MAX ANDERS: Biblical Clarity on the Current Crisis

MAX ANDERS: Biblical Clarity on the Current Crisis

Every pastor needs a few brilliant friends and advisers. Max Anders is one of mine. He is the author of over 25 books, including the bestselling 30 Days to Understanding the Bible, and his most recent work, Brave New Discipleship. He is also the creator and general editor of the 32 volume Holman Bible Commentary. His September 8 blog, AN HISTORIC OPPORTUNITY FOR CHRISTIANS IN AMERICA, caught my attention because I’ve never seen Max write on politics.

“To one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” James 4:17

AN HISTORIC OPPORTUNITY FOR CHRISTIANS IN AMERICA

By Max Anders

This blog post is a little long, but it’s very important, and I hope you will read through to the end.

The cultural and political upheaval we are currently experiencing in our nation is not an accident.  It is not a spontaneous uprising by sincere Americans who only want to bring about more “just” treatment for blacks by police. That may have been the motivation of some when it all started, but it has gone way beyond that now.

This is a full-throated uprising against American democracy and rule by law.  It is a premeditated campaign that is satanic and demonic in origin, infecting willing human servants (socialists and Marxists).

Spiritual/political attack on America

The uprising is now being carried out by those intent on destroying our American way of government and life.  They want to replace it with socialism/Marxism, which is violently anti-Christian and which has failed spectacularly everywhere it has ever been tried (Russia, China, Cambodia, Cuba, Venezuela).

Why in the world are people championing something that so clearly doesn’t work?  Well, Scripture tells us that Satan has the ability to deceive and blind the minds of unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4), causing them to be unable to come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:24-26), generating wisdom that is earthly, natural and demonic, producing disorder and every evil thing (James 3:14-16).  Their blindness is spiritual blindness, a consequence of spiritual warfare.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s non-violent civil rights movement was governed by biblical/Christian principles and was historically effective. Two organizations, Black Lives Matter and Antifa, that are highly visible in recent riots, use violence to further their agendas and are deeply anti-Christian and anti-American.

It is helpful to understand that most riots have three types of people involved:

  1. Peaceful protestors who gathered legally with no intent to riot.
  2. Thugs and criminals who simply want to loot and destroy.
  3. Committed Marxists and Antifa members who organize and energize riots.

Mainstream Democrats do not necessarily agree with far-left socialists, but they have joined forces with them because they cannot get elected without them, and they are willing to pay nearly any price to defeat President Trump. As a result, the Democrats have been pushed so far to the left during campaigning that they have made promises they will have to keep. They are feeding the beast that will destroy them.

Where did this upheaval come from?

One might be excused for thinking that this has all come about suddenly.  But such is not the case.  Things have been deteriorating below the radar for decades, and just now have gotten to the point that they have broken out into the open.

In the 19th century, Karl Marx tried to conquer England with Marxism in his lifetime, but it didn’t work.  Author and freelance columnist Larry Taunton explained that the church was too strong, had too much cultural influence.

Later, Italian Antonio Gramsci concluded that for Marxism to succeed, a culture must first be softened up from within.

Socialism will triumph,” he wrote, “by first capturing the culture via infiltration of schools, universities, churches and the media by transforming the consciousness of society.”

Socialism/Cultural Marxism is a Trojan Horse designed to:

  1. Subvert families, traditional morality, and the symbols of national identity.
  2. Infiltrate educational institutions, the church and the legal system.
  3. Watch the country fall like a ripe fruit.

To accomplish this, Saul Alinsky wrote the Marxist playbook, Rules for Radicals, which Larry Taunton summarized here:

  1. Divide and conquer: drive wedges between as many different groups as you can (rich/poor, black/white, conservative/liberal, laborers/professionals, etc.)
  2. Create scapegoats: Your problems are never your fault.  They are someone else’s fault.
  3. Create chaos: Riots, strikes, controversies (kneeling during anthem, etc.).
  4. Trash talk: Use outrageous language, verbally bully others.
  5. Spread disinformation: Tell strategic lies, repeat incessantly, accuse the other side of what you are doing.
  6. Exploit morality: Use others’ moral principles against them. Attack them when they try to be reasonable and gracious.  Use their morals as a weapon against them.  Do to them things they would never do to you because of their moral standards.
  7. Ridicule/attack common values: religion, patriotism, traditional values.

The playbook is working spectacularly well in the United States.  Our schools have been infiltrated (with Marxism openly taught in our universities for decades), our churches have been infiltrated, and our legal system has been infiltrated with Marxist values and sympathizers, and we are well on the way to Gramsci’s goal of softening us up so that we fall, like a ripe fruit, into the hands of Marxists.

Among other things, this is how we are seeing this worked out:

  1. Identity politics in which individual minority groups promote self-interest rather than the interest of the whole (Divide and conquer).
  2. The assertion that the problems of all minorities are the fault of white privilege and racism (Create scapegoats).
  3. Riots and destruction in cities (Create chaos).
  4. False charges and accusing others of the same thing you are doing (Trash talk).
  5. The rise of opinion journalism and fake news (Spread disinformation).
  6. Rioting in streets, destroying family businesses, patrolling suburbs (exploit morality).
  7. Destruction of statues, memorials, Marxist Black Lives Matter rallies (Ridicule/attack common values).

If this movement is successful, it will change America as we have known it.

What should the Christian response be?

