Saturday, December 24, 2016

Peace on Earth, Good Will among Men

This message of comfort and assurance sung by the angelic choir to the stunned shepherds outside of Bethlehem expresses the fulfillment of humanity’s quest for tranquility and well-being. 

While the inaugural performance of this hymn of praise debuted over two-thousand years ago, it seems that mankind is further than ever from realizing its message.

Whether you consider the political chaos and fractured nature of our own society so evident this election year, or whether you look abroad at the genocide and ethnic/religious cleansing being foisted upon Christian minorities in the Middle East and Africa – it is apparent that the bulk of humanity has failed to hear, comprehend, and appropriate the message of the gospel proclaimed at the birth of Jesus.

It seems that at least weekly we hear of tragic new examples of radicalized terrorists perpetrating their devotion to Jihad wherein murder and mayhem are cardinal doctrines of their perverted faith.  If ever there was a polar opposite of the Christmas message of peace and good will, it is seen in incidents of terror, such has struck the German Christmas market earlier this week.

Jesus taught that “by their fruits you shall know them.”  One could not ask for a clearer manifestation of the heart and soul of unbridled Islam than what has been made evident this week.  Furthermore, there is purportedly a list, circulating in Arabic, of American Christian churches to be targeted by Islamic terrorists this holiday seasons.

The good news is not only that Jesus came to this world 2000 years ago but that one day, in the sovereign purposes of God, the peace and good will proclaimed at His birth will become a reality throughout the earth.

Isaiah declared that men “shall beat their swords into plowshares   . . . nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”  The Prince of Peace will so rule that “of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end . . . the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”

The peace and good will proclaimed by the angels at Bethlehem will be realized – not through a strong-armed dictatorship – but through the transforming power of the gospel, a message that changes men’s hearts from devotion to evil to bringing glory to God in the highest.

Let us rejoice in the peace we presently know because of the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.  And let us be diligent now and throughout 2017 in proclaiming the only lasting solution to the turmoil sweeping our land.  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners and to transform their souls by the application of the gospel.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Our Incomprehensible God

The news was very difficult to read, much less understand.  Why would God ordain such a thing?  It all seemed such a waste from a Kingdom perspective.

We, who are committed to biblical orthodoxy and thus know that the Sovereign Lord governs His universe with His almighty arm, cannot countenance the possibility that tragedies occur outside of His determined will.  Yet, sometimes, we are utterly at a loss to explain the divine rationale.

Over thirty years ago Dr. James Dobson published a book titled, When God Doesn’t Make Sense.  As Christians, if we are honest, we will admit that at times God’s ways utterly mystify us.

God declared through His prophet Isaiah, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways … for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (55:9-10).  This truth was on bold display recently in Nebraska.

Just over a week ago the Pals family of five was killed in a car accident as they were on their way to train for missionary service in Japan.  Jamison and Kathryn, both 29, died with their three children: Ezra 3, Violet, 23 months, and Calvin, 2 ½ months.  An “inattentive and distracted” truck driver rammed “at a high rate of speed” into their minivan.  He is charged with five counts of felony motor vehicle homicide.

Three years ago, Jamison wrote a letter to Kathryne, encouraging her to embrace his vision of serving as a missionary in Japan.  He concluded, “It may costs us much, but would you have it any other way?  Whatever we lose will be worth it if we gain more of Christ …”  From an earthly perspective, the Pals lost everything.  But they now enjoy the presence of Christ, their mission having been completed.

God is glorified when His saints lay it all on the line in serving Him.  What may appear to be a setback is in reality another step forward.  Sinful, human irresponsibility redounds to the glory of God when Christians are seen serving Him selflessly and faithfully.  May God raise up, through their example, so many replacements for the Pals family that, in the end, much more will be accomplished to further the Kingdom than if the Pals had proceeded to Japan and served faithfully for decades.

God, give us faith to trust your plan … even when we "don’t get it."

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Eight-second Flatline

Due to unexpected developments, I recently found myself in a hospital, being monitored by an electrocardiogram machine.  Suddenly, the staff sprang to action when they noticed that my heart rhythm had flatlined.  For a span of eight seconds I had no heartbeat, and the pulse remained very sporadic for another minute or so.  After the initial flatline, CPR was administered, bringing me back to consciousness.

