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Days of Heaven on Earth

PSALM 25

PSALM 25

When we come to the Bible, The Word of God, The Scriptures, we come face to face with the Author Himself.  Listen to the writer of Hebrews chapter 4:12-13; “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thought and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from His sight; but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

In A. B. Simpson’s devotional that you can read online at www.cmalliance.org he shares this about the Word of God:

Days of Heaven on Earth

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

“The literal translation of that phrase in Hebrews is, “all things are stripped and stunned.” Such is the force of the Greek words. The figure is that of an athlete in the Coliseum who has fought his best in the arena, and has at length fallen at the feet of his adversary, disarmed and broken down in helplessness. There he lies, unable to strike a blow or lift his arm. He is stripped and stunned, disarmed and disabled, and there is nothing left for him but to lie at the feet of his adversary and appeal to him for mercy.

“Now this is the position to which God wants to bring us, where we shall cease our struggles and our attempts at self-defense or self-improvement and throw ourselves helplessly upon the mercy of God. This is the sinner’s only hope, and when he thus lies at the feet of mercy, Jesus is ready to lift him up and give him that free salvation which is waiting for all.

“This, too, is the greatest need of the Christian who seeks a deeper and higher life-to come to a full realization of his nothingness and helplessness and to lie down, stripped and stunned, at the feet of Jesus.”

Is this where you are today?  Are you and I stripped and stunned at the feet of Jesus because of what life has thrown at you or a decision you made that was not at all the best or that which would have pleased God?  Have you come to the point of seeing your own nothingness and helplessness?  So with this Psalm and by the strength of the Holy Spirit let us lie down at the feet of Jesus.

David’s Trust in God is inspirational, not only in this Psalm but throughout the over 70 that he authored.  This first point establishes all of the rest of the song.  If you don’t much about the Psalms you probably are not alone, yet we should get to know the Psalms better.  A good place to begin is by having a good study Bible.  There are many good ones out there; but you must find one and get after it.

This as we can see at the top of the passage is that it is a Psalm of David, which simply means that David wrote it.  In the ESV Study Bible some of the introductory notes tell this about the Psalms:  “The book of Psalms…It is a collection of 150 poems that express a wide variety of emotions, including: love and adoration toward God, sorrow over sin, dependence on God in desperate circumstances, the battle of fear and trust, walking with God even when the way seems dark, thankfulness for God’s care, devotion to the word of God, and confidence in the eventual triumph of God’s purposes in the world” (ESV Study Bible, Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 2008, p. 935).

Basically the Psalms is a prayer book, a song book, an outright naked expression of the heart, the human heart is laid bare here in the Psalms.

  1. S. Plumer writes in his introduction to his commentary on the Psalms these following words: “The Psalms are wonderful. They have been read, repeated, changed, sung, studied, wept over, rejoiced in, expounded, loved and praised by God’s people for thousands of years” (Studies in the Book of Psalms, W. S. Plumer, 2016, p.5).

And when you don’t know what to pray this is the book that most Christians turn to and I would suspect so do the Jewish people.  John Stumbo, President of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination has said “when you’re facing confusing times the first action item ought to be, ‘Stay in the Scriptures.’”  When we face catastrophic situations in our lives we can do many things but two that stand out: we can turn from God or turn to God.  The best is that we turn to God and we can do that by camping out in the Psalms.

Maybe you’re on a precipice of a decision or a situation of great peril/danger or on the edge of a big life decision what should you do?  I would strongly suggest that you turn to Scripture, especially the Psalms.

Hear with your heart what King David wrote and sung in verse one: “LORD, I turn to You” (HCSB).  Or from the ESV; “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.”  Two different ways to say the same thing.

When should you “turn to Him?”  When you’re at a crossroads in life, when you’re confused, when you’ve suffered heart break, when you receive bad news; how about when you’re having a great day and you know the Lord is present and active in life or at least you’re aware of it.

Psalm 24 David is full of praise to God.  It seems strategically placed by God to emphasize who He is and how He works.

Do not run over 25:1 too quickly for it is rich with meaning.

What did David mean by writing this?  Maybe he felt stripped and stunned by the presence of God or something he read about God and it made David turn to God or lift up his soul.

