Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sunday, three of our sisters just returned home from a tour to the land of Israel.  We asked them all to give a report, especially the impact that this had on them personally.  They came back with a sense of the real urgency to pray for and stand by and support the nation of Israel.  (Ps.122:6) clearly say, “Pray for peace in Jerusalem. May all who love this city prosper.”  The prosperity he speaks about is not financial, but instead, the security that comes from being in harmony with God and in tune with his plans and workings.  This is why I couldn't ignore the abundance of articles in the last few weeks all centered around Iran’s nuclear program and the possibility of Israel’s pre-emptive attack on them in the interest of national security, most of them emphasizing sooner rather than later.  Something like this would undoubtedly have profound ramifications for our world today. 

Biblical preaching carries with it many dimensions.  There is doctrinal preaching: teaching us what we believe as Christians and why.  There is preaching about Christian living: the implications of what we believe in our day-to-day living, decisions and priorities.  There is preaching that emphasizes the relational: when we make Jesus Christ Lord and Savior of our lives, it brings us into vital relationship with the church, Christ’s Body.  Some preaching is purposeful, in that it focuses on the callings and giftings of God: what we’re on ths earth to accomplish.  There is also inspirational preaching whose aim is the building up of people’s faith.  Then, there is also prophetic preaching.  Bible prophecy is a vital part of the Christian life, since it deals with the future aspect of our Faith.  The prophetic realm though is not limited to the predictive or being able to tell the future; it is  preaching that lays out how things fit into the scope of God’s greater plans.  I’ve always been inspired by the testimony of the Sons of Issachar who had “understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do.”  They were people who had understanding both of our unique TIMES and also our DUTIES in light of our times. The need for people of this caliber is always with us.  Whenever you tackle the subject of Bible prophecy you should do so knowing the challenges.  First, is the fact that prophecy sermons are “informational intensive.”  Another challenge is that even the best of us “sees through a mirror dimly,” even the so-called “experts.”  The other challenge is to take that truth and teaching and make the connection how it relates to our day-to-day living.  It’s not about speculation or sensationalism, it’s about the future promises of God motivating us as Christ-followers and witnesses today.  The Apostle Peter was a master in this department as he wrote about the last days and said, “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” (2Pet.3:11,12)

It was with all this in mind that I was drawn to the Apostle John’s words in the Book of Revelation 16:12-16):
“The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east.  And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. ("Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!") And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.”
You've heard of the saying, “Out of the mouths of babes”...well, this verse spoke to me of “Out of the mouths of....Frogs!”  It draws our attention to some very vital considerations, which I would like you to think about with me.

I Feel The Spirit Moving!

In this case, I am not talking about the Holy Spirit, but a different kind of spirit.  This passage deals specifically with the period of the Great Tribulation, a time still future, when God turns His focus to Israel nationally.  It is very similar to (1Jn.2:18), “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.”  John is saying that the event (i.e. the coming of the anti-Christ) has not arrived, but there are spiritual precursors to this that mirror and echo the physical reality.  In this case it would be the spirit of anti-Christ at work in the world.  The spirit that is highlighted here is the spirit of anti-Semitism.  The text mentions 3 unclean spirits like frogs. For they are demonic spirits.”  He talks about spiritual forces that have political, international and even military objectives; a kind of “news behind the news.”  Recently, at the end of the G20 Summit, there was a very embarrassing and revealing open microphone gaffe.  French President Nicolas Sarkozy told U.S. President Barack Obama that he could not stand Israel prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and he thinks the premier is a liar.  President Obama was heard to respond, “You’re fed up with him?  I have to deal with him every day.”  When I heard that, my first thought was “anti-Semitism is alive and well” in our world today!  I trust that you will agree with the truth of the statement, “No people on the planet has endured more systematic, heavily resourced attempts to wipe it out than the Jewish race.”  A quick trip through history should confirm this fact.  In Egypt we see the enslavement of an entire nation with Pharaoh’s command to the Hebrew midwives to kill all of the male children.  In Persia, we see Hamaan’s hate-filled attempt at genocide, “Letters were sent by couriers to all the king's provinces with instruction to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children.”  In the first century, in 70 A.D., Rome killed a million Jews and took another 300,000 as slaves exiling them to different parts of the empire.  More recently were the Russian pogroms of the 19th century.  Then, there was Hitler’s “final solution” during WWII with the goal of the eradication of the Jewish people.  Six million Jews lost their lives throughout Europe during this period known as the Holocaust. 

All of this only really makes sense when you realize it doesn't make sense, at least not on the natural.  It is spiritual and supernatural in nature. (Rev.12:1-5;13;17) pulls back the curtain to reveal a deep, spiritual and demonic roots of both anti-Semitism and anti-Christianity. 
“And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God” – “And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.” — “Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”
What this presents us with is a majestic woman (the nation of Israel and the Jewish people); a Child destined to rule the nations (Christ); and a great red Dragon (identified as the devil and Satan).  All of this is set in the context of the ancient cosmic struggle to damn the souls of men and defeat the purposes of God. 

