The King’s Choice: What Would You Choose?

While we were on our North Sea cruise and sailing in and out of Norway’s gorgeous fjordlands, Alan and I watched The King’s Choice, a recent docudrama that tells the gripping story of the Nazis’ arrival in Oslo, Norway on April 9, 1940, and how King Haakon VII of Norway chose to respond to that threat.                       The unthinkable ultimatum? Surrender or die!  Although the movie primarily follows three of Norway’s most historically dramatic days, it is really a lesson in courage, valor, and one family’s anguish over making the right moral choice …not simply for themselves, but for their entire nation.  If you’re not versed in Norwegian history, you might not know much about the events, and actually, this is the first time I understood more of the complexities from “behind the scenes.” As a kid, all I knew was that the king and his family had escaped from Norway during World War 2, and I admit rather sheepishly to wondering why everybody loved the king’s family so well when they escaped and so many Norwegians died.  In Norway, the film was a huge success. In fact, it was the best-selling film in 4 decades of Norwegian cinema and was short-listed for the Oscars in the U.S.  It premiered at Norway’s royal palace with all available members of the royal family attending, so you know it honored not only country, but king!  If you (like me) have ever wondered why countries capitulated so easily during World War 2, this movie will help you understand some of the terror they felt. (I realize being terrified doesn’t give us permission to make wrong choices, but I’m just sayin’! The only way to overcome evil is with good, by God’s grace!) It’s also helped me understand why Jesus taught, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”* We never ever understand all the circumstances around anyone else’s actions, so we should never suppose we can judge another person’s motives We can (and must) judge people’s actions, but even there Jesus cautions us to “judge righteous judgment.”** I aspire to (as in, “I want very much but have not arrived”) being a person who respects other people enough to withhold judgment and exercise a gracious spirit toward them as much as possible.  “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8).  *  “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).  **  “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

Ancient Message about Media That’s Perfect for Today (aka/How to Live Without Fear of the Future)

Have you voted yet? If not, I hope you get out there and cast your ballot! One of the greatest privileges of a democratic republic is the right to be involved in making political decisions, and as tensions rise over which way is going to be “the best way,” every person’s vote truly does make a difference.

The only downside of elections is the aftermath of unwanted results. The elective process is better than a hostile coup, where the new government kills or imprisons their opponents, but I know anxiety over “what ifs” surrounding today’s elections is causing a great deal of stress.In that light, I’d like to share with you the perfect “Election Day”t message, totally à propos for today, and one of the best messages I’ve ever heard at our church. It was given by our pastor, Jim Samra, who is slowly working his way through the book of Isaiah, and Sunday’s passage “just happened to be” on Isaiah 8, after King Ahaz hired the Assyrian army to defend Judah from Samaria and Syria (despite the fact that the Lord told King Ahaz that He [God] would deliver them).

In verses 5-6, God warned that because the people and their “bad” leader, King Ahaz, had failed to trust in God—who is like a gently flowing river—to protect them, God was going to allow the Assyrians (the very people Judah hired to protect them) to sweep over them like a devastating flood (verses 5-8; the entire passage is listed below). However, in the midst of the battle, God would actually rescue those who trusted in him, “for God is with us” (verses 9-10).

Today, we find our country in a similar position— a place of jeopardy, not only because of bad leadership, but also because of our personal and corporate failure to rely on God to solve our problems, relying rather on technology, programs, alliances with other countries, drugs, education, money, etc.

Just as God did in the days of King Ahaz, so He gives us some warnings today:

1. Don’t follow bad leadership or the masses (:11)
2. Don’t worry about conspiracy theories (:12a Sound familiar?)
3. Don’t fear what other people fear (:12b; and doesn’t our country seem fearful?)

