Monthly Archives: December 2017

Lesson from a Dark Hour

Movies.

They’re fascinating.

Every one tells a story.

Movies are not only a vital part of America’s culture – they’re part of the collective American psyche. They have helped to tell the unique American story – and the story of civilization.

Film tells the story of life – in all its grandeur and depravity.

This is why Christians need to watch movies.

Although an enthusiastic movie buff, I’ve seldom recommended a movie in this space.

I remember urging you to see The King’s Speech, the inspiring true story of how George VI overcame his stuttering on the eve of World War II. Then there was the towering depiction of America’s greatest leader in Steven Spielberg’s incomparable Lincoln.

Now comes a movie for the New Year. A film for this New Year.

Darkest Hour tells the gripping story of the pivotal weeks in May, 1940, when England turns to Winston Churchill, another ex-stutterer, to lead the nation through its greatest crisis of survival.

English actor Gary Oldman portrays the iconic British statesman with the rarest of skill. If the movie was nothing more than that – a one – man show – it alone would be worth much more than the price of your ticket.

Oldman is Churchill – in appearance, speech, action, idiosyncrasies and thought – a remarkable transformation combining award-winning makeup with a stunning performance that is unforgettable – and Oscar-worthy.

Oldman spent 200 hours in make-up and got nicotine poisoning from smoking so many Cuban cigars.

This movie, however, is much more than one man’s talent – as prodigious as that is.

Here is the story of an ancient and noble nation fighting to live. And how one man inspired its people to do just that.

We are reminded of the cataclysmic threat and deep uncertainty of that critical moment. So very much hanged in the balance. The whole world teetered on the abyss of what Churchill would describe as “a new Dark Age.”

Anxiety and dread hung over the British Isles like a thick London fog.

England needed the right leadership. In Churchill, the man and the moment met. If one believes at all in God, this was Providential.

What’s well to remember in watching Darkest Hour – and tempting to forget sitting in a comfortable twenty – first century theater – is that the outcome of all this was very much in doubt.

England and the whole world faced a very fearful future.

Hitler had invaded France, Belgium and the Netherlands. He took them all. Churchill beseeched FDR for help but the president expressed his regrets at America’s implacable neutrality and in-bred isolationism.

England stood alone.

Many British politicians, including Churchill’s predecessor Neville Chamberlain, thought England must negotiate with Hitler and, failing that, surrender. If Churchill resisted, they were prepared to declare him crazy and remove him from office.

In his excellent review of the movie in National Review, historian Victor Davis Hanson, wrote:

“Oldman reminds a generation of amnesiac global youth that nearly 80 years ago, the dogged defiance of a 66-year-old Victorian Englishman – portly and not much over 5-foot-6 – saved Western civilization from Nazi barbarism.”

For Christians, there is much value in watching Darkest Hour.

Especially heading into a New Year.

Churchill was a man of great courage. In the midst of ridicule, attack and political incredulity, he stood firm and determined. He was not swayed by political opinion but by what he knew to be right. A weaker man, under pressure, would have faltered and entered peace talks. Churchill never.

We must be people of courage. Paul the apostle told the Philippians not to be intimidated by their enemies. Just like Churchill, he wrote, “We are in this struggle together” (Philippians 1:30).

Churchill was a man of great convictions. He understood Hitler when most did not. He despised appeasement. He was prepared to fight; to lay down his own life if need be. He embraced a set of inviolate principles which he declared he would “never surrender.”

We must be men and women of convictions in the midst of moral appeasement. We must not only stand but know what to stand for – and, when required, to stand alone and to always be prepared to give an answer for the reason for our hope (I Peter 3:15).

Churchill was a man of great confidence. He believed in England. He believed in the preservation of Western civilization. He believed Hitler could be defeated. He believed in the triumph of right over might. In this supreme confidence Winston Churchill never wavered.

You and I must be people of confidence. We have every good reason for hope. We may not know what the future holds but we know a sovereign God who reigns through all the changing fortunes of men and nations. He loves us. He will protect us. He will guide us. He will provide for us.

God not only knows the future – he has ordained it. Because he is the planner, the plan is flawless. Because he never changes, neither does his love for us.

And so we must remain – with joy and hope – confident in all that is ahead.

These are the lessons we may learn from one of history’s darkest hours – and from the life, words and example of the man God used to help defeat tyranny and secure freedom.

