Category Archives: Current Events

Rider on the Storm

It’s happening.

Again.

As I write this, Hurricane Irma, a massive Category 5 monster, is taking aim at the islands south of Florida. It could hit the Sunshine State – either coast – by this weekend.

The governor has already declared the entire state a disaster area.

Or Irma could veer toward the Gulf of Mexico and strike Mississippi or Alabama.

Nobody knows for sure. Meteorologists call the various possibilities “models.”

People wait. They prepare. They pray. Nobody can control what Irma will do. Where she will go. How hard she will hit.

He can.

He does.

Nothing underscores for humankind its utter impotence than an impending storm. We plan and orchestrate everything else. We prepare for storms the best we can but it is a reactive mode we’re all in.

The elements send us scrambling in fear and dread – gathering, filling, hoarding, hovering and fleeing.

When it comes to the weather, we’re out of control.

God alone rules the forces of nature. The order he made he commands. His omnipotence rises above our weakness. His sovereignty breaks in powerful display upon our frail dependence.

“In his hand are the depths of the earth,” writes the psalmist, “and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land” (Psalm 95:4-5, NIV).

Hurricane Harvey rained down devastation upon the Texas coast, reminding us again of how vulnerable we all can be in a matter of hours. We looked so small; God so big.

In the boat with his frightened disciples, engulfed in terrifying tumult, Jesus stood to stop the storm. “Peace, be still,” he ordered. The sea turned as calm as glass; the air as soft as a whippoorwill on a summer night.

The silence of peace.

It all happened instantly. God simply turned the dial on his universe.

Jesus looked at his disciples and smiled. “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Instead of being reassured, they grew even more fearful. Looking at each other in amazement, they said:

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”(Mark 4: 39-41, NIV).

Rich Mullins gave us the iconic praise:

“Our God is an awesome God! He reigns from heaven above.”

Harvey taught more than the awesome power of an awesome God.

It taught us, too, of the faith and resilience of its victims. In the face of incalculable loss and the threat of death itself, these men and women looked to God, the Maker and Ruler of it all, for strength, protection and guidance.

For all the Harveys of this world, the Psalmist offers timeless hope:

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof” (Psalm 46: 1-3, KJV).

Jesus never promised that the winds and the rains would never beat against our house. He told us that if we built our house upon the rock, it would stand in the midst of the storm.

While many lost their homes in Harvey, many also clung to the Rock of Ages who would take them through the deep waters.

The God who created the world, the God who commanded the storms, is the same God who would protect them and their families. This was their prayer. This was their plea to a God who is not on only all – powerful, but all – loving.

Harvey united the nation. Most disasters do.

On a Sunday morning, our pastor invited the congregation to the front of the church to pray for all those affected by the storm. He read the proclamation by President Trump setting aside a National Day of Prayer for the victims.

Here was a reminder, in a deeply divided country, that while we may vote as many, we pray as one.

It shouldn’t take a national catastrophe to unite America. It shouldn’t require a tragedy to lead us back to God. But Harvey did and that was good.

Very bad events can also bring out the very best in people.

Thousands of their fellow citizens did something to help the suffering Texans. Our daughter Suzanne, who lives in Longview, Texas, challenged her husband Casey to shave off his very pronounced beard if she could raise at least $1,000 for the Harvey relief effort.

In less than twelve hours, they were headed for Houston, towing a trailer- full of goods.

Casey was clean-shaven.

They sent back some great pictures.

Suzanne’s mother and I were proud of them. More importantly, we knew the Apostle James would have been too. Nothing so endears people to the Christian faith as when they see it put into action.

The extraordinary compassion of others – their sacrifice and generosity in the face of overwhelming suffering and need – is a reminder of our shared humanity and the image of God stamped upon every human life.

How often the worst in nature brings out the best in man.

People helping people.

The God of Nature is the God of love. This is his world. He made it. He rules it. He works even the bad things together for good.

“He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.”

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Can You See Her?

Jake Brigance had an uphill fight on his hands.

This wouldn’t be easy. Not in Canton, Mississippi. The heart of the segregated South.

His client, Carl Lee Hailey, had asked Brigance, a white man, to defend him. Hailey was black.

The jury was all white.

Brigance was an untried attorney with little confidence he could persuade anyone of anything.

Despite the grim odds, Carl Lee believed in Brigance. And placed his life in the young lawyer’s inexperienced hands.

Weeks earlier, Hailey’s ten-year old daughter, Tonya, had been abducted, brutally raped and beaten by two white supremacists. They had tried to hang the girl but when the tree limb broke, they dumped her bruised and broken body off a bridge into a riverbed.

Somehow, Tonya survives.

Brigance tells the grieving Hailey there’s a good possibility the rapists could walk free.

In blind rage and revenge, the father opens fire in the county courthouse and kills the accused.

