Saturday, January 10, 2015

Holocaust Deja Vu

In 2010 I was privileged to visit Paris briefly and Grenoble for a week.  Beautiful cities.

One of the sites we were able to visit in Grenoble was a Holocaust museum.  It provided an excellent look into the extreme troubles French Jews (and non-Jews who were sympathetic) suffered at the hands of an evil ideology, Naziism.  I was are of the atrocities in Nazi death camps and the horrific medical experiments which used Jews as guinea pigs, but didn't the history in France.

What happened in Europe under Hitler should never be allowed to happen again.  But prevention doesn't just happen.

Now at the hand of another invading evil it appears the Jewish population in France is experiencing déjà vu 75 years later.

When will we learn that a nation's way of life, if grounded in liberty, is worth defending "at the gates"?  If we don't learn from history we're doomed to repeat it.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

When It is Time to Limit Someone’s Freedom


--> We've all heard it said, "Faith and politics don't mix".  I'm not so sure.

I believe that there are some points where faith (and for lack of a better term) political beliefs do intersect.  My understanding of my Christian faith is that it does and should guide all my other beliefs since it is so much of who I am.  So, for me and most folks who have any sort of religious convictions, saying we must separate our faith from our politics is quite difficult, if not unreasonable

This week’s terrorist attack in Paris – the latest in a string of Islamic induced atrocities – is one of those intersections. 

As an American who still believes in the basic foundations of our society as framed by the authors of our Constitution I am stronger than horseradish on our freedoms or rights guaranteed by that document.  Two of those freedoms - religion and speech - are magnified in a world where in the name of a god some men feel the right and obligation to squelch the rights of others…even if that squelching means their death.

I’ll defend your right to belittle my faith.  Likely we won’t have much of a social relationship if you do, but you have that right. Like it or not, our right of free speech endows us with the right to be offensive.  But if you are I won’t seek to kill you.  And why not? In this country and in western civilization such a right to kill is not recognized. 

Likewise, we are blessed to worship as we choose, not as the government chooses for us.  That’s the primary reason the Pilgrims exited the Old World.  In England they were told what church was legitimate, and because they chose to practice their faith differently they felt compelled to go somewhere where they might have religious freedom.  And for their daring and vision we should be grateful, whether we have adopted their views or not.  We benefit from their sacrifice.

But as free speech has limits – the SCOTUS says we cannot yell “FIRE” in a theater (for example) – so does the freedom of religion.  One such example of a limit is when a man’s religion tells him that it is somehow a “holy” thing to kill “infidels” (those who have another faith).  In a free country sometimes freedom has necessary restrictions to protect the rights of all.

If indeed, as some who know more about it than I, a basic tenet of Islam (as given in the Koran) is to destroy all “infidels” then should the practice of Islam be allowable as a religion in nations where men and women are free to choose?  If (and I believe there are) some Muslims who reject that tenet, are they aware of the “fanatics” among us who live to kill non-Muslims?  If they are, and they are covering up, whether out of fear or out of some sense of fraternity, are they not also guilty? 

I’m not sure how, in France for example, once the door is opened to all (regardless that they may hold to beliefs detrimental to the good of society) the door can be shut.  But it’s obvious that in some instances we all can’t just get along.  Maybe France will be stunned enough to realize what they have allowed in the spirit of liberty could spell the end if changes are not made. 

And I’m not sure we in America should wait for France, Britain or Germany to show us the way.  But we had better soon begin to realize that there are times to limit freedom when that freedom threatens to end our way of life.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

When You Don't Understand, He Does

No one looks forward to disappointments, especially those whose occurrences interrupt our well-being via circumstances that are truly out of our control.  Like the quarterback being blindsided by the forearm clothesline of a blitzing linebacker, they can knock the wind right out of our sails and spin us until we’re dizzy…if we let them.  And if we’re not careful they will steal our joy and stunt our growth.

