In what must be the #1 Biblical story of 2017, we see the astonishing announcement that the Israeli government is seriously considering naming a future new train station near Jerusalem's Old City after President Donald Trump. As you may recall, President Trump just acknowledged Jerusalem as Israel's capital on December 6, and vowed to move the United States embassy there from Tel Aviv in the near future.
As we shared in a previous edition of the Carlson Report on December 7, Jerusalem has always been the center of the Lord's purposes for us through our creation and redemption and so Jerusalem is not only the eternal capital of Israel, but of the world. Because the prophetic things under way are so spectacular, we need to catch our breath and take a moment to reflect on exactly what is going on because the events are momentous for the entire world.
As Christmas and New Year's comes around every year, most of us have the sense that time is passing, and we are watching it happen. But few know where it is going or what it is about. The most important thing for us to know regarding the passing of time is that all of it is about two key events in history and life, namely, the first and second Coming (or Advent) of the Lord Jesus Christ. As a result, no matter when a person has lived throughout history, they either have been or are waiting for one of the Lord's comings. Once we begin to understand that fact, the passing of time and life itself will begin to make sense. Joyfully, there is a plan in place that we can understand. Without such a plan and purpose for time, life can end up just becoming a series of meaningless events that come and go. Sadly, that is the way most people see life and even the holidays.
When life doesn't make much sense, and the passing of time becomes weary and dreary, people get depressed and despondent. This Christmas, many are being gripped with a crisis of meaning and purpose that are reflected in some shocking statistics. As an example, a current Wall Street Journal article reports, "Drug and Alcohol Deaths at U.S. Workplaces Soar", was written that reflects our society's growing pain. The article goes on to state that drug and alcohol deaths in the U.S. have jumped more than 30% in 2016 alone as the struggle with a deadly opioid epidemic migrates to the workplace. Without a meaning and purpose to life and the passing of time, people don't know where to turn. This, of course, is not a new problem in America. It is part of the human condition and our broken lives. In the Bible, King Solomon spoke about this emptiness of life in Ecclesiastes 1:2-4 without God's purposes when he wrote,
During each Christmas season the Christmas story comes down to each of us answering the question that our Lord Jesus asked the disciples in Matthew 16:15, "Who do you say I am?" You see our faith and future all come down to how we answer that central question. Now if you remember the Apostle Peter's answer in the next verse he said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Peter told our Lord and the world that Jesus was the Christ (Man) and the Son of God (God). The mystery of God becoming Man is the heart of the Christmas Story that the Bible teaches, and is the meaning of life. Unfortunately, most of the world evidently doesn't believe that right now. Vast numbers of people have a variety of ideas about who Jesus is. Seemingly fewer and fewer believe He is God in the flesh. And those numbers will continue to decrease as our Lord's Second Advent draws near. The purpose of this edition of the Carlson Report is to share why I believe that God became Man. My hope is to communicate a common-sense apologetic for Christmas and the Christian Faith in an increasingly confused world.
The central reason I believe God became a Man is that without that fact there is no ultimate and meaningful relationship to God! Without that personal connection to God we are only left with a few pleasures and joys in our relationships with humanity. And yet, the greatest pleasure of life is to enjoy and personally know God. That is the supreme delight of our humanity, namely to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. If God is not human, the personal joys of life and our relationships with others can never find home with God Himself. This fact would keep us relationally separated from our Creator, which is the definition of sin itself.
In an amazing move of boldness and courage, President Trump declared today that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and vowed to move the American embassy there from Tel Aviv in the near future. Prior to today's announcement, Jerusalem had been the only national capital city of any sovereign state where the United States had not placed their embassy due to political tensions. In a desire to support Israel's right to exist and name its own capital, President Trump said,
That is why, consistent with the Jerusalem embassy act, I am also directing the State Department to begin preparation to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This will immediately begin the process of hiring architects, engineers and planners so that a new embassy, when completed, will be a magnificent tribute to peace.
