Wednesday, January 30, 2008

An Amazing Text!

I am presently teaching two classes over the book of Isaiah. What a fascinating book! One of the great themes of the book is God's sovereignty over the nations. Let me set the table for one of the most amazing texts, not only in Isaiah, but in the entire Bible. In the 8th century BC, Assyria was the dominating power controlling the world. Always laying in the weeds, wanting to regain the dominating power it once had, are the Egyptians. And between the present giant and the former giant lay Israel, Judah, and the other smaller nations of the levant. I was amazed to discover how prominent the Assyrians become within the first 39 chapters of Isaiah, culminating in the Assyrian ruler's failed attempt to seize Jerusalem in 701 BC. (You will find that story in chapters 36 and 37).

Now to that amazing text. It is found in Isaiah 19:16-25. Let me share several significant events that are yet future. First, there will be turning to God among the Egyptians (vs. 16-22). Some of the Egyptians cities will even learn Hebrew. Within Egypt an altar to the living God of Judah will be erected and the Egyptians will offer sacrifices and worship there. God still has plans for that former giant. Second, the Assyrians will join the Egyptians in worshiping God (vs. 23-25). Now we all know where Egypt is located. But did you know that the ancient nation of Assyria is encompassed by the modern nation of Iraq? Well, it is.

So, when you read those final verses, substitute Iraq for Assyria...then be amazed at what God is going to do. Verse 24 - In that day Israel will be a third, along with Egypt and Assyria (Iraq), a blessing on the earth. There is coming a day when the Egyptians, the Iraqis, and the Jews will bless the earth. Wow! But God is not finished. Verse 25 - The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, "Blessed by Egypt my people, Assyria (Iraq) my handiwork, and Israel My inheritance." All three nations will have a special place with God. All three nations will play a special role in God's program for His Kingdom. You might say, "That's impossible!" It is when you look at Egypt and Iraq today, both dominated by Islam whose intent is the destruction of Israel. But, God is in control. God is the sovereign over the nations. The events of the world are not moving according to the will of man, but, praise God, according to His will.

How we need to look at contemporary events in the light of God's program for the future.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Israeli Government on the Verge of Collapse?

From time to time I would like to use this site to share news of what God is doing in our world. As you know, President Bush recently returned from a nine-day visit to the Middle East. While in Jerusalem he reiterated his view that Jerusalem should once again become a divided city, as it was prior to the Six Day War in June 1967. This division was identified as one of the "core issues" that needed to be resolved if a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians could be reached.

After President Bush left, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert instructed his Foreign Minister Livni to begin negotiations over these "core issues" with the Palestinians. Immediately one party in Olmert's coalition government bolted from that coalition. The reason: opposition to any division of Jerusalem. Olmert's coalition government is beginning to topple. Will it fall completely? It depends upon whether other members of the coalition bolt as well. All Olmert needs to do is lose another eight seats in the Knesset and his government will no longer have a majority. I believe that many coalition members are waiting until January 30 when the final report of the Winograd Commission will be made public. (This is the commission that has been investigating the Second Lebanon War of the summer of 2006). Speculation is that Prime Minister Olmert will be greatly criticized for mismanagement of this war and may be forced to resign. If that happens then national elections will probably be called and a new government will be formed.

Although most Israelis want peace, they have learned through the debacle of the disengagement from Gaza, that continual giving away of land does not bring peace. And certainly Jerusalem, their ancient capitol city, should not be on the negotiation table.

These next few weeks should be very interesting. I'll keep you posted.

Capability and God's Gift

I was reading this morning from Matthew 25, in the section we know as the Parable of the Talents. And God spoke to me strongly through a little phrase found in verse 15 - "each according to his ability."

You remember the parable. A wealthy gentleman was embarking upon a long journey. So he invested his wealth that remained behind to three of his servants. Now, what is unique is that he did not divide his money among them equally. Let's say that one servant received $5000, another received $2000, while the third received $1000. Now before we even have an opportunity to cry "that's not fair!" Jesus makes the statement that the wealthy gentleman gave to "each according to his ability." He had confidence that the man who received the $5000 would do something with $5000. And he had similar confidence in the men who received $2000 and $1000. He knew what they were capable of. And, upon his return, he found that his expectations of the men to whom he had given $5000 and $2000 were more than met. But the third man brought disappointment. He had failed to use what had been entrusted to him.

