Each December I urge my congregation to focus on the true meaning of Christmas. The worry my fellow pastors and I share is that the solemn message of Christ’s birth gets overshadowed by the commercialization, jingle bells, and Santa-fication of the yuletide season.
As we turn the calendar’s pages to yet another Memorial Day, I feel compelled to issue a similar challenge, one I offer not as a clergyman but as an American. Simply, let’s not lose focus about what this most solemn of national holidays should really be about.
With regret, my family was unable to attend the homecoming celebration of our dear friend, David Wilkerson. Due to my own personal sickness, Jeri and I and our family could not be present to pay tribute to this man who so radically changed our lives.
The story of Teen Challenge is the story of Steve and Jeri Hill. Christ was brought to us and nurtured in us through this ministry. It’s with tears in my eyes that I say, thank you brother Dave, for being there for us.
Nearly 13 years ago, I was working on the CharismaNow television broadcast when Steve Strang handed me one of the most amazing honors in my professional and personal life. My assignment: Interview David Wilkerson and Nicky Cruz at Times Square Church in New York City. The occasion was the 40th anniversary of Teen Challenge, and Charisma had already covered the story in print.
I once lived in New York and had the chance to meet both of these stirring preachers. Like millions of others, I was first exposed to David Wilkerson’s ministry through his book, The Cross and the Switchblade, but when I began attending the Brooklyn Tabernacle, I had the enormous privilege of hearing him preach many times. He and my own pastor, Jim Cymbala, were very close friends. They shared similar passions—their hunger to know God, compassion for the lost, and their desire to see the church fully engaged in fulfilling its calling and mission in the world.
Everyone has heroes--or at least people they respect. David Wilkerson was one of mine, along with John the Baptist and a few others. So I was deeply saddened when my daughter called and said that he had been killed in a car accident. Of course there was the sweet knowledge that he was with the Lord, but there was also the bitter reality that we no longer had him here on earth.
His passing brought back a flood of memories. Back in 1980, I screened the movie that was based on his best-selling book, Cross and the Switchblade. It starred Erik Estrada (from the television series CHiPs) as Nicky Cruz, the hardened gang member who mocked the naive country preacher who had come to his rough neighborhood.
Christian evangelist Ray Comfort explains why natural disasters, such as earthquakes, only confirm God’s existence rather than deny it.
“I was actually in this earthquake ... I live in Tokyo and it was the scariest thing that I have ever been in. I was in Kitasenju teaching English when it struck and after the initial shock we all ventured outside. I saw a mother of about 27/28 clutching her newborn to her chest in fear as the temperature got colder and colder and colder. Fallen creation? What are you talking about? I will NEVER accept this. NEVER. Do you hear me Ray? You can SCREAM this in my face for the rest of time. I WILL NEVER ACCEPT WHAT YOU SAY.”
Creation is absolute evidence of a Creator. It didn’t make itself. So to suddenly say that God doesn’t exist because we have killer earthquakes and horrific tsunamis (such as the March 2011 tragedy) is to be in denial of something we all intuitively know. The question is rather, “Is God impotent?” Did He have the ability to create this infinite universe, with suns that dwarf ours massive sun, and yet He can’t stop a tremor on this little earth? The question itself is rhetorical, but it’s covered in Scripture when we are told, “With God, nothing is impossible.” So it then becomes, “Why did almighty God allow it, and its terrible train of unspeakable suffering and death?”
Atheism has no consolation for us, other than to say that such pain is the result of an indifferent “nature” that created itself, and is still in the process of creating. Richard Dawkins said, “Nature is not cruel, pitiless, indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous -- indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.” [A Devil's Chaplain & Other Selected Essays, by Richard Dawkins]
However, the Bible has the consoling answer. It says that we live in a “Fallen Creation” (see Genesis 1-3). We are like an alcoholic who is in denial, adamantly saying that all is well, and yet the symptoms of alcoholism are clearly evident as he staggers toward you.
Here is just some of the evidence that humanity has a serious problem–earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornados, disease, suffering and death. The Bible says the whole of creation “groans in travail” under the Fall (see Romans 8:22)—the “curse” of Genesis. Those who understand this don’t lose faith in God when terrible tragedies shake a world in denial. Each one of them instead reminds us that all isn’t well. For the world they should be a wake-up call—a slap in our drunken face--a reminder that we are not apes with no moral responsibility, as so many are trying to have us believe. All is far from well between sinful man and a holy God. We have a problem. A big one, that is more serious than a heart attack.