The text is specific, the woman was pregnant and about to give birth.  God chose Israel, Abraham and his descendants to be the delivery system for His message of life, truth, love, law and the gift of Messiah.  Israel has and will yet pay a tremendous price for this privilege, making them the focus of Satan’s animosity down through the ages.  This is the real source of anti-Semitism and why it continues to this day. 
A.W. Sac wrote, “Next to the survival of the Jews, the most baffling historical phenomenon is the hatred which he has repeatedly encountered among the nations of the earth.  This hostility is to the Jews, which goes under the name of anti-Semitism, is as old as Jewish existence.  It is endemic like many contagious diseases; it is always with us to some degree.  But under certain circumstances it assumes epidemic proportions and characteristics.  It is prevalent wherever Jews reside in sufficiently large numbers to make their neighbors aware of their presence.  ‘The growth of anti-Semitism,’ Chaim Weizman declared, ‘is proportionate to the number of Jews per square kilometer.  We carry the germs of anti-Semitism in our knapsack on our backs.’”
There is something totally illogical about this, but woven into the fabric of the “world mind” by the Deceiver himself.  If you’ve been paying attention, the whole ‘Occupy Movement’ and protesters are filled with an unmistakable anti-Semitic note.  Today, we might be dealing with a new face, bit it is the same old spirit at work...trust me on this. 

The Alignment of Nations

This is without a doubt God’s domain.  The prophet Haggai spoke (Haggai 2:6,7) "For thus says the Lord of hosts: 'Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations...”  Any thinking person would agree that there is a “shaking” being felt today whether it is economic, or political, or international or military.  In the Book of Revelation, John highlights this aspect, vs.14, “who go abroad to kings of the whole world to assemble them for battle on the great day of God Almighty.”  In order for Satan to try to wipe out Israel, THE NATIONS MUST ALIGN TOGETHER.  This is not new, but there is an ancient strategy behind it, (Ps.83:4,5 “They have said, "Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be remembered no more.
For they have consulted together with one consent; they form a confederacy against You.”  Notice, there is an evil confederacy that will one day align nations against Israel.  We can clearly see this happening before our eyes today!  In fact, recently, there is so much happening it is hard to keep track.  One of the most important prophecies in this regard is (Ezek.38:1-6) 
“Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, "Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him,  and say, 'Thus says the Lord God: "Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal.  I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out, with all your army, horses, and horsemen, all splendidly clothed, a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords.  Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all its troops; the house of Togarmah from the far north and all its troops — many people are with you.”  
It’s important because it sheds light on a particular alignment of nations in the last days.
Ezekiel identifies (using the ancient names) a confederacy led by Russia consisting of “Persia (Iran), Ethiopia, Libya will join you too, with all their weapons.”  Also “Togarmah” which is modern day Turkey.  We’re looking at something that’s reported on in the news on a weekly, if not daily basis today!  Let me just highlight a few things for you.  What has been dubbed “the Arab Spring” has brought a major realignment of governments with some serious unrest and uncertainty that goes along with it.  Just think this year: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen with very possibly, Syria next.  All of this has been reported in the news as a populist uprising in response to oppressive regimes with a yearning for democracy.  Really?  What has happened is a toppling of dictators and governments with an uncertain future at best, but indications of a vacuum that is being filled by Islamic extremists.  On the day that Libyan President, Muammar Qaddafi, was captured and killed, President Obama immediately took to the airways to talk about how the dark cloud of oppression has been lifted there.  Uhhm, he conveniently forgot to mention the absence of the rule of law in all of this, or where this was actually taking that nationNot to mention the huge stash of weapons they had!  Remember Ezekiel, “Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya...with all their weapons.”  One commentator remarked, “The worst aftermath is over 20,000 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles belong to the Qaddafi regime have been ‘dispersed’ throughout the world and are currently ‘lying in wait.”
The most noticeable nation in this confederacy next to Russia has to be Iran, whose burgeoning nuclear program not only has a de-stabilizing effect on the entire region, but it represents the greatest threat to Israel’s security.  This was ratcheted up by the 25-page report by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) which confirmed Iran is much closer to having an atom bomb than most thought.  The report concluded that Iran is systematically enriching nuclear fuel towards military applications; and that Iran’s nuclear program is no longer run by civilians but by the Ministry of Defense.  It stated that Iran did not cease developing military applications for its nuclear program in 2003, as the CIA reported in its controversial National Intelligence Estimate in 2007, but rather accelerated its efforts to develop the Bomb.  It seems that the U.S. policy of “containment and sanctions has been unsuccessful, largely blocked by Russia and China.  What makes Iran so unsettling and such a threat is the “theological” element embraced by its leaders.  They embrace a Muslim prophecy of the 12th Iman and that in order to hasten his coming, he is waiting for the Muslim world to attack Israel.  The real quarrel is not with the Iranian people, but the regime in Tehran that has been hijacked by Islamic extremists, and represent probably the significant threat in the world to global peace and security (quote by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper). 

