Category Archives: Politics

Mightier Than The Sword

It wasn’t easy to notice.

Not an apparent thing.

Many were surprised when they met him.

Charles Krauthammer, the brilliant essayist and Fox News commentator who gave up a promising career in medicine to enter the world of journalism and political ideas, was in a wheelchair most of his life.

When he was in his first year at Harvard Medical School, Krauthammer dove into a swimming pool and hit his head on the bottom.

It was a freak accident. While his head was uninjured, the force severed his spinal cord.

Krauthammer was in the hospital 14 months. The event changed his life forever. It did not diminish his determination to live life to its fullest.

“You can be hopeless and despairing,” he observed years later, “or you can live your life. And to me, there was basically no option.”

After graduating from Harvard near the top of his class and distinguishing himself in the field of psychiatry, young Charles decided to embark on an entirely different path. Appreciating the importance of politics and the difference it made, he chose to write about it. Beginning in the 1980s, Krauthammer wrote for The New Republic, The Washington Post and Time Magazine. He also appeared on the PBS news program Inside Washington.

In 1987, Krauthammer was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

Later, he joined the Fox News nightly program Special Report with Bret Baier.

He was an instant star.

Krauthammer’s powerful intelligence was so impressive, his physical disability was an unrecognized irrelevance. Always persuasive, calm, confident, dignified, thoughtful and erudite, he made viewers forget he was in a wheelchair – if they knew at all.

Though possessed of an engaging sense of humor, he could be intimidating in his serious, finely-tuned and flowing articulation.

He was never weak, never wishy-washy. He didn’t care if you agreed with him. Life was of most supreme value when one spoke one’s mind without apology or equivocation on Things That Matter (the title of an essay collection published in 2013).

He treasured words.

They were his gift – and his gift to the world.

Krauthammer used words to make cogent and reasonable arguments, to advance his view of the world and to compel his audience – both viewers and readers – to think and sometimes to think again.

His own circuitous political journey from a liberal campaign aide for Walter Mondale (“I was young once”) to principled and fair-minded conservative helped to give his views – and his manner of expressing them – a depth and insight rare for television punditry in the age of fast-talking air-heads.

Language as art has been in steady decline for years. Social media have often reduced communication to dismissive grunts as we stare at a small lighted screen and thumb-type for entertainment.

College freshmen require remedial education in basic English they should have learned in grammar school.

In both politics and religion, public speaking has become trite, shallow, often coarse, seldom inspiring. The bar is lowered, the standard dismissed and smoke and lights have taken the place of serious and passionate exposition. Speakers need props – even if it’s a water bottle. Eloquence is disappearing and oratory is suspect. Convictions and principles seem quite beside the point.

Charles Krauthammer was a standout exception to these trends.

He understood that abbreviation of speech led to abbreviation of thought.

In a time of deep divisions, he appealed to reason. In an age of banality, he exhibited excellence. In a culture of complaint, he illustrated quiet grace in the face of physical suffering and serious limitations.

His essays could be moving. His tribute to older brother Marcel and his ode to a beloved dog that died inexplicably young were beautifully touching.

He never raised his voice on television, no matter how heated the discussion. Perhaps that would have been physically difficult for him, but I like to think he wouldn’t have anyway.

You were drawn to his arguments, not his histrionics. You listened to Charles Krauthammer. You wanted to hear what this man had to say – in part because he always said it so incredibly well.

Krauthammer, a secular Jew, did not profess an orthodox faith in God.

“I don’t believe in God, but I fear him greatly,” he was fond of saying. He marveled at the awe and mystery of the universe and wondered about the implausibility of it all. He admitted to “a complicated view of deity.”

The Bible declares that the fool has said in his heart there is no God. Krauthammer was no fool and dismissed the atheist argument as “the least plausible” of all theologies – as cold and soulless.

The idea of a divine Creator who stands behind the order of the cosmos and directs it, Krauthammer said, is a mystery that “deserves reverence and awe.”

Perhaps Charles Krauthammer’s reverence for the unknown mysteries of an almighty God would serve worshippers far better than a Sunday morning Happy Hour.

God must have appreciated CK’s reverence for the word.

In the beginning God spoke creation into being. “In the beginning”, John wrote “ was the Word”(John 1:1).

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).

