Thursday, March 27, 2014

Post-Soviet Turmoil

In recent weeks, the headlines have been dominated between the missing Malaysian airliner believed to be at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, and the crisis in Ukraine/Crimea.

Needless to say with any conflict involving Russia and the former Soviet countries, the spin you get in the media depends on the media. It's like the Cold War all over again judging by the rhetoric coming out of the State Department, European diplomats, the governments of Russia and Ukraine, and the ubiquitous talking heads. Plus people on the street outside shouting at each other.

I don't mean at all to make light of a serious situation with lots of potential ramifications. What I do mean to do is point out that ANY situation involving Russia and her neighboring countries is often a lot more complex and not as "cut and dried" as you'll hear in the media. Having said that, hats off to the BBC for posting this well written article on their website. The focus of the article is the concern of many in Latvia, one of the Baltic republics once part of the Soviet Union, now independent and a member of NATO. They're worried they might be next on the conquest list. One other region of concern is Moldova, where there is a small separatist region called Transdniester. This region has a narrow majority Russian population and the leadership there has asked Russia to annex them just as they did Crimea. Moldova, naturally, is against losing any of their territory although Transdniester (with Russian help) has been de facto independent for several years.

One thing the article helps point out is how much our world is like Nebuchadnezzar's statue dream. Feet made of part iron and part clay. Ethnic groups tend to want to hang together, and when political leaders carve out territory and move people groups around, trouble happens eventually. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (an ethnic Ukrainian) carved Crimea out of Russia and gave it to Ukraine when the 15 countries that made up the Soviet Union were one country—the Soviet Union. His predecessor, Josef Stalin (an ethnic Georgian) also did plenty of his own shuffling (and killing). And there are lasting consequences.

Another interesting thing to note about the former Soviet Union. To much of the world, it was synonymous with Russia since Russia was the largest of the 15 countries. But Soviet communist leaders were not all Russian. Vladimir Lenin was an Udmurt. Stalin was Georgian. Khrushchev was Ukrainian. Leonid Brezhnev was Ukrainian. Yuri Andropov was Russian. Konstantin Chernenko was Ukrainian. Mikhail Gorbachev was Russian, and he was the last Soviet president prior to the Union's breakup in 1991. Russian presidents since Gorbachev have been ethnic Russian. Communist ideology was the problem, not being Russian. Look how many nations and how many billions of people still live under a communist system, with variations—North Korea, China, Vietnam, Cuba for starters. The Cold War was about containing WORLD communism, although the chief protagonists were the Soviet Union and China. The West was worried about COMMUNIST expansionism as an ideology, as well as a military conflict.

The Russian people suffered under communist ideology as did every other of the 130 plus ethnic groups in the country. Before the communists took over, these ethnic groups—Russians included—suffered under the Tsarist system. Now, does this mean that the Russian governments of the day never grabbed territory? Of course they did, and in many cases we would probably disagree with the reasons given for doing so. But the reasons were varied. It is important to understand history in all of its nuances, and I'm still trying to grapple with it all. No people group likes being invaded. No people group wants to be conquered by another. But such is the reality of living in a fallen world. Satan is the "god of this world," and we as Christian believers are citizens of another kingdom NOT of this world. Thank God!

To the Western mind, Russia as a nation seems aggressive and intent on empire. What is not commonly known is that Russia has an almost inborn fear of invasion—precisely because they HAVE been invaded. The Mongols and Nazi Germany are just a couple of examples. That has been part of the motivation for absorbing other lands around Russian borders—a good chunk of Russia has a border very difficult to defend. Do not misunderstand me. I am not at all advocating or excusing conquest by ANY country. I am just trying to point out the extreme difficulty of global affairs and international diplomacy. Thorny, knotty problems and complex histories will not be solved or fixed by knee-jerk reactions fueled by propaganda or the media.

In the end, only God Himself knows what is in the hearts and minds of world leaders. He will be their judge. In each country, there are brothers and sisters in Christ for whom we need to pray. We must stand for what we know is right by Scripture, and speak out against evil and wrongdoing when we see it—no matter what side it's on. And remember most of all—NOTHING is as simple as it looks in geopolitics and history. The domino effects of leaders' actions have consequences—in history and today. We would do well to remember that before making snap judgments based on what we hear on television or read in the newspaper. Or online. I'm trying to keep that in my head—daily!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Analyzing Abstract Art

Jackson Pollack's "Convergence: 1952"
Today we do a brief detour into the art world. In this ASSIST News commentary, author, musician, minister and family man Brian Nixon discusses a question that I had never really considered before, although I do like Francis Schaeffer. In his day, Schaeffer didn't much like abstract art and wrote against it. I have seen plenty of such art, but didn't know that "abstract" was the term for it.

