Monday, January 20, 2020

Flawed Heroes

History is full of flawed heroes, jars of clay – not of porcelain – who though blemished held great treasure.

Martin Luther King, Jr., Day always awakens conflicting emotions within me. Granted, as a white male from the American South, that demographic alone would cause some people to immediately ignore my opinion related to MLK.

However, I don’t consider myself a racist. I believe God created everyone in His image. All races descended originally from one race through the bloodline of Noah. Racial, ethnic, and social diversity is one way God displays various aspects of his amazing grace.

My best friend in seminary was a black man – a former drug dealer turned to Christian preacher-evangelist. I invited him to preach in three different churches where I worked. The best neighbors I had in my life were a wonderful black couple in Laurens, SC. My wife and I enjoyed many summer evenings sitting on their back porch years ago.

A Mixed Bag

But Martin Luther King, Jr., causes conflicted responses.

Positively, who can deny he was a powerful force against the evil of racism in America? He and another son of the South – Billy Graham – stood against segregation and the ignorance of hating someone because of the color of their skin. And they both confessed the Lord Jesus Christ and preached from the Christian Bible.

Who cannot be stirred by the historic “I Have a Dream” speech that challenged people to see all people as being made in the image of God? A few years ago I took my family to the Civil Rights National Monument l in Birmingham, Alabama, to view the statues mindful of key figures in the Civil Rights movement. Thankfully, we live in a day when a black man can rise from obscurity and become the President of the United States.

Those are all things to be celebrated enthusiastically.

However, MLK was no spotless hero. Several aspects of his tainted legacy bother me. History records he habitually was unfaithful sexually to his wife. Known for his girlfriends and mistresses, this was not a man of God who practiced great self-control in the area of his sex drive. 

Old FBI documents released by President Donald Trump in 2017 reveal some extremely dark sides to MLK, including his penchant for orgies.

Yes, I understand some of the FBI files could have an over-arching agenda to discredit him. However, somewhat like Bill Clinton’s private life, MLK’s sexual promiscuity is well-known.

On another note, The King Papers, which reveal many of his inner-thoughts on theology and other matters, reveal a very unorthodox King: denying the virgin birth, questioning the veracity of the Scriptures, and holding some troubling views of the atonement, just to name a few.

Socially and politically, MLK was much more a socialist than a capitalist. Some would argue his theories resembled Communism more than democracy. For years he was on the FBI’s list of people with links to Communists.

Yet, no doubt, he is a towering figure in history. The annals of time contain numerous flawed heroes – biblical Abraham, Samson, and David, Martin Luther of the Reformation, Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill, and today, Donald Trump.

Yet some of the same voices who hail MLK as a worthy figure to be celebrated are the same ones who claim that Donald Trump is "evil" and should be rejected because of his past immoral sexual ethics. Or they are the same ones to embrace the removal of a statue or memorial to someone like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or Robert E. Lee because of their links to slavery.

Black and White

One vice of the Left is to paint people in broad black and white strokes. If they can find one flaw that goes against a leftist value, they attempt to make the media perceive the person as “all bad” or “evil.” This is a political tactic used with great success when trying to discredit an opponent.

Today, if something is dug up that was less-than-ideal from someone’s past three or four decades ago, a frenzied scurry begins to paint the entire persona as “bad.” The MeToo movement has used this tactic in some cases.

However, the real world is not that black and white. People are flawed with a combination of honorable and less than honorable characteristics. A society fueled by revenge or justice will eventually have no one left standing. All of the memorial statues will eventually be removed because no human can live up to a perfect standard.

A society oiled with grace, however, understands that we can learn from our flawed heroes. We can even celebrate them, remembering the good things about their legacies without embracing or excusing the bad.

I believe President Donald Trump is one such flawed hero. Like the Old Testament judge Samson, who had deep blemishes yet was raised up by God to help his people at a specific point in time, so I believe Trump was sovereignly exalted in a troubled time in our nation.

As author Eric Metaxsas has so eloquently stated, Donald Trump arose in American history not to be her savior, but to keep her from falling off of the cliff of no return.

Is Trump flawed? Yes. Should he be painted as completely evil and unworthy of respect and celebration? No more than Martin Luther King, Jr. and the aforementioned list.

We can celebrate the great accomplishments of a person, learn from their achievements, mistakes, and failures, without embracing all of the dark aspects of their life.

Wisdom allows us to remember with grace.

Pictures used by permission from Pixabay.

Check out Stephen Strang's book God, Trump, and the 2020 Election: Why He Must Win and What's at Stake for Christians if He Loses.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Why I Believe Christians Can Still Support Trump in Good Conscience

"I didn't vote for someone who promised to live a Christian lifestyle.