And while this move, a Trump campaign promise, was hailed by many as wonderful and long overdue, it has been challenged and cursed by many others as an unnecessary provocation and a possible prelude to war with the Islamic world and beyond. The rhetoric on both sides is very heated right now and that surely will not change. However, even though this issue is "up in the air" for the foreseeable future, it is an issue at the heart of the Lord's eternal purposes for all of us. It is an issue that every person on Earth should be prayerfully considering tonight and thinking about for their future.
One of the saddest, but most insightful events going on today is the explosion of sexually exploitive behavior against women. Lately, it seems there is not a day that goes by without some new national figure being caught for sexually inappropriate behavior. The most recent case of NBC anchor and icon Matt Lauer being fired for such behavior is part of a shocking tsunami of sexual abuse that has been going on for years. Sadly, what we are hearing about is probably just the "tip of the iceberg" and we can be sure that in the days ahead other women will be coming forward to challenge those in power and the public eye with new allegations of sexual wrongdoing.
Did you ever stop and ask, "How did we get here as a nation?" How did America end up spending much of its news and media time covering the sexual excesses and abuses of its leaders? Surely the issues underway now have been building for over a generation. And while all of this tells us a lot about our society and politics, it ultimately tells us much more about human nature and what the Lord is trying to say to us.
One of the most important issues of life is finding a place we call "home." As the old saying goes, "Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home." Whether we realize it or not, we are all hardwired to long for a place we call "home." The confusing part of that issue is the fact that where we live may not ever feel like home. Sometimes we live in places that just end up being a place where we sleep at night. Home is far more than a bed to sleep in at night. Home is a feeling, a state of mind, a place that means something to us on a personal and/or spiritual level that cannot be put into words. And because the average American moves about 11 times in their life, the idea of finding a real home can feel almost impossible for some.
One of the great stories about the search for home is told in the 1939 classic movie "The Wizard of Oz" starring Judy Garland. In the movie, Judy portrays a little girl named Dorothy that runs away from home and can't seem to ever get back there. The entire movie follows Dorothy's travels in her search to go back to her home in Kansas. Throughout Dorothy's journey she runs into a wicked witch that seems to make the return trip seemingly impossible. The culmination of the movie is when Dorothy finally clicks her ruby slippers together and says over and over, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home." The movie ends with Dorothy back in her Kansas home where she lives "happily ever after" with her family. The power of that timeless movie endures until today because we all want to go home.
If you want to really grow in your faith ask yourself this question, "Can the Church Make God Relevant?" The answer to this question will make you think and lead you to understand the Lord in new ways. Our hope on the Carlson Report is to bring thoughtful articles to the Christian world that make people do a little critical thinking. We are immersed in a "touchy, feely" world of cultural images, technology and sound bites that does just the opposite. Getting people to stop and really think is not easy, but our goal here is not success but faithfulness to the Lord.
If there was ever an area that has captivated the Church world today it is the issue of "relevance." You hear that word used frequently these days. You hear it at conferences for Church leaders and in just about any place where ministry is going on today. Of course, the main reason people are talking about "relevance" is because people are worried that God and/or the Church is becoming "irrelevant." People seem to be deeply concerned that we are losing our young people and that the Christian Faith is just hanging on in a seductive and antagonistic world. People are feeling increasing desperate on how to reach people with the Gospel and make the Lord, the Church and the Faith relevant for the next generation.
If there was one principle that is at the heart of showing us the depth of the spiritual battle we are in today, it would be the attempt by certain groups and individuals to "divide and conquer" our nation. So, whenever you see a spirit that moves people away from truth and turns them against one another, you can be sure you are dealing with a spirit that is opposed to the Lord and His purposes. That is true because the Lord Himself is a unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our Lord's own nature and work in redemption is designed to bring people together by uniting people in the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the way, the truth and the life.
For the last 50 years or so we have seen a spirit of division attacking America and our institutions at every level. That divisive spirit has attacked the family, marriage, the Ten Commandments, the Church, the Constitution, our legal system and the nation itself. The way it works is simple. Find a "supposed injustice" or "victim," protest it loudly with the media, take it to court and turn people against each other. This pattern of finding new "victims of injustice" has polarized the entire nation and it is getting worse every week. In just a few short years our country has been turned against itself and our future as one nation under God is surely in doubt. Only the Lord knows how long this pattern can and will continue.