He is arrested and charged with murder. The DA seeks the death penalty.

The remainder of the story is about the trial and the racially charged atmosphere in which it is held.

Every movie tells a story. Some are told well and make a powerful point. Others are told poorly and the audience wonders what the point was.

The 1996 film, A Time to Kill, with an all-star cast, is not only an outstanding courtroom drama but a soul-searching account of bigotry and the difficulty of overcoming it.

The movie came to mind during the recent Charlottesville violence. As we have so often before in our turbulent times, we witnessed again man’s inhumanity to man – and the unreasoning hate that fuels it.

Charlottesville exposed the human heart in its innate vulnerability and deceit. The images we saw on television reminded us of the fallen nature of humankind, the precarious treachery of our passions and the frailty of our social compact.

The heart of the race problem in this country is a problem of the heart.

The seeds of hate planted in the heart germinate through experience and circumstance. They grow, and in the right condition at the right time, they burst forth to rear their ugly head in violence and chaos. As one writer observed:

“Violence begins in our hearts before it ever hits the street.”

Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wisely warned us:

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

In his closing argument to the white jury in Canton Mississippi, seeking leniency for a distraught African-American father avenging the horrible assault upon his young daughter, Jake Brigance fell back upon a simple appeal to truth.

He asked the jury not “to just talk about the truth, but to actually seek it, to find it, to live it.”

Then the young attorney asked the men and women sitting in judgment:

“What is it in us that seeks the truth? Is it our minds or is it our hearts?”

Brigance told the jury that “until we can see each other as equals, justice is never going to be evenhanded.” Until that day, he said, “we have a duty under God to seek the truth, not with our eyes and not with our minds where fear and hate turn commonality into prejudice, but with our hearts – where we don’t know better.”

Brigance then asked the jurors to close their eyes.

He told them the story “about a little girl walking home from the grocery store one sunny afternoon. I want you to picture this little girl.”

He recounts in graphic detail her violent assault by the two rapists. How, “in a fog of drunken breath and sweat” they violate her.

“And when they’re done, after they killed her tiny womb, murdered any chance for her to bear children, to have life beyond her own, they decide to use her for target practice. So they start throwing full beer cans at her. They throw ’em so hard that it tears the flesh all the way to her bones – and they urinate on her.”

Brigance describes the attempted hanging:

“They have a rope; they tie a noose. Imagine the noose pulling tight around her neck and a sudden blinding jerk. She’s pulled into the air and her feet and legs go kicking and they don’t find the ground. The hanging branch isn’t strong enough.

It snaps and she falls back to the earth. So they pick her up, throw her in the back of the truck, and drive out to Foggy Creek Bridge and pitch her over the edge. And she drops some 30 feet down to the creek bottom below.

Can you see her? Her raped, beaten, broken body, soaked in their urine, soaked in their semen, soaked in her blood – left to die.”

Brigance raises his voice:

“Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl.”

Then he pauses and lowers his voice.

“Now imagine she’s white.”

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” – Ezekiel 36:26 (NIV).

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Stay On It

When Alice came to a fork in the road during her Adventures in Wonderland, she asked the Cheshire cat which way she should go.

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” the cat grinned.

“I don’t much care where,” Alice responded.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the cat.

Alice adds: “… so long as I get somewhere.”

The Cheshire cat grins again: “Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”

The Cheshire cat reminds us that destination determines direction.

If where we finally “want to get to” is quite flexible – if our destination doesn’t truly matter – then any road will get us there. Alice doesn’t want to stand still; she wants to go “somewhere”, she’s just not sure exactly where. The Cheshire cat reassures her that if she just keeps walking she will indeed get “somewhere.”

When it comes to religious faith, there are millions of Americans – in fact a record number – just like Alice – and plenty of grinning Cheshire cats to urge them forward on their path to “somewhere”.

Just when Protestants were losing their majority status in this country for the first time, dipping to a record low of 48%, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life discovered that nearly 20% of those it surveyed chose no religious affiliation. As Protestants, who historically dominated a Judeo-Christian America, sunk to a new demographic low, the “Nones”, as they are called, rose to a new high. Forty-six million place themselves in this category. They like the ambiguity, freedom, and tolerance of an open- ended religion.

What do these “Nones” believe? Nothing in particular and nothing too strongly, it turns out.

Most of them affirm God and prayer “somewhat” and in some form. As one None put it, she “embraces the sacred in all religions”. Here is a smorgasbord spirituality that fits the tenor of our times and the disposition of our culture. You may know a None. He or she is your neighbor, your co-worker, perhaps a member of your family.

When it comes to matters of faith, these folks “don’t much care.”

Greg Smith, senior researcher for the Pew Forum, told USA TODAY reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman:

“The rise of the Nones is a milestone in a long-term trend. People’s religious beliefs …play an important role in shaping their worldviews, their outlook in life and certainly in politics and elections.”

