Sunday, December 20, 2009

Down a Road Toward Christmas: Bethlehem's Fields - A Place of Decision

We are now ready to complete our journey "Down a Road toward Christmas." Our final destination is an area of pastureland just east of Bethlehem where we witness some men at work herding sheep. Their story is found in Luke 2:1-20. These shepherds represented one of the oldest and most important vocations among the Jews. The very early Hebrews were shepherds. The list is quite impressive: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David. Were these shepherds religious men? Not according to the pharisaic standards. They often failed to attend the synagogue services as frequently as they should. They did not keep all the strict laws and traditions imposed by the religious authorities. These were hardly the type of people the message of God's love would ever be given to...well, at least that is what most people would have thought. But God doesn't work according to our plans!

We first notice that these men were fearing men. They had simply been doing their job - watching sheep. It was usually a long, tedious work. When suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared and they became enveloped in the glory of the Lord. This was a glory so radiant that Moses had to veil his face after being in the presence of God. It was a glory so bright that it blinded the eyes of Paul years later. This was no ordinary was the penetrating presence of God.

What was their response? Fear...a totally, wonderfully, natural response. When confronted by God, they did not make excuses. No, they felt they were doomed. Fear hit them hard!

It is only when a man has been broken by the fear of God that God can use him. God could not use Moses until his heart was full of the fear of God. God could not use Isaiah until his heart was full of the fear of God. God could not reveal the future to John until his heart was full of the fear of God. And God cannot use you and me until we have rediscovered that awesome and awful fear of God.

We then notice that these fearing men became inquiring men. After receiving the angelic message that a savior had been born right there in their own village, they asked themselves, "What shall we do with this message?" They had three options: 1) They could ignore it and do nothing. Sadly this is what the majority of people decided to do with the message of Christmas (read Matthew 7:13-14). Or 2) They could delay any action. "Let's think about it until morning and then decide what to do." How dangerous is any delay, for in the delaying your destination is the same as for those who have ignored the message. Or 3) They could act upon it immediately. "Let's not wait any longer! Let's go to Bethlehem...NOW!" They went to discover for themselves Jesus Christ.

As the men left that nativity scene, they were proclaiming what they had heard and seen. They wanted others to know of the message. Isn't that what Christmas is all person telling another where they can discover peace and joy. You couldn't keep these men quiet. They didn't know much about religion, but they did know what they had experienced. They didn't understand it all, but they knew what had happened in their own lives. Maybe people wouldn't believe them, but they had to tell the story anyway. These ordinary shepherds became the first evangelists mentioned in the New Testament.

Our journey down a road toward Christmas is now completed. But the question yet remains - What are you and I going to do with Christ? What Child is this that the wise men and shepherds sought? What Child is this that the scribes ignored and Herod sought to kill? The answer is as old as the foundations of the world and yet as new as the dawning of a day...He is Christ, the Lord; He is Jesus, the Savior of the world!

Here is wishing each of you a Very Merry Christmas filled with the joys of Jesus Christ, and a prayer for His presence and power to be experienced by you as you enter into the New Year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Down a Road Toward Christmas: Bethlehem - A Place of Destiny

From Jerusalem we hurry down the road to that little village of Bethlehem. It was an old city, having been built by one of the sons of Caleb. It was here that Ruth had met Boaz. It was here that David had watched his father's flocks, and was later anointed as king. The prophet Micah had even predicted that the Messiah would be born here. This small village was to become center stage for the most dramatic event the world had ever known. It was here that God was to clothe Himself in flesh and come as our Savior. This aspect of the story is found in Philippians 2:5-8.

Before Bethlehem, Christ was equal with God; in fact, He was God by His very form. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus constantly emphasized the fact that He was equal with God: "Jesus said to the Pharisees, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM'" (John 8:58). "He who has seen Me has seen the Father also" (John 14:9). "And I am no more in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father, keep them in Thy name, the name which Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, even as We are" (John 17:11).

But Jesus did not cling to this position tenaciously. Christ knew that the glory and honor would be His only as a result of Bethlehem and Calvary.

In this great text, Paul tells us that Christ emptied Himself. He divested Himself of all His privileges and the glory of heaven. He did this for you and for me. As I reflected upon this reality, God asked me a question: "Max, are you willing to give up a position that you might feel is rightly yours to do My will?" Am I willing to be emptied so that I can better serve Jesus Christ?

But, not only did Christ empty Himself of all that was rightly His, He became a bondservant...a volunteer slave...a slave by choice. Just think - Jesus Christ is the only person in the history of this world who was born a slave by choice. For Jesus it was always, "Not My will but Yours be done."