Christians must rise up to stop this godless assault on our country and the church.  There are so many of us that we can do it. We have the votes. All we have to do is act… and vote our values.  Not to do so is to bring on our nation, and on the church, calamities I have listed here.

There are some Christians who are too unaware to get involved.  They are not naturally interested in political things, and they spend their lives occupied with “spiritual” things, assuming that everything is going to work out fine. I’m not criticizing these Christians. I used to be one of them. I just didn’t fully realize what was going on. Plus, more is going on now than ever before.

There are other Christians who think they shouldn’t get involved. In one article I read, a pastor said one reason he did not get involved is that “God is in control.”  He said he is working for the heavenly kingdom and doesn’t want to get distracted by the earthly kingdom.

But how would that perspective play itself out in other areas of life if lived consistently?

  • If someone broke into your house to harm you and your family, would you stand by idly and say, “God is in control?”
  • Would you turn the other cheek for the malicious intruder?
  • Would you let the invader have his way and say, “God causes all things to work together for good?”

Of course not! You’d try to protect those God has given you!

I see this as the same situation. Evil people are breaking into our national home. How can we, who have the ability to stop them, not stop them? Even Jesus said, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are undisturbed” (Luke 11:21).  There are so many evangelical Christians that if we would simply “guard our house,” we could avert disaster.

More than America is at stake

This is not just about our comfort and safety. It is about having the knowledge, technology, and money to…

  • finish Bible translations around the world,
  • help start churches in emerging nations,
  • help advance the gospel around the world,
  • help reduce the pain of poverty,
  • help bring medical supplies and advances to those who need them,
  • help reduce the profound discrimination and suffering of Christians around the world.

Never before in the history of the Church has there been so much potential to take the Great Commission to the entire planet. There is a world of good to be done, but if the U.S. falls to socialism, it will deal a grave blow to all that potential.

James 4:17 says, “To one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” My goal in writing this blog post is to help convince you that to vote Christian values for the sake of stopping anti-Christian socialism is the right thing to do.

As I see it, the choice is very clear: Christians must vote, and we must vote Republican if we do not want the United States to be overtaken by socialism/Marxism.  The traditional understanding of Republicans and Democrats is out the window in this election because Democrats have sold out to socialism. Today’s Democrat Party is not the same party of yester-years. If you vote Democrat because you or your family has “always voted” Democrat, please understand that today’s Democrat Party is not your parents’ party and please take the time to investigate their platform and policies before casting your vote. If you don’t want socialism, you don’t want a Democrat party platform.

It is a stewardship responsibility.  How can we neglect this gift the Lord has given us?  We have the power – God has given us the power through prayer and the privilege of informed voting – to prevent this calamity. We should be praying! But if we pray without also exercising our responsibility of voting, we have only done half the job. 

This is an historic moment for Christians in America. Help keep the Church in America strong so that we can use our knowledge, technology, and money to energize the Great Commission on a level we have never seen before.

Let’s rise to the challenge! Let’s pray and vote!

Max Anders is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, and has taught on the college and seminary level. He was an original team member with Walk Thru the Bible Ministries and the author of over twenty-five books. He has pastored small, medium and large churches spanning over 25 years, including currently serving as Senior Pastor at Geist Chapel in Indianapolis, IN.

WE ARE CAESAR: Christians and Politics in 2020

WE ARE CAESAR: Christians and Politics in 2020

A national election looms, and the contrasts between the candidates and their platforms could not be more distinct. How should we choose? Do the life and teaching of Jesus give us any guidelines?

Yes! Jesus faced a hotly contested political issue. His epic reply was: “Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God, what is God’s.” (See Matthew 22:15-22). The story behind the quote is rife with political tensions that make ours seem mild.

The Story

Judea became a Roman Province in 6 AD after the failed tetrarchy of Herod Archelaus. After the census, the Romans levied a head tax on top of the property tax customs tax. Judas of Galilee led a revolt over it. The debate that raged at the time was whether a good Jew should pay the fee.

We can paraphrase the question to Jesus like this: “Can we pay taxes to Caesar and still give allegiance to God? Are we traitors to God for supporting this pagan leader’s rule over His land?”

The question was a trap. If Jesus rejected the head tax, he was liable to Caesar’s court. If he supported the tax, the Zealots—a violent political movement—would turn on him.

Every resident of Palestine knew someone, a brother, a father, a cousin, a neighbor, whom the Romans had victimized. They were sold into slavery, forced off their land, or executed for speaking out against oppression.

Moreover, the Messiah, like the judges of old, was expected to depose tyrants and enforce justice. Would Jesus measure up?

Jesus turned the tables and set a trap of his own. “Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” He said.

They paid it with a Tiberian denarius, propaganda disguised as currency. One side had a profile of the emperor and a superscription that read: TI CAESAR DIVI AUGUSTI FILIUS AUGUSTUS (Tiberius Caesar, August Son of the Divine Augustus). The other side had a picture of a woman seated on a throne holding an inverted spear in her right hand and a palm branch in the left. The superscription read “PONTIFEX MAXIMUS” (High Priest). The Jews saw it as a portable idol promoting a pagan religion and hated it. So it was funny to watch the questioner dig around to find one, and then realize with embarrassment that all the Jews in the courtyard were frowning at the fact that he would have it on his person.

When he handed it over, Jesus nailed them with three piercing facts. The meaning of his reply runs something like this.

