Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Bravely Bear His Banner

Banners in the Old Testament are military standards. They first appear in Numbers1:52 and 2:2 in the directions God gave to Moses for the arrangement of the Israelite camps in the wilderness. Those banners, specifically and publicly, identified the tribal armies to which each Israelite belonged. Thus the banner represented identity, strategic organization, purpose, and inspiration for battle. And it is these practical elements that provide the foundation for the metaphorical use of banner in later Old Testament Scriptures. Let’s take a few moments to consider these four elements.

1) Identity. The soldier finds fellowship, accountability, and stimulation to strive harder by being part of a solid corps of soldiers. Therefore, the corps flag, as a visual symbol of all its values, is deeply cherished and carefully protected. Psalm 20:5 emphasizes the blessing of identifying with God in His victories by erecting banners. “We will sing for joy over Your victory and, in the name of our God, we will set up our banners.” A similar expression is seen in the exultation over Zion’s new and forever glory in Isaiah 62:10. “Build up the highway, remove the stones, lift up a standard over the peoples.”

But the banner isn’t only displayed after the victory. No, it is also unfurled preliminary to and during the battle itself. Indeed, the banner of God can serve as a prophetic announcement of His holy, conquering purpose. Babylon, for instance, is warned in Isaiah 13:2 and 3, “Lift up a standard on the bare hill… I have even called My mighty warriors, My proudly exulting ones to execute My anger.” Ethiopia and the other nations are also warned of judgment by the appearance of the Lord’s banner in Isaiah 18:3. “All you inhabitants of the world and dwellers on the earth, as soon as a standard is raised on the mountains, you will see it.”

2) Organization. Throughout history, military commanders have used the various banners of their armies to help conduct strategic movement during a battle. Though a being a whole and unified army, it is composed of different parts and the skillful coordination of their action is critical to success. The individuals within the corps do not necessarily need to know the overall battle plan, they simply need to stay close to their standard and obey their orders.

3) Purpose. In some cases, the military banners of an army represented specialized talents, training, or tasks. For example, an infantry corps played a different role in battle than did pikemen or archers or cavalry. In the same way, the Lord often gives Christians different banners to carry, banners that signify their unique callings and spiritual gifts. Nevertheless, they serve in a common cause, under a common Commander, anticipating a common inheritance.

4) Inspiration. Bonds forged by love and trust and shared ideals are tremendously strong. And those bonds yield courageous, sacrificial devotion. Historical examples abound of the honor involved in carrying the flag in battle. One standard-bearer falls but another picks it up and moves forward. Through the cries and confusion, the smoke and shells, the flag continues to wave, inspiring and guiding soldiers in their advance.

All four of these elements are relevant in the “banner verse” that’s been on my mind lately. It is Psalm 60:4. “You have given a banner to those who fear You that it may be displayed because of the truth.” As a believer, one who fears God with proper reverence and love, I am fully identified with Him…and He with me. Scripture teaches that because I have trusted in Christ as my Savior, I am one of His beloved disciples. And that service carries the responsibility of being a bondservant, a faithful witness, a dedicated soldier. And especially applicable to these tasks is His gift to me of a holy banner -- a banner which needs to be publicly displayed.

My identity isn’t static or platonic, it involves function. I am a standard-bearer, responsible to show forth in the public square (as well, of course, in my private life) His truths concerning righteousness, justice, and the offer of grace through the atoning work of Jesus. I must bear this banner for others to see and do so boldly, consistently, gratefully, and joyfully.

God is working out his will in history. And, amazingly, I am honored to be a part of that. In the spiritual rebirth that comes through receiving Christ, God has not only forgiven my debt of sin, He has redeemed me, transformed me, and (through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit), equipped me for every good work…including bearing His banner in my corner of the battlefield.  All the banners of the Lord display His character and the glorious truth He offers to men. Like the lights we are given that are not to be hidden under a basket, the banners we are given or not to be stowed away in the trunk of our car to be unloaded only when we attend church. No, the Lord’s banners are for public display. Therefore, if we fail to raise His standard, we are living in flat out disobedience.

“You have given a banner to those who fear You that it may be displayed because of the truth.” So don’t neglect your high calling. Bravely bear His banner.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

“The Only History That Is Worth a Tinker's Damn”

“History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history that we make today.”