And Jesus knew that this volunteer slavery would lead Him to the cross. The hymn writer has captured this well when he wrote: "Born to die that man might live, Came to earth new life to give." When you and I were born, we were not conscious of death...but not so with Jesus. He was born knowing that before Him lay the agonies of death. He was born knowing that before Him lay the pain of the nails and the thorns. He knew all this and yet He was willing to take that responsibility.

Without Bethlehem...there would be NO HOPE. All would be despair. But Jesus Christ came to give us hope. "The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight."

Without Bethlehem...there would be NO JOY. All would be hollow amusement. But Jesus Christ came to give us a reason to rejoice. "Joy to the world, the Lord has come!"

Without Bethlehem...there would be NO MEANING FOR LIFE. All would be vanity. But Jesus Christ came to give us a reason to live. In Him we find the true essence of life. And in that essence we proclaim, "O come, let us adore Him...Christ, the Lord."

Friends, Bethlehem is the place where God set into motion His great plan to redeem a lost mankind! Only one destination yet remains on this "Road Toward Christmas." Share with us next week as we sit beside the fires of a group of shepherds who are challenged with the most amazing announcement the world had ever heard.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Down a Road Toward Christmas: Jerusalem - A Place of Danger

Last week we began a very special journey through this time of Advent. I have titled the journey: Down a Road Toward Christmas. Last week we began our journey in the little village called Nazareth; just a little spot in the Galilean hills. Here both a young maiden and a carpenter were called upon to make a decision that would literally change their lives forever. You might remember that their stories were found in Matthew 1 and Luke 1.

Now, we journey down to the capitol city itself - Jerusalem. You will find the foundation for this story in Matthew 2:1-13.

Jerusalem was a city teeming with people. It was a city busy with the business of religion and government. Jerusalem was the hub of the nation. Surely, if anything of worldwide significance was to happen, it would happen here.

It was to this city that a group of travelers came bearing precious treasures to present to a newly born king. We don't know much about these men, except that they were magi or astrologers from the areas of Persia and Mesopotamia. We don't even know how many there were. But they came to the only place they thought was logical in order to find the king of the Jews.

But, in their searching for Christ, they went to the wrong place. What did these "wise men" find in Jerusalem? Why was this place so dangerous to their search?

First, they found a troubled king. A spirit of jealousy troubled him. Herod possessed a "look-out-for-me-only" spirit. He was a man who prided himself in what he had accomplished. No one was ever going to tarnish any of his achievements. No one was ever going to replace him on the throne. Because of this spirit, he became fearful of everyone. History records the many acts of violence and death that Herod perpetrated upon others because of his jealousy.

Herod was also troubled by the truth. He was not the true king of the Jews. In fact, he was not even a Jew himself. He had no lineage with Judah or David. He had captured the title, "King of the Jews," with much political intrigue. Even when the religious authorities agreed that a true king of the Jews was to be born, Herod insisted that people believe the lie rather then the truth. Why? Because he himself believed the lie! Oh the dangers of rejecting the truth. The Christ the wise men were seeking was the full embodiment of truth. Herod knew that truth but refused to accept it.

A second danger greeted the wise men when they arrived in Jerusalem: an apathetic clergy. Now, upon hearing the story of the wise men, these religious leaders should have become very excited. The prophecies of old had now been fulfilled. What great news! Excited...hardly. In fact, the text leads us to believe their response was sort of ho-hum. Now, this must have perplexed these wise men, for they had traveled many miles to see this child and to pay homage to Him, and they were not even Jews. Now they were witnessing Jewish clergy totally apathetic about the message.

One of the greatest dangers of Christmas is that we grow indifferent to the story. There is no longer any spark. It is not that we don't know the facts. It is just that we have no joy any longer. It is time that we pray that God might rekindle our fire for Christmas. It is time that we ask for a new joy for this holy time of the year. It is time that we rediscover the wonder of Christ's birth. Then we can sing, "O come, let us adore Him...Christ, the Lord" with both joy and wonderment.

Our next stop will take us to the little village of Bethlehem: The place of destiny. Join us for this adventurous stop next week.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Down a Road Toward Christmas: Nazareth-A Place of Dedication

"Tis the most wonderful time of the year" or so echoes the words of a familiar Christmas song. Many pictures enter our minds when we think about Christmas: chestnuts roasting on an open fire, bells jingling on a one-horse open sleigh, shoppers rushing home with their treasures, Christmas trees aglow with bright lights and glimmering bulbs, and families enjoying each other's presence and presents.

But, what was that very first Christmas like? Journey with me these next few weeks down a road toward Christmas as we reflect upon the realities of that very first Advent. Our first stop is the little community of Nazareth, located in Galilee. It is home to a middle-aged carpenter, named Joseph, and a young maiden, named Mary. Their lives were soon to be forever changed. You will find this story in Matthew 1:18-25 and in Luke 1:26-38. I've entitled this story: Nazareth - A Place of Dedication.

