Archives for May 2011

Osama bin Laden is Dead.

Osama bin Laden is dead.  I could hardly believe what I was hearing late Sunday night before last when breaking news alerted America to this long hoped for outcome.  Updates continue to dominate the media.


When news rocks the world, the church enjoys an awesome opportunity to show the Bible’s contemporary timelessness.  As opposed to silence, the church should provide commentary on world events, given through the clarifying lens of Scripture.  Allow me, therefore, to draw a few conclusions from Osama bin Laden’s recent demise.


First, Justice always wins out in the end.


I think it was President George W. Bush who initially said that we will get bin Laden without regard to how long it takes.  Experts now suggest that the lengthy delay contributed to bin Laden’s arrogance, as he allowed himself to believe that we were no longer as vigilant in our search.  He was wrong.  Some ten years later, our nation’s best, brightest, and toughest were still on the hunt.  Justice did indeed win out in the end.


It simply must, and it always will, because God is a God of justice.  We can ignore God and His laws, but God and His laws do not ignore us.  Scripture teaches that justice will be meted out either in this life or the next.  Even when we lawbreakers think we have gotten away with something, the hammer might be ready to fall.  And if it doesn’t fall here, it will do so with devastating force on judgment day.  Hell’s intensity will be meticulously tied to our present behavior, because God is a God of careful justice.


I read that actor, Denzel Washington, is a Christian.  I hadn’t noticed something about him until he said it, but Washington refuses to play a character whose sins and lawbreaking are not clearly shown to receive justice.  He doesn’t mind playing a bad guy, but he will not do so if the movie glamorizes his bad character and bad ways.  By movie’s end, the plot must unfold in such a way that justice prevailed.


The reason Washington does this is because God teaches in the Bible that justice always wins in the end.  God is ultimately in control, so Denzel does not want to send a message to viewers that a life of crime and lawbreaking can escape justice.


In spite of the political "glory hogging" we've seen, men such as these Navy SEALs are the real heroes!

When the bullet of a Navy Seal entered the head of Osama bin Laden, he received justice…and just the beginning of justice.  God, obviously, ordained bin Laden’s killing, or it would not have happened, but greater justice is still to come for this evil man.  He is suffering today in the afterlife, but he will receive his final sentence when Jesus Christ returns and judges him personally, not only for his despicable acts of terrorism, but also for rejecting Jesus as Savior.  As the butcher of thousands and the inspiration for so much hate, his hell will be savagely worse than had he merely lived a quiet life in his native country.  Bin Laden will rue the day that he embraced hate and terrorism.


We applaud justice when we see it acted upon such a worthy recipient.  What we cannot forget, though, is that the sure occurrence of justice applies to us, too.  Most of us will not lead a life of such overt evil as bin Laden did, but deep in our hearts, we are enemies of God, too.  Naturally, we resent His rule over us, so we overthrow Him and run as fast and far away from God as we can get.  One sin after another, we earn for ourselves nothing but hell – sure justice.


Every human being, just as every criminal, will be rounded up for their day in court, but they won’t face a humanistic judge who misunderstands compassion.  They won’t face a socially liberal judge who lessens his judgments due to the bad home environment of the law breaker.  They will stand exposed before the God of justice, the one who initially extended complete pardon from every sin and broken rule for their entire life.  This great, cosmic judge was the epitome of compassion and grace…but no longer on judgment day.  On judgment day, only justice prevails; only wrath is experienced.


Unless your sins and lawbreaking ways have been completely forgiven and wiped clean by Christ’s blood, you will face unbending justice.  Count on it.  If you are a Christian, however, your day in court will be much different.  As you approach the great throne of judgment, the Lord will judge you, not on your behavior, but on that of Jesus Christ.  The justice you should have received was already meted out, when God killed His Son Jesus in your place, on the cross, because of your terrible, lawbreaking ways.  So, in the end, Christians will not receive God’s justice; they will receive His mercy, His grace.  We will be fully pardoned because of Christ’s great work on our behalf.


As excited as our nation is right now over the death of Osama bin Laden, I hope that more and more people learn that justice – God’s justice – always wins out in the end.  They will face it if they don’t first plead for mercy.


Second: There is nothing wrong with Americans cheering the death of Osama bin Laden.


This is a critical point, one which our morally relativistic culture misunderstands.  Fox News interviewed a Catholic priest who spoke of his disgust with Americans who cheered and danced in the streets upon hearing of bin Laden’s death.  He compared these spontaneous celebrations to the behavior of wild Super Bowl fans and said that it spoke very poorly of America.  Rashard Mendenhall, a Pittsburgh Steelers football player, Tweeted that Americans are too full of hate, saying that we don’t know bin Laden and have only heard one side of the story.

