If there is one cry that comes from the heart of every true believer, it is to hear from the Lord. Such a cry is the desire to have a real and powerful opportunity to hear from Heaven and know what the Lord is saying to us. Such a desire comes from deep within our souls and is very much like a child crying for their father and saying, "Abba! Father!" as the Apostle Paul reminds us in Galatians 4:6. Only the Lord Himself can meet the deepest need of being our Father, Lord and Savior by speaking tenderly and directly to His people through His Word.
The problem we are facing in this hour is that hearing from the Lord is not a very common thing today. We are living in a period of history that is very similar to the days of the Judges about 3000 years ago. Back in those days, the culture was preoccupied with a focus on the "self" where everyone did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). The people did not have spiritually mature leadership, so they were not hearing from the Lord. When the young boy Samuel was finally born, we are told that hearing the "Word of the Lord" was rare (I Samuel 3:1). Samuel's birth was meant to be a sign that the Lord was going to speak to the people again through him because his name in Hebrew means, "to hear." Real leaders must first hear from the Lord themselves, before they can share what the Lord is saying to the people. It is not enough to just be religious or even be in religious leadership.
While much of the Nation seems to be preoccupied with the "mud wrestling" going on today with the race for President, the story of greatest importance is being overlooked. Our current political chaos is only a symptom of a much deeper cause. The story everyone should be concerned with right now is the rapid secularization of the Nation and departure from the historic Christian Faith that helped to create it. This is the hidden story behind ever other story. It is THE story being suppressed by the media and largely ignored by many pastors and churches.
According to a growing number of studies, statistics and expert analysis, America is rapidly becoming a post Christian Nation. Leading Christian pollster George Barna, at Barna.org, recently reported that the number of people labelled "post Christian" has risen from 37% in 2013 to 44% in 2015. That is an increase of almost 20% in just two years. To be labelled as a "post Christian," according to Barna, you have to be almost antagonistic to the Lord and the Christian Faith. These growing and alarming statistics are telling us that America is undergoing a radical spiritual transformation before our eyes that needs to be understood as we face the future.
As we joyfully prepare to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ in a few days, it is exciting to see the Lord confirming this glorious truth to the world in an amazing way. The Lord Jesus rose from the dead on the 3rd Day, as He promised during His public ministry in Matthew 16:21. However, many have missed the Resurrection of Israel as THE greatest modern witness to our Lord's victory over sin, death and Hell since the apostolic age.
When the modern State of Israel came into being as a renewed nation on May 14, 1948, very few people saw any connection to the Empty Tomb of the Lord Jesus. And yet, the parallels were striking. The Lord Jesus Christ rose on the 3rd Day after 3 days in the grave, following the Cross and His suffering. In a similar way, the Jewish people rose again from the dead after their suffering and Holocaust. At the end of World War II, the Jewish people were virtually dead as a nation in Europe. The Allies were shocked and horrified as they liberated the death camps of Europe to find piles of dead bodies and a level of horror and suffering unseen in human history.
Do you remember where you were when you heard something about the Resurrection for the first time? The Resurrection is such an amazing event that it should be like a spiritual 9-11 that is unforgettable. How could we not be shaken by it? Surely that had to be the case for the Lord's disciples when they knew Jesus was alive. How do you forget something like that? It is the kind of thing that once heard it redefines your life and reality forever. Nothing else matters as much after hearing about it. Of course, that was the Lord's intent from the beginning.
And yet, even though the story and truth of the Resurrection is what life is all about, it remains so quiet and hidden at times. You can literally live for years and not hear much about it. You can go to work and hear nothing about it. You can regularly peruse the media and hear little about it. Surprisingly, you can even go to church for years and not hear too much about it outside of a worship service. It rarely seems to be a topic of conversation during the Coffee Hour.
America is angry tonight. Have you noticed? If you are not sure about that, all you have to do is watch the recent debates and rancor going on within the Republican Party. These debates are a good barometer of how many people are feeling......angry. Many Americans are surprised, shocked and troubled by what is going on and are fearful for the future.
