Kindness, Empathy and Life

19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live – Deuteronomy 30:19

Unhinged

On June 16, 2015, business mogul Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President of the United States. Personally, I thought it was some sort of joke, perhaps a publicity stunt. What did Donald Trump know about politics? As might be expected, the media had a field day with the announcement. In fact, I felt they were so obsessed with Donald Trump that they hardly recognized the other candidates, including “my” candidate. But the obsession was only beginning.

On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump was elected President, and many liberals became unhinged, including those in the media and academia. The morning after his election, some Institutions of “higher” learning cancelled classes so their students could get grief counseling. But the grief only blossomed into frustration. In June of 2017, in a New York play of Julius Caesar, a Trump-like “‘Caesar” was stabbed to death to the delight of it’s liberal audience (and the dismay of some of it’s sponsors). But the stabs in the back were just beginning.

Not wanting to accept President Trumps election, his opponents fabricated a Russian collusion conspiracy. After spending much time and tax money on false charges, they then proceeded with a bogus impeachment trial. Many of these same people cheered when he was diagnosed with Covid and jeered when he was released from the hospital. At every turn, those obsessed with President Trump are still dripping their venom.

False Scales

11 A false balance is an abomination to the Lord,
    but a just weight is his delight. – Proverbs 11:1

While the media has been busy pointing out every flaw of President Trump, real or perceived, they have basically ignored those of his opponents. While we were subjected to months of conjecture regarding the Russian collusion theory, there seemed to be no interest from the media about Obamagate, and Vice President Biden’s role in all of the spying.

When Judge Kavanaugh was nominated for the Supreme Court by President Trump, we were educated about the Me Too movement. One thing we learned was that any man accused of sexual misconduct was guilty until proven innocent. Certainly no woman would fabricate such personal and sensitive accusations. At least that was until Vice President Biden was accused of sexual misconduct/improprieties by several women.

In addition to Obamagate and the numerous sexual allegations, Biden is now linked to his son Hunter’s ongoing scandal. It seems that while Vice President, Joe Biden used his position to financially benefit Hunter. Likewise, no mention is made of all of the damning sexual perversion found on his (Hunters) laptop computer. Unfortunately, instead of professional journalism, all we are getting from the elite powers is gaslighting.

Untold Story

What are we not being told by the media? According to the website whitehouse.gov, this is what Paul Harvey might refer to as “the rest of the story”.

“President Trump has delivered historic results in his first term in office despite partisan gridlock in the Nation’s Capital, and resistance from special interests and the Washington Establishment.

He passed record-setting tax cuts and regulation cuts, achieved energy independence, replaced NAFTA with the United-States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, invested $2 trillion to completely rebuild the Military, launched the Space Force, obliterated the ISIS Caliphate, achieved a major breakthrough for peace in the Middle East, passed the most significant Veterans Affairs reforms in half a century, confirmed over 250 federal judges, including 2 Supreme Court Justices, signed bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform, lowered drug prices, protected Medicare and Social Security, and secured our nation’s borders.

To vanquish the COVID-19 global pandemic, President Trump launched the greatest national mobilization since World War II. The Trump Administration enacted the largest package of financial relief in American history, created the most advanced testing system in the world, developed effective medical treatments to save millions of lives, and launched Operation Warp Speed to deliver a vaccine in record time and defeat the Virus.”

Bet you didn’t hear any of that on the nightly news.

Laurel Trees

35 I have seen a wicked, ruthless man,
    spreading himself like a green laurel tree.
36 But he passed away, and behold, he was no more;
    though I sought him, he could not be found. – Psalm 37:35-36

In the midst of the Second World war, as the anxious world was watching every move of Adolf Hitler in fear and trembling, Martyn Lloyd-Jones was unmovable in his confidence. His faith in God was his firm foundation when the world around him was falling apart. How? He believed in the sovereignty of God and clung to His Word. Specifically, he found comfort in the passage above. Like the laurel tree in the Psalm, one day men would seek Hitler and he would be no more. His wickedness and ruthlessness would be a thing of the past.

From an earthly perspective, President Trump and Vice President Biden are laurel trees. Mere mortals who will someday pass away and be no more. Just like Adolf Hitler. Just like all of us. However, unlike the laurel tree, they will stand before their Creator and give an account for their deeds in the flesh. Every careless word uttered, and every deed performed will be weighed by the almighty God, who hates false scales.

We need to be careful how much fear and how much faith we put in laurel trees.

Fools Galore

12 Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense,
    but a man of understanding remains silent. – Proverbs 11:12

I don’t follow Facebook, nor do I follow Twitter. But I am well aware that much of what President Trump says and Tweets, would certainly qualify him as a fool according to many of the Proverbs. But despite what the media would like us to believe, he doesn’t have a monopoly on foolish words or behavior.

When questioned about his bowling game, President Obama once remarked to Jay Leno, “It’s like the Special Olympics or something”. (To his credit, he quickly apologized). In what appeared to be a childlike meltdown, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, in front of a watching world, tore up her copy of President Trump’s State of the Union Address. Not to be outdone, in the first 2020 Presidential debate, Vice President Joe Biden told President Trump to “shut up” and also called him a clown.

Prior to his debate embarrassment, Biden got into a heated exchange with an autoworker in Michigan who questioned his stance on gun control. According to the auto worker, Biden “went off the deep end” as he lost his temper and used expletives in his response to what was deemed to be a fair question.

Kindness and Empathy

So where is all of this political talk leading? Since President Trump was elected President, there has been a lot of discussion about kindness and empathy. Yet, in the midst of all of the Clinton sex scandals we were told that character doesn’t matter. Remember being told “Its the economy stupid”? So how did we get to this point?

It didn’t take long to find the trail. According to a 2016 article in the New York Times, Mark Zuckerburg, was devastated by Trumps Presidential win. Accordingly, he decided to make empathy (or the lack thereof) the focal point of 2020. And through Facebook, and the media, he has done just that. For many, this election is about the subjective. Which candidate is perceived as the kindest and most empathetic. To which I humbly say, HOGWASH!!

As a “Patriot” and more importantly, as a Christian, who recognizes the stakes of the war we are in, I am casting my lot with General MacArthur before Richard Simmons. As I have been pointing out, perfection is not an option, so we must vote for direction. Both candidates have a fool’s tongue, but one has a lot more blood on his hands.

Choose Life

I remember years ago listening to a radio interview with the well known financial advisor Larry Burkett. Larry was battling cancer at the time and after sharing some of his experiences in that struggle, he was asked about an upcoming election. Despite making a living talking about finances from a Christian perspective, Larry said the only truly important issue in any election is life. If a candidate didn’t fight for the sanctity of human life, he wasn’t much interested in their other credentials or convictions. As a young CPA, that left a great impression on me.

That interview was roughly twenty years ago. Larry has long since passed. But the battle for life remains. As an accountant, I appreciate what President Trump has done for our economy. The same is true for the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017. Further, as I father and grandfather, I appreciate the lack of ISIS activity under President Trump’s watch. But when I look at the list of accomplishments taken from the whitehouse.gov sight (copied above), one is glaringly absent.

According to every pro life organization I am aware of, President Trump is the most pro-life President in our history. By contrast, the Biden/Harris ticket has been dubbed the most pro-death. As a nation, God has certainly placed before us life and death. In a few days, we will make our choice.

Mere Mortals?

How do we move beyond the earthly perspective of humanity? How do we get past our feelings and subjective standards? Perhaps a testimony will help. On November 17, 1995, as she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Brenda Shafer, an RN, shared this about an abortion she assisted in:

“The baby was alive and moving as the abortionist delivered the baby’s body and arms – everything but the head. The doctor kept the baby’s head just inside the uterus. The baby’s little fingers were clasping and unclasping, his feet were kicking. Then the doctor stuck the scissors through the back of his head, and the baby’s arms jerked out in a flinch, a startle reaction like a baby does when he thinks he might fall. The doctor opened up the scissors, stuck a high-powered suction tube into the opening, and sucked the baby’s’ brains out. Now the baby was completely limp.”

With this sobering picture in your mind, ponder the words of C.S. Lewis, from The Weight of Glory.

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations-these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit-immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

Let’s not redefine what it means to be pro life. You can’t love, protect or care for someone from cradle to grave, if you’ve denied them the right to life in the womb.

This election exercise kindness and empathy by choosing life, “so that you and your children might live”. With heaven and earth as His witnesses, God awaits our decision.

What Should We Believe?

Every word of God proves true;
    he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Do not add to his words,
    lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar. – Proverbs 30:5-6

Sign Language

We expect, during an election year, to see yards dressed (or littered) with signs promoting political candidates. The fallen leaves and the dying grass share space with the political hopefuls that will set our world straight. Or so we perpetually hope.

