Polls suggest GOP Senate takeover.

A slew of new CBS News/NYT/YouGov polls of Senate races suggest a growing likelihood the GOP reclaims the Senate in elections this fall. Let’s inspect the polling data and methodology of those polls first before examining the results.

Unlike most polls, these were conducted entirely online and not via telephone. Also, these polls surveyed registered rather than likely voters, meaning they probably underestimate the performance of the more motivated political party – the GOP this year. Finally, the pollsters weighted results to align with 2012 voting demographics, which again probably underestimates GOP performance since President Obama’s presence on the 2012 ballot motivated greater numbers of Democratic voters who typically sit out off-year elections.

With those caveats noted, the polls generally produced a margin of error (MoE) in the 3.0% range for any given state, suggesting a reasonable point-in-time poll. Results should encourage GOP leaders that a takeover of the Senate this fall is well within reach. The GOP currently holds 45 seats which means it must capture an additional 6 seats to control the Senate. Let’s consider the likeliest scenario for achieving that number based on these recent polls (I recognize other polls have slightly different results but focused on the CBS/NYT polls since they offer a consistent methodology and occurred over the same time period).

The Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia seats have always been considered the most likely to flip parties and polling in those states certainly support this. In fact, Steve Daines now leads incumbent (by appointment) John Walsh by sixteen points, 56-40. How much Walsh’s recent alleged plagiarism plays a role in these results is unclear, but a sixteen-point deficit at this stage in an election is a nearly insurmountable challenge.

Next, let’s consider incumbents who poll under fifty percent, which generally suggests a seat is in serious jeopardy. Four Democratic Senators currently poll under that threshold: Mark Pryor (AR) who trails Republican Tom Cotton by four points (50-46); Kay Hagan (NC) who is a one-point underdog to state-house leader Thom Tillis (48-47); Mary Landrieu (LA) trails Bill Cassidy by a single point (47-46); and Mark Begich (AK) who leads Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell (47-45). While each of these contests is within the margin of error and is appropriately considered a toss-up at this stage of the race, history suggests that undecided votes break for the challenger on Election Day. The GOP needs to pick-up three of these seats to control the Senate and that seems very possible, perhaps even probable at this moment in time (assuming that Landrieu does not avoid a run-off and Treadwell wins his party’s nomination over his far less electable opponents).

There are, however, two seats Democrats have set their sights on flipping from the Republicans: Kentucky and Georgia. In the former, Senator McConnell leads Alison Grimes by four points (50-46) and in the latter freshly nominated David Perdue (R) leads Michelle Nunn (D) (50-44). Perdue comes out of the gate strong after his recent primary victory and seems well positioned against Nunn who has been an accomplished fund-raiser to this point. It is possible the Democrats could steal one of these seats but the combination of conservative voters and President Obama’s sagging popularity make such a scenario unlikely.

There are a couple states that lack an incumbent and where the GOP candidate has run surprisingly strong: Iowa and Michigan. Joni Ernst leads Bruce Braley in the Hawkeye state (48-47) after a series of verbal flubs by the Democratic Congressman. In the Wolverine state Congressman Gary Peters trails Teri Lynn Land by a point (48-47). Though the two female GOP candidates lead by a narrow margin in both polls, the Democratic lean of both states makes the climb to victory more difficult for these two women. That said, both states are definitely in-play and provide solid evidence of how the GOP has expanded the field of contested seats held by Democrats.

We also ought to consider Colorado a competitive race where Democrat incumbent Mark Udall leads Congressman Cory Gardner (51-47). That is too narrow a lead for an incumbent to feel safe with less than a hundred days until the election, though he is better positioned than his colleagues in the South.

So where does that leave the two parties as we head into the final three months before Election Day? They remain in an intensely competitive race for control of the Senate. Watch where each party spends its resources over the next month to get a sense of where each believes it has the best chance of winning.

If I were advising the two parties I would urge Democrats to cut bait in Montana, Arkansas, and Louisiana and focus on winning Colorado, Iowa, North Carolina, and Alaska. I would counsel Republicans to avoid wasting cash in long-shot races in Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Oregon and focus on the elite eight: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, and North Carolina.

