Archive for March, 2023


March 26, 2023

Next Wednesday, Mar. 29, is National Vietnam War Veteran’s Day. A day designed as a national celebration of selfless soldiers in a losing war is largely ignored, stifled by the pain of remembering. The image of the last helicopter evacuation from a rooftop in Saigon torments a generation of the national psyche. Perhaps I was too close to it to be objective, but it sure seems that in that sad chapter of our history the stabilizing norms of national unity began to shift and the fundamental question of what it means to be an American became the divisive issue of the age that has only grown to this day.

Few beyond those with severely pruned or battle-scarred family trees will give the day a second thought, if at all. John F. Kennedy said after his ignominious defeat at the Bay of Pigs, “Victory has 100 fathers and defeat is an orphan.” But that disaster was a tempest in a teapot compared with Vietnam, then amplified by Afghanistan, all in one lifetime. We are an incorrigible people, but God’s Word made that clear long before the USA was a nation. Like my Old Testament heroes Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, I have not lived through my nation’s noblest era … and for the same reasons. But their Sovereign God is mine and we know how the history he wrote ends: Victory in Jesus!

Dear fellow Viet vets, a patriot is no less a patriot when he fights in a losing war—arguably more so. Would that America had political leadership worthy of its warriors. There’s a higher judge than those who screamed epithets at you when you came home. Our Sovereign God will be on the throne regardless of the outcome of this frenzied experiment in self-government by free people, and one day every knee shall bow before him (Isaiah 45:21). Onward, Christian soldier!

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever” (Psalm 45:6).

See you in church.


March 19, 2023

Sometimes slothfulness seems insurmountable. Increasingly the inertia of an aging body at rest seems impossible to overcome. The overstuffed recliner may well be the greatest hazard to geriatric health. That malady effects the codger mind as well. Sometimes the most powerful sermon is insufficient to hold up ancient leaden eyelids. In my younger days I was a whiz at multitasking. Today I cannot even remember to deep breathe—my drowsing antidote—and process the sermon at the same time. Sometimes the hardest pew can become the softest bed. I think that’s why there were no pews in ancient Israel’s synagogues. Modern gentiles have it reversed—the preacher stands and the congregation sits. Our pastor told us last Sunday that “of course” he notices we have trouble paying attention. Like Kipling’s British soldier, “Tommy ain’t no blooming fool—you bet that Tommy sees,” but pastor said it in much kinder terms.

As I learned in last Sunday’s sermon, Puritan preacher Thomas Watson had a solution. He called it “holy violence.” He said, “The exercise of the worship of God is contrary to nature.” It takes self-inflicted holy violence to redirect our thoughts to the worship of the Most High God. Pastor said “the call to be a Christian is a call to holy violence.

How does an attention span conditioned by soundbites and tweets absorb a forty-five minute sermon? Holy violence. There is no such thing as a sanctified sluggard. Kingdom living means fighting against the natural inclination of our hearts. “We have to fight our sinful nature. We have to fight our tendency to distraction.” The aging clutch that keeps my brain engaged is worn and the mind keeps dropping out of the focus gear. My mind is prone to wonder, Lord, I know it. Thank God there is no limit to the number of times I can stop and back up a YouTube video of the sermon on Monday morning … or as many mornings as needed.

Our gracious God has given the true Christian the best solution—an indwelling Dutch uncle. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate Dutch uncle. He knows your thoughts, motivations, equivocations and puny excuses before you do. The third person of the Trinity is your tactician, your arms supplier, your motivator, your prime mover for “holy violence.” He will speak truth to your soul. Listen to him.

“For it is God who works in you to will and to do according to his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

“…take not your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11b).

See you in church.


March 15, 2023

On this day in 44 BC Julius Caesar was assassinated by traitorous friends in the Roman Senate. Sixteen centuries later Shakespeare memorialized the day in one of his plays with “Beware the Ides of March.” On this Ides of March, five centuries after Shakespeare, I was confronted with a jarring reminder, in words that were new to me, of America’s ongoing wholesale assassination of its most vulnerable citizens in what should be the safest place in the world–a mother’s womb. And the deaths are far more gruesome than stab wounds.

I was on an invigorating, enthralling walk to the mailbox this morning under a clear, blinding blue sky, thanking God for the blessing of such a beautiful day, when I was stopped dead in my tracks by this shameful reminder on a service van parked in my neighbor’s driveway. What a painful jolting reversal of my mood!

I cannot comprehend the will required among the “pro’s” to mentally block the grisly reality of that procedure or the convoluted rationalization required to say such is acceptable to a Holy God who made us all in his image.

Lord, how long will you continue to lend the beauty and blessings of your creation to such a nation as ours?


March 12, 2023

Last Monday we caught the surprise hit movie, Jesus Revolution. The title comes from a cover story in Time magazine in 1971 about a revival that began among the hippies in California. I remember it well. I still identify more with the stodgy old churchgoers in the movie than the youthful barefoot free spirits with their deeply flawed but charismatic leader who invaded their languishing church. I don’t cry in movies but my eyes flooded multiple times. It was a masterful piece of movie making with great acting and I can’t get it out of my head. Here’s the heart of my dilemma (spoiler alert): There was a scene early in the movie when a struggling church pastor (Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel in California in real life, superbly played by Kelsey Grammer) stood before his dwindling congregation—the regular church members on one side of the center aisle and jam-packed scruffy hippies whom he had invited in on the other—and graciously announced that his church doors were open to all and if you don’t like it the doors swing both ways. Three old men whom I wanted to believe were church elders stood up. As a former church elder, I could sympathize with their agonizing dilemma to the marrow of my bones. The first two walked out of the church and the third walked across the aisle and sat down with the hippies. Instant tears from this hardcore Christian. It was a gracious, God-glorifying thing to do and profoundly moving to watch, but history has shown it was also another giant step in the church’s continuing compromise with a culture that is increasingly hostile to God. Instead of absorbing the kids into the church culture and channeling all that zeal and energy into the revitalization it needed, the kids absorbed the church into their culture and California dreamin’ became a fad that became so popular it made the cover of TIME magazine. A half-century of cultural and moral decline later, liberal Christianity continues to compromise in lock step with the culture.