However, I am sure you have noticed many signs that don’t directly endorse any candidates, rather they seem to promote a different hope. Social justice. Many of these signs are a list introduced by the exclamation: “We Believe”. I am not sure if these signs are intended to underhandedly promote one party over the other or to unite our deeply divided society with a common cause. Regardless, on the surface I suspect we would all agree that we are for social justice. Unfortunately, I believe there is a dangerous gap between what the signs say, and what they imply. (If they don’t have deeper implications, I am afraid we would have to dismiss many of them as utter nonsense).

The Bible has a lot to say about the importance of what we believe, as well as the seriousness of the words we speak. Further, as Christians, we are to defend Biblical Truth. And altering it is not an option. Therefore, when we see these signs, I think we would be wise to ask whether their slogans are in line with Scripture or whether they are meaningless or harmful platitudes.

So lets look at some of the sign language.

Black Lives Matter

Of course this is a true statement. At least it is to Christians. The issue isn’t which lives matter, it is why they matter. As humans we were created in the image of God, regardless of skin color. To God, every life matters. Shame on those who even make an issue of race.

13 For you formed my inward parts;
     you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well. – Psalm 139:13-14

Since we are all “fearfully and wonderfully made” by our Creator God, we need to be careful about elevating any one race over another. Even under the guise of social justice. Further, if one black life matters, they all matter. Yet, despite the rhetoric, blacks like Clarence Thomas, Candace Owens, Thomas Sowell and many others are often slurred as Uncle Tom’s and even called the N word by their fellow blacks.

Let’s be consistent. All lives matter even if they disagree with the progressive narratives.

Love is Love

I believe it may be accurately stated that love is the most powerful force in the world, but I cannot concede, based on the Bible, that all love is equal, as this motto seems to imply.

God is love… – 1 John 4:16

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” – John 3:16

As you can see, the Bible tells us that God is love, and that out of His love for us He sent Christ to this earth to save us from the consequences of our sins. In addition, in 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen, Paul records what true love looks like. Further, the Bible uses different words to differentiate between different kinds of loves. But it never equates sin with love. In other words, the Bible doesn’t recognize the perverted “love” between two people of the same sex as equivalent to the love between a man and a woman. To the contrary, there are many passages condemning such relationships as an abomination.

When we are told that love is love, we must remember that true love is objective. It cannot be defined by itself (despite what postmodernists want to believe). The same God who is love, is also light. And since He is, we must recognize that true love doesn’t allow others to live in darkness, but rather points them to the light that true Love sent into this world.

Science is Real

While it is easy to concede that science is real, it is dangerous to assume that science makes a good “final authority”. While science (if I can assign to it human attributes) has done much good for civilization, it makes for a poor god.

Great are the works of the Lord,
    studied by all who delight in them. – Psalm 111:2

17 then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out. – Ecclesiastes 8:17

Unlike God, science (scientists) are often wrong. For proof, we need to look no further than the Covid projections that were based on scientific models. Technically, science cannot even “prove” mathematics (science is limited to propositions not proofs). Yet despite it’s limitations, unfortunately for many, science has become an idol. Perhaps Einstein’s quote should help us keep human reasoning in perspective. “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the universe.” 

Limited to the realm of the empirical, science will never answer man’s greatest questions or fulfil his greatest need. Only the all knowing and all powerful Creator can do so.

Science may be real, but it will never occupy God’s throne.

No Human is Illegal

While it may be true that no human is inherently “illegal”, that does not imply that no human is a lawbreaker. In fact, the Bible tells us the opposite.

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. – Acts 3:19-20

Those that claim no human is illegal, are obviously pushing for open borders. When they ignore our border policies and immigration laws, they are snubbing the very fabric of our society. Imagine the anarchy if all of us could simply disregard the laws we disagree with.

God is a God of order, not chaos. Accordingly, the nuclear family, governments, and even borders were his idea to preserve life and order.

 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, – Acts 17:26

While I recognize that our country has a rich immigration “history”, that doesn’t imply that we should not protect our citizens from illegal immigrants. Laws exist that allow immigrants to become citizens legally. The fairest and most compassionate thing we can do for everyone is to enforce them not ignore them.

Sobering Words

My objective is not to make light of social justice. Not at all. But, as I mentioned earlier, we need to be careful about the words we speak, and in this case, the messages we send. Intentional or not. When writing about this subject, this is what Matthew Henry wrote:

“Add thou not unto his words, because they are pure and perfect. This forbids the advancing of any thing, not only in contradiction to the word of God, but in competition to it; though it be under the plausible pretence of explaining it, yet, if it pretend to be of equal authority with it, it is adding to his words, which is not only a reproach to them as in insufficient, but opens the door to all manner of errors and corruptions; for, that one absurdity being granted, that the word of any man, or company of men, is to be received with the same faith and veneration as the word of God, a thousand follow. We must be content with what God has thought fit to make known to us his mind, and not covet to be wise above what is written”.

Redefining words or stripping them of their meanings can be dangerous. May we never compromise Truth in our passion for “noble” causes. Even in the midst of an election year, social unrest, and a pandemic, His every word proves true, and He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. May the sign language always send us back to Him.

BTW, my favorite yard sign:

Jesus-2020

What is Repentance?

Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? – Romans 2:3 -4

Illness & MLJ

Having spent a lot of time “on the shelf” recently with an extended illness, I have had the privilege of doing a lot of reading. Specifically, I have been spending a lot of time with perhaps my favorite expositor, Martyn Lloyd Jones, as I work through his commentaries on the book of Romans. I thought I would share some thoughts based on his outline of today’s text from Romans chapter 2.

Practices

Towards the end of the first chapter of Romans, Paul lists some of the sinful practices of the unrighteous, warning us that upon them the wrath of God was being revealed as He “gave them up”. This wrath of abandonment, allowed them to continue down the path they had chosen and the eternal wrath that would be their final destiny. The unrighteous began their way down this path by suppressing the truth that God had plainly revealed to them and failing to honor Him or give Him thanks. “Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22).

What does a fool look like? According to the inspired Word of God, a fool exchanges the glory of the immortal God for images of His creation. Further, they practice impurity by dishonoring their bodies, and they fulfil dishonorable passions through homosexuality. Also, they are marked by evil, covetousness and malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

As if this list isn’t painful enough, Paul makes a final indictment against the foolish. “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).

Judge or Repent?

While it is easy, and dare I say “natural” to look at such a list of sins and stand in judgement of the unrighteous, Paul gives us a reality check. Instead or casting stones in a posture of superiority, we should look at the vile practices of these “fools” and examine ourselves. Are we guilty of doing the very things we are judging in others? While our pride promotes us to seats of judgement, our behavior reveals our true position. God takes our holiness seriously, and so must we.

Over the course of time, we have reduced salvation to a simple prayer of “belief”, but if we are honest with the Scriptures, we will see that the clarion call of the gospel was always one of repentance. When John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Christ, he did so by preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sin. When Jesus preached, He warned his audiences of the need to repent because the kingdom of God was at hand (Mt. 4:17) and if they did not repent they would perish (Luke 13:3, 5).

When the Holy Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost, Peter boldly preached the need to repent. When he was saying farewell to the elders of the church in Ephesus, Paul reminded them that his ministry was to preach the repentance that is towards God and the faith that is towards the Lord Jesus Christ. If the necessity of repentance was the first matter of priority to Christ and the early church, do we have any right to make it any less? If we “invite” people to Jesus, making promises regarding what He can do for them, without warning them of the wrath of God and the need for repentance, are we doing them any real favor?

If we agree that repentance isn’t “optional”, but is of first order of importance, we must then ask what it specifically entails.

Think Again

In Latin, the term repent simply means “think again”. Over the course of time we will hear and read certain words so frequently that we don’t take the time to consider their meanings. But if the effect of God’s kindness is to lead us to repentance, perhaps it is time that we stop and “think again” what that means. If our repentance means that much to God, we certainly don’t want to be guilty of presuming on His kindness.

In Matthew 21:28-32, Jesus tells the Parable of the Two Sons. In the parable, the father tells the first son to go and work in the vineyard. The son initially responds by saying “no” to his father, but then he repents and goes out to work in the vineyard. When the father approached his second son with the same request, this son initially said “yes” to his father, however, despite his verbal response, he failed to actually go out and work in the vineyard.

Although the first son originally said “no” to his father, he later “thought again” about his father’s request. As our Savior stated, this son repented. But this son didn’t just illustrate the Latin definition of repentance, but the Greek as well, which carries the idea of a “change of mind”. True repentance entails looking at a subject, thinking about it again, and then coming to a different conclusion: changing our minds.

Action Plan

As important as these first two steps are, they don’t entail all of what it means to repent. As we see from Jesus’ parable, repentance also involves action. As we so often hear, a man acts according to his thinking. As MLJ said, “Repentance is not something detached and theoretical and academic. Repentance does include the idea of not only a change of mind but a change of a course of action, a change in the whole direction and habit of one’s life”.