Physically, this was a watershed event which will cast a lingering effect over the remainder of my earthly pilgrimage.  The subsequent installation of a pacemaker was meant to ensure that, should my heart again fail to generate sufficient, internal, electrical impulse to maintain a healthy pulse, the pacemaker will produce the necessary contraction of the heart muscle to send life-sustaining blood through the rest of my body.

Considered from a spiritual perspective, such traumatic events remind us just how tenuous life is in this world.  If my heart had not restarted, my soul would be in the presence of God, my body in the grave.  In light of the uncertainty and ultimate brevity of life, the New Testament urges us to “redeem the time” or, literally, to “buy up the opportunities.”  In other words, we are charged with making the best use of the days that God grants to us in this world.

Incessantly we must make decisions on how to use our time and resources. When we thoughtfully evaluate the relative importance of certain actions in light of eternity, such analysis will help us sort through the myriad of opportunities that confronts and potentially distracts us. Not every activity will equally redound to the glory of God.

May God grant wisdom to enable us to make choices that reflect our profession of faith.   Too many who bear the name Christian are bent on merely amassing earthly accomplishments, to the detriment of laying up treasure in heaven.  None of us know when his flatline will become permanent.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Selling Your Soul for a Bowl of Soup

Only the willfully blind fail to observe the obvious spiritual decline that is permeating these United States of America.  The positive indicators, the hard facts, the statistical analyses all point to the reality that increasing numbers of Americans are utterly unconcerned about spiritual matters.

In a generation, from 1974 through 2014, those who never pray has risen from near zero to 15%; those claiming no religion has increased from 6% to 21%, and those who never attend religious services has shot up from 11% to 26%.

And, as an ominous sign portending the future, younger generations are markedly less religious than their elders.   If not anti-religious, many are at least oblivious to such truth and utterly disinterested.

Observers have concluded that millennials (b. 1981—2000) are the least religious in memory and perhaps in all of American history.  Those that follow, variously referred to as iGen or Gen Z, appear to be even more secular.  Compared to youth of the same age a generation earlier, participation in religious services has declined by 50% and personal involvement in spiritual activities has fallen five-fold.

If the present practices of these young people serve as a harbinger of the future, there is no sign of change in the pattern of plummeting spiritual interest across our land.

A recent book, Esau Rising: Ancient Adversaries and the War for America’s Soul, documents that many in American society are driven by the same self-interest, the same disregard for spiritual values, and the same preoccupation with fleshly, temporal concerns as was ancient Esau.  They are literally selling their souls for passing pleasures, fads, and a preoccupation with social media – the moral equivalent of Esau’s bowl of stew.

We who know Christ are charged with discipling future generations and instilling in them eternal values and biblical convictions that will drive them to follow the Lord and not the latest trends on Twitter.  Let us pray for discernment, wisdom and divine grace that will enable us to prevail in the battle for the souls of our youth.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Does Presidential Character Matter?

Twenty-four years ago, the slogan that put Bill Clinton in the White House was, “It’s the economy, stupid.”  I.e., despite other concerns, including the personal character and beliefs of the candidates running, the one issue that should override all others is the need to elect the best candidate to maintain and improve the American economy.  Enough voters were convinced by this rhetorical ploy to elect Mr. Clinton.

Now, six election cycles later, Americans are again faced with a critical decision.  And we are once more bombarded with rhetoric that could well be framed as, “It’s immigration, stupid,”  “It’s climate change, stupid,” or “It’s financial fairness, stupid.”  That is, a candidate’s character is again deemphasized in favor of his views on certain other political issues.

If we evaluate the election from a biblical perspective, character must rise to the top in terms of God’s order of priorities.  Romans chapter 13 declares that civil authorities are to serve as “God’s ministers” to enforce right and wrong by controlling law-breakers and protecting the innocent.  Right and wrong, good and evil, are valuations that civil government must make and enforce.  But this begs the obvious question: who determines what is good and must be protected and what is evil and must be punished?

For those who adhere to the authority of the Bible, the clear answer is that civil government must reflect God’s view on the controversial moral issues of the day.  It should not be the barometer of fickle public opinion.  Rather, the timeless and unchanging standard of Scripture should inform the decision-making of government leaders in their assessment of how to enforce right and wrong.

So, when you enter the voting booth in this primary season, your principal concern should be: which candidate’s character best reflects the truth of Scripture and therefore puts him/her in the best position to enforce legal standards that mirror God’s eternal law?  Proverbs 29:2 captures the essence of the matter: “When the righteous are in authority the people rejoice; but when the wicked rules, the people groan.”