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s remarks before the Israeli Knesset last week about the Iranian threat were very sobering and enlightening.  He said, “If I had to summarize what will happen in our region, I would use two terms: instability and uncertainty.  The collapse of Gaddafi’s regime in Libya, the bloody incidents in Syria, the American forces leaving Iraq, the new government in Tunisia, the upcoming elections in Egypt and many other events - these are all expressions of the immense changes occurring around us.  These changes can increase the instability within these countries, and the instability between countries....A nuclear Iran would pose a terrible threat to the Middle East and on the entire world.  And of course, it poses a great, direct threat on us too....A security philosophy cannot rely on defense alone.  It must also include offensive capabilities, which is the very foundation of deterrence.  We operate and will continue to operate intensely and determinately against those who threaten the security of the State of Israel and its citizens.  Our policy is guided by two main principles: the first is ‘if someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first,’ and the second is ‘if anyone harms us, his blood is on his own hands.’” Clear, concise, accurate and sobering words, indeed.

The other nation mentioned is Turkey (Togarmah).  Turkey has been a secular Islamist state for many years, but in recent times is becoming more and more radicalized.  The new Prime Minister has targeted Israel by halting all trade and defense ties to the Jewish State, ordering Turkey’s ambassador to leave Israel, and warning of more sanctions to come.  Perplexingly, we’re talking about a NATO ally here?  All of this represents a kind of ticking time clock, and mirrors the confederacy that Zechariah spoke about in (Zech.12:2,3), "Behold, I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of staggering to all the surrounding peoples. The siege of Jerusalem will also be against Judah.  On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples. All who lift it will surely hurt themselves. And all the nations of the earth will gather against it.” Religious, political and economic alignment will cause the nations of the earth to conclude, “Israel is the problem; if they would be more reasonable, or did not exist, then things would be safer and more prosperous for everyone involved.  I have no idea what will trigger all these events.  It is stunning, however, to see that the pieces and players are all definitely in place.

Paying Attention To The Signs

In God’s word, a “sign” refers to an indication or to a marker, usually showing proximity and warning.  Today, we see an abundance of signs, of events and alignments which should tell us what time it is.  In (Matt.24:33) Jesus said, “So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near – even at the doors.”  To conclude, the key question though is why?  I’m not making any of this up, and I’m not a “prophecy expert” (is there such a thing?!), but why is all of this unfolding before us today? Perhaps, more importantly what should we glean from all of this for our daily lives?  Let me quickly suggest 4 things that come into clear focus as we consider the “signs of the times.”

  1. A reminder of the sovereignty of God, that God is in control, orchestrating events according to His purpose. This is a major antidote against fear, that God has not lost control.  In our personal lives as well, I can live confidently knowing that my life and my steps are ordered of the Lord.

  2. An encouragement of the love of God, specifically, that God does not judge the righteous with the wicked. (1Thess.5:9) states, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  This is a powerful argument for the importance and truth of the Rapture of the church: God removes the righteous before judgment (i.e. Lot; Noah; Rahab).  This is not saying we’ll escape persecution, but there is a huge difference between persecution and the wrath of God.

  3. A warning for believers to be ready.  I do believe God knows human nature, that we tend to lose focus. God, in His mercy, allows these signs and events to remind us so that WE WILL BE READY.  Our text carries the blessing, vs.15, “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!"  I tell our church, today is definitely NOT the time to be stupid or careless or drift from the things of God!

  4. Preparation for an end-time harvest.  Any true understanding of Bible prophecy doesn’t leave us with our heads in the clouds.  Instead, it speaks about our own personal readiness, and also our being positioned as workers in God’s harvest (the world) to see souls won to Christ.  Jesus Himself exemplified this, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” (Jn.9:4)

I must confess: from the time of my conversion on November 15, 1970, I have lived with the thrill and anticipation over the Lord’s promise of his Second Coming.  I know there are those who would scoff and dismiss it all and say, “ You've been saying this for 40 years, and Jesus still hasn’t come.”  I’ll be honest with you, when I first became a Christian; I didn't think we’d be here this long!  But my answer to those nay-Sayers is simple, “Yes, you’re right, Jesus hasn't come yet.  But, He’s 40 years closer than when I was first saved!”  KEEP LOOKING UP!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Something a little light-hearted, OK?  I’m not a “bike racer” but I have been riding my Handcycle for fun and fitness for the last dozen or so years.  And, yes, there’s been some “competition” involved, although that can be a bit of a stretch, since generally I am competing against myself and by PBT (personal best time).  More importantly to me right now, it is an aspect of my life that signals returning to normal.  That’s why even though we were all pedaling and going “nowhere” the truth for me, is that we were headed “somewhere,” which is up and about and business as usual!

