Monday, July 28, 2008

Is “Coexist” a Scriptural Concept?

When I’m not watching the Colorado scenery while driving around this beautiful state, I’m often observing other drivers around me. There are many things about another driver’s car or their driving habits that can tell you about the person inside. None is more revealing than the bumper sticker.

Some bumper stickers are entertaining, some advertise honor students, and some are there to make a public statement about politics, religion, or social beliefs. One display that I have noticed lately is particularly disturbing to me – the “Coexist” bumper sticker. It spells out the word “COEXIST” using a variety of symbols meant to represent various religions and philosophies. So what is the message being conveyed by a person displaying the sticker?

Let’s briefly look at each symbol, to gain an understanding of what the artist had in mind when they pulled these various symbols together.

The “C” is a crescent moon and star, most recently representing Islam but has also been used to represent the pagan worship of sun, moon and stars. The “O” is the peace sign, so prevalent in the 1960’s and 70’s. It represents the anti-nuclear, anti-war sentiment. The “E” is a combination of gender symbols, representing the viewpoint of both men and women. It has also been intimated that this combination can represent transgender viewpoints.

The “X” is represented by the Star of David, a reference to the Jewish faith. The “I” is dotted by a five pointed star enclosed by a circle. Known as a pentagram, it widely used in pagan cultism and is also considered Wiccan. Wicca is usually associated with witchcraft, and embodies a nature-based philosophy that preaches that a person may do almost whatever they like, as long as it brings no harm to others.

The “S” is made up of the Chinese Taoist symbol for yin and yang – representing the two opposing forces of nature. Finally, the “T” is represented as a cross, pointing to Jesus Christ and the manner of his death.

By grouping these symbols together in a clever way, the sticker tries to portray the concept that a mature individual will allow all of these viewpoints to thrive independently. It implies that if we could stop the bickering, we would be able to live as one in harmony with all beliefs intact. There would be no wars, no genocide, no mindless hate and the world would be a better place.

Allow me to state it a different way. When I see one of these bumper stickers it says to me, “I believe in a world where each individual is allowed to choose their philosophy of their own accord. The followers of Mohammed should stop preaching death to anyone not of the same mind. Instead, there should be mutual respect between them and the followers of the Lord Almighty, and they should live peacefully side-by-side, even though their religions may specifically preclude that option. Meanwhile, those who wish to worship nature should do so, free from war or any political demands that might be necessary to stop the policies of the occasional insane or maniacal world leader. Evil world leaders will not come to power if we have truly free elections in each nation. People should be at peace and in harmony with nature, though nature may occasionally throw in something chaotic like a tornado or a tsunami. Finally, men and women should put aside their differences and become unified in spirit, allowing the mutual things that guide us to take hold and direct our lives. Everyone is free to do their own thing, provided it is not done in a way to exclude or hurt any other group. No one group should have or seek dominion over any other group because truth is not an absolute principle, but rather is a concept of self-discovery and the definition of right and wrong may be different for each individual.”

Though this may be what we hear taught in our schools, universities, diversity training courses and through the media, this type of coexistence cannot and should not be brought about. It cannot, because the tenets of most religions exclude this very kind of tolerance, insisting instead that there is but one true belief. It should not, because this very acceptance denies the supremacy and divinity of God. The Lord demands this in Exodus 20:3, by telling us in the very first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Such intolerance is frowned upon in our culture, and yet it is the very thing that God commands.

Who do we believe possesses the keys to eternity – our ever-changing culture, or the Lord God, who does not change at all?

Fellow Christians, I appeal to you. The world would have you believe that nothing is absolute – that everything is relative and that even the most basic truths may not be true for all. But we must remain vigilant. There is only one God, and His laws and direction are the only right way. There is only one eternal outcome, and that is the one where the Lord God rules in heaven forever and ever. The other religions and beliefs will not be rewarded for ignoring the one God, and holding fast to their own principles.

In Ephesians 6:3-6, the apostle Paul directs this statement to the Christian church, about the Christian church – “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” His petition is for the one true church to be unified, but is not about striving for unity with other beliefs that deny his existence or lordship.

