Monthly Archives: October 2014

This Coming Tuesday

She looked exhausted because she was.

It was 8:00AM.

She was dressed in a bathrobe and slippers, her hair was disheveled. The baby had been up a few times through the night – the final time early. Her little girl had demanded breakfast; it was hastily made.

The TV was playing cartoons.

It was the beginning of another day in the life of a young mother.

So the doorbell this early was more than an annoyance. It was an intrusion.

“Excuse me ma’am.” The man at the door was neatly manicured and organized. He held a clipboard and offered a polite smile. “I’m in the neighborhood this morning helping to conduct a public opinion survey. What do you think is the most serious problem facing America today? Is it ignorance or is it apathy?”

The little girl appeared at the doorway, clutching her mother’s bathrobe and staring at the man. The baby sucked on a bottle contentedly in the mother’s arms.

The young woman breathed a gentle sigh.

“I don’t know,” she answered, “and this morning I don’t really care.”

We appreciate the humorous irony and candor of the reply.

“Yes,” we think, “that’s just how I feel sometimes.”

Here we all are in this country – once again – just a few days away from another national election. The airwaves are filled with campaign ads – attacking, bragging and begging.

Most of us are concerned about the direction of our nation – and the unsettled and dangerous state of the world. The President’s approval rating is low – almost as low as Congress.

We don’t like the way things are.

We want change.

We don’t know who can deliver it; we’re not sure anyone can.

Americans are angry with Washington and its repeated failures – and disillusioned.

This is good campaign weather for ignorance and apathy.

Vote?

As someone said, “It only encourages them.”

Millions will stay away from the polls next Tuesday. Don’t you be one of them.

For all her faults – and the weaknesses of her leaders – America remains the greatest, freest and most wonderful nation on earth. And being an American isn’t just some lucky break, it is a continuing responsibility.

In a free land, duty is the greatest privilege of citizenship. And our greatest duty is to vote.

We are able to openly complain; we have the right to speak and criticize and tell others – including the government – what we think because of the vote.

We declared ourselves a free and independent nation because our founders voted to make us so.

We created the greatest form of self-government in the history of the world because the men who bravely fought to make us free voted to keep us that way. The Constitution of the United States came into being through a vote. So did the Bill of Rights.

And the expansions and protections of American freedom came to us through the vote. The Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, was adopted only after vigorous debate – and a vote.

African-Americans, women and young people gained the right to vote only after others voted to give them that right.

Of all the rights that make us free – and define us as a republic- none matters more than the right – and the sacred duty – to vote.

Of all the acts of citizenship that have shaped our history, raised up our leaders and marked our destiny as a nation, none have played a more important role than voting.

As believers in a transcendent and sovereign God, we do not place our final faith in the efficacy of politics and government. Christians, of all people, should not permit an earthbound attitude to overtake our heavenly hope and rob us of our joy in the midst of national despair.

Our confidence is not in a platform, a candidate, a movement or a party. We do not trust politics to bring us salvation. Nor do we look to government to meet the deepest needs of the soul. Sometimes we have to learn – and re-learn – that lesson the hard way.

The psalmist warns us:

“Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there…When they breathe their last [reminding us of the fragile mortality of even the greatest leaders], they return to the earth and all their plans die with them….But joyful are those whose hope is in the Lord their God.” [Psalm 146: 3-5, NLT].

Still, the scriptures underscore the importance of good citizenship – and our responsibility to honor government.

“When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn” (Proverbs 29:2, KJV).

While God governs in the affairs of nations, each of us must do our part in determining that outcome. No one can read Romans 13 without appreciating the importance God places on government and citizenship; on each one of us being accountable for our political freedom.

Every vote counts; every election matters.

And so many of them are so very close.

Not to vote – no matter how we may feel at the moment about our choices – is to sin against the Author of our liberty.

Don’t forget this coming Tuesday.

Who knows, maybe you’ll see that young mother at the polls.

May God bless you and your family.

 

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Taking Sides

Who dares to disagree with her?

Annise Parker demands to know.

