Friday, March 28, 2008

DEAD HEAT - A Must Read

(column to appear at - Sunday, March 30, 2008)

DEAD HEAT – A Must Read
By David R. Stokes

Go to the fiction section of any local bookstore - mega or micro - and you’ll encounter title after title dealing with international intrigue, terrorism, and conspiracy in high places. These subjects have long been popular, but it seems that they are more so these days, as geopolitical reality unfolds before our eyes. Many novels seem to read very much like real life.

Only the names are changed.

Emerging as a master of the genre is Joel C. Rosenberg. His first breakout novel, The Last Jihad, climbed the New York Times Bestseller list several years ago, due in part to its eerily familiar plot having to do with an airliner being hijacked and set on a kamikaze course to attack an American city – this all written months BEFORE the 9-11 attacks.

According to CNN Headline News, “J.K. Rowling may be the writer of the moment for the young and the young at heart. But for many adults Joel Rosenberg is the ‘it author’ right now. Inside and outside the Beltway in Washington, people are snatching up copies of his almost lifelike terrorist suspense novels.”

He is not a modern day “Nostradamus” as some have suggested, but Rosenberg is a man who understands that there may be clues to current events, and even future happenings, in some very special ancient writings. And those writings claim inspiration beyond their authorship. We’re talking about the sacred Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

Joel’s latest novel, and the last in a compelling series that included: The Last Jihad, The Last Days, The Ezekiel Option, and The Copper Scroll, is called DEAD HEAT. It’s a must read for anyone interested in how the past may very well inform the present – not to mention things to come.

Prior to his career as a writer (there are 1.5 million copies of his books in print these days), he worked for Steve Forbes, Rush Limbaugh, Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky – giving him experience and credentials beyond those of the many suspense novelists.

I had a chance to talk with Joel recently about his new book, Middle Eastern affairs, and the current U. S. Presidential campaign. He told me that DEAD HEAT is “about a highly contested political campaign” and “what could happen if a Commander-in-Chief underestimates the danger of radical Islam.”

With a “ripped from the headlines” feel, the novel weaves his interpretation of ancient Biblical prophecy into realistic current events.

Joel is fervently pro-Israel, this being the understandable result of his family heritage. His paternal ancestors escaped Russian persecution of the Jews early in the twentieth century. His loyalty is also fueled by his personal faith as an Evangelical Christian.

The very fact of Israel’s existence is, to Rosenberg, a testimony to the reliability of the Bible. He told me that “the Bible is the only book on the planet that ever predicted that (a modern state for the Jews) would come true – and it has, quite dramatically so!”

This passion for Israel shines through his books and is evident, as well, in his humanitarian efforts on behalf of the poor and needy in the Middle East (such efforts not limited to Israel alone, but focused on the surrounding nations as well). He and his wife established The Joshua Fund ( ) a few years back, and they are currently involved in an effort called OPERATION EPICENTER, with the goal of distributing $120 million dollars worth of food, clothing, pots and pans, furniture, medical supplies, construction supplies, wheelchairs, and toys for children in the region, over the next few years.

Reflecting on the current campaign for the presidency, Joel considers the war against radical Islam to be an overriding issue; one with “winner take all” stakes. He considers Barack Obama to be very “weak” in foreign policy experience as well as on issues relating to America’s strategic relationship with Israel. Yet, he also notes that Christians don’t seem to be flocking en mass to the McCain campaign.

Rosenberg’s November Communications, Inc. commissioned a poll last week, one that questioned 1,000 likely Christian voters. The results were not good news for the man from Arizona, revealing that if the election were held today Mr. McCain would lose the Christian vote to the Democratic nominee – 36 to 45 per cent, this even AFTER all the news about Barack’s talkative preacher. By contrast, George Bush decisively bested John Kerry with this voting block in 2004.

And, though Joel clearly admires the President, he is disappointed in the Administration as it seems to be encouraging the division of Jerusalem and forfeiture of the West Bank. He finds himself clearly puzzled by their efforts to “put pressure on Israel, in part, to placate the Saudis and others who really hold our economic future in their hands” (read: OIL).

And oil is very much a key to the plot of DEAD HEAT as the price of crude soars to record heights – we’re talking about $400.00 to $500.00 a barrel. Joel admits that when it came to writing this novel he found himself skeptical of those figures, but with oil lately at $107.00 such a scenario is not so far-fetched anymore. Add to the mix a new strong-man in Iraq, North Korea on the move to the South, and China threatening Taiwan, and you have the prescription for a first-rate thriller, and a worst case international crisis.