From NYC's "Ground Zero" to the White House to college campuses nationwide, Americans burst into jubilant celebration upon hearing of the demise of Public Enemy #1.


Neither the football player nor the priest grasps the presence of true evil in our world.  These men, like many modern people, are wearing the badge of tolerance, with tolerance being defined as the inability to call bad behavior, bad, or bad people, bad.


Like it or not, there are bad people who do bad things, and bad is the opposite of good, by God’s definition.  Read King David’s writings in the Old Testament.  He did not suffer from our modern malady of tolerance.  He taught clearly that God hates evil and evildoers and encourages His people to do the same.  David wrote, “O you who love the LORD, hate evil!” (Ps. 97:10).  Speaking of God’s hatred of evil, he wrote, “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness…You hate all evildoers.  You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man” (Ps. 5:4-6).


Because there is sin, there is evil, and because there is evil, there are terrible acts such as the 9/11 bombings.  These acts truly are evil, by God’s definition, so it is okay for us to hate these actions and applaud justice when it occurs.  So long as Osama bin Laden was a free man, he was free to direct even more evil acts against innocent victims, and we now know from captured evidence that this is precisely what he was doing.

God, all through the Bible, is a champion of victims.  He rushes to their aid in story after story and command after command.  God hates evil and evildoers.  His wrath burns against them.  And we learn from Scripture that when our emotions follow those of God, then our anger is righteous anger.  So cheering Osama bin Laden’s demise is not only not wrong and evil, it is an act that draws God’s approval.  It represents people acknowledging the presence of good and evil and cheering good’s victory.


Third: Osama bin Laden’s killing wonderfully portrayed human government acting according to God’s will.


If we narrow human institutions to their simplest, we see that God established government and the Church; God ordained them both, because human beings and families should find their existence within each.  Each has a God-given role to play in human history, and God outlined the roles and responsibilities of both in the Bible.


Obviously, most human governments ignore their God-created status and mandate, but merely ignoring something does not change its reality.  Government, at its simplest form, as Paul taught in Romans 16, should provide safety for its citizens and mete out justice for lawbreakers who threaten the safety of citizens.  Listen to Paul’s words from Romans 16:1-7.

1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.


We see here the essential job of human government, as given by God: protect people, defending them with force if necessary, and punishing lawbreakers.  This includes protecting individual victims from criminals and citizens as a whole from foreign attack.  This requires workers and money, so God mandated taxes to cover these necessary expenses.  We all share in the common good as a direct result.


Osama bin Laden’s killing represents government at its God-mandated best.


September 11th, 2001 marked a turning point, I believe, in our world.  We have been mired in war ever since, but war like we have never known.  Neither presidents nor prime ministers command generals, who command armies to fight against us.  Our soldiers can’t look out across the battlefield and see men in uniform.


Instead, our foes are hidden behind the fabric of nations who claim friendliness toward us.  These nations are not at war with the U.S., but hiding behind the scenes are vast terror organizations, each bent on destroying Israel and the U.S.


Hamas trained 120,000 children to become Islamic terrorists.

Our military is like a boxer placed in a ring full of people – men, women, and children.  One of them, maybe most of them, is his opponent, but no one looks like a boxer.  The boxer gets slugged from the right and turns…and sees a young woman.  She’s not a boxer; did she do it?  He doesn’t know…and then he is blindsided from the left.  Turning, he sees an old man.  Frustrated, he punches him, but then the crowd cries fowl, because it’s unfair to hit old people.  What a world we live in; what a world our leaders and generals face!


But the hunting down and killing of Osama bin Laden wonderfully portrays the simplicity of doing government God’s way.  I remember the way President Bush characterized the decision to go after the 9/11 terrorists militarily.  He said he pictured a bad guy punching one of his daughters in the nose.  And he said that if someone did that, he would attack that man with whatever force was necessary to defend his daughter.  By the same token, as President of the United States of America, Bush said that he saw the 9/11 terrorist act as a bad guy punching his family – America – in the nose, and he felt it was his responsibility to go after them.


Sure, some errors were made along the way.  In the imperfect world of gathering intelligence, decisions are made on the best information available.  But when Bush’s administration handed the reigns over to President Obama’s administration, one thing remained consistent: we will hunt Osama bin Laden down.  And we did.