As many of you may know, the USA experienced a total eclipse of the sun on August 21. It was a BIG event. Hundreds of thousands of people drove to places like Carbondale, Illinois to view the eclipse in what is referred to as "totality." Totality is a place where the sun is fully covered by the moon because the alignment of the bodies is perfect. When "totality" happens, seeing the eclipse is an awesome sight to behold that goes far beyond a picture in a book or on this website. For some it is a deep and meaningful spiritual experience that changes people's lives. Observers realize there is something literally "out of this world" going on in the heavens....and they are right. Some people travel around the world to view these total eclipses and a few even get married during them. Total eclipses are a miracle of the Lord. They shouldn't happen, but they do. But the most amazing part of any total eclipse is the fact that it is a picture of the Lord's love for this world.
Now what is absolutely incredible with this last total eclipse in the USA is the fact that it ONLY happened in the USA. No other location on earth saw it in totality. According to Parade Magazine this rare eclipse in America was something that will never be seen again until January 25, 2316. Regarding the uniqueness of the eclipse the magazine wrote,
To find a total solar eclipse that compares with our Great American Eclipse, you have to go all the way back to July 29, 436—1,581 years ago—when the Moon's shadow swept across what would eventually become the U.S. mainland.
How could I ever forget the day when someone called me on the phone the morning of September 11, 2001 and told me to turn on the TV right away? Something incredible was unfolding in New York that would forever change our view of the world......maybe. Most of us remember watching the horrors of the 9-11 plots to bring down this Nation and possibly trigger a world war. We watched in unbelief and horror as the World Trade Center fell into a pile of ash, dust and debris in a matter of seconds, as though a nuclear bomb had fallen on it. We saw numerous people jumping to their deaths to escape the inferno of the flames. We grieved as we began to hear the endless, tragic stories of almost 3000 people that had been murdered in cold blood in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on that Day. We also began to learn over the next few days about how the 19 hijackers, from a radical Islamic group inspired by Osama Bin Ladin, had carefully planned this diabolical plot of evil for years. It was as if Hell showed up and let the world see its ugly face, if but for a few hours.
In the wake of that tragedy, the Nation came together for a season. People bought and displayed American flags by the millions, held prayer meetings and memorial services. Our Nation and its leadership began to ask hard questions about the nature of Islam, good, evil, right, wrong and how all of this could happen. The Nation began a soul searching on many levels of how to respond. People wanted to know how we could all work together so something like this would never happen again. All of this eventually led to a war in Afghanistan and Iraq, new surveillance measures by our government over our lives and deeper questions about our national security. Without a doubt, 9-11 forever changed America and the world....maybe.
If you want to be a part of the "cutting edge" of the Bible prophecy, just go out and see the new movie "Wonder Woman." The movie is fun to watch and you will be glad you went. It is a typical superhero movie featuring a Wonder Woman, a female version of Superman, who is out to destroy evil and save the world. What is interesting about this summer blockbuster is some of the controversy it has generated around the world. You see, "Wonder Woman" features an Israeli actress, Gal Gadot in the lead role. That fact has led to the movie being boycotted in several Islamic nations such as Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon. It seems the hatred of Israel knows no limits and has even extended now to an entertaining movie actress. The boycott of "Wonder Woman," for having an Israeli in the cast, is part of a larger narrative related to the "BDS Movement" that is designed to boycott, divest and sanction anything Israeli. Sadly, this movement has even found fertile ground in the USA, liberal "churches" and on the campuses of several colleges and universities.
What few have seemed to notice is that an Israeli in the lead role of a superhero is not a new theme. And while most may miss the irony of this recent movie, the Lord Jesus Christ is also an Israeli and the ONLY Superhero that ever existed. All superheroes are just "Jesus Hero Wannabees" because there isn't a hero anywhere that has done anything for anyone that is not a reflection of our Lord and His great love for this world.
