Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Jerusalem: It's Time to Recognize It As Israel's Capital

The world woke up this morning to startling headlines: President Trump is going to declare that Jerusalem is the undisputed capital of Israel and that the United States is planning to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  The announcement is scheduled for today.


Already nations in the Middle East have sounded the alarm.  Hamas has declared Friday to be a "day of rage" following Friday services at the mosques.  They are even advocating violence as part of the demonstrations against this decision.  The president of Turkey has indicated that if President Trump follows through with this declaration that it is a "red line" within the Muslim world.  Other Middle Eastern nations have made similar statements, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia.  Thoughts have ranged from violence on the streets, to demonstrations in front of American embassies, to the total collapse of any further peace-talks between Israel and the Palestinians. 


Of course the sides are divided.  In an article written by Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash from the Washington Post, and published on December 2 in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, several leaders within the Palestinian and Israeli communities were asked about the impact such a decision would have upon the relationships between Israel and the Palestinians.  Gais Abdul Karim, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, when asked about the impact of a Trump declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, said, "This would be even more problematic, as this would involve direct recognition of the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem.  It would also be recognition of the illegal Israeli move to announce Jerusalem as a capital."  He went on to say, "The U.S. will lose its status as a broker and declare itself as an ally to Israel.  It will be a complete catastrophe and perhaps a final end to the attempts by the U.S. administration to start a process."


When asked the same question, Nachman Shai, a member of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, responded: "Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and we want it to be internationally recognized.  When Israel was declared in 1948, some world countries did recognize Jerusalem, and they even had their consulates and embassies here.  But after the 1967 war, some of them moved, and later, following each crisis, even more left.  I understand the issue with territories, but Jerusalem will always be Israel's capital.  And what does it really mean if the embassy is in Jerusalem?  Why should it not be in Jerusalem?  I think every country in the world would expect foreign embassies to be in their capital." 


These are just two differing opinions.  Since its declaration as an independent state on May 14, 1948, the center of Israeli government has been in Jerusalem.  I have driven by the Knesset many times.  The Knesset is the equivalent of our Congress.  Nearby are the offices of the various departments of Israeli government.  The residence of the Prime Minister is located in Jerusalem.  When foreign dignitaries come to Israel, those meetings are held in Jerusalem. 


Yes, for nineteen years - 1948 to 1967 - Jerusalem was a divided city.  East Jerusalem was Arab, while West Jerusalem, where the government was seated, was Jewish.  Jerusalem became an united city following the close of the 1967 Six Day War.  At that time Jewish leaders declared that Jerusalem would never again be a divided city.  And it has not been, although in the eyes of many around the world, there still is that line of demarcation that exists.  One can travel freely today from East Jerusalem into West Jerusalem.  They are no check points.  To the pilgrim visiting Jerusalem, it is one large growing city. 


And yet tensions run high between those living in East Jerusalem from the rest of Jerusalemites.  Just a little spark can set off a massive emotional explosion.  Will this declaration by President Trump today be that little spark?  One can only hope that it is not!  The moving of the embassy will take several years, but this declaration will begin that process.  Here is what is often overlooked in this matter of the embassy in Israel: Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama all declared that they would move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Friends, Congress authorized the funding of such a move decades ago, but it has just been a matter of talk.  Here is where President Trump is different.  He follows through on what he says he will do, and the world is beginning to recognize that he is not your traditional political talking head.  And this is what makes them nervous.  It is what makes leaders in Congress nervous. 


During the campaign, Candidate Trump declared that, if he became President, he would move the embassy of the United States from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Now, it seems that promise is one step closer to being fulfilled.


Friends, you need to remember that Jerusalem's history is not yet completed.  We know that someday - and hopefully very soon - Jesus Christ will reign from David's throne there in Jerusalem.  At that time every nation in the world will come to Jerusalem to worship God and to pay homage to King Jesus.  Jerusalem is still to experience some terrible days of suffering before King Jesus comes, but it will survive. 