This is The Theological Crisis. It is a crisis of belief.

At the conclusion of his parable about a persistent widow and a relenting judge, Jesus promises an ultimate and compassionate justice for his chosen people. Then he poses a rhetorical question regarding the close of history:

“But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” (Luke 18:8, NLT). The King James Version is more direct: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?”

It’s an important question.

The Pew Forum may have recently discovered the Nones. Jesus always knew they were coming. And Jesus knew that remaining faithful to the truth – his truth – would be a decisive and courageous test for his followers in this new secular age of disbelief.

Sound doctrine and theology; right thinking and unconquerable faith have always guided the Church – through even the darkest periods of widespread skepticism and apostasy. These must firmly anchor us – and guide us – today.

It’s true, of course, that it’s always easier to blend in than it is to stand out. There is a price for courage and conviction. That price has, at times, been high but Christians have always been willing to pay it – even with their own blood if necessary.

Let us examine our faith.

Let’s reflect on it, study it and measure it in our own hearts and minds. Let’s know what we believe and why. Let’s make sure we attend churches where God’s Word is preached and taught without compromise or apology.

We must be always ready to “give an answer” ( I Peter 3:15).

Then let us go out into the world.

A world where so many do not know God, or worship him or even give him thanks; a world that, professing to be wise, thinks up “foolish ideas of what God is like”; a world where minds have become “dark and confused” (Romans 1:21, NLT). Let us go into this world and there, by God’s grace and strength, live out daily the faith we profess.

Theology is not some dusty and antiquated system of irrelevant and idle speculations. It is the very heartbeat and sinew of Christianity. Our faith must be the most important thing about us. We must know it, embrace it, defend it, contend for it, love it and live it.

Only right understanding can result in right living.

Keeping faith in an age of doubt is never easy – but it is a thrilling adventure.

The path we choose to travel has always been narrow and hard to find but the journey’s always been worth it. This may be the “road less traveled” but it makes “all the difference”.

It is a road that doesn’t just lead to “somewhere” – it leads us to eternal life and God’s heavenly kingdom.

It leads us to our destiny as his children.

It’s the right road. Let’s stay on it.

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Bernie and the Founders

It was another day and another public hearing.

There are hundreds of them every year.

Most of them are boring, uneventful and part of the routine grind of government in our nation’s capital. The media half reports, senators half listen, if they’re there at all, and witnesses drone on.

On this day, however, it was different.

Russell Vought had been named by President Trump to be the deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

An unknown nominee chosen for a non-controversial bureaucratic post in the executive branch. Hardly the sort of choice or office to ignite a firestorm.

Then Senator Bernie Sanders, the plain-spoken Vermont socialist who swept America’s college campuses in his uphill but impressive insurgent campaign for president last year against the Hillary Clinton establishment, decided to make a point.

Sanders questioned Vought about an op-ed piece he had authored about Muslims.

Mr. Vought is a born-again Christian and graduate of the evangelical academic flagship Wheaton College. In 2016, a Wheaton professor insisted that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.” The professor was ultimately fired for expressing a view in stark violation of Wheaton’s Statement of Faith and Educational Purpose.

That statement, like similar professions of faith in virtually every single church and institution in America that regards itself as authentically Christian, says that personal salvation and eternal life are secured through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

Christians do not regard this core belief as incendiary, inhumane, defamatory, cruel, unkind or un-American. They see it instead as a basic and non-negotiable tenet of their faith, grounded in the scriptures, openly professed by the Christian Church for centuries and self-evident in the teachings of Jesus about himself.

To deny this belief is to renounce Christianity.

Christianity is centered on Jesus Christ – his incomparable deity, his miraculous virgin birth, his sinless life, his sufficient atonement, his glorious resurrection, his undeniable perfection, his eternal word, his unchallenged omnipotence and his imminent return to earth.

This why our religion is called Christianity.

This is theology. This is doctrine. This is sacred writ. This is personal religious convictions. This is freedom of conscience.

This is not politics or ideology.

Since Russell Vought, as a devout Christian, believes all this, he wrote an article defending his alma mater’s decision to fire the heretical professor.

In his op-ed, Vought wrote:

“Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”

This is what provoked Senator Sanders at Mr. Vought’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Budget Committee.

This champion of collectivism and the all-powerful State, from his seat in the Senate, repeatedly – and with heightened irritation, and then outright anger – demanded that Mr. Vought either renounce his beliefs or admit he’s an Isamophobic racist and a bigot for believing that Jesus is the only way to heaven.

When Mr. Vought calmly explained that he is a Christian and this is his faith, Sanders announced:

“This nominee is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about. I will vote no.”

