How The Mighty Have Fallen!

This is a quote from 2 Samuel 1:19 written by David upon the occasion of the death of King Saul and his son, Prince Jonathan: “Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places! How the mighty have fallen!”

In a more modern context, I think this expresses the sadness and foreboding that I have felt watching the “fall” of one of the most powerful political figures in the last 20 yrs. Dennis Hastert, a graduate of Wheaton College, an elected representative from Illinois, and the longest serving Speaker of the House (1999-2007)– second in line to the Presidency.

I got to know Denny when he was Mr. Speaker and used to make the trip every year from Washington to the Wheaton Invitational Wrestling Tournament held at the college. He had graduated the same year I started at Wheaton and I had replaced him as the Heavyweight on the wrestling team. (For those who are not familiar with wrestling jargon, each wrestler is matched with someone of his own weight, and Heavyweight is weight class of guys who [at that time] weighed over 190 lbs., and were usually the smartest and best looking guys on the team- just kidding about that last part.)

After Wheaton and a Masters in Education from Northern Illinois, Denny became a teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville HS from 1965 to 1981. He entered politics in 1987. It was at Yorkville where he followed my wrestling career and would sometimes bring his team to our matches and tourneys. Sadly, it was also at Yorkville where he (by his own admission) sexually abused 3 of his wrestlers.

The last time I saw him at Wheaton was in February of 2015, just a few months before his indictment on federal charges of “structuring” bank withdrawals in order to pay off certain of these individuals in return for their silence. He was charged with a felony because of his paying of the hush money (1.7 million), not for sexual abuse, because of the statute of limitation. However, he admitted to the abuse and the judge referred to him as a “serial child molester.”

On Wednesday Denny was sentenced to 15 months in jail. The Washington Post reported, For his part, Hastert told the judge that he was ‘deeply ashamed’ to be in court and was still ‘struggling to come to terms with events that occurred four decades ago.’ He said that he ‘mistreated some of my athletes that I coached. ‘The thing I want to do today is say I’m sorry to those I have hurt and misled,’ he said. ‘They looked to me, and I took advantage of them.’”

However, the quote that is so deeply disturbing to me was the one by U.S. District Attorney Zachary T. Fardon. He said, We followed the case where it led. We brought the charges we could bring, And through that, Mr. Hastert’s legend and legacy are gone, and in its place, are a broken, humiliated man. That is as it should be.

While it confuses me, I do not question Denny’s faith in Jesus. As a pastor, it never ceases to grieve me that so many of us Christians are still capable of such great sin and the ability to dishonor the gospel. I will continue to pray for my friend, Denny; that his repentance will run deep and he will continue to cast himself on the mercy and forgiveness of the cross. I will also pray for his family, his victims and their families; that they would find God’s comfort and strength in their pain and suffering.

I will also take away these lessons: Those who are most “mighty” fall the hardest. “To whom much is given, much will be required.” No one can atone for his own sin. And once that sin is committed, no amount of “legend and legacy” can make up for it. They are gone, just as if they never existed. “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” The gospel will not save our reputations, but it will save our souls!



Christianity Should Never Rule…

The following blog post is from Peter Wehner (contributing opinion writer for the New York Times) giving his reflections on Good Friday and Easter.

“The writer Philip Yancey recently offered this:

I wrote in Vanishing Grace about an important insight I learned from a Muslim scholar who said to me, ‘I have read the entire Koran and can find in it no guidance on how Muslims should live as a minority in a society. I have read the entire New Testament and can find in it no guidance on how Christians should live as a majority.’

“(Yancey) put his finger on a central difference between the two faiths. One, born at Pentecost, thrives cross-culturally and even counter-culturally, often coexisting with oppressive governments. The other, geographically anchored in Mecca, was founded simultaneously as a religion and a state….”

While Islam seeks to unify religion and law, culture and politics, Yancey wrote, Christianity works best as a minority faith, a counter-culture…. Historically, when Christians have reached a majority they too fall to the temptations of power in ways that are clearly anti-gospel. Add to this the fact that, as sociologist of religion Rodney Stark has pointed out, Christianity’s greatest period of vulnerability and political weakness was the time of its most explosive growth. He estimates that Christianity saw a 40 percent growth rate per decade from 30 AD to 300 AD. As a result a tiny and obscure movement became the dominant faith of Western civilization. And its enduring symbol is not the shield or the sword but the cross.”

“Early on in my faith pilgrimage – a journey that did not come particularly easily to me – I was struck and to some degree captivated by how in many respects the Christian faith is a radical inversion of what the world deems worthy and worth celebrating. The last shall be first. Strength is made perfect in weakness. The humble will be exalted. Blessed are the meek, the poor in spirit, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Love rather than hate your enemies. Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for God. Whoever loses his life for God’s sake will find it.”