I voted for someone who promised to defend my right to live that way. Why, then, when we support President Donald Trump, do we feel the need to give a disclaimer that we don't necessarily agree with all his tweets, but we admire his policies and what he has accomplished?

Maybe because we don't see the bigger principles at work."

Picture used by permission from Pixabay.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Franklin Graham: What’s at Stake in the Coming Year

Picture by Matt Johnson and permission
granted to use via
Wikemedia Commons

"During the 2016 election year, I traveled to the capitals of all 50 states, calling on people to pray for our troubled country, asking God to heal our land and encouraging people to vote for candidates at the local, state and national levels who were best aligned with Biblical values. 

I believe the Lord heard our prayers, and under the current administration, we have seen amazing progress in many areas of moral concern. We have a president who has signed executive orders protecting religious liberty, advocated for pro-life causes and seen 158 of his judicial nominees confirmed to federal courts.

Never have I seen such hatred for a sitting president. I think most of the vitriol comes from the progressive left, whose positions on key moral issues are diametrically opposed to a Biblical worldview. Their lockstep with mainstream media outlets amplifies their animosity toward President Trump and his policies."

Read the entire article here at Decision Magazine.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

5 Ways to Take in the Bible

For thousands of years, one hallmark of God's people is the belief that the Lord chose to reveal Himself through words that could be written down and preserved. Yes, we believe in Jesus and the accounts of Moses, David, Peter, and Paul. But the primary reason we know these things is because of written words preserving their stories and writings.

Evangelical Christians believe God is fully able to preserve his written revelation. When we read the Bible, we read the very words of God – not just man. When we hear the Scriptures read, we can do so with a trembling in our heart and respect in our mind.

Moses told the Israelites, “They are not just idle words for you--they are your life” (Deut. 32:47 NIV).

Isaiah proclaimed, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (40:8 ESV).

And Jesus said, “People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matt. 4:4 NLT).

These written, preserved words matter. In a video-saturated day, we are wise to train youth how to love the written word and how to sit still and listen to the spoken word – yes, without a video!

Different Ways to Read the Bible

Pastor Stuart Briscoe writes in his introduction to The One Year Devotions for Men, “There are different ways of reading the Bible. Some do it as a purely academic exercise . . . . But my concern is that we read it with a view of benefiting from it in our daily lives. We call this reading the Scriptures devotionally. It is reading with an inquiring mind and a thirsty spirit, longing to know God better and to live more in keeping with his principles. When the Bible is read in this fashion, it becomes a source of joy and delight, of encouragement and direction, of correction and instruction.”

The Navigators disciple-making ministry used The Hand Illustration for decades to teach people about Bible intake. Each finger represents a different form of consumption: hearing, reading, memorizing, meditating, and studying. And each type of ingestion of God’s Word yields different results:

Hearing helps the Word go into our subconscious.

Reading larger amounts helps us understand the general scope and sequence.

Memorizing allows the Word to become a substantial part of us, arming us with little daggers – or the rhema – as we seek to stand in the Lord.

Meditating enables us to absorb the Scriptures’ meaning, focusing our mind and spirit.

Studying helps us go deeper, digging into specific meanings, theology, and gems.

The palm of the Hand Illustration also reminds us that without application of the Word, the use of the fingers is, well, useless. It is when we practice all five habits of Bible intake and then apply – or obey – what the Word says, that we have a grip on the Word of God. And it has a grip on us!

As a senior in high school, I determined that I needed to put God’s Word in my life daily. The Billy Graham team in their early days agreed on the motto No bread, no bread. It simply reminded them that they would not eat physical food each day if they had not first eaten spiritual food.

5 Practices

Here are five practices I find helpful in receiving regular Bible intake:

1. Read the Bible systematically.

For years, my wife and I have used the One Year Bibles that divide the entire Bible into daily reading, including Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs.  This year, for the first time, I am using the One Year Chronological Bible.

And remember, the goal is not simply to read the entire Bible in a year. The goal is to meet God through the absorption of Scripture. To encounter Jehovah on a daily basis. To walk with Him in the garden of my soul.

Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t finish your reading plan. It’s ok. Some days I may read the entire section. Some days I may get stuck on just a few verses and meditate on them over and over.

2. Practice listening to the Word.

Because of digital technology, what amazing opportunities we have today to listen to the Word! I keep sermons, apps of favorite Bible teachers, and audio versions of the Bible handy. Driving in the car offers great time to renew my mind with the spoken Word.

3. Enjoy devotional literature.

I still have on my shelf the worn, blue copy of My Utmost for His Highest my mother gave to me when I graduated from high school.