When Charles Krauthammer left us too soon, after a brave battle with cancer, he left a legacy of golden words fitly-spoken that remains timeless in its enduring testimony to the power of persuasive expression.

A pen mightier than any sword.

Thank you Charles. You will be missed.

No Regrets

“I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking. I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny.

I leave this life with no regrets. It was a wonderful life — full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.”

From Charles Krauthammer’s farewell letter, announcing that he had only weeks to live, June 8, 2018

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Much More Than This

The clouds of war gathered.

The king was ready for battle.

He had organized his troops, assembled his military staff, appointed generals and captains.

The army was well-trained – 300,000 soldiers who knew how to fight.

He also paid 100,000 more experienced troops from Israel.

King Amaziah (Ama-zi-ah) is not a well-known figure in the Bible. We read very little about him. What we do read is a decidedly mixed verdict on his character.

The chronicler of the Old Testament kings writes that Amaziah obeyed God, “but not with a perfect heart” (II Chronicles 25:2).

Amaziah wanted to do what was right. He wanted to honor God. He wanted to please him.

He wasn’t too principled about this however.

He had a serious blind spot.

Amaziah was an ethical corner-cutter. He was a rationalizer. He was a justifier of his moral accommodations.

This king found an excuse when he thought he needed one.

Victory over his enemies – the Edomites – was the paramount thing.

When he employed various questionable campaign tactics against his opponents, a young Richard Nixon told friends, “the important thing is to win.”

Amaziah figured the same.

When “a man of God” challenged his reasoning, Amaziah got defensive.

These nameless “men of God” show up at the most interesting times in the Old Testament. Because they’re prophets, they nearly always pose some uncomfortable yet unavoidable truth, as prophets invariably do.

Their righteousness could be annoying.

In this case, the man of God tells Amaziah he should not have paid soldiers from Israel to join him in battle.

This is wrong.

Why?

“The Lord is not with Israel” (II Chronicles 25:7).

Israel was a spiritually compromised nation at this time in its history. God would not bless it until it repented. Nor would God bless any nation that went into alliance with apostate Israel.

That included Judah.

Send them back, the man told the king. If Amaziah didn’t, he and his army would be defeated, no matter how well-organized and determined and hard-fighting they were. No matter how righteous their cause or how evil the enemy.

This was a bridge too far.

“But…”

The king was a practical man.

“But what about all that silver I paid to hire the army of Israel?” (verse 9).

Amaziah had made a strategic decision and it cost him to do it. He had invested his resources. He felt this was the right thing to do. He was convinced the paid alliance would bring him victory – and this, after all, is what mattered.

Why does God get in our way and frustrate our best-laid plans with all this confusing and inconvenient morality?

Wouldn’t it be better to keep it simple?

We’re right. They’re wrong.

We must defeat them for the sake of all that is good and noble and just.

Whatever this takes, let’s do it. The stakes are way too high not to. After all, if we don’t we’ll lose. And losing is the greatest sin.

The man of God answered King Amaziah.

Emphatic in his pronouncement, clear in his judgment, certain of this truth and profound in his meaning, the prophet told the king:

“The Lord is able to give thee much more than this” (verse 9).

More than this? More than victory? What could be more than winning?

Honesty.

A clear conscience.

Decency.

Integrity.

Morality.

An unblemished character, perseverance in what’s good and right, principles strong and intact – even if we lose in this world.

Pleasing God, not with half a heart but a whole one.

A Christian witness to the faith we claim to believe.

What is mere silver to God? What is mere military – or political – victory?

Compared to obeying God and doing the right thing?

Are not these divine compensations of far greater worth?

Sometimes we must compromise in order to achieve some greater good; sometimes we must give in and give up so as to attain a certain positive and worthwhile result – a transcending goal.

There are times when the choice before us is not what we’d ever want or expect. Still we must choose.

There are questions:

How much do we compromise? How much do we surrender? How much do we accommodate? How much do we excuse and ignore, or rationalize?

How far do we go before we’ve gone too far? Where do we draw the line before it’s rubbed out of recognition by our greed and ambition; made faint and finally indistinguishable by our pride and self-righteousness?

The ends – just, good and at any cost – render the means irrelevant.

We employ carnal, sub-Christian weapons and don’t even know it. Soon we’re accepting levels of immorality that violate nearly every divine commandment we claim to revere and embrace.

The irony is tragic.