For the last 10 years of so, I’ve competed in the annual El Tour de Tucson bike race here in Tucson.  Depending on the time I’m able to invest in training, I’ve done the 111-mile portion three times, the 82-mile twice, the 67-mile segment two times, and the 41-mile event three times.   This year, because I will still just three and a half weeks post-amputation, it seemed like the streak would be broken.  I just happened to talk to Beverly Blohme at the PBAA office who sponsors El Tour every year and she informed me about the “Indoor El Tour” event.  Essentially this means riding your bike on a trainer, making you stationary, and instead of racing 111 miles, you do 111 minutes or whatever time amount you desire.  I just rounded it off to a nice 120 minutes, or two hours.  Anyone who’s ever trained on a resistance trainer knows it can be terribly boring, but the PBAA people were very gracious and allowed us to set up right at the finish line area at Armory Park on S. 6th Avenue and 13th Street. - Special thanks to Michele Wyatt for helping us with this facet.

This is what added to “Team Victory” the sports side of things, to go along with the medical and support side.  I want to thank those who “rode” with me yesterday for the two hours.  My wife, Doug Marcotte who rode my other handcycle, Paul Arbo, Manny Montoya, Mike Hauri, Bill Neil, Lucia Villalba, McKenzie Breckenridge, Larry Priest, and Rick and Susan Surber who came down from Phoenix to participate.  It was good time of fellowship and camaraderie.

“Team Victory” was chosen, first, because it emphasizes that true and lasting victory will always involve a “team” effort or dimension.  The other part is to highlight God’s fantastic promise of victory, not just as an ultimate goal but a present possession as we “press toward the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”  Listen to Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians, “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.” (2Cor.2:14) Through Christ, we are part of his great victory parade!  It is here that he diffuses the fragrance of his knowledge, or the difference he makes in people’s lives, in every place and in every life situation!  Yes, there are battles and they can be very intense, but as Christians we hold to the promise of victory in the midst of them all!  When talking about the reality and implications of the resurrection for every Christ-follower, Paul erupts in praise and declares “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1Cor.15:57) Then, you have the Apostle John picking up on the same theme and talking about how God is making us all overcomers (can’t be an overcomer without something to overcome).  “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1John 5:4,5) I like this because the secret to victory is not our incredible strength; no, it is simple faith in Jesus Christ.  Faith connects us to a resurrected and victorious Savior and Lord, and that promise is open to everyone who will believe and put their faith in Jesus, God’s only Son!

In any event, there’s something about the finish line that creates a surge of adrenaline through your system.  While we did not do the entire 111-mile event, we did what we could at the time, and so the final picture of celebration is fitting. 

Just try to imagine the thrill and relief of finishing victoriously in Christ.  You can almost taste it, and one day it will be a glorious reality for all of us who walk with Him.  “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”  (2Tim.4:4,5) Not to be outdone is (1Corinthians 9:24-27) NLT “Don't you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.”  SO, DEAR ONES, KEEP FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT, KEEP RUNNING THE RACE, AND KEEP HOLDING ON TO YOUR FAITH IN CHRIST, AS HE HOLDS ON TO YOU!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

God has allowed me to see and do some genuinely awesome and very cool things in the years that I have followed Christ.  I thought about Simeon in Luke’s Gospel, a fascinating character in the Christmas drama.  We are told, “At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord's Messiah.” (Luke 2:25,26)  In other words, “Simeon, you’re going to see some pretty amazing things in your lifetime!”  I could compile a long list of things, some big, some small, but all are part of the wonderful tapestry of the adventure of doing God’s will.  Recently, in the last number of years, my “ministry portfolio” has expanded to include marrying the children of the people (parents) I married 20-30 years ago.  It really is something special.  It has an almost sacred quality to it, and I try to oblige whenever it is possible, especially since the ones asking and desiring this are the new generation!

Last week was supposed to be a “luxury week” for me.  I was going to have plenty of time to read, re-order and re-fill the wells of inspiration in preparation for renewing my preaching responsibilities on November 20th.  Well, it didn’t quite work out that way at all.  I don’t know where the time went, but it went by very quickly!  But, one thing on my calendar that was a “must” was marrying Claressa Ford and Jordan Suiter Sunday morning, November 13th.  Especially, given the fact that Claressa is an Rn and has been a part of the medical side of my “Team Victory” for many months, I wasn’t going to let a little thing like an amputation keep me from being there.

As I was sitting on the platform before the service, her grandmother came up to me and brought me a picture.  This was another one of my treasures because it was the picture of me and Dave and Mariah Ford in 1984 when I was privileged to marry them.  I’m not a picture person, as many know, so this is the “customary” (lol) one picture of the bride and groom with Pastor Warner after the wedding!  So, as part of the service that day, we quickly scanned the picture so we could project it on the large screen in the church.  Why?  I wanted to illustrate and set things in context about the awesome power of heritage taking place that day.  It is rare that the same pastor who married your parents, the same church setting and worship of Christ, becomes the place where you as a younger person enter in to your marriage covenant!  There was such a glorious realization of the power of Jesus Christ as the foundation of marriage and the source of LONGEVITY.  As you’ve heard me say so many times, “If you lose longevity, you lose blessing.”  Trust me, there was heaps of blessing tangibly present in Sunday’s service.