“Hypocrites!” He said. “Since you don’t seem to have any problem doing business with Caesar’s coins, you had better pay his taxes. Second, as much as you pretend to be offended by Caesar’s claims on deity, you have no qualms about bringing this pagan symbol into God’s holy temple. And third, by holding his coin, you already pay tribute to him, let Caesar have his idols.”

“Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, namely the thing that bears his image and name. But give to God also what bears his image and name – yourself.”God made us in his image. God saved us and called us his own. We owe him our entire being. Jesus is saying, “Caesar owns your money. God owns you. Don’t confuse the two.”

The Principle

The principle is this: Get your allegiances right, and your obligations will come clear. Render to the government what you owe to the government, and to God what you owe to God.

How does this story guide us today? To answer that question, we have to recognize the differences between our government and theirs. Our political systems are completely different. Thus our obligations are different.

Jesus and his contemporaries lived in a conquered country occupied by hostile troops and governed by foreigners. They had no vote or representation in government; they faced imprisonment, slavery, or death for protesting, and had no power short of open rebellion.

Thankfully, our system of government is different. We have freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to vote, and freedom to sue the government for justice. We also have the freedom to live and do business publicly as our religious conscious requires. We have not only the right but also the obligation to participate in government at every level. ‘We, the people’, are Caesar. But just as it was in those days, so it is today, Caesar isn’t Lord. God is. ‘We the people’ – in the form of the legislature, the courts or the executive branch – might make a law or ruling that runs contrary to the will of God. Because Christians have the option, we also must promote government for the common good and oppose or change those laws and rulings that are opposed to the common good. That is our obligation to Caesar.

Applying the Principle

To apply the principle, we need to think about both sides of the political equation: our allegiances and our obligations.

The Christian’s first allegiance is to the gospel. Our primary mission is the proclamation of the gospel, which alone can change the heart of a nation. Thus, we need to be wary about aligning ourselves with a particular individual or party.

Our allegiance to God, who commanded us to ‘love your neighbor’ motivates us to work for the good of all our neighbors, not just the advancement of our religion. Therefore, Christians must be impartial advocates of truth, no matter the political consequences.

What are God’s values concerning the political issues of the day, and what is our obligation as participants in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people?

Abortion – God is the creator of life. Children in the womb are the most defenseless. Isa 1:17 says: Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. (NIV) Christians should vote for the people who will do the best job of defending the unborn.[1]

Marriage – God established the moral order for the world he created. If we abide by it, things go well. If we abandon it, we can expect trouble. Christians should vote for people who will honor God by maintaining the traditional definition of marriage.

Religious Freedom & Freedom of Speech – Jesus commanded: “Go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Religious freedom and freedom of speech are the two most important founding principles of America. Religious freedom is broader than the so-called freedom of worship. And freedom of speech is central to our ability to function as a civil society. Christians should vote for officials who will protect religious freedom and freedom of expression.

Economics

Jesus was clear about our obligations to the poor. But scripture also teaches, “He that will not work, should not eat,” and that all men should be responsible for providing for their families. No fair-minded person could look at the multitude of social services offered in this country and conclude that our government isn’t caring for the poor. Yet welfare fraud totaled $99.1 billion in fiscal year 2019. Christians should vote for officials who will do a better job of managing that system and reign in the abuses.

Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s.” As we consider our civic responsibilities, let’s get our allegiances right, and our obligations will become clear.

[1] Biden’s VP Choice Expected, World News 8/11/2020.

HYDROXY-CHLOROQUINE ZINC & Z-PAK: Quackery or Solid Science?

HYDROXY-CHLOROQUINE ZINC & Z-PAK: Quackery or Solid Science?

AUGUST 5 UPDATE: Last week, I quoted with approval Yale epidemiologist Dr. Harvey Risch’s review of reports on the efficacy of HCQ against early stage Covid-19. This link will take you to his faculty colleague’s rebuttal. Their bottom line: “Let us be clear: we are unanimous in our desire to see the development of therapies to treat COVID-19 and to prevent the transmission or acquisition of SARS-CoV-2. If HCQ was shown to be effective, even among subgroups of patients with COVID-19 in ongoing high-quality trials, we would join our colleagues in promoting access to it for all who need it. However, the evidence thus far has been unambiguous in refuting the premise that HCQ is a potentially effective early therapy for COVID-19.”

Over fourteen million people watched a Facebook Live press conference in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building by the group, America’s Frontline Doctors, on Monday. By Tuesday, all social media platforms had pulled it, and fact-checking sites everywhere were dismissing it as quackery. Even their website was gone. Why? Because the doctors at the conference were calling—loudly in one case—for Hydroxychloroquine, Zinc, and Azithromycin (Z-Pak) to be made available to the public as the standard of care for early symptomatic Covid-19, and as prophylaxis against catching the disease.

I thought their arguments were sound and their experience as primary care physicians and ER docs credible. That’s why I was discouraged to find sources quoting Nigerian native Dr. Stella Emmanuel—the most passionate and combative of the group—as saying some rather outlandish things about other topics. I liked Dr. Emmanuel’s sincerity, but her comments in other fields—if accurately reported—diminished the credibility of the group.

Still, the absolute silencing, eerily similar to twentieth-century Soviet erasure of opposition voices from the public record, disturbed me. Dismissing them as “doctors with a conservative agenda” does nothing to address the facts. Do these medicines work, or not? That’s all that matters.