Indeed, action is an important component of repentance, but it is vital that we don’t separate it from the prior. In other words, we can’t think of repentance only in terms of actions. Again, in the words of MLJ: “We must emphasize this, for some people seem to think of repentance only in terms of actions. They think repentance means that a man stops getting drunk or being an adulterer or whatever else it may be, and begins to live a different life, but that is the end of repentance, not the beginning. The beginning is this changed attitude towards God, this new thinking about God Himself; thinking about God in terms of the scriptural revelation rather than in terms of our own ideas and our philosophies and our arguments from man to God, instead of from God to man”.

I think if we can learn anything from the Beatitudes, it is that God is concerned that our being is transformed before our actions are “reformed”.

Proper Perspectives

The Bible tells us that the natural mind is enmity against God (Romans 8:7). We see in today’s text the propensity for man to look at the kindness, forbearance and patience of God and coming to the wrong conclusion. This should not surprise us. Man seems to either not think about God at all, or when he does think about Him, he has wrong thoughts about Him. How easy it is to look at the troubles around us and question the love and kindness of God. How often do we question His character because everything doesn’t “go our way”?

For these reasons, it is important, as the first step of repentance, to stop and think about the character of God. The natural man needs to think differently about God, in a sense “reversing the effects of the Garden”. We need to see God clearly as He reveals Himself in the Bible, and most clearly in the Person of Jesus Christ. When we do so, we will see that our thoughts about God have often been wrong. Like Job, when we truly see God as He is, our only response will be to cover our mouths in fear of blaspheming His name in our ignorance (Job 40:4).

Once we change our thoughts and minds about God, we must stop and do the same about ourselves. Once we see how exalted God is, we will begin to see why the Bible can refer to us as worms. Indeed, nothing good dwells in us (our flesh). No longer will we look at our circumstances and question the love and kindness of God. Instead, we can only wonder in awe why He ever “decided” to shower us with His infinite love. Truly, we don’t deserve it.

Glorious Destiny

According to Lloyd-Jones, the person who changes his view about God and self, will then change his view about everything else.

“His whole view of life is different. Before this, his idea of life was, really, what the world is enjoying today, or what it persuades itself that it is enjoying. But the moment a man repents, he has an entirely different view of life in this world. He sees himself in the light of God and before God. He now sees life as a journey in the direction of God, not as a place into which you come to settle down and just have a so-called good time, and let yourself go, and live like an animal obeying the lusts of the flesh and so on. No! He sees man now as someone with a great and glorious destiny. Like those depicted in Hebrews chapter eleven, he sees life as a journey, as a pilgrimage. He is but a sojourner in this world, he is travelling home to God, and his whole view of life and death and of everything that happens to him becomes different. That is a part of repentance.”

Once we see our lives as a journey in the direction of God, our conduct will profoundly change. Now our actions will fall in step with our new perspectives.

Soul Agony

As our nation approaches another election, many people are talking about the soul of our country. While the people on both sides of the political aisle are pointing out the sins of the other, wouldn’t we do well to take a moment to reflect on our own souls?

No politician is responsible for the pride in our hearts. No political ideology can justify the animosity towards our “neighbors”. As badly as I want to understand (and change) those who hold contrary political views, I have to realize that is not God’s top priority. God’s kindness is meant to lead “me” to repentance. As long as I am looking at (and condemning) others, I will be less sensitive to my own sins.

How about you? How is your “sense” of your sinfulness? When was the last time you wept under conviction of your own sin? When was the last time you experienced an agony of the soul because of the consciousness of your sin before a Holy God?

If we truly want revival and reawakening, we have to once again make repentance the clarion call of the Gospel. May God forgive us for presuming on His kindness!

Death’s Precious Side

Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his saints. – Psalm 116:15

Saints

Since the outbreak of Covid-19 in China, the virus has dominated our world. Every day we are inundated with statistics regarding Covid related deaths and new Covid cases. The related pandemic has put the world on hold. As a result, seemingly every aspect of our lives has been impacted. Who knows what things will look like on the other side of Covid?

In the midst of all of the pandemic confusion and hysteria, the Christian community has experienced the “loss” of two of it’s true warriors. On May 19th, 2020, the dynamic Christian apologist and author, Ravi Zacharias, went home to be with his Savior. Just two months after being diagnosed with a rare cancer in his spine, he succumbed to death at the age of 74. His rare combination of intelligence and humility will be greatly missed.

Roughly two months after the death of Ravi, God decided to call home another Christian “giant”, J.I. Packer. Just five days shy of his 94th birthday, J.I. Packer died on July 17th, 2020 from natural causes. During his long and accomplished career, J.I. Packer was a prominent theologian and author. His book Knowing God, would be deemed by most evangelicals as a Christian classic. When asked what his final words to the church might be, Packer’s reply was simple, “Glorify Christ every way”.

Perspective

As I watch the worldwide fear of the current pandemic and listen to all of the discussion about death, it is hard not to contemplate (and contrast) the worldly view of death and the Biblical. As I wrote in one of my recent blogs, (http://helpmewithmyunbelief.com/2020/06/30/deaths-appointment/) death is inevitable. As we are told in Hebrews 9:27, it is appointed unto man to die. While the fact that death is in our future may seem morbid, today’s passage will perhaps help to “smooth” the rough edges. While saints aren’t immune from death, their deaths are precious in God’s sight.

While I was saddened by the death of two of my spiritual “heroes”, the Bible assures me that the vantage point from Heaven was different. How? As 1 Samuel 16:7 reminds us, “For the Lord sees not as man sees…”. Whereas man judges by appearance, God judges by reality. While we see partially, He sees completely. As one writer has said, “He traces the duration of His people, not upon the map of time, but upon the infinite scale of eternity”.

Perhaps we are saddened by death because this world is “all we know”. Likewise, our fear of death may be caused by our fear of the unknown or the fear of “being alone”. If God says our death will be precious in His sight, we have to believe the joy that awaits will far exceed the “thrills” of this world. Likewise, we have to believe that the fellowship that awaits us on the other side of death is infinitely better than our earthly relationships.

Delivered

After the deaths of Ravi Zacharias and J.I. Packer, I learned that Pastor Timothy Keller is facing his second bout with cancer. Immediately, I was saddened with the prospect of “losing” another faithful man of God whom I greatly respect and admire. But isn’t that fear selfish?

If the death of the saints are precious in God’s sight, certainly part of the reason is because on the other side of the river of death, the saints are protected from the evils of the world. Out of the reach of sins long arm, they will never again experience sorrows or suffering. Trials and tribulations will be a thing of the past. Tears will be no more, and the sting of death will never be experienced.

In Heaven, God’s saints will never again be subjected to the burdens of the flesh. We will never again hear of such things as depression, stress, loneliness, addictions, etc. We won’t have to toil and be anxious for food and clothing. Ransomed by the blood of Christ, we will spend eternity in His presence. Forever delivered from the evils of this fallen world.

Completion

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:6

That is the passage engraved on the tombstone of my mother-in-law, and I am sure many others. And it points us to another reason the death of God’s saints is precious in His sight. At death, the efficacious work of the Holy Spirit is coming to fruition. At salvation, we were given the Holy Spirit as a down payment (Eph. 1:14) on our Heavenly inheritance; at death, He ushers our souls into the presence of God (where they will await glorified bodies).

At death, the “not yet” aspect of our salvation will become reality as justification and sanctification will finally “give way” to glorification. Faith will become sight! No longer will we see dimly. Our great hope is to see our Savior, and to be like Him (1 John 3:2). But it is a reality that awaits us on the other side of death.

From beginning to end, every aspect of our salvation is due to the grace of God. The glorification that awaits us on the other side of death is often referred to as future or final grace. Perhaps if we better understood the grace of God, we would have a different perspective of death. God has called us out, and He will faithfully bring us Home.

Communion

26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. – 1 Corinthians 12:26

As Christians, we may not grieve as others do who have no hope (1 Thes. 4:13), but we do grieve. And how precious must the outpouring of Christian sympathies be before Heaven’s audience. What kind of fragrance are the prayers of the saints on behalf of the suffering before Heaven’s throne? What kind of witness is the love of Christ manifested by His children before a lost world?

I think Charles Dickens, in his book The Old Curiosity Shop, when writing about the death of the book’s young heroine illustrates well this truth:

“Oh: it is hard to take to heart the lesson that such deaths will teach, but let no man reject it, for it is one that all must learn, and is a mighty universal Truth. When death strikes down the innocent and the young, for every fragile form from which He lets the panting spirit free, a hundred virtues rise, in shapes of mercy, charity, and love, to walk the world, and bless it. Of every tear that sorrowing mortals shed on such green graves, some good is born, some gentler nature comes. In the Destroyer’s steps there spring up bright creations that defy his power, and his dark path becomes a way of light to Heaven.”