At this time I would place the odds of a GOP Senate takeover at 65% with a likely pick-up of between 7-8 seats. But much campaigning remains and with it plenty of time for more gaffes – and those can quickly transform a race or two.

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Real vs. Faux Persecution

The State Department just released its annual report on religious freedom across the globe. It noted that in Syria “hundreds of thousands (of Christians) fled the country to escape ongoing violence from the government and extremist groups alike.” In fact, in the city of Homs the population of Christians collapsed from 160,000 to 1,000 over the past three years.

Meanwhile, recent reports from Iraq indicate that the jihadist terror group ISIS has forced tens of thousands of Christians to recant their faith, pay a faith tax penalty, abandon their homes, or suffer execution. As a result of these threats the city of Mosul, which once had as many as 60,000 Christians, now has none. They have all fled the area.

China continues its oppression of Christians who refuse to register with the federal government and follow its approved theology. Believers in Egypt and Libya remain the target of violence from groups that have increased their brazen attacks as new governments operate in those countries. Converts to Christianity in most Muslim countries are subject to the death penalty. And the list of countries persecuting the church continues to grow.

So when I learned of a recently released movie that addressed the topic of Christian persecution, I eagerly made my way to the theater to watch it. With the church suffering so much painful and dramatic persecution worldwide, I wondered where the film would concentrate its attention.

Imagine my surprise when I realized a few minutes into the movie that its focus was not on the actual persecution currently borne by the global church but rather on the fictional persecution of the American church. Instead of using the opportunity to raise awareness of the plight of real believers suffering real persecution and the real trauma that accompanies it, the director, Daniel Lusko, chose to create a production that is as preposterous as it is fictitious.

His plot revolves around the premise that a powerful U.S. senator needs the support of an evangelical minister to secure passage of a bill aimed at eliminating biblical Christianity. (Since the evangelical community exercises little power on Capital Hill these days it is a silly supposition). When the minister refuses to extend his support, the senator has the man framed for a teenager’s murder. We later learn the president (who bears a remarkably ridiculous resemblance to President Clinton) was in on the plot but washes his hands of any involvement when it unravels.

The movie is painful to watch. The plot is disjointed, the script nonsensical, and the acting terrible (except for Fred Thompson’s solid performance as the minister’s father).

But what really saddened me as I left the theater was not the seven dollars I wasted on the movie but that it did a tremendous disservice to the persecuted church. By pretending Americans suffer persecution the movie shifts the discussion away from the need to work tirelessly on behalf of our suffering brethren overseas and instead directs it at ourselves and the risk that persecution may come our way. It reflects the same parochial and insular view often adopted by the American church in the use of its resources and neglecting the needs of the global church.

The director seems to believe the American church needs to understand the risk of persecution arriving in this country and organize to stop it. Before we do that, though, I recommend we consider the benefits persecution has brought to the church in other nations. It sharpens their commitment to the Lord, eliminates those activities and objects that distract them from Him, purifies the church, removes the chaff from uprooting it, and sparks revival that drives church growth. In view of such significant and exciting results, perhaps a little persecution is exactly what we need.

Packers Training Camp Observations.

Here are a couple initial impressions I had observing the opening of Packers training camp this weekend.

  • Getting Casey Hayward back in the starting line-up will strengthen the secondary and increase defensive turnovers. While Micah Hyde received most of the favorable press during OTAs (deservedly so) and expectations are high for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, both of whom should contribute to remarkably better safety play, it is Hayward’s return that ought to excite fans the most. During eleven-on-eleven drills he consistently demonstrated the intuition and reflexes that made him an interception machine his rookie year. If he remains healthy the entire year, the defense will be much improved over last year.
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  • Receiving punts during special teams drills were Hyde, Cobb, White, and Abbrederis. That said, let’s be serious about potential candidates. The only reason Cobb returns punts during the regular season is that Ted Thompson wants him injured so he can lock him up with a long-term contract on the cheap. With respect to the other three candidates, no one misfielded a punt and all three look like natural returners. Local UW product Abbrederis looked especially elusive attacking the seam.
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  • Peppers, Matthews, and the defensive scheme. Folks, it is going to be one heck of a fun season watching these two cats get at the quarterback if they both remain healthy. Though Capers no doubt held back some of the more exotic schemes he plans to use, he mixed and matched those two on both sides of the line. If Peppers plays at his historical level, offensive coordinators will lose considerable sleep attempting to game plan against this pair. Look out!
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  • Lacy, Lacy, Lacy. No sophomore slump on the horizon for the big fella. He looks as explosive as he did last year and now has a year of experience and understanding of the playbook under his belt. He is so much bigger than any defensive back, and many linebackers for that matter, that I can’t imagine DBs wanting any piece of a charging Lacy once he builds momentum at the second level. Take a moment to savor the Lacy-Rodgers combination this year because it has the makings to be produce an exceptionally special offense.