I am not a conspiracy theorist. But people on the political left are just as passionate about their convictions as I am about mine. And sometimes, passion and cynicism about the other side blind us to facts.

That is what I think is happening with Hydroxychloroquine, Zinc, and Z-Pak. But I still wasn’t prepared to write about it until I read Dr. Harvey A. Risch’s Newsweek article from July 23. Dr. Risch, a Yale epidemiologist, has the academic credentials and publishing record that America’s Frontline Doctors, despite their clinical experience, lack.

A few of his most cogent comments from the article:

“I am usually accustomed to advocating for positions within the mainstream of medicine, so have been flummoxed to find that, in the midst of a crisis, I am fighting for a treatment that the data fully support but which, for reasons having nothing to do with a correct understanding of the science, has been pushed to the sidelines. As a result, tens of thousands of patients with COVID-19 are dying unnecessarily.”

“I am referring, of course, to the medication hydroxychloroquine. When this inexpensive oral medication is given very early in the course of illness, before the virus has had time to multiply beyond control, it has shown to be highly effective, especially when given in combination with the antibiotics azithromycin or doxycycline and the nutritional supplement zinc.”

Risch goes on to mention doctors he knows who’ve risked their careers to prescribe these medications for their patients, governments that have reversed course on banning the drug, and mistakes in the FDA’s reporting on the risks associated with its use. Like Dr. Emmanuel and Dr. Gold of America’s Frontline Doctors, he recognizes that patient health is more important than politics.

Do we?

CREATED EQUAL Is a Great Story

CREATED EQUAL Is a Great Story

“Eah ya got ‘nud jah?” the sweaty, African American man said as he handed back the glass Mom had given him.

“Whut,”? I asked.

“Eah ya got ‘nud jah?”

“Momma, I cain’t unnerstan this man. Whuts he wont?”

“He wants more water, honey. It’s awfully hot outside. Here, give me the glass.” She refilled it and handed it back to the man who walked into our backyard every week, dumped our garbage cans into his large metal one, slung it on his shoulder, and hauled it back to the county truck at our curb.

I was about eight years old, and the only black men I met were the ones that collected the trash or trimmed the hedge across the street from my grandma’s house. I had no idea of the life these men led or of the events swirling through our country in 1968. But the Civil Rights movement was about to make itself known in powerfully negative terms in my small southern world. By the time I reached eighth grade in DeKalb County, just outside Atlanta, racial gang fights were regular events. And dodging them was an art form for this pudgy 13-year-old.

I did not understand the roots of the anger in my black classmates. All I knew was I felt like I was paying for something I hadn’t done and over which I had no control, and I was angry. Little did I know that they felt the same way. And as a people, they’d had enough of it.

About the same time that I was waking up to racism, future Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was coming to terms with his anger about the injustice. In the new documentary, Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words, we learn how this coastal Georgia, Gullah-Geechee speaking boy, grew up from poverty to become one of the youngest men ever appointed to the bench. And how the once-radical leftist became a bastion of conservative jurisprudence.

Schooled by his grandfather’s fierce work-ethic—“Old man Can’t is dead. I helped bury him,”—and Irish Catholic nuns sympathetic to racial oppression, Thomas was bound for the priesthood. But when Martin Luther King Jr. was shot, a white seminary classmate’s comment, “I hope he’s dead,” unleashed a fury in Thomas that drove him from the ministry and into the arms of campus Marxist revolutionaries in Boston. “I’m angry with my grandfather. I’m angry with the Church. If it’s a warm day, I’m angry. If it’s a cold day, I’m angry. I’m just angry. I’m angry. I’m sort of flying, lashing out at every single thing. Nothing is right.”

But a night of violence with campus radicals shook him to his core and drove him back to the Church where he asked God, “If you take anger out of my heart, I’ll never hate again. Anger and hate,” he says, “are just other forms of slavery. Other people are controlling you.”

He would need that resolve when leftist ideologues tried to torpedo his nomination with bogus sexual assault charges during confirmation hearings. “We know exactly what’s going on here. This is the wrong black guy. He has to be destroyed,” he says in the film. Thomas’s humanity, faith, and courage are reminiscent of Jacky Robinson’s in the movie 42 as he withstands without rancor the vicious assault on his character that he termed “a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks.” Watching his story unfold helped me better understand mine and strengthened me for the cultural battles we face today.

Black history month has come and gone, and the film is no longer playing in theaters. But it will be air on PBS in May, and no doubt be available soon on DVD and streaming services. In these culturally confusing, racially tense times, it goes down like a cold drink of water on a hot summer day.

THE SECOND LAW OF SPIRITUAL THERMODYNAMICS

THE SECOND LAW  OF SPIRITUAL THERMODYNAMICS

Physics recognizes the second law of thermodynamics. Everything is winding down.  Everything atrophies. Everything decays unless it’s maintained.

Do you have a car? The clutches and seals in the transmission will wear out. Own a home? The siding will rot. The mortar in the bricks will need touching up. The porch will sag. The plumbing will stop up. Have a computer? Its CPU will crash if you don’t maintain it.

What most of us don’t realize is that there is a spiritual version of that law.  It’s called “the law (or doctrine) of total depravity”.  It means that the whole person is affected by something that destroys us, something that causes problems in our relationships and our communities. The mind, the will, the emotions and the body of every human being is infected with a condition known as sin. It doesn’t mean that everyone is as bad as he can possibly be. It means that left to ourselves, without something to keep us in line, we will tend toward selfish, greedy and destructive behavior.

