Sunday, May 27, 2007


John 15:13 in the Authorized King James translation reads, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Memorial Day always brings me back to this verse. The Lord Himself telling us about the very best a human being can do for a fellow human being: Willingly sacrifice oneself for the benefit of another.

I keep ruminating on what Jesus is really saying. If you take it in its context, He is setting the standard for both love of God and love of man. He speaks to both in the verse just before and the one after. But I keep coming back to the standard itself. Self-abnegation is the apex of all relationships—to God, to family, to friends, to strangers. Self-giving love is the most profound dimension of any relationship.

Which in turn brings me back to Memorial Day. No matter what you think of the war—or war in general—there is no way around it: What our men and women in uniform do for us is an exquisite expression of this high standard for love.

And I literally mean exquisite. The American Heritage Dictionary has the definition of exquisite as:

1. Characterized by intricate and beautiful design or execution: an exquisite chalice.
2. Of such beauty or delicacy as to arouse intense delight: an exquisite sunset.
3. Excellent; flawless: plays the piano with exquisite technique.
4. Acutely perceptive or discriminating: "Blind dolphins have been known to survive in the wild, guided by exquisite acoustic images of their prey" (Kenneth Browser).
5. Intense; keen: suffered exquisite pain.
6. Obsolete: Ingeniously devised or thought out.

Yes, I meant to include that last one, number 7. While it may be outdated, it still applies.
I just watched a television news magazine’s story following the Iowa National Guard deployed in Iraq. Every single Guard member appeared to have very carefully made his or her decision to serve their country and fellow Americans by placing their own lives at risk.

And it’s not just placing their lives at risk. There’s another form of self-abnegation—self-sacrifice—that every member of the military exhibits exquisitely, even if they’re never placed in harm’s way. Certain church traditions call this “white martyrdom.” White martyrdom is distinct from the shedding of blood (red martyrdom). It denotes the willful, voluntary setting aside of creature comforts and other benefits for the sake of others.

I would argue this concept of martyrdom makes every person who signs up for military service a true “martyr.” Military service means, at the very least, surrendering independence. You no longer make the decisions about where you’ll serve, how much you’ll accept for pay, what you will wear or to whom you will submit. I’m independent enough to think of all this as a particularly painful form of suffering!

And no one who’s been in the service needs to be told that serving by definition means you’re living less than civilians. From the rules to the gruel, you’re not getting what’s available on the outside!

All this to say we have our men and women in uniform to thank for giving us living, breathing illustrations of what Jesus Christ taught about love.

Love, as Jesus defined it in John 15, is not abstracted, unrealistic, and unattainable.
In fact, quite to the contrary, the love God calls us to is very real; it’s very practical; and it’s very doable. Just take a glimpse at the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have denied themselves for the sake of the rest of us-- you'll find them today wearing brown, white, green, blue and black.

With that in mind, this Memorial Day I pay tribute to my dad, Hank Schenck, who loved exquistely in uniform.

And I pay tribute to my dad’s older brother, Captain Robert L. Schenck, for whom I am proudly named, who died in exquisite love of country during the Korean conflict.

And I pay tribute to the countless others who today and through the decades and centuries, illustrate what it is that God expects of us. They loved their nation, their fellow citizens and the human race exquisitely!

Today, we remember . . .

Sunday, May 20, 2007


When I was recently asked to give the sermon at the Central Union Mission here in Washington, DC, I quickly said yes. It had been a long time since I had preached at a mission, so I figured I was due for it. As always, it turned out the mission was a far greater blessing to me than I could have been to it.

We had a wonderful service the Tuesday night I went. A worship team from my own home church provided music. The hundred or so homeless men in attendance responded in different ways; from spontaneous standing gyrations to head bobbing naps and loud snores.

As the sermon time drew closer, I knew I'd have to do something to get my congregation’s attention, so I opened with a question. (It’s always a good way to arrest an audience!) I asked, “How many of you have ever been done wrong by your woman?” Lots of hands went up. Then I turned the tables and asked, “How many have ever done wrong to your woman?” Even more hands went up.

My text was Hosea 2:7, about the prophet’s prostitute wife, Gomer, becoming unsatisfied with her adulteries and returning to her husband. I made it a lesson on our unfaithfulness to God and our need to return to Him. When I gave the invitation, many responded. It was a moving night of life-saving evangelistic ministry. To be frank, I had predicted as much. The poor always receive the Gospel more easily. People who have nothing also don’t have many obstacles to faith.

