BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY

November 29, 2020

A century ago J. Gresham Machen said of the rapid growth of Christian liberalism, (which he contended was not really Christianity), “The situation is desperate. It might discourage us. But not if we are truly Christians. Not if we are living in vital communion with the risen Lord.” His warning and encouragement equally apply to what the church faces today.

In spite of Machen’s eloquent effort in his classic book, Christianity and Liberalism, the latter has grown larger than the faith of our fathers. But today both wings of the American church are in a Babylonian captivity of sorts, confined by the perimeter concertina wire of open derision, discrimination, visceral hatred and even bloodshed in an age of unfettered sexual and socialist deviance, anti-biblical laws and governmental encroachment on religious liberty. Christians got here by remaining aloof, hoping these cultural anomalies would go away. Liberal Christians got here by abandoning “unseemly and unscientific” biblical doctrines in order to get invited to the cultural dance of post-Christian America. In both cases the church has been complicit in its own captivity, just as Israel was in its Babylonian captivity (circa 610-540 BC). “Though the patience of God be lasting, yet it is not everlasting.” (Wm. Secker) Yet God preserved a remnant of His faithful among the captives, encouraged by Ezekiel’s promises of God’s future restoration and mercy, all of which came true when the pagan king Cyrus authorized the return of the Jews to Jerusalem after 70 years. Six hundred years later, in that same city, Jesus promised Peter that the gates of Hell would not prevail against His church (Matthew 16:18), and it has not. The blood of martyrs has fed its continued global growth, even as its influence on a fallen world has waxed and waned.

In every age God has preserved His remnant. He will do so in the Babylonian captivity of His American church as well. Be in the remnant! Stay in vital communion with the risen Lord, unwaveringly wear the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18), and diligently, prayerfully bring up your covenant children in the discipline and instruction of our Sovereign God (Ephesians 6:4). And do not be discouraged! He has foreordained the glorious end which will never end—the paradise of God!

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away … ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21:1, 5).    

See you in church.

A THANKSGIVING LAMENT

November 26, 2020

There’s a lot that is not right with America this Thanksgiving Day. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are under attack and the enemy is winning. The recent election looked like something out of a third world country. The noble profession of journalism has become a political propaganda trade. Civility in political affairs is nonexistent. Truth on the soap box is a rare concept. A highly suspicious pandemic emerges from America’s greatest adversary and takes a quarter-million lives and spooks the country, destroying livelihoods, and gathered Thanksgiving at my church has been canceled due to governmental measures of unknown efficacy.

The nations rage…the people plot…but God…laughs. (Psalm 2) He laughs at a world of plotting rebellious sinners who ignore the very source and sustenance of their being. He foretold how they would act and why through the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:18-32, then  he gives them over to live out their lusts in 21st century America, and when they reap the whirlwind they have sown and bury themselves in a pit of their own making…and beg for mercy without repentance…will He not laugh again?

But God…  Those two words can overcome every situation life throws at me, and they appear often in the Bible. But God loves me so much that he sent His Son to die for me, and the Holy Spirit to open my eyes and change my heart of stone. Why me? But for his amazing grace I would be among the frolicking rebels of Romans 1. A God who died for me would not forget me in the midst of America’s dark times, or ever. It’s the blessing that exceeds all blessings.

Not least, there’s a sumptuous meal in the making (I salivate as I write the words) at our daughter’s house, and abundant love of God and family. My blessings far outweigh my lament. One day I will understand how the lamentable stuff was good for me (Romans 8:28), and I will laugh with God…forever. For all that I am thankful this Thanksgiving.

