Ridiculous

II Corinthians 10:12 “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.”

II Timothy 4:7 “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”

Matthew 25:26-27 “His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.”

I Corinthians 12:11 “But all these worketh that one and selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.”

The Beatles are almost undisputedly the most famous band ever, selling over 600 million records. Specifically, the duo of John Lennon and Paul McCartney have been revered since when they began writing songs together in 1963.

It was from the beginning that they agreed to list their names on the song credits alphabetically: Lennon-McCartney. But, as they got more famous, Paul McCartney became bitter that his name was listed second instead of first. Starting in 1976, he began individually buying up the rights to the songs and switching the order to McCartney-Lennon. A resultant legal feud began with Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, in 1995 who called McCartney “ridiculous, absurd, and petty.” The entire situation was only resolved legally in 2003, but as late as 2015, McCartney was still bitterly bringing it up in interviews.

For anyone looking in from the outside, there was plenty of fame, adulation, power, prestige, and wealth to go around. Yet, Paul McCartney compared himself to John Lennon, solely on the basis of the order of the listing of their names on the song credits, and it drove him nuts. Ridiculous, absurd, and petty are massive understatements.

Yet, how often do Christians compare ourselves to one another, in spite of all our blessings. In doing so, we too are ridiculous, absurd, and petty.

We are responsible for finishing the course God has given us. We are to exercise proper, careful, and wise stewardship – not as compared to what someone else has – but with what we have been given. In doing so, we best fulfill God’s plan for us and bring Him the glory and honor that He deserves.

PLEASE PRAY FOR AMERICAN CHRISTIANS TO FOCUS ON GOD’S MISSION FOR US AND NOT TO BE DISTRACTED BY THE ACTIVITIES OR ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF OTHERS. May God’s people never be ridiculous, absurd, and petty.

ADMIN: The Lennon-McCartney story comes from “The Status Game” by Will Storr.

Crisis Upon Crisis

II Chronicles 7:14-16 “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. Now mine eyes shall be open, and mine ears attent unto the prayer that is made in this place. For now have I chosen and sanctified this house, that my name may be there for ever; and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually.”

I John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

This coming Monday, March 25th, marks the 11th anniversary of the start of the PLUS ministry. It was birthed from a passionate concern about the errant direction our nation was headed then, and those concerns have only intensified during the last 11 years. We are facing an acute and a chronic crisis.

On that first week of PLUS, I posted the following:

“Leadership consultants remind us that ‘a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.’ The meaning behind this statement is quite simple — the worse the situation, the more incentive there is to reflect upon badly needed changes.  Failing to change course under such dire circumstances piles tragedy upon crisis.

Reflecting upon the situation in which our nation finds itself, it is difficult to describe it as anything but a crisis.  It is an economic crisis and a political crisis; it is a moral crisis and a value crisis; it is a leadership crisis and a followership crisis.  Yet, while the situation worsens, the nation continues to diverge from God without considering the correlation because between our unfaithfulness and our unfruitfulness.

We need national-level healing in our land that comes from a permanent change of direction toward humility, prayer, faithfulness and righteousness.  Fortunately, the model of salvation-producing repentance should be familiar to us, one in which we reverse our direction away from the world and towards God.”

Today, we see crisis upon crisis, and tragedy upon tragedy. We have entered a perpetual vicious spiral that is dragging our society downward. While not a perfect correlation, the World Happiness Report released this past week reinforces the tragic tumbling of American society. Though many don’t realize it, the root of our problems is our eagerness to increasingly untether from the stability of foundational principles and unmoor from the surety of Biblical truths. Instead of eagerly running towards the Lord, we sprint away from Him.

PLEASE PRAY FOR AMERICANS TO REASSESS OUR RECKLESS REMOVAL FROM OUR FOUNDATIONAL CHARACTERISTICS AND TO RECOGNIZE THE REQUIREMENT FOR A RAPID RETURN THROUGH REVIVAL. If we don’t, we will continue to see a society characterized by crisis upon crisis.