Bernie Sanders had conducted his own religious inquisition, demanded the witness recant his false beliefs and swear allegiance to the God of Tolerance.

When Mr. Vought declared, in essence, “here I stand; I can do no other”, Sanders pronounced his sentence:

Russell Vought is not qualified to hold any office in American government.

Why?

Because Russell Vought is a Christian.

When Sanders saw he had created a front-page story – and none too flattering – he began to back-peddle. But he stopped short of admitting his own flagrant intolerance and bigotry – or his patently unconstitutional error.

Nor did the Vermont senator apologize to Mr. Vought for his arrogant, demeaning and brow- beating tirade.

As we approach our annual celebration of American liberty, it might be a good time to remember that our nation’s founders, true libertarians, sought, in every possible way to protect the new American republic from fiery and narrow ideologues like Bernie Sanders.

Why?

Because Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Hamilton and Madison had the wisdom and foresight to know such religious intolerance had no place in a free land of free people.

This is not “what this country is supposed to be about.”

The founders adopted an individual Bill of Rights and placed it in the American Constitution. The first liberty the First Amendment guaranteed was freedom of religion. This included “the free exercise” of religious belief.

The founders further sought to protect Americans from inquisitors like Bernie Sanders by expressly and absolutely prohibiting any “religious test” for holding public office.

When John F. Kennedy addressed a convocation of Southern Baptists in Houston skeptical of his Catholicism during his 1960 campaign for president, he declared that he would disavow neither “my views or my church in order to win this election.”

He then told the Protestant clergymen that if “40,000,000 Americans lost their chance of being President on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser …”

With Peter and the apostles in Acts, Russell Vought made it clear he would obey his God rather than bow to the State.

Bernie Sanders sounded “a fire bell in the night.”

His is a sign of things to come.

May each of us be prepared to give an answer and to make our choice.

Our founding fathers did no less.

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These Boys, These Men

He stood erect and stately in his crisp and perfectly-tailored dark blue suit.

The day was cloudy, the wind blew gently across the northern sea. It was a majestic setting, these high, sharp cliffs.

Those seated in front of him wore stoic countenances on their weathered faces.

Forty years ago, these men were young and filled with both terror and determination. The task before them was as dangerous as it was noble.

On that historic day, D-Day, their president had lifted them up in prayer on national radio before millions of their countrymen:

“Almighty God:

Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt unashamedly beseeched the aid of God in the great and hazardous undertaking.

The stakes had never been higher.

The whole world stood poised on the precipice of darkness and ruin. Good and evil stood balanced and faced each other. The eyes of the nation united in looking unto Him Who alone rules in the affairs of men and holds the nations in His omnipotent hand as the small dust of the scales (Isaiah 40:15).

The praying president was humble and direct before the Creator of all the earth:

“They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces … They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest – until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.”

The president confessed the reality every parent of every soldier in every war dreads to face.

“Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.”

FDR closed with a simple petition:

“Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen”.

On June 6, 1984, standing on these cliffs on the northern shore of France where American soldiers had stormed ashore four decades earlier “to set free a suffering humanity”, President Ronald Reagan had come to salute those who had survived.

He was joined by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands, King Olav V of Norway, King Baudouin I of Belgium, Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg, and Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau of Canada.

In his clear and mellow voice, the President set the stage, as perhaps only an actor with a great speech writer – Peggy Noonan – could:

“We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon.”

Reagan described what came next for the 225 Rangers who ran to the bottom of these cliffs at dawn that fateful day.

“Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.”

The President spoke of how the men climbed up rope ladders amidst the German artillery fire descending from the summit. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut by the enemy, a Ranger would grab another and keep climbing.

“They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe.”

After two days of undiminished perseverance, of the 225 who began the climb up the cliffs, only 90 could still fight.

Referring to the memorial behind him that honors their gallantry, President Reagan looked at the aged veterans. His voice filled with emotion, he said:

“These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.”

The old soldiers’ eyes glistened.

Reagan spoke to them:

“Forty summers have passed … You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys …Yet, you risked everything here.

Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here?

We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.”

Today, we also salute “the boys of Pointe du Hoc … the men who took the cliffs …” and all the men and women who have laid down their lives in the cause of freedom around the world.

The heroism that preserved liberty is the lasting legacy of a free republic.

Thank God for our soldiers, our sailors, our airmen. May we remember them always – and their heritage of sacrifice which is ours as a free people.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, KJV).

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Abe’s Admonition

It came during dark days. It came in the midst of war.

War as we had never seen it, before or since.

It came to a nation bitterly divided.

The resolution had passed the United States Senate on the third of March. Now it was on the President’s desk for his signature. It called for A Day of National Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer.

The year was 1863. It was the third year of the Civil War.