In the late 80’s I was hired by a contractor from Virginia Beach who was planning on moving into the booming building business here on the Outer Banks.  The company was well established in south Hampton Roads, and I was given the assurance that, “We’re planning on being there for the long haul.”  Yet, at the completion of their first project here the superintendent called me aside on a Thursday afternoon to tell me the next day would be my last.  They were pulling up stakes and heading back to Virginia.

He didn’t know it, but my wife and I were going to sit down that evening and fill out the paperwork to initiate the purchase of a home.  Buying that house (it would have been our first to own) was a big step and one we were looking forward to taking.  It was another move in our lives toward living the American dream.  But dreams aren’t reality and they don’t always come true.

I remember thinking, “What?  God, are you keeping track of me?  How could you let this happen?”  My conversation with my wife when I got home was, “You won’t believe this”, and “We can’t buy a house if I don’t have a job”.   To say we were perplexed is putting it mildly.

It would be great to say that the next day I got a call with a new job offer.  But I didn’t.  Instead I filed for unemployment benefits for the first time in my life and found odd jobs to earn some cash to supplement what I was receiving.  I guess I never knew from week to week how I would work to make ends meet. 

When we feel like we’ve been cut off at the knees and we haven’t been at fault our response boils down to two choices.  I’ll get bitter about it or I’ll get better.  I’ll retreat into rejection mode or I’ll look for the silver-lined cloud and see just how God is going to use this to change me for the better.  Either way it is my choice.  Circumstances can turn me upside down but they can’t ruin me.  If I’m ruined it’s because I chose to be rather than looking for the opportunity to overcome and advance to something new or different.

I’m not a believer that God will not give you more than you can handle.  Too many times I’ve seen that proven wrong.  Who made that up, anyway?  It’s not in the Bible.  Instead, God will allow the overwhelming in my life to bring me to total dependence on Him.  That verse in Romans 8 continues to ring true as it gives me hope that not only is God watching, He’s ultimately in charge and can find a way that I can’t see to turn what initially appeared a disappointing frustration into a grand blessing in disguise.

Maybe you’re very familiar with these words.  Maybe they’re new to you.  But here’s a promise from God to those who love Him.  “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.”  All things.  Even the curve balls and the “I never saw that coming” shockers.  As I was taught years ago, “All means all and that’s all all means”.

Guess what?  2015 is going to bring some of those kinds of unpleasant surprises your way.  How you respond to them is your choice.  But if you kick and fight against what God may be doing to move you to the next level because you don’t immediately understand it you might just miss out on the best things to come.






Sunday, December 21, 2014

With An Infant's Cry the War was Won



And Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David, to be registered along with Mary, who was engaged to him  and was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. Then she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough—because there was no room for them at the inn.

In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before  them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: 11today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough."

Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors! 

When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." 
- Luke 2:4-15

Usually in the battle in a great war in those days there would have been a massive army gathered to fight.  In this story, the massive army  - the angelic host - didn’t come to fight but to announce that the war had been won.  Usually a trumpet sounded the advance of the army followed by the battle cry of hundreds or thousands of soldiers, heard for miles.  Here the cry of victory was the soft whimper of a newborn baby being placed in his mother’s arms. Usually the conquering general would raise his army’s flag over the conquered kingdom.  But here a tiny infant was lowered into a manger – a box from which animals ate. 

Here in this stable the greatest war of all eternity was won.  On a silent night in the little town of Bethlehem God won the "War of the Worlds" as He became human to win back what Adam had given up by his sin and what we all lost through our own sin. 

God never quit.  He never gave up.  He cannot fail.  His promises are true.  And His promise to each and every one of us is eternal life if we will turn from ourselves and our ideas of our worth and put our total faith and trust in the Savior, Christ the Lord.  

God won the war in the most unconventional of ways. 