One of the greatest war movies ever made was "Saving Private Ryan." It starred Tom Hanks as Captain John Miller, who played the leader of a platoon of men sent on a heroic journey to find and save Private James Ryan, played by Matt Damon. Private Ryan had already lost 3 of his brothers in combat, so the Army decided that he had to be saved, brought back and restored to his family. The movie follows their mission to find and save Private Ryan. Sadly, as the movie unfolds and comes to a climax, most of the men sent on this mission are killed in combat trying to save Private Ryan. In a tremendous and moving scene, near the end of the movie, Captain Miller is mortally wounded and spends his final moments with Private Ryan at his side. As he sits dying, Captain Miller looks at Private Ryan and gives him his last words—"Earn it." In his final breath, Captain Miller challenged Private Ryan to live a life worthy of the sacrifice that was made for him.
The final scene of this great movie is set in an American military cemetery in Europe where Captain Miller is buried, surrounded by thousands of other men who died in the war. Private Ryan was an old man now, near the end of his life. He had brought his family with him to Captain Miller's graveside. He remembered what Captain Miller and all the men had done for him in saving his life by giving their own. It was fresh in his mind as though it had just happened. He asked his wife if he had lived a good life. His wife did not understand what really had happened during the war. She never heard about Captain Miller's last word to her husband, "Earn it." She didn't understand the burden her husband had lived with all his life to live a life worthy of such a sacrifice.....to earn it. Such a scene is one of the greatest scenes ever filmed in movie history because of its meaning to all of us on this Memorial Day weekend.
All of life is about giving on one level or another. We spend our lives giving to people each day. We give to people at home, work or school. And yet, while many may not realize it, all of this giving to others is just a dress rehearsal and practice for giving ourselves to the Lord. The best place to see that going on is in the story of marriage between a man and woman. This past weekend, my beloved daughter got married. I had the privilege of giving her away to her new husband. Both of them had the joy of giving themselves away to one another. The story of giving our lives to another, as seen in marriage, is the narrative of how the Lord gave Himself away for His Bride on the Cross.
Now if you look at our society today, it seems increasingly harder for people to give themselves away to anyone or anything. Ours is a society that fears commitment and sacrifice. Ours is a culture that is dominated by the self. So, the idea of completely giving oneself away to another out of love and altruism seems hard to find. That problem extends far beyond marriage to every relationship. Instead it seems that many people are more conditioned to seeing how much they can get from others. Sacrifice and giving of one's life to and for another is foreign.
Over the past couple of years, The Carlson Report has Biblically explored some of the great issues and questions of the day. However, the most basic issue in life is not about politics, prophecy, morality, new technology or something else in the news. The most basic issue of life is, "Why Are We Here?" All the rest of the issues and questions in our lives don't mean much if we can't answer that one. It seems we often end up with TMI (Too Much Information), but too little meaning and purpose about our lives. People will try to solve and deal with every issue they face each day, but their ultimate purpose for even being here on planet earth is left unsolved. If you stop and think about it, this is THE great problem of the human condition and life itself....we don't know why we are here.
Now this most basic of questions is looked at by the world's religions and philosophers all the time. And yet, most people come to accept they aren't going to find the answer, or at least one that makes sense right now. As a matter of fact, most people believe that the answers about our purpose and reason for being alive must wait for some sort of afterlife before things start to finally make sense. So, for many, about all we can do is try to live a "good life" (whatever that means) and hope for the best in some future world. But if we're honest, how satisfying can that approach really be? Does it make much sense to wander around doing a bunch of stuff every day, but in the end, have no idea why we are here in the first place?
On this Resurrection weekend, we pause and reflect on the greatest event in human history, the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Christian Faith has always rested on the simple truth of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Simply put, without an empty tomb we have an empty faith. Without an empty tomb the Christian Faith collapses and is a fraud. The Bible is very clear on this subject according to I Corinthians 15:12-26. Christianity is the ONLY faith that builds everything on a single event... the Empty Tomb. Other faiths and religious systems have complex systems of belief and doctrine that are hard to understand, even for their own followers. On the other hand, the Lord has made the Christian Faith so simple that even a young child can understand it. Christ is raised from the dead!