President Abraham Lincoln had not grown up as a particularly devout man. In fact, early in his political career, he was forced to defend charges that he was an “open scoffer at Christianity.” Although the deaths of two sons, one just the previous year, had deepened Lincoln’s faith in Divine Providence, it could hardly have been said that the President was an avid practicing Christian, especially during the pious mid-nineteenth century. He had not, for example, joined any church, though he did occasionally attend a Presbyterian church in Washington.

Now, as the bloody conflict raged on and three months after signing the Emancipation Proclamation that officially ended slavery, Lincoln prepared to issue another presidential proclamation. He words were eloquent. They were also stark. The President, who never wore his religion on his sleeve and never pandered it to garner votes, spoke truth to power.

In his message, he revealed more spiritual insights and wisdom than many religious leaders – then or now.

Lincoln wrote that “nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world.” He argued that “the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins.” Lincoln revisited this theme of God’s judgment in his Second Inaugural Address.

“… inflicted upon us … “(emphasis added). The President was careful not to blame the South alone.

In this proclamation, he pointed out that America had been blessed with “the choicest bounties of Heaven” and “preserved these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown.”

Then the President dropped the hammer.

“But we have forgotten God,” Lincoln wrote. “We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us.”

One might be tempted to think that Lincoln was familiar with the warning of Moses to the people of Israel found in the Book of Deuteronomy:

“For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the LORD your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt.” [Deut. 8:12 -14, NLT].

Like Moses, Lincoln laid the responsibility for national seriousness and remembering in the hands of the citizens themselves. Like an Old Testament prophet, he rebuked a forgetfulness brought on by the arrogance of success.

“…we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!”

If Lincoln wrote that in 1863, what would he say of us today?

The richest, greatest and most powerful nation on earth has neglected and trivialized worship, boasted of its own ingenuity and achievements, secularized Sunday and elevated and enriched those who those who are, to use Lincoln’s own term, “open scoffers at Christianity.” Our culture revels in debauchery and our national government continues to legislatively legitimize all manner of sexual immorality and – in the name of freedom – approves a virulent hostility toward religion.

Never in our history have we been more materially rich and spiritually destitute. It’s been aptly observed:

“We worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.”

Lincoln was a leader who understood and respected the power and holiness of a sovereign God Who had his own way with nations – even one as great as the United States. He had suffered tragic personal loss and had seen bloodshed on a massive scale. He knew it was a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Today, May 4, is the National Day of Prayer. God tells us that national healing and spiritual renewal begin with “my people, who are called by my Name” [II Chronicles 7:14].

Christians should be the very first to heed Lincoln’s call:

“It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”

Let this be our prayer for America.

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American Cyrus?

It was a solemn occasion. An annual event since 1953.

The day when official Washington gathers to reflect on the meaning of faith in America. A time when elected leaders set aside their differences to unite in seeking God’s providential guidance.

The religious community, like the political one, would be drawn together in a belief that what unites the nation is more important than what divides it.

The National Prayer Breakfast is an opportunity for the American President, regardless of party, to offer noble words of encouragement; to affirm the moral and spiritual values that create what has long been described as a “civil religion” that binds and strengthens the American republic.

This is a very dignified and thoughtful event.

Our new president began his speech with a request that we pray for Arnold Schwarzenegger, the President’s successor as host of the TV reality show The Apprentice.

“And we know how that turned out,” the president said. “The ratings went right down the tubes. It’s been a total disaster … so pray for Arnold.”

Then, referring to the Senate chaplain, the president said he would make sure he got reappointed:

“I don’t know if you’re Democrat or Republican, but I’m appointing you for another year. The hell with it.”

It was another first – presidential profanity at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Once again, Donald J. Trump reminded us – in case we may have forgotten – that he is a unique president.

Trump won the White House with the enthusiastic support of many leading evangelicals and the votes of most Christians.

It was drenched in irony and hardly a match made in heaven.

He didn’t win those votes by pretending to be a paragon of virtue. He didn’t bill himself as “the Christian candidate.”

On their way to the polls, most followers of Jesus overlooked Trump’s awkward attempts at being one of them (“Two Corinthians”; not asking for forgiveness), his three marriages, his obscene videos about sexual conquest, his wide array of personal attacks and his often crass, violent and vulgar language on the stump.

It was in spite of this mountain of moral evidence that Christians voted for Trump.

He was running against Hillary Clinton. The country had been led for eight years by the most liberal president since Woodrow Wilson. Gay Marriage had become the celebrated law of the land and religious liberty was in the dock.

Christians were feeling increasingly threatened by the media, popular culture and their own government. Just like blue – collar workers in the industrial Midwest, evangelicals saw themselves under siege by forces they could not control.

They threw away the Christian litmus test and cast their votes for one of the most profane and least pious nominees in history.

They cared less that President Trump swore at the prayer breakfast and more about his pledge to “get rid of and totally destroy” the legal prohibition against churches’ open political activity.

