God Save America

The news media (including Fox News) and some well meaning people want us to believe that this election is about mere differences of opinion, and that once it is over we can simply put them behind us, join hands, and skip glibly forward into a future where biblical morality is distant memory relegated to the arena of impotent nostalgia. Make no mistake about it, this country has become a battlefield upon which critical issues of sanctity of life, biblical marriage, religious freedom, and democracy versus socialism are at stake. These moral issues are far too important for believers to relinquish to the secularists and all those on the left, regardless of the outcome (positive or negative) of any election.

Regardless of what results from delayed and hazy election results and who eventually prevails in the U.S. presidential election, one thing is crystal clear—a startling percentage (perhaps majority) of persons in this country now favor legalized murder of yet-to-be born children, redefining marriage and gender to be anything-goes, removing God from the pledge of allegiance and all other facets of public life, and a socialist form of government in which the State supersedes individual and state rights. Tragically, this could not have happened without vast numbers of Christians choosing to be complicit in the moral demise. For those reasons, I can no longer pray or sing “God bless America”; instead, my constant plea will be: “God save America.” The divine hand may already be in motion writing “Ichabod” (“my glory has departed”) across the portals of this country that once revered God Almighty, but surely it is not too late for God’s people to confess our sins, repent in sackcloth and ashes, and desperately turn to God as our only hope. In reality, He has always been our only hope. God save America.

(Personal photo taken during Prayer March 2020, Washington D.C.)

Platform Versus Personality

We hear shouts from every direction that the November election is about ousting certain persons and installing others in their place. Do not be deceived. This election or any election has nothing to do with personalities and everything to do with platforms. It is not about persons, but principles. Read the official platform of the party you place your stamp of approval on with your vote, and realize that you are morally responsible for the principles you choose to support. Like it or not, a vote for a Democratic Party candidate supports an official platform that upholds in clear and unmistakable language the right to kill unborn children, calling it “reproductive freedom.” The Bible calls it reprehensible. The Democratic platform portrays this as the majority opinion—“Like the majority of Americans, Democrats believe every woman should be able to access high-quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion. We oppose and will fight to overturn federal and state laws that create barriers to women’s reproductive health and rights, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment and protecting and codifying the right to reproductive freedom” (I reference page 42 of the official platform of the Democratic Party). And, admit it or not, a vote for a Democratic Party candidate takes a stand with an official platform that grants sexual preference the same status as gender by birth, and applies the ambiguous designation “conversion therapy” to damn any attempt to address sexual preference from a corrective stance.

But don’t take my word for it. Read for yourself. The platforms of political parties are easily accessible at no cost online. Then look beyond certain faces and focus on what values you embrace for this country and want upheld for your children and grandchildren.

Click to access 2020-07-31-Democratic-Party-Platform-For-Distribution.pdf

Click to access platform.pdf

Prophetic or Popular?

“But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” John 17:13-18 | ESV

Sanctification is what allows the believer in Christ to experience the quality of life Jesus describes as “eternal life.” The word “sanctify” means “to set apart, consecrate, make sacred.” In ascribing this holy state of being, Jesus makes what on the surface appears to be a major contradiction in verses 17-18: “Sanctify them by the truth…. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one…. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” One would logically think that if eternal life is a certain quality of life, the goal of which is to make me sacred to Christ, that I should look for every possibility to escape the world. Instead, Jesus says his purpose for us is to remain sacred to him while living smack dab in the middle of a culture characterized by deepest darkness. In other words, you and are to live sanctified lifestyles while remaining in the world. That is far more difficult and necessary than retreating from the world.

There has likely never been a more critical moment for the church to stand out and speak out in this country than right now. My wife and I once enjoyed Hallmark holiday movies, but the Hallmark company is now joining those in this country attempting to redefine marriage and family with non-biblical language. According to an article by Lawrence Richards, Hallmark will now prioritize and reflect “diversity.” According to a company spokesperson, that will include “projects featuring LGBTQ storylines, characters, and actors.” “Diversity and inclusion is a top priority for us,” the statement said via Good Morning America. “We are committed to creating a Hallmark experience where everyone feels welcome.” Dr. Jim Denison reports that a recent episode of HGTV’s House Hunters show featured a “throuple” (a three-person “couple”) seeking a new home in Colorado. He goes on to say that the American Psychological Association has created a “Consensual Non-Monogamy Task Force” to promote “awareness and inclusivity” about polyamorous (“many loves”) relationships.