For someone to accept that we live in a fallen creation means that they have to accept that we are sinners—that we aren’t the good folks we say we are. It means that we have moral responsibility—that when a man rapes a woman and slits her throat, God will hold him accountable. It means that Hitler will face God on Judgment Day for the mass murder of so many innocents. It means that God is just, and that Hell therefore is a real place of punishment for the wicked. These are not pleasant thoughts when we realize that God is morally perfect, that he sees the thought-life and considers lust to be adultery and hatred to be murder. That puts all of us, with our unquenchable thirst for (and addiction to) sin, in deep trouble.
Earthquakes tend to make us tremble. They show us that we don’t have total control. In the Book of Acts, there was a big quake that caused a hardened Philippian jailer to cry out to his prisoners “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”(see Acts 16:30). He wasn’t talking about the quake (that had already happened). He was talking about his relationship to the One he had angered by his sin.
Fortunately, God has more than a 12-step program for the hopeless alcoholic. When Jesus suffered in our place and rose from the dead, He balanced the scales of eternal justice. He paid the fine so that we could leave the courtroom. The cross is an expression of the love and mercy of God. He is “rich in mercy,” and can make us clean and sober with a new thirst for righteousness, and the ability to walk the straight and narrow.
I contacted a friend early in March of 2011, whom I hadn't seen for twenty years. He lived in my hometown of Christchurch, New Zealand, had always mocked me for my faith, and so I was surprised that he emailed back. He said that "god" greatly scared him in 2010 (he used profanity) with a 7.1 earthquake. When I then shared the gospel with him, he wrote back and mockingly said that he was guilty of breaking the Commandments, and that he going to Hell to “party.” The next day a killer quake hit, taking over 165 lives. When I contacted him again to see if he was okay, he soberly replied, "Tell your God I am sorry and please don't do that again." This time he used a capital for "God."
Tragedies have a way of putting the fear of God into those of us who are still living. Most of us, that is. Sadly, some may stay in denial and say, “Fallen creation? What are you talking about? I will NEVER accept this. NEVER. Do you hear me Ray? You can SCREAM this in my face for the rest of time. I WILL NEVER ACCEPT WHAT YOU SAY.” I hope you are not one of them.
"Sometimes we must step away from a situation to really see how God is working on our behalf. God is always doing something new. He has given you strategies and has shown you how to make it in dry places. Rely on Him."
Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. - Isaiah 43:19
(WNS)--While the nation watches to see how the new House leadership flexes its Tea Party-enhanced muscles, the legal campaign to strip the public square of any reminders of America's Christian heritage continues apace.
On Jan. 4, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 57-year-old cross atop the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego is unconstitutional. The decision runs counter to a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a similar case at the Mojave National Preserve, as well as a district court ruling that said the Mount Soledad cross was not unconstitutional because it "communicates the primarily non-religious messages of military service, death and sacrifice."
In finding the cross unconstitutional, Judge Mary Margaret McKeown, a 1998 Clinton appointee, wrote: "The history and absolute dominance of the Cross are not mitigated by the belated efforts to add less significant secular elements to the Memorial."
Perhaps the memorial keepers should have erected a 40-foot Frosty the Snowman next to the cross. Oops. That applies only to Nativity scenes and Christmas trees on public land. I'm getting the sops to secular bullies mixed up.
The problem seems to be that the cross is just too big and obvious. That makes it ipso facto offensive. The 43-foot concrete structure can be seen from Interstate 5, for instance. It's a wonder that the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the suit, hasn't claimed that the cross has caused multiple accidents as atheist, Wiccan, Buddhist, Jewish and Muslim motorists clutch their hearts and keel over their steering wheels upon spying it. Given that the hillside has sported a highly visible cross since 1913, it's safe to conclude that millions of motorists have made it through that scary stretch without incident. It's probably less safe to claim this in areas with noxious billboards for "adult" services, but I haven't checked accident statistics, so let's not go there.
The key aspect that the court ignored in its tortured finding of the First Amendment's secret intent to wipe out Christian symbols on public land is the element of coercion. Allowing mere expression is quite different from using government power to force observance.
As American Civil Rights Union General Counsel Peter Ferrara points out in his friend of the court brief in Jewish War Veterans v. the City of San Diego, "With a clear, simple standard rooted in the text of the Constitution and its surrounding history, this case is easily resolved. The cross at the federal Veterans' Memorial atop Mt. Soledad does not involve an unconstitutional establishment of religion because it does not involve coercion of any sort. It just sits there, without any specified message.