They will be found out. They may be prosecuted. They will most assuredly be persecuted.

Pastors – ministers of the Gospel – were ordered by legal subpoena to turn over their sermons.

That’s right – their sermons – to the courts for careful inspection.

This didn’t happen in Russia or in North Korea or in Iran.

It happened in Houston, Texas – in the buckle of the Bible Belt. It happened in the land of the free.

It happened in Thomas Jefferson’s America.

Annise Parker, the openly – gay mayor of Houston, couldn’t stand the fact that five pastors in her city have the temerity to oppose a city ordinance, known as “the bathroom ordinance.” This latest step toward legitimizing the bizarre permits transgendered people – those uncertain and/or unhappy about their sexual physiology – to be able to use the restrooms of their choice.

Quite understandably, some Houstonians object to this. Not because they are angry bigots but because they are intelligent people – and because even craziness must have its limits.

 The ministers supported a petition drive to place the ordinance on the ballot so all Houston voters could have their say on this controversy.

That seems fair enough.

City officials questioned some of the petition signatures so the referendum proponents went to court to have the question placed on the local ballot.

Keep in mind that the pastors were not part of this lawsuit.

Instead of questioning the legality of the signatures, city lawyers went after the ministers.

Originally the pastors were ordered to turn over “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity.”

That’s a wide swath.

Everything they had ever said or written about these subjects would now be scrutinized.

Every jot and tittle.

Unbelievable!

In the face of a very loud public outcry, the city’s lawyers amended their demand.

Now they only want “all speeches or presentations related to” the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance “, or the Petition, prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by” the pastors or in their possession.

Well, that’s a relief!

These deniers of free speech and religious liberty now only want “all speeches or presentations” made by the pastors.

What is a sermon if not a speech and a presentation?

Is this not a distinction without a difference?

The troubling audacity of this demand is rivaled only by its comic imbecility.

Every authentic civil libertarian – including those who are gay or transgendered – should be appalled by this callous and arrogant trampling of the First Amendment.

Every true lover of liberty must be outraged at this naked attempt to intimidate free speech.

And every Christian in this country should be awakened from his complacency, chastened for his ignorance and spirited by his courage.

The Apostle Paul told the Christians living in a wicked and perverse time:

“Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (I Corinthians 16:13, NKJV).

The Houston Five have done this. Who will join them?

Mayor Parker tweeted that if pastors speak out on questions of morality and seek to influence their direction, then their sermons “are fair game” to the government.

And it’s not just their sermons that are under assault, but – by logical extension – their convictions, their beliefs; their very faith.

It’s hastening sooner than expected, this hour of choosing.

Not only for five pastors in Houston – but for us all.

This incident is not some over-zealous aberration. It’s a precursor.

The powerful movement to redefine morality in America seeks not simply tolerance or acceptance. It has already largely achieved that with breathtaking speed. To salve a guilty conscience – for Nature itself can never rescind its own teaching – these advocates of cultural enlightenment seek approval.

They seek moral parity.

They demand that the rest of us openly renounce our beliefs, admit we’ve been wrong all this time, and apologize.

They will stop at nothing less.

Mayor Parker is the one who owes Houston an apology – and her resignation. Any elected official driven more by a passion for her agenda and a hatred for her adversaries than a respect for the Constitution of the United States is unfit for public office.

The God who stood by the prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel is the God who stands by us. The God who protected Daniel and the three young Hebrews in their quiet civil disobedience is the same God who guides our steps and secures our way.

He will give us the courage and the strength to stand for him.

You and I must first be willing to do that.

When city officials ordered them not to preach Christianity, Peter and John replied “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29, KJV).

The implications of this higher allegiance are profound and often costly. The soil of the church has been soaked by the blood of the martyrs.

And today believers in the Middle East have been given a choice: renounce their faith or suffer the sword.

Silent neutrality – and a “cheap grace” – will win us the nodding approval of those who know we pose no threat to their purposes.

God help us to take sides.

May God bless you and your family.