(Taken from Pt. 3 of "War of the Worlds", a three part series preached at Nags Head Church.  The series can be heard via podcast at nagsheadchurch.org.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Words Have Meaning

 
Words are crucial to our communication, aren’t they?  Without words and the ability to use them, whether verbally or via writing or sign language, communication can either come to a complete halt or at the least bring confusion. 

The God who created the universe in all its vastness has chosen to communicate with us through His “Word”.  The word “Word” has two applications in the Scripture.

First, is the written Word, the Bible.  He used 30+ authors to write down in 66 books what He wanted us to know about Him, about life, about eternity, etc.  Because the Bible is God’s inspired word – that means “God breathed” it, it is perfect and without error.  He had the authors write exactly what He wanted to say.

Second is the “Word made flesh” – the description John gives us in John 1 of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who came to earth in human form to reveal with even greater intimacy just who God is.

Unlike our human vocabularies, where the meanings of words change frequently (“sick” now means very cool) God’s Word, reveals His character, which is immutable – never changing.

Be careful these days when some, even well-meaning believers want to change God’s words to mean things He did not intend. 

Jesus and the Bible are His Word and He’s sticking to it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Sometimes You Need a Sledge Hammer


My senior year of high school I was invited by some other teenagers in my church to attend a weekly Bible study in another northern Virginia town about 15 minutes (in those days) away.  At that time in my life I was more than excited about my relationship with Christ, and the opportunity to learn more was welcome.  It didn’t hurt either that I discovered there were some pretty girls there as well.  Hey, I was 17.

A 30-something couple in our church had opened up their home for the study.  He was a contractor.  I don’t remember where she worked, but they just loved being catalysts for teens opening God’s Word and having their lives changed. 

Each week we’d meet in their living room for a couple of hours, Bibles and heart open.  I’d bring my guitar and we’d sing some of those early Jesus people songs.  The combination of love from the hosts and learning truth from the Scriptures caused the numbers to grow.  The living room was packed. 

Then this couple made a decision that has stuck with me for over 40 years.  Not wanting to stifle the growth of the study by a lack of room they decided to tear out a wall between their living and dining rooms.  It wasn’t long thereafter that sledge hammers were punching holes in the walls, wiring was re-routed, two-by-fours relocated and voila, two rooms became one.  Now the numbers of kids could continue to grow.  More would be invited. More would understand God’s grace. 

Tearing out a wall in your house for kids who aren’t even your own is a pretty radical step.  But it was a step they felt compelled by their love for Christ and us that they knew was the right, even though some might feel extreme thing to do.  But, genuine Christianity has been marked by radical moves, tearing down walls for centuries.  A crisis arises, and rather than say what can’t be done someone steps out of the box and does what others never dream of doing.

In once scene from Jesus’ life something similar was done.  In Mark 2 the story is reported how Jesus was teaching in a house in the Galilean city of Capernaum.  The house was so crowded there was only room outside to hear through the doors and windows. 

In the same town was a paralytic with four friends.  They had heard that the Nazarene had miracle working ability and thought if they could just get their friend to Jesus perhaps He would mercifully heal him.  But there was no room in the house.   But these guys weren’t about to let some brick and mortar stop them. 

Up the back stairs they went, carrying their friend to the roof on a stretcher.  Then they began to strip away the ceiling tiles.  When they had uncovered a large enough opening they lowered their friend by ropes to where Jesus was teaching.  Seeing their faith – faith enough to do whatever it took – Jesus told the paralyzed man to get up, pick up the stretcher and go home healed.  And he did. 

But what if the four friends had seen the crowd and not tried the radical?  The roof could be repaired, but their friend might not get another chance to meet Jesus.

Are you locked into dreaming little?  Sometimes the answer is on the other side of the wall or roof.  You may just have to take some risks and punch a hole to get through.

By the way, the wife in the couple who opened their home so many years ago has recently learned that she has advanced cancer.  The doctors have given her weeks to live.  Should she meet her Savior sooner than later, I wonder if someone up there will introduce her to the four in Capernaum who loved their friend enough to tear a whole in the roof.  If so, I’m sure some high fives will be exchanged.