Blessing Them

Genesis 12:1-3 “Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”

At the end of February, I made a long-overdue trip to Israel as a guest of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). As a frequent news contributor for national security and international affairs topics, I have fielded an onslaught of interview questions during the last five months about the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, and the situation in the broader Middle East. Thus, this two-day visit provided me the opportunity to express solidarity for Israel while better understanding the complex context of the conflict. The trip powerfully provided both.

Shortly after arriving at Ben Gurion Airport outside of Tel Aviv, the sobriety and gravity of situation was on full display. Walking to the airport exit, the terminal corridor was lined with pictures of those still held captive by Hamas, including the face of Lior Rudaeff whose picture I have been carrying around for weeks as a reminder of the Hamas-initiated tragedy. Several conversations quickly revealed that the national psyche was fundamentally impacted by the vulnerability that was revealed on the 7th of October. Everyone had lost someone close to them, and all had lost a collective expectation of safety. Strangers would ask one another – what time zone are you in? – a quick query to reveal how long a rocket launched from Gaza or southern Lebanon would take to reach their home. The answer for much of the population was measured in tens of seconds, with the natural follow-on – do you have your own bunker?

I began at the IDF Spokesperson Unit Headquarters, and was ushered into a room to view Bearing Witness – also known as The Film of Horrors. The closely-controlled 47-minute raw footage, largely taken by Hamas members themselves, displayed unimaginable barbarism and a rampant disregard for humanity. As video clips of mutilation and torture were graphically revealed, it was the joy of the perpetrators and those in Gaza when they returned with half dead bodies in the back of their Toyota pickup trucks, that was the most stunning. From the home of a family he had just slaughtered, a member of Hamas even took the time to call his mom to ecstatically share how he had just killed his tenth Jew.

With such vivid images still in my mind, it was a quick drive from Tel Aviv to the northeast corner of Gaza where that terror had vividly and tragically shaken the national psyche. From a lookout perch just outside a small city that was starting to come back to life, it was easy to gaze out into Gaza City and see and hear signs of ongoing fighting throughout the Gaza Strip. Our lookout city absorbed the wrath of three Hamas rockets shortly after we left, causing its population to scramble to their bunkers with seconds of warning – their time zone was essentially zero.

We paralleled the eastern edge of Gaza, passing trucks carrying tanks back from the front lines to their depot facilities for repair. We lingered outside Kibbutz Be’eri, where a hundred innocents had been slaughtered weeks before. We stopped at the killing fields of the Nova Film Festival where Bearing Witness had shown the joy of celebration quickly turn to the horror of terror on that fateful Sabbath morning in October.

It was easy to see how all Israelis consider this an existential threat. The distances between locations were minute and the hatred from the enemy was limitless. The next day while enroute to the West Bank, a quick stop at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, provided a somber reminder that for Jews in a world brewing with antisemitism, they have nowhere else to go. It was Israel or extermination. Their small sliver of land, from the river to the sea, was the only thing they could count on. And even then, their leaders had let them down.

The nation of Israel is unified in their commitment to respond and survive, but there is a reckoning on the horizon for Prime Minister Netanyahu and the security failures that had allowed such a tragedy to occur on their own soil. IDF members still hang their heads in shame in public, feeling personal guilt that their shortcomings had allowed the undetected attack and that their lagged initial response was far less than their nation deserved. The IDF heroics since then have provided them a partial atonement.

In the midst of the national unity, a division is evident between Israel’s two top priorities in the conflict. The slogans Never Forget or Never Again are stark reminders of Israel’s commitment to defeat and destroy Hamas. Yet, as powerful as those reminders are, the slogan Bring Them Home Now! is the one that tugs on the heart strings of a population in mourning for those who may or may not be alive as hostages in the web of tunnels underneath Gaza. With daily hostage rallies from locations that flank the Ministry of Defense and ubiquitous marches throughout the country sorrowfully displaying pictures of those still held captive by Hamas, the pressure of Now! is palatable. It is clear that the population is eager to accept risk with the former objective to further the latter objective – Now!