Jesus poses his own rhetorical question: what have you and I truly won if we’ve gained the whole world but in the process lost our soul? (Mark 8:36).

What is the value of that? What is the exchange?

King Amaziah heeded the prophet’s warning. They were angry with his decision, but he sent the soldiers home.

He went on to win.

Amaziah was a very modern kind of guy – more practical than principled. We may profit from his cautionary example.

Let us resist the temptation to sell our spiritual birthright for a bowl of unsavory worldly stew.

It’s not worth it.

The Almighty God who reigns supreme over men and nations is able to give us much more than this.

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High Stakes

I looked up.

They were gone.

Where were they?

The manager of our fitness center explained that some people were offended and disturbed by the news networks on the overhead televisions and demanded their removal.

“We’re committed to total wellness,” the young man pleasantly explained.

Apparently the news can be bad for our health.

He invited me to put my objections in an email, which he promised to forward to the executives.

I appealed to reason, tolerance and fairness. I suggested MSNBC should go before CNN and Fox News. I invoked Thomas Jefferson’s commitment to an informed citizenry.

Were he a gym member, I said, Tom would side with me.

I doubt it made any difference.

There is an ancient Chinese curse that says, “may you live in interesting times.”

We’re living in them.

That’s why some people are so upset at the news, they’re demanding not to have to watch it.

It seems everywhere we look, “things fall apart … the center cannot hold.” There is a growing “passionate intensity” (W. B. Yeats).

How can the sincere disciple of Jesus navigate through the rushing turbulent rapids of our present political discourse and be true both to conviction and to Christ? Without getting capsized and drowned in vitriol and superficial, hyperbolic “talking head” nonsense.

There seems no reasonable escape – nor any escape to reason. We must sail into this.

President Trump’s first year in office has been the wild ride most of us expected. His second promises more uncertainty, midnight tweets, charges, counter-charges and general provocation, denial, frustration, disruption, and confusion.

On both sides.

There appears no civility or normality in the political forecast. We ride upon a national storm of anger and division. We scan the horizon and see only the gathering clouds.

There is likely to be more coarsening and more fraying in our political culture this year.

What’s a Christian to do? Compartmentalize? Never permit the peace of worship on Sunday to interfere with the culture war on Monday? Or do we seek the more difficult and thoughtful path of a holistic, integrated faith that speaks to all of life.

Consistently.

Including politics.

Jesus denounced “an eye for an eye.” He said that loving our neighbors and hating our enemies wasn’t good enough. Instead he told us to love our enemies.

Jesus commanded us to bless those who curse us, to do good to those who hate us and to pray for those who persecute us. He reminded us that the sun rises on both the good and the evil. The rain, he said, “falls on both the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5: 38-45).

Is this viable? In the world in which we live?

Is it realistic?

In politics?

Most Christians voted for Donald Trump because they figured he’d fight for them.

He has.

Trump has boldly battled the Democrats and the media. He may not share their evangelical faith, but he has championed the Christian causes.

He put a brilliant conservative on the Supreme Court. Like the ancient unbelieving Cyrus, Trump has been a friend to Israel, recognizing its sacred city, Jerusalem, as the nation’s rightful capital.

Given the high stakes, maybe we should make a moral exception in politics.

But is there any place where Jesus doesn’t go? Is there any area of our lives where we’re allowed to check our faith at the door? Is there any arena of human endeavor where Jesus Christ hasn’t already declared, “this is mine”?

As the Dutch statesman Abraham Kuyper said, every square inch is His.

Christians must seek God’s face and pray. We must ask for divine wisdom to figure this out – to think it through. We must find an answer that honors our faith in Christ before our loyalty to a president or a party.

Must we win – at any cost?

Have Christians ever truly prevailed over the world in the struggles of politics and culture? Must we now – even at the price of our Christian witness? Have we ever actually been a Moral Majority?

Haven’t the followers of Jesus been more often on the scaffold than the throne?

Yes, in the end we do win. Because Christ wins and we’re with him. But do we prevail in this fallen world? Is political power our weapon and election victory our goal?

Is politics our idol? Do we worship at the altar of power?

Are we called to be successful? Or faithful?

“Is this vile world a friend of grace?” asked hymn writer Isaac Watts.

Chuck Colson, who once flew too close to the alluring flame of power, later wisely observed:

“The kingdom of God will not arrive on Air Force One.”

