Evergreens to rescind the eviction threat, rescind the rule banning religious activities from the community room, and stop the harassment of people of faith.

"Pastor Hauge's troubles with management began in early 2017 when a group of about 20 residents asked him to lead a nondenominational Bible study in the community room.  That gathering eventually moved to a private apartment.  Management initially approved of the gathering provided the participants call it a 'Book Review' meeting instead of a 'Bible Study.'  In 2018 management relented after a resident complained to corporate headquarters. ... On July 23 residents received a notice that the community room was off-limits to future religious activities.  Bingo and poker were permissible; prayer was not.  On that same day Pastor Hauge and his wife were threatened with an eviction notice.  'The notice threatened to terminate the Hauge's lease and evict them unless Hauge stopped leading the Bible study entirely, either in his private apartment or in the community room,' Sasser said."

Friends, I am shocked but not surprised as I read this article.  Talking about the Bible is off-limits in many public spaces these days.  Truth has been dis-invited into the public arenas.  There is a general fear of what the Truth might expose, thus affirming what Jesus said in John 3 that "men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed" (John 3:19-20).  But it is sad that a person cannot have a Bible study within his or her home without the fear of violating some organizational rule or community ordinance. 

Speaking of Truth or the lack of Truth, one of the consequences is the rise of anxious, depressed college students.  I found this interesting article at The College Fix website:  The article was written by Katie Anderson.  Allow me to share just a portion of this thought-provoking article with you. 

"Yale University recently expanded its mental health services to meet an ever-growing need for student counseling, adding this summer four clinicians and three new psychiatrists to handle the caseload.  Yale is not alone.  The number of college students looking to counseling for help for mental health struggles is drastically increasing across the nation, according to studies, campus counselors, and many recent news reports. 

"'Data over the past five years from counseling centers nationwide have shown that the top two reasons students come for counseling are anxiety and depression,' Karen Nakayama, director of the Counseling Center at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, told The College Fix.  'Currently, anxiety is number one and depression is second.  In the past, depression was first and anxiety was second,' she said, adding the spike in students seeking help may be due in part to efforts 'destigmatizing mental health services with students.'

"According to an article published in Scientific American, 'At Northwestern University, it can take up to three weeks to get a counseling appointment.  At Washington University in St. Louis, the wait time runs nearly 13 days, on average, in the fall semester. ... At the University of Washington in Seattle, delays in getting care are so routine, the wait time is posted online; it's consistently hovered between two and three weeks in recent months.'

"Why are so many young adults anxious and depressed?  'I think college students are facing different pressures recently,' Krystalyn Geissler, who is currently getting her Master's degree in psychology at the University of New Mexico, told The College Fix via email.  'A few decades ago, a person could work a part-time job and afford [...] to get a college degree on those wages.  Now, this is definitely not the case,' she said.  ... Students are also often stressed about what job their degree will land them after they graduate.  'Another stressor is that a Bachelor's degree does not go as far as it used to.  Many times a person needs several years of experience on top of a Bachelor's degree to get paid a starting wage of around $12 [...] a lot of students work long hours, sometimes at multiple jobs, to pay for a degree that many not feel like it is worth it,' Geissler said."

This article failed to include that I believe to be a primary cause of anxiety and depression among college-aged young people today.  That cause is the absence of any clearly defined moral and ethical foundation within their lives.  They have grown up in a culture that has said to them that they are the most important people in the world.  In many cases, parents have either wittingly or unwittingly accommodated that thinking pattern.  Rarely have they said "no" to any of the expressed wishes of their children.  Difficulties at school, now it is the teacher who shoulders the parental wrath and blame.  A child learns that there are no consequences to wrong behavior - someone will be there to "bail you out."  Many within this generation are easily offended when someone says something that they disagree with, and, because they have never learned the art of dialogue, all they know how to do is to scream "I am offended!  You are wrong!  I am right!" 