Right now the 24/7 news cycle is filled with political pundits trying to figure out what is happening to the Country and why a candidate like Donald Trump has captured the hearts and minds of many Americans from every political point of view. While it may be obvious to some, Donald Trump has little to do with the recent anger and conflict in the Presidential race. Donald Trump is a symptom, not a cause. The issues behind his candidacy and popularity stem from unaddressed issues that have been going on for a generation. Donald Trump is simply a tool of protest for many Americans to express their anger toward the ruling class of this Country, both Democratic and Republic, that have caused a dramatic decline of the Nation most of us once knew.
One of the things that have recently emerged in American politics is the rise of Socialism. Before the election of President Obama in 2008, almost no one in the Nation even used the word. Socialism and its more radical cousin, Communism, were systems of government in places like Europe and Asia, but surely NOT in America.
Recent polls have suggested that larger numbers of people are beginning to embrace Socialistic ideas, especially the young. A recent 2015 Gallup poll showed that 35 percent of the American public view Socialism favorably. What most Americans have missed is that this journey toward Socialism has been going on for a long time. Ever since President Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930's, America has been moving in this direction with programs such as Social Security, Medicare and most recently Obamacare. So we can't be totally surprised when a candidate like Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont is running for President as a Socialist and embraced by millions. Socialism is slowly becoming American.
One of the great questions that has been raised by many Christians and Bible students over the years is simply this, "Does America appear anywhere in the Bible?" Surely that has to be an important question if the Lord has a plan for the world and America is at the center of the world right now as THE major Super Power. Several books, sermons and articles have attempted to tackle this subject, but there seems to be little agreement about a possible answer.
And yet, the answer to this important question is coming into clear view. The problem, however, is that few would believe it because the answer is so shocking. You see America, as we have come to know it, is slowly disappearing before our eyes. America is no longer America in the way it used to be for much of our history. The Nation has slowly been losing its Constitution, borders, Judeo-Christian faith, military power, financial strength, amazing economy, moral standards and overall way of life.
Many of us will be watching the Super Bowl this weekend. Some people even attend "Super Bowl Parties" with family and friends that were planned for weeks or months. It is estimated that about 190 million people will be watching the game. Even the commercials are "super," costing about $5,000,000 for a 30 second spot. The Super Bowl has grown over the years to not only be one of the most watched events in history, but it has made legends and superstars out of some of the players. For some people, winning the Super Bowl is the stuff of dreams and reflects the ultimate glory of this life with regards to achievement and status.
One of the greatest Super Bowl stars ever to play the game was San Francisco 49er quarterback Joe Montana. Joe led his team to 4 Super Bowl wins and was the MVP (Most Valuable Player) in three of them. Joe retired from football in 1995, but he still appears at many celebrity and charity events around the world as one of the greatest sports personalities of all time. Joe's skills were legendary in the football world, eventually earning him a place in the Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
All over the world tonight there seems to be a HUGE leadership vacuum that is building toward some sort of emerging crisis. In Europe, for example, the recent flood of unwanted immigrants from the Middle East, the growth of Islamic terrorism and a variety of unsolved political and economic problems with the European Union have created a great cry for new and decisive leadership. Few seem to have a clue about how to solve these growing problems and the failure to address them has spawned a variety of reactionary groups from ultranationalists to neo Nazis. Europe is in a deep leadership crisis it hasn't seen since the 1920's and 30's before World War II.
Here in America, the race for the White House in 2016 has created the most polarizing political dialogue in memory. A variety of polls seem to say that a majority of Americans are angry, fed up and desperately searching for strong leadership to fill the vacuum of failed government leadership created by both Democrats and Republicans. Like Europe, America is in the midst of a political crisis that is demanding some sort of strong and clear leadership to reverse the growth of progressivism, the malaise of political correctness and a sense that the establishment is corrupt and broken.