As Joel says in the Author’s note in the beginning of DEAD HEAT, “I pray to God the novel you hold in your hands never comes true.”

So do we. - DRS

Friday, March 21, 2008

Rev. Jeremiah Wright's Jeremiad - Pulpit Demagoguery

(this column will appear at on Easter Sunday, March 23, 2008-DRS)

Though Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s diatribes have been widely condemned, some have sought to dismiss them as episodic rather than chronic; a few isolated statements wrested out of context by those looking for anti-Obama ammunition. Others have tried to defend the Illinois pastor by suggesting that too many Americans don’t understand the black church.

And then there are those who have suggested that Jeremiah Wright is very much like those old Biblical prophets who condemned the sins of ancient Israel. The argument goes something like this:

“Well, Rev. Wright is really more in the mold of the prophetic preacher, called to rebuke the nation. And those Biblical men didn’t pull punches pronouncing their woes on society.”

To this way of thinking, anger is a good thing and indignation is very much part of the sermonic experience.

But does the analogy really work? If some are claiming that the man speaks for God to contemporary America, then it’s only fair that he be held to a Biblical standard. Holy men of God spoke as they were “moved by the Holy Spirit,” and their messages had a “Thus saith the Lord” ring to them.

Is Jeremiah Wright a man who speaks for God – or is he someone so enamored of his own opinions that he has no problem sharing them as from God?

As Holy Week resolves into Easter this year, Christians all around the world are reflecting on the life and work of Jesus Christ, particularly the events surrounding His death, burial, and resurrection. These facts form the essence of the gospel, according to the Apostle Paul, and they are central to the message of the church. They ushered in a new covenant – and a new methodology. The “preaching of the cross” is what the Christian pulpit is supposed to be about.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that “we do not preach OURSELVES, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake.” The Christian pulpit is adulterated and abused when it becomes a vehicle for messages other than those rooted in God’s Word. And, while some of Rev. Jeremiah’s defenders suggest that he uses the Bible and is “faithful to the text,” evidence abounds that he distorts scripture and seeks proof-texts to shore up his bitter and sometimes paranoid arguments.

Israel’s prophets called their nation back to basic principles of faith and holiness, but they were PATRIOTS – they didn’t despise their nation. In a sense their message was quite CONSERVATIVE; they wanted the nation to go BACK to the faith of their fathers. Their agenda was not social change, it was spiritual revival.

The purpose was not to stir up the crowd or incite mass anger, it was to get the hearers to look within to see personal sin - and then to look up to see God in His mercy.

Christians recognize John the Baptist as the last of the Old Testament prophets, the one crying as a “voice in the wilderness” preparing the way of the Lord. He was a very passionate and demonstrative preacher, given to bold denunciations and declamations. But he recognized that he was not the main attraction, and after Jesus began his ministry John would say “He must increase; I must decrease.”

That’s the essence of Christian preaching. The pulpit is not a place for our particular gripes about the state of the world, personal and paranoid conspiracy theories, and contagious anger. It’s a place to talk about Jesus Christ; good preaching makes a bee-line to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. And not just on Easter.

If someone wants to use the Christian pulpit to confront long-standing problems and perceptions in our nation, then the message should be about how commitment to Christ can bring about lasting and constructive change. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear someone like Rev. Jeremiah Wright preach something like this – and have it go viral on You Tube? :

“Yes, we have racial problems in America – but let us resolve today to draw a line in the sand – and FORGIVE. Let us tap into that power of grace that says ‘Father, forgive them…” – let us not wallow in anger or bitterness- that never solves anything. Anger begets anger, rage breeds rage, and resentment keeps the cycle going. Let us break FREE AT LAST. Let us forgive those, past and present, who have hurt us, and let us grow beyond indignation – let us find the healing that comes when we receive and express mercy!”

With this as a liberating starting point, we could very well see some changes in our nation – good ones. Keeping people mad all the time solves nothing. Resentment is a toxic emotion that blinds the eye and binds the heart. Rev. Wright seems to be lost in time. Angry people can’t really appreciate, or even see, good things that happen because they are consumed with bitterness about a problem. People who are irate all the time miss a lot of good stuff.

The pulpit is a powerful medium, even in our age of the Internet and 24/7 News. People look up from the pews and grant its occupant a measure of respect and authority. Those of us who approach it Sunday after Sunday (I have been preaching Sunday sermons as a pastor for more than 30 years), should do so with humility, integrity, deep respect for the Biblical record, and – above all – a desire to proclaim GOOD NEWS to the hearers.