What has happened?  We have removed ourselves from the Truth that is found within the Word of God and within a relationship with Jesus Christ.  The Bible IS the Word of God.  The Bible DOES NOT contain the opinions of God.  The Bible IS Truth.  The Bible is NOT simply a collection of God's personal ideas.  And, whenever we separate ourselves from Scripture we separate ourselves from Truth - a Truth that provides stability and encouragement within a world that seems to be spinning out of control.  In the absence of Truth, anxiety levels do rise.  My anxiety-level drops when I know that God is in control.  My anxiety-level drops when I realize that 'truth sets me free." 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Two Powerful Articles That Identify What America is Becoming

Todd Starnes, a contributor to Fox News and one of those people who keeps a close watch on the moral structure of our nation, wrote an interesting article published last week.  You can find the article at:  "A decorated Army chaplain at Fort Bragg in North Carolina could face a possible court martial and even military prison after he explained to a soldier he could not conduct a marriage retreat that included same-sex couples because of his religious beliefs, his attorneys allege.  An Army investigator under the command of Major General Kurt Sonntag recommended that Chaplain Scott Squires be found guilty of 'dereliction of duty' for taking three business days to reschedule the 'Strong Bonds' marriage retreat he was prohibited from facilitating.  Squires, who was officially accused of discrimination, is endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board (NAMB).

"According to NAMB policy, chaplains are prohibited from conducting 'Strong Bonds' events for same-sex couples.  The policy clearly states 'endorsed chaplains will not conduct or attend a wedding ceremony for any same-sex couple, bless such a union or perform counseling in support of such a union...nor offer any kind of relationship training or retreat, on or off a military installation.'  When Squires realized he could not participate in the 'Strong Bonds' event, he rescheduled the conference to accommodate a lesbian couple with a chaplain who could oversee the retreat.  However, the couple chose not to attend.

"Had Squires participated in the marriage retreat he would have risked losing his endorsement by the Southern Baptists.  Likewise, the Army requires its chaplains to adhere to their endorsers' rules and religious tenets.  'I simply did what I'm required to do under Army regulations and my endorser's rules,' Chaplain Squires said.  'I am shocked that I would even be investigated, let alone threatened with punishment, for following the rules.'"

Friends, we have witnessed this kind of threat too many times these past few years.  We have heard of floral-shop owners, bakers, photographers, and banquet hall operators who have been arrested, charged, and penalized because they took a stand for their religious convictions and beliefs.  Yet the First Amendment to the United States Constitution grants every American the right to freedom of religious expression.  Just this past summer the United States Supreme Court ruled that an individual cannot be targeted just because of his or her religious beliefs.  This Army chaplain was acting according to the rules and regulations of the Department of the Army and the Southern Baptist Convention.  He took the time to reschedule another chaplain who was free to participate in an event in which a same-sex couple could be free to attend.  He did all the right things.  The threat of litigation is a "bully-club" the left enjoys using in order to get their own way.  But it is time that Christians take a stand for biblical truth.  The vacillation has got to stop.  Either there is a Truth worth defending or there is just non-truth.  I can only hope that the Army will stand with this Chaplain because he took a stand for what was right and he did it in a right way.

There was a fascinating article, written by Linda Goudsmit, and titled "Trump derangement syndrome: A prelude to anarchy," that was also published last week.  You can find this important article at:  The article begins with a powerful opening paragraph which sets the tone for the remainder of the article.  "The election of President Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the emotional stability of those living in subjective reality because they cannot tolerate the threat of objective reality that President Trump represents.  The clash between subjective reality and objective reality has launched what is known as Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDR) or more recently Trump Anxiety Disorder (TAD).  The incursion of objective reality is so threatening to Anti-Trumpers that they break down psychologically and require medication and psychological services. 

"Mark Alexander posted an article he wrote 8.1.18 titled 'Therapists Rebrand "Trump Derangement Syndrome" exploring the subject: 'The pop culture Urban Dictionary defines Trump Derangement Syndrome as 'a mental condition in which a person has been driven effectively insane due to their dislike of Donald Trump, to the point at which they will abandon all logic and reason.  Symptoms for this condition can be very diverse, ranging from hysterical outbursts to a complete mental break...I would suggest that the increasing frequency and intensity of hysterics associated with TDR is greatly exacerbated by the unmitigated, constant consumption of hateful Democrat/mainstream media propaganda, 24/7/365.  The result is a mass movement of those so intent on undermining Trump that they are now far off the reality reservation and utterly obsessed with defeating peace and prosperity.'