OK, I could probably be accused of “piling on” here, but I couldn’t help but think of the contrast between what we were part of Sunday, and Kim Kardashian’s seeming mockery of marriage.  After a whirlwind romance with Kris Humphries, who she met on October 31, 2010 (that’s Halloween, folks) they were married on July 28, 2011.  The marriage lasted an incredibly long 72 days when Kim filed for divorce on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences.”  Excuse me if I’m a bit cynical or turn a bit sarcastic about all this.  Irreconcilable after 72 days?  You haven’t even had time to decide what side of the bathroom belongs to each spouse, the color of your sheets, or even some of the cooking responsibilities.  I’m sure there was a huge effort made on her part to make this relationship work.  In a statement she released on her website, she said that she married for love and it just didn’t “turn out to be the fairytale” she wanted.  Dear Kim, that is simply because “theatrics” and a fairy-tale mentality never does match the true reality of what makes marriage work.  You can just imagine the plethora of jokes and tweets about this fiasco.  There is actual a hashtag that’s gone viral #ThingsLongerThanKim’sMarriage.  Even the author Salman Rushdie tweeted his once-only, never-to-be-repeated “kim #kardashian limerick” by writing
“The marriage of poor kim #kardashian / was krushed like a kar in a krashian. / her kris kried, not fair! /why kan’t I keep my share? / But kardashian fell klean outa fashion.”
Well, Kim has actually hired a famous L.A. attorney, Marty Singer, to do public relations damage control for her (i.e. he’s the same attorney who worked with Charlie Sheen and Arnold Schwarzenneger, which is all you really need to know).  The reason for hiring the attorney was to manage the “PR fall out,” especially the allegation by her former publicist, Jonathan Jaxson, saying that her wedding to Kris Humphries was a sham from the start.  Others have piped in on the subject.  Mona Elyafi: Kim Kardashian Divorce Makes a Mockery of Marriage wrote, “They say that allowing same-sex marriage would make a mockery of the institution of marriage.  Really?  Then what do you call a celebrity who utilizes her notoriety to deliver and exorbitantly lavish wedding production as a money-making publicity stunt?”  Lisa Coffey: Kim & Kris Krash & Burn: What Went Wrong says, “Was it telling that Kim appeared solo on the cover of People magazine, beaming about her ‘dream wedding?’ Is it a coincidence that Kim filed divorce papers the day before her mother’s book hits stores?”  I’m sorry, I don’t know Kim Kardashian anymore than what you read in the tabloids, but celebrity or not, a complete and total narcissist does not make for a good marriage partner!

So, please, repeat after me, OK, slowly if you need to, “until death do us part!”  You cannot parse away the fact that successful and fulfilling monogamy calls for and is undergirded by longevity and commitment, not feelings and emotions, or your idea of a “fairy tale.”  Jordan and Claressa, like their parents almost three decades ago, did not spend $$ millions on their marriage ceremony.  They had something better: knowledge of what marriage is all about, and the “covenant glue” in Christ that makes it work. 

Someone sent me an article about lawmakers (a bit of a joke to call them that) in Mexico City that are considering a two-year marriage arrangement.  Let me just quote from the news article
“Mexico City lawmakers want to help newlyweds avoid the hassle of divorce by giving them an easy exit strategy:  temporary marriage licenses.  The minimum marriage contract would be for two years and could be renewed if the couple stays happy.  The contracts would include provisions on how children and property would be handled if the couple splits.  Leftists in the city’s assembly (no different from leftists in our own government) - who have already riled conservatives by legalizing gay marriage – proposed a reform (what they should’ve said was deform) to the civil code this week that would allow couples to decide on the length of their commitment, opting out of a lifetime.  ‘The proposal is, when the two-year period is up, if the relationships is not stable or harmonious, the contract simply ends.”  
Leonal Luna, the Mexico City assemblyman who co-authored the bill says the proposed law is gaining support and he expects a vote by the end of this year.  “You wouldn’t have to go through the tortuous process of divorce,” he declared.  One of his supporters, the mayor of Mexico City, has also announced that he would soon step down in order to run for President.  Oh, that’s just grand; can you say hope and change?!

Folks, man without God can be incredibly absurd.  I think of Romans 1 and the fruit of failing to acknowledge God and His ways that says, “But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness...as a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools.” (Romans 1:18;21,22) Dear ones, all of man’s “better ideas” about the meaning of life, morals and marriage tends to the irresponsible and the immoral. 

It also contradicts the very nature of marriage which is put on display in Christ’s love for the church.  Paul’s description of marriage is one of the most profound and definitely challenging blueprints you’ll ever find, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Ephesians 5:25-33) I know this can be a sensitive subject, especially to those who’ve experienced a marriage failure, often through no fault or desire of their own, but, he sets the bar very high where it needs to be.  This is why to glibly claim “irreconcilable differences” is to insult both the character and love of Jesus Christ for His church. 

Since they say a picture worth a thousand words, I’d like you to feast your eyes on these two pictures.  Take a good look, and give God the glory!