I always tell my congregation and students, keep your eyes focused upon Jerusalem for that is where all history will climax.  That is the intentions of our God.  Let me close with these words from the Prophet Ezekiel: "This is what the Sovereign LORD says: 'This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her" (Ezekiel 5:5).

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

November 29 - A Commemoration of a Decision with Lasting Impact

Today, November 29, is one of those dates on the calendar commemorating an event that literally changed the history of the world.  For it was on this date in 1947 that the United Nations formally adopted Resolution 181 which called for the creation of an Arab and an Israeli state in what had been formerly called Palestine.  Resolution 181 also called for the city of Jerusalem to become an internationally controlled city.  Thirty-three nations within the United Nations General Assembly voted for the partition of Palestine, thirteen nations - mainly Arab states - voted against the partition plan, ten nations abstained from voting, including Great Britain who had controlled Palestine since the end of World War I, and there was one nation not present at the time of the vote.  Moshe Dayan, who would become a leader within the IDF during its infancy, wrote: "We were happy that night, and we danced...we dance - but we knew that ahead of us lay the battlefield."


This was a vote that divided the Middle East, a division that persists until this day.  Neither the Jewish leadership, under David Ben-Gurion, nor the Arab leadership, under Haj Amin el Husseini, were excited about the UN partition plan.  Immediately the Arab League announced that it would not support the partition plan, while the Jewish leadership announced that it would accept the partition plan.  Now, friends, when one looks at the UN Partition Map, it was hardly a fair partition - especially if you were a Jew.  Yet, a small-fractured state was better than no state at all.  So, David Ben-Gurion and the Jewish leadership began to make plans for statehood.


The British were just glad to see the end of a difficult time overseeing their British Mandate.  The years preceding the UN vote and now after the vote had occurred would be a deadly time for the British army.  And it was a deadly time for Arabs and Jews as animosities built between the two groups.  Of concern for the Jews was the survival of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Everyone knew that war was inevitable as soon as the British left which was to occur at midnight on May 14, 1948. 


Both sides began to prepare for war.  The Jewish community did not have an organized military - for that creation had been banned under the British Mandate.  There were a few militias basically created for security of Jewish communities scattered throughout Palestine.  Israel had no air force because it had no airplanes.  And, because of the Mandate, the Jews could not legally purchase military equipment - although there are some amazing stories of planes being purchased in Czechoslovakia and in America.  Planes were literally smuggled parts at a time and then reassembled on secret airfields within Palestine. 


The Mandate set a limit on the number of Jewish refugees - many coming out of the concentration and death camps of Europe - who could immigrate into Palestine.  Many were secretly smuggled aboard small vessels that penetrated the British blockade.  As soon as their feet touched the shoreline, they were recruited into the army. 


And, the ink was hardly dry on the documents affirming Israel's creation and independence, when war was declared on May 14, 1948.  It was a war filled with many miracles.  If you would like to read more about this era of history, I highly recommend the book titled O Jerusalem!, written by Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre.  This is a book that I recommend to those who travel with me to Israel as it will help them to understand some of the psychological dynamics that still persist within Israel today. 


Many Bible scholars believe that this UN Resolution 181 - passed on this date in 1947 - and the date of the birth of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948 are important prophetically.  We know from passage after passage within the prophetic writings that God said that He would gather His people Israel once again into the land He had given to their forefathers - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Until this November 29th resolution, it seemed those prophecies were yet distant.  But, with the UN vote that day, those prophecies took on a whole new meaning.  Could it be possible that this was what the Lord had said would happen?  Would it be possible that, after nearly 1900 years, the Jews would once again have a nation to call their own? 


In Matthew 24:34, part of what we know as The Olivet Discourse where Jesus is describing events that will happen at the end of the age, Jesus says: "I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened."  Could we be living in that generation that will not pass away until all these things have been accomplished?  I was 9-months old when UN Resolution 181 was passed, and 15-months old when the State of Israel was created.  If, as some believe a biblical generation is 70-80 years, based upon Psalm 90:10, then I am part of that generation.  Now I am not saying that we have up to ten years before the return of Jesus, but it is exciting to think about it.  Perhaps this will be the Advent Season when Jesus returns again!  How exciting would that be!