By permitting their ministers to endorse candidates from the pulpit and engaging in other partisan efforts, churches run the risk of becoming an extension of the party caucus on Sunday.

It’s not a wise move for the church – or the state.

Be that as it may, Trump has told Christians he’s on their side in this moral struggle and would stand up boldly for them.

Martin Luther famously said he’d rather be governed by a competent Hun than an incompetent Christian. As we mark the first 100 days of his administration, we may not yet know how competent Donald Trump will ultimately prove himself to be. The Presidency changes a person dramatically. We’ve already seen this in how our new Commander-in Chief responded to the Syrian gas attacks.

He changed his position and struck the evil regime.

When you’re president, where you stand depends on where you sit.

Competent or not, Trump has persuaded most evangelicals that he will be their fearless champion and defender. As it was last November, for them, for now, that’s enough.

In the Bible, Cyrus, the founder of the Persian empire, was chosen by God to be the instrument of liberation for the Jews. Through the prophet Isaiah, God spoke directly to Cyrus long before he was born. He was the only non-Jew to be called by God “his anointed one” (messiah, Isaiah 45:1).

God promised Cyrus – in a divine prenatal prophecy – that he would be given success, power and great wealth. God said he would do this “so you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name” (Isaiah 45:3, NLT).

God raises rulers for his own divine purpose – whether they know him or not. Whether they fear him or not. They may not call him by name, but he knows them.

“Why have I called you for this work?” God asked Cyrus. “Why did I call you by name when you did not know me?” (verse 4, NLT).

It’s another divine rhetorical question, replete in scripture.

There’s always a purpose in God’s choosing and guiding of nations and kings.
“It is for the sake of Jacob my servant, Israel my chosen one” (verse 4, NLT).

God’s people.

They would be protected, cared for and freed by a secular king who did not worship their God. A king who did not share their faith in Jehovah but set them free to worship him in their own land.

An unlikely instrument; an unwitting champion.

Why?

“So all the world would know there is no other God” (Isaiah 45:6, NLT).

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The Columnist

He didn’t land on the cover of Time until he posed as the devil.

He later conceded it was the hardest book he’d written.

C. S. Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters to imagine what it would be like to see this world – and Christians – from the standpoint of Satan and his demons. It became a bestseller and made Lewis a literary legend.

Part of this success comes from our longstanding insatiable curiosity with anything satanic. It is an irresistible preoccupation, sometimes even in the church. Today, an increasing number of sophisticated Americans don’t believe in a personal devil any more than they accept a personal Christ.

Assuming he exists and has an interest – the Bible says he does – what might the devil’s design look like?

One columnist wrote, “If I were the Prince of Darkness I would engulf the whole earth in darkness”.

“We know we are children of God,” the apostle John wrote in his first letter, “and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one” (I John 5:19, NLT).

He’s the “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2, KJV). He and his diabolical subjects are “the rulers of this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12, KJV).

Our fallen world has been the devil’s dark domain ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. The columnist noted this and wrote:

“I would begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve, ‘Do as you please’”.

As they walked fearfully through the forest, the Scarecrow told Dorothy and the Tin Man, “Of course I don’t know, but I think it’ll get darker before it gets lighter.”

It has – and it will.

The entire trajectory of every declining civilization is marked, guided and finally corrupted by moral nihilism. “Do as you please”. The West is no exception. America has been “slouching toward Gomorrah’, as the late judge Robert Bork once put it, for some time.

This doesn’t mean you and I shouldn’t pray for another Great Awakening – anything is possible with God – it’s just that a turnaround doesn’t appear in the cards anytime soon.

“To the young,” the columnist wrote, “I would whisper ‘The Bible is a myth’. I would convince them that ‘man created God’ instead of the other way around. I would confide that ‘what is bad is good and what is good is square’”.

“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20, KJV).

Nothing is more contemporary than “relevance” or more scoffed at than moral certainty. “Tolerance,” observed G.K. Chesterton, “is the virtue of the man without convictions”.

Young Americans have been captured by popular culture – one of Satan’s most potent weapons in moving the masses. Even young evangelicals and their cool mega pastors, far from defending “the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3), have begun to question it.

“‘For the Bible tells me so’” declared one popular preacher last year, “that’s where our problem began”.

“If I were the devil, I would encourage schools to refine young intellects, but neglect to discipline emotions; let those run wild … With flattery and promises of power I would get the courts to vote against God and in favor of pornography”.

Continued the columnist:

“Then in his own churches I’d substitute psychology for religion and deify science. If I were Satan, I’d make the symbol of Easter an egg and the symbol of Christmas a bottle”.

Nothing has been more pitiful and tragic than the gradual secularization of the church in America; the church’s anxious aping of the world in hope of gaining the world’s approval. It is a fool’s errand that has weakened beyond recognition the last best hope of rescuing the nation and pulling it back from the moral abyss.