"Anti-Trumpers were groomed to become global citizens in the mythical land of income equality and social justice.  They believed the myth of collectivism because it made them FEEL good - no mention of failed socialism - no talk of Venezuela - until President Trump.  Objective reality is the world of facts - subjective reality is the world of feelings.  The United States of America was founded on the principles of ordered liberty articulated in our Constitution and supported by objective reality.  The Culture War that is attacking America is an attack on ordered liberty, the Constitution, and objective reality.  The Culture War is supported by subjective reality and its world of feelings. ... The left is pressuring society to accept Orwellian doublespeak.  They want you to accept feelings as facts, subjective reality as objective reality, and insanity as sanity. ... The divisiveness in America is now a war over reality.  The country is divided between those living in objective reality and those living in subjective reality."

Let me close with a couple more paragraphs from this insightful article.  "Our elementary schools, high schools, colleges and universities have been politicized by educators and administrators who embrace the Marxist doctrines of collectivism lauded by our enemies.  Political correctness, moral relativity, and historical revisionism are the tenets of the new religion of leftist liberalism that has replaced traditional religions and traditional education in America.  Obama's 'resistance' movement is an anti-American coalition of groups who identify as marginalized and victimized - they are a coalition of identity politics who refuse to accept the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.  They refuse to accept objective reality.

"In 1950 the goal of parenting was to help your child become a self-sufficient adult.  In the 60s the goal of parenting shifted from self-reliance to insuring your child's happiness.  Schools adopted the shift in the 70s and 80s and continue to be agents of social change.  Schools abandoned individualism and the meritocracy and replaced them with collectivism and the happiness standard.  Schools abandoned facts and adopted 'feelings' as the standard and every student became a butterfly.  From the time they were in elementary school students were pressed to live in subjective reality so their feelings would not be hurt.  They were lied to and told they were all butterflies - not true - some kids are smarter than others.  They were lied to and told that they could do anything - not true - some kids do not have the aptitude or physical strength to do what they wanted to do. 

"We are now watching these butterflies come undone at the university.  It is not surprising that they refuse to accept the outcome of the election- they still live in subjective reality and lack the coping skills to absorb disappointment.  They are so fragile and so emotionally underdeveloped they need Play-Doh and safe spaces to protect themselves from unwelcome ideas on campus including unwelcome election outcomes.  We are witnessing a generational failure to mature - the unwillingness to accept facts - the student anti-Trumpers refuse to accept objective reality. 

"Objective reality is an existential threat to those living in subjective reality.  Subjective reality is an existential threat to the stability and future of the United States of America.  As President Trump exposes the fiction of subjective reality his enemies are getting more and more desperate to stop him.  Trump Derangement Syndrome is a prelude to anarchy."

Friends, this is an incredibly well-written and honest assessment of where our nation is right now.  Once again we see how we have replaced truth with opinions, with feelings.  It is only truth that can set a person free.  Because we have willingly abandoned truth, we are becoming a nation becoming enslaved to the opinions of others.  Soon it may be said of us as it was of ancient Israel, "In those days there was no king, every man did that which was right in his own eyes."  And, friends, that is anarchy. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

How Would You Describe America Today?

If someone were to ask you to create a list of words to describe the state of the Unites States in the year 2018, what words would you use?  I know you would want to give some time before creating that list.  I have thought about what words I would use.  Let me share several with you.

First, I would use the word "violence."  We live in a violent society.  Mass murders have almost become commonplace.  Cities, such as Chicago and Baltimore, experience shootings and murders at an almost exhausting rate.  Last weekend alone there were 11 murders and over 70 people were wounded in shootings in Chicago, and Baltimore has become the newest "murder capital" of America based upon its population.  Just visit a store that sells video games and the most popular ones are the most violent ones.  It seems we take great satisfaction in spending our free time killing people on the small screen and watching people get killed on the big screen. 

The problem with so many young people playing such violent games is that they are not able to separate the real world from the fantasy world.  In their minds, you can shoot a person and just seconds later you can shoot that person all over again.  So, if I take a gun to school and shoot someone else, I forget that it is the real world and when a person dies in the real world, he is dead.  So we have created a vast realm of confusion within their minds.  And then with the ease at which guns can be obtained, a problem of violence has been created.  Now I am a very strong supporter of the Second Amendment even though I do not own a gun nor would I desire to own one.  But somehow we need to figure out how to limit access to guns as a deterrent to the violence.  I wish I knew what that looked like, but something has to work.