What I didn’t anticipate about my visit to the Central Union Mission was the flood of memories it would bring back to me; memories from 31 years ago. Back then I lived and worked at Teen Challenge in Rochester, New York, another sort of mission. While attending Bible College, I was a resident counselor for this church-run rehabilitation center for troubled young men. Our residents came from the courts, the jails and the streets. Most were addicted, some were mentally ill, all were, indeed, deeply troubled. My job was to befriend these young men, provide a disciplined atmosphere and steer them toward living clean, Christ-centered, law-abiding, gainfully employed lives. You know-- your typical part-time job for an 18-year old!

That first night I was given a staff bedroom literally under a staircase in the old dilapidated mansion that was the center’s dorm and chapel. I can still see the beat-up metal-framed bed and feel the gaping hole right in the center of the mattress. It was a cold November and the heat vent directly under the bed had no grate on it. The hot air belched directly from the ancient octopus furnace in the basement just below. To make matters worse, the room’s miniature window had been painted shut so many times I couldn’t open it even a crack. With the house filled with 20 recovering drug addicts, alcoholics and one rapist, I didn’t dare unlock and open my door. I nearly suffocated.

In the middle of that long, scorching night, I awoke to a furious banging. I rolled off the concave mattress and guardedly opened the door. Standing in the hallway was one of the residents. He was bleeding profusely from his arms. He told me flatly, “I tried to kill myself. You better get me to the hospital.”

Taking my one and only towel from the bedpost, I wrapped the arm with what appeared to be the deepest slash, bundled him into the facility’s van and rushed off to the hospital. He had to bark directions at me because I didn’t have a clue where it was. He turned out to have mostly superficial wounds. The hospital admitted him into the psychiatric ward and I returned to my hothouse at about 4:00 in the morning.

That inauspicious beginning set the direction for the next four years. I loved Teen Challenge, but the situations with our residents never got much better. I would eventually become executive director; supervise two more centers and a lot more guys. Cheryl and I were married during those years. We returned from our honeymoon to move into a small apartment in the adjoining house that served as our offices.

What years those were. I learned so many lessons: about the power of God to change lives; about human resistance to change; about the depth of depravity to which human beings can slide in this life; and the soaring peeks to which they can climb with God’s help and the interest of others.

Sitting on the platform at the Central Union Mission brought all of it back to me: the smell of street people; the postures of those beat down by sin, sickness and mental illness; the loving, self-sacrificing service of the staff; the gratitude in the eyes of those cast off and ignored by most everyone else.

The one big thing I got out of my reminiscences about Teen Challenge (and the more recent experience at the mission itself) is that there really isn’t much difference between what I did 31 years ago and what I’m doing today. The up-and-outers in high public office that I work with now aren’t much different from the down-and-outers I worked with back then. They smell a little better, but their sins are no less consequential. The up-and-outers make messes of their lives, too, but money, prestige and power do a good job hiding those messes.

I think I’m going to preach at the mission more often.

Back later . . .

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


This has been quite a week for me. It began with a quick flight up to Buffalo, New York, that I still call “home,” for a visit with Mom on Mothers’ Day. (My visit was a complete surprise that almost put her in shock. At nearly 86, she’s too fragile for those tactics. I’ll think twice about pulling a surpise again!)

Mom and Dad are together in a nursing home run by an order of Catholic nuns. Given their poor health, my folks are in the best situation possible. The facility is humble but deeply caring about its residents. For the people who staff St. Francis Home, caring for the elderly is a calling, not simply a job. Paul and I and our sisters are grateful to God to have Mom and Dad there.

Monday was a day for getting caught up on long overdue correspondence and E-mail, along with final revisions on my book, Ten Words That Will Change A Nation. You may recall it came out in 2000 and, because of my commentary on hot issues of the day, was quickly outdated. My publisher wanted to preserve the core content on the meaning and application of the Ten Commandments by taking out all those date-specific references. I think the result is an improvement over the first edition. Our goal is to release the new edition before our 25th anniversary celebration in November. I’ll keep you posted.

Yesterday, after intense planning sessions for three upcoming events (the rededication of our Ten Commandments garden display, our appeal to the Postal Service for a Ten Commandments stamp, and the Reese Roundtable on Capitol Hill), I got the news on the sudden homegoing of Jerry Falwell.

Dr. Falwell was always kind and generous toward my brother, Paul, and me. (You can read about our relationship to this giant of the faith in the articles posted at our website and at Paul first met him in Atlanta during one of the early Operation Rescue pastors’ events. Dr. Falwell came to express his support and to deliver a check for $10,000 to help the movement. We saw him several more times over the years, including when he came to Montgomery, Alabama to support our friend, “Ten Commandments Judge” Roy Moore. I then escorted Judge Moore to Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, where he treated us with exquisite southern hospitality. Shortly after, I spoke from in the chapel at Liberty University with Dr. Falwell on the platform.