Death has a way of putting things into perspective unlike perhaps anything else. It can cause us to set aside our pride and selfishness and minister to the grieving. As we remind one another of the truth that the grave is not the end (1 Thes. 4:13-18), we can turn mourning into joy. We can look death in the face and lift our praises to God, knowing the victory belongs to Christ. What a testimony the death of God’s saints can be if we have a Heavenly perspective!

No Going Back

Again, in his book, The Old Curiosity Shop, Charles Dickens wrote this:

“It is not on earth that Heaven’s justice ends. Think what earth is, compared with the world to which her young spirit has winged it’s early flight; and say, if one deliberate wish expressed in solemn terms above this bed could call her back to life, which of us would utter it?”

At the death of his infant, King David made this famous statement, “Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” ( 2 Samuel 12:23). No, we can’t bring our loved ones back. And if they belonged to God, we shouldn’t wish to. Like David, we need to keep our focus on what awaits us on the other side of death. We will be in the presence of our Savior and fellowshipping with saints throughout history.

Ravi Zacharias and J.I. Packer are now in the presence of their Savior, and some day we will join them. It is appointed unto man to die once, but death is not a thing to fear. It is precious in God’s sight, and if we had His perspective, it would be in ours as well.

Let My People Go

35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” – Acts 16:35-37

Images

The Bible has been the best selling and most popular “Book” for ages; and for good reason. Inspired by our Creator God it is full of absolute Truths including why we were created, the reality of sin, and God’s plan of Salvation through Christ; and Christ alone. But while it is true that the Bible is full of absolute Truths, we must not confuse it’s absolute Truths with it’s general guidelines and principals, many of which are contained in the Proverbs. Although the Bible does not contain any contradictions, it does allow for exceptions.

When the Pharisees came to trap Jesus about the eternally divisive issue of taxes, He taught them a more important lesson (Matt. 22:15-22). The question they put before Jesus seemed innocent enough, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not (v. 17)?” Jesus’ answer however, was very profound. As He held a Roman coin up for His audience to observe, Jesus responded, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

In Jesus’ day, an image denoted ownership. The denarius coin that Jesus held up was Roman money. Bearing the image of Caesar, it ultimately belonged to him. But, that wasn’t the end of the lesson, even though Jesus answered their question about taxes. More important than the money that belonged to Caesar were the bodies and souls of the taxpayers. Bearing the image of God, they ultimately belonged to Him. While we may have an obligation to give Caesar his money back, we must never give Caesar what belongs to God alone. Our hands, our bodies, our very souls belong only to our Creator. As Christ taught His audience, much more important than the taxes we render unto Caesar, is the worship we render unto God.

AMENDMENT I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Our Founding Fathers knew the importance of religion and the ability to worship freely. You can not get much more explicit than the first Amendment of the Constitution; the government shall not make any laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion (worship). Yet we are witnessing it all over this great land of ours. Caesar is demanding our money AND denying or dictating our worship!

Since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, many State governments have placed onerous restrictions on churches and houses of worship. Caesar has been so bold as to tell us how many people can attend (if at all) and how far the worshipers must be spaced apart. Further, many are being told they must wear masks and singing has been banned. To make matters worse, hugs and handshakes are basically illegal for many. Does this sound like free exercise of religion? As restrictive as some of these regulations are, others have been downright draconian.

In Florida, Dr. Rodney Howard-Browne, was wrongfully arrested at his home for holding a church service. While criminals were being released from jail for fear of Covid, Pastor Browne was placed behind bars. In New York City, the mayor personally participated in a raid on a Jewish funeral dispersing mourners, but by his silence seemed to have endorsed the gathering of thousands in close quarters to watch the Blue Angels’ and Thunderbirds’ flyover. In Louisville, Kentucky, church members listening to a sermon from the safety of their own cars, as part of a drive in worship service, were threatened and disbursed by a “swat team”. What kind of health threat could they possibly have posed? Strangely, the drive-thru at the local McDonalds was open and deemed safe.

The city council of Chicago threatened to bulldoze a church, Elim Pentecostal Church, for not acquiescing to unrealistic demands. Prior to this threat, the police towed away and impounded the cars of those attending Elim worship services and proceeded to block the surrounding streets. Another pastor, upon having his worship service interrupted by authorities, asked his members to meet him at Walmart. His point was well made but not well taken. The police followed them to Walmart and kicked them out of there as well. Now, in California, Caesar is telling God’s image bearers that they cannot meet together in church for worship OR in the privacy of their own homes for Bible Studies.

Such actions are not only in contradiction to President Trumps recognition of church services as being essential, they are illegal and unconstitutional, even during COVID. Like Paul, we are seeing our rights grossly violated.

Bondage

Without a doubt, the Church is being persecuted under the guise of public safety. How can we believe otherwise, when many of the same politicians who are trying to keep people of faith isolated and locked up in their homes are concurrently encouraging and often participating in mass protests? Are people of faith the only carriers of the virus? If not, how is singing Hymns in church more dangerous than chanting death to America and death to police officers in the midst of a throng of thousands marching arm in arm?

The curve has been flattened. The ventilators have been mass produced and are now collecting dust. There are plenty of empty beds in the hospitals and there are plenty of available medical professionals out of work. All of the original “sky is falling” predictions have been far from accurate, yet it feels as if we are living out the the children’s book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Like the mouse in the book, Caesar is not satisfied with just a cookie. If you give it to him, he is going to “ask” for a glass of milk and so much more.

Our right to worship without the interference of Caesar is God given and protected by our Constitution. I am gravely concerned that as long as we passively allow these tyrannical government officials to rob us of our religious freedoms the damage will be irreversible. Some day we will wake up and find our freedoms gone. Religious and all. Before it is too late I believe we need to repeat the words of Moses to Pharoah, “Let my people go…(Exodus 5:1).

Just Say No

I believe that Christians should be model citizens, but I do not believe that means there is no place for civil disobedience. As I stated at the beginning, the Bible contains both absolute Truths and general guidelines. During this pandemic I have heard a lot of Christians quote Romans 13:1.

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God

As much as I appreciate this verse, it is obviously a general guideline and not an absolute Truth. When Peter and the other apostles were told to stop preaching their response to those in authority was, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Later in the book of Acts, as quoted above, the great Apostle Paul, who penned Romans 13, exercised civil disobedience. As a Roman citizen he was wrongfully arrested and beaten (according to Valerian and Porcian laws). In the words of F.F. Bruce, “…their rights as Roman citizens had been grossly violated.” Upon recognition of their mistake, the magistrates sent police to the jailers to have Paul released, via a hole-and-corner manner.

Although I have heard of people resisting arrest, Paul actually resisted release. In his eyes being “wrongfully” released did not rectify his wrongful arrest. Accordingly, Paul said “No!” to those in authority. The authorities, who themselves were in violation of the law, could come and apologize and personally release Paul. And they did!

Paul is certainly not the only person in church history to take such a stance. According to Frank Wright, Ph. D. (president and CEO of D. James Kennedy Ministries), “During the Reformation, John Calvin, John Knox, and others argued the right and responsibility of governing authorities beneath the king to resist unjust laws and tyrannical actions.” When John Bunyan was told to quit preaching, he said “No!” and spent the next twelve years in jail. Like many in authority during the days of Paul, we are witnessing political leaders who disrespect the Word of God and the law of the land. Do we continue to quote Paul’s words in Romans 13, or follow his example in Acts 16?

It is a difficult question we must all wrestle with. Stay tuned.

Mavis and Me

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows
    is God in his holy habitation.
God settles the solitary in a home; – Psalm 68:5-6a

Wrapped Up

I have never been a flexible person. Undoubtedly, with time, my limited flexibility has become more “limited”. Certainly, no one who knows me well would ever confuse me for a contortionist. Which makes the position I found myself in this past weekend a little surprising; wrapped around the finger of a three year old girl named Mavis. Like a fresh band-aid, I was stuck. What made my position even more unusual was the fact that just a couple of hours before she wrapped me around her tiny finger, Mavis was a perfect stranger to me.

While spending some time at the cottage with my family, my daughter Rebekah asked if she could invite some friends up for the day. Although I knew her friends Holden and Cassie, I did not know their young children since they had lived out of state for a few years. However, I was soon to meet their two year old Kenneth, and their three year old daughter Mavis. Little did I know the blessing I was in for.

Tea Time

After spending some time in the sun, we decided to give our bodies a break and relax in the cottage (as well as you can relax in 90 degrees with a dead air conditioner). As I rested sitting on the fire place ledge (under the ceiling fan), little Ms. Mavis offered me some tea from her Beauty and the Beast tea cart. Being hot and exhausted I could not say no.