November 29, 1947 - an important date for all of us to remember.    

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Call for Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day.  It is an annual reminder that we should pause to remember that what we have received is a gift to us from God.  The roots of a thanksgiving day are deeply embedded within the fabric of American history.  From our earliest school days, we remember the story of the Pilgrims who landed on the shores of Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts in 1620.  They were greeted with a terrible winter that claimed a large number of their group.  Those who had survived that first winter in the New World, began to focus upon how to prepare to survive another winter.  Crops were planted, with the help of some of the peaceful natives who showed those Englishmen how to grow crops in a wilderness setting.  And that fall they celebrated with thanksgiving to God for the bounty which God had supplied.  That event became the model for all the Thanksgiving Days that have followed. 


How do we celebrate Thanksgiving Day today?  Well, we begin with bringing family and friends together.  Often remembrances are shared that encourage our hearts.  Then, we eat way too much.  Who can resist that golden-browned turkey?  Hey, give me that turkey leg!  And the potatoes - oh the piles of mashed potatoes, slathered with hot turkey gravy.  And who can forget the cranberries - I know some of my kids and grandkids could easily forget them, but not me.  Of course Thanksgiving Dinner would be incomplete without a green-bean casserole or a steaming corn-pudding.  Then there are the pies - pumpkin, apple, and pecan.  Oh the choices - could I have a piece of each, lavished with whipped cream on top?  And then we settle in for a long afternoon of football, or we hit the malls for those early "Black Friday" specials. 


But, something is missing, isn't it?  What about thanksgiving?  What about remembering our blessings?  Tomorrow morning for my personal devotions, I will be reading Psalm 103 and Ephesians 1.  These two chapters always help me to focus upon an attitude of thanksgiving that will carry me through the day.  Where does one begin with his "thanksgiving praise list?"  Both David and Paul begin with salvation.  I love the words that Paul uses: "chose us before the creation of the world," "predestined," and "adopted."  Aren't those great words?  Just stop for a moment and reflect upon that amazingly incomprehensible truth: God chose me, God chose you before He created anything.  Friends, before there was a Genesis 1:1, there was you - chosen by God!  Now that is something to give thanks for. 


David exclaims that God has forgiven our sins and healed our diseases.  Isn't it great to know that our sins are forgiven?  David, in this same Psalm 103, later will write concerning our forgiveness: "For as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us."  Wow!  And what was this disease from which we have been healed?  Well, it was that fatal disease of spiritual death caused because of our sins.  In Ephesians 2, the Apostle Paul said that "we were dead in our transgressions and sins."  But, through Jesus Christ, God has made us clean as the newly driven snow.  This elicits another "wow!" from our lips. 


David then declares that he will praise God because "he has satisfied his desires with good things."  Oh the incredible goodness of God.  If salvation is at the top of our "thanksgiving list," then what follows?  I can only share with you that for me it is my family - my wonderful bride who has been by my side for over 48 years now; my three kids and their families who constantly remind me of the need to pass down to the next generation the reasons for the hope that lies within me; and for my grandchildren who remind me of the vigor of youth that needs the tempering of maturity. 


Then I am grateful for my extended family - for my two sisters, my brother, and my sister-in-law who carries on the memories of a brother now with the Lord.  I am blessed with a church family that God has brought into my life and whose lives touch mine in so many incredible ways.  They remind me of my need to be that loving, caring shepherd through whom God can speak truth into their lives. 


And one cannot forget to give praise for our country.  I am grateful for the heritage that is ours because others cared enough that they were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.  America is not a perfect place and, often in this blog, I have focused upon those places where that imperfection is clearly shown, but God has used this nation as a tool to bless the world in the past, and hopefully that blessing will continue into the future.


Thanksgiving should be a daily experience of ours.  But I am grateful that there is one day set aside especially for that purpose.  To quote from Psalm 100: "Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name."  And why should we do this?  That Psalm closes with these words: "For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations." 