That's Henry Ford as quoted in an interview with the Chicago Tribune in 1916.

Of course, the only portion of that quote which has gone down in...uh, history, is the first line. But it is actually the last line that is the most relevant to modern culture.

Indeed, it's pretty obvious that the cultural powers that be (politics, academia, Hollywood) are determined to escape what they believe are the shackles of the past. They are progressives through and through who believe that civilization is like detergent or breakfast cereal -- only the “new and improved” brands should be allowed on the shelves. Everything else should go to the trash bin.

Therefore, the virtues of Western culture, no matter how beautiful, ennobling or indispensable for a society's health (think of the U.S. Constitution, Christianity, marriage, family, etc.) are ignored if not mocked and vilified.

History is made an ally of this bold social transformation; that is, a distinctly progressive version of history, a twisted thing that is much more propaganda than it is precision. It is a thing that is quite willing to drastically distort the actual record, to carefully omit (even conceal) those things that do not fit with the desired political conclusions, to engage in outright invention -- all to create an ideologically favorable product.

“History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history that we make today.”

Yes, the words are Henry Ford's. But the sentiment is alive and well in the hearts of today's progressives.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Os Guinness on the Reformation, Covenants, and Passing On the Torch

A couple of weeks ago I very much enjoyed watching the Trinity Forum’s presentation of Os Guinness speaking on the Reformation's ideals and effects. His talk (and the response to it by Joseph Loconte) was remarkably cogent, enlightening, and corrective. Indeed, I can't thank Trinity Forum enough nor can I recommend the presentation more highly.

Below I embed the entire video from the Trinity Forum website knowing that it takes time to listen carefully to the talk…but knowing also that it is well worth it.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Words to Live By (From Billy Sunday and Fr. Edward Flanagan)

Last month I gave my talk, “Piety on the Plains: A Religious History of Omaha,” to audiences at 5 different senior citizen facilities with nearly 120 people involved. It was, we are delighted to report, very well received. And Claire and I had a great time following up with wonderful visits with the residents afterwards.

The talk covers a lot of ground – the earliest missionary activity in the area, church beginnings, the impact of such groups as the Sisters of Mercy and the Immanuel Deaconess Institute, Christian radio, notable events and persons, and much more.  And since that review included the 6-week revival crusade in 1915 led by baseball player/evangelist Billy Sunday as well as the founding of Boys Town by Fr. Edward Flanagan, we handed out a double-sided sheet of quotations from those two leaders.  We thought you might find those quotations of value too so…here they are.

From Billy Sunday:

“The trouble with many men is that they have got just enough religion to make them miserable. If there is not joy in religion, you have got a leak in your religion.”

“Some homes need a hickory switch a good deal more than they do a piano.”

“Better die an old maid, sister, than marry the wrong man.”

“If there is no hell, a good many preachers are obtaining money under false pretenses.”

“Hypocrites in the Church? Yes, and in the lodge and at the home. Don't hunt through the Church for a hypocrite. Go home and look in the mirror. Hypocrites? Yes. See that you make the number one less.”

“I believe that a long step toward public morality will have been taken when sins are called by their right names.”

“Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.”

“Religion needs a baptism of horse sense.”

“Temptation is the devil looking through the keyhole. Yielding is opening the door and inviting him in.”

“I believe the Bible is the word of God from cover to cover.”

“God likes a little humor, as is evidence by the fact that he made the monkeys, the parrot -- and some of you people.”

“Some persons think that they have to look like a hedgehog to be pious.” 

“The inconsistency is not in the Bible, but in your life.”

“If you live wrong you can't die right.”

“Churches don't need new members half so much as they need the old bunch made over.”

“Try praising your wife, even if it does frighten her at first.”

“If you don't do your part, don't blame God.”

“When I hit the devil square in the face some people go away as mad as if I had slapped them in the mouth.”

“To train a boy in the way he should go you must go that way yourself.”

“It is not necessary to be in a big place to do big things.”

“Yank some of the groans out of your prayers, and shove in some shouts.”

“The Bible will always be full of things you cannot understand, as long as you will not live according to those you can understand.”

And from Fr. Flanagan…

“The work will continue, you see, whether I am there or not, because it is God’s work, not mine.”