Our government had to.  One thing we know now is that there are more Islamic terror organizations than there were

Candid shot of the Bush family in 2004.

pre 9/11.  What this means is that bin Laden’s success and ability to elude capture sparked increased interest among Middle Easterners in joining terrorism.  Today, we have al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Islamic Brotherhood, and many, many more Islamic terror organizations.  Some of them cooperate; some don’t, but all agree to hate Israel and the U.S.  All find unofficial backing by Arabic nations.  All are extremely well funded by oil rich countries.


To fulfill its God-given mandate to defend its citizens, our government simply must take these matters seriously.  How we define “seriously” is up to our lawmakers and leaders.  That we must do something is a God-mandated reality, though.


Finally: Osama bin Laden’s killing reveals the sham of government run in opposition to God’s mandate.


Bin Laden did not sit at the helm of a recognized government; he was, in fact, far more powerful, because his rule was not limited to geographic boundaries.  His influence and control was pervasive across the Middle East, dipping into every country.  His influence extended to Indonesia, where more Muslims live than in any Arabic country.  His influence extended deep into Europe and even the United States, which are being increasingly populated by Muslim immigrants.  His influence sparked increased interest in both jihad and Fatah doctrines, jihad defined as conquering the world for Allah by use of the sword, and Fatah defined as conquering the world for Allah by taking control of culture.  Osama bin Laden was a leader far more powerful and influential than a mere president or king of a single country.


Bin Laden regularly portrayed himself as living a rugged life in the mountains when he actually lived with his family in safety and comfort.

Consider now how he fashioned himself before his followers.  Video footage portrays him living a Spartan life among the rugged mountains.  He is tough, insulated from the materialistic evils of the U.S.  He carries automatic weapons.  He is also shown in the pose of a wise, spiritual leader, sitting peacefully in traditional Arab garb, appearing as a holy man dispensing sage advice.  He is bin Laden, the wise, passionate, powerful leader who lives above creature comforts and materialistic charms.


This is the image he crafted and portrayed across the radical Islamic world.  But compare the image with reality, now that we know he was living, not in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan, but in a large, modern city in Pakistan; not in a dark cave with no creature comforts but in a million dollar Arabic version of a three-story mansion; not constantly on the run, in one daring escape after another, but in such peace and security that he didn’t even post guards in his compound; not in one location one month and another the next, but in his own home since 2006.


In essence, bin Laden lied to his followers as so many tyrants do.  He preached one message while living another.  He claimed to care for people’s needs while doing nothing to provide for them.

Osama bin Laden's million dollar "hideout," nestled in a large, modern city.


Obviously, we are aware of the vast fortunes that oil’s presence in the Middle East has brought to the region.  But do you know that only an extremely limited number of Arab nations possess oil, and, of those that do, only the royal families enjoy the profits?


In a strange stroke of God’s providence, only the extreme eastern portions of the Middle East have significant oil beneath their sands.  Most of the oil lies beneath the wasteland nobody ever wanted, known today as Saudi Arabia.  The most heavily populated Arab nations, those which were the most cultured and advanced, those with the best forms of government, found that they had no oil.  The vast majority of the Middle East is impoverished.


As it turns out, the most backward, evil, and violent countries are the ones which found themselves sitting on top of oil.  Ibn Saud, the original patriarch of the famous richest family in the world – the Sauds, of Saudi Arabia – was a backwards, evil ogre whom the world ignored and left out of world discussions following World Wars 1 and 2…until oil was discovered beneath his otherwise worthless sand.  His family now controls the vastest fortune on earth.


Ibn Saud, the backward, vile patriarch of the Saud fortune and kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Strains such as this control the money in the Middle East, and they are tyrannical in nature.  Their people live in squalor while they literally live as kings.  Their people are ignorant and easily inflamed with hate against Israel and the U.S.


Osama bin Laden is from Saudi Arabia.  He perfectly matches the hypocritical attitude of taking advantage of followers whom he looks down upon.  This is not at all how God intended leaders of people and rulers of nations to behave.  And as with all of God’s laws and ways, when we break them, a breaking always comes back upon us.  Bin Laden experienced this personally Sunday night before last.


In the final analysis, the death of Osama bin Laden substantiates the Bible’s contemporary timelessness.  We see the truth that “the earth and everything in it is the Lord’s.” We see that God sits above human governments and rulers, steering history’s course according to His incomparable will.  When things appear to us humans to be out of control, God is still in command.  When evil and evil men appear to be unstoppable, we see that mere creatures are powerless in the face of their Creator.  We will either live to see God’s perfect justice prevail or we will see it when human history concludes.  Either way, God is in control, and the only proper response to such sovereign authority is to bow to Him in worship.