The central problem facing all of us today is how you establish truth. If truth ultimately depends on the individual and our "feelings" or personal experiences of "faith," you can see we have a problem. That, of course, is what is going on today. Our society has made the self a "god," with each person deciding what is right or wrong in their own eyes like the days of Judges 21:25. Perhaps that is why many Christians are unwilling to engage the world with the fact that Jesus is the truth and Lord of all. The Church knows our message is not well received and people fear rejection. Now when the Church loses its' confidence in sharing the truth, Christianity just becomes another special interest group like playing football or quilting. It is almost as if Pontius Pilate had been resurrected and is putting every Christian on trial again with his infamous question to our Lord in John 18:38, "What is truth?"
The only way Christians will ever share truth with others is when they are overwhelmed with the truth themselves and can't help sharing it. That happened to the Apostle Peter on Pentecost in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit overwhelmed him with the truth that Jesus was truth itself and Lord of all. Peter couldn't help but share that message with his audience and 3000 people came to faith that day, as they too were overwhelmed with the truth about our Lord.
The greatest, single objection to the Christian Faith is its' exclusivity. That exclusivity is best defined by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself in John 14:6, where our Lord says, "I am the way, and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me." That verse is either greatly misunderstood to mean a variety of things OR it means that Jesus is the only Savior and way to Heaven. There really are no other options. IF Jesus is the only Savior of the world, then all other faiths and belief systems are false and cannot save their followers in this life or the next.
On the face of it, that statement by our Lord seems simply outrageous in an age of tolerance and multiculturalism. As a matter of fact, the sharing of that belief in almost any public setting today can bring about an angry response of rejection and vilification. If you're not sure about that...just try it. If we are honest about it, many Christians struggle with this core belief because most of us just want to "get along" with everyone. Few Christians are looking to stir up things and get into fights with neighbors, friends or the media.
Every January the President has given the traditional "State of the Union" message to the Nation. Historically speaking, it is a chance to look back over the past year and offer inspiring reflections of where the Nation has been and where it is going in the New Year. Instead of carefully reviewing the President's speech, as the media has done this week, it be might be a good time to reflect on the "State of the World" from the Lord's perspective. Have you recently asked yourself how things are going from the Lord's viewpoint? Can anyone really know?
As we look at our nation and world tonight, politics and the media have made understanding things very complicated. Few can discern what is going on between the many sound bites and speeches given to please voters and win elections. As a result, it tends to be very hard to sort out the real issues that are meaningful to the Lord and His purposes.
One of the most interesting movies ever made was One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. It premiered in 1975, starring Jack Nicholson, and won 5 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The movie is a story about power, truth and control over people's lives. The movie is set in a mental institution and features a battle between the staff and patients over who is really "crazy." In the end, Jack Nicholson's character is deemed too "mentally ill" and given a lobotomy by the staff, thereby ending his functioning life and the threat he posed to the leadership. The movie leaves you with deep sadness over how power can be used and abused by those in authority.
Jump ahead to this past week and the executive action President Obama has taken regarding the 2nd Amendment and how our gun laws are enforced. Under the President's directive, physicians can report individuals to the government that might be "mentally ill" as a check on their right to be a gun owner. Not only is this action a usurpation of Congress's authority to change any laws according the Constitution, but it is a profound intrusion into the "Doctor-Patient" relationship that has been sacred.
As soon as Wall Street began its' New Year on Monday, January 4, the market fell about 450 points due to fears that stemmed from economic troubles in China. This opening day market loss cost the world's five richest people to lose 8.7 billion dollars of net worth in one day. The markets eventually "settled down," but the rapid rise and fall of the Stock Market in a day shows the vulnerability we are facing right now as we head into a New Year. Few seem to remember the most famous crash of the markets on October 29, 1929... known as "Black Tuesday" that triggered what is referred to as the Great Depression. Sadly, we are moving toward the same sort of economic unwinding of the country and few seem to have a clue and even fewer are doing much about it.
And while this economic decline of the country and world is fast approaching, the denial of its eventual arrival by our leadership is stupefying to say the least. Our Congress just finished passing a budget busting spending bill at the end of 2015 that seemed to show no awareness of the exploding National Debt that is approaching 20 trillion dollars. Couple this out of control spending with over 100 trillion dollars of unfunded liabilities from our entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security, along with pension issues, and you have the making of a true financial reshaping of America as we know it.