“…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

THE NOBLEST CALLING

November 22, 2020

In his 1913 classic, “Christianity and Culture,” J. Gresham Machen, theologian and seminary professor, used the term “intellectual monasticism” to describe a tendency among some seminary students. For a Christian codger whose radius of activity is constricted by age and the empire’s edicts, but whose mental capacity is more or less holding its own, and whose view of cultural trends ranges from grim to alarming, the term has great appeal. I’ve logged a lot of edifying hours sequestered in my not-so-spare cell, comfortably reclined with my face in a Kindle or Surface Pro, feeding my hunger and thirst after the righteousness of the One who has dealt so bountifully with me, who loved me before I was, created me, died for me and controls the next beat of my heart. God has placed me in an age where I have the world’s largest library at my fingertips and I can search its archives in nanoseconds … and not think about the troubling world outside my door. If that approximates Machen’s definition of an intellectual monastic, well…it has a nicer ring to it than “aged recluse who reads a lot.” 

But, alas, Machen said it’s not an option for a child of God. We have an obligation to stay in the fight. We are called to engage the culture. “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). The Wall Street Journal once titled an op-ed piece of mine, “Still the Noblest Calling.” The editors created the title from a phrase in my piece referencing military service—“God, duty, honor, country will always remain the noblest calling.” I had simply borrowed three words General Douglas MacArthur made famous and preceded them with that all important three-letter word—a stealth evangelism application of Mark 16:15, so as to pass muster with big-time business editors.

As an aged recluse in this age I still have an avenue for pursuing the noblest calling, and I have abandoned stealth evangelism—time is of the essence. The same library at my fingertips also functions as a cultural soap box, and I intend to engage whatever small portion of the culture that wanders by, as long as I can string coherent sentences together.

Machen observed, “Modern culture is a tremendous force either subservient to the gospel or else the deadliest enemy of the gospel.” The latter case prevails today. The culture is desperately in need of that noblest calling:

 “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).

That “gospel in a nutshell” (Luther): “For God so loved the world,that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

See you in church.

“What is truth?”

November 15, 2020

Pontius Pilate speaks for me (just this once) as I try to discern the truth in all the contradictory news of what’s going on in the land of the free since the third of November. The prevarication pandemic has gotten so severe that a popular newscaster passionately demanded of his fellow newscasters and politicians, before 5 million+ viewers, “It’s time to stop lying and start telling the truth.”

A certain Middle Eastern religion advocates lying if it advances the cause of its deity. It appears that at least that aspect of the religion has caught on among politicians and now in what was once called journalism. The real problem in post-Christian America is this: man is a master of self-delusion—one man’s lies are another man’s irrefutable truth. Without the foundation of the transcendental truth of God, your truth doesn’t have to be my truth and yesterday’s truth is not necessarily tomorrow’s truth, as truth morphs aimlessly through an ethereal fantasy world until it inevitably comes head-on with the throne of absolute truth on judgement day, when “every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God” (Romans 14:11).    

But praise God, unlike Pilate I know where to find transcendental truth. Jesus said, “I am … the truth.”  It can’t get any more straight-forward than that. By grace I have found it and it has set me free and I can take heart because He has overcome the world. This election stuff is just pesky details. The results must be dealt with, when known, but it’s not the ultimate issue.

The ultimate issue comes straight from the mouth of “…the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (1):

“I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right.” (2).

 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…” (3)

“…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (4)

“Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth” (5)

See you in church.

1) John 1:14, 2) Isa. 45:19, 3) John 14:6, 4) John 8:32, 5) Psa. 86:11

A THANKFUL VETERAN OF A LOSING WAR

November 11, 2020

Although I can’t ask you all to hug a vet this Veterans Day, I sincerely appreciate the special day, the thanks, the free meals all over town, the free taxi service door-to-door for medical appointments, the monthly stipend for combat related maladies, and the free cemetery plot up the road in Dayton where I will one day await Jesus’ return with other vets from the Civil War on.  

I’m undeserving of all this. I joined the USAF not for altruistic reasons, not because I was a nobler patriot than you, but because I wanted to be a fighter pilot. I wanted to slip the surly bonds of earth and dance the sky on laughter-silvered wings, to reach out my hand and touch the face of God. It was all I dreamed it would be. But when I got to Vietnam and saw the faces of those poor harried peasants who wanted nothing more in life than to farm their little rice paddies and raise their families in peace and harmony, I understood why some things are worth fighting and dying for. Eight of my friends did.