Brian gently disagrees with Schaeffer's analysis, and his comments are thought-provoking. I certainly have my views on what constitutes good art—and as a Christian, I generally think art ought to uplift, not degrade. There is true garbage out there that passes for art, and I think its source is the Pit. If art communicates what is in the soul of the artist, hmmmm.

Of course, art by its very nature can be emotional and controversial, because it involves someone's creativity. I always need to be careful that I don't paint with too broad a brush, pun intended. Most artists want their work to be liked and appreciated, while a few don't particularly care.

Give Brian's column a read, and give this some thought along with me. I will hopefully have more to say at another time.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

It's Worse than Pinocchio

I don't think I've made much of a secret that I disagree and disapprove of much of what the Obama Administration has done since day 1. I expected that the country would be driven to the left, but even I didn't expect just how far and how fast. I was concerned about damage to the country done during the Clinton Administration—albeit with a Republican Congress he did preside over a fairly robust economy.

After a term and a half of Barack Obama, our economy is moribund. Our foreign policy and standing as a nation with our allies is in tatters, our military is being gutted, and what more can be said about the health care law? The more we find out what is in it, the more we as a nation don't want the snake oil, but with the current makeup of the Congress (both House and Senate), Obama's signature legislation isn't going anywhere any time soon. How much more damage can this man do to the country in his remaining years in office? Plenty.

I really do try to make an effort to be fair and show some balance, although I am a firm conservative/traditionalist. Now and then, I have to pop my cork and vent, but I've been trying not to do that as much. But I have to bang the garbage can lid again about something that is bugging me a lot, and I don't see much out of the media to make the observation—with the exception of some media and Internet bloggers that the mainstream would consider "fringe." I am usually uncomfortable with conspiracy theories that get floated around the Internet by well meaning (and some not so well meaning) people. These theories generally get debunked in time, so again, I try not to pay too much attention to them.

But now I'm not so sure with at least one aspect. And it's horrible to contemplate. But given the fallen nature of man, and what happens to a nation when a nation incurs divine wrath, it's not impossible. Hear me out.

They used to say Jimmy Carter was a failed president for many reasons. He was naive, he was stubborn, rose-colored glasses, inept economic manager etc. He never seemed to see a left wing dictator he didn't like. We didn't think we'd ever find someone worse than Jimmy Carter. Until Barack Obama. This man and his Administration are gutting the dickens out of this country, and no one seems to be able to see what he is doing except in a glass darkly, or to do anything about it. And here's the scary part to me. I've hinted at it before, but I'll say it outright now. Listen.

Barack Obama is not stupid. He is not naive. He knows exactly, precisely what he is doing. He is doing what he intended to do all along. He came into office thinking that the U.S. rode too high in the world and needed to be taken down a peg. I think everything he has done—everything that seems to make absolutely no sense at all to former State Department folks, Executive Branch Cabinet members, Senators, Congressmen—makes perfect sense to him. He wants to fundamentally transform the United States into something the Founding Fathers never intended, and to accomplish it, he has to wreck what exists by any means possible. He will make such a royal mess of just about everything, I really don't know if it can ever be fixed.

I can't help but remember the now infamous photo op with former Russian president Dmitri Medvedev when they were both overheard on open microphones. Obama told Medvedev to wait until after the election for his second term, and he would have a "freer hand." Medvedev said, "I will transmit this information to Vladimir." Meaning the current president of Russia, Vladimir Putin. Kind of makes you what else got transmitted to Vladimir, doesn't it? Ukraine happened on Obama's watch, and outside of a bit of sputtering, not much else has happened. (I must include this caveat—Russian and Ukrainian history is complicated, and it's not as cut and dried as much of the Western media thinks. I am strictly talking about the crisis and the response expected of a U.S. leader.)

So what if everything that's happening is intentional? What if the intent with health care was to make such a debacle out of it that single payer is the next enforced option? What if we get to single payer, and then rationing of health care begins, with the government deciding that your beloved elderly mother or father will not be allowed to get life-saving treatment because it's "time for them to die." The slander delivered against the GOP by that nutjob Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida would be more accurately applied to those of his far-left mindset. The elderly need to die quickly in their view, but they won't come out and tell you that, of course. But they will restrict who can get what treatment, and quite frankly, it's none of the government's business. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

To close, I have to mention this. We know that God judges nations. America has done just about everything possible to flout God although the nation still pays Him some lip service. The nation's governing authorities are marching toward acceptance of sodomy as morally acceptable, and abortion remains legal, although it does seem hearts are beginning to change on that issue. Open hostility toward Christians and people who hold to traditional Judeo-Christian morality is rising and is becoming the template in the media, entertainment, and even from the government. God will only give a blessed country so much rope before He lowers the boom. And herein lies my dilemma.