The second law of thermodynamics means we must work at maintaining physical things. The law of total depravity means that we must work at maintaining spiritual things. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt has lost its saltiness it is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do men light a lamp and put it on under a basket, but on the lamp stand, and so it gives light to all who are in the house.” (Matthew 5:13-16).

How to pull that off? Well, it can be costly. The late Howard Hendricks told this story:

Recently, I was walking the streets in San Mateo, California. I met an attorney I knew from a local evangelical church. I said to him, “What are you doing?”

He said, “I’m looking for a job.”

I said, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

He said, “No, last week I walked out the front door of that corporation and told them, ‘You can hang it on your beak. I’m no longer going to write contracts that you and I both know are illegal and illegitimate.'”

That man is regarded as one of the top five corporate lawyers in America, and he’s unwilling to sell his value system for a mess of pottage. We need a larger core of lawyers like that.[1]

I can hear you thinking, “Yeah, we need more lawyers like that!” But to be honest we need more mechanics, more doctors, more contractors and more everybody to be like that. That’s what it means to be salt.

Without something to preserve it, the world will suffer ethical decay. Without something to light the way, the world will recede into darkness. God put his church into the world to be that something.  God put you and me here to do something for the world that the world cannot do for itself. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.

[1] Citation: Howard Hendricks, “Beyond the Bottom Line,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 101

 

HOW TOUGH IS YOUR SOUL part 3

HOW TOUGH IS YOUR SOUL part 3

In 2003, my daughters had a funny lesson on the inevitability of change. Their uncle Mike had given them a whole box of VHS tapes containing 144 episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation. The videos dated back into the 1980’s so watching them was like being in a time machine for commercials. But what really tickled the funny bone was seeing an ad for a brand new 1989 Chevy truck on Tuesday night, and then standing at the bus stop Wednesday morning, watching that same truck with 14 years and 175,000 miles on it go by. “It’s a heap!” They cried. Talk about a lesson on change!

Change is inevitable. It’s how we meet it that matters. The one luxury we cannot afford is to assume it will not touch us and refuse to prepare for it.

The nature of the human animal is to be dominant and territorial. We like to set ourselves up in a good situation and stay there. We work hard at creating stability and predictability so that we can enjoy life with the least amount of hassle. We are control oriented. Unexpected change reveals our lack of control and makes us feel naked in the cosmos.

The Bible is full of examples of God’s people meeting unexpected change. Consider Moses’ successor, Joshua, and the changes he witnessed: Slavery in Egypt, miraculous escape across the Red Sea, the Ten Commandments, the wandering in the wilderness.

For 40 years Joshua witnessed change, but that paled in comparison to what he was about to do. He was about to lead the people of God into the Promised Land itself. He was facing the walls of Jericho and he was doing it without Moses.

God had two commands for Joshua as he took up the challenge of this change, commands that still apply today.

Be strong and courageous.

In the decade leading up to 9/11 the notion was spreading that the days of strong, forthright leadership operating from the courage of conviction were passé. The world – it was assumed – was becoming a kinder, gentler place and there was just no need for confrontation when therapy or diplomacy could do the job. This was just as true in the church as it was in geo-politics.

The Bible is much more realistic than that. It teaches us that evil and danger, deceit and treachery will be in the world until Christ returns. The only way to meet those things is with strength and courage.

Those manage change well who have the courage of their convictions. But what convictions?

Stick to fundamental principles.

Strength and courage are dangerous if they aren’t harnessed to core principles that honor God and respect people. But strength and courage in the service of those principles enable us to adjust our approach to meet the need at hand.

Thomas J. Watson Jr., founder and CEO of IBM from 1956 to 1971 wrote, “I firmly believe that any organization, in order to survive and achieve success, must have a sound set of beliefs on which it premises all its policies and actions. Next, I believe that the most important single factor in corporate success is faithful adherence to those beliefs. And, finally, I believe [the organization] must be willing to change everything about itself except those.”[1]

Those manage change best whose principles are changeless.

Fear is the biggest hindrance to change. Change forces us to think, to adjust, to adapt. We prefer cruise control. When contemporary music first began to make its way in to worship many congregations rejected it. But that indicated more faith in the method than in the message. When new translations of the Bible began to compete with the KJV many churches rejected them. But that indicated more faith in the translation than the message.

As Chuck Swindoll wrote, “Extraordinary times will require of us extraordinary wisdom, vision, boldness, flexibility, dedication, willingness to adapt, and a renewed commitment to biblical principles that never change.”[2]

When the changes come—and come they will—go back to core principles and with strength, courage and wisdom apply them.

When change comes ask yourself: Am I operating with courage on core principles?

Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.[3]

[1] Citation: Thomas J. Watson, Jr., A Business and Its Beliefs (1963); Bill White, Paramount, CA

[2] Swindoll, Chuck; Come Before Winter pg. 26.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jos 1:6–7). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

TAKING CHARGE: 3 Keys to Leadership Success

TAKING CHARGE:  3 Keys to Leadership Success

Former Air Force officer Perry Smith Received his Ph.D. from Columbia University and served as Commandant of the National War College in Washington D. C. The War College is the professional school for our nations’ military and civilian leaders. Dr. Smith developed its leadership program and wrote an excellent book: Taking Charge. His chapter on stepping into the CEO role lists 15 steps to do it well. He encourages his readers to make the transition from ‘new boss to leader fully in charge’ in three months.