So, what praises will be upon your lips as you "enter his gates with thanksgiving?"   

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Are We Getting Closer to Peace in the Middle East?

While the focus of our mainstream media has centered upon the continued investigation into some type of collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign - although that very investigation has now ventured into the arena of possible collusion between the Russians and the Clinton campaign, and upon the shocking revelations of sexual assault and harassment both within the entertainment, media, and governmental arenas, silently things have been happening in the Middle East. 


This morning there was a very interesting article, written by Yona Schnitzer and posted on November 14 at: www.worldisraelnews.com/website-leaks-details-Saudi-Israeli-peace-deal.
Allow me to share some of the main points of this article.  "A secret correspondence between the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman reveals the draft of a possible peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, the Lebanese website Al-Akhbar claimed Tuesday.  Al-Akhbar posted what it said was the full text of the document which lists five basic principles supposedly agreed upon between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which would constitute the framework for a regional agreement and the end of the Arab Israeli conflict.


"The five principles are: Jerusalem - The Annexation of Jerusalem to international sovereignty as per the 1937 and 1947 partition plans - two international agreements which have recommended that the city not be annexed to either the Arab or Jewish entities."  Personally, having been to Jerusalem a dozen times over the past 17 years, I would find it very hard to believe that the Israelis would surrender their capital city to the supervision of an international agency.  The cry after the 1967 Six Day War, following the capture of the Old City from the Royal Jordanian Forces, was "never again," meaning that never again would the city of Jerusalem be anything less than an united city under Jewish rule. 


"Palestinian Refugees - Saudi Arabia affirms its aspiration to settle Palestinian refugees in their countries of residence.  The Kingdom can contribute to this effort by supporting innovative solutions such as cancelling the Arab League's decision from the 1950s by which no Arab nation is to settle Palestinian refugees within their borders, as well as divert efforts to the redistribution and settlement of Palestinians refugees throughout the Arab states."   Friends, this point has been a sticking point in any possible peace-plan.  Immediately after the 1948 War of Independence, the Arab League decided that those Palestinians who had fled Palestine during the 1948 War should remain as refugees - they should not be assimilated into other Arab states.  The demand was that all refugees be granted a return status back into the State of Israel.  This would create a logistical nightmare for Israel.  Those properties that had been abandoned by fleeing Palestinians in 1948 now are in the hands of Israelis.  Should they be dispossessed?  And the number of potential refugees has grown almost exponentially.  So, if this "secretly negotiated plan" is true, then this resolution is a huge one.


"American Mediation and Agreed Upon Principles - The United States and Saudi Arabia will reach agreements regarding the main principles for ending the conflict, after which President Trump would summon the foreign ministers of the region to a summit in order to obtain their agreements, and only after all have agreed to the same basic principals, would the actual negotiations begin."  The mainstream media has been rather silent as to the comings and goings of the Trump Administration within the Middle East.  Yes, they covered President Trumps trip to the Middle East last Spring.  Jarod Kushner has made several trips to the Middle East, acting as President Trump's envoy.  Reports surfaced that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia made a secret visit to Israel in September where he met with Prime Minister Netanyahu.  Undoubtedly there have been behind-the-scenes negotiations taking place. 


"Saudi Influence - Saudi Arabia's most effective and important role is to recruit others to support this deal, which will usher in a new era of peace and prosperity between Israel and the Arab and Muslim worlds.  At first, normalization of relations with Israel will not enjoy wide public support throughout the Arab world, but Saudi Arabia believes that the combination of Israeli technology and the Gulf state's economic power and energy markets could bring out the Middle East's full potential and obtain peace, prosperity and stability."  The Middle East is certainly a region filled with resources that could boost any economy.  Israel is the incubator of technological ideas that soon become everyday products affecting life from agriculture to healthcare.  The Arab States still possess massive quantities of energy resources.  If these nations could learn to work-together, they could produce a regional economy that would rival that of the United States or China.