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The Question

It was the end of another busy and extraordinary day.

Twilight.

Finally a time to rest and reflect.

Gathered around the flickering fire that eased the descending chill, the men talked softly on this calm and beautiful star-studded evening.

They were happy and excited. They had never experienced anything even close to this.
The response of the growing crowds, the teachings, the miracles.

What had taken place in Decapolis, near the Sea of Galilee, was incredible. Hundreds of eager people seeking to be healed came to him: the blind, the dumb, and the crippled.

He healed them all.

These men – his closest followers who had left everything to go with him – were amazed in his presence.

Jesus had taken the disciples to the region of Caesarea Philippi. He wanted some quality time with the men who would one day carry his message to the world.

On this hillside, around this fire, on this night, he would ask them. The time and location were no accident.

Caesarea Philippi was a very religious place – and also religiously diverse.
Theologian William Barclay wrote:

“Here was an area where the breath of ancient religion was in the very atmosphere. Here was a place beneath the shadow of the ancient gods.”

A religious secularism, intriguing and sophisticated in its scope, not entirely unlike the religious attitudes of twenty-first century America.

Jesus looked at them intently.

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16: 13).

They were silent.

They looked at each other.

Andrew spoke first.

“Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah.”

Thaddeus added: “But still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16: 14).

Jesus gently nodded his understanding and smiled. He knew there would always be conflicting opinions.

It seems somewhat strange that Jesus would have asked such a question. He had expressed no particular concern about what others thought of him. He was fearless in what he said and did.

He offered no apologies for his controversial and unprecedented teaching. His call was to faith and obedience.

There was absolutely nothing equivocal or tentative about this man. He had no interest in polls but here he takes one.

Like everything else, this was intentional. He was setting a cultural and religious backdrop against which he would contrast popular opinion with personal belief. In the final analysis, Jesus is saying, what others think is quite beside the point.

The confusing differences and ideas of the crowd offer neither clarity nor help. They never have; they never will.

Jesus knew this, of course. He wanted these men to know it too. Jesus wants us to know it.

That everyone had an opinion shows how little things have changed.

Jesus looked at them.

“But what about you? Who do you say that I am?” (verse 15, emphasis added).

Jesus has ratcheted up the conversation.

Here is the intimate emphasis. In the Greek of the New Testament, it may be rendered:

“But you yourselves – who do you say that I am?”

Again there was silence.

Jesus permits no escape from the very personal and central verdict each of us must render about him.

Peter said some wise things. He also said some foolish things. What he said was always bold.

In answering Jesus on this night, the rough and unschooled fisherman spoke with uncharacteristic deliberation, as if startled by his own confidence.

“Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16: 16).

Here is the point – the vital reality – where Peter stakes his life on his belief. It’s the greatest single declaration of conviction and allegiance recorded in the Bible.

We may call it a human insight, except that Jesus, in commending Peter’s faith, says it comes from God.

Peter speaks with definite singular affirmation:

The Christ.

The Son.

The living God.

So must each of us – individually, for all time and into eternity.

Jesus does not stand crowded among equal and competing gods, conjured-up by Athenian-style sophisticated intellectuals in our politically correct age of relativism.

Jesus Christ alone is God, Messiah, Redeemer, Savior, Lord and King. Beside him, there is no other.

Someday every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess it.

It will be unanimous.

What you and I think of Jesus – what we believe about him – matters. Forever.

In the end, Peter spoke for them all that night. They would march to the ends of the earth proclaiming his answer and lay down their lives for its truth.

“Who do you say that I am?”

This is the question of this Christmas. And of every Christmas.

Jesus is Christmas. Jesus is Christianity. This season is not just some warm glow and eggnog. It is the joyful celebration of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.

Ask the prophets who foretold his birth.

Ask the angels who announced it.

Ask Simeon who held and blessed him in the temple.

Ask Zechariah whose loosened tongue heralded the coming Messiah.

Ask the wise men who bowed down and worshipped him as their King, though he was but a child.

Ask Handel, Watts and Wesley who wrote the immortal songs that triumphed his nativity.

From beginning to end, the Bible’s theme is Jesus Christ.

His birth in Bethlehem is the uniquely orchestrated, impressively detailed, compellingly accurate, beautifully expressed and amazingly fulfilled prophecy of the Old Testament.

He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

                                                  “Oh come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.”

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Jesus and Women

He said he meant no harm.