 

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The Only Way to Live

Tonya Huff sat in a Dallas bar watching the Cowboys beat the Seahawks.

A local reporter asked her if she was afraid.

“I can’t live in fear,” she said matter-of-factly. “That’s not living.”

To Tonya, this close game mattered more.

Ebola?

“If it’s already here,” she told him, “there’s nothing I can do.”

First one and now a second Ebola case in this country – identified here in Dallas – ratcheted up the media attention and consequent public awareness. There is concern but not much alarm – at least not yet and not professed. Ebola came from West Africa to the U.S. without warning or suspicion. The two Americans infected are health care workers – nurses who treated the original victim.

He’s dead.

First ISIS stormed upon the international scene – unimaginably brutal, diabolical and deadly.

Now we’re seeing its medical equivalent. Ebola, as one writer described such virulent contagions, is “the monster in the microscope.”

It systematically attacks the organs. The victim drowns in his own blood.

There are various medical opinions and theories; a plethora of predictions and prescriptions. Typically, the politicians are pontificating and health care experts are counseling.

But no one knows.

Not for sure.

Ebola is the latest in a relentless line of developments that, when taken together, create in the human mind and heart a deepening sense of foreboding about the trajectory of the human condition.

“Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,” wrote the poet Yeats, “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed …”

While “things fall apart”, Americans – insulated from the suffering of the world as few people in history have been – try to remain hopeful.

West Africa – where some predict as many as 10,000 new Ebola cases weekly by December – is, after all, far away.

The black flag of ISIS will never fly on the White House lawn.

Our doctors – the most brilliant and advanced in the world – will find a vaccine and ultimately a cure for Ebola.

We’ll be OK.

After all, this is America, God’s “almost chosen nation”, as Lincoln memorably put it, and nothing truly bad could ever happen to this exceptional country. There’s some historical truth to that, notwithstanding liberal naysayers.

Yet the judgment of God makes no exceptions for national greatness. Fallen empires bear sober warning to that truth.

The psalmist asks God to “let the nations be judged in your sight. Put them in fear, O Lord, that the nations may know themselves to be but men” (Psalm 9:19-20, NKJV, emphasis added).

ISIS and Ebola remind us of the limits of our power and the fact of our mortality.

We hear the inane question once again. Did God cause this? Though unanswerable and irrelevant, it persists in every catastrophe. We wait expectantly for someone to explain the mysteries and purposes of the Almighty.

One might as well seek to know the shape of yellow.

The most important question Christians should ask is not what is God doing, but what does he want us to do?

Tonya Huff is right about one thing:

Living in fear is “not living.”

Jesus told us that as the curtain of history descended the nations would be in “distress” and in “perplexity.” (Luke 21:25, KJV). He said men’s hearts would fail them for fear in the midst of global reeling.

Yet the Bible commands us in so many places – practically on every page – not to be afraid.

“Fear not” is arguably one of the most frequent refrains throughout scripture, along with “believe.”

Why is this?

First, because God knows us. He understands that fear is a natural emotion. Fear is primal.

Secondly, because the darkest hours are just before dawn. In this present darkness, as fear spreads its insidious tentacles around the globe, fulfilling ancient prophesy, the Christian is to remember our Lord’s command.

Especially now.

“Fear not!”

This is not the self-conscious urging of some insecure and impotent deity conjured up by superstitious imagination.

This is the joyously confident battle cry of our cosmic Commander in Chief. He shall one day ride triumphant upon a white charger, leading his heavenly hosts to glorious victory against all the arrayed forces of pure evil.

His name is Faithful and True.

The God who tells us not to be afraid is the same God to whom “the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance … all nations before him are nothing … and vanity” (Isaiah 40: 15, 17, KJV).

This is power. This is victory. This is hope. This is confidence.

This is ultimate and final reality.

This is God.

When the dark days come, he will whisper to your trembling heart: “Trust me, I’ve got this covered.”

What matters is not what in the world God’s doing. Stop trying to figure that out. What matters is trusting him to take care of you.