"Iran - The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the longest lasting conflict in the region.  Over the years, it has served as a justification for the actions of extremists, and has also distracted the major players in the region from focusing on the central threat to its stability - Iran.  In accordance to the deal, both Israel and Saudi Arabia must commit themselves to an effective cooperation in order to stop Iran."  Friends, this is a crucial point.  The Saudis are very leery of the actions of their neighbor to the north.  Recently a missile, fired from Iranian-back rebels in Yemen, hit within the Saudi borders.  Many believe that a war between Iran and Saudi Arabia is inevitable and even imminent.  Some are inclined to think that the reason for the "secret" meeting between the Saudi Crown Prince and Prime Minister Netanyahu concerned a possible role Israel might play if such a war became a reality. 


The author of this article then states: "The letter opens with a statement that Saudi Arabia is the most powerful and most important entity in the Arab world, and that any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be supported by the Kingdom in order to gain legitimacy in the Arab world.  It continued to state that dealing with Israel is extremely problematic in the eyes of the Arab world, and that the kingdom would only take such a risk if America was serious in its intentions to act against Iran, and stop them from destabilizing the region."


Friends, if this report is confirmed by both the Saudis and the Israelis, then some giant steps have been taken forward in the region.  I believe the driving force is the escalating threat of Iran.  It continues moving forward toward the creation of a nuclear weapon and the means for the delivery of such a weapon.  Saudi Arabia and Israel are the two primary countries in the Middle East that stand in Iran's path toward total domination of the Middle East.  Therefore, it would seem to be in the best interests of both the Saudis and the Israelis to work together toward an Iran-Solution.  Will it happen?  I guess time will tell. 


Before I close this week's blog, I want to share some "Profound Thoughts."  These were sent to me by a member of my congregation.  He had received them from someone else.  I do not know the origin of these "Profound Thoughts," but thought they might bless your day.


#1 - "Once all villagers decided to pray for rain.  On the day of prayer all the people gathered, but only one boy came with an umbrella.  That's FAITH.
"2 - "When you throw babies in the air, they laugh because they know you will catch them.  That's TRUST.
"3 - "Every night we go to bed without any assurance of being alive the next morning, but still we set the alarms to wake up.  That's HOPE.
#4 - "We plan big things for tomorrow in spite of zero knowledge of the future.  That's CONFIDENCE.
#5 - "We see the world suffering, but still we get married and have children.  That's LOVE.
#6 - "On an old man's shirt was written a sentence 'I am not 80 years old; I am sweet 16 with 64 years of experience.'   That's ATTITUDE."  (I really liked that last one!)







Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Stunned Nation and a Mocked God

I think we were all stunned with the horrific shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, this past Sunday morning.  From what we have learned, the 26-year old gunman went to that church because he was angry at his mother-in-law who attended services there.  The tragedy was that the mother-in-law was not there last Sunday.  Instead, the shooter entered through the rear doors to the sanctuary and began shooting.  People huddled on the floor between the pews while the gunman walked down the aisles shooting those lying on the floor.  In the end, twenty-six people were murdered and another twenty were wounded.  Eight members from one family were among the victims.  Our thoughts and prayers are focused upon this small church as they mourn the loss of so many.


The first church I pastored was a small church much like the one in Sutherland Springs.  We had a congregation of around 100 or so.  It was a family church with a close bond between those who attended.  How does a church pick up the pieces when a quarter of your congregation is taken so quickly and so needlessly?  I pray for that pastor who not only mourns the loss of so many friends but also the loss of his daughter. 


And, yes we should pray.  What I found almost nauseating were the responses of many within the mainstream media, especially, who mocked those praying.  Jeremy Hunt responded with a posting at www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/11/06/texas-church-shooting-keep-my-thoughts-and-prayers-out-of-your-political-agenda.  He writes: "Yet somehow, as our country mourns the loss of innocent life, there's a new wave of indignation directed at people who dare to pray for the victims.  That's right.  As well-intentioned Americans pray for their countrymen who were just gunned down while worshipping God, gun control advocates are bashing them for their expression of faith."  He then gives a few examples: from John Pavolovitz - "If you pray for victims of gun violence while doing nothing else - your prayers may as well be bullets for the next mass shooting."  From Paula Poundstone - "Dear Pres. Trump + V.P. Pence, If prayers were the answer 2 gun violence wouldn't people at a church service be safe? Pleas make gun laws."  And this from Keith Olbermann - "Speaker Ryan, bluntly: shove your prayers up your a-- AND DO SOMETHING WITH YOUR LIFE BESIDES PLATITUDES AND POWER GRABS." 