"Each visitor to the memorial is free to decide what the cross, and the memorial overall, means to them. They can take the cross as an expression of reverence for the nation's veterans, including those who suffered the supreme sacrifice. They can take it as an expression of hope that these lost loved ones will be seen again in some unknown future. They can take it as an expression of some religious message. However each visitor interprets the cross, they are also free to then accept or reject the message that they each discern."
Ferrara also notes that in 1776, Thomas Jefferson led the adoption of Virginia's Declaration of Rights and that the religious freedom clause in that Declaration states, "That religion, or the duty we owe to our creator, and the manner of discharging it can be directed only by reason or conviction, not by force or violence;and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience."
It's been tough sledding for public crosses. Even after the Supreme Court in April refused to order the removal of a 7-foot cross made of metal pipe at the Mojave National Preserve, where veterans had maintained a cross since 1934, vandals cut it down. In May, a court ordered a replacement also torn down pending further appeals. Previously, a court had ordered the cross covered in a plywood box, an apt expression of the death wish that secularists have for public religious symbols.
In Arizona, at the behest of an atheist group, a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August that 14 roadside crosses, each 12 feet high and memorializing fallen Arizona Highway Patrolmen, are unconstitutional. On Jan. 6, the full court issued a stay of the order, giving the state 90 days in which to appeal.
The common thread in these cases is the confusion of expression with coercion. It would be nice if the new Congress found some way to coerce federal judges into living up to their oaths. The jurists should be upholding real constitutional rights instead of twisting the Constitution into a battering ram against any public edifice with religious underpinnings.
Robert Knight is a senior writer for Coral Ridge Ministries and a senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union.
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“Build your hope on the sure foundation of Jesus Christ, who is the solid rock. When you do not know what to do, grab hold of His love. So when the rain, the floods and the winds come, you can endure them.”
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
This weekend our nation experienced a horrible attack by a deranged man in Arizona. My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families in their time of need and suffering.
As the American people grapple for answers to the question of how something as senseless as this shooting could happen, we need to be measured and cautious before we place blame.
Hasty accusations have already been made before much information is known and an investigation has occurred. I believe this is counterproductive and could in itself incite hatred. This is not a time for political opportunism.
Just because we disagree with someone from another political party does not mean we wish them harm. Furthermore, if something horrific happens to a person, it does not mean those who hold differing views are responsible for the actions of a disturbed individual.
What frightens me is that our country has accepted murder, violence and rape as entertainment that we see portrayed every day on TV, movies and video games. I agree with Sheriff Clarence Dupnik when he alluded to the fact that this country needs some serious soul searching. If we as a nation are not careful, we could see the destruction of the foundation upon which this nation was built.
Clearly our politicians and pundits on the left and right must also be careful. Their leadership and rhetoric must set an example for decency and civility.
My prayer is that God will put His loving arms around the families and victims in their time of loss and great suffering, and that they would sense His presence and comfort in their lives.
Franklin Graham is the president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and international relief organization Samaritan's Purse. Photo courtesy of Samaritan's Purse.
Even if a weapon was formed against you it will not prosper. So go ahead and stand firm in the faith and trust in the Lord your God! He is able.
"No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment You shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, And their righteousness is from Me,” says the LORD.
"Assess all your issues. After you have reviewed them, make up in your mind that nothing shall separate you from the love of God."
“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers, not things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -- Romans 8:38-39
After seven seasons as host of Canada's “most listened to spiritual talk show,” Drew Marshall announced to his listeners that he is no longer convinced there's a God. ABC News recently reported that a Southern Baptist pastor has become a closet atheist, and an evangelical Bible Belt pastor said that he had been living a lie and confessed, "I live out my life as if there is no God."
The doubting talk show host said that he became a follower of Christ in 1981. But it wasn’t until recently that he verbalized that he wasn’t convinced that God existed, saying “I feel pretty close to walking away from my faith.”
A Micah Challenge paper being released today reveals a critical need for Christians to further engage with international advocacy efforts to tackle corruption as a key tool to eradicate poverty.
Open for Service: A Case for Good Governance, being launched on International Anti-Corruption Day, refers to evidence of corruption negatively impacting the poor in Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe. The paper urgently appeals for transparency in government, business and the global Christian church.
The document follows discussion between development practitioners, politicians, economists and academics reflecting the views of those living in extreme poverty and proposing solutions to corruption crimes, which could prevent governments achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. Joel Edwards, international director of Micah Challenge said: “Corruption is a like a tower block on a runway. It accounts for over a trillion dollars going missing, and is a massive barricade to the well-being of the poorest people in the world. It’s difficult to define, complex in its treatment and entrenched in business and political systems. No wonder it has gone on underground for so long. Simply, corruption kills people.”
