5/25/11

Heroes for a Nation Forgetting God

With this year's approaching Memorial Day, my eyes mist up with new patriotism. I've thought much about heroes of late. I've reflected on the courage of the Navy Seals who took down the terrorist Osama bin Laden. I watched war movies about men who stood for strong ideals. I even watched a YouTube video about a brave dog. Courage is my "theme" for the year, and it seems to be the lesson God is teaching me at every turn.

And then I encountered a book by Erwin W. Lutzer. In When a Nation Forgets God, Lutzer discusses seven lessons we must learn from Nazi Germany. Each chapter is full of facts that illustrate the darkness in America ~ issues like the economy, propaganda, secularist schools, and the folly of God separated from government. But one chapter was a clarion call.

"Today in America," Lutzer wrote, "we need an army of ordinary heroes to stand against the gathering darkness in our land. We need people who will stand for truth courageously, consistently, and with humility and grace. We need millions of believers who will represent Christ in the various vocations of America. We need to enlist people who know what they believe, why they believe it, and how to live out their convictions in diverse situations. We need those who are willing to pay the price of discipleship and obedience, and to do so with joy."

Lutzer says we're not on to suffer as the Christians in Germany did under Hitler's reign (though that may someday be our lot), but we are simply "confronted with a growing hostility toward the Christian faith in both the popular culture and in our legal system" that threatens our freedoms.

Lutzer believes the spiritual climate of America "will never be changed unless we have a revival of what we call 'the layman.' That is, we need ordinary people living authentically for Christ ...." He listed two famous Christians who stood against Hitler's intrusion into the affairs of the church ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer (left) and Martin Niemoller (right) ~ but then he lists other modern heroes, ordinary men and women, whose courage thrust them into positions of influence.

Many are familiar with Corrie ten Boom (left), who survived the concentration camps and later found the courage to forgive her abusive captors. Then there is Zakaria Botros (right), a Coptic priest who preaches the Gospel to fifty million Muslims in the Middle East each week. He is regarded as Islam's public enemy #1. Lutzer lists others, but his point is: "Only through such an army of committed followers of Christ can we hope to stem the relentless flow of secularism, eroticism, and the damning influence of 'intolerance' that would close the mouths of Christian believers."

Lutzer asks, "... are we teaching our people how to represent Christ in a hostile environment?" Too much of the time, churches simply teach Christians how to get victory over their addictions and make nice with each other to personal advantage, but little time is spent on Christian "warfare" strategies and how to stand with courage.

My pastor, Dr. David Jeremiah, is currently preaching about spiritual warfare (on the television program, Turning Point), and I found myself captured by the idea that the reason we need spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:11) is because there is a battle. And the reason there is a battle is because we have a relentless, set-on-our-destruction enemy who has stepped up his tactics in these last days. We must be vigilant against him (1 Peter 5:8); we ignore his strategies to our peril.

If Lutzer is right, dark days are ahead, and the hour for heroism is clearly here. My prayer is that we, as individuals and then as families, churches, and Christian schools will prepare for the battle, and learn how to stand on the Word of God, following the marching orders from our spiritual Commander-in-Chief, Jesus Christ. As Lutzer said, we must exalt the cross in the gathering darkness.

"Bonhoeffer saw clearly," Lutzer said, "what we in America have not yet grasped: that for us as Christians, the conflict is really between humanism and Christianity; or alternative religions and Christianity ... For us as Christian it is really a struggle for the survival of the message of the cross in our increasingly hostile culture."

But "we are self-absorbed rather than God-absorbed," he said, "and we can see the results."

Lutzer's closing paragraphs get to the heart of the matter. "...The cross reminds us," he said, "that the battle is not so much between church and state as it is within our own hearts. If Christ has all of us, if the cross stands above politics and the world ... we shall overcome regardless of the cost."

And to that, I say, "Amen."

5/18/11

Why I Pray for Jerusalem

The psalmist advised the people of God, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! 'May they be secure who love you! Peace be within your walls and security within your towers.'" (Psalm 122:6-7, ESV)

As I gazed on the walls of Jerusalem shortly after Christmas, I imagined our Savior weeping over the city (Luke 19:41) ~ Jerusalem, the city God chose to bear His name (2 Chronicles 6:6).

Psalm 137:5-6 expresses the longing of the Babylonian exiles for their beautiful homeland. They never wanted to forget Jerusalem. It's a city that grips the heart and stirs deep emotions. And Jerusalem is in danger.

The recent union between the Palestinian Authority's Fatah and the rival terrorist group Hamas is being lauded as one more step toward a return of a non-Israeli "Palestine" to the Palestinians, and the PA's appeal to the UN has already set off a flurry of pro-Palestinian endorsements, including support from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Maps of "Palestine" are increasingly surfacing in official buildings and schools that show no sign of Israel. Israel is now entirely within rocket range from Katyusha missiles.