Green Bay Packers 2014 Season: Outlook.

As training camp approaches for the Green Bay Packers it seems an appropriate time to examine the strengths that make the team a contender to play in Glendale, Arizona next February for their fifth Lombardi trophy. Also, let’s briefly consider potential barriers to earning a record fourteenth World Championship. Finally, I’ll take a stab at predicting the likely win total for the season as well as offering a floor and ceiling in win totals. As always, feel free to comment and offer your predictions as well.

Any serious analysis of the Packers’ hopes for the season begins with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Entering his seventh season as the starter, Rodgers has achieved the status of an elite signal caller and is widely viewed as among the top three quarterbacks. His combination of arm strength, shiftiness in the pocket, and ability to throw receivers open are unparalleled in the league. His presence alone ensures the Packers will field a competitive team for every game and almost certainly produce a winning season.

The emergence of Eddie Lacy last year provides the jab to Rodgers’ right hook that gives the Packers a lethal one-two punch on offense. Teams must now pick their poison and decide who represents the biggest threat they must defend. Defensive coordinators can no longer play two-deep schemes that leave only seven men in the box because Lacy will make them pay, and pay dearly. A full season of Rodgers throwing darts all over the field and Lacy running roughshod over defensive backs offers an electric offensive combination that should excite Packer fans.

The offensive line improved last year in pass protection and in opening holes for Lacy. That trend should continue as left tackle Bakhtiari has bulked up in the offseason and now possesses a full year of experience. Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang represent one of the premier pair of guards in the league with Sitton punishing defenders on the left side at an All-Pro level and Lang performing on the right side at a solid, though not yet elite, level. Bryan Bulaga returns to right tackle after missing last season with a knee injury and likely improves that position over the serviceable Don Barclay.

To defend in a league that emphasizes the pass and against a schedule that includes quarterbacks Brady, Brees, Cutler, Wilson, and Stafford, the Packers need strong play from their cornerbacks. Fortunately, that represents the primary strength of this defensive unit. Sam Shields demonstrated enough talent to earn a sizeable contract in the offseason and should operate as the shut-down corner for the Packers this year. Tramon Williams returned to his 2010 form in the second half of last season and expects to replicate that for a full year this season. With ball-hawk Casey Hayward manning the slot, Capers has the talent to keep opposing signal callers in check.

So what potential landmines lie under the surface that might prevent this Packer team from hoisting the Lombardy Trophy in Arizona?

Injuries represent the unknown most likely to jeopardize the Packers season. Untimely injuries to one or two elite players or half a dozen starters could send the team home for the playoffs. It is critical that core players remain healthy for the season if the team hopes to fulfill its objectives in the post-season.

Also, there are several positions that have not yet had a starter identified including center, tight-end, and the safety spot opposite Morgan Burnett. While it appears a solid starter for each role exists on the Packers roster, that expectation must be fulfilled when the pads come on and the game whistle blows. If Coach McCarthy’s staff can plug those openings with players who perform at even an average level this year, then the team will be well positioned for sustainable success. If not, opposing teams may exploit those weaknesses, which risks unraveling the Packers’ season.

Next, the defense needs to get its anger on. The past couple years this team has lacked an aggressive, mean approach to business. The talent appears to exist but something gets lost in the man-to-man confrontations in the trenches. That trend cannot continue if this team hopes to play in the forty-ninth Super Bowl. Fortunately, defensive tackle Mike Daniels recognizes this and has already begun establishing expectations for his teammates and demanding that as a unit they play angry. If he succeeds in getting the defensive unit to adopt that mentality game-in and game-out, then the season becomes promising on that side of the ball.