Just imagine for a moment how bumper stickers in heaven might differ from this one.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

One and Only One

July 26, 2008

I have a confession to make. For my whole life, I’ve been……well…… monotheistic.

That’s right. I believe that there is only one God. To some, that may not seem to be an unusual statement, but to many in our society, it’s an outrage to hear such words of intolerance. Our culture has an aversion to mono-anything. Words beginning with “mono” are usually associated with something negative – monopoly, monolithic, or even monogamy. It’s almost as if we have forgotten the actual definition of the words themselves, but are trained to bristle when we hear the utterance of the prefix.

Let’s be clear. Monotheism is right! There can only be one God. If we allow the divinity and supremacy of God to be watered down by the acceptance of other “gods”, then we deny his omnipotence. To be all-powerful, He must be placed above all. And to place Him above all, we must be willing to say that other gods are not divine or supreme in any way, but are falsehoods propagated by deluded men. We cannot allow other gods to hold even a minor position in the hierarchy – there is no spectrum of divinity. There is God, and there is man. All else comes from Satan in an effort to undermine God’s authority.

Here’s a test. Go back and read the last two sentences of the last paragraph. Are you able to say them out loud without reservation? Could you repeat those words to a neighbor or co-worker and be prepared to defend them fully, with no temptation to compromise? Chances are, even the most dedicated Christians in our society today have an internal struggle to utter a statement as black-and-white as this. Why?

Our culture in this beloved United States of America has allowed itself to be swayed by outside influences that would mitigate against the divinity of the one, true God. A quick read of the quotes of our founding fathers would show that these great men admitted to only one God, and would be appalled at the foothold that we have given to other competing viewpoints. Their idea of education was to use the Bible and Christian writings as the basis for child-rearing. They had no intention to allow a multitude of religions to be offered and promoted in the school setting. And they could not conceive of a culture where the concept of monotheism was deemed as intolerant. Benjamin Franklin said, “Whoever will introduce into public affairs the principles of Christianity will change the face of the world.” Unlike the politicians of the present, He did not water this down by saying that the world would be changed by a system that professed tolerance to all competing beliefs as long as we had the freedom to exercise them in harmony. He was very specific – Christianity has the power to change the world. And the world was indeed changed by this nation.

When Alexis de Tocqueville sought to understand what it was that made America great, he wrote, "I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and boundless forests, and it was not there; in her rich mines and vast world commerce, and it was not there; in her public school system and institutions of learning, and it was not there. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution, and it was not there. Not until I went in to the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if she ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."

Do we truly live and preach as if there is only one God and one immutable faith? Do we give in to culture on this point? Have we been trained to feel accepting of other beliefs – to the point that we are willing to compromise our own, and thus deny the supreme lordship of God in our lives?

I’ll write more on this topic, when I discuss the “COEXIST” bumper sticker.

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Putting Us In Our Place

July 22, 2008

It’s that time again. The press and airwaves are dominated by news and gossip about the upcoming election. The media is fascinated by this event every four years, almost as if it were a new phenomenon and this our first experience in electing a president. As I am somewhat interested in politics myself, I find that I get caught up in it, too.

Our country places a great deal of focus on the person who sits in the Oval Office. This fascination is sometimes misplaced, and people tend to credit the position with more power than the office really holds. The president often has little power to make things happen independently – that is the reason our government has three branches to keep power in check. But we don’t always see it that way. Our society tends to rally around the presidential nominees as the savior of our nation for the next four years.

Of course, the Bible puts all of this in perspective. Psalm 9:19-20 says. “Arise, O Lord, let not man triumph; let the nations be judged in your presence. Strike them with terror, O Lord; let the nations know they are but men.”

In a world where men continually wish to be the ruler and the final power, we are reminded that God is ultimately the One who can save us, and lead us into peace and prosperity. Our society clings to the concept of humanism, just as men have done through the ages. Humanism is not a new concept – men have been trying to save themselves since the beginning of time. It springs from the desire of man to be in charge, and ignore the idea that God is the real ruler of the universe.