Other places in Scripture that this phrase shows up: Deuteronomy 24:15; Proverbs 19:18; Jeremiah 22:27; 44:14; Hosea 4:8 in these you begin to get what David is attempting to communicate.  In Psalm 86:4 we see the same phrase as well as 143:8 and Lamentations 3:41.

And to do this often or all the time the person would stand with their hands upraised before God.  Plumer lets us know a little more detail about the actual posture of the person before God.  “From this posture is probably derived the form of expression here; I will not merely lift up my hands and my eyes; I will also lift up my soul, my heart to thee; I will address my sincere prayers and make known my hearty desires, expecting an answer in peace” (p. 330).

This is a Hebrew way of saying: “I direct my desire.”  It is undistracted – laser focused.

In this world of great confusion, the best and safest place to put your trust is not in government by men, but trust in the One who created you and loves you with an everlasting love!  Turn your soul over to Him and watch Him change you.

LOVE YOUR ENEMIES

The greatest teacher of all time, the God-man Jesus, taught this timeless truth in Matthew 5:43-48:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,’ so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.  For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?  Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You therefore must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (ESV).

As we reel from another seemingly senseless slaughter of human life in recent days, questions swirl in our hearts and minds.  It may arise as anger in our hearts, or sometimes in guilt of our own making, taking responsibility for the evil that we witness as a way to feel as if we can then exercise control over it.  As Jesus tells us, we cannot control evil, only our response to it.

What was perpetrated by those who followed their own devices or the orders of those they represent, should not elicit a desire for a personal vendetta toward the individual.  Ultimately a human is not our real enemy; Paul the apostle wrote these words to the church in Ephesus:

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, again the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV).

We are witnessing a spiritual battle and it must be seen with spiritual eyes.  Unfortunately, many will not see it this way.  What tragically happened in Orlando, FL will be politicized from every direction and the main point will be missed in the resulting fog.

Evil is real, and it comes from outside flesh and blood, yet is prevalent in our society as evidenced by many recent world events.  Yet, this man who laid out so much carnage is not an enemy of a Christian nor are Muslims.  Christians also must remember that homosexuals are not our enemy and there is no room for hateful words or actions.

God is the ultimate Judge in the universe and not mankind.  When man was created he was placed in a perfect world.  Yet, man thought he knew better than God and wanted more, following instead the temptations of the serpent in the perfect garden.  The result was ruin of all mankind for all time, until Jesus’ presence upon the earth as the ultimate Savior from evil in the world.

What Adam and Eve thought was a good thing ended up as ruin for the history of man, yet God had an eternal plan that neither man nor Satan could set aside.  Apart from God, life is a prison, but with God, through belief in Jesus Christ is perfect freedom.  Perfect freedom is following the Scriptures in both Old and New Testaments.  Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s promises to mankind; Adam and Eve or Satan could not thwart what was planned in eternity past.

Christians are to love God and our fellow man.  We are not to do offensive injury in any way to those we do not agree with, whether Muslim or one who designates themselves as homosexual.  It is true that much hurt has been initiated by those who call themselves followers of Jesus but when one would look at what Jesus did and what He taught it would be clear that revenge or anger or physical injury of any type is not appropriate for a Christ follower.

We must pray for those who oppose us, due to our belief, but never strike a vengeful blow.  In closing, the words of Scripture are extremely appropriate in this day and age as we see anger and spite in our world.

“Let love be genuine.  Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  Love one another with brotherly affection.  Outdo one another in showing honor.  Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.  Never be wise in your own sight.  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’  To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:9-21, ESV).

This is how a person who claims to be a follower of Jesus is to act towards fellow Christians and those who are not.  Before a Christian goes on a verbal rampage, or worse, go to the Book to find out how to respond to the evils of the world in which we live.

The only true answer to the evils of this world is Jesus Christ!  To begin following Him all one needs to do is believe that God raised Him from the dead and to confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and you will be saved.  Pretty simple, but life-changing.

Ain’t even close to over… No ordinary election year

With Super Tuesday receding into the rear view mirror, it is prudent to turn our attention to the road ahead.  This isn’t an ordinary election year – at least not in the fashion we have come to know in the post-WWII era – where primaries and caucuses easily winnow the field of candidates without upending the process itself.

This view however, is a relatively recent phenomenon.  For a far longer period, the nominating convention was much more consequential than the state events that preceded it.  Yes, primaries and caucuses were held, but the real decisions were made behind the scenes, at the convention where alliances were struck and deals were made to coalesce support behind the strongest (or best connected) candidate.  Ever heard the phrase “smoky backroom deals?”