Anger, revenge and hate toward others are not signs of courage or conviction. They are sins.

The Church of Jesus Christ prevailed over Caesar in the violent First Century not by electing believers to the Roman Senate.

Wrote historian Will Durant in his seminal work, The History of Civilization:

“There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fierce tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has known.”

The weapons of our warfare are not the world’s. But they are mighty to the pulling down of strongholds (II Corinthians 10:3-4).

The stakes for our faith are high.

Let us choose wisely.

“For not with swords’ loud clashing, or roll of stirring drums; with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.”

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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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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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Sutherland Springs

Sometimes I doubt.

I doubt what God does and what he allows.

I know these doubts are sinful and I confess them, repent and ask God’s forgiveness.

When something like Sutherland Springs happens – something so unimaginable, incomprehensible, senseless and tragic that it defies explanation, I’ll admit I can stumble.

I begin with the assumption of God’s existence – his unsurpassed love, unfathomable knowledge and unassailable power. My Bible tells me God is incomparable in every way the human mind can imagine – and beyond.

I accept all this as the underlying premise of my limited understanding but unquestioned faith concerning the eternal Creator.

God’s in control.

I embrace his promises. Rely on his love. Then I watch and listen to human events.

I see the clear contradiction. I marvel at this persistent enigma. I struggle to truthfully put them together.

The theologians call this theodicy. It’s been a mystery since time began. If God is all-loving and all-powerful, why is there evil? Why do horrific things happen to good, God-fearing and faithful people? Why do babies get shot and killed? Why are families summarily executed?

In a small, rural, peaceful, loving church. During the Sunday worship service.

Of all places.

A safe refuge if ever there was one.

Devin Kelley walked up and down the aisle, firing a Ruger assault rifle at unarmed Christians gathered to praise God. Twenty-six of them died. Twenty more were wounded.

There was nowhere to flee. No place to hide. Easy targets. Helpless victims. Innocent lives. Filled with love for their Savior, their community, their church, their families, one another.

Good Christian people – people of stronger faith and greater love than I’ll ever have.

They are brutally murdered.

Massacred by hate.

I’m with the perplexed psalmist:

“When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me” (Psalm 73:16).
And the desperate dad: “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

Many explanations are offered to help us grasp the inexplicable.

That Sutherland Springs is beyond even the most brilliant and sophisticated understanding doesn’t stop us from seeking answers.

In this there is some futility – though sincere.

We always end up back where we started, praying for redemption and revival, waiting for the next horror – and more explanations.

The killings come with increased frequency – not “alarming” frequency – we passed that marker some time ago.

We’re not stunned any longer. We’re not even surprised.

We expect this.

Luther once called Satan “God’s devil”, limited in his ability to do harm; kept on a strong chain, albeit a long one. Still, the evil one is relentless, seeking to effect his agenda of hate and destruction anywhere and any way he can. The apostle Paul may have differed with Luther’s metaphor, for he described our ancient foe as “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2).

Christians naturally place much of the blame on the devil and in this we are more theologically right than wrong.

Yet how much of this lies within the human condition? Within the hearts – and the values and virtues; the choices and leanings – of men and women.

We should understand the laws of nature, not just Nature’s God. What we sow – as individuals, as families, as communities and as a nation – is surely what we reap. We have sown the wind and we are now reaping the whirlwind.

We are becoming a nation without anchor or compass – morally and spiritually adrift. Unmoored from decency or civility.

Our politics are at their lowest ebb in over a century. Our language of public discourse is laced with profanity, riven by hate and corrupted by lies.

We are divided. We are angry. We have turned on each other. It’s as if the better angels of our nature have taken flight, leaving us to our worst selves.

Violence is so common in popular entertainment it has aestheticized us to the real thing. We see these monthly attacks – these horrific and brutal massacres – as the new normal.

CS Lewis wrote of this moral cause and effect:

“We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

It is tragically inevitable.

What America – including the American church – needs most is what it’s least likely to acknowledge: repentance.

Nothing less will truly heal our hurting land.

God loves us. He draws us to himself. He will hear our prayers. He alone can answer the longings and needs of our souls. He alone can end this awful pestilence and restore our national unity and happiness.

How long shall we stubbornly rebel against God’s moral law? And drink from the broken cisterns of wealth and power?