For two hours I could not say no. If it is possible to drown in imaginary tea I was there. The British would have been proud of me. I was an ambidextrous tea drinking machine. For the record, I was even holding out my pinky as I tipped each cup. As fast as I could drink them, little Mavis filled them. She was the perfect little hostess (although the tea cart did crash into my knee a couple of times) with an irresistible sales pitch.

No L

Besides her big brown eyes, much of Mavis’ success as a hostess was attributed to her speech and her etiquette. How can you resist a three year old girl whose speech is replete with such rare words as “please” and “thank you”? Besides, Mavis’ vocabulary, at least for the time being, doesn’t contain the letter L. And further, she doesn’t replace it with another letter such as W. Do you know how cute it sounds when a little girl says, “Pease will you pay with me” or “Can you ook in the coset for more toys”?

Further, not knowing my name, first or last, Mavis would often address me as, “Pease Mr. Guy” or “Pease Mr. Sir” (when her father told her my name wasn’t Guy). Are you getting a sense as to why I was wrapped around her finger? This little girl could melt any man’s heart and would make any father proud, if only…

Fatherless

Although ten months older than her brother Kenneth, Mavis joined the family after him. Although she is now a vital part of their family, she wasn’t born into it. Rather she was adopted by Holden and Cassie last October. In talking with the new parents, they informed us that the slowest part of the adoption process was trying to identify the biological father. In fact, six different men were given DNA tests and none of them matched. Which begs the question, how many “potential” candidates are out there?

With no success in identifying the biological father of Mavis, a notice was published in the local papers stating that if the father did not respond within a designated period of time, his parental rights would be forfeited. As you can imagine, nobody responded. I don’t know about you, but I believe Mavis qualifies as one of the fatherless that the Psalmist was referring to.

Past and Present

Besides the identity of her biological father, so much of Mavis’ past is unknown. From what little is known, it is easy to speculate she may have been neglected. There were a few physical “issues” her adoptive parents had to address. It is also possible there was some abuse. But who knows for sure? Hopefully, if such evils were a part of her past, they will not be remembered because of her young age.

While much is unknown about her past, it appears that Mavis has a bright future. If it is true that Mavis could be a poster child for the fatherless, it also appears that she is one of the “solitary” that God has settled in a home as the Psalmist goes on to say. Which makes me say, Thank God for adoption and for couples like Holden and Cassie who make the bold and faithful step.

Confessions

As I partook of the tea party with Mavis, I had to reflect on my own attitude about adoption. There were times in our marriage when I wondered if my wife and I weren’t called to adopt, but I never felt it was “right” for us. I realize that there are a lot of things to consider when it comes to adoption, but for me there was always one insurmountable hurdle; fear that I might not love an adopted child the way I would one of “my own”. I know it might sound selfish, but the fact of the matter is, I never wanted a child to feel second rate. Not under my roof.

As a young child observing families with natural and adopted children, I usually felt like the adopted children were treated like outsiders. I may have been mistaken, but unfortunately this impression was always difficult for me to overcome. But fortunately, God never stops working on any of us, and I believe my tea time with Mavis was ordained by Him.

Options

In light of the precarious circumstances, why did Mavis’ mother not choose abortion? One would have to speculate there would have been pressure to do so. Who would have objected, especially in our selfish society? But thank God she did not buy into the lies of the world and the promotion of “choice”.

Similarly, why did her mother choose to put Mavis up for adoption? Was that her intent all along or was it an afterthought? Despite her background, was there as least some rudimentary respect for the sanctity of human life? I can only speculate on her motives, but I am thankful she chose life, and I am thankful she chose adoption. May we live to see the day when it is no longer option 2.

Best Friends

When I had finally had my “fill” of imaginary tea, I moved from the hard fireplace slate to the floor, sitting with my back against a couch. As I made the move, Mavis followed me (how could she not, we were attached!) and attempted to sit in my lap. Being “strangers” I thought it best to redirect her to the floor sitting beside me. But I was soon to learn that sitting by my side wasn’t what Mavis wanted.

After probably less than a minute at my side, Mavis stood up and faced me, and quickly proceeded to give me a hug. As she did so she said in her sweet little voice, “You’re my best fwend”. I am not going to lie, it brought tears to my eyes (or else I was literally drowning in tea). As if having me wrapped around her finger wasn’t enough, she had to go and tie up my heart strings. Like I said before, thank God her mother chose adoption over abortion!!

Mavis and Me

As we were wrapping up our time together, it was time for ice cream at our favorite ice cream shop (ok so it is a gas station). When the last of the ice cream was eaten and it was time to go, as Mavis got into their family vehicle for the ride back home, she said, “Good-bye best fwend”.

Then it was time to process what Mavis had taught me.

Despite the joy and blessing children bring us, at the end of the day it isn’t about what they give to us, but the love we shower on them. And who can better love the adopted, than the adopted? After all, Mavis and I have more in common than meets the eye, and as a child of God so do you.

he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. – Ephesians 1:5-6

Our Father is an adopting Father. Although our pasts were uncertain, our futures are bright, we have a Celestial home. When we felt insecure, God is our true protector. With the love of Christ to share, our Father has equipped us to love the fatherless, and to point them to their true Father. Instead of focusing on my limited capacities, I should have been relying on God’s unlimited resources!!

Although the “age” of adoption has passed me by, I can certainly be an advocate and encourager.

Thanks for the tea time Mavis and all that you taught me. May you continue to touch and soften hearts the way you did mine. It is an honor to be your “best fwend”.

Death’s Appointment

27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment – Hebrews 9:27

Introduction

I remember as a young boy of six years of age playing with my cousin Mark, who was one year younger than I. We were out in the yard of his family’s farm in the shadow of the milk parlor and barn playing as carefree as two young boys could. And should.

After so many years, a lot of the details escape me, but I do remember being impressed by how quiet my cousin was and the gentle soul that he had. At an age that a lot of children are animated and seeking attention (often referred to as hyper and obnoxious), Mark was almost “angelic” in demeanor.

I am sure that my memory of my little cousin is biased because of the tragedy that was soon to follow our last play time together. But I can’t separate reality from bias at this point, I can only relate impressions etched forever on my mind.

When Mark did not show up for dinner one evening, his concerned parents and elder siblings made a search for him. From what I understand, it was his oldest brother who found him above the milk parlor. Mark was dead, the result of an accident. His gentle little frame forever stilled. His death forever casting a shadow on our souls.

Because he died so young, I don’t have a lot of memories of my cousin, but looking back, I believe it was he who first “introduced” me to death. It was an introduction I wish had been prolonged. Indefinitely!

Appointment

I still remember the night that my uncle called to tell us of Mark’s death. How does a father make such a phone call? Torn with sorrow, his voice often failed him as he shared what details he could of the tragedy. I did not fully comprehend what was happening at first, but I knew it must be something bad as the air was so heavy with sorrow and tears were freely flowing.

Later, as my mother was on the phone trying to console her elder sister in her time of loss, my father tried to explain to me the reality of death. Mark was gone and he wasn’t coming back. Ever.

Death is so personal. Death is so permanent.

As he sat beside me on the couch trying to make death “understandable”, I am sure my father was battling his own emotions and shock. As he struggled to find the appropriate words, I coped the best I could; I drew a picture of Mark and I playing in the yard. Just as two boys should. Just as we never would again.

What I tried to ignore as a young boy has become all too real over the years. Death is always near, and some day it is going to claim every one of us. Mark’s death may have come at a young age, but young or old, we all have an appointment with it.

Man

When we went to the Funeral Home to pay our respects to my “angelic” little cousin, I found that he was not “alone”. Sadly, death had been working overtime. As I walked up the steps and entered the viewing room(s) there were two caskets instead of one. Against the North wall was the casket of Mark, and around the corner against the East wall was the casket for the deceased wife of one of my Father’s best friends.

Needless to say, death can be overwhelming. As we pulled “double duty” consoling not one, but two families, death’s sting felt very painful. There laid little Mark, dead before he had a chance at life, and there laid Donna, her life taken by her own hands because she didn’t want to face the life ahead of her.

Regardless of “how” and “when”, death is the fate of mankind, whether a young boy or a middle aged woman. When the Bible tells us that it is appointed for man to die once, you can put your name in that statement.

The man who refuses to face the fact of his own death, is a fool! – Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Once

I recall my first days of school as a First grader, but not for the usual reasons. I wasn’t particularly fond of school, I was too shy, so the new teacher and the new classmates were more intimidating than exciting to me. Rather, the reason I remember those days is because Mark was just beginning kindergarten. Classes began on Tuesday, August 31, 1971, and Mark’s tragedy happened just two days later.

On Monday, September 6, 1971 Mark’s classmates were at school reciting the alphabet and doing basic math. They would have their break and enjoy their milk. They would probably also enjoy a suspenseful game of Heads Down, Thumbs Up. And while his classmates were participating in their lessons and games, Mark’s little body was being laid to rest. His little seat at the classroom table was empty.