Instead, God gives us several principles to help us live without fear of the future:

1. Fear only God (:13-14a; I’ve heard that “fearing God” means to reverence Him, to trust and obey Him). God will either be a sanctuary for us if we trust him or a
“stone of  stumbling and rock of offense” if we don’t (:14b-15; see also 1 Peter 2:8).
2. Focus on what God says, not what the media has to say (:16-22; talk about appropriate for today!!). It almost made the congregation laugh, but it’s true! Notice verses 19-20: “19 When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” Jim pointed out that the correct plural of “medium” is not “mediums” but “media.” As believers, we should be testing everything against God’s Word and finding our answers through prayer, not allowing the media to define reality for us or telling us how to interpret events. 3. Fellowship with other believers and wait on the Lord (:16-17). Instead of spending all our time listening to and fretting over what we see and hear via the media, concentrate on repenting from our personal failures, loving others, and waiting on God (through prayer) to deliver us. God alone can turn darkness to light, and He does promise to deliver us if we put our trust in him (:10,17-18). Here is the complete passage from Isaiah 8:

5The Lord spoke to me again:

“Because this people has rejected
    the gently flowing waters of Shiloah
and rejoices over Rezin
    and the son of Remaliah,
therefore the Lord is about to bring against them
    the mighty floodwaters of the Euphrates—
    the king of Assyria with all his pomp.
It will overflow all its channels,
    run over all its banks
and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it,
    passing through it and reaching up to the neck.
Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land,
    Immanuel!”

Raise the war cry, you nations, and be shattered!
    Listen, all you distant lands.
Prepare for battle, and be shattered!
    Prepare for battle, and be shattered!
10 Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted;
    propose your plan, but it will not stand,
    for God is with us.

11 This is what the Lord says to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people:

12 “Do not call conspiracy
    everything this people calls a conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
    and do not dread it.
13 The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
    he is the one you are to fear,
    he is the one you are to dread.
14 He will be a holy place;
    for both Israel and Judah he will be
a stone that causes people to stumble
    and a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem he will be
    a trap and a snare.
15 Many of them will stumble;
    they will fall and be broken,
    they will be snared and captured.”

16 Bind up this testimony of warning
    and seal up God’s instruction among my disciples.
17 I will wait for the Lord,
    who is hiding his face from the descendants of Jacob.
I will put my trust in him.

18 Here am I, and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.                                        “The Darkness Turns to Light”

19 When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. 21 Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. 22 Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness. P.S.—If you’d like to hear the entire message, it can be accessed here: http://calvarygr.org/sermons-resources/

Also, if you’re looking for a church family and live in the Grand Rapids area, please consider joining us at Calvary Church: http://calvarygr.org/

Will Brett Kavanaugh Be Confirmed?

If you’ve been distressed by all the debate over whether or not to confirm Judge Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, consider watching Marshall this weekend. Marshall is the inspiring true story of Thurgood Marshall, 96th justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and our first African-American justice.  He served in the Supreme Court for thirty-four years, from 1967-1991, retiring during the administration of George H.W. Bush and succeeded by Clarance Thomas.  Marshall was a champion for the oppressed, a crusader for the cause of equality, and a brilliant lawyer. Over the course of his career, he argued 32 times before Supreme Court and won 29 times! The film keys in on Thurgood’s courageous and career-defining case defending Joseph Spell, who was accused of raping his socialite employer, Eleanor Strubing in The State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell From research, I gather that the movie is quite accurate except in two points: Sam Friedman had already been practicing for fourteen years, had a “stellar reputation as a trial lawyer,” and was a brave man.* Also, Roger Friedman (movie critic and nephew to Sam Friedman) stated, “It is unimaginable that Marshall, a man who was highly intelligent and educated, would have ever addressed Sam that way [using F***].” Friedman also reported that “his family cringed when they heard it at a private screening.”* Indeed, my only problem with the movie was the bad language, which apparently was unfairly included! Come on, Hollywood! Let’s elevate, not degrade. I’m not sure how you feel about the impassioned testimony of Christine Blasey Ford (and as a woman, I tend to believe women), but after watching Marshall, it does occur to me that emotion doesn’t necessarily translate into truth.  Also, just for the record, I’d like to point out that although Marshall Thurmond is one of my heroes, here are a few bits from his youth, mostly gleaned from Wikipedia:

“Marshall showed a talent for law from an early age, becoming a key member of his school’s debate team and memorizing the U.S. Constitution (which was actually assigned to him as punishment for misbehaving in class).”  While in college at Lincoln University: “Initially he did not take his studies seriously, and was suspended twice for hazing and pranks against fellow students.”