While Paul and I only ever knew Dr. Falwell from a distance, I feel his absence. As I said to one reporter, Dr. Falwell was like the Trade Towers on the skyline of Manhattan. He was just there, like an anchor. I feel just a tinge of insecurity now that he’s gone. Our styles differed, but he was a huge inspiration to all of us. (Well, I suppose he’s really not gone, just “relocated,” now a part of that great cloud of witnesses!) I plan to attend Dr. Falwell’s funeral next Tuesday.

Today, as I hope you already know, I will talk about Dr. Falwell on my live missionary field report, Faith and Action Live! (12:00 noon, EST) In keeping with the Falwell spirit, I’ll also report on late-breaking revelations about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s unbelievable sabotage of the National Day of Prayer. Wait till you hear what she did in an attempt to scuttle this important observance. It truly is unbelievable!

Now, onto the remaining items: Please pray about coming to Washington for one of these three important events—

* Thursday, May 24: The rededication of our Ten Commandments sculpture in the garden outside our ministry house across the street from the U.S. Supreme Court. Remember, this is the ONLY fully visible and fully legible display of the Ten Commandments anywhere in our nation’s capital. Watch for details at our website.

* Wednesday, May 30: Afternoon news conference at the National Press Club on our appeal to the U.S. Postmaster General for a Ten Commandments Postage stamp.

* Tuesday, June 5: Our Reese Roundtable forum, “Evangelicals in ’08: United or Divided?” again, at the National Press Club. Special guests will be eminent Evangelical philosopher / theologian / cultural activist Dr. Norman Geisler of Southern Evangelical Seminary with a response from my controversial friend, Dr. Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals. This will be a hot one. Lunch is on us. To make your reservation, call Allyson at 202—546-8329, extension 104.

These are good excuses for you to visit us here in Washington, DC. If you’ve never been here, you’re long overdue. If you have been here, you can never come too many times!

Be back . . .

Sunday, May 06, 2007


Whew! What a week I just capped off--make that an eight-day week! It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m on a Southwest plane at 35,000 feet above Wyoming, or somewhere between Salt Lake City and Chicago. I’m returning from a wonderful weekend with friends in the Layton, Utah area, and from preaching for Pastor Myke Crowder at the dynamic Christian Life Center. The service this morning was memorable if for one reason--it’s the first time I had a ranking U.S. senator in the front row! Senior Utah Senator Orrin Hatch was our honored guest for the 11:00 service. Pastor Crowder and I made a special presentation of a plaque of the Ten Commandments to the Senator, inscribed with his name. He gave a moving testimony of faith and appreciatively promised to display the plaque in his office in Washington. More on the Senator further down.

For now, let me tell you how the eight-days began:

Last Sunday evening, April 29, we launched the 18th annual U.S. Capitol Bible Reading Marathon on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. This is just in front of the steps where presidents swear their oath of office on Inauguration Day. The event involved more than 500 volunteer readers, including members of Congress and the U.S. Senate chaplain, who sequentially read the entire Bible aloud over a public address system, for 90 straight hours! That’s Genesis through Revelation, night and day, non-stop, without commentary! It was glorious. It’s hard to describe the feeling of hearing God’s word ricocheting off the alabaster buildings lining the Washington Mall. It could be heard from the Dome of the Capitol through the great expanse all the way to the Washington Monument. And, because of Faith and Action’s partner, National Pro-Life Radio, the Marathon could be heard over the Internet at any computer anywhere in the world! E-mails and calls came in from as far away as Spain and India!

The Marathon closed on Thursday, May 3, the National Day of Prayer. Our chief of staff, Peggy Birchfield, and our program director, Dane Rose, were with me in the morning for a breakfast at the famed Capitol Hill Club where a group I’m involved with hosted Commandant of the United States Marine Corps General James T. Conway. Following the opening Pledge of allegiance to the Flag, I read the President’s National Day of Prayer proclamation and gave the invocation.

Then we were off to the elaborate Caucus Room in the House of Representatives Cannon Building across Independence Avenue from the Capitol. Shirley Dobson, wife to Dr. James Dobson, presided over a three-hour prayer service there. I chatted with her briefly, but had to leave early to give the closing prayer at the Marathon. From there, we went immediately to the U.S. Supreme Court where each year we hold the only National Day of Prayer observance at the High Court. It’s always fraught with tension because the Court is extremely guarded about anything that might be construed as an “act of demonstration” on it’s property. The official National Day of Prayer committee found the situation so daunting, to my knowledge, they’ve never even approached the Justices. (Now that the culture of the court is changing under Chief Justice John Roberts, I think such a formal approach should be made.)