Mr. Hunt goes one to write: "It's one thing to hold strong opinions about gun control.  But it is entirely different to direct anger towards people of faith after such a horrific tragedy.  Just because you might not believe in prayer, doesn't give you the right to publicly insult those who do. 


"In some ways, this outrage against prayer is emblematic of national trends.  As America grows increasingly hostile to Christianity, inappropriate and insensitive rhetoric regarding expressions of faith has become more acceptable.  It seems the same people who pride themselves on advocating for religious and cultural 'tolerance' are the least tolerant when it comes to American Christians."


The author concludes: "As long as there is evil in this world, Americans should continue to exercise their right to pray for a brighter day.  This is - no doubt - a troubling time for our nation.  But it's times like these that often bring forth the best that our nation has to offer.  Slandering the faithful among us isn't the path to a unified, peaceful America.  We can do better."


The God-deniers are marching strongly and boldly today.  They shake their fists in the face of a God whose existence they deny.  They show open contempt for anyone and anything that reminds them of what they are trying so desperately to deny. 


Let me share another article that reminds us of how far down the slippery slope of immorality we have gone.  The author is Todd Starnes and his article was published on the Townhall website: www.townhall.com/columnists/toddstarnes/2017/11/02/delaware-to-let-students-decide-race-gender.
"White boys could soon self-identify as black girls in Delaware," he begins his column.  "The state Department of Education is considering sweeping regulations regarding discrimination that would allow children to determine their gender and their race.  The proposed 'Regulation 225 Prohibition of Discrimination' could set the stage for a gender-bending, cultural appropriation free-for-all in the nation's first state.  'All students enrolled in a Delaware public school may self-identify gender or race,' the proposed regulation states.  The state educators use a term called 'Protected Characteristics' to describe race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender, gender identity and other characteristics protected by state or federal law.  And the proposed regulation should scare the living daylights out of every mom and dad in the state.  It clearly states school leaders would not necessarily be required to notify parents if Billy suddenly decides to identify as Sally. ... The Delaware Department of Education believes it is best equipped to handle your child's gender or pigmentation change.  In other words, government knows best."


Starnes continues, "But this is what happens when the government assumes they can do a better job than you when it comes to parenting your child. 'This is a 5-alarm alert for parents,' Theis told me. (Nicole Theis, president of the Delaware Family Policy Council). 'The effects of the deliberate conditioning of children as early as pre-school into believing they can deny biological facts and realities and identify as whatever gender or race they feel, and to what end?'"


Friends, we are living in a world that has lost its moral bearings.  "Every man did that which was right in his own eyes" has become the clarion call of our age.  As a culture we have abandoned the belief in any type of absolute moral truth.  To put it bluntly, we have abandoned God!  God said that He created males and females (Genesis 1:27).  But, because we no longer value what God has said, we have created, at last count according to what I heard yesterday, sixty-two different gender categories.


What is happening in Delaware should frighten us.  Can I be a white male today and tomorrow be a black female?  What if I would then want to be a black male or a white female?  Could I change my gender and race depending upon how I feel when I wake up in the morning, thus resulting in my being gender-confused and racially-confused my entire life?  And then we wonder why so many of these confused people end up taking their own lives.  It is because they have no anchor.  It is because they have no sense of direction or of purpose.  God is never the author of confusion, but the Enemy uses confusion as one of his chief strategies. 


Friends, yes, it is time to wake-up.  Yes, it is time to sound the battle cry!  Yes, it is time to proclaim God's Truth into every avenue of culture today.  I believe there is not much time remaining in this present age, but, until the trumpet sounds, we have a responsibility to be witnesses of God's saving grace. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

An Attack in New York City: What Does It Mean?