* My friend slipped into eternity a few days ago, two weeks after I originally wrote this for The Outer Banks Sentinel.






Friday, August 29, 2014

When God’s Way Out Isn’t a Miracle

 
Rescued and kept secure by the army of the Emperor, his enemies were more than ever committed to his death.  But they could not overtake the well-guarded fortress in which he was confined.  So a plan was conceived to bring him out into the open in a ruse to bring him for a second and calm talk with them.  But on the way to the meeting he (and presumably any escorting soldiers) would be overcome and he would be assassinated.

Some forty conspirators pledged a solemn vow that they would neither eat or drink until Paul was killed.  Letting their elders in on the plot they would have had a better chance of being successful had they kept it to themselves.  But somehow Paul’s sister’s son heard of the conspiracy.  Somehow he was in the right place at the right time. 

Caring for his uncle, he went into the Roman barracks where he was sequestered and let him in on the plan for his murder.  At Paul’s instruction he took what he had heard and knew to the Roman commander, a man named Lysias, who thanked him and instructed him to tell no one.  Then at night, in the cover of darkness Paul was led out of the city, guarded by 200 soldiers, 70 cavalry and 200 spearmen. 

When in the morning his potential assassins learned he had escaped the night before and was guarded by such a large contingent they must have wondered who spilled the beans.

We know of at least three occasions in the book of Acts where God supernaturally intervened when His Apostles had been in danger and were in jail.  Twice Peter was let out with the assistance of an angel.  And Paul and Silas, in the jail in the Greek city of Philippi were freed by an earthquake at midnight.  But God doesn’t always use miraculous divine and supernatural interventions to assail what seems to be the impossible in the lives of His children.

Here in Acts 23 He used Paul’s nephew.  It was providential, but certainly not miraculous.  God just made sure the nephew was in the right place at the right time to overhear some zealous men talking about how they would take care of Paul. 

But, what if, when the nephew came to Paul and told him about the plot, Paul had said, “Don’t tell anyone.  Let’s just see what miracle God might perform”? 

There are preachers who will tell you that the way out of debt is to send them some “seed money”, and God will miraculously multiply that amount back to you.  And if you need a miracle for your health, let’s say they’ll invite you to put one hand on the TV while they pray for you, while with the other hand you’re reaching for you wallet to send them some cash. 

More likely, the way out is to cut unnecessary expenses, live on a budget and honor God in your giving, as you are able.  The answer to our deepest needs and troubles is always provided by God, it’s just not always something unexplainably supernatural.  Be careful when you hear someone say, “Look for your next miracle”.  The real answer form God might be as simple as cutting up your credit card.

Then God had the pagan Romans provide Paul with safety and security to his next stop on the way to Jerusalem.  Again, no mention is made of guardian angels.  Unlike Philip in Acts 9 being “carried away by the Spirit” from one location to another, Paul rode a horse at night in the cover of darkness escorted and protected by 270 GIs.  Taxpayers provided Paul’s protection.  But that’s how God did it.  He’s God, and He can cover us however He chooses.

Just don’t be upset when the sea doesn’t part.  You might not need a miracle… maybe just an alert nephew.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Blessed Assurance [Updated]


-->
My mom called Friday.  Mom’s old school.  No email.  No Facebook.  No texts.  She doesn’t have a computer, but she does have a cell phone.  But even when she calls I think in her mind it’s still “long distance”, so the conversations are brief and to the point.  And for some reason, at this stage of her life, when I look at my ringing phone and see “Mom”, I wonder what bad news might be coming.

The night before my dad’s oldest lifelong friend was taken to the hospital by his wife.  He complained that his head felt like it was about to explode.  I’ve known this man, I guess since infancy.  He and dad were boyhood friends.  They played together, joined the Marines together and it seemed like they competed to see which one could produce the most offspring.  Dad lost.  He only had five.