“Without revelation people run wild, but one who keeps the law will be happy.” Proverbs 29:18 | Holman Christian Standard Bible

American culture is running wild, casting off restraint right and left. Every pulpit in America should sound forth prophetic cries calling culture to be weighed in the balance of biblical truth. The problem is that taking a moral stand always offends. What are we willing to sacrifice for popularity? If you bow before the altar of public opinion you forfeit the privilege to be prophetic. Prophetic voice rubs the wrong way because it goes against the grain of public intent and popular culture. Prophets are rarely hailed until long after they are gone. During their active ministry prophets are misunderstood, maligned, and frequently martyred. But this, evidently, has been Christ’s plan all along. When the sanctified live sacred lives among those who are thoroughly sacrilegious, the Truth stands out in stark contrast to popular lies masquerading as morality.

The Lion Has Roared

“The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken; who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8, Catholic Study Bible)

The moral fiber of America is unraveling at a staggering pace. Tragically, Christians are doing little to stem the plummeting decline. We speak out, but at the risk of appearing hypocritical, I must point out that the majority of our rhetoric targets fellow believers. It is more comfortable to debate other Christians than stand out as salt and light in a desperately dark culture. Social media fosters this enfighting because, after all, our posts are largely read by our self-imposed circle of influence—those who have “friended” us. Huddling in protest is nothing more than impotent isolation. Since we do not address the world, I assume we are expecting unbelievers to eavesdrop on our dissent. This was not the way of the Church in ages past. Her influence was indelibly imprinted on unbelieving pagan cultures. The result quite often was the lions or guillotine or prison. We have lost sight that the word “martyr” comes from the Greek martur, meaning simply “witness.” Few seek or embrace that spirit today. We prefer debate to demarcation, passive aggressive outbursts in social media to inescapable mercy. This is not the way of costly grace. We have counted the cost and come up wanting.

Do not misunderstand my challenge. I am not calling for shouting in the public square, but imploring myself to serve the least among us. You may reject my words, but you can never refute unimaginable mercy. “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13, ESV). Mercy is compassion in action; it does not shrink from angry opposition. Mercy is selfless love on display. As such, it is not overly complex and actually simple to navigate. Extend human dignity to the homeless by making eye contact and refusing to turn away in disgust. Express appreciation to law enforcement for their sacrificial public service. Invest in relationships with individuals from cultural backgrounds other than your own. Employ non-violent protest of Planned Parenthood facilities and abortion clinics. Seek to enact legislation that protects the unborn and upholds biblical standards of human sexuality. Don’t just sit there with your face in your phone—enact justice. Seek to emulate Christ to the degree that it costs something, perhaps even your life. Be a martyr (witness). We are not playing the Game of Life. We are at war, but the weapons of our warfare are unsheathed in love, not hatred or fear.

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4 | ESV).

Glory and Love

“All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them.” (John 17:10 | NIV)

The Greek word translated “glory” is doxa. It likely looks familiar to churchgoers who grew up standing in Sunday worship to sing the Doxology. Its meaning comes from another root word that denotes “to be of reputation, honor resting from a good opinion.” In other words, glory refers to something or someone revealed in some way or other; hence, “to glorify” means to reveal the worth, value, or honor of another. When we apply this understanding to Christ’s statement in John 17, we grasp more fully your purpose and mine in this world. Collectively and singularly we reveal the worth, value, honor and beauty of Christ to the unknowing and unbelieving world. This harkens back to Jesus’ imagery in John 15 of a vine and its branches. The only way anyone discerns the value of the vine is by observing the beauty and tasting the quality of its fruit. Herein lies an opportunity of eternal consequence—my obedience, love and humble service shouts approval of the Son; in fact, all the stars and galaxies combined cannot reveal more fully the worth of God than each simple act of love on my part.