When House Speaker Paul Ryan said we should pray for the people of Southerland Springs, his twitter account was filled with angry denunciations about the futility of prayer and the need for gun control.

It’s true of course that prayer should never excuse inaction.

It’s also true that what we face in this nation is preeminently a spiritual problem.

No party, no president and no law can fix it.

Through the beautiful simplicity of their steadfast faith, the people of Southerland Springs, in their grief and unimaginable loss, may point our country to the way forward.

It’s the way back.

To God.

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Thoughts for Thursday

I found it a bit amusing.

And a bit confusing too.

A news anchor was asking the father of one of the UCLA basketball players arrested in China for shoplifting why he wouldn’t thank President Trump.

The President had apparently intervened to get the three young athletes released. True to his nature, the president expected public credit and thanks for doing this.

The father stubbornly refused to thank the president.

Trump fumed and said he should have left the kids in jail in China.

This high profile argument over gratitude – or the lack of it – was timely.

This Thursday we all shift gears.

At least for a day.

We will gather with our families in our homes and partake of this American ritual called Thanksgiving. It’s a secular holiday of sorts – made more so by the frenzied material pursuits of the following day – Black Friday.

Thanksgiving was proclaimed officially a national holiday by a president quite different from Donald Trump. Abraham Lincoln, who wasn’t the type to seek, expect or demand gratitude for himself, recognized the importance of thanking God for his blessings and his hand of protection upon the United States.

It was the pivotal Northern victory at Gettysburg during the Civil War that prompted Lincoln to issue his proclamation in November, 1863.

Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson and his successors did not believe it appropriate for the government to be officially encouraging any expressions of gratitude to a higher power, for fear of violating the separation of church and state.

Lincoln disagreed. He was too convinced of the mysterious reality of Divine Providence not to want the country to somehow acknowledge it. He subscribed to a giving God. Faith was, for Lincoln, a reliance of hope.

We turn on this day – as we should every day – from our needs and wants to the blessings we’ve been given. We take time to count those. It’s a holiday for reflection. Thanksgiving is a time set aside to encourage renewed perspective.

In this, it is the country’s most shared spiritual holiday – uniting us for a time beyond sectarian and political beliefs and our deep differences – to embrace thanks as a healthy attitude of the soul.

In his Lamentations for Israel, the prophet Jeremiah reached toward a fresh perspective on God and his grace. In the midst of declaring God’s anger over the nation’s sins, Jeremiah praised God’s faithfulness, even in Israel’s darkest night.

“ It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3: 22-23).

In God’s unfailing mercy and compassion the prophet would place his undying hope. Even surrounded by the rebellion of apostacy and it’s tragic consequences, Jeremiah would still look up.

He would find cause for gratitude toward a gracious God.

“O Lord,” cries the weeping prophet, “Thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; Thou hast redeemed my life” (Lamentations 3:58).

Redemption in the midst of sorrow.

Like a garden, a thankful spirit should be carefully and faithfully cultivated in our hearts, in our minds and in how we live and how we see life.

We must seek it as a habit.

Gratitude can revolutionize our lives. It can lift us from a valley of despondency to sunlit hills of hope. It can help us see through the gray fog of our current circumstance and find a clearer and truer view.

Giving thanks can transform negative, critical and self-obsessed attitudes into positive, patient and generous spirits. It can turn despair into hope.

This has been a season of trials and heartbreak for the American nation. Many of our fellow citizens have endured natural disasters. Others have been the victims of violence and hate.

Perhaps in your own life, this has been a time of challenge and disappointment – perhaps perplexity.

Thanksgiving is a great time to take stock.

“We are too prone to engrave our trials in marble,” observed Charles Spurgeon, “and to write our blessings in sand.”

Yes, God pleads the causes of our soul. What are those?

Our salvation, so rich and free. That he chose us and pursued us with his mighty love, captured us by his grace and preserves us by the power of his word.

Our faith, that we may come boldly to the throne of a gracious and omnipotent God, know that he loves us supremely and gives us his grace, comfort and strength in the hour of our greatest need.

Our families and friends, who bless us, enrich us, make us important, give us joy, and who encourage and comfort us when we need that human touch.

Our freedom. How blessed we are to live in this great land. And to know when we gather Thursday, that thousands of men and women will be separated from their own families this holiday season, stationed around the world, protecting us from harm.