Finally, the team needs to avoid any regression from core players – as happened with Morgan Burnett last year – and two or three young players need to take their performance to the next level as Mike Daniels and Jarrett Boykin did last year. If no one emerges from training camp with amplified skills from last year, then the chance to go deep in the playoffs lessens.

Now it is time to make a prediction that I will have to stand by for the next six months. I believe the Packers likely will finish with eleven or twelve wins and have a ceiling of fourteen and a floor of ten (barring serious injuries). They will win their fourth consecutive division title (though it will be closer than most think) and will play in the conference finals. They certainly have the talent, depth, and experience to earn a spot in the Super Bowl but so do four or five other teams in the conference. That said, 2014 promises to be an exciting, enjoyable season for Packer fans as long as the injury bug does not bite again, and has the potential to be something very special. A fifth Lombardi trophy and fourteenth World Title is certainly a realistic possibility.IMG_0148

Pursuing our own glory.

Recently I attended a men’s Bible study that was studying the twelfth chapter of the book of Genesis. After reading the chapter out loud as a group the facilitator asked the men for any initial thoughts they had on the verses. One gentleman referenced verse two where God informs Abram (Abraham), “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing.” (Genesis 12:2, NKJV). The man then explained that he believed the verse demonstrates that God wants to make the names of His people great. Specifically, he said the verse provided him the confidence that God planned to make his name great and would do so through his career. Other men agreed and weighed in with equal confidence that God would also make their names great among neighbors, at the church, and in the community.

After the others spoke I interjected that the book of Isaiah provides an applicable verse on the matter that we need to consider. In the forty-second chapter God proclaims, “I am the Lord, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another,” (Isaiah 42:8, NKJV). God leaves no room for ambiguity – He will not share His glory with anyone. David understood this truth when he remarked, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Your name give glory,” (Psalm 115:1, NKJV). I explained that God does not seek to make great the names of men but instead declares the glory of His name alone. Therefore, we ought to pursue Him with humility and in awe rather than explore ways to make our names great.

The others fervently disagreed and insisted these two verses had no application to the saints of God. They wanted to limit their relevance and take a narrow view of them. They even expressed umbrage the verses were mentioned since they were not germane to the conversation.

Sadly, the American church tends to adopt a similar approach to Scripture. We want to universalize verses that capture God’s blessings and promises and insist they apply to all saints, especially when they speak of material blessings and promises of greatness. We often individualize verses and proclaim they represent God’s plan for our own lives when they assert some benefit we desire. At the same time we dismiss as irrelevant and inapplicable any verse that discomforts us or contradicts the plan we have for ourselves. Certainly God would never want us to follow Him down a path that does not align with our own desires, we insist.

But if we examine again the verses above we realize that God gave the promise of a great name to Abram for a specific reason – to bless the other nations of the earth. Nothing in the passage suggests that God wants us to claim the verse as our own and then expect to have Him make our names great. We personalize it to ourselves because that’s what our flesh desires.

Similarly, the verses in Isaiah and Psalm are clearly universal in application because they reflect the omnipotence and worthiness of God, which require we give Him all the glory and praise. But we dismiss the applicability of those verses because they do not advance the narrative we want to believe – that our faith is all about ourselves.

Let me add that the interpretation these men had of the verse in Genesis is not unique to their church, which is by all accounts evangelical and professes orthodox doctrine. Reading Scripture with an eye towards personalizing the verses that appeal to us and rejecting as irrelevant those that do not, represents a disease that plagues most evangelical churches in America today. And no surprise since we have been taught for too long that Jesus came to make our lives better, more pleasant, and fulfill our every desire.

We need to discipline ourselves better as we read the Bible and resist gravitating to any interpretation that gratifies our flesh. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal truth and remove our biases that distort our understanding of His Word – ask God to preclude us from viewing Scripture through the lens of our own agenda.

Otherwise we risk adopting a faith grounded in the desires of our flesh and not in the power of God’s truth – a faith that may well jeopardize our relationship with the Lord.