Make no mistake about it—I deplore inconsistent rhetoric, lawless destruction of that which offends, and politicians that employ fear tactics to paralyze opposition and garner votes for political and personal ambition. I will continue to rail against injustice of any variety, and endeavor to match opinion with corresponding action. But what disturbs most is when I detect a shift within me from compassion to cynicism, from love to disdain. A day will come when I no longer walk this way, and all that persists is the memory of how I loved or failed to do so. “If nature abhors a vacuum, Christ abhors a vagueness. If God is love, Christ is love for this one person, this one place, this one time-bound and time-ravaged self” (Christian Wiman). What I want most is to be remembered as a man who loved like a hurricane—stood strong by his family, adored his wife, hoisted courageously the banner of Christ, loved the unlovely, and cherished the forsaken. Will a sweet fragrance that reminds of Jesus remain, or will the stench of self-importance spoil my legacy? I learned the hard way that I can never control how others respond, but I can and must love from the inside-out, to the glory of Jesus Christ.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1 | ESV)

Stumbling Block

“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-25 | ESV)

Fueling the out-of-control and irrational rage spreading like a dark disease and taking the form of violent vandalism, far-left activist Shaun King wrote this week that all crucifixes depicting Jesus Christ as a “white European” should be torn down and done away with. “Yes I think the statues of the white European they claim is Jesus should also come down. They are a form of white supremacy. Always have been,” writes King. His is one more distorted expression of those who have done nothing to contribute to societal improvement clamoring for anarchy. What masquerades as “revisionist history” is nothing more than virulent terrorism.

Ignorance matters! How, in the name of all that’s holy, does a bloody impaled thorn-crowned figure represent racial superiority? Jesus Christ never has and never will stand for ethnic supremacy, regardless of how one fills-in-the-blank. My heart breaks for the man or woman who looks at any image of the Savior and sees a racial slur rather than hearing the voice of perfect Love. The cross will always be a stumbling block to dark minds. The precious Son of God hangs in humiliation on the cross as an enduring reminder that all who will humble themselves and cling to Him as if their life depends on it will find mercy enough to last all eternity. O rebel heart, reject pride that blinds and stumbles toward destruction. Offer yourself a living sacrifice to the One who is the ultimate sacrifice, and discover in the dying eternal abundant life.

Draw me nearer, nearer, blessed Lord,

To the cross where Thou hast died;

Draw me nearer, nearer, blessed Lord,

To Thy precious, bleeding side. (Fanny Crosby, 1875)

Walk

“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6 | ESV)

Don’t miss it. The key word in these familiar verses is not what you might expect. The defining centerpiece is the Hebrew verb yalak, translated as “walk.” It simply means “to go, proceed, depart.” In some instances it means “to carry.” It is a common verb occurring quite often in the Old Testament (1046 times in 938 verses). Walking with someone speaks of comfortable fellowship. When used more metaphorically, it can mean “to go along with” implying intercourse, agreement and acceptance. One does not walk with another except by agreement or command is the idea. Regardless, the critical image is one of ordinary routine. Note that walking never implies sporadic harried urgency. Walking connotes routine rather than reaction. That distinction is vital if we are to properly interpret and implement what the prophet Micah declares. Justice is a matter of course for those walking humbly with God. In other words, justice is an enduring mindset that cannot not be expressed with corresponding consistent action; it is anything but hypocritical knee jerk with accompanying bombasts and pride prompted gesticulation that smacks more of back patting than justice seeking. The distinction is profound, yet well meaning folks, secular organizations, and even religious entities fall into this well laid trap that springs on those who ignore justice until it is en vogue. Popular justice is rarely just, but magnifies what is at stake. When we fail to advocate for and practice justice as an expression of the imago dei, justice retreats into nothing more than a fad that whips into a frenzy for a time and then dissipates into distant memory. Beware of those who speak loudest in a moral crisis if they act and speak differently than they did before the crisis. Such rhetoric reeks with the stench of hypocrisy. They have taken a decisive step toward manipulating “justice” for public approval. Until we move beyond such theatrics, we will never resolve injustice. Unstoppable Justice flows from a heart that walks with the Father, because it would be unthinkable to do any other.

Nearly 20 years ago I was invited to present the chapel address at Wiley College in recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. The message (available in the college library archives) was entitled “A Mighty Long Journey: Moving from Civil Rights to Civil Charity.” Allow me to share an excerpt from the introduction:

“The theme for today’s Chapel here at Wiley College has been announced as—“Living as One in a Pluralistic World.” I definitely agree that this is a worthy goal; a definite ideal to which to aspire. My deep conviction, however, is that this will remain an illusive goal for the world until a particular group within the world begins to live according to that ideal. The particular group to which I am referring is the Christian Church, the Body of Christ on this earth…. To ignore this problem is to fail in our witness, and to imply the impracticality and impotence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To fail to do so is to forfeit any real relevance to the issues at hand and any prophetic instruction on how to truly love one another.