Jeremiah Wright is not a prophet. His words do not ring true. Some may claim the ancient mantle for him, but that dog won’t hunt. He’s a man who has used the pulpit to preach himself – his ideas and opinions. And that’s not healthy; whether from the left or right.

I am conservative in my political opinions – my congregation knows that. But when it comes to the preaching, I do not give forth a steady diet of homilies from National Review, or – my passion is to preach “Christ and Him crucified.” My politics are a reflection of me as a whole person (faith included), but I must be ever on guard not to confuse important things with ULTIMATE issues.

I have no direct line from God as to why bad things happen, nor does any other preacher today – liberal or conservative. When tragedy comes I don’t ask “why?” – I ask “what for?” And I try to find answers in God’s Word – not answers that will help me place blame on this group or that – but answers that will help me find a way to help people through pain. And out of it.

The story is told about the great days of the Victorian preachers in Great Britain – when pulpits were dominated by great men of God who captured the attention of the empire with the message of the gospel. One American visitor found himself in London on the Lord’s Day and was looking forward to hearing some of the finest preaching in the English language. He knew he wanted to hear the famous pastor, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, but he would do that on Sunday evening. In the morning he went to hear another notable pulpiteer of the day.

When later asked to compare the two messages and messengers, he said: “When I came out of church after the Sunday morning message I found myself saying: ‘My, Oh my, what a wonderful preacher!” But when I left Spurgeon’s church Sunday evening all I could say was: “What a wonderful SAVIOR!”

I suspect if more pulpits in America had that kind of impact on people, we would actually be a better nation. - DRS

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Churchill & Leadership

(this article appears in the Spring 2008 edition of FAITH TALK MAGAZINE )

By Rev. David R. Stokes

On the day that changed everything, September 11, 2001, then New York City Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, gave us an impressive model for energetic and effective leadership when he seized the moment and guided that most unmanageable of all municipalities through a very dark hour. His leadership that day was an inspiration to the nation.

When Mr. Giuliani had reached the point of exhaustion in the early hours of Wednesday, September 12th, he went home and returned to a book he’d been reading the previous few nights. It was the full-length biography of Winston Churchill by Roy Jenkins, and the mayor was reading about how the great Prime Minister had led his country through another horror in another time – the Battle of Britain – a daily 9-1-1. Giuliani drew inspiration from Churchill and how he handled himself and motivated his people while Nazi bombs were falling day after day.

Of course, Churchill’s life is filled with things to inspire us all - the preacher of God’s Word included. This myriad-minded man used the full arsenal of weapons residing in his unique personality to face the challenges of his time. But of all the tools at his disposal none was as powerful or essential to his effectiveness as his use of THE SPOKEN WORD. Legendary American broadcaster, Edward R. Murrow, once said of Winston Churchill that, “he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”

As a lifelong student of the spoken word, in the preaching context – as one speaking before others to proclaim absolute truth – I have found Churchill to be a great inspiration on many levels. Though he was not a clergyman or particularly devout in his religious expressions, he fulfilled a priestly role in the life of his nation – one that was in a very real sense pastoral as he shepherded the fearful masses through the fiery terrors of modern warfare.

A great example of this is how Mr. Churchill conducted himself in the mid 1930’s. At the time, he was widely regarded as a political pariah. His career had peaked long ago, and his time was widely considered to be past. The highest office he had achieved was that of Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he found little fulfillment in that position other than the psychological boost derived from serving in the same role that his father had served in decades before. Now he was simply a regular member of the House of Commons, one of so many voices competing for attention - and a back-bencher at that.

Then history presented him with an opportunity perfectly suited to his gifts. If he found himself in the “wilderness” of his years, he would at least be a voice crying in that wilderness. And his message would be one of warning – for there was something on the horizon that convinced him that danger was ahead for his country. That danger was on the continent in Germany. That danger was embodied in a man named Hitler and in the ideas he espoused. Churchill was the first and, for so long, the only one to speak out about the obvious re-armament of Germany (in violation of the Treaty of Versailles). It became an obsession – a CONVICTION.

A typical Churchill speech in the House in those days would find him having to raise his voice above the shouting of the opposition. He was called a “war-monger”, and his very sanity was questioned. Yet he persisted and would continue to raise that voice until someone listened and did something – though he feared such sympathy might come too late. Eventually the nation turned to him in their hour of need. They needed a man of courage and conviction.

The lesson here is that visionary leadership will face the unpleasant and unpopular with courage. And, while the masses may, in fact, flock to gurus and teachers who will scratch the proverbial itching ear, in the final analysis the best leaders use the spoken word – and the words they proclaim are chosen
on the basis of CONVICTION. - DRS