We’ll know spiritual revival is possible when it begins in the churches of this land.

Lewis didn’t write The Screwtape Letters simply to entertain his readers, though it did. He wrote so Christians would be more aware of the subtle strategies of Satan and better prepared to resist them.

“This world with devils filled” may threaten to undo us. We are not on a playground but a battlefield and called to battle we are. The Bible teaches us nothing if not that we are locked in a titanic mortal struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil – every day and in every way.

We need not let Satan “outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes” (II Corinthians 2:11, NLT).

“We are not ignorant of his devices” (KJV).

You and I may draw strength and confidence, even when the hot breath of the roaring lion is upon us.

Though Satan seems triumphant, his doom is sure. Jesus Christ came to “destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8) and that final victory is already won – and shared by every saint who has placed his or her faith in Christ.

Though Satan is strong, Christ in us is stronger (I John 4:4).

Though Satan is menacing, we can resist him – and are commanded to do so (James 4:7; I Peter 5:9). Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

Fear not! Victory is yours!

The columnist who had Satan’s plan in place?

Paul Harvey.

He wrote If I Were the Devil in 1964.

And now you know the rest of the story.

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Coming in From the Wind

Turn that down!

What?

The noise!

What’d you say?

TURN DOWN THE NOISE!

There, that’s better.

Have you noticed how much noise is out there? As a human race, we can’t seem to stand silence. It’s as if we fear that by being still we would risk an introspection too hard to bear.

This is cultural white noise.

An incessant drumbeat of shallow, angry, narcissistic banalities. We’re more divided as a nation than at any time since the Civil War and technology has made it easier and faster to simply talk past each other.

Nobody listens. Eager for a platform and their 15 minutes of fame, everybody talks.

We’re drowning in a foaming sea of cacophony; “a discordant and meaningless mixture of sounds”.

It’s his temperament – and his temper – that leads our new president to angrily tweet all hours of the day and night. He craves the limelight, which one would expect of a reality celebrity. There are dozens of others, just none as good.

In this, President Trump most resembles Theodore Roosevelt, of whom daughter Alice once remarked:

“Father would be the bride at every wedding – and the corpse at every funeral”.

The president has aroused an opposite – though hardly equal – reaction, adding to this deafening dissonance. It’s sheer idiocy that leads people with nothing else to do into the streets to chant, shout and throw rocks.

It’s been daily since the election.

In his prophetic poem, The Second Coming, WB Yeats wrote that “the falcon cannot hear the falconer” …
“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world …”

For the Christian, this world is too much with us. We can’t escape it, we can’t leave it; we’re left to cope with it. We too are creatures of our times.

You and I must embrace the silence. We must find a sacred solitude in the midst of carnal contentions. That’s not easy but nothing great ever is.

When Elijah the prophet fled the wicked queen Jezebel in fear for his life, he came to Mount Sinai – the mountain of God. There he hid in a cave, despaired of living and telling God to take him. The triumph of another mountain, Carmel, seemed a distant memory.

Elijah was discouraged.

“I have had enough, Lord” (I Kings 19: 4, NLT).

God invited Elijah to go outside the cave and stand. When God passed by, a mighty windstorm tore loose the rocks and howled in violent terror.

“But the Lord was not in the wind” (I Kings 19: 11, KJV).

Then a fearsome rumbling earthquake shook the mountain, reverberating through the valley below.

“But the Lord was not in the earthquake” (verse 11).

Then a blazing fire ignited the rugged mountainside threatening to consume all before it and Elijah hid his face from the scorching heat.

“But the Lord was not in the fire” (verse 12).

Then, after these violent noisy cataclysms of the natural order passed, order returned. Tranquility descended. Stillness gripped the mountain of God.

And then God spoke. He did not howl in his vengeance. He did not thunder in his holiness. He did not burn in his righteous indignation.

God spoke in “a still small voice” (verse 12, KJV).

It “was the sound of a gentle whisper” (NLT).

In that stillness, that quietness, that solitude upon the mountain of God, without any more distraction or disturbance, Elijah then heard the voice of his Lord speak to him.

It wasn’t the voice of contention. Or eruption. It wasn’t the voice of angry recriminations, nor was it the voice of anxiety or fear or dismay or uncertainty.

It was a still voice.

It was a gentle voice.

It was a small voice.

Elijah had to concentrate or he might have missed it. He had to listen with his ear. More than this he had to listen with his mind. Most of all, Elijah had to listen with his heart – pure, undiluted, sincere listening.

You and I must do this or we will miss God’s voice.

We’ll hear the mega-church celebrities seeking the cameras, the talking heads, bobbing, weaving and speculating; we’ll hear the politicians debating and angling.