Second, I would use the word "double-standard."  Okay, so that might be two words.  Perhaps our society has always lived with a double-standard, but it seems more prevalent today.  For example, just look at the millions of dollars and the countless hours that have been consumed to determine whether the Trump presidential team committed any collusion or obstruction of justice in the 2016 election.  The media has almost worn that "cloak" for the past two years, while the reality of the known crimes committed by the Clinton campaign that same time seem to be shoved under the rugs.  That is a double-standard.  Media giants such as Apple, Twitter, Facebook, and others carefully screen through emails and other communications, focusing they say upon what they consider to be hate-speech.  But more often their targets are conservative Christian groups who promote a Christian values system.  Those on the left are usually not even approached.  Whenever you hold one group of people to a higher standard than others there is the risk for conflict. 

A third word I would use is "entitlement."  No, I am not talking about Medicare or Social Security as I do not view these as entitlements.  I have been putting money into Social Security for over 55 years, as well as into Medicare.  I have earned my Social Security checks.  By entitlements I am referring to those areas where we have expectations for others to take care of us.  One of the battle cries today is that our kids are owed a free college education - four years, no less.  Another cry is that we are owed free healthcare.  Many of our students graduate from our colleges and universities believing that they are owed a high-paying job that requires very little work.  And, yes, I know that there are times you have to take a job that is not exactly to your specifications.  I remember one summer I worked at a Christian college and my job for the entire summer was to clean bathrooms in all of the dormitories.  Eight hours a day - five days a week - cleaning showers, toilets, sinks, and floors.  I learned then that I did not want to do that job the rest of my life, but I needed a job to support my family.  It seems we have forgotten how to work today - we want somebody else to work for us. 

I would also use the word "opportunity."  America has always been the land of opportunity.  It was opportunity for freedom of worship that brought the Pilgrims and Puritans to our shores.  It was the opportunity for financial independence that brought others to Jamestown and then to New York.  It was the opportunity for adventure and advancement that led those pioneers to cross those Allegheny Mountains and head west.  It was opportunity that drove them all the way to the shores of the Pacific Ocean.  America is the land of opportunity.  For those who dream big dreams and who are not afraid of some "blood, sweat, toil, and tears" the opportunities in America are boundless.  Yes, there are risks to be taken; it was very risky crossing the storm-tossed Atlantic in the late fall of 1620.  It was very risky loading all your possessions into a covered wagon and cross those mountains, knowing the risks of climate and enemies.  I am grateful that there still are opportunities here in our great nation.  I am still grateful that others want to come to America legally because they see opportunities.

A final word that I would use to describe America today is "truth-starved."  Yes, I know I made up that word.  But it conveys the reality of our times.  We live in a nation that is starved for truth.  Every day we feast upon opinions and interpretations.  I thought of that the other night as I watched one of the popular talk-shows on television.  Although the conveying of truth was its objective, the hour was basically spent in personal opinions.  God has commanded us to be purveyors of His Truth.  But, in order for America to know truth, it must have a turning to the God of truth.  God is Truth.  And it is His Truth that sets people free.  How can I convince others to seek God's truth?  I need to live it out in my own life in such a way that others see it. 

Well, that is my list.  Let me ask you: What words are on your list?  Take some time this weekend and sit down and create your list.  I am confident you will learn as you think and process.       

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Some Post-Sabbatical Thoughts on War and Current Affairs

It is good to be back "in the saddle again."  Marlys and I have spent the last four weeks on the East Coast on my very first sabbatical.  We had rented a home in Fredericksburg, Virginia - a home that was a great fit for us.  The owners of the home were believers and we could sense the presence of God within.  I was able to get a lot of study completed and worked on the first twelve sermons in my new fall series on the Gospels - the story of the coming of that thread of redemption promised in the Old Testament.  In spite of the very hot and humid weather conditions, we got to experience many of the sites, sounds, and flavors of northern Virginia and southeastern Pennsylvania.   