Nehemiah, one of the most effective leaders of his or any era, did it in three days. Here, as recorded in Nehemiah 2:9-20, are three of his secrets for taking charge in a crisis.

1ST EFFECTIVE LEADERS START FRESH

Start fresh physically

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all,” said Vince Lombardi, and he was right. Everything looks bigger, every problem magnified, every opportunity minimized, and creative energy is low when we are fatigued. It pulverizes courage and elevates anxiety.

Nehemiah had been on the road from Susa to Jerusalem for approximately eight months, camping out at night, moving out at dawn, making maybe ten miles per day. He was exhausted upon arrival. He had the good sense to rest for three days. Then he went to work.

No one is inspired by an exhausted leader. Whatever we’re trying to do in life – raise a family, teach a class, lead a business or a church – we need to take our humanity seriously and give our bodies, minds, and spirits the right kind of rest.

Start fresh organizationally

Effective change agents seek all the information they can get but they don’t take reports at face value. They go and see for themselves. Nehemiah did it after hours, when few were watching.

He was also selective when sharing his plans. Proverbs teaches, “The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” And “… A babbling fool will be thrown down.”[1] Babbling fools don’t inspire confidence. Sometimes God gives us visions of change. But there’s such a thing as forcing the vision. We need to learn to wait for God’s timing to share it.

2nd EFFECTIVE LEADERS DON’T PRESUME, THEY PREPARE

Nehemiah took care with preparations in three problem areas: Strategic, Technical, and Morale. It’s refreshing to see faith like this coupled with hard-headed realism. Almost every problem we face as leaders will have the same three elements: Technical, Morale, and Strategic.

The Technical Problem

Jerusalem was built on two parallel hills with a valley in between. The hills were very steep on the west side and originally had terraces built in. When the walls were knocked down the terraces were destroyed, and the big blocks tumbled all over. Nehemiah had to figure out how to get them back in place.

One of the reasons Nehemiah didn’t ‘force the vision’ was that he needed to solve this puzzle. He believed he could solve it. But he needed time. And just as important, the people he was going to lead needed to know that he had analyzed it. He prepared himself to preclude this argument: “Are you crazy? Have you seen the size of those blocks?”

“Yes, I have, and here’s how we’re going to get them back up the hill…”  Solving technical problems before tearing into a project inspires confidence. If we’re going to be effective leaders, we need to know what we’re talking about.

The Morale Problem

These were deeply discouraged people. Thirteen years had passed since the last attempt to rebuild the walls had been squashed by the opposition. What if they cause trouble again? The Hebrews were suffering from psychological inertia.

What is the morale of the people you want to lead? What will help boost it? First, we must find the source of discouragement. Part of it is the engineering problem. But Nehemiah has a plan for that. What’s left was the political opposition.

Nehemiah, with the king’s authority, took them on: “This is God’s business, he has called us to it, and we break ground tomorrow. You have no past claim on this place, no present right to it and no future in it. So, scram!” Can’t you hear Jerusalem cheering in the background? Nowadays we would say “They got served!”

“If you want to turn morale around, get the authority, go to the source of the discouragement, and speak with authority when you get there. The people will love you for it.”

The Strategic Problem

The Apostle Peter wrote: “Be of sober {spirit,} be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”[2]

No matter how often scripture says things like that, and it does so repeatedly, we forget. Opposition to good works in the world – God’s works in the world –is a given. Outmaneuvering the opposition is not. It’s strategic, a matter of gathering intelligence, resources, and allies and controlling the flow of information and timing your moves without giving your game away before the first whistle.

Jerusalem in 445 BC was not a safe place for a man like Nehemiah. Plots and intrigues abounded. His enemies had spies. One of the secrets of his success was that he prepared well and in secrecy. He started so fast and moved so quickly that the wall was half-way done before the opposition could catch up.

We think that God does not operate this way. It all seems too organized, too calculating, too business like. But God isn’t opposed to planning and strategy. He opposes people who put all their hopes in their own plans and strength. But he blesses leaders who plan well and commit their ways to him.[3]

3rd EFFECTIVE LEADERS SPEAK THE VISION

Nehemiah knew what all good leaders eventually learn. The most powerful motivations come from within. And they can only be tapped by a direct challenge.

The Jews weren’t only worrying about the financial risks or the political instability that came from having no walls. It was the spiritual disgrace of God’s city. Nehemiah said, “We are in great trouble and disgrace. Let’s fix it! This is a spiritual matter, a matter of the honor of our God.”

A speech like that leaves no doubt about the issue. There is no straddling the fence. It’s a challenge wrapped in a vision and anchored in hope. That’s what Nehemiah did. That’s what all leaders do when they want to build confidence. They make a direct call to the faith and hope of every man and woman. They speak the vision crystal clear and call for commitment. It is a beautiful thing.

Arnold Toynbee, the great English historian, said, “Apathy can only be overcome by enthusiasm, and enthusiasm can only be aroused by two things: first, an ideal which takes the imagination by storm, and second, a definite intelligible plan for carrying that ideal into practice.”[4]

Effective leaders, leaders that build confidence, start fresh, survey the need, and speak the vision.