 Surely hearts were regenerated in that revival, as many veterans still living will attest by changed lives. It had another mark of true revival—it was messy and full of flawed people. The hippie who started it sincerely claims to have been saved in a drug trip in San Francisco and, beyond the time frame of the movie, died tragically with his salvation problematic. But if God can use a talking donkey to convey his truth he can use a hopped up hippie from Haight-Ashbury (Numbers 22:21-39). Greg Laurie, the young man who was the real protagonist in the movie, found religion in the revolution and today pastors one of the largest churches in California and has a wide international audience, but I do not share all of his theological underpinnings (nor that of Chuck Smith, whose church also became quite large). But “large” per se is not necessarily a mark of a true church, and I think both men would agree. The revolution was big on the theme of love to the exclusion of the rest of God’s equally infinite attributes, a common contagion in the liberal church today. The critical issues the movie addressed are even more prominently at the forefront now—the soul’s search for meaning and belonging in an increasingly God-mocking, drug infested world. As the hippie leader told the preacher, “They’re looking for God—they just don’t know it.” For the majority today the search goes on in all the wrong places, a malady of man since the fall in the Garden.

I would suggest taking the whole family above the age of adolescence and praying for discernment. It will provide hours of conversation for family devotions and mealtime. There were some powerful lessons in the movie. Some scenes might even frighten young people out of experimenting with drugs. It was thought-provoking—the most important thoughts that can ever provoke the mind of man. The Apostle Paul said, “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). In other words examine yourself. Is your faith soundly scripture-based, the only source for faith and practice, or is it a hybrid of Christ and culture? Is yours the God of the Bible…or have you torn out a few pages? Or modified God in the margins to fit your wants? Is church a social construct for you, or a place of refuge in a dying world for the family of God to gather and corporately worship our Sovereign God in spirit and in truth? The God who loves you so much he sent his Son to die for you is the same God who condemns souls to hell for eternity if they refuse to accept his Son as Lord and Savior … on his terms—repentance and obedience to his Word … uncompromised. (Deut. 4:2, Prov. 30:6, Rev. 22:18-19)

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? –unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”(2 Corinthians 13:5)

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

See you in church.  


March 4, 2023

I watched the latest remake of All Quiet on the Western Front this past week. It has been nominated for nine Academy Awards. It’s based on a best-selling novel with the same title published in 1928 by German author Erich Maria Remarque. The anti-war story told from the German side of World War I sold 2.5 million copies in 22 languages in its first 18 months in print, an extraordinary number even by today’s standards. The movie took license with the book but is still a graphically gruesome anti-war story. It is not a diatribe. It preaches to the eyes far more than it does the ears. In the woke world of Hollywood I don’t understand how the nominating committee for the Academy Awards could even sit through the movie, unless they’re radical rants are just more acting for attention-getting public consumption. It is not for the faint of heart. As a combat veteran who spent a year of his life creating devastating scenes like those portrayed, with the blood of countless Asian souls on my hands, it is a serious challenge to peace of mind.

The opening scene of the movie dwells on an overhead view that zooms down close to No Man’s Land between the opposing trenches littered with gruesome images. There is no background music—just chilling silence … until shattered by a deafening burst of unseen machine gun fire. Deeply buried images in my memory bank exploded to the surface. In my war I only got fleeting glimpses of such scenes and was long gone when the smoke cleared. If what I had just done ever bothered my conscience as I did adrenaline drenched victory rolls into the wild blue, it was immediately assuaged by the idea that, if it weren’t for the work product of my associates and me in our jets, that smoldering scene of carnage would have contained American mothers’ sons. A half-century later that excuse is still a defense mechanism—after the grace of God—against a guilty conscience. Man’s just war theories notwithstanding, the Ten Commandments still stand indelibly engraved in God’s Word.

Since the day Adam and Eve committed cosmic treason against the Sovereign God of the universe, there has been strife and murder and wars and rumors of wars, and there always will be until Jesus returns to make everything right and new. A real time case in point: the satanic atrocities visited on the populace of its neighbor by Russia as it attempts to capture it. The evil that lurks in the heart of man knows no bounds. Solzhenitsyn said the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. That was a powerful metaphor in the context in which he said it, but in truth the line between good and evil is horizontal and the human heart lies below it.

Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19).

For reasons known only to God, Jesus loves me, as he has done since long before just war theories, before I was born, before he delivered the Ten Commandments, before the world was. Steadfastly. He will never change his mind, even though I continue to give him manifold reasons to do so. Such grace is beyond my comprehension, but surely compels my undying gratitude and repentance.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8).

As my brief day dwindles down, it is that grace that I cling to, my only hope through his gift of faith, and it will see me through to eternal life with the eternal lover of my soul. It’s the blood of Christ, shed for me before my life began, that has washed the blood off my hands and every other sinful thought, word, and deed. Amid the ongoing chaos and carnage of this world, it’s all quiet in my soul—the Son of God has atoned for all my sins.

“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 1:5b-6)

See you in church.

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