Eventually they both wound up in Viet Nam, and then came home to finish out their military careers and move on to other ventures.  For many years they somehow lost touch.  But in mid-life they “found” each other again, and what they found made their friendship even better and deeper, for they discovered they were no longer simply best friends, they were brothers.

Let me explain.  They were not physically related.  But in their post-Viet Nam years they had both, unbeknown to one another, committed their lives to Jesus Christ.  And as it often happens, their families followed dad’s example and became Christians as well.  Then, when again they connected and began to talk about their lives they were overjoyed to hear of their own separate but similar faith journeys.

Now Dad’s best buddy is dying.  The doctors give him no hope.  And after all, he’s pushing 80 years old.  There’s not much his body can do to rebound from a massive brain hemorrhage.

I’ve tried to get some updates by checking his Facebook page.  (Yes, he does Facebook and has tried without success to get my dad into the 21st Century.)  Here are some of the most recent comments posted to his page that I’ve found.

“So you are going to sneak out of here and let the rest of us here to deal with all the junk that's going on...”.  (He was very vocal about social and political issues.)

“Love you granddad going to miss you, but I know I will see you again. We are praying for everyone.”

“We are going to miss you.”

One grandson posted a poem he wrote, titled “Poppa’s Love”.

What I didn’t find was silence, as if they were afraid to address the inevitable truth: our dad/grandfather is dying.  I didn't see fear of the unknown.  In fact I read comments that made his death sound more like a transfer to a new duty post than an end. I read peace.

But that’s how Christians respond to death.  We don’t “grieve like the rest, who have no hope” as though all is lost and gone.  That’s because when a man or woman puts their faith and hope in Christ, it is faith and hope for eternal life.  Death is only a change of location, and while we do grieve, it is not a hopeless feeling.  Because of Jesus’ resurrection our hope is that the grave will not hold us either.

I read their comments and so admire them.  And I’m glad I understand what they say and what they feel.  Jesus said, "I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.” (Jn. 5:24)

The old Gospel song we sang said, "Blessed assurance!  Jesus is mine.  O, what a foretaste of glory divine.  Heir of salvation.  Purchased of God.  Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.  This is my story, this is my song."  

When the end comes there can be peace if that is your song.  Life without Jesus means death without Him, too.  Choose Jesus.  Choose peace. 

[UPDATE:His oldest son posted this on Facebook this morning, 8/21/14] 
"No words will ever express the debt I owe you. There is no way to fill the void. You are my hero, and I want to be just like you when I grow up; I always have. Enjoy His presence; see you soon. Love you."

Monday, August 11, 2014

Are You Ready for the Darkest Valley?

The Apostle Paul was on his way to Jerusalem after wrapping up a long, five-year journey through the Roman province of Asia, Macedonia and Greece.  It was his third missionary venture, and as was his history, it was one of personal risk and threats against his life.  There were those who simply wanted the great Christian evangelist silenced, even if it meant assassination. 

Sharing some final thoughts with the elders of the church in the Asian capitol city of Ephesus – men in whom he had personally invested three years of instruction and mentoring – he opened up as to how he could go on in the face of persecution when most would likely have given up.  His words are almost superhuman.

"And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, bound in my spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there, except that in town after town the Holy Spirit testifies to me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me. But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.” – Acts 20:22-24

Life for Paul was wrapped up, not in himself or his own wants, but in serving out the purpose given Him by the Lord.  The possibility of death was not concern for him since, as he wrote to the Philippian church, “To live is Christ and to die is gain”.  It wasn’t that Paul had a death wish.  There was much he wanted to accomplish in life.  But he had this incredible contentment in knowing his life was totally in God’s hands.