Among his classmates was the poet Langston Hughes, who was a lifelong friend but described Marshall as “rough and ready, loud and wrong.”  “His marriage to Vivien Buster Burey in September 1929 encouraged him to take his studies seriously, and he graduated from Lincoln with honors (cum laude) Bachelor of Arts in Humanities, with a major in American literature and philosophy.” In 1933 he graduated first in his class from Howard University School of Law.

I’m thinking that we’ll never truly know whether or not Brett Kavanaugh is innocent of his alleged sins against women as a college student, but I will say that it appears he settled down after marrying and has had a pretty impeccable record since graduating from college (as was also true of Thurmond Marshall).

With just minutes to go before the vote is taken, I would like to encourage us with words originally spoken three thousand years ago by one of the world’s most beloved kings, King David of Israel. I think they’re words most of us can echo:

Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O Lord” (Psalm 25:7).

*http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/marshall/

(Just FYI: One of Marshall’s great grandparents was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo but brought to America as a slave back in the 1800’s. His father was a steward and his mother was a teacher. When Marshall was little, his father took the kids to watch court cases and debated with them afterward, and Marshall became an able debater. He said his father never told him to become a lawyer, but he turned him into one! Regardless of our background, we can become upstanding members of our communities and inspire our children. Let’s do it!)

 

Have You Considered the Relationship Between Israel, the Church, and the Middle East?

Published just in time to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary, Darrel L. Bock and Mitch Glaser have collaborated as editors on a book explaining the current conflict in the Middle East from a biblical viewpoint. Written by theologians on both sides of the Atlantic in meticulously researched articles, the book walks us through the conflict step by step, explaining not only the historical background but the present situation and future prophetic promises concerning the role of Israel in the world: “God always intended to use the Jewish people as his bridge of redemption to a sinful and broken world” (Dr. Darrell Bock, 262).

As an evangelical Christian, I have always believed the Old Testament teaching that God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people as an eternal inheritance. What I didn’t realize is that I am part of the 82% of white evangelicals who hold this position, but according to a Pew Research Center poll, less than half that many Jewish or Catholic Americans agree (187). I was a little amazed, but then it occurred to me that if you don’t believe the Bible, then of course you wouldn’t have any particular basis for believing the Jewish people have any right to an independent nation of their own. However, as recently as 2017, the FBI reported that Jewish people are subjected to more hate crimes than any other religious group in America, and the statistics aren’t much different in Europe (197). Even for those who don’t believe the Jewish people have a “right” to the land,  doesn’t it seem good that every group of moral, law-abiding people deserves to have a haven of refuge where they can “secure domestic tranquility,” just as we have in America?

I loved this quote from an AIPAC document, pointing out the shared values between America and Israel: “Both nations were founded by refugees seeking political and religious freedom. Both were forced to fight for independence against foreign powers. Both have absorbed waves of immigrants seeking political freedom and economic well-being. And, both have evolved into democracies that respect the rule of law, the will of voters and the rights of minorities.” Perhaps these common values are shared by many nations around the world, but I deeply appreciate being able to live in a land that enjoys democratic rule “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” and I am thankful for other countries that provide similar freedoms. As far as I know, Israel is probably the truest democracy in the Middle East. Would you agree?

Finally, the book is written from the perspective of God’s love for all, and I’d like to end with Mark Bailey’s conclusion: “If one is not careful, one will look through the colored lens of politics and end up despising either the Arabs or the Jews, or both. A proper gaze through a biblical lens will engender a genuine love for Palestinians, Arabs, Israelis, and Jews alike as people created in the image of God, the object of his love, and all viable candidates to receive the love of Christ through our proclamation of the Gospel message” (201).

