Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remembrances of NY after 9-11

Each year as 9-11 is remembered, I think back on my own experiences in New York City in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. I went to NYC as part of a ministry team jointly assembled by the Billy Graham ministry and Samaritan’s Purse. A prayer center was set up several blocks from Ground Zero, and many local Christian volunteers were quickly trained to pray with people on the phone. Even though New York at this time was a place of immeasurable pain and grief, the Holy Spirit was very much at work in the lives of people there.

I remember hand-made flyers being posted by people who were frantically searching for missing loved ones. The hastily created “Have You Seen This Person?” flyers were posted for blocks and blocks. Around New York’s old Armory building, especially, there were incredibly touching scenes. Through many tears, countless men and women were waving flyers and calling out, “Has any one seen__________? Does any one have any information on the whereabouts of _____________ ? Please help us find this person!”

I remember a small pink bicycle near the Armory, covered in flowers like a shrine. All around were flyers requesting information about the bike’s owner- a little girl who had been in a day care facility in one of the Trade Towers. It was hard to walk past the little vacant bike without becoming emotional.

People were hurting, yet there was clearly a spiritual hunger and tenderness. I think that to some degree, that openness and spiritual receptivity continues to this day. I remember about 3 or 4 days after the attacks had happened I was near Wall Street, where I had been sent to deliver some flyers about the Prayer Center. It was about 5:15 PM, and I was standing at a crosswalk with a couple of dozen other people, waiting for the light to change. Some one commented on the flyers I was holding, which had contact info about the Billy Graham Prayer Center.

Suddenly, some one called out, “Is the world going to end? Is this going to be the beginning of Armageddon?” It seemed like every one at that crosswalk was now looking intently at me, waiting for my response. I explained that, “Yes, the Bible teaches that the world will end at some point. Christ is coming back one day, but that no one knows exactly when that will be. The important thing is to be prepared.” The light changed to “Walk,” yet nobody walked. Nobody. Every person stood there listening as I explained the Gospel (competing with lots of background noise). I explained that through Jesus Christ, we can be ready for the end of life, whenever that may come.

Group after group came to the crosswalk, and it was well after 7:00 PM when the stream of pedestrians eventually ended. I had not started out on that particular errand to go “street preaching,” but so many people actually stopped to listen that two street vendors pulled their carts alongside the crowd. I boldly asked people to raise their hands if they were going to pray and put their faith in Jesus. I lost track of how many times I went through a brief explanation of the Gospel message. No one seemed ashamed to publicly acknowledge their response by publicly bowing in prayer.

I remember so many people asking me, “What is Islam? Why would these people do such a thing?” Ten years ago, most Americans had never heard words like “jihad.” It must not be forgotten 9-11 was an attempt to extinguish not only human lives but also democracy itself. The events of September 2001- and the worldview that sanctioned such acts- must be remembered.

I still have a copy of the New York Times that I bought on the Sunday after 9-11. There were full-page ads, placed by other American cities and by foreign countries. Stirring full-page ads from international governments expressed heartfelt condolences, along with pledges of support for the U.S.A. The apparent solidarity was touching.

Since then, each time I fly into New York my heart is stirred by memories of that time. I have often spent time sitting on the runway at JFK or Laguardia, praying. I sometimes say a prayer for people left bereaved by 9-11, many of whom are probably still hurting. I pray for God’s protection of our nation. I pray for the preservation of democracy. I pray that Americans everywhere would understand that our precious democracy was birthed by (and sustained by) a distinctly Biblical worldview. And I also pray that people of the Muslim world would soon understand that Jesus loves them all so much He paid for their sins on the cross.

As I walked through NYC 10 years ago, a verse that kept coming to my mind was a promise penned by the Old Testament writer, Habakkuk. He prophesized that one day “the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters now cover the seas.” (2:14). To say the least, that day hasn't come just yet. But the thought of it comforts, inspires, and motivates me still. May this same Lord- known by our founders and those of previous generations- be America’s God today and always.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

GOP Presidential Hopefuls Who Are Strong in Faith Must Clarify Their Beliefs

As presidential hopefuls speak more and more about how their faith shapes their leadership, their views have been challenged.

These challenges to the politicians' faith are perfect opportunities for them to rationally and intelligently defend their beliefs, and in the process, be an example to other Christians to do the same.

This is the first time we've seen such a strong Christian presence in the presidential race. And that tells me two things about our country. One, Americans are craving a leader who will pull us out of the moral decline that has caused so many financial and relational problems. And two, Christians are becoming more vocal in politics, rather than keeping quiet in this arena. It's time for believers to stand up and become involved.

One columnist for CNN recently posed five Scripture passages, specifically looking for a response from Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Texas Governor Rick Perry, who both have been vocal about their faith and prayer life. The columnist, Stephen Prothero, is a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World." I interviewed Prothero a couple of times on my radio program, SoundRezn.