I want to pray for my country and for its repentance. But if America is being judged, it's unstoppable unless America repents. Those of us who love and know the Lord must remain faithful no matter what the cost. It's a hard message to give when much of the church world embraces the health and wealth gospel. Don't tell us anything bad or negative, and above all, NEVER be judgmental. Scripture gets cherry-picked, and a false image of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit gets fostered. The Lord Jesus warned about Hell more than anyone else in the New Testament, but you won't hear that from many pulpits. People in churches are biblically illiterate. Confrontation of false teaching is seen as divisive, when in fact it is a biblical command to help maintain healthy, discerning congregations. We are really in for tough days ahead.

When God judges a nation, He puts hooks in leaders' jaws. He removes kings and establishes kings. Because of rebellion, He sends strong delusions so people believe the lies they seek so eagerly. And all the while, the call to repentance is made for all who will hear, listen, and respond.

Is America beyond the line? Have we finally gone too far? I hope not. But that is a very, very real possibility. And the remnant faithful Church had best be ready to deal with it.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

David Phelps in Concert

Last night, my mother and I had the pleasure of going out to see opera, contemporary, and Gospel singer David Phelps in concert here in Freeport, IL. From what I am told, it was a surprise development. We seldom get singers and artists of his caliber here. The largest auditorium in Freeport is the local Masonic Temple, although Rockford—40 miles east—does have one church that seats 5,000 people. There is also a small arena called the MetroCentre, seating about 10K. What it would take to secure the venue is a good question. So we're a pretty small venue. As the Lord arranged it, some other performer cancelled out, and it left the opening for David. I am so glad.

Mom—91 in June—seldom gets out and is very tired at night, so the fact she was able to go is wonderful, thank God! She enjoyed every moment of it, and so did I. The concert was top notch.

David of course sang—his 3-octave plus voice in fine form—and played piano and harmonium. His excellent 7-piece backing band switched instruments and shared the spotlight through the evening. They played flawlessly, and in addition to the usual keys, guitars and drums, you had mandolin, horns, dobro, violin and harmonica thrown in there. For a moment when I heard the harmonica, it sounded like Supertramp. Great stuff.

David began the show with some pretty up-tempo rockers, so I wasn't sure what Mom would think—rock isn't her style of course. But then he began singing some of the great songs he's done with the Gaither Vocal Band, and "The Lord's Prayer," where his opera training shone forth. As hard as it is for Mom to stand, David got three standing ovations out of her. It was so sweet.

At points, David and the band went quiet, and he acted as more of a worship leader, asking the audience to sing "How Great Thou Art" and some other hymns. He then did his own version of Don Francisco's 70s hit, "He's Alive," which got another standing ovation. The volume level was just right. Loud enough to drown out incessant yakkers in the audience, yet your ears didn't ring.

Another point that blessed me was that he shared what Christ meant to him, and that the free offer of forgiveness, mercy and grace is open to those who will believe, repent, and trust in the Lord and His finished work on the cross for salvation. He shared about Feed the Children, which is a ministry to help hungry kids around the world in Jesus' name. All in all, it was a tremendous night. The Lord was glorified, and the music—incorporating every style imaginable—was outstanding.

David's vocal range is amazing. He can switch on a dime from belting out a rocker with a little rasp, to almost a pure choirboy like vocal that hits soaring highs on a more classically vocal piece. The Lord has gifted this young man tremendously. If you can book him in your town, do it. You won't regret it. He wants to come back to Freeport soon. Halellujah!

A Lifelong GOP Reflects on the Future

We just got done with a rather heated primary election in Illinois. That's nothing out of the ordinary, but perhaps this one was a bit more heated than most. The stakes are huge.

Illinois' nickname is "The Land of Lincoln," and Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. Through the years, control of the governor's mansion has see-sawed back and forth between the GOP and the Democrats. Many of Illinois' governors (out of both parties) have ended up in prison. Otto Kerner was a Democrat, Dan Walker was a a Democrat, George Ryan was a Republican. Rod Blagojevich was a Democrat. Since Blagojevich, Democrats have held the governorship. As far as the legislature is concerned, we have had both parties hold control of one or both houses, but in recent years the Democrats have held control pretty solidly. The presidential elections have also shown mixed results through the years, but the past few presidential cycles have seen Illinois in the blue state column. We used to be purple, but no longer.

