Archive for January, 2011

America – “A Shining City on A Hill”

Is America really a Shining City on A Hill, or is it just a dream? Was it once and is no more? Could it ever be? Should we care? Maybe it is just wishful thinking.

In Ronald Reagan’s farewell address to the nation in January of 1989, he said, “We’ve got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom – freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It’s fragile; it needs protection.”

I was prompted to read this speech after hearing Rush Limbaugh play some excerpts from it on his show. Reagan’s words are profound, which I think we have a hard time appreciating, having grown up in the USA. We have always known “freedom”. We have never lived under a regime that dictated our occupation, education, residence or a ceiling to what we could accomplish or worse and much worse. This is indeed rare.

In his speech, President Reagan noted that it was John Winthrop an original pilgrim who first used the phrase, the “shining city upon a hill.” He “wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we’d call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free.”

Most people that came to this continent after Columbus’ discovery came here for similar reasons to Mr. Winthrop. They were looking for religious freedom, the freedom to own land and develop it and provide for their families and to be free of the dictates of Kings and Lords and wealthy land owners. We often miss the significance because we take it as a birthright. This has not always been so.

I have recently been reading a Jeff Shaara historical novel “Rise to Rebellion” about the days leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and I am once more struck by the great gift we have been given. These were people untrained and unused to governing who were unceremoniously severed from the laws of England, who had to scramble to form a cohesive government and an army in order to fend off the English and the Hessian mercenary troops with whom we were in the midst of a war with. This is not only truly remarkable on a human level but it bespeaks the intervention of God, who was so often invoked for blessings at the time. He obviously answered in the affirmative. I for one am thankful that He did and I want Him to know it.

As President Reagan shared in that farewell address we need to do a better job communicating the great blessing and the great gift that this nation is to us from God. Our founders understood that and we must remember that.

To revisit the question, are we the “shining city upon a hill”? Reagan described it as a desired goal, a dream to press towards, not a utopia, but a real place of opportunity and freedom. In his words “it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”

Well, we certainly are not there, and alas we may be drifting further from that preferred future envisioned by John Winthrop, Thomas Jefferson, Ronald Reagan and many more. The question asked by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg still echoes across the years and reaches our ears today, “our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are …testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.”

They passed the test in 1865; can we pass the test today? Are we too far removed from the novelty of a free and independent nation? Are we too accustomed to the benefits of freedom that we are unable or unwilling to put in the diligence to preserve it? I believe the nation hangs in the balance. There are good signs (the elections this past November and the increasing opposition to abortion, rise of peaceful protests from Tea Party activists) and there are not so good signs (increasing crime and immorality, Omaha settling for the status quo of fiscal irresponsibility, havoc on our borders, etc).

If we are to achieve the vision of Reagan, Winthrop, Jefferson and others, we must know our past, our legacy the vision of America as a shining city, and pass it on. None-the-less, our hope is in God. The vision of a shining city on a hill is a biblical vision alluding to Jerusalem. America is not like every other nation, it is exceptional. It is the exception. It is established by God. As Paul tells the Romans, “There is no authority except that which God has established”.

It is an honor and a privilege to be a part of this. I don’t ever want to act ungrateful or hold loosely so great a gift. I want to do all I can to preserve it and to pass it on. What about you?

LIFE

It is the 37th anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade, Supreme Court decision that ushered in an unprecedented period in our country’s history, where we discarded the most fundamental human right of all, the right to life.

Where does a government get its legitimacy? Where does a government find its raison d’etre? If a Government is deficient in the most basic area of protecting the life of its citizens, then what legitimate purpose can it serve? There is no higher purpose for a government. When it fails in this regard, it de-legitimizes itself and subjects itself to the wrath and judgment of God. This is where we stand thirty-seven years post Roe v. Wade.

I suppose you could say we are both under judgment, in-so-far-as there have been over 50,000,000 children aborted since Roe was decided, and pending judgment. That is an astounding number of children that have never seen their parents, have never played in our playgrounds, did not go to High School or college and did not be come inventors, engineers, doctors, nurses, attorneys, auto mechanics, teachers, carpenters, electricians, politicians, judges, pastors, mom and dads. This is the equivalent of 1/6th of our current population. It is an astounding number. The number of children aborted, had they lived could have made the top 25 in the list of nations by population. They would be #25, just slightly behind the nations of France, Italy and the U.K. and ahead of Spain, South Korea, South Africa and Poland. This is a fearfully large number of children killed. How can we get our heads around such carnage? In an age of violence and death, how do we get shocked by this loss of life, this loss of potential? How can we not? Allow the Lord to stir your heart and don’t let these be just statistics. We can’t afford that and indeed the children can not.