We’ll even hear the devil accusing, pestering and nagging.

We’ll hear the wind, the quakes and the fire.

But we won’t hear God’s still, small voice. We won’t hear his gentle whisper to our heart.

Not until we are still.

“Be still,” he commands us, “and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

“We run hurriedly into the presence of God,” wrote nineteenth century pastor FB Meyer, “leave our card as on a morning call, then plunge into the eager rush of life”.

In prayer, we talk to God. We seldom give him a chance to reply.

Then we’re gone.

CS Lewis identified the dilemma of our human frailty – and the challenge in meeting it:

“All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in … Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.”

How hard for me to do. How important that I do it.

God help us to find the time and the place for silence.

Then – and only then – will we hear our Master’s voice.

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Access

Who is Steve Bannon?

We don’t really know much about him.

He’s the mysterious figure behind all the scenes; a conservative media guru.

He helped elect Donald Trump the 45th president.

Now, in a move that perplexed many and angered others, President Trump has made Mr. Bannon an official member of the National Security Council.

It’s an unprecedented action – and controversial.

Mr. Bannon – a political operative – will now have direct participatory access to the highest levels of national security decision – making. The NSC is a very powerful and exclusive group. Members advise the president on complex matters of critical concern and worldwide impact.

This is all about access to power and authority.

Because of what the president did, Bannon has the right to walk right in and take a seat at the table where life and death decisions are often made.

It’s official from the very top – he’s in. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? He’s out.

Access is important. It’s not always easy.

To gain entrance into our own bank accounts, we often have to answer security questions. In setting up an account recently I had to provide answers to four different questions.

Unlike Mr. Bannon, you and I are not likely to be made members of the National Security Council. Our influence and access are more limited. The President of the United States is not going to appoint most of us to any important post.

When God was dealing with the people of Israel in the Old Testament, access to the Almighty Creator was not only severely limited – it was a terrifying thing.

Even Moses, the courageous leader of the nation, trembled in the fearful presence of the holy and omnipotent God. “I exceedingly fear and quake”, he said (Deuteronomy 9:19, Hebrews 12:21, KJV).

The Israelites would timidly follow Moses to the foot of Mount Sinai – “a place of flaming fire, darkness, gloom, and whirlwind” (Hebrews 12:18, NLT). Moses alone could ascend. Moses alone could make intercession for a sinful people and plead their case before a displeased Deity.

Engulfed in “blackness, and darkness, and tempest” (KJV), the holy mountain symbolized the awful gulf that stood between God and the human race. There was no real access to this God, only wrath and judgement; no bridge from mortal flesh to divine purity.

“For they heard an awesome trumpet blast and a voice so terrible that they begged God to stop speaking” (Hebrews 12: 19, NLT).

The story of Israel’s travail – the record of its sinful cycle of repentance and rebellion – is a revelation of man’s hopelessly fallen condition – then and now.

God kept his distance. People made sacrifices according to exact requirements. The priests made the people’s confession. It was not easy – their world was filled with the consuming awesomeness of an untouchable Maker.

“If even an animal touches the mountain,” God commanded, “it must be stoned to death” (verse 20, NLT).

The writer of Hebrews – a letter to Jewish Christians – pivots at this point and offers a beautiful contrast to all the gloom and doom he’s just described.

But this contrast doesn’t begin here.

It was magnificently symbolized the day Jesus Christ died on the cross.

As the earth rocked and the heavens wept, the mighty and impenetrable veil in the temple which separated the people from their God was torn asunder from top to bottom.

The way to a holy God was now made possible by what Jesus did when he took our sins upon himself. When he paid the price.

Access denied was now suddenly granted.

Paul said it directly to the Ephesians:

“For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (Ephesians 2:18, KJV, emphasis added). Through Christ, God opened up a new life and a new way – simple in its beauty, profound in its meaning.

Equal access under God’s new law – his new covenant – had forever changed our relationship to him. Here was a new and brighter day.

Paul wrote in Romans:

“Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege …” (Romans 5:2, NLT).

You and I now have “access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (KJV, emphasis added).

A dreadful mountain reminding us of our sin and God’s unapproachability?

Gone.

Not Mount Sinai anymore with all its fire and thunder.

“No, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to countless thousands of angels in a joyful gathering” (Hebrews 12:22, NLT). There are the innumerable saints – “the general assembly and church of the firstborn” whose names are “written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:22-23, KJV).

I cannot envision that glorious scene without a lump in my throat.

What a difference Calvary made!

The mountain of foreboding replaced by the city of rejoicing.

And there, in the midst of it all, is Jesus our Lord, “the mediator of the new Covenant” (verse 24).

You and I have access to God.

That’s better than the NSC.

“So, let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:15, NLT).

That’s real access.

Steve Bannon can have the White House.

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