The Rt. Rev. Dr Benjamin Kwashi, Archbishop of Jos in Central Nigeria, spoke on corruption as a global problem at Africa’s Transformation conference this year: “Compared to corruption in the West, Africa is an apprentice.”
The call for good governance comes alongside firsthand evidence on the effects of corruption on poverty released by multiple international stakeholders earlier this year.
Research in the World Bank's Africa Development Indicators 2010 report highlights the severe effects of “quiet corruption” such as bribery, weak regulation and poor service delivery in the health, education and agriculture sectors of Africa. In one instance more than 50 percent of drugs sold in Nigerian drugstores in the 1990s were found to be counterfeit. The study also mentions that there are as many as 91 children per primary school teacher in the Central African Republic, compared with 22 children per teacher in Mauritius, due to absenteeism.
Case studies from Peru, Cambodia and Zambia in a Tearfund report called Corruption and Its Discontentssimilarly establishes that corruption and a culture of bribery form one of the biggest barriers to poverty eradication.
A female interviewee from Moyobamba, Peru, said: “I took my daughter-in-law to the hospital. She was really sick with appendicitis. She was initially taken to one hospital but then she was referred elsewhere because they needed to operate on her. When we arrived at the second hospital, the nurse who was supposed to be supervising her said to me: ‘It is the end of my day and I am very busy. I cannot see to her.’ I pleaded with her to take care of her, and to give her the injections that she needed. I had to take her a gift to persuade her to take proper care of her.”
Open for Service highlights the role that churches can play in advocating for good governance in overcoming poverty. Former Director of the U.N. Millennium Campaign Salil Shetty said in the foreword: “The people in the frontend of the evangelical churches know that if public resources are managed in a transparent and accountable manner, there is nothing stopping the world from achieving the MDGs by 2015.”
President of Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe and Emminent Person of the Centre for Peace Initiatives in Africa Goodwill Shana said: “The document captures the central role that governance plays in the broad agenda of poverty reduction and eradication.”
This paper launch follows Micah’s 10.10.10 campaign where 60 million Christians in over 70 nations prayed for an end to extreme poverty. This global event formed part of a growing movement mobilizing the church to play a greater part in alleviating poverty.
The end of the year is fast approaching. It is a time of Christmas trees, Yule logs and year-end giving. But as millions of Americans prepare to get out their checkbooks, the decision of where to give has rarely been more difficult. In tough economic times, nonprofit organizations are vying for decreasing resources and facing an uphill battle in attracting the all-important year-end donor.
(Rob Hoskins pictured left; Lamar Vest pictured right.)
For decades, year-end giving has often been driven by the stirred passions of a donor’s heart. We give because we genuinely care. Our hearts are touched by images and stories of children in poverty. Families living in squalor. Individuals that have never heard the good news that God loves them. Driven by these heart tugs, Americans currently give more than $3 billion to charitable causes each year according to the Giving USA.
President Barack Obama sharply and unfairly criticized Israel while visiting Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country. While visiting mosques and meeting Muslim leaders and giving speeches about building better relations with Muslims, the president gratuitously chose to criticize the Jewish state for daring to announce the building of some 1,300 new apartments in Jerusalem to deal with the city’s population growth. The president said such moves were an impediment to the peace process with the Palestinians.
“This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations,” said President Obama. “I’m concerned that we’re not seeing each side make the extra effort involved to get a breakthrough. … Each of these incremental steps can end up breaking trust.”
Unhelpful? Breaking trust? You’ve got to be kidding me. Netanyahu imposed a 10-month moratorium on new building in Jerusalem and the West Bank as a goodwill gesture to the Palestinians to encourage them to begin direct peace negotiations. Yet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas squandered nine of those months by refusing to enter such talks. Then Abbas engaged for a few weeks, but refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, refused to agree to the Palestinians having a demilitarized state, and now has broken off direct talks and refuses to re-engage with Netanyahu, even though Israel is offering to allow the creation of a Palestinian state.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, currently visiting the U.S., immediately responded to President Obama’s criticism: “Jerusalem is not a settlement; Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel.” He is absolutely correct. Israel has every right to build homes for Jews, Muslims and Christians in her capital. The “unhelpful” intransigence is on the Palestinian side. If Abbas wants a state, he should negotiate for one directly and in good faith, not wait for President Obama to force Israel to accept Abbas’ demands.