Of all the riches of the world, they all pale in comparison to the riches of the human life. A life made in the image of God, created for a purpose, created to glorify God with his or her talents and gifts, given to them by God. As the psalmist says:

 “For You formed my inward parts;
         You wove me in my mother’s womb.
    I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
         Wonderful are Your works,
         And my soul knows it very well.
    My frame was not hidden from You,
         When I was made in secret,
         And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
    Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
         And in Your book were all written
         The days that were ordained for me,
         When as yet there was not one of them.
    How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
         How vast is the sum of them!”

What a tragedy, what a loss! When I consider the righteousness of God, I tremble for my nation. I know that He is not blind and although He is patient, His justice will not be held in check by His mercy forever. There will be a reckoning.

Although I see the evidence of His judgment already, I still hold out hope that we may stay His harshest judgment by turning away from this gruesome practice. It will take the church interceding on behalf of our nation, of fasting, confessing our sins and asking God to forgive us. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

The church does have a role to play and the biggest role at that and it may mean stepping into the political realm and electing public officials who will say no to death and yes to life. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. That admonition by Paul to the Galatians is just as appropriate now and to this situation as it has ever been.

As citizens of Heaven and of this nation, let us not cede this ground to the enemy of our souls, let us stand and fight both in the spiritual realm and in the material realm. Let us not consign anther 50M+ children to death without a fight. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Be Angry, and yet Do Not Sin

The above quote may be recognized by you as coming from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In chapter 4 verse 26(a), Paul gives the above admonition among quite a few other beneficial comments having to do with interpersonal relationships. The verse has fascinated me on and off but it was always the adjoining phrase in the (b) part of the verse (do not let the sun go down on your anger) that has received most of my attention over the years and has been a guide to my bride and I in our nearly 35 years of marriage, to keep short accounts. I have often just thought, ok if you get angry you better cool off real quick because you will end up doing something really bad. I was never real good at the cooling off real quick part as my family would probably attest.

I started to think about this verse again just recently after the tragic shootings in Tucson. That is because, as I’m sure you are aware, there was a great hue and cry for more civil public discourse and to tone down the anger, as if that had any relation at all to a mentally unbalanced, lone gunmen’s actions. Should Christians never be angry, should Christians always be nice and sweet and never say anything to offend? I do not think those are biblical standards, but rather self imposed and self righteous standards.

I’m not a biblical scholar so I don’t want to get too far into the exegesis of the verse in Ephesians, other than to say, it is striking that the verse seems to be in the form of a command. Be angry. Are we really supposed to be angry as Christians? Doesn’t it say a bit later on in Ephesians that we are supposed to put away “all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander…., along with all malice” (vs. 31)? There are many scriptural admonitions against anger, so I would not try to make a case for being angry on this one verse, but it is interesting to me.

I did a word search on anger in the Bible and was reminded of how many instances there were where God was angry (not necessarily a license for us to be angry) and wondered if we could gain some instruction from Him and what it was that made Him angry. James tells us to be slow to anger, not that we should not be angry. C.S. Lewis, writing about Jesus in the form of Aslan said “Safe?… Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

Maybe it isn’t always an admirable trait to never be angry and to always be nice. Maybe all the nattering nabobs of negativity in the press don’t really have any business telling us not to be angry. Maybe there are some things worth getting angry about.

I am angry at the fact that abortion is legal in this country. I am angry that people know an unborn child is a human being, but still insist on aborting that child. I will not be nice in my words about the process. It is killing, it is murder it is barbarous butchery. I am angry about this.

I am angry that the federal government takes my tax dollars and spends it on fetal stem cell research that has no efficacious use and starves the researchers in adult stem cell research who are showing dozens of practical uses for their work. It does make me angry because cures that are there to be had are being ignored and people will suffer and die because of it. That may not be nice to say, but it is true.