The states choose the candidate to whom their delegates (delegates to the nominating convention) will be pledged for the first floor vote.  Typically, by the time of the convention, a candidate has amassed enough delegates to win the nomination on the first vote.  However, if no single candidate has enough pledged delegates to claim the nomination on the first vote, ALL delegates are released from their obligations and can vote however they choose in each subsequent vote.

Here’s where the deals are made.  Here’s where second and third place candidates jockey for position, (Cabinet posts, Ambassadorships, etc.) in return for urging their pledged delegates to support someone else.

It is this moment where the frontrunner is naked and exposed, vulnerable in the extreme; and it is this moment where a popular, but politically naïve, or poorly organized candidate can see his presumed nomination dissipate like so much smoke.

It is this moment where the “anyone but Trump” coalition intends to take him down.

The casual observers (otherwise known as the mainstream media) will tell you the race is over and Trump has won it.  Indeed, the papers and news sites are full of just such pronouncements.  They are wrong.

There is a threshold of 1237 delegates needed to secure the nomination vote at the convention.  As of Super Tuesday, Trump has 316, Cruz has 226 and Rubio has 106.  The remaining candidates (including those who have dropped out) have a combined 40.  Even Common Core math will show that Trump hasn’t reached the 50% threshold yet.No ordinary election year... Presidential Primaries ChartIf that can be maintained, Trump cannot enter the convention with enough delegates to secure the nomination on the first vote, meaning all bets are off and the convention will choose the nominee, just as they have for the majority of our nation’s political history.  The uninformed (also known as the mainstream media) will tell you this is unprecedented.  Again, they are wrong.

Our junior Senator, Ben Sasse, a man who I did not support in the Primary, but who has earned my unqualified respect ever since, recently said he could not cast a vote for Trump in good conscience.  His statement set off an argument that is long overdue; just how much loyalty is owed a party when that party has failed to reciprocate?

It is this disconnect between Republican as campaigners and Republican in office that has spawned the rise of a man like Trump.  Virtually all Republicans since Reagan have run as conservatives, oft citing their devotion to constitutional principles as their guiding light.

We know all too well however, that once in office, these paragons of constitutional republicanism have proven to be less disappointment than turncoat.

The most egregious overreaches of the Left in general and the Obama administration in particular were all within the power of the Republican-held Congress to stop.  They chose not to, and consequently our debt has ballooned as never before while our liberties (which are the true basis of our economy and way of life) have eroded to levels that would make Eugene Debs* blush.

Senator Sasse isn’t trying to divide the Republican party, he is trying to set the stage for the convention – to prepare the ground for the battle to come.  Think of it as dropping leaflets from a plane warning civilians to leave the area before the fighting begins.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the dull-witted automatons (again known as the mainstream media!) are correct, and Trump manages to seal the deal before the convention and becomes the Republican nominee.  Are we destined to endure another term under a braggodocious usurper of power attempting to bypass checks and balances with a pen and a phone?

No, we are not.  Whether the next President is Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or some other anti-constitutional candidate yet to emerge, our nation is only in real danger if the Republican led Congress continues their supine ways in the face of executive abuses of power.

The Congress is extremely powerful.  They can defend the people from a would-be dictator in the Oval office in myriad ways; they merely need to exercise their Constitutional power – something the gelatinously-spined Republican leadership has been thus far loathe to do.

It isn’t a foregone conclusion that the Republic is lost if a Hillary or a Donald gets to add President to their names.  It is however a certainty that our Republic will collapse if the Congress refuses to stand between an activist judiciary, a chief executive given to unconstitutional overreach and the people of the United States.

Don’t forget, the states themselves are not without power as well.

Our system isn’t impotent in the face of the left’s ghoulish cult of death and oppression of individual liberty.  The Framers bequeathed us a multitude of weapons to fight precisely this battle.  These weapons are simply lying on a shelf, unused and gathering dust, awaiting a committed group of patriots to wield them as intended.

The race for the Republican nomination is far from over, and the fate of the nation far from sealed.  Stay tuned and remain engaged.  That’s the handle by which we patriots might grasp the founder’s weapons to defend liberty from yet another assault.