“When parents fail to do their job, when they allow their children to run the streets and keep bad company, when they fail to provide them with good examples in the home, then the parents, and not the children, are delinquent.”

“Without God at the beginning, there can be only confusion at the end.”

“A true religious training for children is most essential if we are to expect to develop them into good men and good women — worthy citizens of our great country.”

“No race that does not take care of its young can hope to survive — or deserves to survive.”

“Our country needs good men and good women who have learned to love God above all things, and their fellow man for the love of God.”

Monday, October 30, 2017

3 Big Mistakes the Enemy Made at Pearl Harbor

Here’s something I ran across while reading a copy of The Seahorse, the official newsletter of the U.S. Seagoing Marine Association that Dick Wilson sometimes passes along to me. The item concerned Admiral Chester Nimitz’s response to his initial review of the damage done following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Admiral Chester Nimitz was attending a concert in Washington D.C. He was paged and told there was a phone call for him. When he answered the phone, it was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the phone. He told Admiral Nimitz that he (Nimitz) would now be the Commander of the Pacific Fleet. Admiral Nimitz flew to Hawaii to assume command of the Pacific Fleet. He landed at Pearl Harbor on Christmas Eve, 1941. There was such a spirit of despair, dejection and defeat — you would have thought the Japanese had already won the war.

On Christmas morning, Nimitz was given a boat tour of the destruction. Big sunken battleships and navy vessels cluttered the waters everywhere you looked. As the tour boat returned to dock, the young helmsman of the boat asked, ‘Well, Admiral, what do you think?’ Admiral Nimitz's reply surprised him. He said, ‘The enemy made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could ever make. Either that or God was taking care of America. Which do you think it was?’ The young man had no answer. So Nimitz explained.

He said, ‘Mistake number one: The Japanese attacked on Sunday morning. Nine out of every ten crewmen of those ships were ashore on leave. If those same ships had been lured to sea and been sunk, we would have lost 38,000 men instead of 3,800.

Mistake number two: When the Japanese saw all those battleships lined in a row, they got so carried away sinking those battleships, they never once bombed our dry docks opposite those ships. If they had destroyed our dry docks, we would have had to tow everyone of those ships to America to be repaired. As it is now, the ships are in shallow water and can be raised. One tug can pull them over to the dry docks, and we can have them repaired and at sea by the time we could have towed them to America. And I already have crews ashore anxious to man those ships.

Mistake number three: Every drop of fuel in the Pacific theater of war is in top of the ground storage tanks five miles away over that hill. One attack plane could have strafed those tanks and destroyed our fuel supply. That's why I say the Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could make or God was taking care of America.’

President Roosevelt had chosen the right man for the right job. We desperately needed a leader that could see silver linings in the midst of the clouds of dejection, despair, and defeat.”

The Scandal of Grade Inflation. It's Even Worse Than You Think.

“A professor at the University of Georgia has adopted a policy that puts a premium on stress reduction.  Hoping to avoid the ‘profound consequences’ of stressful situations, he has set out a policy that includes all tests being open-book, and designed to be completed in half the time allowed.  Those exams will be designed to assess a ‘low level mastery of the course material.’  If students are unduly stressed by a grade, they may contact the instructor and indicated the grade the student considers ‘appropriate, and it will be changed.’ 

There are more provisions in the policy, to prevent  those profound consequences of stress, including only positive comments made in class about presentations.  The professor acknowledges that the policy ‘might hinder the development of group skills and mastery of the class material,’ but ‘ultimately these are your responsibility.’

How did Chesterton put it?  ‘Standardization by a low standard.’”
(Mark Pilon, Gilbert Magazine)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Grace Is the Message in the Voice of God (A Quick Look at Psalm 19)

Psalm 19 is one of the most well-known and well-loved psalms because of the poetic declaration which introduces it. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.” (Psalm 19:1-3, NKJV) However, as lovely and profound as the opening verses are, they are but an introduction to two other sections of the psalm which emphasize the proper response to nature’s glorious revelations of God’s power, beauty, wisdom, and goodness.