For many people today, the Resurrection of our Lord is something they believe on some level, but it doesn't seem to go much deeper. It becomes an "article of faith" and not personal experience. Many people will attend Easter services, wear a new hat, have a special dinner with family, but seemingly vanish the rest of the year. Our Nation is filled with a majority of people who profess they are Christians and yet we are in the midst of being called "post Christian." How does something like that happen and what does that say about how people really see the Lord and/or the Faith? Can someone really believe in the Empty Tomb and not have that event transform their lives?
As Palm Sunday approaches this weekend, millions of Christians will be celebrating our Lord's ride into Jerusalem as the Savior of the world. This event marks the beginning of what is known of as "Holy Week," culminating with Easter Sunday or First Fruits the following Sunday. And while millions of people will be gathering for celebrations around the world, few may see the deeper meaning of Palm Sunday and our Lord's ride on the donkey as it relates to our lives in Christ.
When the Lord Jesus got on that donkey, His primary purpose was to fulfill a passage from Zechariah 9:9 that was written over 400 years earlier that said,
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
If you want to understand how to make sense of the current culture wars and the spiritual meaning behind them, you need look no further than the current nomination battle over Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. In what may turn out to be the most contested fight to seat a Supreme Court Judge in America history, the Lord is giving us a glimpse into the greater spiritual conflict between Heaven and Hell that is going on all around us. You see the candidacy of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court is a lightning rod that defines how people see not only politics and the Constitution, but ultimately the Lord Himself.
The vote to seat Judge Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is expected sometime in April. However, the process to get there promises to be truly "ugly." Both sides in this conflict realize that the rule of law in this country hangs in the balance for the next 20 years or so. Thus, no amount of rhetoric or money can be withheld by either side to either confirm Judge Gorsuch or defeat him. As you watch this battle unfold, it will be amazing to see how it ultimately reveals the hearts of people on both sides.
Recently, a story broke that should get everyone's attention in the Church world. That story was the closing in late February of Family Christian Stores, the nation's largest chain of Christian book and merchandise stores after 85 years in business. The announcement will affect more than 3,000 employees at more than 240 stores around the nation. For many, a story like this is "no big deal." After all, in an age of Amazon.com and less serious reading by the public, one might not think too much on this story. Few would think that such a financial bankruptcy pointed to an even deeper spiritual one in the Church. You see, what we are watching today are signs of a major spiritual decline in the American Church and a movement away from Biblical foundations and literacy.
From the beginning, the Bible has been the cornerstone of Christian Faith and discipleship. While Bibles may have to be smuggled into some nations today, just about every American has access to as many as they want for a low price. The problem that has come up in the last 50 years or so is that our consumer driven culture has created a demand for millions of other books about the Bible and the Christian Faith that are being promoted and read instead. And while some of this is good, we are beginning to see the downside of the Christian consumer world we have created. Instead of reading and studying the Word today, many Christian consumers are lost in a sea of shallow, pop culture books and literature. Many of these books are written by famous celebrities and mega church pastors that are about the latest spiritual fashions and fads that tell their audiences how to lose weight, deal with a difficult person, become a better parent or how to be more successful and blessed. Instead of just reading and studying the Word and hiding it in our hearts, we have been buying Bible verses for our refrigerator magnets and wall hangings.
One of the most interesting words that have emerged in our culture in the last year or so has been the use of the word "fake." The word came out of the last Presidential campaign. The word was used to describe the chaos that was created by the media, in which few seemed to really know what was genuine or fake news. This movement away from reality and truth to the counterfeit and fake is at the heart of a growing spiritual climate going on today. This emergence of the "fake" has begun to transform everything in our world from Presidential elections to our relationships with others and even the Lord Himself.
A generation or so ago, most people had some idea of what was meant by a friend. Back then, when people used the term "friend" they meant something by it. It normally meant you knew someone, spent time with them and had developed a relationship with them that you valued and was worth something to you. Back in the "good old days," friendships were often connected to people you could count on to do something for you or even would be willing to make a sacrifice for you when the going got tough. Real friends tended to stick together and defend one another through the ups and downs of life.