We spent time visiting many of the historical sites in northern Virginia, including many Civil War battlefields.  One forgets that more blood was shed on Virginia soil during those four years than in any other state - Union or Confederate.  I spent part of one afternoon just walking the sunken road there in Fredericksburg and then climbing to the top of Marye's Heights.  It was here in December 1862 that Union General Ambrose Burnside ordered a charge up those slopes.  It was all open ground.  Poised within that sunken road were troops commanded by Robert E Lee and positioned on the top of Marye's Heights were artillery batteries.  I stood along that road - some of the original wall along the road still remains - and pictured myself as a Union soldier attempting to scale that hill.  It was a suicide mission.  As I walked along that road I wondered at those who had died that day.  Was I walking along a place where a soldier had fallen?  Someone's son or husband or father?  I have to admit it was a rather sobering moment for me.  And that was repeated as I walked for a short distance along "Bloody Lane" at Antietam - the bloodiest single day in the history of America; at the copse of trees at Gettysburg where Pickett's Charge was finally repelled by Union forces; and at the "bloody angle" on the fields of Spotsylvania.  These truly were America's "killing fields."  The war became more alive for me these past four weeks than at any other time I had visited Gettysburg alone.  The magnitude of the war was overwhelming.  The depth of the stories of heroism and courage was inspiring.  The immensity of the suffering gripped one's heart.  I stood looking into the room where General 'Stonewall" Jackson died and realized that he would never see his daughter grow up.  And then realized that story was repeated hundreds of thousands of times - and is still being repeated today by those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and other regions where our armed forces serve so faithfully. 

While we were out East, the world continued its slide down the slippery-slope.  Israel was poised on the brink of another military invasion of the Gaza Strip following months of riots along the border, the death of an Israeli soldier killed by a Hamas militant, and the launching of both rockets and incendiary kites and balloons which have caused the scorching of hundreds of acres of Israeli farmland and orchards.  Egypt stepped in at the eleventh hour and brokered a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, a cease-fire that seems to be holding.  But, as we know from history, Hamas will use this time of cease-fire to rebuild their tunnels, restock their weapons and ammunition, and prepare for the next assault upon Israel. 

Meanwhile, at the United Nations it was business as usual - the condemnation of Israel for their inhumane treatment of the Palestinians, both within Gaza and the West Bank.  I am grateful for our ambassador to the United Nations, Nicki Haley, who has had the courage to stand up and call out the hypocrisy of the United Nations.  She reminded the General Assembly that the human rights abuses in Venezuela and Nicaragua go unnoticed and the human rights of those living in Iran are ignored.  The only direction the United Nations looks is toward Israel.  I pray that God will continue to give her boldness to proclaim truth there in that hostile place. 

While we were gone, President Trump nominated Brent Kavanaugh to be the next Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court.  I listened to Judge Kavanaugh's acceptance speech and was gladden to hear that he believes the duty of a judge is not to make law, but merely to interpret law as it relates to the United States Constitution.  I know many fear that, if his nomination is affirmed by the Senate, then immediately such positions as Roe v Wade will be overturned.  I do not believe that Roe v Wade will ever be overturned, nor other decisions which have attacked our sense of moral structure.  The Supreme Court has very fairly in the past ever overturned a precedent case.  But, I do believe that it is the duty of the Supreme Court to decide the relationship that exists between those decisions and the rights expressed within the First Amendment to the Constitution - that of the freedom of religion and freedom of speech.  I believe that Judge Kavanaugh understands that principle from his time on the Court of Appeals.  I understand that confirmation hearings will begin in September.  This could be a very strategic nominating process that we need to keep before us.   

Also, in July President Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland.  Although the final press conference probably did not go as hoped - words often get into the way - still our President believed that dialogue was the way to avoid confrontation.  Soon after that summit meeting, each invited the other to meet in Washington and in Moscow.  I am grateful that our President encourages these types of dialogues with Russia and North Korea, and now he has said he would be open to meeting with the Iranian leadership.  While he is rebuilding our military strength, President Trump understands that strength can provide an opportunity for dialogue. 

Finally, the wild fires out west continue to dominate our weather news.  Hundreds of thousands of acres have been destroyed.  At last count, nearly a thousands homes have gone up in flames.  Hundreds of people have been made homeless.  Lives have been lost.  And there seems to be no end in sight.  Yet America is not alone with such natural disasters.  Greece had historical fires that swept along their coasts taking many lives.  India was plagued with epic flooding.  Earthquakes and volcanoes seem to just pop up all over.  Again I am reminded of the words of Jesus to His disciples, "There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of birth pains" (Matthew 24:7-8).

These truly are exciting times in which to serve our Savior.  Many people have a hunger for the truth and what a privilege it is for us to share with them that truth is found in Jesus Christ and within His Word.  Let's never compromise truth but to proclaim it with a boldness that comes through the filling of the Holy Spirit.  Some day the trumpet will sound.  I certainly want to be ready...and I trust you do as well.