Israel has a right to be horrified and afraid. Clearly, Israel is threatened with annihilation not only by Iran but others who are aligning to "destroy" Israel's identity in the Holy Land; and the United States no longer appears to be a strong ally under the Obama Administration. The prospects for Israel are indeed frightening, and it's not even clear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's best political compromises will save God's people.

Israel longs for peace, and someday, Jerusalem will experience total harmony among its inhabitants ~ a scenario that is so different from the chaos and tension of today.

While in Jerusalem, I bought a small olive wood communion cup (pictured above) to remind me to pray. When I pray for Jerusalem's peace, I am praying for her people in that city and throughout the world. As a Christian, I ask God to restore the land of Israel to God's people, to redeem the Jews for Himself, and to return as Israel's Messiah, the Prince of Peace, so that the Jews may finally find their rest.

I pray God's people in other countries, scattered and persecuted. I pray for their safety and their safe return to their homeland. I pray for the countries where they now live, that the Gospel can go out freely. As Jesus said, as He wept over Jerusalem, "...'If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace ~ but now it is hidden from your eyes'" (Luke 19:42).

Jerusalem is special because God says it's special. But also, ancient peoples considered Jerusalem the center of the earth, and Mount Moriah ~ the bedrock of the summit ~ was a holy place (Psalm 50:2; Isaiah 2:2). Medieval maps showed Jerusalem as the center of the universe. Some maps called Jerusalem the Umbilicus Mundi, the "navel" of the world.

Whether Jerusalem truly is the "center" of the world or not, it certainly has been the center of God's agenda for the ages. He has set a "stone in Zion... a precious cornerstone" (Isaiah 28:16). So when we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, we are actually playing for its destiny in God's plan. The Bible says that He (the Lord) will have "no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth" (Isaiah 62:7).

Only God can bring the kind of peace that will make Jerusalem a place of praise. Only the Prince of Peace can work the miracle in the hearts of His people that will cause the prophecy of Zechariah 12:10 and the prayer of Romans 10:1 to come to pass, when "all Israel shall be saved."

5/11/11

It Takes About Three Generations

I was struck by a statement in an article about the recently tsunami-ravaged towns. In "Residents of tsunami-ravaged towns forgot wisdom left by ancestors" (4/6/11, AP), the author, Jay Alabaster, wrote about hundreds of stone markers that dot the Japanese coastline warning of the dangers of tsunamis. Some of the markers are said to be more than 600 years old.

Some are high water markers from previous tsunamis; others warn that if an earthquake comes, a tsunami might be close behind. Some give brief advice from the past, such as "Choose life over your possessions and valuables."

A stone in Aneyoshi reads, "High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants. Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point."

Those who headed the warning ~ like the residents in Aneyoshi ~ were spared in the recent tsunami. Other towns did not. Yuto Kimura (12) from Aneyoshi said they studied about the markers in school, and when the tsunami came, his mother got him from school and the entire village climbed to higher ground.

Years ago, I joined a revival team, Life Action Ministries, but as I progressed through summer training, I came under intense conviction. The team evangelist, Del Fehsenfeld, Jr., preached a message titled "Phoney Baloney Christians." He spoke about the "fruit" that should be apparent in the life of a Christ-follower, and emphasized the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:21 ~ "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven...." I recognized that I had trusted in my goodness and Christian "works" for salvation, not in Christ's work on the cross.

Still under conviction a few days later ~ during a high school assembly program on September 7, 1971, singing "Do You Know My Jesus?" ~ I finally heeded Del's warning and responded to the Spirit of God. I broke down, left the microphone, and turned my life over to the Lord Jesus in the prayer room.

Though I was still a sinner, because of God's grace there was a radical change in my life. A transformation process began, and I didn't desire to go back to my old habits. I struggled with sin, but I was changed at the core. Because of my experience, I believe with all my heart that there is a massive number of "believers" today in our churches who may have said all the right words, but they had no heart change. They have no personal relationship with God.

This is a generation abounding with false teachers and false prophets, ready to give alternatives to the powerful, transforming message of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-5; Romans 3:10-12; 10:9-10; 1 Peter 3:18; John 3:16-18, 36). They call into question the truth of scripture, and everything is "relative" and subjective. This is a generation that disregards the warnings of past generations about moral issues, and how lack of moral absolutes can destroy lives, families, and nations.