[1] (Pro. 15:2 & 10:8 NIV)

[2] (1 Pet 5:8 NAS)

[3] Proverbs 16:3; Proverbs 21:5; John 7:1-6.

[4] James M. Boice, An Expositional Commentary on Nehemiah, pg. 35

ONE COMMUNITY & THE BASKETBALL BRAWL

ONE COMMUNITY & THE BASKETBALL BRAWL

High School basketball season, 1974, a mild winter’s evening in DeKalb County, Georgia, part of Atlanta’s burgeoning suburbs. My buddies, Randy, Paul, and I left the game and crossed Columbia Drive at the light in front of the high school and began walking up Irish Street toward my house, half a mile away. It was dark, but not too dark to see a group of black kids on the corner, fifty yards ahead, their bicycles laying in the grass either side of the sidewalk.

Randy murmured, “Maybe we should go the other way.” Racial violence was everywhere then, but especially in our school where integration had reached about fifty percent. Scrawny eighth and ninth graders like us paused before entering the school restrooms, hand on the door, listening for who was inside before risking a beating.

“Nah,” I said, “It’ll be alright,” and kept walking, right between the bikes.

“Don’t you touch my bicycle white boy!” I began to reply when WHAP! Something, a belt maybe, hit me and it was on. Outnumbered and scared spitless, the three of us broke and ran in different directions. Three black kids chased me across the street and into someone’s front yard.

I call it the basketball brawl, but it was not much of a fight. I managed to dodge most of the blows and skedaddle to the back door and banged on it asking for help. The porch light flicked on, the door opened slowly, and a large African American man looked down at me and said, “Yes?”

I am a dead man! I thought. But he turned out to be a very nice fellow and let me use his phone to call my folks.

That happened a very long time ago yet, every time I walk down a street and see a group of black kids my gut still does a double clutch.

Fast-forward to Georgia State University in the 1980’s. Atlanta’s races had reached an uneasy peace, with the city’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson. Racial violence had declined, but the tensions and many of the attitudes remained. Still, Atlanta was harmony city compared to Memphis, Tennessee, where I went to seminary later in the decade. We could feel the tension and see the hatred in the stares the first week we were there when my wife and I drove into a predominantly black neighborhood looking for apartments. Memphis felt like it was twenty years behind Atlanta.

It’s cliché, but my best friend in seminary, Robert, was a black guy from Augusta, Georgia. We had auto-mechanics in common. He had made the unusual choice—enabled by minority to majority transfer rules of the day—of attending a predominantly white high school. His stories of discrimination and abuse by white law enforcement in Georgia shocked me, but not as much as the fact that his fellow African-Americans treated him like an Uncle Tom for attending our mostly white seminary. Race relations are complicated, I learned. In Memphis, and through my friend, I began to understand what MLK Jr. meant when he talked about the content of our character versus the color of our skin.

Why am I telling you all this? I attended an event titled One Community last week, at the Prizery, our local community arts center. One Community’s mission is: To provide relevant enrichment opportunities and experiences for our community to address racism and diversity issues. My fear, frankly, was that it would be a politically motivated white-bashing party for people full of resentments who wanted to buttress a sense of entitlement. I was pleasantly surprised, met some very nice people, and heard some stories of what it was like to grow up black in segregated schools here in south-side Virginia in the fifties and sixties; stories told with grace, humor, and without animosity. I sensed a longing in that evenly mixed gathering of about 100 people, for understanding and harmony, not hate. Notably, the organizers of the event had invited white people who grew up at the same time to share their stories, but none volunteered. I wish they had.

Why did I attend? As a son of the South I feel no responsibility whatever for the “sins of my fathers.”  Besides my own experiences, I’ve had relatives who were denied career paths because they were, “the wrong color in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Reverse racism is a thing. But I am also heartily sick of the chaos groups like Antifa are creating in our culture and committed to doing what I can to unravel it. Further, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the most powerful antidote to racism that was ever given to mankind. We are called to be ministers of reconciliation, of men to God and of men to each other. We can’t do that by sitting at home and stewing in our own juices. I do not want to stand before God one day and answer, “I had an opportunity to move our community forward and missed it because I wasn’t willing to listen and build relationships.”

At lunch recently with a good friend who is also African American—but prefers to be called plain old Frank—I heard the counterpoint to my basketball brawl, stories of white violence toward blacks that outraged me. And I finally realized, those kids are just as scared of me as I was of them. Isn’t it time we stopped our guts from double clutching and sat down at the table to talk?

PRAY WITH YOUR BOOTS ON: The National Day of Prayer

PRAY WITH YOUR BOOTS ON: The National Day of Prayer

The ruined city lay bare and defenseless before all enemies. Two miles of massive stone wall battered into tons of rubble, ten gigantic gates gouged out by fire, and perhaps more important than all, a pummeled and demoralized people waited and longed for a leader to turn it all around.

Nehemiah was that man. Against clever, well-connected political foes and threats of violence he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and the morale of his people in fifty-two days.