Dave and Mariah Ford 1984 Jordan and Claressa Suiter 2011
Thursday, November 10, 2011

This is not going to be a long article, and it’s not for me anyhow.  As I sit here, I am deeply saddened and hurt for my friends, Bob & Pat Mecado.  On Tuesday, their twin 14-year old grand-daughters, Leilani and Luana Fukui were walking in a crosswalk when they were hit by a car at the same time, both ending up on life support with severe brain injuries.  Leilani died, while Luana is still fighting for her life.

The purpose of this article is not to answer the unanswerable, why?  That can wait until later. Joseph’s truth, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” is a revelation that came many years after his own heartbreaking tragedy.  Now is not the time for that.  Right now I just hurt and cry together for my friend, Bobby.  Bobby works with some of the hardest convicts in the California prison system, yet he himself possesses such a soft heart.  To me, he has personified (Prov.17:17) “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.” He is always building me up to others, to the degree that I think, “Bobby, stop that, brother!”  I want to be that kind of friend to him in this very difficult time of need.

I have linked the KTLA news report, but mostly so that you can lift them and their entire family before the throne of God’s grace.  The God who is “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.” (2Cor.1:3,4)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Stay with me, and continue reading.  You haven’t accidentally wandered from Pastor Warner’s blog to a sports columnist’s page!  Right up front, I admit that I’m taking a bit of a risk, but I am doing so with my eyes wide open.  I’m going to talk a lot about sports, and I realize not everyone is “into” sports.  However, many who are, love their sports and can be quite passionate about their team(s), bordering sometimes on the irrational!  If you want to have some fun, and maybe start a fight, just say something like, “the Dallas Cowboys are America’s team!”  Raiders, Patriots, Bears, Dolphins or Bronco fans will quickly go ballistic (can you say Richard Rubi)  :).  This is true whether we’re talking about football (professional or college [SEC football is “religion”), baseball (Red Sox vs. Yankees), basketball (Lakers vs. Celtics), English Premier League soccer (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool or Man U), Aussie Rules Football (West Coast Eagles or Geelong Cats).  What you find is that emotions can easily override all else for many.

I’m not a football analyst and I don’t even play one on TV!  I know I’m stepping outside my comfort zone or area of expertise, but even if you’re someone who is casually aware, it’s hard to avoid the phenomenon which is Tim Tebow,  Along with being a Heisman Trophy winner as a sophomore, he led his Florida Gators to two national championships, and was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft by the Denver Broncos, where he currently plays quarterback.  He has become a staple of sports talk radio and television discussion, a venue that thrives on strong opinions and controversy.  In the social universe or the “Tebow nation” they’ve even coined a word for his public acknowledgment of Christ; they call it Tebowing.”  Where all of this is ultimately coming from is the fact that Tim Tebow is also an outspoken Christian athlete.  Hence, some of the headlines like, “Tebow gets a miracle” or references to him as “the chosen one” etc.

What can’t be denied in all of this is that he has become a very polarizing figure.  There seems to be not a lot of middle ground: you have the “Tebow haters” and those with “Tebow mania.”  “Inside The NFL” commentator, James “JB” Brown teased a segment about Tim Tebow for the show saying, “This is a guy that you either love to hate him or you hate to love him.  What is it about him that folks are so polarized?”  My own theory is that in our culture, Christians are one of the last groups where it is totally cool to go off on.  Read on.

Here’s what caught my attention and piqued my interest, which will hopefully become clear as a spiritual issue, worthy of our pondering.  What is the explanation for the intensity of opinion and emotion either way, for or against him?  It’s pretty stunning to observe the vitriol-like reaction to him, and much of it is not about his game, but it is personal!  Sure, they can talk about the fact he is slow to set up, read the defense, release the ball; or he has poor mechanics and lacks accuracy as a passer, but there’s something more at work.  One of the first major incidents involved an ESPN football analyst, Merril Hoge, who literally went on a rant against Tim Tebow that caused many raised eyebrows.  This is by no means an isolated event either.  Sports writers and football fans have critiqued and mocked Tim Tebow, as if they are almost hoping for him to fail?!  One sportswriter compared Tebow’s confidence that he will start in the NFL to blasphemy.  The “Daily Show” comedian, John Oliver, declared, “I dislike Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwean dictator). I hate Tim Tebow.”  For instance, in his first starting assignment against the Miami Dolphins, the first three quarters was anything but pretty or polished.  His stats were abysmal.  Then, he engineered a comeback in the final 2:44 minutes, down 15-0 to force overtime, where the team pulled out an 18-15 victory.  It’s the largest deficit overcome in a victory with less than three minutes since the 1970 NFL merger.  The strange crowd mixture of lovers and haters moved from chanting “Tebow sucks” to the fourth quarter’s melody of “Tebow! Tebow! Tebow!”