Sometimes that’s not easy, admittedly.

But it’s still what matters most.

“God is our refuge and strength … therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the sea” (Psalm 46: 2, NKJV).

Trust him. It’s the only way to live.

May God bless you and your family.

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An Empty Bucket

Weariness brought them together.

The searing noontime heat made the dry and dusty road a walk of endurance.

The man stopped at the well and sat down. He was alone. His companions had gone ahead to the local market to buy food.

He was tired and thirsty. It was good to rest.

Soon, a woman came along carrying a water bucket. She could have come earlier in the day, when it was cooler, but the women of Sychar knew her and she’d rather face the heat of the day than the glances and snickers of their scorn.

They detested her. She knew it. And she knew why and she didn’t entirely blame them. It came with the territory of being who – and what – she was. To deny that would be to wallow in self-pity and that’s something she would not do. She would cling at least to that shred of dignity.

The man looked up at her, lifting his hand to his eyes for shade.

They were both thirsty but she had the bucket.

He smiled.

Then he asked her for a drink.

The simple request triggered a profound awareness.

And some surprise.

“How is it,” the woman marveled, “that you, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (John 4:9, NKJV, emphasis added)

Somehow – we know not how – she knew he was a Jew. Jews didn’t have anything to do with “half-breed” Samaritans. And men didn’t have much regard for women.

When was the last time a man treated her with kindness – or respect? Not that morning when she got out of bed. And Jews regarded Samaritans with nothing but contempt.

No wonder this woman was surprised that Jesus would speak to her – and with such goodness in his voice.

Yes, he was different – very different.

And so began the dialogue most believers are familiar with.

The woman at the well understood the water literally. Jesus spoke of living springs gushing within the soul and leading to eternal life.

Then the conversation got personal.

When the woman asked Jesus for “this water, that I thirst not”, he told her to go get her husband.

She told him she had no husband. Perhaps she felt a painful sadness mixed with bitter remorse.

Jesus was getting close. Too close, she thought.

You’re right about that, Jesus replied. “The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.” (John 4: 18, NIV).

Jesus knew her. And soon she would know him.

Before this conversation was over, Jesus revealed his identity as the Messiah. And this woman – tattered and torn by life and her own miserable choices – believed.

And it says she left her water bucket.

Suddenly the well and the water didn’t matter anymore. What mattered is that this man knew all about her and still spoke words of kindness.

For her it was a miracle.

That’s what she told the villagers when she went running back to town. “Come see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is this not the Christ?” (John 4:29, KJV).

The woman had nurtured her guilty despair for years, hidden in the deep recesses of her broken heart. But Jesus saw her – not only as she was but for what she would become. His love healed her heart, set her free and saved her soul.

Her joyful testimony transformed her community – many believed.

But before she could love the Savior, this woman discovered how much he loved her. She had to know that first.

My friend Carlos Espinoza and I were recently discussing the command to love God. Jesus tells us it is the greatest commandment. The people of Israel were told to love the Lord their God with all their heart and with all their soul and with all their might (Deuteronomy 6:5). Jesus included our minds – and our neighbors.

Carlos and I agreed that we cannot love God like that – we cannot obey this greatest commandment – until first we are changed by God’s love for us. God is the Initiator of love and we are its receivers. And only after you and I have experienced God’s love for us – full, glorious and unconditional – can we begin to truly love God. Only then can we begin to keep the greatest commandment.

Only when Peter realized how much Jesus loved him – even after that horrible night of denials – did Peter love Christ enough to follow him to the cross.

David knew this experience too – and wrote beautiful songs about it. His own love was enriched by the love and forgiveness of God.

The hardened heart that has not yet known God’s love cannot love. But the heart touched by the love of God knows the joy of true love and it shows.

It is the love of God that makes it possible for us to accept and love ourselves, rightly and as we are, and then to love others as we ought.

“We love him because he first loved us” (I John 4:19, KJV).

An empty water bucket by a well reminds us.

May God bless you and your family.

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The Devil’s Own Day

The small bearded man sat under a tree.