Tragically, it was America’s only losing war—we abandoned an ally on the battlefield and went home. It was not for want of brave patriots who risked their all and came home to shame and ridicule, or 50,000+ in body bags, or not at all, like my wingman. Our political leadership horribly mismanaged a noble cause. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara admitted a quarter of a century after the war, “We….were wrong, terribly wrong.” Those of us at the point of the spear knew it real-time. I recall an insubordinate radio call I made one night in the heat of battle, when I was given a choice as flight leader to attack a particularly hot target or not. I replied, “Some of us are still trying the win this war,” and proceeded to attack. That probably strikes some as foolhardy, but there is a special manifestation of God’s grace in combat, called adrenalin, which allows the body to react and function at a high level when the mind is paralyzed with fear. God is merciful to fools and patriots, and we as free Americans can be very grateful that He is. It is by His grace that the USA remains a nation of free people in spite of our best efforts to mess it up. And perhaps there’ll be a special place in the Mansions of the Lord for Vietnam vets, and our POW’s will have the penthouse.

“Whate’er my God ordains is right…” (Samuel Rodigast)

PRIORITIES

November 8, 2020

I woke up this morning and the world was still turning after a week of national trauma. Our electoral system has been tinkered with for political advantage to the point that it has wreaked havoc on this experiment in sinners’ self-government called American Democracy.

I got up at 2:00 a.m. last Wednesday morning to check the national vote counting.  My political worldview was still prevailing by comfortable margins and I immediately went back to sleep. I awoke three hours later and was jolted by evaporated margins and charges of sinister activity in the night. A blizzard of lawsuits has ensued, but whatever the outcome, it was our Sovereign God’s plan from before time began, and I must trust in Him, not horses (Psalm 20:7).

My trust in the horses of the electoral process took a major hit. I should not have been so shocked. Midlife I was an executive in Chicago, the city that taught dead men how to vote in a state whose former governor and now ex-con, a product of the Chicago machine, declared that in his party “stealing elections” was a “time honored tradition.” It was universally assumed in my circles. The Windy City does not stand alone in this regard. This past week Philly and Motor City have headlined. 

My trust in our judicial system, with so many lawbreakers running free in high places, to expeditiously discern and make things right in this case, is minimal. And my trust in fallen man began to dissipate about the time I ditched my diapers.

I needed a refresher in priorities and God has provided. For a season politics has been way too high on my priorities list. I have done my citizen’s duty, and my political power does not extend beyond inking in a few small ovals on just one of 140,000,000 pieces of paper. All else is in God’s hands. To paraphrase Jesus’ words to Peter in applying them to my life, “Get behind me, politics! You are a hindrance to me. For you keep my mind on the things of man and not on the things of God” (Matthew 16:23).

My trust in the things of this world continues to diminish, but by grace my trust in God has grown apace. His infallible Word calms my fears and provides all the conviction and comfort I need.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Your kingdom! Your power! Your glory! Your plan, O LORD!

See you in church.

ELECTION LESSON LEARNED

November 7, 2020

“It ain’t over till it’s over,” but one lesson stands out amid the swirling dust and debris of what our enemy has called the “spectacle” of “US Democracy”: A president that can actually deliver on his campaign promises against all odds—lower taxes, more jobs, booming economy, wallet-bulging stock market gains, resolute against our enemies yet no wars, extraordinary promotion of religious freedom—while under a relentless raging onslaught by the opposition party to drive him from office, is unprecedented in American history. But if his personality engenders a sufficient hatred in enough of the electorate, they will vote instead for an impaired old man in the shadow of scandal with a radical agenda whom they summarily rejected at every opportunity in the last half-century. And that in a system founded on enlightened self-interest.