We “are but men”, and always will be in this life. If the people of our nation would raise Him to a position above all else, we would continue to live under His blessing. This is a clear theme in the Bible. God bestows His grace on those who recognize and honor Him, but those who choose to set themselves above Him are led into captivity. I fear for our nation. This country was founded by men who feared God, who educated their children themselves using the Bible as the starting point, and who recognized that man is not powerful enough to be his own salvation. But now, we are a people who focus on one man to dispense justice, create wealth and blessing, and decide what is the new right and wrong. If we would humbly pause, bow to God, acknowledge that His wisdom is greater than ours, and pray for His leading, God will set us on the right course again, and the blessing of the Lord Almighty would once again be poured out on our nation. Give God the glory, and His providence will be given.

Psalm 10:16-18 – “The Lord is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land. You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.”

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Television vs. Heaven…

July 17, 2008

A news article caught my eye today – Barack Obama was appealing to parents to spend more time doing homework with their children, and allow them to watch television less.

I never thought I would say this to something promoted by Mr. Obama, but “Amen” to that.

As we drove home this evening from a family night out, my children were marveling at how many televisions we could see flickering in living rooms in the neighborhood. They told me how many of the houses they go into to visit seem to have the television running at all hours of the day. I decided to do a little research into television habits in our country, thinking that people might be spending two or even three hours of each day in front of the tube.

The facts are nothing less than staggering. According to Nielsen Media Research, during the 2005-2006 television year, the average household had the television turned on for 8 hours and 14 minutes – EACH DAY. Taking into account that not everyone in the household is watching for that entire time, they estimate that the average individual viewer watched for 4 hours and 35 minutes – EACH DAY (reference – September 21, 2006). It is stunning to think of the absolute waste that is plaguing our society if these numbers are true. And the studies show that this number is increasing year over year, with teenage girls leading the way with the biggest increase.

Imagine if that time was converted to something meaningful. How would the children of our nation be changed if parents spent four-and-a-half hours of each day mentoring, playing, educating, and talking with them? If word got out to the community that a local family spent four hours each day in Bible study with their children, they would likely be ridiculed. But we think nothing of sitting our kids down in front of mindless drivel for more time than it takes to drive from Chicago to Detroit.

Giving up your television is always an option – a good one, and perhaps the best thing we could do for our families. But if that is not an option, let me suggest three things to every household that has a television:

1. Pull the plug on cable or satellite TV. Don’t pay a monthly fee for something that can destroy your children’s lives. Then, take a positive step and re-invest that money into something that will transform your family in a positive way, like sponsoring a missionary or investing in a new family devotional book or video. We have never had cable in the house, mostly because I’m too frugal to pay for it, and I am only now starting to realize what a blessing this has been. I have not been exposed to cable much in the last few years, but on occasion I see people flip through the available channels and I am amazed at the subject matter for which cable companies actually charge money.

2. Minimize the time that the television is on each day, and even more importantly, take absolute care about what your children are watching. Take nothing for granted. If you are not diligent about every eyeful that your children are watching, be assured that Satan will be. Even better, find something that you can all watch together, leaving nothing to chance. Be aware of every visual, including the racy and provocative commercials that are inserted in even the most benign programming. Heed the words of Proverbs 19:18 – “Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death.”

3. Guard your own eyes, taking care what you watch even when no one else is around. Satan is constantly trying to shift our acceptance of what is right and wrong, and he will be actively working that angle. Your idea of what is acceptable will bleed into what you let your kids watch. Also, the kids will see your example, and this will dictate what they believe they can “grow into” for entertainment when they get older.

Bottom line, many parents are allowing their children to be raised by the television, and are immersing them in a culture authored by Satan. This has a direct impact on a child’s relationship with their family and with their Creator. We are called to greater things. If you are reading this and feel offended because it hits home, please understand – this is not meant to be judgmental. Take the opportunity to ponder what can be changed in your family’s television habit. Make a good choice, and you will be rewarded with more family time, better relationships, and ultimately, heaven’s idea of entertainment – which puts to shame anything that Hollywood might conceive.