No, daily devotionals should not be my only intake of the Bible. That would be like living off of green beans. However, devotional reading is a wise practice.
It helps me focus on a specific truth from Scripture.

It gives me the wisdom and counsel of a godly author – remember, there is wisdom in many counselors.

It offers a great spiritual vitamin during times of the day when I just have 3-5 minutes and need a spiritual boost.

Don’t let reading devotional books be your only source of Bible intake. But, incorporating this discipline in your life will enrich your walk with God.

I gleaned from Pastor Johnny Hunt the value of always reading three solid, meaty devotional books at one time. Through the years I have used many different ones: My Utmost for His Highest, Streams in the Desert, 52 Greatest Stories of the Bible, and Wisdom Hunters, to name a few. This year, I am starting the year using the following:

The One Year Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe

Every Step an Arrival by Eugene Peterson

4.  Find a way to memorize Scripture.

This year my family is using the Topical Memory System from the Navigators, which gives 52 verses to memorize by topics. We are attempting to learn one verse a week together word for word.

Many Scripture songs exist today on CD and in digital format for children and adults. Get some Scripture songs. Put them on your playlist, on your phone, and in your car. The Bible to music is an easy way to learn God’s Word.

5. Take time to meditate.

Dr. Charles Stanley taught me much about the value of Bible meditation through his sermons and his book How to Listen to God.

The 19th century pastor and caretaker of orphans George Mueller practiced the habit of reading his Bible on his knees.

Like many believers, I find it quite helpful to stretch out on the floor (preferably on carpet!) with an open Bible. In that posture, without other distractions, I expect to meet with Jesus one-on-one. I can slowly read one verse or a few verses, chewing on those truths, asking the Spirit of God to speak to me and illuminate my mind, and setting my heart to listen.

The Chinese translation of Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still until you are aware of God’s presence.” Meditation helps us do just that.

We need the Word. And a wise believer disciplines his life to take in that life-giving Word.

Pictures used by permission from Pixabay.

The Hand Illustration is used from the Navigators.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Out with the Old, Embracing the New

We bought the television from Kmart in Taylors in 1988. Long before flat screens or digital technology, this set included the turn knobs and required the antenna wires to be wrapped around the screws on the back of the tv. I watched many a show on that set while I lived at home. My mother – not one to be abreast of the latest technology – just got rid of this set one month ago. I surprised her with a new flat-screen television in early December, and we unplugged the old set that served our family for thirty years. I left the set at the dump to be released into 1980’s household electronics after-life.

Moving into another year involves letting go of old things and embracing some new ones. For me, the first couple of week of January include getting my mind in gear as I shift from the holidays into the winter of another calendar year.
I love the sights, sounds, routines, and excesses of Christmas. And partly because of my melancholy temperament, I find my spirit somewhat deflated the week or two after Christmas as the decorations go down and the feasting turns into dieting!

I find it helpful to embrace disciplines early in January, turn my mind into preparing for a productive year, and set my spirit to seek the Lord afresh.

Here are five suggestions to help embrace a mindset of moving forward towards a successful year:

1. Make time to pray.

January offers a good time to retool my prayer life. Spend extra time in prayer and Bible meditation. Ask the Holy Spirit, Prepare my mind and spirit to walk with Jesus this year. Lead me in Your will and purposes. Let Your Word find a fresh home in my heart and your hands mold this clay as You wish.

Some Christians ask the Lord the first few weeks of January to put a word on their mind and heart for the new year. They ask, Lord, give to me a word, Scripture, or idea to be a theme for me in the coming days.

2. Make plans to grow.

I try and start my year by reading some positive instructional and motivational material. Stretch yourself with some plans to read.  By reading (or listening via digital audio resources) 30 minutes a day I can easily finish a book a week. Turn off the television and pick up some books! This week I chose five books to dig into this month:

The Power of Purpose by Michael Catt
A Resilient Life by Gordon MacDonald
On Reading Well by Karen Prior
Wilderness Wanderings by Bill Lawrence

3. Get organized.

As the decorations come down and a sense of tidiness arises, I decide afresh what in my life and family needs to be tackled organizationally. As taxes loom on the horizon, January always seems a good time to gather appropriate financial records. I loaded my Turbo Tax program on my laptop on December 29.

But, with a fresh surge of inspiration, I also ask what other areas need attention. This year I am diligently working to make sure my external hard drive backup is up-to-date. For me this includes tediously going through several saved and recovered backups from previous crashes and collecting everything I want to keep in one digital location.

This undertaking also involves deleting some of those unnecessary pictures (who really needs 30,000 pics of their family!!!) and organizing them into useful files. If I can never access them, they don’t help me.

Maybe you should work on a new system for your personal calendar, remembering birthdays of people you love, storing your addresses, planning for a family vacation, or preparing to shop in more efficient ways.