[Man] “… is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma…” (Winston Churchill)

ELECTION DAY COUNSEL

November 3, 2020

A preacher/missionary brother who’s had more practice than most dealing with stress, and with whom I have walked through some dark valleys—his and mine—proffered his usual wise counsel recently:  

In the quietness in His presence I repeat many times a day to God and to a soul who needs constant reminding, “Your kingdom! Your power! Your Glory!”

Everything else is just details.

SEVENTY-SEVEN

November 2, 2020

When Old Testament Israel came back from Babylonian exile, a grateful Ezra sacrificed 77 lambs on the altar of God in Jerusalem, perhaps indicative of how many years since the last lamb was sacrificed there. Five hundred years later, Christ sacrificed Himself for me on a cross near there, so I can, with eternal gratitude, spare the lambs on this, my 77th birthday.

The number 7 appears 483 times in my Bible, in roughly three contexts—a.) Completion and Perfection, b.) Exoneration and Healing, c.) Fulfillment of Promises and Oaths. Our Sovereign God has given me eyes to see those aspects played out in my life. My longevity defies my genetics but not His grace, and catastrophes, even those I courted, were averted by His grace alone. I have seen much of God’s magnificent creation: 1) Whether enveloped by AAA tracer fire on a dark night over the Ho Chi Minh Trail or blowing rooster tails in the North Sea surf of Scotland; 2) whether dining in opulence atop the World Trade Tower in NYC or feasting on sparrow soup and cheap wine in a Spanish hamlet in the Pyrenees; 3) whether in a plush rosewood paneled boardroom in the Chicago Loop or a bare subsistence hovel in the destitute Haitian hills; 4) whether walking the marble halls of The Bank of England behind a big hobnailed Beefeater or padding down a jungle trail in Luzon behind a diminutive loin-clothed Negrito; 5) whether lecturing to students at Harvard Business School or being lectured to by a one-room country schoolmarm; 6) whether standing atop Pikes Peak or hiking down into the Grand Canyon; 7) whether marveling at a sunrise on the beach of the Florida Keys or mesmerized by a sunset on the Pacific shore of Oregon, and all points in between, I have seen the face of God.

And though I am full of years amid the trauma of 2020, my health has been so good of late I’m wondering if God has turned back my biological clock. My cup runneth over at 77. But Lord, if you could grant me just one more undeserved birthday gift, I most fervently pray it would be revival and domestic tranquility for my country, and if you could initiate it tomorrow that would be awesome. Nevertheless not my will, but thine be done. In Christ, my Savior’s name I pray. Amen.  

THE ONLY POLITICAL MAXIM NEEDED

November 1, 2020

“There is one political maxim which comforts me: ‘The Lord reigns’” (Psalm 99:1). John Newton, 1725-1807

Newton, a slave ship captain and, for a time, a slave himself in Africa, became a great preacher and hymn writer (Amazing Grace). Not for a moment in his converted life did he forget that the sovereign grace of God alone plucked him out of darkest Africa and put him in a pulpit. He lived in a tumultuous time in England, not unlike America today, as the greatest military power on earth was being humiliated by the rebellious American colonies. It might not have been known by Newton at the time, but Pulitzer prize-winning author, David McCullough, details God’s sovereign grace in our War of Independence—from the extraordinarily prolonged fog in New York Harbor that let Washington’s army miraculously escape British entrapment early in the war, to the severe weather that kept the British Navy from arriving in time to rescue Cornwallis’s entrapped army at Yorktown, forcing his surrender. Often, at turning points in history, God makes his sovereign, controlling grace—His providence—apparent to the most casual observer. The pagan calls it luck. A child of God knows it is sovereign grace.

America is at a pivot point now and only God knows the outcome. But this I know: If it’s Trump by a bunch, God is sovereign.  If Biden triumphs, God is sovereign. If this longest running experiment in government by free men fails, God is sovereign. The God who promised no one can snatch me out of His hand (John 10:28) is sovereign and His promises unbreakable. That means “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6). That is certainty in an uncertain world. The Lord reigns and, especially at this pivotal point in our history, the knowledge thereof is the peace that surpasses all understanding.

See you in church.


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