The strategic elements of the conflict will play out in the days, weeks, months and years to come. Unrest in the West Bank during Ramadan is imminent. The necessity of resolving the threat of Hezbollah in the north is urgent. A plan for post-conflict governance in Gaza, and the proper balance of humanitarian support to suffering Palestinians, are long overdue. But, there is a lot of healing still needed for the population within Israel, and their efforts to recover from the attack from five months ago is largely unfinished. This reminder was punctuated during my early Sabbath morning walk through Ben Gurion Airport to my departure gate, where I walked down another corridor through another gauntlet of hostage pictures with faces who cry out to Bring Me Home Now!

PLEASE PRAY FOR ISRAEL IN THESE CONTINUED TOUGH TIMES AND PRAY FOR THE UNITED STATES TO BE A TRUE FRIEND TO THEM. God’s contingent promise stands ready to bless or to curse. May we be on the positive side of that ledger.

Real Return on Investment

Matthew 6:33-34 “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

Ecclesiastes 7:8 “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Volkswagen Golf, an iconic car that has endured the test of time like its parent company. But nearly a decade ago, Volkswagen was on the ropes for severe ethical violations when it was discovered that they had intentionally designed automobile software to cheat on emissions tests.

In a September 2015 New Republic article, ethicist Edward Queen railed against Volkswagen for its recent “unmistakable malfeasance.” He described their actions in the following way: “This was an intentionally designed and executed violation of the law in both its letter and its spirit. It also was an ethical violation of the highest level.”

Interestingly, Dr. Queen traced the root cause of VW’s scandal back to a business school culture where “far too much of the world’s corporate leadership is driven by moral midgets who have been educated far beyond their capacities for good judgment.” These strong words and the corresponding shameful corporate moral lapses stem from one primary and repeated business school lesson according to Dr. Queen: “the only duty of a corporation is return on investment.” He contended that a focus on short-term greed and an attitude of immediate gratification were to blame for these substantial problems. In Dr. Queen’s mind, this culture had been “drilled into generations of business school graduates” driving “tsunamis of corporate malfeasance.” How shameful!

But wait … is it possible that some Christians today are following the same path? Every time we encourage short-term ministry or personal success without regard to long-term consequences, we are effectively saying “the only duty of our corporation is return on investment.” Every time we praise, reward, or promote those whose immediate accomplishments are magnificent even though they are unsustainable or may actually create long term problems, we are effectively saying “the only duty of our corporation is return on investment.” Every time we promote a myopic vision that seemingly solves immediate problems without due regard to enduring results, we are effectively saying “the only duty of our corporation is return on investment.”

May Christians never be labeled “moral midgets” and may we never play a role in creating “tsunamis of malfeasance.” Encouraging a longer-term perspective that rewards, promotes, and emphasizes sustainable performance and long-term mission success is an important lesson that should be emphasized for all Christians, and with ministry leaders in particular.

PLEASE PRAY FOR AMERICAN CHRISTIANS TO KEEP ETERNAL AND SUSTAINABLE ENDS IN MIND FOR GOD’S GLORY. Those results provide the return on investment that really matters.

Woe to That Man

Psalm 98:9 “For he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity.”

Psalm 75:7 “But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.”

Matthew 18:7-9 “Woe unto the world because of offences! For it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.”

Psalm 19:9 “The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.”

President Abraham Lincoln delivered his Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865, shortly before the end of the Civil War and before his assassination. It was laced with Biblical truths about the righteousness of God’s judgment.

Quoting Matthew 18:7, Lincoln stated: “Woe unto the world because of offences! For it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” Claiming slavery as one of those offenses, he continued on with the following: “ He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came.” The war may “continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.” With up to 850,000 people dead (over 1 in 4 soldiers who fought) and $170 billion in direct and indirect costs, such a price was indeed paid.

Then President Lincoln ended this section with the second half of Psalm 19:9: “the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.” In spite of the horrible price of the Civil War, Lincoln acknowledged the righteousness of the costs of God’s judgment.

In today’s society, we elevate offenses towards God, His plan, and His Word. We flaunt unrighteousness and celebrate sin. But God’s word still says “woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” With whatever price God chooses to exact, His judgments are true and righteous altogether.

PLEASE PRAY FOR AMERICAN CHRISTIANS TO REGAIN OUR SENSITIVITY TO THE EXPECTED RIGHTEOUS PENALTIES OF SIN. Woe to that man who offends a righteous God.

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