The Royal Wedding

Friday’s royal wedding literally captured the world’s attention.  Two billion people watched Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding.  To put that into perspective, one in three people on the planet tuned in to the royal marriage ceremony.


Every major Internet service provider reported record traffic, especially impressive given that the event occurred during off-peak hours.  Yahoo reported that it was “breaking records in terms of traffic and video consumption.”  The royal wedding set an “all-time record traffic for a live video event on Yahoo,” eclipsing the previous record, held by Michael Jackson’s funeral, by 21 percent.  “Requests per second have surpassed previous records set by the Japan earthquake, 40,000 per second at today’s peak, compared to 33,000 per second.”  By end of day Friday, Yahoo’s top two stories — “the dress” and “the kiss” — had “already driven more than 6 million clicks combined.”  On Twitter, the top ten trending words Friday were related to Wills and Kate’s wedding, and Facebook was ablaze with excited comments.


Needless to say, when a single event stops the civilized world in its tracks, something of relevance occurred.  Here are the things that stood out to me yesterday as I watched the elegant young couple say, “I do.”


First, I believe the unprecedented interest in the formal ceremony reveals a traditional longing lying just beneath the surface of our increasingly casual culture.


Modernist thinking spawned a rejection of traditional values.  The rejection was reactionary, rather than creative.  If tradition thought one way, modernists mechanically thought another.  If longstanding custom dressed one way for particular events, modernism – in a predictable reaction – raced to the opposite extreme.


This anti-traditional mindset radically shaped modern culture, with one outgrowth being that we are now extremely casual toward almost everything.  Sexual conversations, which were improper in polite company in days gone by, are now standard topics among mixed company.  Crude humor, which was once found among teenage boys or in the sports locker room, is now heard over lunch or anywhere men and women congregate together.


The examples are almost endless, with the end result being that very few things are held sacred anymore.  Few events stand out as so different from the norm that they call for special behavior and reverence.  Our newfound casual spirit exhibits itself frequently in casual dress.  Our downplayed wardrobes match our approach to life.


By way of example, visit the web site of almost any “cool” new church which is caught up in the consumer-driven approach to doing church.  If the church offers streaming video of its pastor’s sermons, you will no doubt notice that the preacher is not standing behind a pulpit, which historically symbolized the centrality of God’s Word in worship.  In many cases, the modern pastor is actually sitting down on the stage, resting his arm casually on a small table holding his coffee and Bible.  Neither is he dressed formally in a suit and tie; rather, like a puppet mimicking culture’s anti-traditional stance, he dons the obvious: something overtly non-traditional, casual.  Since tucked-in shirts are proper, then, by all means, he will leave his shirt tails hanging out.


Lest you think I’m snooty and stiffly uncomfortable, let me say that I love casual clothes and casual moments – in their proper time.  But surely, as wise Solomon wrote, there is a time and season for everything.  Sunday worship of the majestic, holy God who humbles Himself to join us sinners in our sanctuaries surely deserves special attention.  Formal, corporate worship is not the same thing as eating pizza with friends the night before.  Both have their moment and both call for a different attitude and approach.


I am not advocating a dress code for church, but I do suggest that we have lost a sense for something grand and beyond ordinary when we remove our suits and dresses and cast aside formality and tradition.  Increasingly, we refuse to see that there are certain occasions and topics which demand special treatment.  We have lost a sense of reverence for God and godliness in our full embracing of the lackadaisical, casual life.


Watching William and Kate’s wedding ceremony yesterday, however, prompted me to wonder if people, deep down, don’t miss the tradition and properness we have laughed at and left behind.  The royal ceremony was gorgeous, dripping with tradition, elegance, and timelessness.  The moment became bigger, as it should have, than the participants, and the wedding party and guests approached it with that spirit.  Hearing that kings and queens had been married in that same church (Westminster Abbey) for one thousand years humbled the participants.  It was a cool reminder to our day which celebrates self that we are but one person in a long line that went before us.


Seeing the ladies in their lovely hats and dresses; the men in their dapper suits, the military men in their smart uniforms; the ministers in their formal gowns, with William and Kate looking marvelous at the altar, it reminded me that there is still such a thing as special occasions.  And special occasions demand special treatment.  We need formality, because it interrupts normalcy.  Momentous events separate mundane life, charging it with meaning.