So, my question is WHY, what’s at work here?  My contention is that it is because of his Christian faith and lifestyle.  Jelisa Castrodale, NBC.com commentator, argued: “The NFL’s other backup-turned-starters don’t generate this type of negativity.”  CBS analyst and former San Francisco 49's offensive lineman Randy Cross blamed the media for anti-Tebow coverage: “People, especially the media, root against him because of what he stands for.” “Inside The NFL” analyst and former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Collinsworth concluded that much of the hatred against Tebow was based on his religious beliefs.  Responding to all the fodder over Tebow’s treatment in the media he admitted, “It’s unbelievable, though, JB, that one of the best kids - just pure kids that’s ever come into the NFL - is hated because of his faith, because of his mission work, because of the fact that he wears it on his sleeve, because of the fact that he lives his life that he talks about.”  His co-host, James “JB” Brown pointed out: “There are a number of guys who come into the league with a big marquee, fat paychecks, a lot of attention, and folks don’t seem to hate them with the same intensity that they hate Tim Tebow.”  In their back and forth discussion, Collinsworth concurred with him, “I couldn’t agree with you more.  And it’s kind of a sad commentary, that, you now, if someone is out carousing every night, the Joe Namath thing (“Broadway Joe”), or whatever, they’re American heroes, and Tim Tebow, who’s working in missions in Asia somewhere, is a guy that we’re going to vilify.” 

The vitriol directed against Tim Tebow should not really come as a surprise given how religion and people of faith are frequently treated in the media, which often seeks to remove any mention of religion from public life entirely, including sports.  In my mind, this is a fatal dismissal since the Bible reminds us, “Blessed is the nation [individual] whose God is the Lord.” An anti-Christ spirit is definitely loose in the world!  Remember back to all the furor during last year’s Super Bowl and the commercial ad promoting “Celebrate Family and Life” which was largely a testament to Tim’s mother, and her decision not to have an abortion even though hers was a high-risk pregnancy.  Regardless of your beliefs or your football loyalties, at least concede that Tim Tebow’s story is a good one, and inspirational as well.  Uhhmm, were they making that kind of stink over godaddy.com’s sexually provocative commercials during the same Super Bowl! See what I mean?

What we’re looking at is the unavoidable reality for any Christ-follower, because any true Christian’s faith is part of the conversation!  It is, after all, the most defining and influential aspect of a person’s identity and lifestyle.  Jesus made this crystal clear in (Jn.15:18-21) NLT "If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? 'A slave is not greater than the master.' Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the One who sent me.”  If life for you is about always being popular and accepted, then following Jesus Christ will be a very difficult exercise!  In response to one critique of Tim Tebow by Boomer Esiason, evangelical blogger Howell Scott wrote, “In this life, we face ridicule and scorn for following Christ, whether on the football field, in the boardroom or, yes, even in the church house.  For Tim Tebow and the rest of us, when we are ridiculed and made fun of because of the name of Jesus, might we hear the master say to us yet again: Blessed are you!”  The choice for every Christian in whatever station of life is that if you live the life, you can’t turn it on and off like a light switch whenever it’s convenient.  No, it’s a daily constant.  Blogger and fan Everette Hatcher wrote: “He had to make a decision when he went into the locker room: Do I live two lives?  He decided to talk his faith with him into the locker room.  He has lived one life, and I strongly respect that.” 

This remind me of the classic story of evangelist Billy Graham playing golf in a foursome with then President Gerald Ford, golf legend Jack Nicklaus, and another PGA pro.  The golfer was especially in awe of playing with Ford and Billy Graham (since he regularly competed with Nicklaus before).  After the round was finished, one of the other pros came up to the golfer and asked, “Hey, what was it like playing with the President and with Billy Graham?”  The pro unleashed a torrent of cursing, and in a disgusted manner said, “I don’t need Billy Graham stuffing religion down my throat.”  With that he turned on his heel and stormed off, heading for the practice tee.  His friend followed him as the angry pro took out his driver and started to beat out balls in fury.  His neck was crimson and it looked like steam was coming from his ears.  His friend said nothing.  He sat on a bench and watched.  After a few minutes the anger and the pro was spent and he settled down.  His friend said quietly, “Was Billy a little rough on you out there/” The pro heaved an embarrassed sig and said, “No, he didn’t even mention religion. I just had a bad round.”  The lesson here is that Billy Graham was so identified with his faith, so associated with the things of God, that his very presence brought a realm of conviction to those around him.  It was Martin Luther who said “the pagan does tremble at the rustling of a leaf.”

Even with his detractors and the nay-sayers, there’s no doubt as well that Tim Tebow has plenty of advocates as well.  Jen Floyd Engel who writes for foxsports.com on MSN published this open letter. 