4. Review.

January offers a logical time to review some big-picture items from the previous year. I take some time to reconsider my journal entries from last year, asking the Holy Spirit to show me anything He wants me to remember.

You can ask questions like the following as you review: Are there recurring themes in my life from last year? What promises from God’s Word meant the most to you? What were your most meaningful moments with the Lord? What were you trusting God for last year? What was going on in your heart? What failures did you experience? Review any areas of neglect or disobedience. Did you let anything drop the Lord gave to you? Note any high or low points in your entries.

5. Set goals and move forward.

As you have done numbers 1-4, ask the Lord to help you set goals in various areas of life for 2019. Just like moving forward with a flat screen television meant I had to let go of the old set, we may have to let go of some things from 2018 – good and bad.

We didn't achieve every goal from last year. We made some poor choices. We have room to grow. But, we made progress in other areas and learned valuable lessons.

Where do I want to take my family this year? What books will we read as a family? What's a plan for leading some family devotions this year? How can I intentionally build into a meaningful relationship? What work skills do I need to add or improve? How can I better use my time?

As we learn from the past, let’s set our focus to learn new things from the Lord, trust Him today, and accomplish His purposes in our lives in this fresh year.

I’ve just started Michael Catt’s book The Power of PurposeIn the Introduction, he writes, “As long as God is on the throne, there is hope. . . . Whatever you are facing, look it in the face and look God in the face and ask Him what He wants you to learn. Wherever you are, it’s not an accident. God can take a setback and turn it into a stepping stone. . . . I believe hope and purpose are tired together. If I have a sense of purpose, I have hope. If I have hope, I have a sense of purpose. Purpose matters. . . . God didn’t place us here and wish us good luck. He didn’t make us in His image to be a victim of circumstances. He put us here to be overcomers.”

Pictures used by permission from Pixabay

10 Questions to Ask at the Start of a New Year

The first days of January offer a great time for evaluation, reflection, and planning.  The following is a helpful article by Donald Whitney.  

"Once, when the people of God had become careless in their relationship with Him, the Lord rebuked them through the prophet Haggai. 'Consider your ways!' (Haggai 1:5) he declared, urging them to reflect on some of the things happening to them, and to evaluate their slipshod spirituality in light of what God had told them.

Even those most faithful to God occasionally need to pause and think about the direction of their lives. It’s so easy to bump along from one busy week to another without ever stopping to ponder where we’re going and where we should be going.

The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to stop, look up, and get our bearings. To that end, here are some questions to ask prayerfully in the presence of God."

Read the entire article, 10 Questions to Ask at the Start of a New Year or On Your Birthday, here.

Picture used by permission from Pixabay.

A New Year - Stop and Consider

“Now, the Lord of Armies says this: “Think carefully about your ways.” Haggai 1:5

“Even those most faithful to God occasionally need to pause and think about the direction of their lives.” – Don Whitney[1]

For me, January involves getting back to basic disciplines of life.  Because tax season looms, it requires working on family finances.  Typically, January involves organizing - going through files, books, computers and deciding what needs to be thrown out, saved, or used.  Often that includes discovering forgotten treasures - a note from a loved one, a picture from a child, an idea I scribbled on a piece of paper and filed.  It involves digging out from the Christmas clutter and making way for new things for a fresh year.

And January offers a good time to re-evaluate myself spiritually.  I try to dig again into a healthy spiritual disciplines routine.  I make concrete goals in areas like prayer, Bible reading, or Scripture memorization.  How might I intentionally try to influence someone for Christ this year? How can I assist the poor or someone in a difficult situation? 

I ask, "What are some good books I am going to read the next few months to help me grow spiritually and intellectually?"  One man said that there are only 2 things that will make you different 5 years from now than you are today - the people you meet and the books you read.  So, choosing good books to help our spiritual growth is essential.

The prophet Haggai exhorted God’s people to think carefully about their ways.  After returning to the homeland, they neglected to build God’s Temple and seek first His reign in their lives.  Instead, they focused on their own houses and benefits.  God challenges them to take spiritual inventory.  With the prophet’s words, they can make adjustments where they have slipped. 

After a busy holiday season, it is easy for me to become self-absorbed.  God’s Word reminds me to carefully think about my own life and how I want it to reflect the Lord in the coming year.

To Consider:

  • Read: Haggai 1:1-12
  • What area(s) of your life could stand for some evaluation this month?
  • Write down one or two practical steps or goals to achieve in each area.
  • Ask the Lord for wisdom and discernment to know how to best order your life for a new year.

Picture used by permission from Pixabay

[1] Donald Whitney, 10 Questions to Ask at the Start of a New Year,