Some time ago, I wrote a pamphlet, "Learn to Discern,"* available at Revive our Hearts ministries and packed with helpful scriptures. It describes how to recognize and respond to error in the culture. My basic points were:

  • We need to be discerning and learn how to discern between truth and error (James 1:5).
  • We need to be alert and notice the corrupting pull of the culture, and how it usually runs counter to the will of God (Ephesians 5:17b)
  • We need to be biblical ~ to know and teach the truth, and show it in our lives (Hebrews 5:14b).
  • We need to be courageous in identifying and exposing the works of darkness (1 Peter 5:8).
  • We need to be prayerful in interceding for those who are caught in Satan's snare (Ephesians 6:18).
  • And we need to be proactive, and protect ourselves against the poison of error with the armor of God (Ephesians 6:12-17).
The Bible, which warns that many will fall away from the faith and truth in the Last Days (Matthew 24:10; 1 Timothy 4:1), also gives us many warning signs to protect us from the "isms" of our day. But we have to know our Bibles. We have to read them. We have to heed them.

Yotaru Hatamura, a scholar who studied the Japanese marker stones, said, "People had this crucial knowledge, but they were busy with their lives and jobs, and many forgot." Fumihiko Imamura, a professor in disaster planning, said, "It takes about three generations for people to forget. Those that experience the disaster themselves pass it to their children and their grandchildren, but then the memory fades."

Part of the tragedy of America is that the memory of God's truth is fading through the generations. The media, educational institutions, entertainment world, and other cultural influences push ungodly philosophies and agendas, and the past two generations have basically accepted them without much of a fight. Many in this generation do not have a clue what "traditional values" and biblical standards are.

Parents are failing to point their children back to the wisdom of the Word of God ~ if they ever knew the truth from their own parents. The Japanese professor's warning is haunting ... "It takes about three generations to forget." We see this throughout the scriptures, and sometimes it takes less than one generation! One of the saddest statements in the Bible is, "...another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done..." (Judges 2:10b).

Parents and Grandparents, let's be sure we are pointing this generation to the truth! We must listen to and obey God, our Mighty Rock, or we'll be seduced by unbiblical philosophies and swept away (Ephesians 4:14) by every wind of doctrine.

* A CD by Nancy Leigh DeMoss, "Learn to Discern: A Truth-filled Response to Spiritual Deception," is also available, as well as a CD by Janet Parshall, "Finding Truth in the Marketplace of Ideas."

5/4/11

Unemployed? God Has Some ABCs for You!

Lisen Stromberg told her marriage story of surviving unemployment together in Newsweek (4-25-11) in "Love Means Never Having to Say 'Get a Job." Stromberg talked about the "new normal" that entered their lives after her CEO husband lost his job at Google in company downsizing. During a time of restlessness, they went to their garage and purged many things from their lives. "We needed less and, better still, wanted less," she wrote.

As much as I was impressed by Stromberg's article, I was more moved by the love-and-unemployment story of a friend much closer to home and dearer to my heart. My friend Maria Keckler and her husband Sam said that in the process of their losses, God transformed their lives and marriage.

In "I Lost My Job. Where is God?" ~ a "Stories from the Vine" tract written for Maria's publishing company, Vineworks Publishers ~ the Kecklers lay out the struggle of one loss after another in 1992, their creative approach to not giving up, and their testimony to God's faithfulness. According to their account, God stretched their faith, showed them the power of prayer, taught them to wait on Him, proved that He would keep His promises, and said, "You can trust me!" They discovered the life-changing lessons in their circumstances that kept pointing back to God's tender care.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, regional and state unemployment rates were generally little changed this spring. In the statistics released March 2011, the national jobless rate was 8.8 percent.

American's are coping with the ongoing problem of unemployment in different ways. It hits marriages hard. So many stresses follow the shock of losing a job.
Every one of us should prepare an unemployment plan now, before job loss occurs.

But for those who are already struggling with unemployment, Maria has a powerful and helpful article titled "The ABCs of Waiting (for the next job) in Motion." In the article, she wrote, "Seasons of unemployment and economic uncertainty demand that we do two things: act on what is within our control and wait for God to open doors for us.

"The media expects us to lose our minds and live in a state of panic," she said, "But we must 'change our mind.' Changing our mind requires that we defy common sense and grab a new set of glasses to see what God is trying to do for us and through us. As Christians, we must decide if we truly believe God's promises, or if we believe the world's skewed view of circumstances ~ we can't have it both ways."

Maria offers simple A-B-C strategies for action that "defy conventional wisdom." For example, "H" is for "Honing." "When doors are not opening and it is time to explore creative job possibilities," Maria says, it is the perfect time to hone new skills." She adds Proverbs 1:5: Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.

Knowing Maria, I can see the powerful results of her taking her own good advice. She is creative, and you will be encouraged by her ABCs of "Waiting in Motion."

Are you struggling with unemployment? What is God doing in your life as you wait on Him?