Only four years ago, our friend and colleague, Rev. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, was arrested for kneeling to pray on the Court’s steps. He was charged, convicted and ordered to stay away from the property for two years. We teamed up with him and challenged the administrative officer's interpretation of the law that bans demonstrations. We argued that prayer is not the same as a political demonstration, especially on a day when the President urges such public observances. So far, we’ve prevailed. For the last thee years, we’ve been allowed to conduct a small, brief prayer service on the hallowed front plaza. Still, it’s never quite comfortable as Supreme Court uniformed police and plain clothed marshals are dispatched to watch our every move. This year, the Chief of Police made a rare trip outside the building to get our personal assurance that everything would be “legal today.” We gave it to him, then, with a smile, I wished him a “Happy National Day of Prayer.” It broke him up and he did an eye-roll worthy of an Oscar!

A special treat this year at our Court observance was the participation of Vonette Bright, the founder of the National Day of Prayer. Mrs. Bright is the widow of the late Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, the largest Evangelical missionary outreach in the world. She worked relentlessly for a congressional bill creating the National Day of Prayer. Against all odds, it passed and was eventually signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. Also at the Court this year was my good friend Bill Murray. Bill is president of the Religious Freedom Coalition. As a teenager, Bill was used as the subject of a Supreme Court case that knocked voluntary prayer out of public schools by his mother, the infamous atheist activist Madelyn Murray O’Hare. Today, Bill is a Christian activist, author and speaker. He stood with us at nearly the exact spot where he and his mother celebrated their victory 45 years ago. I look forward to being at the spot with him again in the future when students win back the right to pray in classrooms, assemblies and sporting events!

After the prayer service at the Court I headed downtown for a meeting with our former U.S. ambassador to Morocco, Ed Gabriel, to discuss our ongoing Christian Friendship Mission to that country. The day ended late after I signed hundreds of letters to our inner circle of supporters seeking urgent help fending off yet another attack against our ministry facilities by atheist activists. I can’t say too much about it lest we give our opponents an advantage, but I will eventually everyone the whole story.

Friday morning I was at the Israeli Embassy to greet the newly installed ambassador, Sallai Meridor, and to pray for the Peace of Jerusalem with many Christian leaders from all over the U.S. I had just enough time to drive the 90-mile round trip home to pack for my Utah visit. I threw my clothes into my bags, kissed Cheryl goodbye and headed back to our ministry center where I signed another 250 letters, crashed on my sofa-bed and got up at 4:45 Saturday morning to drive to Baltimore Washington International Airport, the cheapest way to get out to Salt Lake City. All the while I used my cell phone to work out the details for Senator Hatch’s visit with me to Christian Life Center. I arrived in Salt Lake a little tired (!), so I caught a cat nap at my hotel before meeting some of our supporters for what we call a “Family Circle Dinner” at a nearby restaurant.

Sunday morning came soon with two services to preach. It was National Ten Commandments Day so I took that as my theme. Pastor Crowder has been a great friend for many years now and the church has stood behind us in everything we’ve done. It seems I just can’t wear out my welcome with these lovely people. The congregation has just completed a spectacular new sanctuary at the base of the Wasatch Mountains. In fact, the church is actually on four levels. With its many staircases, just moving around inside is a pretty good workout for a Sunday morning!

While I love preaching on the Commandments--and the message was well-received--the most interesting part of the morning was the Senator’s participation. He is an exceedingly gracious man and was very generous in his comments about me and Pastor Crowder. As you may know, I’ve been in an ongoing and profound conversation with him about spiritual things. We’ve spent an extraordinary number of hours together pouring over the Scriptures. He is a man who clearly loves God and punctuates everything he says with his devotion to Jesus Christ. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (colloquially--and often pejoratively--referred to as “Mormons”), there is a lot for us to talk about. But I must tell you, we have had nothing but honest, deeply meaningful and prayerful dialogue. We’ve also been our knees together, asking the Lord to show us the truth about important matters. Please pray for him and me as we undertake this critically important exercise.

I closed the service this morning in Layton with an invitation to repent and make Jesus Christ Lord. 21 souls raised their hands--Hallelujah!

Now I’m tired again and find myself dreaming of a pillow and a soft bed, but my connecting flight is late out of Chicago, so I'm now posting this to our site.

This week will be a bit intense as we petition the U.S. Postmaster General for a Ten Commandments Postage Stamp. It’s anything but dull around here!

Be back . . .