I learned an African-American prayer chant while I served as pastor of a multi-racial congregation in Houston:

It’s a mighty long journey

But I’m on my way—

It’s a mighty long journey

But I’m on my way… 

It may indeed be a mighty long journey, but I want to challenge us as Christ-followers today to begin the journey of moving from civil rights to civil charity. You see, there’s a huge difference between doing something because it’s right and doing it out of genuine love for someone else.”

Justice seeking is, by definition, a long and endless journey that we are expected to walk everyday. It cannot lower its gaze from what God intends. It will not bow to wisps of protest or temporary theatrics. It will be on our minds and in our actions at all times, because to be and do otherwise is to deny the validity of the Christ-life.

It’s a mighty long journey

But I’m on my way—

It’s a mighty long journey

But I’m on my way.

Drawing a Thin Blue Line in the Sand

“He who is not angry when there is just cause for anger is immoral. Why? Because anger looks to the good of justice. And if you can live amid injustice without anger, you are immoral as well as unjust.”— St. Thomas Aquinas

I am angry. Anarchy masquerading as legitimate protest is unjust, and that angers and disgusts me. Absurd voices calling for what amounts to mob rule target law enforcement as the problem out of cowardice and refusal to confront legitimate root causes of societal injustice. Defund police? Have people lost their minds, or is something more sinister afoot? As a volunteer police department chaplain, I have opportunity to see law enforcement up close and personal, and these women and men are not what the media portrays or what lawless mobs shout and curse. These public servants daily offer themselves as living sacrifices, and do so for inadequate pay and an unappreciative public, all the while battling personal demons and enduring incredible stress on their families. For the life of me, I cannot fathom why they do it, but I thank God they do. I, for one, choose to pray for them rather than revile them, value their service rather than disgrace it, and refuse to remain silent simply because it is unpopular to defend them.

“Blaming the police for what is amiss in America is akin to cherry-picking evidence to support a specious argument. Of course there are bad apples who must be held accountable for their actions in any institution, but these individual crimes cannot then be writ large over an entire institution in order to define it. It just doesn’t make sense” (Jack Gist, The Catholic World Report).

Painful Remembering

Repentance can only come from remembering. Eradicating hurtful memories does more harm than good, because I am then free to imagine my past however I so choose. Knowing myself the way I do, I confess I will always attempt to place myself in the best light. Remembering my past with all its ugliness and disgrace is excruciating and embarrassing, but holds tremendous power for transforming my future. I cannot bear the pain of who I have been, so I determine that with God’s help and all the courage I can muster, I will not repeat the sins of my memory. Spiritual markers are not always pleasant memories.

If Ever I Loved Thee

It is very late and I should be in bed with a book in hand awaiting that magical moment when eyelids sag and the book falls to a random spot nearby so that I awake in the morning without remembering exactly when I fell asleep; instead, I’m sitting alone on our front porch listening to music and reflecting on the chaos of the past week. A senseless killing, a splintered nation, justifiably angry victims of injustice, violence in the guise of free speech, peace officers brutalized for no offense other than keeping belligerent citizens safe, a small child murdered by his mother and hidden in a church dumpster, a friend who died much too young, and innocent individuals muddle through bewilderment, all while reeling from the threat of an unseen and little understood virus. I preached today to a gathering of believers seated six feet apart. Reflection brings no solace to this heavy heart, so I do what I’ve done since my mother taught me to cling to Psalm 56:3, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.” In my own dark night of the soul, I hear a hymn from my childhood I had all but forgotten:

My Jesus I love Thee, I know Thou art mine.
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign.
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou.
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus ‘tis now.

I’ll love Thee in life, and I’ll love Thee in death.
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath.
And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus ‘tis now.

Despite all misconstrued evidence to the contrary, God is love. The love of God, and love for God is quite profoundly all that will carry me through the dark morass of a society stacked against the Cross. Created in the image of a loving Father and beloved Son, my prayer is that I may love so intensely in return that the family likeness will be unmistakable.