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Strong Leadership Is Not Enough

July 12, 2008

There are times in my life where I feel passionate to be a better leader. Not just to be a leader of my family, or even at my job, but in a much grander way. I have often thought my life would be more fulfilled if I leave this world having been known as a great leader. Perhaps I’d even like to be famous. My upbringing, my education, and my workplace have all taught me to stretch myself, tap my gifts, and lead. And sometimes, I have felt that this would be enough.

The book of 1 Chronicles tells of the descendants and often the fate of the various tribes of Israel. From 1 Chronicles 5:23-26:

“The people of the half-tribe of Manasseh were numerous; they settled in the land from Bashan to Baal Hermon, that is, to Senir (Mount Hermon). These were the heads of their families: Epher, Ishi, Eliel, Azriel, Jeremiah, Hodaviah and Jahdiel. They were brave warriors, famous men, and heads of their families. But they were unfaithful to the God of their fathers and prostituted themselves to the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them. So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria (that is, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria), who took the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh into exile. He took them to Halah, Habor, Hara and the river of Gozan, where they are to this day.”

These men clearly had greatness in their blood. They were brave, famous, and ultimately “heads of their families”. The Bible counsels us to seek this goal, does it not? Countless books, articles, and speakers tell us that the family will benefit from a strong father – but our society has been feminized to the point that this is now rare. Fathers have abandoned their godly role in the family for secular diversions – work, golf, material possessions, pornography, and simple “busyness”.

Still, we witness men today who have leadership in their character. These men know how to provide materially for their family, and they can defend their children when threatened. But the Bible makes it clear that there is more to living under God’s blessing than to be a strong leader. A leader must himself be led – and this leading must be from God. Good intentions without God’s direction seem semi-beneficial, but they ultimately lead to destruction. This is a great temptation in our culture today. We are inundated with “self-help” offerings, books that promote good time management principles, and methods to create wealth so our families can be comfortable. The very words – “self-help” – imply a humanistic approach, as if we can somehow save ourselves through better living.

In contrast, a godly man is broken before the Lord. He must realize that no amount of study, fellowship, or even prayer will heal the brokenness caused by sin. Our only healing comes through God’s grace – His willingness to forgive, His ability to instruct, and His leading are what we require. The admission that we are not able to save ourselves is a big step, and one that is not popular with the secular humanism that dominates our culture. In our broken society, the strongest men are the ones who are able to pick themselves up and find “inner strength” to gain success. God is looking for men who are first willing to admit brokenness, and then are willing to let God give the healing, strength, and direction.

A father can lead mightily…and still be lost. The men from Manasseh proved that. By replacing God with other gods, they deluded themselves into believing that they had achieved the goal. And the penalty of this oversight was not just having God ignore them. God decided to intervene directly and these great men were taken captive by an evil king for the rest of their lives. The Bible clearly tells how their captivity was a direct result of their unfaithfulness. It wasn’t due to any other cause, or a simple twist of fate. These men most assuredly thought their strength and leadership would be enough to save them from a bad end. And yet, God was able to lead them into lifelong captivity because they had ignored Him.

Could He do it again today?

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Chicken Methane and the Question of Freedom

July 10, 2008

Last Friday, our nation celebrated its independence. I must admit that I’m more cynical this year about our country’s idea of freedom than I have been in the past. As I have been learning more about our founding fathers and the nation that they envisioned when they sailed away from a tyrannical monarchy, I begin to view our current situation with some apprehension. Are we really as free as we are led to believe?

Two days later, I was up early to read the day’s paper, and there in the first few pages were several articles demonstrating that we are not as free as we used to be (though this point was somewhat lost on the writers who submitted the columns). The first article detailed a battle between a homeowner and her neighborhood association over a swinging gate on the porch of a house lived in by a mother of two. Her husband is away in Iraq and she had the gate installed to protect her two very young children as they play on the porch. It sounds like good, common sense, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. There are some in the neighborhood who don’t like the “look” that the gate gives to the front of the house, and are rallying to have the gate removed. While the mother’s concern is first for her children’s safety, this is secondary to many of the neighbors, who put primary importance on aesthetics.