I am also angry at the lies of Al Gore and the global warming alarmists in the face of so much evidence to the contrary, because they advocate turning away from so many modern conveniences that make life better and this will harm the poorest citizens on the planet. This does make me angry because a hoax is being perpetrated.

I am angry that in the face of such a tragedy as we have seen in Tucson, that we have a whole bunch of folks in the press and in the political arena, sadly our President among them, that want to take the opportunity to posture, to brow beat and to capitalize on the dead instead of truly grieving with the families of the deceased and the community that has had a gaping hole ripped in it. This makes me angry and I will not be nice in my phraseology. This is exploitation. While preaching tolerance last night out of one side of his mouth, the other side of his mouth has continually demonized his political opposition for the last 24 months. This is the height of hypocrisy. Those may not be nice words, but they are the truth and it does make me angry.

There are many other injustices in this world that make me angry and I would not be nice when I describe them, but that would be to “speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” Eph 4:25.

That was the angry part. How about the do not sin part? Well, I do not hate as a result of my anger, I am not bitter, there is no rage and I have not slandered. I think I am on my way, but pray for me and more importantly, pray for what makes you angry. Jesus is the only answer and He is going to work through us. Our prayers change us as much as the situation and we are able to carry the light of Jesus more effectively into the arena of ideas.

If the Church Grows When Persecuted……?

Are you like me in that you have noticed that the church seem strongest and most vibrant when it is being persecuted. This is not exactly an earth shattering revelation, it has been happening since the beginning of the church, but it has been on my mind recently due to a post on Gary Gillespie’s facebook page about how Christianity is taking over the planet.

When I look at the state of the church in the U.S., I see that we are rich, comfortable and free to worship God openly, but we are also soft, nominal and not very evangelical, if you believe the Barna studies. Maybe we would be better off, or more likely to see the revival we have been praying for if we just got out of the way and allowed the society to totally deteriorate, morally, politically, economically and in every other way. With that kind of hard time the church would surely experience the revival we have long prayed for. That would be a good reason for Christians to not be involved in politics. Just concentrate on our own spirituality so that we are not a Barna statistic.

In addition to this practical reason to stay out of politics, the scripture also seems to give us reason to stay out, in that we know that Satan has authority over the kingdoms of the world since he was able to offer them to Jesus during the temptation in the wilderness. If the kingdoms of the world are under the rule of Satan, we have no reason to try to be involved in the government of any of those kingdoms. Does that make sense to you? Should we really just back out of any political involvement because we can expect to see revival as society devolves without any Christian influence. Should we back out of political involvement because these kingdoms are all domains of Satan?

It was with these thoughts as a backdrop that I was reading Romans chapters 3-5 where Paul was arguing that even though where sin abounds, grace abounds even more, that does not give us license to sin. As I thought on that I realized the dilemma that Paul was discussing was essentially the same dilemma I was working through in paragraphs two and three above. Should we stand by and watch society crumble around us because grace will abound? May it never be! As Jeff Shaara says through his characterization of John Adams in his book “Rise to Rebellion”, “We are judged on what we do. If we believe that we are right, we must fight for that belief. If we lose the fight, we cannot be condemned for the failure. But if we do not fight, if we simply endure what we believe to be wrong, no piety, no sermons, no prayers will save us.”

The kingdoms of the world may belong to Satan, but that does not mean we have to let him rule unopposed or without concessions. The wicked judge in Luke 18:4-5 “finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’” indicates the point that persistence can change even an unrighteous ruler. As saints can we do less?

This is challenging to me as I look at our country and the countries of the world. Our role as believers is clear, to carry out the great commission, to make disciples of all nations, but how is that to be done? Does it include fighting for what is right in our own country? I don’t know about you, but I believe that it does. It includes teaching and living honestly among men, not taking a bribe, being a servant of all, not being ruled by the love of money, caring for the poor and standing for justice for all men. These are all part of being a Christian and they are a part of good government.

I am thrilled that the church grows when it is persecuted, but I do not have to like the persecution or the hardships that so many live under, nor do I have to stand by while unrighteous regimes thrive. In our own country I do not have to watch idly while tyranny grows and gains a foothold.

A New Years Wish For a Safe World For the Grandchildren

I am sitting in my oldest son’s living room, enjoying some down time with his family including my two young grandsons (John Brayden – 22 months & Gabriel Matthew – 10 days) and looking into the future of a new year and a new decade, and wondering what kind of a world we are delivering to them.