The conversation first began when Bachmann was asked if she would submit to her husband if elected President - a question to which the audience booed. But some opponents feel that candidates like Bachmann and Perry are fair game when it comes to tough spiritual questions because they have included their faith in their presidential campaigns. Therefore, Prothero posed the questions to the candidates vying for the evangelical Protestant vote.

Verse # 1: "Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands" (Colossians 3:18).

Should female presidents submit to their first husbands? Many in our society recoil at the question of whether any would should submit to her husband. Such questions has been long debated, especially as woman assume more roles of public leadership in society.

The word submission is a tough one for some to swallow. But in actuality, it means respect among other things - that there should be one leader in the home, and when opinions differ, someone's view must win out, in this case the husband. But it is a matter of mutual respect, too, not just blind agreement. In the same passage, husbands are also instructed to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. Furthermore, this applies to the Bachmann home, not her presidency, which hopefully will be two very different settings.

Verse #2: "But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (Matthew 6:6).

Many criticized Perry for leading very public prayer gatherings for the good of the state of Texas. Perry should not have, some said, mixed church and state. Last month, he led an event called, "The Response," a large spiritual gathering in Texas.

Should Christians make a show of praying in public? Pharisees were criticized for praying on street corners. But the purpose of the prayer is the main focus.

A leader who can rally people to pray passionately about something they feel strongly about isn't a crime. In fact, it's an admirable quality. Yes, we should sometimes focus our prayers with God in quiet and reverence. But Jesus also said, 'Where two are three are gathered, there I will be also.' Being a prayer leader is not a sin, unless someone is making a show of prayer simply for his own benefit."

Verse#3: "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13).

This commandment is often used by pro-life advocates to defend the unborn. But what about capital punishment? It's something some conservatives believe in, and Texas is especially known for criminal executions.

This is another issue that will probably be debate until the end of time. But those who feel strongly about it can also point to other scriptures, such as 'an eye for an eye,' as well as many passages that talk about offenses and sins that are punishable by death.

Verse #4: "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Luke 20:25).

The CNN columnist's beef with Bachmann and Perry relating to this passage is what he calls their inability to separate religious and secular authority.

This argument, to me, is a weak one. Christian political leaders simply must rely on their faith in their job if they are looking at everything through a Christian worldview. I believe Congresswoman Bachmann and Gov. Perry both see the distinction, but a complete separation of the two in their leadership will be virtually impossible as they rely on their Christian worldview daily.

Verse #5: "Blessed are the poor" (Luke 6:20).

This teaching has to do with the Christian community's responsibility to take care of the poor, the CNN columnist said. With budget cuts a necessity in the coming years, welfare programming may take a hit. But does that mean Christians no longer want to help the poor?

Again, this is a matter of taking Scripture out of context. Of course, we shouldn't completely neglect the poor if some government hand-out programs have to be cut. But there are other ways to help those who need a hand besides a hand-out. There are countless ways we can help our neighbors. Programs like welfare aren't actually helping, as we've learned. These programs are actually hurting the poor by taking away their dignity, trapping them in a life of entitlement - a vicious cycle. There are better, more compassionate and more respectful ways to help the poor.

As I travel throughout America, speaking churches and schools, hosting a daily radio call in program- personally talking weekly with dozens (usually hundreds) of concerned citizens, this is what I am hearing: Main street USA wants a president that holds traditional American values, is not afraid to express them, and is willing to defend them.

I am hearing people throughout the country say that they want a president who is unashamedly pro-American, is a defender of the Constitution, is pro-free enterprise, who is a defender of traditional values, who believes in smaller government, fewer taxes and entitlements, a strong national defense, and who is a straight-talker. One whose programs are not covertly smuggling in socialism and/or social engineering ... oh, and this, too: A president, like many of us, who is weary of seeing God expunged from American life.

I believe there is a presidency waiting for a vocal and courageous patriot of unwavering convictions. Do such leaders still exist? We'll have to wait and see.

Friday, July 29, 2011

US Government Deals 'Meth Lab Economics' by Pushing Programs and Spending

Let’s admit it: Out country is addicted to spending. We must return to Biblical principles of financial management. Personally and nationally, the consequences will be severe if we do not. The repercussions of our nation's financial mismanagement and debt are predicted to impact generations of future Americans.

As talks are breaking down regarding the impending financial crisis in the U.S., the debate is extremely heated on how America should spend its money. With $14.3 trillion in debt, spending is spiraling out of control and the U.S. may hit a financial crisis like other countries around the globe.

So what is the answer to stop the bleeding?

The answer is simple: Stop the addiction and return to biblical principles when handling the country's finances.

There's a reason this country is having so much trouble getting out of debt. We are literally addicted to spending. The government has pushed program upon program in Americans' faces for so long, we seemingly can't live without them. These programs are like drugs and we just need more and more to get by.

What our government is really doing is dealing in what I call, 'meth lab economics.' Liberals create an entitlement mindset and we teach people to think 'I earned this free program; I have a right to handouts with no responsibility.' It becomes a drug that creates dependency.

Government programs continue to keep people dependent. Welfare is essentially economic crack dealing. And until we take a more biblical approach to personal responsibility and spending, this addiction will continue.