By the way, if you’ve never read the Bible, and wonder why anybody thinks Israel “deserves” their own state, here are a few passages about God’s giving the land of Canaan (present day Israel) to Abraham (the “Father” of modern Jewish people).

Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).

And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee” (Genesis 13:14-17).

And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8).

Of course, Muslims and Jews both descended from Abraham, and this is part of the problem. I’m not sure if the Koran has anything to say about which land belongs to whom, but in the Bible, a distinction is made between Abraham’s two sons, Ishmael (via Hagar, progenitor of the Muslims) and Isaac (via Abraham’s wife, Sarah, progenitor of the Jews):

 And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her. Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee! And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year” (Genesis 17:15-21).

 

 

What Makes America Exceptional: Ninety-Second Video by a Harvard Professor

Clay Christensen on Religious Freedom (His personal views, not HBS)

I hope you’ll take a minute to listen to what Dr. Christensen has to say, because I think he’s absolutely right. But, if you’re unsure or have never heard of this Harvard economist, let me introduce him, because I think he’s earned the right to one minute of our attention! His pedigree includes being a Rhodes Scholar, studying econometrics at Oxford University (M.Phil.), an MBA and later a DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) from Harvard. Christiansen set a record for becoming a “full professor” at Harvard’s Business School in only six years. In 2011 Forbes called him “one of the most influential business theorists of the last 5o years” in their cover story. In both 2011 and 2013 he was ranked #1 in the Thinkers 50, considered “the most prestigious ranking of management thinkers” (Wiki). His seminal work, The Innovator’s Dilemma (1997) received the Global Business Book Award for the best business book of the year. According to Wikipedia (where I garnered this biographical info), “He’s best known for his theory of ‘disruptive innovation,’. . .which has been called the most influential business idea of the early 21st century.”

Now are you willing to listen? https://www.youtube.com/embed/YjntXYDPw44

 “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3).

How Do You Feel About All the Infringements on Your Privacy?

I love the internet bringing the world to my doorstep, but I really don’t like it invading my bedroom, do you? Am I the only person who notices my computer coming on in the middle of the night or who finds it unsettling to have Siri interrupt my conversations? Do you, like me, get frustrated with all the breaches in security and privacy on the net? My Facebook account was hacked recently …or at least someone was able to set up a fake account using my photos and information to solicit for other connections (to hack as well). I’m beginning to feel a little like the King of Syria from the story in 2 Kings 6, where he thought some enemy was spying on him and reporting everything he whispered in his bedroom to the King of Israel.

In my case, if it’s just the American government spying on all of us, then I don’t actually feel like it’s an “enemy,” but whatever happened to the sanctity of home? I’ve been slowly trying to make the emotional adjustment to the realization that everything I ever say or write is recorded, and I try to imagine that I’m relatively safe since I’m trying my best to live a moral, law-abiding life. But, what if America’s government begins persecuting Christians? In at least 68 countries around the world, the governments restrict, persecute, or at least don’t protect the religious freedom of Christians. If America changes radically enough, then I will be in big trouble, because my faith in Christ and love for God are woven into the woof and warp of everything I say and write. The day may come when I will become a lawbreaker because I worship God!

While pondering this issue the other day and feeling a little distressed, I began meditating on Luke 12 (which I’ve written out below) and found myself greatly encouraged and comforted, so I wanted to share what I read with you. If you feel alarmed because everything you write and every call you make is being recorded somewhere here on earth, take heart! It’s always been recorded in heaven anyway, along with every thought!

Our job is to be pure and faithful followers of Christ. If the world sees what’s going on, so much the better! If we are persecuted for our faith, that shouldn’t surprise us. If lifting up the name of Jesus and testifying to the goodness of God gets us killed, then that’s a price worth paying, because some silent observer may be drawn to God through what we share. Be faithful! “Thou, God, seest me.”

He began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.

“And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.

Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven.

“And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.” (Luke 12:1-12).