The second news item dealt with a proposal to allow families within city limits to raise as many as six chickens per household. I must admit that I did not know that raising chickens was illegal in my city until I read this article. I must have missed that fundamental right being taken away at some earlier time. It should be pointed out that the proposed law is not a total return to chicken freedom. Restrictions will be placed on the raising of chickens, even if the law passes as currently written – limit of six, eggs may be harvested but chickens can’t be slaughtered, and roosters are not allowed. It still sounds like something less than freedom to me.

The bureaucratic situation makes this even worse. No less than three separate entities are involved to work out the rules and mandates – the City Council (to pass the law), the local Humane Society (who are required to regulate the chickens through their animal control services), and something called the Urban Hen Coalition (I wish I could lay claim to making that one up, but I can’t). Add to this the various homeowner’s associations who will doubtlessly jump on the topic, and we have a bureaucracy that the founding fathers could never imagine. Imagine George Washington’s reaction to his local HOA visiting Mount Vernon to complain about the legality of raising chickens in the front yard. The Boston Tea Party crowd may have come out to throw their own “Boston Chicken Party”.

One argument brought to bear by the City Council is the potentially dangerous increase in greenhouse gases caused by “chicken methane”. Is this genuinely a concern? Chicken emissions? Fortunately, the article went on to say that the average emission of a single chicken has indeed been measured (this from another bureaucratic entity, the local Natural Resources Department). Using this number, they calculated that the increase in community greenhouse gas would be less than 0.009 percent, even if everyone in the city owned the maximum number of six chickens. This is one government entity that may actually be adding some value to the debate.

While there is some humor to be seen in this story, consider this. Is our society so far away from changing the limitation of six chickens to that of six children per family? Before letting that thought go, consider it carefully. Are we closer today to the freedom that was enjoyed by the founding fathers and their new nation, or to a nation where family size is government-mandated?

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Things Have Changed

July 7, 2008

My wife and I recently attended the Christian Home Educators of Colorado conference. It was a great event, and it gave the two of us much needed time to talk, reminisce, and dream. We played catch-up on a lot of ideas and happenings, as we don’t always get to chat as often as we wish.

This will be our fifth year of homeschooling. It gets better every year. We discussed how things have changed over time – progressing from the first year of experiment and doubting our sanity, and proceeding on through the most recent quarter, which was full of confidence, growth and joy. And as we were talking about curriculum, daily planners, and what special subject I was going to teach to my son this year, a sudden thought occurred to both of us. The purpose for homeschooling our children has completely changed in just four years.

When we began, it was about giving our children the best education possible. And while we admired many aspects of the elementary public school which we attended, we knew that our children were not learning enough, and were not being challenged academically as they should. My son, who was progressing to first grade when we made the homeschooling decision, was destined to spend the next year doing worksheets in the school hallway because he had learned to read earlier than the others in his class. The school could not modify their curriculum to accommodate this, and so he was effectively going to be punished for his effort. I wonder if the “social skills” that people question in homeschoolers develop better in lonely school hallways?

We made the decision to educate at home largely because we wanted our kids to have a superior education – to demonstrate superior academic achievement as they had already shown in their first years of schooling. This desire drove the first two years of our home education. We focused mostly on typical education rigor, making sure that our children could pass any test, in case a surprise auditor came to our door to see if our children were really learning at the pace mandated by the state.

Through God’s grace, a new objective inserted its way into our lives. The primary purpose of homeschooling our children no longer is academic – we do it so that we can disciple our children to live godly lives! The surprising part is that neither of us can recall exactly when this goal came about. It is abundantly clear to us that through God’s leading, our long-term vision for our children (and their children after them) is first to know God and to serve Him. My former self tells me that any of the school day that my children spend in reading the Bible, or in memorizing scripture, or in learning how to intelligently argue against evolutionary theory, is time not spent learning biology. And they aren’t getting as much time in trigonometry or Civil War history (though even this isn’t true – we get more of this because of the sheer efficiency of our “class size”).