Moreover, the critical question facing the U.S., Israel and the world right now should not be stopping the building of apartments in Jerusalem but stopping the building of nuclear weapons in Iran. Yet the Obama administration is not taking decisive action to stop Iran from getting the bomb, and refuses to put a credible military threat against Iran on the table.
Contrast President Obama’s deeply unfriendy approach toward Israel with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s consistently courageous pro-Israel approach.
Harper was the first world leader to order his U.N. delegation to walk out of a speech at the U.N. General Assembly by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad several years ago.
Harper was the first world leader to announce Canada would not be sending a delegation to the U.N.’s Durban II conference, which was supposed to be about opposing racism but turned into a vicious anti-Israel forum whose keynote speaker was Ahmadinejad, a man who has denied the Holocaust and has repeatedly called for the “annihilation” of the Jewish State.
When the Gaza flotilla crisis unfolded, Harper stood strongly with Israel’s right to defend herself from terrorist and left-wing activist attacks, whereas the White House equivocated.
In contrast to President Obama, Prime Minister Harper has built a warm and increasingly close professional relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Harper has strongly urged the world to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program before it is too late.
Harper has been so pro-Israel that Canada recently lost a bid to be on the U.N. Security Council because anti-Israel countries coalesced against Canada and prevented her from attaining such a globally influential position.
This week, Prime Minister Harper delivered a major address saying he and the people of Canada will continue to stand with Israel and defend the Jewish people no matter what the cost.
“As long as I am prime minister, whether it is at the U.N. or the Francophonie or anywhere else, Canada will take that stand, whatever the cost,” Harper told a conference on anti-Semitism. ”Not just because it is the right thing to do but because history shows us, and the ideology of the anti-Israeli mob tells us all too well, that those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are a threat to all of us.”
“We must be relentless in exposing this new anti-Semitism for what it is,” Harper said. According to a report by the Canadian Broadcasting Company, Harper noted that Israel, like any country, may be subjected to fair criticism, he said. But Harper said Canada must oppose what he called the “three Ds—demonization, double standards and delegitimization.”
“And like any free country Israel subjects itself to such criticism, healthy, necessary, democratic debate. But when Israel, the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack, is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand.”
Please lift Harper and his family, advisers and his country up to the Lord. Please ask the Lord to bless them, to continue giving them courage and boldness. Please ask the Lord, as well, what we as evangelical Christians can do to properly thank and bless the Prime Minister for the courage of his convictions.
Lawmakers--both old and new--just got their next assignment: repeal ObamaCare, says Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). Representing theWashington-based constitutional law firm, which focuses on preserving religious liberties, he says voters sent a powerful message to the Obama administration on Nov. 2. The results of the midterm elections, he says, indicate Americans have rejected the president's agenda and signaled a need to repeal the health care law. Sekulow outlines his thoughts below.
"The outcome of this election underscores the fact that most Americans don't believe this country is on the right track and want a change from President Obama's failed policies of the past two years. In addition to jobs and taxes, voters sent a powerful message about ObamaCare, the government-run, pro-abortion health care law forced on the American people.
"This election was fueled by voters who were concerned less about party labels and more about troubled policies. Most Americans have said they want ObamaCare repealed. And, now with a sweeping change in Congress, it's time to do just that. The fact is with the outcome of this election--along with growing opposition to ObamaCare--this is the perfect time to act legislatively and repeal the health care law.
"We have started a nationwide petition campaign to demand that the new Congress repeal ObamaCare. We expect to hear from thousands of constitutional conservatives and others who certainly want health care reform--but believe that ObamaCare is not the reform that America needs or deserves."
In addition to legislative efforts, the ACLJ has filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C., on behalf of five taxpayers challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care law.
In support of other legal challenges to ObamaCare, the ACLJ has filed an amicus brief in Virginia's legal challenge of the health care law, representing 28 members of Congress and more than 70,000 Americans. The ACLJ will soon file an amicus brief supporting Florida's legal challenge.
Led by Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow, the American Center for Law and Justice focuses on constitutional law and is based in Washington, D.C.
Here's a Christian response to the Millennium Development Goals.
In 2000, global leaders met for a United Nations summit and agreed to "spare no effort" to rid the world of the scourge of extreme poverty, which has kept more than 1 billion people in degrading and inhuman circumstances.
Ten years later, 190 world leaders returned to the U.N. building in New York to assess our progress on those promises to the world's poor, and it was hard to escape a sense of significance, but outright expectations were muted by the "outcomes" document that had already been agreed upon by governments before they even met.
By common agreement it was little more than diplomatic speech for, "We're doing OK, but we still have a long way to go."