“Jesus himself came not as a king but as a servant. He was born not to wealth and privilege in Rome but in a manger in Bethlehem. He was a God who wept, was acquainted with grief and was ‘counted among the outlaws.’ He preferred the company of sinners to that of religious authorities, with whom he repeatedly clashed. He was abandoned and betrayed by his disciples. And he endured an agonizing death on a cross.”

“It is hardly the script you or I would write, a God whose crown was made of thorns. But for those of us of the Christian faith, Good Friday gives way to Easter Sunday – the days of God’s overpowering acts in history, acts in which God’s judgment and grace were revealed to all the world, in the words of the pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.”

I would agree with this assessment. What we have learned from the Moral Majority and the rise of the Evangelical Voting Bloc is that even when they have held sway, they have not produced a more Christian nation; just as the Crusades and the Inquisition did not advance the gospel to the world. Jesus was asked by Pilate if he was a king; his reply, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

We (the Church) have not been called to rule, but to serve and to live out Christ’s kingdom here on earth. Our sign will never be a scepter, but always a cross because it will include suffering. Our prayer should not be for America to become a winner again, but as Francis Schaeffer used to say even back in the 1960’s, we should pray that God would have mercy on America and bring us to our knees in humble repentance. This will be our greatest victory and greatest witness to the world.

Tuesday’s Important Choice in New York…

I have been thinking about the upcoming presidential primary on Tuesday in New York, where people in my home state will be making a very important decision. On January 12, 1723, on the banks of the Hudson River in New York City, 19-yr. old Jonathan Edwards also made a choice. He was serving an 8 mo. pastorate, fresh out of seminary, and he made this decision:

I [have] made a solemn dedication of myself to God…giving up myself , and all that I had, to God; to be for the future in no respect my own; to act as one that had no right to himself, in any respect. And solemnly vowed to take God for my whole portion and felicity, looking on nothing else as any part of my happiness, nor acting as it were; and his law as the constant rule of my obedience; engaging to fight with all my might against the world, the flesh, and the devil, to the end of my life.

What a powerful dedication of a young life; something that should be emulated by all of us- no matter how young or old . However, as inspiring as Edwards’ dedication can be, I believe it is made richer when read in the context of the first answer to the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563):

Q 1. What is your only comfort in life and death?

A 1. That I am not my own, but belong- body and soul, in life and in death- to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

The confession in the catechism places any earnest dedication within the context of God’s gospel-work in our lives and not in the strength of our will nor the merit of our holy effort. I can work out my salvation with fear and trembling because God is working within me both to will and to do of his good pleasure. (Phil 2:12)

Just a thought…

The Problem of the Good…

The Lord gave me an opportunity to preside at a very difficult funeral today. The deceased was a 20-something who died from an overdose. The family has been so overwhelmed by the individual’s addiction and just as overwhelmed by the person’s death. The person had prayed to receive Christ many years ago, but had been dominated by addictive behavior.There were a number of believers there, but also a lot of secularized young people. The sister and brother of the deceased did a tremendous job sharing about how much they loved their sibling, and yet how difficult it was to see them go though the pain.   I read from Psalm 77:1-10; Lamentations 3:19-25; Romans 8:26-32. Then I spoke and here is the heart of the message. Pray that the Lord would continue to use this in someone’s life who was there this morning:

How are we to comprehend the death of a young person like —-? Did it have to end this way? What more could we have done to help? Why does God allow something like this to take place? These are questions many of you are asking right now and I can honestly say “I don’t know” to all of them.

You can see why some people lose their faith at times like this. They would agree with many atheists who claim there is no God based upon the fact there is so much that is bad in the world. It is called the Problem of Evil and most religions have tried to deal with it. The argument goes like this; if God exists at all, in view of all the horrible things that happen in this world, either he is good and does not have the power to stop evil, or he is powerful enough to stop it, but doesn’t, which means he is not Good.

I want to give you a straight answer as to why I believe there is a God and why I believe he is both powerful and good.  I believe that believing in God explains more about this world than not believing in God. The writer CS Lewis, who was an atheist until age 50, once said that he believed in the existence of God just like he believed in the existence of the sun. “I believe in the sun not because I always see it, but by it I see all things. And so I believe in God not because I see Him, but by Him I see all things.”  

And so I believe that God is the best explanation for what we see in this world. Yes, it is true there are bad things, evil things; like addiction, suffering, crime, war, violence, and death. But there also exists the Problem of the Good. From where do love, beauty, goodness, mercy, forgiveness, and generosity come? These things are only a problem for those who do not believe in God because according to their story they cannot explain these things.  They might say that good comes from the human heart (which they see as basically good).  However, from where then do the bad things come? Do they come from the same human heart? No one likes to admit this because we’d rather blame God. But without God and his story we have no rational explanation for good or evil.