I suppose it is normal for grandparents to reflect on such things; after all, the love and warmth we feel towards our families translates into wanting to protect them and provide for them. I guess that is why I wonder what kind of a world they will grow up in and, frankly, that is why I am concerned about actions taken by our current administration in D.C., that I believe will make that future more dangerous and insecure.

I have actually been concerned for quite some time, but since I am also taking some time this December to read David Limbaugh’s book “Crimes Against Liberty” which details, among other things, the Obama administration’s foreign policy moves that have militated against liberty and security, it is at the forefront of my mind.

Mr. Limbaugh points out that it is notable that the Obama administration has gone out of its way to alienate our Allies and cozy up to our enemies and leaders of rogue regimes. The courting of friendships with dictators and tyrants is done under the auspices of trying to win them over with kindness, but is that really an effective strategy? Are bullies ever changed by trying to be nice to them? Why would the leader of the free world lend his country’s endorsement to serial violators of human rights? These are questions worth answering as we contemplate the future we want to see our children and grandchildren grow up in.

This administration includes cozying up to some of the most notorious South American dictators, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, as part of its accomplishments. As David Limbaugh documented in his book, Hugo Chavez called President Bush a “devil” and said the presidential podium “still smells of sulfur”. Then he repeated in 2009 “I still smell sulfur. I still smell sulfur in this world.” This is the same Hugo Chavez who gave a book to Obama at the 2009 Americas Summit that scathingly attacked the United States and Europe for their involvement in South America. President Obama graciously accepted this “gift”. Hugo also called America the “great Polluter” and said we were responsible “for having threatened, for having killed, for genocide as well.”

What about Daniel Ortega? He delivered an hour long rant against the United States at the 2009 America Summit with President Obama in attendance. What was our response? President Obama said he “was grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old.” This is pathetic and tacit agreement with the charges made. Sure, America has sins, but (as documented in Limbaugh’s book,) Fouad Ajami, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said and, as many in the Islamic world understand, “it is considered bad form, nay a great moral lapse, to speak ill of one’s own tribe in the midst, and in the lands of others.” Why would the American President show such disrespect to his own country among our enemies? Does this make us safer? Why does he allow dictators and tyrants (whose sins are well documented) berate our country and why does he not defend his tribe and the good that we have done in the world? Again does this make us safer? Or does this embolden these dictators and others like them around the world? What does the North Korean regime or the Iranian regime or Russia or China think when we passively sit by and receive verbal beatings and then tacitly agree with the charges?

We have similarly and, with arguably more danger, behaved in a similar manner with the tyrant in Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Our behavior was most notable in how we responded to the street protests in Tehran after the bogus elections, reinstalling Ahmadinejad as president of an aspiring rogue nuclear nation. When we had the opportunity to side with those protesting and, in some cases, risking life and or imprisonment for liberty, we responded with either silence or the lame, we are “impressed by the vigorous debate and enthusiasm this election generated.” The protestors said it best when they chanted in the streets,”Obama, Obama, you are either with us or with them,”. Alas, it was clear by the silence that President Barack Obama threw away centuries of siding with freedom fighters to stand by the corrupt, tyrannical, Islamic Iranian regime. Are you proud? How can we face our children and grandchildren and say yes, we are Americans and this is our country and what we stand for? Do you feel safe? Do you think this bodes well for a safe future for our children and grandchildren?

There are many more examples in Mr. Limbaugh’s book of the way in which the Obama administration has made the world a much more dangerous place. I recommend it to you. It is not real cheery reading, but it is important.

Does any of this matter to Americans? Does it matter to us as Christians? Ultimately, you will have to decide for yourself, but is not an academic exercise. People’s lives will be affected by what we do, and by what our leaders do. I know that as I look into the next year and the next decade, and the future for Brayden and Gabriel, I know that I have much to pray for. Although Jesus is ultimately the only one who can bring real peace to an individual, it is important for our posterity and people all around the world that we pray for our leaders to lead well and it is important that we encourage those in authority over us to stand with those who pursue liberty vs. tyranny. Mr. Obama we call on you to stand up for freedom and liberty, both here and around the world. Do not appease the bullies but stand up to them. You were elected leader of the free world. We should not suffer dictators and tyrants.

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