Life is not casual, twenty-four/seven.  There are times and seasons which stop us in our tracks.  We dress differently and behave more properly.  Hopefully, the pomp and circumstance prompts us to ponder life, to see its everyday nature differently.  We are called, for instance, to worship Christ every day, but God placed upon us a special call for the first day of the week.  What happens to us at worship on the Sabbath should influence the coming week.  Sunday is not Tuesday or Friday, nor should it be.  We should approach it more formally, both in dress and attitude.  The occasional interrupting of our everyday, casual lives with formality and reverence is a healthy approach to life.



The second thing which struck me about William and Catherine’s wedding is the importance of family.


Watching the bride and groom during the ceremony, I couldn’t help but notice that they were very comfortable with one another.  They drew on one another’s strength during the lengthy, extremely public ceremony.  By contrast, footage of Charles and Diana’s wedding (William’s parents) reveals two people who seemed to be strangers.  Their body language betrayed uneasiness and unfamiliarity, feelings which proved in the ensuing years to ruin their marriage.


I can’t help but admire Charles and Diana’s sons, Princes William and Harry.  Seeing them in the news occasionally, they appear friendly and approachable, nothing like their father.  I also can’t help but feel sorry for the two young men.  Clearly, their childhood home and family was not happy.  Their parents divorced when they were small boys, and then their mother, Diana, died tragically in an automobile accident, leaving the boys alone in a family which appears from the outside to be cold.


Something changed, however, for Prince William.  Reports suggest that he fell in love with Kate Middleton’s family.  Her parents, though fabulously wealthy now, are not noble born, nor did they come from wealth.  The Middleton family appears to be an authentic, traditional family, where Mom and Dad love each other and their children.  Life centers on the comings and goings of the family.


William must have been drawn powerfully to the family life which he never experienced.  He and Kate, in fact, have made it clear that they will live alone without servants.  They will cook their own meals and clean their own clothes.  In essence, they want an authentic marriage and family.


I find this refreshing in our casual, anti-traditional era.  Just as we have thrown formality aside, we have also cast traditional marriage aside.  Surveys reveal that a sad outgrowth of America’s staggering divorce rate is that children of divorce show very little interest in getting married.  Increasingly, many choose shacking up, and the statistics surrounding living together are atrocious.  Compared to traditional marriage, couples who cohabit face much greater risk of spouse abuse, child abuse, “divorce,” abandonment, poverty, and many other negative experiences.  Is this any surprise?  We can ignore and mock God, but we cannot escape the timelessness and consequences of His laws.



Thirdly, yesterday’s wedding ceremony reminded me of the value of hard work in a free society.


Returning to the Middleton family, royal blood does not flow through their veins.  In English society, they are commoners.  Prince William’s new bride, Catherine, is not officially known as a princess.  But don’t miss that this commoner is, as of yesterday morning, the Duchess of Cambridge.  She is the wife of England’s future king.  She will become a princess.  She is referred to today as “Her Royal Highness.”


This fairy tale could never have occurred in many of the world’s cultures.  Mankind, hopelessly prideful and endlessly cruel, is prone to embrace the axiom, “might makes right.”  Many nations are dominated by rich and powerful tyrants who keep the masses ignorant and poor.  With no hope of education and no guaranteed freedoms, these people live and die in squalor.


By great contrast, the Western world was significantly shaped by Christian teaching.  This is not to say that Western nations are Christian, but their laws and cultures were influenced for centuries by the Bible’s doctrines.  The inherent value of human beings, for instance, led to the abolition of human slavery.  Freedom and protection for all men created safe societies.  Biblical work ethics and calls for education fostered increasingly trained and industrious work forces.


These are Bible-taught maxims which Western civilizations now take for granted but are nonexistent across most of the world.  England, a once great Christian nation (sadly, no longer), nevertheless embraced these profound, godly truths, which explains the rise of the Middleton family from the status of commoners to one which saw Kate Middleton marry royalty yesterday.


Ultimately, seeing Kate Middleton standing at the altar of one of the world’s oldest, most ornate and celebrated cathedrals, I was reminded of how we common sinners – Christ’s bride – will someday stand in the presence of almighty God, at the greatest marriage ceremony of all, when Christ – the Bridegroom – comes to take us as His bride.  We who were nothing, with no hope in life or eternity, were nonetheless rescued by God’s amazing grace.  More, He adopted us as His children and has loved us every day of our lives.  Further, He will give us to His Son at the heavenly marriage ceremony, and we will enjoy the celebration at the marriage supper of the Lamb.


England’s royal wedding is a beautiful, heavenly portrait of the regal ceremony which awaits you if you are a commoner and sinner, saved by Jesus Christ.