*Eugene Debs was the last Socialist candidate to run openly for office as a Socialist.

What’s the fuss about Socialism?

This is such a unique thing we possess, this free way of life. Power granted to the government by the consent of the governed, not taken by force. The default setting for societies has always been a brutal mash of exploitation, oppression and unfettered greed. Whether couched in religion, geography, or tribe, the strong have always ruled the weak, and the wily take their cut off the top.

But now we have leaders and laws chosen by process and debate, rather than the former staples of noble birth, graft, brute force, and intimidation.

To be sure, a fair measure of those same flaws remain in our politics and governance, but they are not the norm, and they’re usually driven out when discovered. This fact alone is enough to separate us from all previous attempts by man to bring order to human interaction.

So knowing this, why are so many in society willing to chuck it all in to forge ahead into a brave new world that looks and smells just like the fetid carcass of the cowardly Old World?

Why would intelligent people knowingly choose less freedom for themselves and their children?

Crudely put, it is because the idea of a fully free society with everyone making their own decisions simply chaps their asses. It is not enough for such people to be successful themselves; they must also have a hand in ordering the winners and losers amongst the rest of society.

So convinced are they of their own inestimable value, that they cannot conceive of a world that doesn’t need them. In their minds, they should be consulted before decisions are made; after all, look how successful they are.

Clearly anyone who doesn’t recognize this must be mentally defective, and we all know you don’t have to take seriously the ramblings of an imbecile.

But what happens when the self-absorbed decide that our laws and ways are really just anachronistic barriers to their progressive real-think? If you’re smart, you tremble for a moment, then gird yourself for a fight.

If you recall the puritan ethos that H.L. Mencken described as having the haunting feeling that someone, somewhere, is happy, then you easily understand the sensibility of someone who cannot be satisfied with his own success unless it involves dictating to others how they must succeed as well.

And not just any old success will do…it must be appropriate success. Success suited to one’s station and membership of an aggrieved group. (See affirmative action and virtually every other outcome-based folly of the Left.)

What sort of mind functions this way? Where do we find the bedrock of such a ego-centric philosophy?

Look first to human nature, and realize that with all our sophistication and technology, we still eat, crap, and fight much as we always have. We always will. Accept it. Madison said that if men were angels, no government would be needed.

Of course, we know men are no angels; so we must ask, who will govern the governors? Many actors have played this role. Religion has been a lodestar for our leaders for the better part of 150 years. Honor and national pride have, too.

But more than anything, the vision of our founders as evinced in the Constitution has been the greatest bulwark against both the busybody and the tyrant. Behind that magnificently crafted wall we have found refuge, and in its protective shade our nation has grown into the example that has slowly recast the world in its image.

I recall a conversation I had with a young coworker in the latter weeks of Obama’s campaign for president. Joe the plumber had just exposed the redistributionist bent of the candidate, and I expressed my assessment of Mr. Obama as a not-so-closeted socialist. My coworker then quite earnestly asked, “What’s so wrong with socialism?”

I initially assumed he must be joking, although his face gave no indication. I stared at him dumbfounded, only later realizing I must have looked like a palsied old man — my mouth working wordlessly, the incomprehension as evident on my face as the sincerity on his.

It eventually dawned on me that he really didn’t know what was wrong with socialism. I began reciting the litany of horrors: the crimes of the Holocaust, the purges of the Soviets, the thuggery and inhuman brutality of the statist regimes of the last century. The Nazis, for crissake! How could he not know about the evil of the Nazis?

He listened to all of this, nodding his understanding as he recognized some of the events I described, but I could still see a question behind his eyes. While he had been taught of the existence of these atrocities, he had not been clued into the one commonality they shared. They were all perpetrated by the adherents of various forms of socialist collectivism. Indeed, such crimes were the only outcome possible with Socialism as the guiding principle.

In the late 1930s, the noted economist Friedrich Von Hayek wrote his landmark book (later released in abridged pamphlet form) “Road to Serfdom,” laying bare the diseased skeleton of socialist/utopian thought that had permeated academia and the salons of the day.

With an economy of words that showcased the significance of his conclusion, he pointed out the Achilles heel of collectivist dogma: for a planned economy to succeed, there must be central planners, who by necessity will insist on universal commitment to their plan.

How do you attain total commitment to a goal from a free people? Well, you don’t. Some percentage will always disagree, even if only for the sake of being contrary or out of a desire to be left alone.