The war against ISIS may be nearing an end in Syria and Iraq, but, the event yesterday in New York City shows that ISIS is not destroyed.  The push for a worldwide caliphate may be in its waning days, but the spirit behind that caliphate continues to thrive in the hearts of those who follow diligently that radical ideology.  And always the target is the innocent - those individuals just going about their everyday life.  Yesterday it was those biking along a city street or pedestrians walking on a sidewalk.  Those people were full of dreams and aspirations.  They were loved by a spouse, by a Mom and Dad.  They had careers.  They celebrated life. 


Suddenly, without any warning, eight of those lives were snuffed out.  They did not know the one who perpetrated this hateful act.  They did not even have the opportunity of defending themselves.  In a matter of moments, eight individuals were ushered into eternity.  One can only hope that they were ready to meet God. 


The investigation will continue for weeks, if not months.  The one who used the rented truck to destroy lives will be interrogated.  The content of his computer will be analyzed and re-analyzed looking for a motivation for such a horrific act.  The media will hurl accusations against governmental agencies whom they believe should have done something so this act would have been avoided.  Conversations will be held that will center around the theme of "what did we do that would cause a young man to do something so violent?"  Many will begin to bear the guilt that perhaps, just perhaps, they are responsible for the decisions this young man made. 


But, friends, what happened yesterday in New York City - and what we have seen happen in London, Barcelona, Madrid and countless places elsewhere - is a product of a radical interpretation of Islamic ideology.  Radicalized Islam believes that they are the only conveyors of Allah's will upon the earth.  They further believe that everyone must come to the place of accepting Allah's will, which is a universal Islamic state, known as the Caliphate.  Furthermore, they hold strongly to the belief that it is permissible to destroy any who would oppose their plan.  Innocent bikers on a street - they need to die.  Innocent people on a sidewalk - they need to die.  Innocent people standing on a train platform - they need to die.  Innocent tourists crossing a famous bridge in London - they need to die.  And so the slaughter from these radicalized Islamic terrorists continue worldwide. 


This month marks the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the beginning of the practice of a Communist ideology.  And what was the operating mantra of the Communists?  It was the extermination of all those who opposed it.  Thus, tens of millions of Russians perished, many within the Soviet Gulags in Siberia, especially during the Stalin-years.  And what of the tens of millions of Chinese who perished, often after being brutally tortured, under the rule of Chairman Mao?  Hitler also had his own version of eliminating those who opposed Nazism, employing death camps where millions of people perished.


Do you see a common denominator here?  A radical ideology, whether it is Communism, Nazism, or Islam, resorts to programs to destroy those who oppose that ideology.  And the most common form of destruction is to cause people to die.  (By the way, the Church has not been immune from such practices as the Crusades and later Inquisition will attest to).  The philosophy is this: I am right, you are wrong; if you don't agree with me, then you deserve to die. 


How did Jesus instruct us with regard to those who oppose us?  And, yes, He knew that His teachings would create all kinds of opposition.  Jesus even warned His disciples that He would be the reason for divisions within a family (Luke 12:51-53).  In fact, it would almost seem that Jesus guaranteed His disciples that they would encounter opposition (John 16:33 and Mathew 5:11-12).  Was Jesus' instructions to His disciples to go out and retaliate against those who opposed them?  Did He give instructions that they should seek to destroy them?  Listen to these amazing, yet startling, words of Jesus: "I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).  No death camps.  No gulags.  No rented trucks mowing down bikers and pedestrians.  Jesus's command was simply: love them and pray for them.  Now, friends, that is a radical thought! 


And which method do you think will prevail in the end?  The death camps of the Nazis are now museums.  Many of the gulags of the Soviets are now crumbled.  And the terrorist threats from the radicalized Islamic extremists will also fail.  For, as the story of this world comes to a close, the plan of Jesus will prevail.  It is not a kingdom of Nazis, nor a kingdom of Communists, nor a kingdom of Islam, but a kingdom of followers of Jesus Christ that will prevail.  And with that truth I will close with a big "Hallelujah!" 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Where Is the Good News?