The Book of Nehemiah is the personal memoir of the governor of Judah during the second half of the fifth century BC. It records his success in an impossible task, one that many others before him had failed to accomplish. He began his task with prayer, prayer with his boots on, we might say.  Nehemiah 4:7-9 tells the story:

“When Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the repairs of the walls of Jerusalem were going so well—that the breaks in the wall were being fixed—they were absolutely furious. They put their heads together and decided to fight against Jerusalem and create as much trouble as they could. We countered with prayer to our God and set a round-the-clock guard against them.[1]

Not what we normally imagine when we think of prayer, is it? We pray as a last resort, often expecting things to go downhill from there. Nehemiah prayed and posted a guard saying, ““Don’t be afraid of them. Put your minds on the Master, great and awesome, and then fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”[2]

America isn’t in the same sad state as Jerusalem was, but we face difficult problems that could quickly take us there. Massive and ever-growing national debt threatens our economic security, race continues to divide us, the epidemic breakdown of the nuclear family undermines the future, the vanguard of the new sexual orthodoxy threatens anyone who disagrees,[3] the opioid epidemic rages, and political polarization stifles effective government. All of these seem insurmountable, not to mention ISIS, North Korea, nuclear-armed Iran, and increasingly belligerent Russia. We need God’s help more than ever.

As we approach the National Day of Prayer on May 3, we would do well to follow Nehemiah’s example: pray and keep our boots on. I invite you to join me and hundreds of others from our community at Halifax County High School Auditorium at 6:30 PM this Thursday evening. Then go out and keep doing the family strengthening and community building things that will ensure our nation’s future.

[1] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Ne 4:7–9). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

[2] Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Ne 4:14). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

[3] http://www.breakpoint.org/2018/04/breakpoint-california-to-ban-books/; http://www.breakpoint.org/2018/04/the-point-chick-fil-as-infiltration-of-nyc/

JUSTICE FOR JACK: Religious Freedom in the Furnace

JUSTICE FOR JACK:  Religious Freedom in the Furnace

While sexual assault charges dominate the headlines, destroying careers and political prospects alike, the results of an assault on every American’s freedom of conscience are being weighed in the Supreme Court of the United States.

Jack Phillips’ Colorado bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, is named after his favorite Bible verse, Ephesians 2:10, “We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” (NLT) Jack’s dream was to use his artistic baking skills not only to provide for his family and serve his community, but also to bring honor to God through his every day work.

Because of that conviction, Jack made it a policy not to create artisan cakes to celebrate things that ran contrary to his religiously informed conscience. All his customers were able to get custom made cakes for their celebrations with Jack’s nearby competitors, so Jack’s convictions were never a problem until two men asked for a custom-made cake for their wedding ceremony in 2012.

Jack’s legal team, Alliance Defending Freedom, explains what happened next.

“Jack offered to sell the men any pre-made cake in his shop, but kindly explained that he could not use his artistic talents to custom-design cakes for same-sex wedding ceremonies. Like millions of people across the globe and throughout history, he affirms the biblical teaching that marriage is the sacred union of a man and a woman. Designing a cake for them would force him to violate his conscience.

The men swore at Jack and stormed out. He endured weeks of threatening phone calls and emails. His family and his employees have also been abused.

But that was only the beginning. Jack received notice from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (CCRC). He was being sued, accused of violating the state’s nondiscrimination laws.

The commission ruled against Jack, fined him, and tried to force him to violate his conscience.

“I haven’t singled out that one issue as something I won’t do,” Jack says. “I don’t make cakes for lewd bachelor parties; I don’t make cakes to celebrate divorce; I don’t make Halloween cakes, or anything involving witchcraft.”[1]

The CCRC also ordered Jack and his staff to design cakes for same-sex wedding celebrations, go through a ‘re-education’ program, implement new policies to comply with the commission’s order, and file quarterly ‘compliance’ reports for two years to show that Jack has completely eliminated his religious beliefs from his business.

In response, Jack stopped baking custom cakes, losing 40% of his business and laying off employees as a result.

Jack’s story is reminiscent of the biblical Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel chapter three. As Jack refuses to bow to today’s politically correct sexual orthodoxy, so those men refused to bow before a political ideology that exalted the creature above the creator. As Jack faces the loss of his livelihood and life-savings, Daniel’s friends faced the loss of their lives. As Jack stands on his biblically informed conscience before the most powerful court of our time, they stood resolute before the greatest power of theirs, saying, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”[2]

Yet Jack does not stand alone; we are in the furnace with him. His fate is ours. If the Supreme Court rules against him, then religious freedom will cease to exist in the United States. Your freedom to obey your religiously informed conscience in your business, your profession, your education, your children’s education and associations, your affiliations, and yes, even your church, will be confined to the dictates of the new sexual orthodoxy. You will be forced by law not simply to tolerate, but to celebrate things that conflict with your conscience before God.

What can you do? Four very important things:

First, pray. This is first and foremost a spiritual battle.

Second, take a stand. Let it be known that you support Jack. Write if you are able, share this post or posts from the organizations listed in the notes[3], or at the very least go on social media and say, “I stand with Jack.” Supreme Court Justices are human too. They read and your voice matters.

Third, give money. Order brownies from Jack’s bakery. Send him cash. Or send money to ADFLegal.org to help them fight.

Finally, be informed and informative. Share the sermon podcast, RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN THE FURNACE, listed here: http://www.fccsobo.org/files/fccsobo/Podcasts/September%203,%202017%20.mp3. Become knowledgeable on these subjects and learn to give a sound-bite on why the biblical worldview of human sexuality is good for everyone and why religious freedom is the fundamental freedom.

[1] Adflegal.org/jack phillips story

[2] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Da 3:16–18). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Adflegal.org/jack phillips story