On the journey to Jerusalem Paul was twice urged rather passionately by caring friends not to go on to the city.  They had some “inside information”, revealed to them by the Holy Spirit that something horrible awaited him there.  Even his fellow missionary Luke tried to talk him out of the trip, but Paul would have none of it.  His heart was set on getting to Jerusalem.  His response to their attempts to dissuade him was, “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Men who hated him and the message he preached were waiting for him there.  He knew that.  Yet he wasn’t afraid and in fact was ready for whatever would happen “for the name of the Lord Jesus”.

Like you, I’m sure, I have been shocked beyond words at the reports of the atrocities happening in Iraq as ISIS, a group filled with hate for anyone who dares believe in a different God than their own seems hell-bent on annihilating entire cultures from existence.  Children are being beheaded.  Young girls are seized, raped and sold off as slaves.  Men are crucified in front of their families.  And all because they claim faith in Jesus Christ.

As I read the reports and see the pictures I am beyond words and cannot find the right emotions as I think of innocent men, women and children suffering such horrors.  What bothers me as well is the thought that it is only by the grace of God that I wasn’t born in Iraq.  Who am I to escape their hell?  Who am I to be so blessed as to be an American?  And more, if I was one of the Christians in the path of the evil swath cut by these Islamic extremists, would I deny my Savior to escape certain death?  Would I, like Paul, be ready when death seemed certain?

Frankly, I don’t know.  I want to say, “Yes!”.  But if it was my child with a rifle pointed to his head; if it was my wife or daughter being dragged away to be raped and worse; if it were my hands and feet about to be nailed to a cross, would I cave or would I die with courage?  Would I be ready?

Please join me in praying for those who will pay the ultimate price in this genocide.  Join me in praying for someone to intercede on their behalf.  My heart breaks for what is happening, and I know yours does as well.  Let’s hope they are ready.




Thursday, July 31, 2014

Driving Down the Stake

Today marks an anniversary for me, one that many would argue is the most significant of my life.  And I would not disagree.

Although I can never remember not going to church as a boy, it wasn't until I was ten that the purpose for Christ coming to be a man, live a perfect life, die an unjust death by crucifixion and then rise from the dead "clicked" within me.  I could tell you many Bible stories, and sing you many songs about the love of God.  And I was a pretty good kid.  But not until I was ten did it impact me personally.


I don't remember everything the pastor of the little Baptist church preached.  But I do remember his sermons about the return of Christ, especially Jesus' comparison of that event to the ark and Noah.  One day, Pastor Kirk told us, God would close the door and it would be too late to get in.

I didn't want to be left out.  And while I knew as much about the Bible as a young boy could know, I had never by faith put my eternity in Christ's hands.  When the preacher asked us to raise our hands if we knew we were ready to meet the Lord should He come, I knew I could not and was not.  And that bothered me enough that sometime that week, as best I knew how I believed in Jesus.

At our church the way you drove the stake of a decision like that into the ground was to "come forward" during the final song of the service, take the pastor's hand and tell him why you were brave enough to slip from your seat and in front of everyone "walk the aisle".  So, during the week I worked up the courage - even told my mom what I was going to do - and as soon as the first stanza of whatever song it was began, I responded to the "invitation". 

After spending a few minutes with a kind gentleman in the church back in the choir room, who made sure I understood my need for the Savior, I was brought back into the service and standing beside the pastor, introduced as a new believer in Christ.  That day was July 31, 1966.  Although I am sure it was earlier in the previous week when I believed, that's the day I look back to as when the stake was driven and my eternal destiny confirmed in my heart.

Three weeks later, in a mud-bottomed pond in a cemetery (I think the perfect setting for a death, burial and resurrection) I began the life of a disciple of Christ by obeying His command to be baptized. 

Life for me began anew that summer.  I didn't understand it all then, and certainly don't understand it all now.  But I'm forever grateful that God opened my heart to grasp the Good News that God wanted me in His family, and that it was an easy decision to make. 

If you haven't driven that stake yet, the Bible says that "today" is a great day to do so.