We would all condemn the drug dealer who hooks his victims, reels them in, and holds them in bondage awaiting the next ‘fix.’ But government entitlements which give people barely enough to subsist, and which breed a mindset that, ‘you can’t make it without my help’ create a bondage similar to that experienced by the drug addict. This is un-American and ungodly.

It is not naïve to think that the U.S. can financially run on biblical principles. This involves simply returning to the Bible to guide us in how we handle our money and following a few basic tenets:

-Be good stewards of God's resources. We are only caretakers on this Earth and frivolous spending makes us irresponsible stewards of all that God has given us.
-Know that saving is a tenet of God.
-Stay out of debt!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Singer’s passing is a reminder that youth (and adults) should derive their self-esteem from the right sources

The recent death of musician Amy Winehouse is a vivid reminder that, beginning as early in life as possible, individuals need to develop healthy perspectives on their value as a human being. Amy Winehouse was an award-winning musician who enjoyed praise from fans, respect from critics, and international fame. But clearly the perks of stardom and the gratification of artistic expression weren’t enough to fill Amy Winehouse’s heart.

Like so many other musical firebrands who burned out early (the list of more famous names includes Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, Presley, Cobain, et al), Winehouse seemed to truly be on a path of intentional destruction. It has been agonizing to watch her journey play out over the last few years: There has been habitual drunkenness, drug use, erratic public performances- not to mention shocking changes in appearance that included plastic surgery and the toll exacted by her lifestyle. Amy Winehouse had many things that people would assume should amount to happiness- yet it was clear that she was unfulfilled.

Amy Winehouse’s story is one more true-life illustration of some basic realities about what it means to be human. Though they may not say it in these words, all individuals seek acceptance, significance, and security. We all want to feel like we have value as a person and that our life has meaning. Our pursuits for solid answers to the heart’s deep longings may tempt us to do things that can be personally detrimental. The quest to fill the heart can lead to destruction of the body in which that heart (and soul) are housed.

I believe this is what happened to the late Amy Winehouse. After two decades in ministry and in the course of working with countless families, I have seen similar scenarios played out in the lives of many people. Parents should understand that they must encourage their children to find personal worth, value, and meaning in the appropriate places. The natural longings of the human mind and soul should be answered in ways that are not destructive to the individual.

Self-esteem: Developing a sense of how I see me
Whether positive or negative, realistic or not, the views we form of ourselves during childhood and adolescence stay with us for years. Our self-esteem influences mental acuity, emotional health, and behavior.

Beverly Odom, assistant director of a large student ministry in Georgia, says, “The pressure on most kids today is just unbelievable. The quest to be accepted goes on “24-7.” Odom comments on the fact that even youth from religious homes (who would likely be more inclined to base their self worth on their relationship to God) are not immune to pressures related to image and popularity: “Even Christian teens can lose sight of all that they have in Christ, and can be pressured to do things that, deep down, they know are wrong. Teen girls, especially, constantly compare themselves to each other and to images they see in the media. I often see the body obsession thing linger on into adulthood.”

How do we help the youth in our lives arrive at a God-honoring, balanced sense of self? “The kids we’ve seen flourish are the ones who accurately understand who they are in Christ,” says Odom. “They must draw their identity from Jesus. Parents should try and steer their kids away from allowing peer-pressure, social posturing, or the media sour their perspective.”

Finding a godly, healthy perspective in a “world about me”

For a Christian, there are clear and tangible reasons to feel OK about who they are. Your teen’s understanding of his own worth should be grounded on (and bolstered by) the following realities:

1. By the fact that they are made in God’s image;

2. In the awareness that Jesus personally cares about them;

3. Through the unconditional love present in your home;

4. Through the accepting haven provided by one’s church;

5. In their true status as a resident (and heir) of heaven;

6. In the confidence that God truly has a plan for their life.

These truths can be a great source of encouragement, but we know that emotions don’t automatically “catch up” to the facts that we hold in our mind. Self-esteem issues often feed on irrationality. We must vigilantly pursue an honest view of ourselves, of our circumstances, and of God. Feelings of insecurity (which can lead to unhealthy behaviors) should not ‘trump’ the facts (that we are made in God’s image and are complete in Him Christ).

For the Christian, one’s self-esteem is grounded in things outside of themselves (see Colossians 2:8-9). Of the six realities listed above, none lead us to find our value by comparing ourselves to others. Somebody will always come along who is prettier, a better athlete, wealthier, or who has a higher GPA. In a world of more than six billion people, that’s inevitable.

Approach life as a competition, and it doesn’t take long to realize that we all eventually get left in the dust of the next fastest runner. The comfort is in knowing that we are a priority to Christ.

The tragic decline and death of Amy Winehouse is a reminder that people of all ages need a clear understanding of Who Jesus is, and a personal experience of His love and care. This provides lasting purpose and clear direction- even to those traversing the heady, challenging, and sometimes “tooth-and-claw” years of adolescence.