He realizes now it was wrong.

Clearly there was a misunderstanding about intentions – perceived or real.

Al Franken, Democratic United States senator from Minnesota, is resigning.

It’s major news. We only have 100 senators in a nation of 340 million people.

For the past three weeks, things in the senate had been pretty quiet. Franken, serving his second term, had been accused of sexual harassment by a woman news reporter several years ago, before he was a senator. He acknowledged the offense and apologized.

Then other women came forward with multiple charges of sexual misconduct.

By midweek, the tipping point came.

Democratic women senators began calling for Franken to step down. They were joined by their male colleagues, including the Democratic leader in the senate. It seemed another senator joined the public chorus every two minutes – statements and texts grew from a stream to a mighty current in a few hours.

It happened that fast.

Senator Franken’s resignation came the same week that congressman John Conyers of Michigan, the Dean of the House of Representatives, serving there since the 1960s, also resigned amidst mounting allegations of improper sexual conduct.

The allegations against Franken and Conyers followed widespread similar public charges that have swept through Hollywood, the news media and the corporate world for several months, claiming the careers and reputations of well-known leaders in their fields.

In the special senate election in Alabama, Judge Roy Moore, the Republican – and staunch conservative Christian crusader – has been accused by several women of sexual assault, one claims when she was 14. Moore has fiercely denied all charges, calling them an evil attack against him for his moral stands. President Trump, whose own record on this sort of thing is less than pristine, has endorsed Moore anyway.

Just in time for the holidays, this new cultural phenomenon, with all its sordid, tawdry and spewed-forth details, has raised a central moral question for our anything-goes, sex-drenched nation.

What does it mean for a man to truly respect a woman?

What male behavior toward women must stop? And if not, be publicly condemned and punished?

Sexual harassment and assault; threats and intimidation; fear of retribution. For too many, especially in the workplace, this is a woman’s reality. Powerful, aggressive men trying to get what they want, feeding their lusts; acting entitled.

Washington is the narcissism capital of the world.

Egos are massive, manner and speech arrogant; men have dominated; deference is paid and fawning sycophants are plenteous. It’s not a pretty picture. Men’s quest for power includes their grasp for women – especially vulnerable subordinates.

The halls of power have always been rife with unbridled sexual presumption. And the longer men have wielded power the more obnoxious and predatory they have become.

The underlying cause of all this, other than men’s libidos, is a contemptuous disregard for women as equal human beings. Only a man who looks down on women could be guilty of performing what has been graphically described by the victims of these assaults.

Our elected officials are no saints and we would do well to resist holding them to that lofty standard. They are only human and the ways of our capital would tempt Francis of Assisi.

Still, we must hold our representatives to some standard of decency. Otherwise, our self- government becomes itself corrupted by increasingly licentious leaders.

When that happens the very soul of our republic is infected.

Here’s the good news – best remembered and celebrated in this Christmas season.

God and his Son Jesus have a very high regard for women.

When the Creator of the universe entered human history, he chose to become the “offspring of a virgin’s womb.”

God dispatched the angel Gabriel to visit Mary and he told her she was “highly favored” and blessed among women (Luke 1:28). Another angel told Joseph he should not fear becoming Mary’s husband. No condemnation, embarrassment or scandal would be permitted to touch her pure and holy life.

A woman nursed God, bathed him, clothed him and changed his diapers. What beauty is there in the condescending incarnation! And what honor conferred upon a woman.

Mary raised Jesus to adulthood, perhaps as a single mom for some of that time.

No one in history did more to recognize and embrace the dignity and equality of women than Jesus Christ. In a culture and time when women were held in low regard.

Jesus honored his mother. He invited Martha’s sister Mary to sit at his feet with his disciples, the inner circle, and learn of his coming kingdom. Even when her sister wanted her in the kitchen. He forgave the young adulteress when, under law, she deserved death and gave her a second chance at new life.

Jesus permitted a prostitute to anoint his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. Then, in the presence of a houseful of prideful men, Jesus forgave her sins which, he acknowledged, were many.

Jesus condemned the self-serving exploitation of easy divorce (Matthew 19:7-9) and raised a purer and higher standard against lust and adultery (Matthew 5: 26-28).

Because the Messiah came, Paul tells us, there is no longer male or female. We are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

What does it mean for a man to truly respect a woman?

Jesus set the example.

Let us follow him.

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