I don't know about you, but I hunger for a newscast that contains just one piece of good news, one story that will encourage my heart, one example that would shine as a light in the midst of the darkness of our times.  But such stories are not easily discovered.  And so we become overwhelmed with the magnitude of evil that is around us. 


There is the cesspool that is Hollywood in particular and the entertainment business in general.  It seems that almost daily another woman steps forward with a lurid story of sexual harassment, and at times, sexual debasement she was forced to endure just to obtain employment.  And these predators were not just "back-alley thugs" but men respected by the entertainment and film industry.  "Back-alley thugs" we lock up in our jails and prisons; these people were wined and dined by others with power.  Oh the rumors were there, but silence became the norm. Friends, I believe we are just now beginning to see the tip of the iceberg of the immorality and debauchery that has been part of the Hollywood scene for decades.  America has its own Sodom and Gomorrah. 


Then there is the continued assault upon the truth that is as old as time itself.  "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27).  Did you notice that God created males and females only.  There are only two sexes.  Yet, the State of California has just approved a third gender option when you apply for a driver's license within that state.  There is male, female, and now nonbinary, which means "I don't know what I am! I am confused about my gender." 


I understand from conversations with physicians and psychologists that a very small percentage of the population is born with a lack of gender clarity.  In other words, this phenomenon is rare.  But what is happening today, I believe, is a direct assault upon the character of God.  It is as if we have said to God, "We don't have to recognize what you have said.  From now on, it is all about us and not about you!"  If we want to create a dozen different options concerning gender, then who is to stop us?  In these days I am drawn back to the words of Paul to the church in Rome, words that probably stirred as much controversy in the first century as they still do in the twenty-first century.  Paul writes: "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse" (Romans 1:18-20). 


Paul is saying that there is a willful and deliberate suppression of God's truth by godless and wicked men.  They know exactly what they are doing.  There is no "wow, I guess I messed up!"  There is, however, a "Wow! Let's continue to mess up!"  The evil heart of man knows exactly what it is doing.  There is no accidental turning away from God.


Let's continue in the text: "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles" (Romans 1:21-23).  When one turns away from God, the only thing that remains is either the worship of self or the worship of the world around us.  And, when a person begins to worship himself or herself, then it is so easy to defend any action you make, no matter how perverse it might be. 


Paul continues, "Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.  They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator - who is forever praised" (Romans 1:24-25).  Later Paul will say that God gave them over to shameful lusts (Romans 1:26) and then to depraved minds (Romans 1:28). 


Friends, the cesspool of Hollywood and the explosion of transgenderism and gender confusion can be laid directly upon the abandonment of absolute truth found in the person of a holy God and expressed through His Holy Word.  Now I know some of you will say, "But Max, there has always been the expression of immorality throughout the generations and cultures."  And you are right, with this exception: In the past, immorality has been looked upon as a deviation from acceptable behavior; today immorality has lost its stigma.  But, the Apostle Paul warned us that this would happen when he wrote: "Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them" (Romans 1:32).  "It's wrong, but let's do it anyway!  What can God do about it?" 


Finally, there is the escalation of violence in our communities.  We have almost become numbed to the weekly totals of shootings and homicides that come from Chicago.  But it is happening all around us.  Small town are not immune to murders or assaults upon others.  People are murdered by complete strangers for no reason at all.  Whether it is on a train platform in France or on a crowded street corner in London or riding the subway in New York City, one must be alert to those around him or her. 


But I do want to close with one tremendous piece of good news.  It is simply this: Jesus Christ is coming again!  Each day we draw one day closer to His coming!  My hope is not anchored in CNN, ABC, NBC, or even Fox News.  My hope is built on nothing else - except the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.   When I am tempted toward despair, I simply look up ready to hear the trumpet.  And then I focus upon what God has commanded me to do: to proclaim His Truth unashamedly to others and to encourage them in their faith.  I trust that is your practice as well.