As we were trying to process Mark’s death, his brother Darryl, one year my senior (a big second grader) and I walked down to the kindergarten classroom during recess and peered through the window. With our curious faces pressed against the glass we looked for Mark’s seat. I’m not sure how we expected to find it but I suppose we were just looking for a sense of closure. Was he really gone?

For the next 13 years an empty desk would remind us he was. Three days in his seat was all Mark had. He would never again walk the halls or for that matter even get a chance to know his classmates. For two young boys standing on the outside looking in, there was something very sobering about the mystery of it all. To keep things in perspective however, Darrel did inform me as we walked back to our different classrooms, that his parents let him keep Mark’s milk money that was set aside for the week. I’m not so sure it lessened the pain however.

One chance is all we have on this earth. We won’t be reincarnated, and our money can’t buy us additional time. The fact that “we only die once” shouldn’t be motivation to live recklessly and foolishly, but should make us sober and wise stewards of the time we have.

After

It has been a long time since Mark “introduced” me to death. Death has become even more personal since then. A decade ago, it “stole”our last child. This time, it was my uncle’s turn to be on the consoling side of the Funeral Home visitation. As he turned away from our baby’s casket, my uncle was overcome with sorrow. And why not? Death has now taken two of his children.

It is inevitable that my uncle reflected on his own loss(es) as he saw Brooke’s little casket. As he turned to walk away, perhaps in fear of making an unwanted scene, I quickly grabbed my uncle and assured him that we were okay. With tears in his eyes, and his voice broken perhaps like it was on that tragic night so many years ago, he could only mutter, “It only gets harder with time”.

While I am better acquainted with death and the fact that the grieving process is a never ending one, I am also more confident that death is not the end. Quite to the contrary, it is the “after” that the writer of Hebrews refers to that is eternal. While death may be personal, I have come to learn that it is not permanent. Which is why Christ could refer to it as sleep (John 11:11).

Judgement

It is intriguing to me that although death awaits all of us, we try to ignore it and live as though we are immune to it. If the Bible teaches us anything, it is the fact that we are eternal beings. Accordingly, death is not the end of the road, it is only a passageway to our eternal destiny.

The judgement that awaits us on the other side of death is not based on what we “do” on earth, but rather on where we put our faith. Despite my flawed memory, I realize that my little cousin was not perfect. But the Babe in the Manger was.

Christ came to earth as a baby and then lived a perfect life fulfilling the Laws. On the cross he died for us and took the punishment for our sins. If we repent of our sins and put our faith in the work of Jesus we will not be judged (condemned) on the other side of death because Jesus has taken our judgement for us.

18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. – John 3:18

Offering

One of my favorite things about verse 27 of Hebrews chapter nine is the verse that follows it!!

28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

While we may not be able to avoid our appointment with death, we can avoid judgement and an eternity in Hell thanks to Jesus, who willingly kept his “appointment” with death. Christ has been offered to bear our sins. For those of us that are “eagerly waiting for him” (have placed our faith in Christ alone), “salvation” is our eternal destiny.

The “offering” definitely keeps the “appointment” in perspective.

It has been nearly 50 years since Mark’s death. He is in a place where there are no empty seats and no sorrows. He is immune from sickness and unfamiliar with tears. The daily struggles we face because of sin are foreign to him. The same can’t be said for his father who is now nearly 90 years old and time worn.

I am convinced that if my uncle could see his son today, his little boy would correct him in his gentle spirit. In Christ, it only gets better “after” time.

Nehemiah and the Thin Blue Line

14 And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” – Nehemiah 4:14

Position

Nehemiah was a man in an important position in the Persian Court. Specifically, he was cupbearer to the king. At this time, the King of Persia, Artaxerxes, was a very powerful man on the world scene. Yet the life of this mighty monarch was daily in the hands of his cupbearer. In an age when the threat of being poisoned was very real, no wine could touch the lips of Artaxerxes without first going through the hands of Nehemiah.

The position of cupbearer was a position of great risk and great stress. Oftentimes, the cupbearer would need to taste the wine before serving it to the king. Obviously, if the wine was poisoned, his life was in danger. But death also awaited him if poisoned wine made it past him to the lips of the king. There was no margin for error.

In order to rise to his position in the Persian Court, Nehemiah had to prove himself as being trustworthy. To fulfill the position, he must have been a man of great selflessness and courage. Certainly, his position brought him great honor and influence in Persia. But although Nehemiah had such an important position in Persia, being a Jew, his heart was tied to Judah and by extension, Jerusalem.

Patriot

In contrast to Nehemiah’s important position, stood Jerusalem in it’s precarious position. Word came to Nehemiah that a remnant of his fellow Jews, who had been in exile, had returned to their homeland. And, although Ezra had led them in the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, the walls around it were still in ruins. So although the Jews now had a place to worship, they could not do so in peace. As long as the walls were in ruins, the residents and their Temple were in danger. In the day and age in which Nehemiah lived, a city without walls was a city without defense. In the words of F. Charles Fensham, “For Nehemiah such a state of affairs was unacceptable and a shame for his people.”

Therefore, upon hearing about the condition of Jerusalem and the shame of it’s defenseless position, Nehemiah was reduced to tears. Out of his great love for his people and their Holy City, Nehemiah knew what he had to do. He must take leave of his important position as cupbearer to the king, and make the 765 mile journey to Jerusalem and repair the wall. For the safety of his people, it was imperative that the breaches were repaired and the wall restored.

Nehemiah was faithful and loyal to the king he served, but ultimately he was in the service of the King of Kings. His respect for one would have to give way for his reverence for the Other. So, after praying and fasting before the face of God, Nehemiah resolved to begin his arduous journey. Because Nehemiah’s life was devoted to protection, he couldn’t bear the thought of his people being so vulnerable. His people desperately needed him. He knew he had to leave the safety and comfort of the king’s palace in Susa for the dangers of Judah. Hence, he was now going to make the transition from cupbearer to wall builder. A job with it’s own set of risks and rewards.

Persecution

When Nehemiah eventually made his way to Jerusalem, it did not take long for his enemies to make themselves known. When it became public knowledge that Nehemiah was to lead in the restoration of the wall, those that opposed it’s reconstruction began to attack him. At first their weapon was scorn and ridicule. But they would soon upgrade. After all, a man like Nehemiah would not be intimidated by jeers and taunts.

As the wall around Jerusalem continued to take shape, the taunts would soon become death threats. If hostile words could not dishearten Nehemiah and the Jews, perhaps hostile actions would. In an evil world, there are no rules of engagement. But despite the threats, Nehemiah was still unbending.

Nehemiah wasn’t going to panic. Nor was he going to run. The walls had to be restored. The city had to be protected. Rather than allowing the threats to rule the day, Nehemiah encouraged his fellow Jews. They needed fresh courage to “strengthen their hands”. Nehemiah did not downplay the threats, rather he wisely put them into perspective; God is in control, but we have a responsibility. Trust AND action were both necessary. So, “Remember” and “fight” were his battle cry!

Protection

Nehemiah may be long gone, but unfortunately the evils he faced are not. In fact, they appear to be multiplying exponentially. As we look around us it seems that chaos and anarchy are ruling the day. Rioters are taking over our streets. Anarchists are “stealing” our cities. Stores are being looted and innocent citizens are being beaten in broad daylight. While the barbarians are burning Rome, our politicians are throwing on more gas and the media is fanning the flames.

Like the days of Nehemiah, the walls have been breached and the gates have been burned down. Our homes and our families are being threatened perhaps like never before. Because the threats are so imminent, we are becoming more desperate for protection. There is only so much we can do as individuals to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

Just like Jerusalem of old, we need a secure wall of defense. In an age of abundant poison, we need our protection. More specifically, we need our Thin Blue Line.

Police

Many trustworthy men and women serving as police comprise the “Thin Blue Line” that stands between order and chaos. Like Nehemiah, they make great personal sacrifices to protect us and our loved ones. As they battle the evil that threatens society, many of them put their lives on the line every day. Instead of getting the positive support that they deserve, more often than not they face the same treatment that Nehemiah did.

Despite their commitment to stand as a barrier between order and chaos, too often our police are subjected to persecution. Like Nehemiah, they have heard the taunts and jeers. They have certainly heard the name callings. But as we have seen, that weapon is soon upgraded. Words give way to actions. Taunts give way to threats, then threats are carried out.

According to Officer Down Memorial Page (odmp.org), there have been 110 line of duty deaths to date in 2020. Twenty six of these deaths the result of gunfire. For the most part, the death of these police officers won’t make the nightly news, but you can open the link and go to the 2020 Honor Roll of Heroes and view their bios.