When considering a program as comprehensive as a government-planned economy, there are undoubtedly countless points of contention, such as how we will choose the planners, how we will order our priorities when assigning them importance within the plan, how we will allocate resources when competing interests have legitimate claims, who will make these decisions, and perhaps more pertinent to our discussion, how those decisions will be enforced.

A rift forming on even one of these issues is enough to bring the gears of this progressive endeavor grinding to a halt. This “fatal flaw” in the collectivist design cannot be reengineered. It is an error so critical, as to require the entire ideology be scrapped as unworkable.

Von Hayek accurately foretold the fate that would befall dissenters from the plan. They simply could not be allowed to get in the way. Opposition would soon be treated as subversion, with debate shriveling to non-existence under the glare of the state.

Those who refused compliance would first be marginalized, then dehumanized, and finally (failing re-education) eliminated. Collectivism and individualism cannot long share the same bed. They are political oil and water, and neither can compromise its position without eventually succumbing to the other.

The history of the twentieth century is littered with the remains of those who became “enemies of the state” for merely drawing attention to this flaw. As Von Hayek predicted, the socialist vision would not be achieved without bloodshed.

So this is the challenge we face. My young coworker had no frame of reference by which to judge the events unfolding around him. He had been presented with only the intentions of socialism, not the inevitable results. He had been given the whitewashed fantasy of the Left, who never saw a failure that couldn’t be rationalized — or better yet, blamed on others.

Our job, then, is to teach the lessons of history to those who fail to see the danger. We have to provide that all-important perspective to a generation that has been denied it. We have to do this one at a time, conversation by conversation. Tell your friends the truth; don’t assume they know it. Become the person your friends and family consult when the subject turns to politics.

The Left will not willingly lay claim to the true legacy of socialism, so we will have to hang it around their necks. They have grown accustomed to shedding responsibility for the damage they have done, and are adept at shifting the blame. Traditional means of holding them to account are failing. Fellow travelers in the academy and media will not challenge even their most egregious lies, so howling about bias will gain us nothing.

If you doubt the effectiveness of the Left’s methods, ask any ten people under the age of forty whether Hitler and the Nazis were a product of left-wing or right-wing ideology. Their answers will reveal the frightfully high obstacle we face if we are to reclaim our national identity.

It is not enough that you know the truth. You alone are not likely to singlehandedly shape the outcome of an election. Everyone has to know the truth. We have to reclaim our younger generations from the wolf in sheep’s clothing, or it won’t be long before the wolf no longer needs the disguise. Note: This was written in late 2009. With the viable candidacy of an avowed socialist gaining steam, it is perhaps more timely now to note the wolf has indeed abandoned his disguise entirely.

Serious Inquiry Needed

As we roll full ahead into this election cycle, it’s good to rate these candidates not only on their stands on important issues, but also on their character, their integrity (or lack thereof!). No one is, or can be, perfect. Only One holds that position and he never ran for political office. Look at yourself honestly; are you perfect? I know I am not and that is one of my weaknesses; if we are human, then by definition, we are imperfect.

So in our selection of a political candidate we must examine many factors to make the most informed decision possible. When it comes to knowing the only perfect human and His name is Jesus Christ, we must also make a serious inquiry to who He was and is and what He said about Himself and what others wrote about Him. God is not afraid of our questions about Him, in fact He welcomes them.

Where we stumble however, is when we make inquiries about ourselves. Either we are our own worst critic or we seriously overlook our flaws.

Maybe there is a serious issue that we are facing again that we did not expect to, but the first time we prayed about it and He answered. This time we could just go on and not seek the Lord’s favor or answer, but then again we could inquire again of God and see what He would accomplish.

In his Morning and Evening devotional, Charles Spurgeon wrote this for the morning of February 9, it is somewhat lengthy but well worth the read and reflection.

“And David inquired of the LORD” – (2 Samuel 5:23).