As another New Year dawns, the Bible would say there isn't really anything new about it. Sure, some different things will happen, but they are not really "new" things. No, if you stop and think about it, everything that will happen in 2016 has already happened before. All of our politics, all of our news items and top stories, already happened at some other time in history. The problem for many people today is that few seem to realize that life has been going on exactly the same way it has been from the beginning, long before we arrived on the scene. This replay of the past, under the label of "new," inspired King Solomon to write in Ecclesiastes 1:10, "Is there anything of which one can say, 'Look! This is something new'? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time."
Perhaps it is this failure to learn from the past that has led people to make the same mistakes over and over and over again. As a matter of fact, every news item today has already had many books written about it long ago that few people see as relevant for today. The automotive legend Henry Ford was quoted as saying, "History is more or less bunk." Ford was not alone in his rejection of the past lessons of history. He is joined by many of our modern leaders that convince an unsuspecting public that their ideas or plans are "new" and worthy of support, when in fact they are old, worn out ideas that have failed the test of time.
In his book "Miracles," Christian author C.S. Lewis called the idea of God becoming Man the "Grand Miracle" of life. He went on say that, "If the event happened, it was the central event in the history of the Earth-the very thing the whole story has been about." Lewis leaves no doubt that the story of the Incarnation, or God becoming Man, is the real story behind every life that has ever been lived. Nothing else in life has any meaning or really matters IF it is not tied to this event. Lewis is absolutely right. That is why Christmas, the Virgin Birth and the Incarnation are worthy of our attention on a much deeper level that it often receives in our lives and in the Church's ministry.
This idea of God becoming Man is an amazing concept. It raises the deepest questions about what God did before He created mankind and eventually became one of us. In other words, what was God up to before we were here? Since the Lord is eternal and has always existed, our existence is something that must occupy a slice of time that is as nothing compared to eternity itself. How does one compare the infinite with the finite?
It's hard to think that some event might upstage Christmas this year, but it appears to have happened for some. There seems to be an amazing amount of "hype" out there today about the opening of the latest "Star Wars" movie, a week before Christmas. Hollywood has long used the Christmas season as a great time to get an audience out to the theatres. This year seems to be no exception.
The hype of this movie borders on hysteria for a few. Theatres are sold out all over the world and the money this movie is going to make is anticipated to be well over one billion dollars. Not only is the worldwide audience of this movie expected to set all-time records, but even some churches are trying to tap into the craze. One large and growing church in Morristown, New Jersey is planning a live Nativity scene featuring Star Wars characters in the Manger to draw a crowd.
If there is one area of our lives under attack today it is our sexuality. Our politically correct culture, media, government and progressive "churches" are working hard to destroy any concept of "male" and "female" and any attempt to define sexuality and marriage. If any pastor, parishioner, pundit, or member of the general public raises any clear Biblical standards about these issues you end up with a large target on your back. Of course at a deeper level, we see this battle as a continued war against the Lord and His Image in the world, as seen through "male" and "female" from Genesis 1:26-27.
Enter the Christmas Story. Whatever anybody knows about Christmas, most may have heard that Mary was a virgin. People may not like it, believe it, understand it, try to revise it or ignore it.......but the Virgin Birth is front and center in the Bible in passages like Matthew 1:20 and Luke 1:34-35. The Virgin Birth of Christ is the clear teaching of the Bible. It has been held by the Church for over 2000 years as accepted orthodox doctrine in the Nicene and Apostle Creeds. Believe it or not, the Virgin Birth is even believed and held by Islam in the Koran of all places.....go figure.
Its' been hard getting into the Christmas spirit these days when there is an Islamic terrorist event going on almost every week like we saw in the San Bernardino, California and Paris massacres. It's difficult to focus on what gifts to get my loved ones when people are turning our wonderful country and world into a Jihad Zone for their religious extremism.
Maybe the hardest part of watching this is trying to understand the mindset of the terrorists. In the case of the terrorists in San Bernardino, we saw a young married couple, with their whole life ahead of them, coldly and with calculation drop off their infant daughter with family before murdering 14 Americans at a Christmas party. Right now, it seems everyone is trying to figure out the "why" of this tragic event. What would motivate people to act in such a way that makes absolutely no sense to anyone with a rational thought in their mind?