You and I have 10,000 reasons to be thankful.

In the summary of his poem Ulysses, Tennyson wrote “Though much is taken, much abides.”

Life is not for most an unbroken string of spectacular blessings and blue – sky ascents.

We lose, we gain. We laugh and we cry.

Yet, for all that is past, we may say thanks.

For all that is to come, yes.

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In the Desert with the Devil

It was brutally hot during the day.

It was bitterly cold at night.

It was a barren land.

He was alone in a vast wilderness – a desert.

He must have felt it – to the very depths of his pure but still physical being.

He had just been blessed, baptized by his cousin John and commended by his well-pleased Father.

But from this celestial celebration he went into the wilderness.

This was his wilderness. His experience. His testing.

Luke says that Jesus was “full of the Holy Ghost” (Luke 4:1, KJV). In this he was hardly alone. The Spirit was with him. In fact, it was the Holy Spirit who led Jesus to this desert.

Luke describes this experience. So does Matthew. Mark says little but notes that this happened “immediately” after Jesus’ Baptism and that our Lord was “with the wild beasts”, intimating a forbidding place.

It was here – in this arid, rocky wasteland – that Jesus spent 40 long days and, Luke tells us, “in those days he did eat nothing” (Luke 4:2, KJV).

When those days had passed, Jesus was terribly hungry.

We who have fasted a day or so – or even a week – might have some idea of what Jesus felt. But we were never in a desert. Not likely alone. And not for 40 days.

There, in the weakness and longing of his hunger, the test came.

This is the second great titanic clash of spiritual powers recorded in the scriptures. There have been many others, of course: tests, deprivations, temptations and trials.

The Bible is a book of spiritual conflict from beginning to end. But they all pale in comparison to this one – and to the much earlier one.

The first temptation took place, not in a wilderness but in a garden. It came not to a man alone but to a man and his wife. The first temptation came in a place of sinless perfection and beauty. The second great temptation came in a world filled with sin and a place of unadorned barrenness.

The devil came to the first Adam – through his wife Eve.

Satan used pride – as C.S. Lewis called it, “the greatest sin.”

And the devil made a frontal assault upon the authority – the very veracity – of God’s Word.

“Hath God said?” he rhetorically asked Eve. The devil knew what God had said.

But here he must plant a seed of doubt in the woman’s mind and in her heart (and the man’s too, we’ll not let Adam off so easily; he was there when God spoke his command). The first step, let the biblical record show, was to call into question God’s Word.

The disintegration – and the descent – begins there.

It always does.

Perhaps God didn’t mean it. Perhaps we just don’t understand it. Perhaps God’s being unfair and unreasonable in this matter. After all, what’s wrong with a little supposedly forbidden fruit? It looks so good. It must be OK. It would have to be OK. Otherwise, why would we want it so badly?

Perhaps God didn’t say it at all.

Adam and Eve had every reason to resist but surrendered.

Our second Adam had every reason to give in but resisted.

Again, it was pride that Satan used. Again, it was a direct assault upon the Word of God. And again it was craftily laced with questioning and doubt.

But this time, the quotations were from the written record. Jesus and Satan both knew the scriptures.

As in the garden, the devil struck again at hunger, appetite and physical desire. He knew how long Jesus had gone without food.

“If you are the Son of God,” he whispered, “tell this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3, NASB).

Jesus came back at him – with the Word of God. He wielded the Sword of the Spirit in the power of the Spirit which filled him even now in this lonely and forsaken place.

“It is written, that man shall not live by bread alone,” Jesus replied, “but by every word of God” (Luke 4:4, KJV, quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3).

The Word is paramount. It is the true bread.

Twice more before this ordeal ended, Satan thrust at the Savior with pride, ambition and twisted texts. Each time, Jesus parried with the Word of God, the mighty sword of truth.

With this sword, Jesus Christ defeated Satan in the wilderness.

No wonder John calls Jesus the Word become flesh.

How sad when Rob Bell, once an evangelical mega-church pastor and hero to thousands of young Christians, tells Oprah Winfrey that homosexual marriage must prevail because how can “letters written 2,000 years ago” possibly compete with the longings and desires of the human heart.

Without a compass we become lost.

Without an anchor we drift.

Without a plumb line, we sway.