Isn’t that thinking backwards from the way God intended? If I allowed my children to spend their time learning secular subjects first, isn’t that time that they could have been spending with God, or learning godly principles? Proverbs 9:10 says “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” The education of my children should first begin with dwelling on God’s precepts. And once they are grounded in what is right and good, they will be better prepared to serve God in this world. Doesn’t that trump our culture’s incorrect interpretation of success?

The bottom line is this – if my child grows up to be a highly-paid, Harvard-educated lawyer on Wall Street, but doesn’t know and serve the Lord God, I will have failed. And that vision will continue to refine our homeschool efforts, as well as our children’s hearts.

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Why Do This?

July 5, 2008

Starting a blog can be a tricky thing. After all, if it turns out to be read by a growing number of people, shouldn’t I expect some of them to go back and read the very first entry, just to see what inspired the whole thing? Thinking about the posterity of the event is enough to give me pause – what should I write about to get this blog off and running?

I think it must start with some answers to the “why” questions. Why create a new business venture around something like Christian homeschooling, especially when I have a career that many would deem to be successful? Why spend so much time doing something that is so financially uncertain, at a time in my life where I can be climbing the ladder of secular and financial success? Why pour out words to paper when there is so much else in my life that already demands daily attention?

The answer is by no means original – but then it doesn’t have to be. Malachi 4:6 sums up the reasons behind this new venture. The scripture says “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” It is no coincidence that these are the last words of the Old Testament. God knew in advance how the Bible canonization would be arranged, and He knew that these would be the last words on the Old Testament portion, and He divinely put these very words on the prophet Malachi’s heart to write down. God left us with a prediction of what was to come, and He placed it strategically in the writings because it is of utmost importance.

This verse comes to us in two parts. It is first a call to action, and second, it is a warning. God calls both fathers and children to change their hearts, and turn away from distractions that drive a wedge between them. Does such a wedge exist today? It does, as our society continually offers new forms of entertainment and occupation which divert both fathers and their children from investing in a deep, meaningful, and God-centered relationship. Every street, store, and computer screen offers various forms of time-killing escapism for people of any age. The father-child bond is broken or never forms, leaving families broken and searching - bustling with activity, yet lonely and unfulfilled. And when this relationship fails to develop, society offers any number of false salves to deaden our conscience and make us forget the One to whom we should return. If losing our grasp of the intended Christ-centered relationship were not enough, we are bombarded with erroneous ways to fill this gap. Unfortunately, they are rarely based on God’s truth, and so the “death spiral” begins.

God’s call to action is an imperative. Fathers must change their motivations, and prepare to exchange their selfish ways for a vision and lifestyle which prepares the next generation for God’s calling. And the vision doesn’t stop there. We should be readying our children to do the same with the generation that comes after them. And so on. The vision must extend to future generations, and prayer must be offered up for the future if we are to have any hope that God will bless our efforts. This multi-generational idea is not new – it is a principle found throughout the Bible - Proverbs 17:6, Exodus 3:15, and Joel 1:3 – “Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.”

Psalm 112:2 talks about the reward for pursuing such a vision – “His children will be mighty in the land; each generation of the upright will be blessed.” As a father of three wonderful children, my goal is that God will bless their lives, and that this goal will have permanence in future generations, so that God’s blessings will fall on those children-to-be.

Note that Malachi ends with a warning – “or he will strike the land with a curse”. While this verse was given to Malachi to warn of the curse to the land of Israel, doesn’t it apply to our nation today? For all the love I have for our country, we are clearly far down the path of decadence and decline witnessed in so many other strong empires that fell because they abandoned God. I don’t want this collapse to occur while there is a chance of turning it around. I want my children, and the children who follow, to fight back against moral decline and godlessness.

The words in Malachi are a prediction, not a guess. He will turn the hearts of fathers and children toward each other. It is my sincere desire to be a part of that turning, and it is this thought that drives me to learn, labor, and share with others – to God’s glory.

The journey begins.

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