“When David made this inquiry he had just fought the Philistines, and gained a signal victory. The Philistines came up in great hosts, but, by the help of God, David had easily put them to flight. Note, however, that when they came a second time, David did not go up to fight them without inquiring of the Lord. Once he had been victorious, and he might have said, as many have in other cases, ‘I shall be victorious again; I may rest quite sure that if I have conquered once I shall triumph yet again. Wherefore should I tarry to seek at the Lord’s hands?’ Not so, David. He had gained one battle by the strength of the Lord; he would not venture upon another until he had ensured the same. He inquired, ‘Shall I go up against them?’ He waited until God’s sign was given. Learn from David to take no step without God. Christian, if thou wouldst know the path of duty, take God for thy compass; if thou wouldst steer thy ship through the dark billows, put the tiller into the hand of the Almighty. Many a rock might be escaped, if we would let our Father take the helm; many a shoal or quicksand we might well avoid, if we would leave to His sovereign will to choose and to command. The Puritan said, ‘As sure as ever a Christian carves for himself, he’ll cut his own fingers;’ this is a great truth. Said another old divine, ‘He that goes before the cloud of God’s providence goes on a fool’s errand;’ and so he does. We must mark God’s providence leading us; and if providence tarries, tarry till providence comes. He, who goes before providence, will be very glad to run back again. ‘I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go,’ is God’s express promise to His people. Let us, then, take all our perplexities to Him, and say, ‘Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’ Leave not they chamber this morning without inquiring of the Lord.” (Morning and Evening: A Devotional Classic for Daily Encouragement, Hendrickson Publishers, 2010, p. 80)

Spurgeon is right; before we do we anything, we ought to make an effort to inquire or ask the Lord what He would have us to do. Which candidate to vote for, what job to take, how much to give to help the widow or orphan or person in need, wisdom for the day or whatever you need to inquire of the Lord, then it is a good idea to do it.

When we come to Him in all seriousness of inquiry He will answer us. The key here: are we prepared through repenting of our sins and are we willing to wait and listen for Him? We have a knack for jumping ship prior to finding out the direction of the ship. Let us wait for the Lord for He will give renewed strength and direction for each decision and day. “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Serious inquiry is definitely needed in this world in which we live. To have the most instructive inquiry is for one to go to God and get His mind. Try it and it will be worth it.

Caucus

Less than a week has passed from the first actual test of the election season – the Iowa Caucuses – and we are seeing sharp divisions appearing between supporters of various Republican candidates. While this is nothing new, the rancor that is creeping into the conversations is at a much higher level than recent memory.

Donald Trump is no doubt a polarizing figure and his supporters are proving to be quite emotionally invested in the man. This creates a serious chance for a real schism in the Republican party if Trump is not the nominee, or becomes the nominee, but has stepped on everyone else on the way there.

I’ve seen many good friendships ruined by a primary or caucus. The more important the election (this year’s is HUGELY important) the more vehemently supporters stand behind their candidate, using phrases like “He/She is the only one who…” or “Everyone else but (my guy) does this or that…”

To the casual observer of politics, this is infighting, but to the initiated, this is a healthy form of internal discourse, necessary to separate those who can lead from those who will only follow.

However, the reality of big personalities and huge stakes bring out the worst in some people and the best in others. Trick is, determining which is which!

Here’s a simple acid test to apply to the news you hear and the statements coming from campaigns: Who (aside from the candidate) benefits from the statement or policy? What constituency might be pushing for it? Who might the candidate owe when it’s all said and done?

Very little of what emanates from a campaign at this level is truly organic. By this stage the candidate knows who they are, what they want and how they intend to get it. Your job is to determine how much of that candidate’s platform is his own and how much is bought and paid for by donors.

Over the next two months, you will hear a great many lies, told by candidates about themselves and about other candidates. Look to the record and use your own gut to tell you if whatever the candidate is accused of meshes with what you know of their character. For example, if Jeb Bush tells us that Dr. Carson is a philandering whore-monger, then you can rest assured that says more about Jeb Bush than Dr. Carson.

As noted economist, author and all-around really brainy guy, Thomas Sowell wrote last month…

After months of watching all sorts of political polls, we are finally just a few weeks away from actually beginning to see some voting in primary elections. Polls let people vent their emotions. But elections are held to accomplish something.

The big question is whether the voters themselves will see elections as very different from polls.

If Republican voters have consistently delivered a message through all the fluctuating polls over the past months, that message is those voters’ anger at the Republican establishment, which has grossly betrayed the promises that got a Republican Congress elected.

Whether the issue has been securing the borders, Obamacare, runaway government spending or innumerable other concerns, Republican candidates have promised to fight the Obama administration’s policies — and then caved when crunchtime came for Congress to vote.