Without confidence in the unchanging and ever-relevant authority and power of the Bible as God’s Holy Word, individual Christians have nothing to say to a hurting world. And the church has nothing to say worth listening to.

When God speaks all discussions must cease. When God is silent, all discussions are irrelevant.

May we never compromise and never apologize for declaring, with Jesus, “It is written.”

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Contra Mundum

He was born poor.

His parents were frugal and hardworking.

His childhood was not an easy one. His mother, a woman of prayer, once beat the boy until he bled – for stealing a nut. His father was so verbally and physically abusive they became enemies for a time.

He once said it took him years to say the Lord’s Prayer without thinking of his own cruel father.

He later reflected that “the severe and harsh life I led with them was the reason that I afterward took refuge in the cloister and became a monk”.

It was an unlikely start for a man who would one day sway kingdoms.

He studied, he argued, he wrote and he thought.

He was, perhaps because of his childhood, pugnacious and defiant. Above all, he was a man of uncompromising conviction and iron-clad integrity.

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the main door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517 – five hundred years ago this month – he began a movement that would change the world forever.

The Protestant Reformation came not from a committee or a policy; nor a public opinion poll or focus group. It came from the heart and mind of a man who not only loved truth, and understood it, but was prepared to die for it. Luther was possessed of a passion that all truth was God’s and no amount of political, military or ecclesiastical power could storm its citadel or prevail against it.

The pure and simple Gospel found in the Bible – that “the just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17) – was Luther’s call to arms, the light to his path and the altar of his life – and, if need be, his death.

Luther assailed the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church, though he himself was Catholic. He did so with a vehemence and candor that demanded a verdict of conscience from every citizen of the realm.

Attached to his arguments on the door of Wittenberg was this invitation:

“Out of love for the faith and the desire to bring it to light, the following propositions will be discussed under the chairmanship of the Reverend Father Martin Luther….”

Oh, to have been there!

He threw down the gauntlet of scripture at the feet of religious tyranny and dared the corrupt to defy God himself.

“I have been born to war,” Luther wrote, “and fight with factions and devils; therefore my books are stormy and warlike”.

Luther could not abide the practice of the church selling indulgences in exchange for forgiveness of sins. God alone could forgive sins and the blood of Jesus Christ, shed freely for all, was its only payment.

Faith alone, not good works, gained admittance to heaven and eternal life.

But the Church in Rome had grown rich from its heresy and would not give up its power without a fight. Before long, this was a struggle not over indulgences but over papal authority itself.

“I have cast the die,” declared the German monk. “I now despise the rage of the Romans as much as I do their favor … I no longer fear …” Luther would go against the pope himself, “in language so violent as if I were addressing Antichrist.” He called Rome “that empurpled Babylon” and “the Roman Sodom.”

“If we justly hang thieves and behead robbers, why should we let Roman avarice go free? For he is the greatest thief and robber who has come or can come into the world, and all in the holy name of Christ and St. Peter!”

When brought before the Diet of Worms in 1521 and ordered to “repudiate your books and the errors which they contain,” Luther stood his ground and budged not an inch:

“Unless I am convicted by the testimony of Sacred Scripture or by evident reason … my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against my conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

Whether Luther actually uttered the words “Here I stand” is not verified. But it’s what he did.

Martin Luther did more than stand.

He stood “contra mundum”.

It’s a Latin phrase meaning “against the world”.

Luther stood against the corrupt power and falsehood of his time – and for all time. He wrestled “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12, KJV).

Martin Luther was unafraid because he knew that one person armed with a righteous cause is mightier than all the hosts of error. He also knew that truth was real, it could be known, and that it mattered.

Luther, who loved music, left us with the greatest hymn ever written. In it, he reflects his own struggle on behalf of timeless truth and casts the epic battle as a contest between God and Satan. He describes God as “a mighty fortress, a bulwark never failing”. He writes that God is “our helper” who stands with us and prevails “amid the flood of mortal ills”.

For Luther, no less than for us today, the outcome was never in doubt.

“The prince of darkness grim – we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure, for lo! His doom is sure”.

Let us stand where Luther stood.

Contra Mundum.

“Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still – His kingdom is forever.”

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The 32nd Floor

He was a regular guy.

A 64-year old senior citizen living in a retirement village in a quiet suburban town.

He was pleasant to his neighbors, never caused trouble, had not even a single speeding ticket and always parked his car in its proper place.