I am not sure what the future holds for the Illinois Republican party. There is a chance that nationwide displeasure with Barack Obama may have coattails and help Republicans. My own perspective as a lifelong Republican is that "moderate" to liberal Republicans control the Illinois GOP, and they tend to dislike true conservative candidates for office—often working against them behind the scenes to hinder their election. I know several past and current elected officials—some are personal friends. I covered politics for years as a radio news journalist and director, so I am not making this statement out of thin air.

The past couple of election cycles have been eye openers for me. Former Congressman Don Manzullo, who then represented the 16th Congressional District in Illinois, had to fight the party establishment when he first ran for office. The party backed someone in the primary who talked conservative until he got elected, and then his "modified pro-choice" stance on abortion came out. He ended up losing to a Democratic candidate—and that was the first time the 16th District had been held by a Democrat since the 1800s. Eventually Don ran again, and won. He served the district well. I'll never forget he, I, and my late radio co-host laying hands on him after an interview and praying for him. Don knew what he'd be facing.

All this leads to what happened that got Don out of office. Party leaders in Washington historically are not supposed to meddle in primaries. Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment was "thou shalt not attack another Republican." The party backed Don's primary opponent, who went on to win the general. I have nothing against Adam Kitzinger, the one who represents the 16th now. But I don't like how the party handled it.

I'm watching us get ready for the November elections this year, and I don't like what I'm seeing. Numerous media commentators including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and others have cautioned that the party needs, as Reagan argued, to run on bold colors and not pale pastels. The GOP can shoot itself in the foot and symbolically disembowel itself easier that any other party out there. They just can't seem to get it in their heads that you need to run someone on solid conservative principles—someone who embraces those principles from the heart—and someone who can effectively communicate it. I hate to be this harsh, but I wish they'd stop putting men forward as leaders who come across like embalmed corpses on camera. I wish they'd quit letting people like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins etc. carry the day on what we do. Admittedly, Collins and Snowe are more liberal than Graham and McCain, but Graham and McCain compromise way more often than they should.

Remember, when you call conservatives too extreme and back the Democrats on the 20 percent, the liberal agenda advances three steps forward, two steps back, three steps forward, two steps back. Maybe the establishment is happy with that. I am not, nor are millions of others.

And a word to my more conservative friends. I am with you in spirit, but you also have to take care with who becomes your standard bearer. They need to be articulate, they need to know the issues and history, and they need to not be crackpots. They need to not be gaffe-prone. I don't know if they can do it.

In the end, God is in control and the leaders we get we'll deserve. I pray for mercy and grace, and I pray that it's not too late to rescue the country from what lies ahead if we don't change course.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Visit with Genesis' Mike Rutherford

Well, not a personal visit with me (chuckling). Rather, this is a nice little interview done not too long ago with Mike at Genesis' recording studio in England, the Fisher Lane Farm Studio. I just finished reading Mike's new autobiography, "The Living Years." It's a good read, and is really part auto-bio and part memoir of his relationship with his late father. That was one reason that Mike did the book—the first official autobiography of a member of Genesis. 

The book resonated with me because of its wistful look back, and Mike's regret that he didn't get to tell his own father how much he loved and admired him—that just wasn't done with young English men of that generation. Mike was away on tour with Genesis when his dad passed in 1986. His message: don't waste time and fail to tell your parents you love them, especially when they are getting on in years. My own Mom lives with me at age 90, and every moment is precious. My father passed when I was in my late teens, and our relationship was a bit strained, although I know we loved each other. I wish that I had been able to communicate with him better. As a Christian, my hope he is in heaven, and that we'll get the chance then to catch up. But as my late grandfather used to say, "Give me my roses while I'm here."

Friday, March 07, 2014

A New Word!


And it is sure to cause a huge row when it gets used by the talking heads. Thanks to my friend Jerry for the heads up on this one. I'll withhold comment for now, but I'll say this much. Understanding the dangers of painting with too broad a brush, I think there is an enormous amount of truth in the definition.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Dr. Al Mohler on Inerrancy

I have from time to time discussed the topic of biblical inerrancy on this blog from time to time. I frequently re-read Dr. Harold Lindsell's classic "The Battle for the Bible," which is really a timeless book because the same issues rise over and over again.

Today, I'm posting an interview with another Bible scholar I respect—Dr. Al Mohler of Southern Seminary. You can read the interview here. There is a new anthology book coming out (and Dr. Mohler is one of the contributors) on the subject of inerrancy. The interview is worth perusing, because Al stakes out how important this issue continues to be. It will never go away until the Lord returns. And one thing he points out is that the definition of "inerrancy" needs to be clearly understood. There are things it means and things it does not mean.