Opportunities abound in culture of hedonism

As our culture races toward a full-on embrace of hedonism, I grow increasingly concerned with the long-term viability of our nation. History is littered with states that possessed remarkable power, status, and influence but eventually fell to ruin due to internal rot rather than the hands of external forces. Moral decay bankrupts a nation as easily as it does an individual, or church for that matter.

As I observe society legitimize and celebrate behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs openly hostile to Christianity and biblical principles, I am both discouraged and saddened – at least initially. But on reflection it occurs to me that our culture’s rapid migration away from any semblance of Christian values has some unobvious benefits and yields a host of opportunities. While I prefer that we, as individuals and as a society, pursue God and His ways (not forcibly but freely), believers ought to remain mindful of those benefits and opportunities.

First, as our culture views Christians with increased contempt and hostility, the cost to practice Christianity faithfully grows. This heightened animosity tends to purge the church of its most casual members, those who embrace the faith largely because of what they can get from it. Their commitment to Jesus and His instructions extends only as far as the benefits they receive from Him. These believers often are the ones that malign Christ and His church by selfish behavior and hypocritical conduct – the ones who repulse society at large and from which it draws it caricatures. As more of these half-hearted followers leave the faith, the church will strengthen and grow healthier.

Second, a burgeoning apostate church precedes the second coming of Jesus. As we witness more denominations, Christian leaders, and churches dismiss God’s word as antiquated and allow the culture to inform its doctrine, Christ’s return draws closer. While I prefer to see the church in her entirety remain faithful to the Lord, Scripture makes clear that many will fall away from the faith in the end times and false doctrine will flourish. So we can know that an expanding apostasy in the church foreshadows Jesus’ arrival on earth.

Finally, as hedonism explodes across the culture and envelopes almost everything in its path, the lifestyle and behavior of faithful believers offers an increasingly stark contrast. Light shines brightest where the darkness is greatest. As the salt of this world, Christians can preserve our nation and prevent its eventual decay. With that in mind, society’s embrace of debauchery, selfishness, and moral relativity ought not discourage or frustrate but rather inspire us.

We have an historical opportunity to impact our nation for Christ unlike any other generation before us. The gulf between the cultural worldview and the biblical worldview has never been greater. Now is the time for all believers to commit themselves fully to living out all of Jesus’ teachings with reckless abandon.

–       Demonstrate love to a world that hates and despises us.

–       Display humility to those who treat us with contempt and want to kick us to the curb.

–       Remain steadfast and have the backbone to boldly proclaim your faith in Christ and commitment to His Lordship.

–       Share God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness with a society in desperate need for it but which is resolute in rejecting it.

–       Articulate biblical principles with gentleness and courage when discussing culture, current events, policy, and matters of societal importance.

–       Offer hope, peace, and joy to those around you even when they insist on pursuing activities that bring despair, restlessness, and dissatisfaction.

–       Follow Jesus’ example by holding firm to truth while expressing it with acts of kindness, generosity, and love.

As we live out the gospel with renewed vigor, we can help stem the tide of moral relativity and preserve our great nation for another generation.

New novel is a thrilling, emotional, white-knuckle story that captivates readers

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The recently released novel, An Accidental Abduction, is the story of Katy Byrd, a young woman who enjoys her small town life in Lakesburg, MN but yearns to make a difference. When she decides to join her church on a mission trip to Morocco, Katy hopes God uses the experience to transform her ordinary life. But when local terrorists kidnap her, life turns upside-down for Katy and thrusts her into a harrowing scenario that’s far from routine. Now she must confront circumstances far more challenging and severe than anything she faced back home. Worse, her survival appears to rest entirely on the intervention of a man she barely knows – the man assigned to guard her and prevent her escape.

The plot examines Katy’s battle with despair as she struggles to understand why God allowed the abduction to happen and how the traumatic experience transforms her and those around her. It has adrenaline-inducing scenes while touching the heart and soul. A great read for the summer with an inspiring, encouraging message.

The novel is available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble in paperback, and electronically on Kindle. To order, click the links below – and remember to recommend it to your friends as well.

http://www.Amazon.com/dp/B00LI30DEQ

http://www.Amazon.com/dp/149962879x

 

Commentary: Faith, Politics, Culture, and Bible Prophecy.