The spectacular rise, and persistence, of Republican voter support for Donald Trump in the polls ought to be a wake-up call for the Republican establishment. But smug know-it-alls can be hard to wake up.

Even valid criticisms of Trump can miss the larger point that Republican voters’ turning to such a man is a sign of desperation and a telling indictment of what the Republican establishment has been doing for years — which they show pathetically few signs of changing.

Seldom have the Republicans seemed to have a better chance of winning a presidential election. The Democrats’ front-runner is a former member of an unpopular administration whose record of foreign policy failures as secretary of state is blatant, whose personal charm is minimal and whose personal integrity is under criminal investigation by the FBI.

Meanwhile, the Republicans have fielded a stronger set of presidential aspirants than they have had in years. Yet it is by no means out of the question that the Republicans will manage to blow this year’s opportunity and lose at the polls this November.

In other times, this might just be the Republicans’ political problem. But these are not other times. After seven disastrous years of Barack Obama, at home and overseas, the United States may be approaching a point of no return, especially in a new age of a nuclear Iran with long-range missiles.

The next president will have monumental problems to untangle. The big question is not which party’s candidate wins the election but whether either party will choose a candidate who is up to the job.

That ultimate question is in the hands of Republicans who will soon begin voting in the primaries.

Their anger may be justified, but anger is not a sufficient reason for choosing a candidate in a desperate time for the future of this nation. And there is such a thing as a point of no return.

Voters need to consider what elections are for. Elections are not held to allow voters to vent their emotions. They are held to choose who shall hold in their hands the fate of hundreds of millions of Americans today and of generations yet unborn.

The history of the 20th century provides all too many examples, whether on a small scale that led to the massacre in Jonestown in 1978 or the earlier succession of totalitarian movements that took power in Russia in 1917, Italy in 1922 and Germany a decade later.

Eric Hoffer’s shrewd insight into the success of charismatic leaders was that the “quality of ideas seems to play a minor role.” What matters, he pointed out, “is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the single-handed defiance of the world.”

Is that the emotional release that Republican voters will be seeking when they begin voting in the primaries? If so, Donald Trump will be their man. But if the sobering realities of life and the need for mature and wise leadership in dangerous times is uppermost in their minds, they will have to look elsewhere.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

THE NARROW DOOR

Jesus was asked, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?  And He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door.  For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able’” (Luke 13:23-24, ESV).

Narrow doorways are neither convenient nor easy.  If you would take a tour of the U.S.S. York in Charleston, SC you would find the doors separating compartments are quite narrow and not very tall.  Someone over six foot could very well knock themselves out if they don’t duck and turn slightly to one side.

Two words stand out in this verse, strive and seek.  One seems aggressive and the other more passive.  If they are aggressive verses passive then we have something to wrestle with and decide as we consider following Jesus.  Could this be another cost of discipleship passage?

The word for “Strive” in verse 24, is the same word from which we get our English word “agonize.”  Its basic meaning is striving for a goal and the goal is for a few to be saved.  Another way to possibly put this term is “forcing your way into it” (Amplified version of NT).

If you read a complementary verse, 1Timothy 4:10, greater clarity is brought to Jesus’ words.  “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (ESV).  In the context of this verse we see Paul the apostle using an energetic illustration to convey what a good servant of Jesus looks and acts like.

A few verses earlier Paul encourages Timothy to train himself for godliness, to become more like Jesus in an intensely focused way.  When one trains his or her self for an athletic event, success comes from single-minded purpose; a fierce desire to be the best they can be.

Paul further encourages Timothy – “Command and teach these things.  Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.  Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.  Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.  Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.  Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:11-16, emphasis mine).

Paul is telling Timothy to make use of the teaching and wisdom he has gained from Paul, and to serve as an example of God’s grace and power.

Many people compare the Christian life to a marathon and that’s not a bad example, but given the obstacles we face throughout life, an Ironman Triathlon might be a little more accurate comparison.

An Ironman Triathlon is a 2.2-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride followed by a marathon.  And these are done back to back to back.  You would swim your 2.2 miles and then immediately run and change into your biking outfit on the run and then when you are finished with the 112 mile bike ride you immediately switch to your running shoes and run the marathon.  Whew!  It makes you sort of tired just writing about this.