To be sure, the first response to the order and beauty of nature should be praise and thanksgiving to the God Who made it and Who reveals truths about Himself through it.  We are to humbly worship the Lord Whose voice is communicated so universally, so constantly, and so majestically.  But the second section of the psalm teaches something even more important; namely, that we should recognize that God has extended and clarified His revelation by means of the written Word.  Indeed, it is in the law given through Moses and the prophets (and eventually through the divinely inspired writers of the New Testament) that the Lord reveals much, much more of Himself, His purposes, and the requirements He lays down for men and women to obey.

It is in verse 7 that the psalmist begins this second section. “The law of the law is perfect, restoring the soul.” David goes on in the next verses to describe God’s law as sure, right, pure, clean, enduring, true, righteous, desirable, and everlasting.  And those who appreciate and carefully follow God’s laws, David explains in these verses, will be made wise, will rejoice, will be enlightened, will be protected, and will receive great rewards.

So is it a good thing to appreciate the power of God in the thunderstorm and earthquake, to rejoice at the beauty of God in the sunrise and the waterfall, to be amazed to the point of worship at the intricacy and orderliness of the stars and seas and squirrels?  Of course.  God desires just such responses as these to His voice as expressed in His creation.  Yet more relevant, more important still are our responses of awe, thanksgiving, and loyalty to the moral law of God that is expressed directly and perfectly in His Word.

This thought is then expanded in the third and concluding section of Psalm 19 as David addresses the ongoing sanctification of His people; that is, our day-to-day gratitude for and obedience to the spiritual sharpening His written Word provides.

David begins this third section with the provocative question of verse 12: “Who can discern his errors?”  The possessive used (“his”) applies to man, not to God, as the Hebrew word translated here as “error” is used elsewhere to describe going astray, wandering, misleading, engaging in sin and folly. David is thus asking (of himself as well as others), “Who can fully understand one’s moral failure? Who can figure out why men act against their own self-interest by rebelling against God? Who can comprehend the huge distance between God’s holiness and man’s shallow and self-centered choices?”

In the next verses, David underscores the deliberate nature of sin. For instance, the Hebrew adjective which describes sins in verse 13, translated in most versions as  “presumptuous,” describes an insolent, defiant attitude towards God. We do not merely stumble into sin – we often look, evaluate, and then jump headlong into it.  This willful disobedience must be contritely admitted to God before we can move towards forgiveness and a fresh start. And that’s just where King David, long acquainted with God’s tender mercies towards the penitent, goes next. “Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins. Let them not rule over me. Then I will be blameless and I shall be acquitted of great transgression.”

David lifts up his prayer to a gracious God.  For though he has known God’s voice in creation and he has known God’s voice even more particularly pronounced in His law (including its warning against sin), yet he has turned aside from God.  He has failed to consistently heed those warnings. He has sinned, even defiantly so. David takes responsibility as he calls sin and transgression by their right names.  Yet, even at this, all is not lost!  For God’s holiness can be satisfied through the mercies He offers to honest, humble worshippers. And it is on the basis of God’s grace (demonstrated in the symbolic sacrifices of the Temple but eventually to be fulfilled in the complete atonement provided by the death of the Messiah to pay our penalty) that David confidently appeals for acquittal of sin and restoration of fellowship with God.

The suggestion that there is no or little grace expressed in the Old Testament is a silly idea and Psalm 19 is but one example of hundreds that show the real story.  In fact, Psalm 19 emphasizes God’s grace being provided in several ways. First, David praises the awesome power of God’s revelation in nature. That God thus reveals himself is a grand expression of His grace to mankind. Second, there is what’s often termed as “common grace” that God’s creation provides for all men. By His orderly creation, all mankind lives on a planet that makes sense, that allows for family and food production and navigation and thousands upon thousands of other blessings. That too is grace. Third, Psalm 19 acknowledges God’s grace in the revelation of His character, will, and wisdom through the written law.  In particular, David is grateful that God’s law is liberating and enlightening and empowering.  That’s sanctifying grace. Fourth, God’s Word extols His grace that provides salvation to man…and even eternal rewards for their faithfulness to walk according to His Word.

As I said at the beginning, Psalm 19 certainly deserves to be appreciated for the moving testimony about God’s created order with which it opens.  But there’s much more truth to embrace there. Indeed, Psalm 19 is a glorious song about the profound voice of God – a voice which continually expresses God’s amazing grace to mankind. Through creation…through the Word…through the existential power of the Holy Spirit -- God lovingly uses all three to express His character, His offer of atonement for sin, and His provision for strength to walk closely beside Him towards the life to come.