While you're at it, see if you can pick up a copy of Dr. Lindsell's book too. Both are worth having in the library.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Geopolitical and Spiritual Reality

As the political chattering class waxes eloquent on the situation with Ukraine, and the Obama Administration's handling of it, I want to use the occasion to make an observation I've made before. But it's worth repeating again, because at least half the country needs to hear it.

I've heard on several occasions where Republican or conservative pundits make the statement that Obama's foreign policy is very redundant of Jimmy Carter. They (rightly) criticize Carter and many liberals as naive, and every time there is an international crisis, leaders along that that persuasion end up having their heads handed to them by authoritarian foreign leaders. Authoritarian leaders know weakness and naivete when they see it and smell it.

Obama is a more difficult case to pin. Yes, he is a political liberal. Yes, his foreign and domestic policy are having deleterious effects on the country. But while Jimmy Carter had genuine, well-intentioned peacenik views driving him, I suspect Obama is driven by something else. Obama is not naive. He is not stupid. He knows PRECISELY what he is doing. He believes America's faults are enormous, and in relationship to other nations, we are arrogant and need to be taken down a peg. He may mouth the usual tut-tuts suggested by the State Department, but he really isn't all that concerned with what other nations do. His mind is on America, and he wants to fundamentally transform who and what we are is a nation. I think most of us don't want to be like Cuba, but tell him that.

Domestically, his rather Marxist notions of "equality" drive him, and the way that usually works out, some end up more equal than others. As Margaret Thatcher observed, sooner or later the left runs out of other people's money. It may take a while to get there, but eventually the economy goes in a slide. But Obama doesn't care about that. He's a man on a mission and he'll do what it takes to impose his view of what the country should be whether the country likes it or not.

Ultimately, no matter what it is that drives Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi (and even some Republicans), they have one huge fundamental flaw that keeps them making the same wrong decisions over and over. They do not believe in the Fall of Man. They believe that man is basically good, and given the right environment and treated the right way, they will make the right, desired choices.

Wrong. God's Word says otherwise. The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick. Who can understand it (Jeremiah 17:9). Or . . . Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5). This is the big, huge blind spot most liberals have. They discount mankind's evil heart—an evil heart that can ONLY be changed by the power of the Gospel. Most dangerously of all, many of them in politics discount their own capability for evil—something very frightening when one gets political power and is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish their objectives, no matter who gets hurt in the process. The end justifies the means.

I'll make one final comment anticipating comments I might get. I am quite aware that there are liberals out there who are not in lockstep with all liberal political philosophy. I am quite aware that there are genuine Christians out there who are more liberal in their economic philosophies, while not endorsing all of the liberal positions on social issues (although that is changing for the worse in some church circles too). I am making a GENERAL observation here, and it's not a hasty generalization. I've studied geopolitics and political philosophy a long time, and have watched professing Christians wrestle with these issues for years.

You MUST start by recognizing the Fall of Man and mankind's sin nature—and what can happen when that sin nature is not dealt with by the Cross and being put to death daily by the power of the Spirit. Unless that very real reality is acknowledged, the same naive errors will keep taking place on the domestic and geopolitical stage. How it all gets fleshed out leaves room for plenty of prayerful discussion. But this one point you've got to get right.

And thus far, we keep getting it wrong.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Pray for Ukraine

It has been a tense and often bloody past few weeks in the former Soviet country of Ukraine. Things ratcheted up when Russian troops took control of the strategic Crimean peninsula in the country's south.

The BBC has a fairly good breakdown of the stakes in this new conflict between the West and Russia. And caught in the middle are millions of people—the majority of whom would rather just live their lives in peace than be caught up in a geopolitical battle.

I am concerned, because I have friends and fellow missionaries in Ukraine. I'm also concerned for the future of religious freedom in this very strategic country once known as the "breadbasket" of Europe. To date, Ukraine has been the freest of all former Soviet republics for evangelical churches and individual believers. Pray for our brothers and sisters there. Another thing to note—Alexander Turchynov, the acting president of Ukraine after the ouster of Viktor Yanukovich, is a Baptist pastor; remarkable for a largely Orthodox Slavic nation. Baptists and other evangelicals have been subject to much persecution and pressure through the years, and you can bet that the leaders of other former Soviet nations are watching this situation closely. Pray that Mr. Turchynov will have abundant wisdom in his transitional leadership of the country, and that other political leaders will not use the events in Ukraine as an excuse to crack down further on evangelicals. The churches there want peace and reconciliation in their country, and freedom to proclaim the Gospel. And as Scripture makes clear, there are many adversaries out there.