Our task as believers is not to be jealous of those to whom God has entrusted more giftedness - Billy Graham, Chuck Colson, John MacArthur, etc. God has given to them because God knew they were capable. What is my responsibility? What is your responsibility? It is to use that one special gift which God has given to you. God has given it to you because He knows you are capable of using that one special gift. Don't wish for more...don't wish to be like someone else...use what you have. Then you and I will hear those wonderful words from our Master: "Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and share your Master's happiness!"

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

One of God's Greatest Gifts

We have recently concluded a season where the focus of many was upon the receiving of gifts. Shirts, sweaters, books, DVDs, and gift cards - so you can purchase your own gift - might have been among those you received. Some gifts were practical, while others will sit upon a shelf.

Speaking of gifts, if I were to ask you - "What is God's greatest gift to you?" - how would you answer? Of course you would begin by saying it was salvation found in Jesus Christ, for He truly was and is God's unspeakable gift to us. But, aside from Jesus, what do you consider to be that greatest gift? Some of you will be tempted to say love, while others will say peace, and still others joy. All are good and I am grateful for each one.

But, lately, I have become very grateful for God's gift of forgiveness. It has been interesting how that topic has come up this past week: in a luncheon conversation with a pastoral friend of many years, in a small group discussion, and in a dialogue over the telephone with a former student. We are a forgiven people. God not only forgives us...He also forgets our sins (Isaiah 43:25). God casts our sins behind His back (Isaiah 38:17)...and guess what? God never turns around to see what is behind Him.

Because I am forgiven I can forgive my brothers even up to seventy "sevens" of time (Matthew 18:22). Because I am forgiven I can forgive myself and accept myself as God has accepted me. David cried out to God, "Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean" (Psalm 51:7). In other words David is saying, "I know I am clean because God has cleansed me."

To be forgiven completely by that is a gift that cannot remain upon a shelf. But it a gift that I can and must use every day of my life. It is one of God's greatest gifts.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Thrills of a Religion or the Cost of a Relationship

This past week I was reading in a devotional book titled, A Year with C.S. Lewis, and I came to the one for January 6. There Lewis describes how many people want to create a God who, when you switch it on when you want to, will not bother you. That way we can get "all the thrills of religion and none of the cost."

That same morning I was reading from Matthew 10 where Jesus, in sending out the Twelve, related to them that they should expect opposition. He told them, "When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another," and "do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." And, finally He shared, "and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me."

Jesus did not call us into a relationship that has no cost. Certainly the image of a cross denoted a cost. In so many parts of the world, believers know what it means to pay a cost to follow the Lord Jesus. I ask myself this question: Will this be the year that God will begin asking American believers to pay a cost? I guess the question I need to ask myself is this: Will I be willing to pay that cost?

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Thoughts for a New Year

"Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was but one, and I blessed him and made him many. The Lord will surely look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing." (Isaiah 51:1-3 NIV)

We have entered into a New Year - 2008. Before us lies a road that none have trodden on before. Yes, we make plans for what we will do, for what we will experience, and for what we will hope for during the year. But those plans and experiences and hopes must be couched in the "will of the Lord." The reality is this: the only certainty we have about 2008 is that God is in control and He will guide the affairs of our lives to bring about good (see Romans 8:28).

A quote from John Henry Jowett, one of the truly great preachers of the past, has been an encouragement to me as I enter into a New Year. I trust it will be a blessing to you. "It is not mine to worry about the coming day, but to fill the immediate moment with radiant duty. My Lord is the Pioneer, the great Maker of roads, and He will see to the appointments and provisions of the way. He has His scouts, His advance guard, opening the highways across the waste. 'I will send My angel before thee,' He says. Yes, the Lord will look after the road."