What's Going On?

Here's the latest in my offerings of the best in news and commentary:

* “How Churches Die” (Stephen Hayward, Power Line)

* “The Tower Amid the Ruins” (Richard Fernandez, PJ Media)

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Prayer and a Declaration

A few days ago I wrote a brief essay called “Nothing Good Does God Withhold” and posted it on Vital Signs Blog. (You can read that here.) As a followup to those thoughts -- stimulated, in part, by reading Joni Eareckson Tada’s “Holiness in Hidden Places” -- I recorded this prayer while walking along Table Rock Lake outside Branson, Missouri. It’s a declaration (a spiritual vow, you might say) as well as a prayer which deals with the Christian’s trust in God in the midst of life’s trials.

Mark it down. 

One day I will be delivered from any and all infirmities, injuries, sickness, and anxieties.  And I will be delivered from them forever.  Indeed, because I have believed in Jesus as my Savior and therefore experienced His forgiveness of my sins and my adoption into His family, my future is brighter than words can ever express. And that future includes the transforming of my body, mind, and environment. I will then know health and vitality and focus and joy in completeness. I will also experience peace of unimaginable quality and abundance.  My relationships will be sweet, fulfilling, and free of goodbyes. And again, all of these gifts will be mine to enjoy throughout eternity.

Therefore, dear Lord Jesus, when You ask me now to deal with sickness or injury, with loss or anxiety, with fear or grief, please pour out Your mercies so that I not give in to my flesh but instead depend upon Your sovereign will.  Help me to remember and rely upon Your character, Your power, Your wisdom, and Your deep and abiding love for me and, in so doing, to believe with confidence that You know what is best for me from Your eternal perspective.

Lord, You have promised me every good and perfect gift.  You have promised to withhold no good thing from me as I strive to walk uprightly before You.  So please provide all needed graces for me to rely upon Your goodness to me even in the midst of today’s trial.  Jesus, You will heal me in Your perfect time.  And, in that appointed moment, You will embrace me and reward me and direct me to the place in Your kingdom You have lovingly prepared especially for me.  I know this and I trust in Your care for me.

Lord, in that moment of forever victory, I will be satisfied.  There will be no regrets, no second-guessing, no recriminations – only understanding and appreciation of how You worked out Your plans in my life.  So, dear God, I pray today that You will help me to look forward to that wondrous, liberating day and endure more patiently the trials You have allowed me to experience.  Let me trust You to give the strength and understanding I need so that I do not cave in but rather endure this by Your Holy Spirit.  Thank You for Your mercy.  

These things I declare and pray in the Name of my loving Savior, Jesus Christ.

A Post-Branson “Catch Up” (Part Two)

Here's more of the best reads on the web from recent days.

* “The Left’s New Plan to Gut Religious-Liberty Protections” (Margot Cleveland, National Review)

* “The Bergdahl Deception” (Scott Johnson, Power Line)

* “Conservatives Fault Senate Republicans for Slow Confirmation of Trump Nominees” (Casey Ryan, Daily Signal)

* “Tech vs Trump: the great battle of our time has begun” (Niall Ferguson, The Spectator)

“Harvey Weinstein Helped Pay for Bill Clinton’s Legal Fees During Monica Lewinsky Scandal” (Joshua Caplan, Gateway Pundit) (And, near the end of the article, you’ll see who else in Hollywood helped pay Bill’ s bills.)

* “Hollywood's Masculinity Deficit” (Andrew Klavan, PJ Media)

* “Harvey Weinstein—Shameless Communist Propagandist to Boot” (Humberto Fontova, Town Hall)

* “Are you weak if you make your man a sandwich? This is why real men don’t marry feminists” (Suzanne Venker, Fox News)

* “Scalia's Legacy” (Mona Charen, Jewish World Review)

* “WSJ Editorial Board Accuses ‘Beltway Media’ And Democrats Of Trump Dossier ‘Coverup’” (Chuck Ross, Daily Caller)

* “As monopolies, airlines just want to ‘own it all’” (Kevin Burke, The Hill)