One of the most incredible things to watch today is the changing role of Donald Trump as President. When Donald Trump first announced his desire to be President, it was considered a "bad joke" by many people. More recently the laughter has died down. Not only did Donald Trump become President against impossible odds, but his first address to a joint session of Congress this past Tuesday surprised many. Some people simply could not believe that President Trump's speech sounded "Presidential." In slightly over an hour, President Trump delivered one of the more powerful, substantive and effective speeches to the Nation in recent memory. People from all political persuasions were shocked at how well the speech came across. Simply put, something is underway now that is surprising almost everyone, except the Lord of glory that planned it all for His purposes and our good.
Anytime you see the emergence of a new and transformational leader on the world stage, you can be sure the Lord is at work for His purposes and that BIG things are underway in His Kingdom. The Prophet Daniel said in Daniel 2:21,
Praise be to the name of the Lord for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
There is no question that President Trump is such a world leader and that his influence and role in history is going to be greater than anyone realizes at the present time. That has already happened in just a few weeks. None of us can even begin to imagine what his influence will be over the next 4-8 years, should he remain in office.
One of the most deadly and destructive forms of public discourse today is rooted and grounded in accusation. Accusation is the idea that someone has done something wrong, sinned or broken the rules without any clear and verifiable evidence, facts or truth to establish it. In a way, accusation has become the new public courtroom in America where everyone is on trial for something that goes against what the cultural agenda has established by the media and those in power. If someone dares to stand up for anything these days they are often torn apart under a torrent of media attacks, fake news and accusations by nameless sources with unproven facts. These personal attacks have changed the world as we know it, and the worst is yet to come.
Media attacks and accusations are all based on the premise that there is something "right" and something "wrong." Since the Lord has hardwired us for morality through the Law and our conscience, it is impossible to move totally away from morality on some level, however it might be manipulated. The goal of all accusation is to declare that someone is guilty in order to bring about public shame and destroy their voice in the public square.
Happy Valentine's Day! If you go to a store today you will see a frenzy of people buying cards, flowers and candy for the people in their lives. Valentine's Day is the third biggest day in the floral industry, following Christmas and Mother's Day. Valentine's Day is the second largest greeting card holiday after Christmas. Valentine's Day is the fourth largest candy day following Halloween, Easter and Christmas. So, Valentine's Day and the love connected to it is BIG business. The holiday has its roots in the early history of the Church. According to Wikipedia,
Valentine's Day, also called Saint Valentine's Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine, is an annual holiday celebrated on February 14. It originated as a Western Christian liturgical feast day honoring one or more early saints named Valentinus, and is recognized as a significant cultural and commercial celebration in many regions around the world, although it is not a public holiday in any country.
Most of the stories and possible myths surrounding this holiday connect it to the martyrdom of Christians serving others. So, the idea of Christian love and sacrifice seems to be at the heart of the holiday's origins long before people were sending flowers, candy and cards.
There is no question that this past Sunday's Super Bowl game between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons was one of the greatest football games ever played, some are saying THE greatest. But the reason the game was so amazing and memorable was because of what the superstar of the game, Patriot quarterback Tom Brady, did in rallying his team back to a comeback victory from a 25 point deficit in the 3rd quarter to win in overtime. Nothing like it had ever happened in Super Bowl history. People will be talking about this game for a long time. It was the kind of game that no one could forget. Some sports writers are calling it a, "Game for the ages." It was a game that seemed for a moment to move from a sporting event to mythology and legend.
Whenever you see something amazing out there, you can always be sure there is something in it about the Lord. We are hardwired to react to certain things in certain ways because they reflect important things about the Lord. Whether we understand it or not, we are hardwired to rejoice when we see our heroes make comebacks. For many people, Tom Brady is some sort of sports hero. Before Sunday's game, many football fans and players said he was the greatest quarterback in NFL history. After what happened in the game, few have any doubts left. Tom Brady's legacy and place in history has been established as part of his sports legend. For the rest of his life, Tom Brady will walk around and people will say, "There goes Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback that ever lived."