I was out driving the other day and saw an interesting billboard on the highway that said, "Keep Christ in Christmas." As Christmas draws near this year, there are groups of Christians that are deeply concerned with the increased secularization going on in America that has removed the Lord Jesus Christ from Christmas and turned it into some sort of winter holiday about who knows what. All of this is because there seems to be a quiet and maybe not so quiet war going on today against our Lord and His Church. These days it is getting harder for some to even say "Merry Christmas," let alone, "Jesus is the Savior of the World."
As America wrestles with political correctness at Christmas, the magnitude of the Lord Jesus Christ is being lost in this silly cultural battle not to offend anyone. Sadly, what people fail to remember is that every moment of time from now and on into eternity has its' origin starting at Christmas. You see Christmas is the event in history that connected time and eternity into one seamless story of God's plan to love the world. Most people would be surprised to know that all of time is marked from the day Christ was born. We live in the 2015th year since Christ was born. Sometimes you will see the designation 2015 A.D. referring to our current year. Those two capital letters following the year, "A.D." is a Latin abbreviation that stands for Anno Domini, which simply means "in the year of our Lord."
The Carlson Report sends our love and prayers to each of you on this Thanksgiving weekend. May it be your best ever. How thankful to know the Lord of the Bible and live in a wonderful Nation like America that has a rich, Christian heritage of godly people. It was President Abraham Lincoln that made Thanksgiving a National Holiday on October 3, 1863, at the height of the Civil War. Lincoln knew that whatever our trials, it was right and good to stop as individuals and a Nation to seek and thank the Lord. Lincoln wrote:
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
I barely finished writing about the Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris last week, when yet another scene of Islamic violence took place in Mali today, murdering at least 20. As this mayhem continues to grow daily, the entire world is increasingly on edge with news stories that seem to run 24/7. Recently, King Abdullah of Jordan was quoted as saying that he believes this escalating violence and terror has brought us to what will eventually turn into World War III. The King, himself a Muslim, is uniquely positioned inside the Islamic world to see where this violence is going to lead us in the near future. The only world leader that doesn’t seem to have any clarity about the seriousness of the hour appears to be President Obama.
The idea of a coming world war seems very scary to everyone…..as it should! While many have forgotten the devastation of World War I and II, the old newsreels are still available to watch and remember the past. And yet, few want to do it and even fewer want to see any parallels with the present hour. The idea that we are replaying the issues of World War II, in which powerful nations did nothing to stop Hitler’s violence and threats before the eventual war started, is lost in our current battles with Islamic terrorism. Naïve and delusional politicians still believe they can appease the terrorists and end up with “peace,” as did Neville Chamberlain and western leaders before World War II. As a result, instead of facing the harsh reality of the hour, the recent tragedies are just a “setback” according to President Obama, not a wakeup call to decisive action. The lessons of history have been lost…..again!
Have you ever been bored going to church? I hate to admit it, but even pastors get bored at church on occasion. What bores me the most is when things seem too routine, too mechanical, too ordinary…..just going through the motions. When the Church gets taken over with programs and potlucks, there is a tendency for us to miss the excitement the Lord built into the Christian life. It can also become weary and even boring to hear yet another sermon on “How to Love Your Neighbor More.” Sure, we can all learn to love our neighbors more. What else is new? Is that it? My former preaching professor in seminary told our class that it is a terrible thing to bore people with the Gospel. He was right.
You see the ONE thing that is often missing from the modern Church world is a sense of excitement and wonder about our future with the Lord Jesus Christ. Thinking about that kind of thing thrills me. How about you? The Church was designed by the Lord to bring something fresh and alive to everyday life about the world to come. The Church was not meant to get stuck in just “doing better,” “ethics for daily living” or “how to be a better parent.” While those sermons and themes have a place, we all need a gust of wind to hit us in the face about the Lord’s BIG plans for us and our future. If the Church becomes too earthly minded it truly won’t be any heavenly good….and it will be boring.