Monday, May 30, 2011

How Do We Offer A Worthy Memorial?

I awaked from a deep peaceful slumber in a beautiful bed in my oldest daughter’s home this morning and it felt so good! It was warm, comfortable and safe. I rolled over to see my lovely bride soundly asleep and smiling. I could hear the activity of 3 of my 4 children enjoying themselves with no sense of fear, danger or intimidation. As I casually rolled over and contemplated what had I done to deserve such a life of comfort and luxury, the answer was powerful and undeniable – NOTHING!

I don’t present this thought as a guilt-ridden exercise in self-pity but as a statement of fact. The good and beautiful life I enjoy was purchased at the highest price possible by others who devoted themselves to a call of duty that was fulfilled at the highest level of performance and the most extravagant cost imaginable. I am in a very good disposition because others have willingly flung themselves into places and situations of unbelievable horror, often to the point of their own physical, and emotional undoing “that [this] nation might live”.

In another writing, I quoted other words from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, that stand as a perpetual reminder of the duty the living have towards those who have died for their sake. Lincoln asserted that our duty was not just to make dedications or memorials – the work of the fallen in performing their sober duty has preserved freedom in a way that stands as an incomparable memorial rendering our efforts to honor them a mere token of gratitude. Instead, our most important and fitting response is to live out the spirit of their example by serving others and insuring by our service that freedom is proclaimed and enjoyed broadly, continually and abundantly for all humanity.

As a Christian, this call to service is especially appropriate. In a classic hymn by Isaac Watts, the composer asks, “Alas and did my Savior bleed and did my Sovereign die? Would He devote that sacred head for sinners such as I? In other words, “What an astounding thought - to consider that my sinless Lord would willingly pour himself out to the death for the benefit of someone like me!” How do I respond? Similarly, how do I honor the men and women have sacrificed everything for me to enjoy anything my heart desires? What gift appropriately honors that level of sacrifice? Watts has a compelling answer: “But drops of tears can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe. Here Lord, I give myself away, ‘tis all that I can do.” Watts charges that “Our tears are not enough”.

Though our hearts are cut in the deepest places with the enormity of the loss of our finest citizens, our best response is to sacrificially give ourselves away in service to God and others. To this point in my life, my “sacrifices” are merely inconveniences in comparison to the depth of the gifts of our most valiant heroes. Nevertheless, my willingness to be continually inconvenienced up to and including the point of self sacrifice, will ultimately determine whether this nation, “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” will endure and whether the Good News I assert is of the greatest importance to human kind will propogate for the benefit of all people. Am I up to the task? Are you? The message penned with the blood of those who have preceded us demands nothing less. Give thanks for those who paid the ultimate price, and show your gratitude by serving others to the utmost of your ability until your tour of duty in this life ends. Enjoy your freedom but as you enjoy it, never forget the prices paid for your liberty in the here and now and for the hereafter. How will you respond? I'm attempting to respond with a life of loving service and ask you to hold me accountable to my pledge. Have a blessed Memorial Day! Until next time…


Friday, May 20, 2011

Don’t Fear the Reaper – Dealing With Date-Setting Doom and Gloomers

Worried about the latest “Doomsday” prophecy or preoccupied by confusing messages and strange codes attributed to everyone from The Mayans to Nostrodamus? Don’t be. Consider this exchange recorded in Acts Chapter 1 verses 6 through 8 between Jesus and His disciples before He left them to be with the Heavenly Father. “[T]hey gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The message is clear. We shouldn’t waste our time looking towards the sky, trying to guess when the end of all things is at hand. Instead, we should be devoted to proving the faith within us as followers of Jesus Christ who confirm the truth of what we believe by the consistent loving power of what we do!

The end of all things will come to all of us – either by way of our individual appointments with our own natural deaths, or by the true, God-appointed end of the age – a date none of us is privileged to know. Until then, keep this in mind: Anyone who claims to be a Christian and more to the point a Christian leader who claims to know the date or time is in error and contradicts the very Scriptures they claim to hold as sacred. By Biblical definition they would qualify as a false prophet and should be ignored (Check out Matthew 24. Thank goodness for a New Covenant – under the Old One, the punishment for predicting something that didn’t come true was death {Deuteronomy 13 & Deuteronomy 18}.