And yet God’s story found in the Bible tells us that the world was created by a Good God and it was created with hope, beauty, goodness, love, kindness; and we were created with dignity and honor.  It was when the people he created chose to go their own way and chose to be their own god that evil was unleashed upon the world– not so much as punishment as much as consequence. God told them it would happen if they went their own way. And it wasn’t long before families struggled, marriages broke apart, children cried, war raged, and disease took its toll.

But God did not give up on his creation. Even in the Old Testament of the Bible there was always mercy; there was always grace and forgiveness. But then there was an event that changed it all. God became man in Jesus Christ. And what did we do to him? We killed him. We killed our Maker! And yet God’s goodness and power was shown in that he turned the sacrifice of himself into the very means of our salvation. The movie Passion of the Christ demonstrated this in its trailer. A verse from Isaiah 53 came up on the screen before the movie began which said, “For he was wounded for our transgression, bruised for our iniquity; the punishment of our sins were upon him and by his wounds we were healed.”

And so Jesus Christ, our God with skin on, by his death and resurrection paved a way by which I could change stories; change from the messy story I was making of my life which offered me little hope of a tomorrow, to a new story based upon God’s love and mercy. And so he gave to me, a broken sinner, a future in this life and the life to come.

I fully affirm what St Paul said at the end of Romans 8: “I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor anything in all of creation shall ever separate me from the love of Christ Jesus my Lord.”

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

Is this your story? If it is, then cling to it in the face of all you do not understand. If not, it can be, if you trust in the Lord Jesus as your Savior and ask him come into your heart and forgive your sins. You can do that right now….


April Fools…

I wanted to write an informative blog on the origin of April Fools’ Day, but there are so many claims that I gave up and personally don’t care. So I thought instead I would share some memorable hoaxes that have been foisted upon our family over the years, but I couldn’t think of any. Finally, I thought I would tell you about the incredible April Fools’ joke I played on my parents when I found out I was adopted (April Fools), but I can’t.

On the one hand, it is fun to be a bit of an intentional ninnyhammer  on one day of the year when we often act or say foolish things quite naturally at other times. On the other hand, it is too bad we take so much time thinking of some untruth to tell someone when the time could be better spent thinking of something encouraging to do or say to them.

Instead, I think I’ll share a bit on the three types of fools that are revealed in the Bible. I would highly recommend the book Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by Os Guinness, especially the chapter, “The Way of the Third Fool.”  Guinness writes that there is, first of all, the Fool Proper; applied to a broad category of people who have no time for God. There are those who make the outright claim that there is no God (Ps 14:1) or those who live with no conscious consideration of God (Lk 12:20).

The second kind of fool that the Bible mentions is the Fool Bearer. This person is the one who has been treated as a fool for Christ sake (1 Cor 4:10). Like Dostoevsky’s Idiot, this is a person who is misunderstood, mistreated, persecuted, and rejected for the sake of following Christ. He or she is willing to be laughed at by the world just as their Savior was mocked and treated as a Fool King when he was dressed in purple, given a fake scepter, and a crown of thorns as part of his suffering.

The third kind of fool that Guinness describes is the Fool Maker. The Fool Maker is one “…who is prepared to be seen and treated as a fool, so that from the position of derided folly, he or she may be able to bounce back and play the jester, addressing truth to power, pricking the balloons of the high and mighty, and telling the emperor he has no clothes… The cross, Martin Luther wrote, was the devil’s mousetrap. The devil smelled cheese, and wham, felt steel…Everything that climaxed in that sultry Passover week was spring-loaded with a deeper, history-shaking truth, although under a disguise so strange that it bewildered even the closest and most ardent followers of Jesus–and the devil himself fell for the smell of cheese. Just so did God shame the world’s folly, subvert the wold’s pride and put death to death through the death of his Son.”

And what I find most insightful is the fact that Guinness shows that this kind of foolery is what God uses to win the world. He quotes Reinhold Niebuhr who claimed that there is a limit to what even the power of God can do as power alone, for “such power does not reach the heart of the rebel.” Guinness adds, “power can fence us, in but only sacrificial love can find us out. Power can win when we are ranged against it, but it cannot win us…There was no other way. It takes the full folly and weakness of the cross to find us out and win us back.”

And so on this April Fools’ Day, which has so closely followed the “foolery” of Holy Week, let us not fall prey to the idea that power and dominance will be the way the gospel will win the world. It will be through our suffering as “fool-bearers” and our loving others as “fool-makers” that the gospel will subvert the wisdom and power of the world, and find and win the lost .