Perspective

When I scroll down the Honor Roll of Heroes, I see men and women of different races and varying ages. Seeing them, I am reminded that heroism is not limited to any sex, race, or age group, but rather is defined by selfless sacrifice. These 110 Heroes left the comfort of their homes to protect us by acting as a barrier between order and chaos. Like Nehemiah, they devoted their lives to protecting others. But unlike Nehemiah who returned to Susa after twelve years in Jerusalem, these 110 Heroes are never returning home.

Like heroism, death is not restricted to any sex, race, or age group. Death is definitely no “respecter” of men. But our Heroes in blue are willing to face death on a daily basis to protect ALL of us, regardless of sex, race, or age. When they committed to being a part of the Thin Blue Line, they knew the risks and rewards of the job. Unfortunately, in today’s environment the risks have increased and the rewards have diminished.

During Nehemiah’s time, in warfare it would take prolonged efforts with siege weapons to breach a city wall. As you are well aware, some things never change. This is exactly what we are witnessing today. The Thin Blue Line is being subjected to repetitive blows by an enemy with evil intentions. The enemy is going to relentlessly attack with the hope of breaking the line. As our Blue wall is absorbing the frontal attack, it is imperative that they know we have their backs.

Plea

Many of our men and women in Blue are becoming disheartened. As in the days of Nehemiah, morale is waning. Therefore, now is the time to rebuild the wall. Now is the time to “strengthen the hands” of the Thin Blue Line with fresh courage. As Nehemiah would remind us, it is not a time for fear, but rather trust and action.

We owe it to our families, and just as importantly, we owe it to theirs.

We owe it to the three year old son of Officer Breann Leath who will never again be hugged by his mother who was shot and killed while responding to a domestic disturbance call. We owe it to the young daughter of Officer Christopher Ryan Walsh who will not have her father at her side to escort her down the aisle some day because he was shot and killed responding to an armed robbery call.

Certainly, we owe it to the grandsons of Deputy Sheriff James Blair who will never again garner the wisdom of their grandfather. Raising his grandsons on behalf of his deceased daughter, Deputy Sheriff James Blair was fatally shot on duty. Likewise we owe our support to Deputy Sheriff James Blair’s surviving wife, and to all the surviving women and men who entered the ranks of widow and widower because of the sacrifice of their spouses in Blue.

Despite the rhetoric, we must always remember that the Thin Blue Line is no inanimate cold stone wall surrounding a city, but a living vibrant part of the communities they serve. Like us, they have homes to keep up and bills to pay. They have children (and grandchildren) they love and nurture and elderly parents they love and care for. They are our neighbors, and they are our friends. And perhaps now more than ever, they need our support.

Proposition

I realize that we don’t have the authority to do the jobs that our police have been trained to do, but I do believe we have an obligation to support them as they protect us. As I’ve witnessed the animosity being directed toward those in Blue, my heart has been broken. I believe many of us, like Nehemiah when hearing about the wall, have been emotionally touched by troubling stories we are hearing about the treatment of our police. Today, as then, I believe our state of affairs is unacceptable and a shame to our society.

Accordingly, we need to let them know that we do not agree with the jeers they are subjected to. Nor do we agree with the threats and the violent actions taken against them. Further, we are disheartened by the blatant stereotyping against our police and the acts of discrimination against them. We may not be able to stop the relentless blows of the enemy, but we can counter them.

I would like to propose that we inundate our Thin Blue Line with positive support. Personally, I am hoping to saturate our neighborhoods with yard signs displaying Old Glory sporting the Thin Blue Line. If interested, I would encourage you to go to websites such as thinbluelineusa.com and purchase apparel supporting our police and proudly wear it. I am sure there are many ways we can let them know they are not alone in their battle against evil but these are just a couple of suggestions.

The least we can do is to turn to our “great and awesome” Lord and pray for them and then when possible, thank them for their service.

“Do not be afraid…Remember the Lord…Fight for your brothers…”

Dreams

15 In a dream, in a vision of the night,
    when deep sleep falls on men,
    while they slumber on their beds,
16 then he opens the ears of men
    and terrifies them with warnings,
17 that he may turn man aside from his deed
    and conceal pride from a man;
18 he keeps back his soul from the pit,
    his life from perishing by the sword. – Job 33:15-18

Dreaming

Not all dreams are created equal. Most mornings, when I awake, I don’t even remember my dreams from the prior night, but this morning was an exception. In my dream, my wife and I decided to sell our current home and property and move into the apartment we lived in for most of the first seven years of our marriage. It seems we were downsizing our home and were in need of a place to live while our new home was under construction.

Apparently I found our current situation so ironic (or amusing) that I thought I would share it with my mother (as if she wasn’t aware). But here the dream took a sad turn. In my sleep I recalled that I could not share our change of address with my mother because she is now deceased. And then I experienced one of those strange moments, when “inside” of my dream, I realized I was dreaming. I am sure you have experienced the same thing. Regardless, before my dream turned too somber my mind decided to “stop” the nonsense and I awoke.

Reality

Upon awaking I picked up my phone to check out the weather and then checked my e-mails. In my mail I saw the days headlines. It seems that in Seattle, WA, USA, we have a new country named CHAZ. This country, it appears, is run by a group of terrorists who are promoting peace. According to the media, it seems that these “civil” protesters are collecting “offerings” from the local businesses in exchange for protection (formerly known as extortion).

In addition, the leaders of this new country, for some strange reason, surrounded their “borders” with walls. Now there is a novel concept!! Further, if you want to enter their country you will be met by armed guards and vetted. Something that they once deemed discriminatory. Now, however, they deem it as necessary and vital to the existence of the land of CHAZ.

It seems the land of CHAZ was birthed out of the concept that all police officers are evil and must be done away with, yet CHAZ is patrolled by an armed force of it’s own. As to this thing called freedom of press and freedom of speech? Not in CHAZ. If you disagree with them you are beaten and expelled.

I love the new model of tolerance.

If this is reality, I want to go back to bed. This living nightmare pales any dream I’ve ever had in the slumber on my bed.

Divided House

So how did CHAZ just mysteriously appear in the heart of Seattle? According the the police chief, they surrendered the area to the “peaceful protesters” because they (the police) were tired of being pelted by objects and being called names.

Ok. So parents, if you can’t control your unruly children just give up and let them have their way. Let me know how that works for you!

We are a sick nation. There is no way around it. I’m not just talking about the virus that is dominating the news. Or the mental disease known as TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome) that is dominating the media members. I’m talking about the sickness or our souls. I’m talking about the evil ideology that is responsible for the agenda of divide and conquer. As Christ warned us:

25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. (Mark 3:25)

What is the enemies end game? Control.

What is the enemies strategy? Chaos and confusion.

Chaos and confusion are the fertile soil on which evil takes root and grows.

Confusion/Chaos

As I drift between evening dreams and daytime nightmares, I become more and more confused. Not long ago if I wanted to peacefully protest my Constitutional Rights and protect my livelihood, I was called a selfish grandmother killer. Today, if I don’t agree with the violent riots I am deemed a bigoted racist. Oh the difference a day makes.

The people protesting from the safety of their cars were such a threat to public health that the Michigan lock down was threatened to be extended in retaliation for their obstinacy. Miraculously, when the Governor wanted to join the rioters in a demonstration, the lock down was immediately lifted, and apparently social distancing was no longer a concern. While most of us are asking for clarity, we are being told simply to acquiesce. Confused?

But we are not only confused about the present, we are also confused about the past. In the midst of the current uncertainties, we are witnessing an attempt at the destruction and re-writing of history. Monuments that have stood for the better part of two centuries are being defaced or destroyed. The American flag that has been the symbol of freedom home and abroad is now deemed the symbol of oppression. Instead of respecting it and those that have fought and died for all it represents, we are now told we must apologize for what it represents. As to our Founding Fathers, we are being taught that they were simply slave-holding racists pursuing wealth and prosperity.

Fathers forgive us.

Clarity

It is difficult to see clearly in the midst of all the smoke and mirrors, but that is exactly what the enemy wants. Threaten us with an unseen enemy and keep us in the dark. Like a bad dream, an invisible foe is hard for us to get out of our heads. While the enemy knows he can’t control what we think, he can control what we think about. The objective? Eventually, we don’t think for ourselves at all. Instead we become nothing more than glorified parrots (my wife doesn’t like when I use the word idiot) repeating the slogans of the day. From my perspective, we are well on our way to being fully hypnotized to the point of allowing others to do all of our thinking for us.

It is past time for Christians to awake. Just as the Bereans “validated” the teaching of Paul and Silas, we need to examine what is happening around us and what we are being told. Blind obedience is dangerous. We need to start asking the difficult questions. How do the events of the day line up with Scriptures? How many of my rights am I willing to sacrifice under the guise of safety? At what point, like so many in the Bible and church history, do we have to determine to disobey man and obey God?