May 21, 2011 will indeed be a momentous day – it will be a day that the Lord has made. It will be a day for serving and loving others. It will be a day to spend time letting our lights shine that others might see our good works and glorify our Heavenly Father as a result! Don’t fear the reaper! Trust the Lord! Embrace every day He gives you, rejoice in them and serve the Lord with gladness!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Every Bullet Has Your Name On It! Updated for Arnold's Fall

AHHHNOLD! How could he do this? How could he be so stupid? How could he do this? How could he throw away a magnificent relationship with a woman who is without peer and the blessing of a lifetime? The airwaves are abuzz with fresh fodder for our consumption and the satisfaction of the angels of our lesser nature in trying to answer these questions. I contend, however, that they are the wrong questions or at least, they are directed to the wrong person! A few years back when a major political figure was found to have fallen in a similar situation, I felt pulled not to derision of that man, but an inspection of my own heart. I’m reposting a portion of what I shared, edited for this latest revelation, with the same introspection and consideration.

it is difficult to discern what could cause an otherwise fine and upstanding man to commit such an act of disloyalty and stupidity. One psychologist attributes moral slides of this nature to a mid-life crisis. Another blames narcissism. Ben Stein, political analyst, commentator and pitch man was stumped at a situation similar to Arnold’s. Commenting on that infidelity, Stein just couldn't make sense of it. He said, "His wife is a knockout [and brilliant]. I can't imagine what this other woman …[is] like!" A part of me understands the psychologists conclusions and Ben Stein's logic, but what I know of Scripture points to something more profound and disturbing. Jeremiah 17:9 puts it this way,

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?

That sounds harsh. But after almost 30 years of ministry and interacting with numerous people from a variety of backgrounds, not to mention knowing myself and my motives and inner struggles, the words ring absolutely true! People who seem to have it all together, sometimes commit the most heinous acts imaginable, and I can even find myself in an unguarded moment entertaining a thought that is simply outrageous. The danger in committing the stupid acts comes from convincing yourself that you are impervious to them.

We see this kind of bravado in all aspects of life, all the time. Mike Tyson's self- proclaimed "Baddest Man on the Planet" title sounds silly now, but prior to Buster Douglas seemed plausible. As a man after God's own heart, King David's character seemed incorruptible, but after his catastrophic affair with Bathsheba, his weaknesses seem all too obvious. For that reason, when it comes to sin and committing acts of disobedience, a very wise mentor of mine put my own vulnerabilities - and his - into these terms: "EVERY bullet has your name on it! Every opponent can knock you out! The second you think you're above falling into temptation is the second you've already lost the battle. You'll never be above falling for some stupid trap. Don't you dare think that there isn't a situation or person you might encounter that couldn't lead you to dishonor yourself, devastate your family and render your ministry impotent. If you remember that and remember that God can provide the escape from your own sinful desires, you have a chance to make it."

The Bible offers several lines of defense to help us when we are highly pressured to give in to temptation. The first is to keep a reign on your affections. Proverbs 4:23 admonishes us to this course of action:

Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.

I can remember back in High School cultivating crushes I knew were not particularly beneficial because there was just something so sweet about being in love, regardless of whether or not it made any sense - especially if the person you were flirting with liked you back. When we play with those kinds of emotions later in life, the results can be disastrous. What begins as "innocent but deep sharing" can subtly evolve into a dependent relationship that given the right circumstances can evolve into an affair that neither party had anticipated, but that neither party wishes to give up because it just feels so good. A monster 70's hit explained, "It can't be wrong, when it feels so right!" Unfortunately it can be wrong and our hearts are more than able to trick us into thinking otherwise.

The second line of defense is to run. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says,

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

When you see the onset of the possibility of temptation, leave! Take the long way home. Shop at another store. Choose a different time to go to the gym or better yet, go to a different gym. Whatever it takes to avoid the tempting situation, do it! The costs will be much less than the cost of trying to repair a broken marriage, torn up family or stained reputation.

Thirdly, remember the battle is not just physical but a spiritual one. Ephesians 6:10-13 gives this command in preparing us to fight against all sorts or evil:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Will power will not equip you to stand against the barrage of bullets and arrows the enemy is prepared to rain on you. Humble dependence upon the Lord and a relentless determination to draw close and cling to Him will protect you when all else seems to have failed. God is able to preserve you when the temptations and tests come raging in like a mighty sea. Isaiah 59:19 comforts us with this reminder:

When the enemy comes in like a flood, The Spirit of the LORD will lift up a standard against him.

God can protect us when all hope seems lost.

As you hear more news on the unfortunate developments in Arnold’s life and the inevitable other moral failures that will be exposed as the world turns, don't gloat and don't pontificate, but rather consider the situation with sober judgement, pray for all those involved, help guide and direct for healing and restoration when you're close enough to be directly involved and truly remember that but for God's mercy and grace you too might stumble in a similar way. As for me, I will not forget, "Every bullet has my name on it!" Thank God for His complete and effective armor! Until next time...

Monday, May 2, 2011

Is it appropriate to celebrate my enemy's demise?