The Purpose of Memorials

Two days ago, in reflecting on the solar eclipse, I mentioned that we all like to commemorate special events by taking photos or keeping mementos to help us remember. Does that sound about right for you too? However, I don’t take pictures of miserable things; I take pictures of beautiful things and happy events I want to celebrate. It was in this light that I understood why many people want to take down the statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, and why it was draped in black yesterday (also as an expression of mourning for Heather Heyer).  One insightful reader sent me this note: “…the Confederacy has held a special power over this state. We’ve sort of changed history to make ourselves look better than we really were. We portrayed our losing generals as if they were triumphant in spirit or really on the right side of things – as long as we don’t emphasize the role that slavery played in the war. We might have lost on that point, but it [is] really about our right to be messed with and our right to live how we wanted to live without somebody from somewhere else to tell us how to live. We gave these men the status of heroes and placed their likeness on the footsteps of our courthouses. So every time we went to deal with a matter of the law, somebody white could look upon them and remember that they’re in the right and somebody black can look upon them and know that our history hasn’t died in our hearts. So, if we keep those statues on the steps of the courthouse, aren’t we really endorsing their legacy?”  What a wise reflection. Moving and true! I’ve been to Germany several times, but I’ve never seen a statue of Adolf Hitler, and I’m very glad for that! What if he were still revered in Germany? I would think that deep in their hearts, the German people still believe Hitler was right.  Part of admitting that we’re wrong about something is renouncing it…giving up our right to glory in it and mourning instead. In Germany, there are holocaust memorials so that we will never forget the evil that happened and continue to be horrified rather than attracted to anti-Semitism.  Similarly, there are many war memorials on the Normandy Coast of France. None of them house statues as such; they are filled with photos and information teaching about the devastating effects of war.  At Nagasaki, the memorials don’t exalt leaders, they portray the terrible suffering of the hundreds of thousands who died from the tragic bombings that ended the war, and they cry out for people to find peace. If we’re really sorry about what we’ve done wrong, we won’t be retelling the story and making heroes of those who led us astray. Right?  If I lived in Virginia, I would vote to remove the statues of the leaders who championed slavery. This morning I saw a map of where there are Confederate memorials. I don’t know the exact number, but it looked like over a hundred and possibly hundreds.  I thought back to visiting Tiananmen Square, where hundreds of protestors were killed in 1989. In the little shops all around the square, you can buy statues…of Mao Zedong!  He is still considered a great hero by many in Communist China (even among some Christian young adult Chinese students I know), although I was taught that he was responsible for millions of deaths and a brutal dictator. So, why do they revere him? And, what of Vladimir Lenin’s Mausoleum in front of the Kremlin in Russia? Millions visit every year, celebrating??? After the Iron Curtain came down in 1991, there was a movement to rebury Lenin’s body next to his mother’s grave, but Vladimir Putin “opposed this, pointing out that a reburial of Lenin would imply that generations of citizens had observed false values during 70 years of Soviet rule” (Wiki).

This, I think, is very telling. Memorials celebrate the values of the person being memorialized! Logically, statues of Confederate heroes are memorializing what they fought for, which was slavery. Do we want that commemorated or approved in our country? I hope we do not. To show respect for all races of people, particularly the African Americans who were enslaved, I totally support the idea of removing statues of heroes who stood against racial equality.

Spiritually, there is a personal parallel for each of us. Are we keeping photos or mementos from past events that were negative rather than positive influences on us? Are we “worshiping” icons that represent values we should not be endorsing? Are we beginning to remember “the good old days” of sinful pleasures that were in fact “evil days”? May we repent of all evil—past as well as present—and take glory in God alone, focusing our minds on: “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things: (Philippians 4:8).

But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:24).

(The photo of Stalin’s Mausolem at the Kremlin was taken by Andrew Shiva via Wiki; the rest our mine, taken in China, Japan, Germany, and France. Not all of them match the text perfectly, but they were the best representations for the ideas that I could find.)