He was dressed in rumpled dark clothes, chewing on a cigar. He seemed calm, oblivious to the shouts and screams of the men around him. He was looking down, his broad-rim hat concealing part of his weathered face and the expressionless stoicism of his clear dark-gray eyes.

He was solitary even in a crowd.

At one point, Brigadier General William T. Sherman approached his friend.

“Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?”

Ulysses S. Grant, no stranger to adversity, failure and the struggles of demon drink, had known such days before. Disturbingly, all that seemed to arouse him was war. When some complained of his drinking, his Commander-in-Chief gave a brusque reply: “I can’t spare this man – he fights.”

General Grant looked up at Sherman.

“Yes,” he said, “lick ‘em tomorrow though.”

This was the end of day one of the bloodiest battle on the North American continent up to that time.

It was April 6, 1862, at a place along the banks of the Tennessee River called Pittsburg Landing. It would be one of the most significant battles of the Civil War. Historians know it as the Battle of Shiloh.

Confederate troops, 40,000 strong, under the able leadership of General Albert Sydney Johnston, had surprised an unprepared Union force in the morning hours. Spring was in the warm Tennessee air and the men in blue had taken to relaxing and enjoying the lush, pastoral setting of their camp. They knew the Confederates were nearby and might attack, but they had recently turned them back so never expected this assault.

The Northern troops were overwhelmed and routed.

For them, it had been “the devil’s own day” – a day of disastrous defeat.

Grant’s staff was in a panic.

If there was any thought or hope that this war would soon be over, it evaporated in the smoke and fury of Shiloh that day. Discouragement suddenly hung heavy in the once- cheerful air of the beautiful countryside.

Grant did not panic. He did not let defeat or discouragement overtake him. As bad as it was, he looked to tomorrow and to the opportunity of victory.

The Union forces dug in at a hollow point along a road called the “Hornet’s Nest.” The battle line was formed and after fierce fighting – and the arrival of Yankee reinforcements – the Union army was able to hold its ground. There were nearly 24,000 casualties in just two days of conflict.

It would have been a horrendous loss, even in a nation of 340 million. In 1862, it staggered the imagination.

The war wouldn’t end for three more years.

Have you ever experienced days that seemed like “the devil’s own”?

Maybe it started out good but how could you have foreseen what would happen before it was over?

Perhaps it was a day that started bad and only got worse.

You may be living in a series of days that you could only describe as “the devil’s own.”

You remember that long lonely corridor of grief or uncertainty in your life. Perhaps you’re walking it now.

Heartache, loneliness, discouragement, illness, depression, anxiety and temptation: these are just some of the enemies that assault us. Sometimes they come at us quite suddenly and unexpectedly. We’ve just come off a spiritual victory in our lives. We’re on that mountaintop – the news has been good – and then all of a sudden we’re knocked down again.

We’re in a valley of despond.

For the child of God, there are mountains and there are valleys; triumphs and trials; happiness and hardships; joy and grief.

We know victories and defeats.

Like Grant’s soldiers, one minute we’re basking in the warm sunshine of God’s love and provision and the next we’re in the middle of a fierce battle.

In our daily struggle with the world, the flesh and the devil, we make headway. We also suffer setbacks.

But know this: whatever you have gone through or may be going through right now, victory is yours. There is no day that belongs to the devil or his henchmen, no matter how it may seem to you at the moment.

Satan has not a single day he may call his own. He is a defeated enemy.

The clouds may obscure for a time the love and care of the almighty God, but they remain – undiminished by circumstance. You cannot see God but he’s never taken his loving eyes off you.

Each day is the day the Lord has made. For this reason – and this reason alone – you and I may rejoice and be glad for every day of life God gives us.

Good days and bad days, of course, but God rules them all.

“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand … I have not seen the righteous forsaken” (Psalm 37:23-24, KJV).

So take courage and strength. Rejoice.

Remember, the devil only seems to have his own day.

Challenges and difficulties?

“Yes, lick ‘em tomorrow though.”

May God bless you and your family.

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