The death of terror mastermind Osama Bin Laden has brought the emotions of US citizens to the surface in a way not seen in a generation. Spontaneous celebrations have erupted around the nation, and the surviving families of victims of Bin Laden led terrorist actions have expressed a wide variety of emotions ranging from relief, to satisfaction. I personally admit to feeling a great sense of admiration and pride in those who carried out the mission to attack Bin Laden and great relief that none of the assault force was injured or killed in the attack. Nevertheless, while the celebratory expressions have dominated the news, there are a significant number of Americans who are wrestling with that reaction and asking if it is appropriate to rejoice at the demise of an enemy, especially for those who are people of faith?

Proverbs 24:17 supports the caution of not rejoicing over a fallen enemy. It says:

“Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice…”

But one might ask, what about the imprecatory Psalms (The ones where enemies are cursed)? What about Moses’ reaction to Pharaoh’s destruction at the Red Sea? In Exodus 15, Moses, Miriam and the entirety of Israel break out into song in a stirring chant of praise in response to the destruction of Pharaoh and his army:

“I will sing unto the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and rider thrown into the sea!”

If one reads further, the song goes on to detail the graphic images of pharaoh’s officers drowning with their chariots “sinking like stones”. If that weren’t enough, by the end of the chapter, Miriam, Moses sister, and the women of Israel take up tambourines and begin dancing with great fervor to celebrate this victory over the Egyptian Army! So what’s the appropriate response? Restraint or unencumbered jubilee?

I’m not sure that the Scriptures give us a clear black and white solution to this question, though I do believe there are some guidelines present to take into consideration.

The object of the praise in the Song of Moses and Miriam is the Lord. Moses and the nation of Israel realized that without God’s intervention, they would have been the ones at the bottom of the sea. They were quick to recognize that though the Lord would lead them into other battles in which they would have to engage the enemy more directly than they did in this instance; the Lord was the Source of their victories. Celebration was appropriate, but it was always imperative t realize that their victory was a demonstration of God’s care for them and His mercy, not their superiority or self-sufficiency. God warns His people that it is not because they are any better than other nations that He protects them, but it is because He has promised to care for them. God showed Himself continually to be merciful and made it known that the other nation’s behavior was so repugnant that he chose to chasten them with military defeat. He also warned that those who seek to follow Him can also find themselves in jeopardy of being defeated if repentance, humility and righteousness are not the guiding truths of that nation’s way of life.

It should be understood that the Scriptures make it clear that governments bear arms for the putting down of evil and destructive people. Romans 13:4,5 says:

“For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.”

Though we are instructed not to engage in vengeful actions as individuals and not to indulge in “vigilante justice” on our own individual initiative, those persons who bear arms as representatives of the government exist for the very purpose of keeping or restoring order even by the use of deadly force, if it is necessary. Nevertheless, the question remains, is celebration appropriate? My personal opinion on the matter based on my understanding of the Bible is this:

It is understandable that the feeling of jubilation exists at the apprehension and subjugation of a man responsible for the death and destruction of thousands of innocent people for whom he held no regard or mercy. I especially appreciate his being subdued, because I understand that it was his full intention to continue executing his diabolical plan had he not been stopped by force. I also have deep admiration and respect for the people who have sworn to defend this nation and who have been on the job pursuing this man and his cohorts for more than a decade. Everyone who has contributed to the years of military engagement which led to this especially sweet victory, deserves praise, gratitude and respect for the sacrifices they have endured to bring about this result. Their dedication to see this victory through serves as a warning to anyone who believes they can attack innocent people without facing severe consequences and their dedication deserves recognition and celebration.

Nevertheless, I am fully aware that there are many others dedicated to the same diabolical cause to which Bin Laden devoted himself, and I understand that we must remain ever ready to confront those people whenever and wherever they surface. I also understand that while we seek to stand for justice, we ourselves must live justly if we are to righteously project ourselves as a global force for good. Therefore, as we celebrate this victory and honor those who have served with such excellence , let us be mindful of the way we live, walking in sobriety of mind and spirit, not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought and taking great care to live our lives with righteousness and humility. These verses from America the Beautiful say it best:

O beautiful for heroes prov'd

In liberating strife,

Who more than self their country loved,

And mercy more than life.

America! America!

God mend thine ev'ry flaw,

Confirm thy soul in self-control,

Thy liberty in law.

A heartfelt “Thank You” to all who serve in the present and have served in the past to protect and secure liberty for all those who seek it. A heartfelt call to righteousness to all who will heed it, that as we stand for what is right, we might stand on a platform of goodness and light, and truly distinguish ourselves from those who propogate evil. May the Lord have mercy on us all and lead us in the everlasting ways of righteousness.

Until next time…