Our country was founded by Godly men on Godly principals. I recognize that ultimately our citizenship is in Heaven, but even as sojourners here on earth, we have a responsibility to our fellow man. We must strive to put an end to the divided house. We must cut through the chaos and confusion. If we want unity, we must have clarity. If we are going to have clarity, it has to come from the Word of God.

Terrifying Warnings

As Elihu addresses Job in his suffering, he tells him that God may speak to us in our dreams and warn us to turn from our ways (deed) thus potentially saving us from a premature death. As Christians, the enemy cannot touch our souls, but I am afraid we may be witnessing the last days of our great country. Perhaps for too long, the church has been casually existing in a dream instead of living in reality.

Slowly but surely, we have surrendered our freedoms for safety and comfort. Naively, we have believed that each power grab has been done “for our best interest”. It may be fair to say that the death of this great nation, birthed on Christian principals, can be laid at the feet of Christians too often succumbed by chaos and confusion and thus complacent. Too often divided by disasters when we should have been unified.

God does not owe us the privilege of living in a free country, but in His mercy he has allowed us such a blessing. How long will the blessing last? How can we know? Perhaps the answer lies with us if we “turn from our deeds” (or lack thereof) and seek the face of God praying for restoration (2 Chron. 7:14).

Freedom

I am no prophet. I am merely clay enlivened by the breath of God. Like you, I often have meaningless dreams that leave me confused. But when I am awake, I pray that God will give me the clarity of vision to see through the enemies schemes. I may not be able to stop the chaos and confusion, but I can control what I think about. I can say no to the temptation to allow others to think on my behalf and suffer the consequences of my choices. Otherwise, will the same softness and complacency that enables me to surrender my political freedoms also enable me to sacrifice my spiritual freedoms?

It is one thing to burn the flag, deface the monuments and disgrace the veterans of our great nation, but to hold up the Son of God to contempt (Hebrews 6:6)? Whether political or spiritual, our freedom has never been free, but it has always been worth fighting for. Those of us that have it must fight as valiantly to retain it as did those that fought and died to make it available to us.

Like waves rolling in and beating the shore, the enemy will relentlessly try to pound us into submission. As the waters attempt to wash us away, we must cling to our Firm Foundation. In the midst of confusion, He alone can give us clarity. In times of division, He alone can bring unity. We simply need to decide, where we are going to stand, and more importantly, with whom.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. – Galatians 5:1

Emotion Control!

A fool gives full vent to his spirit,
    but a wise man quietly holds it back. – Proverbs 29:11

Wild Fire

I thank God that He has created us as emotional beings. I couldn’t imagine a wedding without love or a funeral without grief. Who can hold their first child or grandchild without a tear of joy in their eye. What would be the purpose of reading a novel or watching a movie if it didn’t create an emotional response in us? But as we are reminded by Scriptures, we have to hold back our emotions. We need to control them and not be controlled by them. To give full vent to our emotions is foolish. Especially anger. And as we are experiencing as a nation, it is also dangerous. Unfortunately, it is easier said than done. Especially if we surround ourselves with other “fools”.

Like everyone else I have conversed with, I am appalled by the way that George Floyd was killed by a police officer. Nobody in their right mind could condone the action of the police officers on duty. To say they went too far is a gross understatement and there is no excuse for it. But I fail to see how the reaction since his death is going to mend the issues that divide our nation. I don’t believe violence is a wise answer to violence just as I have never understood how reverse discrimination is a solution to discrimination. Wrong is always wrong and those that violate the law should be punished, policemen and rioters alike. We can’t expect to cross any bridges if we have burned them or make any advances by stepping backwards. But this is precisely what we do when we give full vent to our anger. Anger isn’t a sin, being controlled by it is. What other emotion, left unchecked, is responsible for more deaths?

Color Blind

In January 2017, four black Chicago teenagers kidnapped a mentally disabled white boy and tortured him. They posted footage of their deplorable behavior online as if they were proud of what they were doing. As they held a knife to his head and cut his scalp they used derogatory words about President elect Donald Trump and white people in general. Like the footage of the death of George Floyd, it is too disturbing for me to watch. Even a small dose of vile hatred goes a long way. Especially as the father of a son with Down Syndrome. When you imagine anyone doing that to your son it is hard not to be emotional. Anger is very quick to escalate, and too quick to spill over.

George Floyd is not the first person to be killed at the hands of police officers, nor will he be the last. There are all kinds of statistics regarding crimes committed and criminals killed by race. You can take them for what they are worth. But I believe we have to get past color. At the end of the day, what we are talking about is humans torturing humans in Chicago, and humans killing humans in Minneapolis. As long as we talk about black teens torturing white boys or white police officers killing black men, we are fighting the wrong fights.

As I see the pictures of the riots and hear the rhetoric I am puzzled as to what or whom exactly is being protested. We all agree the police officer was wrong. We don’t need innocent police officers or business owners killed to convince us. We need to have our eyes opened to see beyond color and recognize evil as evil. In the eyes of God, all lives truly matter. He has created us in His image and none of us are a mistake, regardless of color of skin. As long as we ignore the sanctity of all human life, we will be having these atrocious killings and these senseless riots, regardless of what “morality” we try to codify in law.

Past Mistakes

Immediately after the death of George Floyd, the media began discussing the troubled past of the police officer (Chauvin) and the complaints that had been filed against him. By implication, if officer Chauvin had been removed from his position, this tragedy might have been avoided. What most of the media has been reluctant to share however, is the troubled past of George Floyd. Contrary to the martyr status he has been elevated to, George Floyd had numerous charges against him and spent time in jail on more than one occasion. He was once arrested for armed robbery and held a gun to the stomach of a pregnant lady thus threatening to kill her unborn child. In addition, he had a criminal record for drug possession. Why is this relevant? We are all sinners in need of grace, and before we are too quick to point fingers we need to be reminded of the sin that lies within each of us and the atrocities each and every one of us is capable of.

17 The one who states his case first seems right,
    until the other comes and examines him. – Proverbs 18:17

Until we have all of the facts, we better not be too haste in passing judgement. If we can’t honestly assess our own motives and actions how foolish are we to prematurely judge others? Neither officer Chauvin nor George Floyd was perfect. Likewise, we are far from it. Thankfully, God is a God of new beginnings.

Nonconformists

With the Covid-19 pandemic has come an excess of conditioning. As my daughter recently pointed out to me, with expressions such as, “We are all in this together”, “New normal” and “Stay home, stay safe”, etc. we are being conditioned to be conformed to a common standard. To think and act independently of this conditioning is to subject oneself to being labeled selfish and deemed an outsider who is dangerous to society. But as Christians, we are obligated to take our marching orders from the Bible and not from the masses. When we surround ourselves with “mobs” it is much more difficult to keep our emotions under control. How easy it was to shout “crucify him” in the midst of a passionate throng. Mass hysteria can be intoxicating.

While we might deem ourselves too sophisticated to shout for the crucifixion of Christ, how quick are we to share posts or parrot talking points that we might not otherwise support because of pressure? Maybe we feel it is the politically correct thing to do, or perhaps it is just the popular thing to do. But is it the right thing? As Christians we have the mind of Christ. One way to avoid being “fools” is to avoid the herd mentality. Often times, it is wise to be nonconformists. We do well to remember that ultimately we are only trying to please an audience of One.

Wisdom’s Rein

It is past time for wisdom to prevail. We need to recognize that when emotions rise, logic declines. We can’t judge people based on the color of their skin, nor can we judge people based on the uniforms they wear. We can’t ask for open dialogue and then marginalize those at the table because of their perceived privileges. As I have stated, we are all God’s image bearers, but we are all tainted by sin. Regardless, we all deserve to be heard. The life and voice of every person at the table is important. But our words will be of no avail if they are not based on eternal Truths.

Rage and racism will never solve our problems. We need to turn to the Word of God if we truly want to see change in our society. We can’t look to our government or it’s laws to solve our troubles. We need to see hearts changed, and only the Gospel is going to do it. I don’t “believe” in social media nor do I watch any news broadcasts. My personal conviction is that their dangers far outweigh their benefits. I am not asking you to share my convictions, but I am challenging you to set aside the distractions of the world for a “season” and bend your knees before the throne of God.

When you are before His face, ask Him to examine your heart for any trace of racism or any prejudice against authority figures. Is there pent up anger in your heart just waiting for the smallest of sparks to ignite it? If He convicts you, repent of your sins and commit to be a voice of Reason in a volatile society. Pray for those in positions of authority. Pray for those hurt by racism and prejudice. Pray that those in darkness would have their eyes enlightened by the Holy Spirit and their hearts changed by the atoning work of Christ.

One New Man

May God forgive all of us for our foolishness. May He forgive us for the fires we have started. We can’t undo the past, but by the Grace of God maybe we can prevent some of it from repeating itself. May God enable us to replace anger with peace! We will never have peace with each other unless we have peace with God. May the predominate death of our day be the death of hostility.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. – Ephesians 2:14-16