From: Jen Floyd EngelTo: Jason Whitlock, FROXSports.com columnistCc: John Fox, John Elway, Doubting Sports Thomas’s Everywhere
Whitlock, I hate to come at you at a time like this when you must be hurting, your favorite current NFL quarterback, Donavan McNabb benched again.  This time for an unproven rookie, Christian Ponder, because what you man was throwing out made the Vikings abandon their playoff hopes a little more than month into the season.  Go figure.  McNabb is the only quarterback in the history of ever who made Rex Grossman look like an upgrade.  Sorry.  I need you to stop mourning McNabb’s failed career for a second and answer a question that has been gnawing at me ever since you gleefully joined the non-believers dissing Tim Tebow: Why?  Why do you – the last remaining holdout in the Jeff George fan club – refuse to concede the league might be wrong about Tim Tebow?  You believe in hopeless causes, Jeff George and Donovan McNabb.  Why not believe in the man who inspires hope in Denver and in sports fans who like their stars warm and fuzzy?  You called me out in your column.  Mel Kiper, Jimmy Hohnson, Merril Hoge, the 24 NFL teams that passed on Tebow in the Josh McDaniels – predicted epic fail for this guy.  You know what all of those people have in common?  They are wrong all the time about players.  They dissect how a guy throws, how far he throws, what he looks like, what his throwing motion looks like, how fast he runs, how much he runs, what he looks like when he runs, his stats, his combine numbers and they forget how often these numbers are wrong, how often the can’t-miss guys do and how the Wes Welkers keep finding their way to prominence.  I do not know if Tebow is going to be a great quarterback.  What I do know is I am not willing to bet against him.  He’s a winner.  He’s inspiring.  He has it, whatever it is.”

So, what conclusions can we take from all this?  It’s doubtful if Tim Tewbow is going to silence his critics, especially after last Sunday’s performance and loss to the Detroit Lions.  One potent reminder here is that life is not done by the numbers alone, it’s more than just “scoreboard.”  There’s also the dimension that includes the “intangibles.”  Whatever your opinion of Tim Tebow might be, the facts and story of his life tell us that he is a “winner.”  Jen Floyd Engel wrote: “This is the thing everybody is missing about Tebow.  The guy was not a pretty thrower at Florida, either.  He won because he was a great athlete and a massively serious competitor.  He won because of the great athletes around him and his ability to lead them. He won because he had guts and toughness.  And, yes, he won because of his faith.  The two cannot be disconnected.  It is part of who he is.”  I read that this is what Lebron James tweeted about Tebow’s performance, “He’s a winner.”  I can’t help but think of the testimony of the unpolished, rag-tag early church that says “AND GREAT GRACE WAS UPON THEM ALL.”  What Luke is describing there are the intangibles: a quality and dimension beyond just numbers, box scores and depth charts.  A dimension of God’s grace upon a person and church’s life is very, very real, even if you can’t fully explain it.  There’s always been something at work in men (women) of principle that many dismiss or don’t understand or are uncomfortable with. 

One parallel story that illustrates this same convergence of sports and religion is “Chariots Of Fire.”  This was the 1981 Hollywood story of the British Olympic track team leading up to the 1924 games.  Specifically, it focused on the Scottish runner Eric Liddell the son of Scottish missionary parents, who is a very principled man of God and an astonishingly fast sprinter with a lot of doubters.  He is competing in the 400 meter event, and just before the race the American coach basically tells his runners not to worry about Liddell because the dude is not good enough.  In the film, another American runner Jackson Scholz says “Watch out for Liddell.”  Another American runner responds, “Coach says no problem.”  To which Scholz replies, “He’s got something to prove, something personal, something guys like coach will never understand in a million years.”  In the continuing film narrative Scholz walked up to Liddell right before the 400 and handed him a piece of paper with a verse from (1Sam.2:30) “He who honors Me, I will honor.”  Lidell won, of course, griping the note in his hand the entire way around the track.  He was not the most talented.  He was the most driven.  Sort of like our discussion over Tim Tebow!

The other conclusion is that I don’t know if Tim Tebow will ever become one of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL, but what I do know is that either way; he has a life that will extend far beyond that stage.  Paul writing to Timothy made this plain, (1 Tim 4:8) "Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”  Top that one!  As long as Tebow continues to follow Christ and His Word, he will succeed in God!  (Joshua 1:8) gives us the formula, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”   I remember personally seeing “Chariots of Fire” for the first time.  I distinctly remember that for me the most moving part of the entire production was at the end, when the video was done, and the screen went black with white letters stating how following the 1924 Olympics he went to serve in North China as a missionary from 1925 until his death in 1945.  We’ll leave that part of his story and testimony until another time.  What spoke to me powerfully was the goals and service and sacrifice he embodied outside of the world of sports!

I’ve got to admit that all of this has turned me into a bit of a fan of Tim Tebow.  I’d like to see him succeed and beat the odds.  If nothing else, there’s an incentive to pray for him that his testimony remains steadfast on the NFL stage.  Oh, by the way, I WANT EVERYONE TO BE ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN ABOUT ONE THING:  there’s coming a day when everyone will be “Tebowing” and taking a knee!

 (Phil.2:9-11) states, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

So, we’ve come full circle.  Whether you’re a sports fan or not doesn’t matter.  What does matter is giving Jesus Christ His rightful place in your life as both Savior and Lord.  The time to start practicing “taking a knee” is right now and not later!

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