The reason these extreme athletes can accomplish this is because of intense focus and much training.  For the Christian life it is the same way; there must intense focus and much time training in the Scriptures and how to live them out.

Another major difference in the illustration here, is that the training for the Ironman is individualistic whereas training for the Christian life must be done en masse.  We are to live life together, to see growth and maturity and the lessening of the devastating effects of sin in ourselves and each other.  We grow together.

This is called the church, and the church (ecclesia) is plural made one.  We definitely do not live on an island no matter how bad one would like to live like that at times, but the church is made up of many different individuals created by God for a specific purpose.

But what we do have in common is to “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”  Let us begin living or continue living as the church and progress to greater conformity to the Author and Finisher of our faith – the Lord Jesus Christ!

New Year, new hope…

Every year brings its triumphs and its failures; 2016 will be no different.  What is unique for this turn of the calendar is the confluence of perils threatening our way of life.  Not since WWII have we seen such pervasive global violence and unsettling societal disruption.

The world has always struggled to maintain peace – between nations, peoples and religions – with history recording the outcomes of countless paroxysms of conflict, at all levels of human experience.

Yet…we fail to take the lessons to heart, condemning our posterity to repeat our mistakes, just as we echoed the missteps of our own ancestors.  Again, we herald the arrival of a New Year, hopeful in aspect but troubled in practice.

The Golden Rule is tarnished by those charged with upholding and propagating it.  Some even declare it void, valuing justice with qualifiers over justice for all.

Our Constitution, the single greatest secular bulwark against man’s proclivity for oppression yet devised – is flouted with impunity and “honored” with false piety by those whom it was written to restrain.

The corrupt and despotic have been with us always, and will remain at our sides until God Himself grasps the fabric of reality and shakes it out like a post-dinner tablecloth, ridding it of the detritus of our appetites.  Until then, we must guard against these impulses in others and ourselves by adhering to the rule of law, and insisting others do the same.

I’m reminded of a scene from a movie that has again become particularly relevant to our times, A Man for All Seasons, the story of Sir Thomas More.

Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper:  I would lay every law in England flat to get at the Devil!

More:  And when every law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?

Our foes worship at a different altar, valuing principles that further a vision of existence that is anathema to our own.  Their world and ours cannot occupy the same space at the same time any more than chains can accommodate free will and gazelle-like leaps.

Compromise is the heart of politics, but when compromise strays from method to principle, it becomes instead the rotten core which poisons the entire system.  So it is with all things worth believing; a reliance on objective truth is our only hope of getting it right.

Much fear is wrought by the major media when referring to a supposed monolithic block of “right-wing Christians,” seeking to “impose our beliefs” on others.  Every election cycle includes the tiresome, but obligatory, stories about how “un-American” it is to bring one’s religious beliefs into one’s choice of candidate, or judgment of policy.

It has been said that you “cannot legislate morality,” but as Judge Robert Bork famously wrote “We legislate little else.”  I challenge you to cite a law that doesn’t have morality as its foundation.  Our laws against theft, violence, fraud, etcetera all derive their legitimacy from the simplest statement of morality – the aforementioned Golden Rule – “do unto others as you would have done unto yourself.”  The very rule contravened by the concept of “justice with qualifiers.”

The idea of “hate speech,” the nonsense of “micro aggressions” and the repulsive usurpation of equality known as “white privilege,” spawn hatreds and division where none were intended or, in most cases, existed at all.

All this while an enemy empowered as never before – Islamic supremacism – outmaneuvers the western powers at every turn.  The most powerful military force in the history of this planet is hamstrung by a demented fealty to a politically correct worldview that seeks to “impose its own beliefs” upon all of us.

There is a desperate and dangerous fantasy being peddled by the Left; one that pretends to solve problems by merely “raising awareness” about them.  A fantasy world where grievances aren’t measured by legitimacy, but rather by the group to which the aggrieved belongs.  A fantasy world where groups of people can segregate themselves by race, declare their lives more valuable than all others and, most distressingly of all, find people willing to pander to them, legitimizing their circus-mirror reality.

The New Year ahead of us will surely be challenging and frustrating for those who love liberty and revere truth, but it doesn’t have to be disappointing.  We have our faith, our values and God’s aid in times of strife and confusion.  No matter how dark the day, take heart this next year secure in the knowledge of how this story ends…God wins.

Happy New Year to you and yours.

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