Normal and nice.

He’s someone you’d wave to when you drove by; someone who’d wave back and smile as he watered his flowers.

Nothing strange about him, nothing conspicuous, nothing unusual.

A great neighbor.

The shop owner who sold him a gun said he was very nice. “The kind of guy who’d mow your lawn, go to church; nothing about him concerned me at all. And we keep an eye out for suspicious characters. You can’t be too careful.”

The gun store owner remembered him when he heard the news.

Stephen Paddock had gone to a hotel and rented a suite on the 32nd floor. He methodically hammered out two windows, positioned two tripods near them and late on a Sunday night took an automatic rifle and began shooting. Below him was a crowd of 22,000 people attending a country music festival.

Before his ten-minute reign of terror was over, Paddock had turned a fun-loving outdoor concert into a bloody killing field. Fifty-eight people died. More than 525 were injured. It was the worst massacre in modern American history.

Paddock took his own life before police broke into his sniper’s perch. Investigators found 19 guns, several of them long rifles, in his hotel suite. They later found another 23 at his modest, well-kept home.

“Normal” ? “Nice”?

The intense search to discover a motive was proving amazingly elusive. Not a hater, apparently, nor was he part of any dangerous or controversial groups. Not into politics. There were no ties to international terrorism.

“This makes no sense.”

That’s what everyone said.

In his statement of consolation to a shocked nation and the grieving families, the President said this quiet, unassuming retired accountant had committed “an act of pure evil.”

Evil. It’s a spiritual word.

It appears in the Bible 613 times. The word “evildoer” appears twice; “evildoers”, 12 times.

Read the scriptures and you’ll see evil. Resident in the heart of every man and every woman. The Bible doesn’t sugar-coat our humanity; it reveals it for what it truly is, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Here, in its holy pages, stands the story of humankind’s fallen condition.

Vegas is the latest violent tragedy. It’s hardly the last.

This gunman may have acted alone but he’s not alone.

Stephen Paddock’s motive? We may never know. The cause of his horror? We do know that.

Or do we?

“The heart is deceitful above all things,” writes the prophet, “and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, KJV).

Stephen Paddock’s heart, perhaps, but surely not yours. Not mine.

Yes, ours.

We are also evildoers.

You and I have the exact same depraved nature as Stephen Paddock. The same tendency toward evil. The same capacity to hurt and destroy. This is a spiritual genetic strain that runs through the heart of every human being. Though you and I might never commit such a horrific act – and recoil in offense at the suggestion – we daily reflect the same bent toward sin.

“There is none that doeth good; no not one” (Psalm 14:3, KJV).

“For all have sinned” (Romans 3:23,KJV).

There’s not one of us who hasn’t fallen short of God’s standard for right living.

No, we’ve not fallen like Stephen Paddock, but is this not a matter of degree rather than a question of universal, self-evident fact?

To many, such a monstrous deed makes no sense. It violates the optimistic confidence that man, once sufficiently educated, cultured and sophisticated; once liberated from the dark bondage of religious superstitions, will become perfect. He’ll live in a perfect and just society and will do no ill to his neighbor.

The government will help toward this utopia by spending money on programs and passing good laws. In time, we’ll arrive. If we just keep working at it.

It’s the liberal illusion.

Stephen Paddock shatters this illusion.

When we look no further than the 32nd floor, we are shocked at the senseless; we must find reasons outside ourselves to explain it. We can lose all hope in the face of what is ultimately the horrendously inexplicable.

We leave disappointed – and baffled. “Dumbfounded”, as Paddock’s brother admitted.

You and I must look above and beyond the 32nd floor if we are to have a right understanding and a glorious hope.

The tragedy in Las Vegas proved again that the worst of circumstances brings out the best in people. The selfless heroism of concert goers, the long lines to donate blood, the skilled efforts to save lives – these all remind us that God loves us so much because he made us – and made us in his divine image.

In God’s eyes, that’s our value. It’s why we’re worth saving. It’s him, not us.

God sent his Son to redeem us and someday he will place us on his new earth, where goodness, joy and peace shall last forever, unchanged and unchangeable.

Evil will be no more.

Without this eternal perspective, we are, said Paul the apostle, “more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (I Corinthians 15:19, NLT).

Let this certain hope of a once and future resurrection be a comforting confidence that lifts us forever above that 32nd floor.

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