The Bible tells us that Joseph was employed as a carpenter (Matthew 13:55). Perhaps he had inherited this business from his father. Maybe he had started it as his own small business. We do know that it was not a lucrative business because the offering he and Mary brought at the dedication of Jesus was an offering of the poor. But there was enough that he felt he could get married. We don't know how old Joseph was at the time of his engagement, but he was probably between the ages of 25 and 30, as most hard-working Jewish men did not marry until that time.

Both his parents and those of Mary had probably arranged his engagement, with the fathers entering into a covenant binding them together. In those days a betrothal was legally binding. Only divorce could break it. Even though they were not yet married, any act of unfaithfulness would have been punished as adultery. This betrothal was a very serious agreement.

All seemed fine - excitement was building as Joseph thought of his approaching day of marriage. Then one day Mary gave him some startling news...she was pregnant! The Bible does not tell us if Mary told Joseph everything, but his response was natural. He knew he had only three options: 1) He could go ahead and marry her immediately and only hope that people in Nazareth were not very good at counting months; or 2) He could expose her and have her stoned to death as an adulteress; or 3) He could divorce her. It was this last option that he chose.

Why would Joseph make such a choice? He was afraid of the costs of a continued relationship with Mary. It would cause embarrassment to his family's name. It would affect his business. And most certainly it would tarnish his character. How could he, a man of righteous character, become involved with a woman lacking in moral integrity? much as he loved Mary, she had to be sent away, never to enter his life again.

Then, one night as he lay in his bed trying to sleep, an angel of the Lord appeared and informed him as to what was going on. He may not have believed the story Mary had told him, but how could he deny the words of an angel of the Lord? Now Joseph was faced with a decision. He could either dedicate himself to God's plan or he could live for himself. God was not asking him whether he understood God's plan, or whether he approved of it. God was merely asking him, "Joseph, will you take part in the greatest story this world has ever seen?" Joseph was sensitive to the voice of God and was obedient. He was willing to become part of the team God was assembling to bring into this world His Son.

What about Mary? She was probably just a young girl between the ages of 14 and 15. Suddenly, one day an angel greeted her with startling words: "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." I have often wondered if Mary, upon hearing these words, reflected upon past biblical greetings. There was God's greeting to do something impossible (Judges 6:12); His greetings to do something difficult (Genesis 22:1); His greetings to do something frustrating (Jeremiah 1:4-10), and His greetings to do something terrifying (Jonah 1:2). Now, Mary was being so greeted. No wonder the text says that she was troubled and began to wonder what the meaning was. "What does God want from me!"

The angel, noticing the terror in Mary's eyes, continued by saying that she should not be afraid because she had found favor with God. That word "favor" is usually translated "grace" and means "to be pleasing to someone or something." Mary was pleasing to God. God gives great responsibilities to those with whom He is pleased: Noah was favored by God and commanded to build the ark (Genesis 6:8), and Moses found favor with God and was commanded to lead Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 33:17).

What was Mary's decision? She was obedient to God. As with Joseph, she did not understand the magnitude of what God was asking her to do. But she said yes. At times we think we should have all the answers, that God should give us step-by-step directions. All God wants to know is if we are willing to take a risk for Him.

The road toward Christmas always begins in Nazareth - a place of dedication to the plan of God. The act of dedication or surrender is never easy, but the eternal rewards are outstanding.

With both Joseph and Mary committed to God's plan, our next stop is the capitol city itself Jerusalem. Join us there next time.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Lesson in Thanksgiving

It was one of those bright sunny days that occur with great frequency in The Galilee. Brightly colored flowers dotted the hillsides. The songs of many birds were heard as Jesus and His disciples wound their way down the pathways from Galilee. Destination: Jerusalem. Soon they came to the border that separated Galilee from Samaria. This border marked the line of demarcation for Orthodox Jews. They would not travel through Samaria; instead they would take the journey across the Jordan River and proceed down the eastern side of the Jordan to Jericho where they would recross and then proceed to Jerusalem. The text in Luke 17 does not indicate the actions of Jesus and His disciples, but in the past Jesus had not been adverse to traveling through Samaria (read John 4).

As He approached the border suddenly from a distance He first saw and then heard the cries from ten men who were lepers. It was not unusual to see a group of people assembled together who had this terribly infectious disease. Their usual form of greeting was to acknowledge that they were unclean, thus warning others to stay away. Perhaps they greeted Jesus and His disciples with these words of warning, but they soon "called out" to Him (I think they shouted with all their might), "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" (Luke 17:13). Were they asking for a handout from Jesus? Were they seeking money so they could have someone purchase what they needed? No, I think their plaintiff cry was for healing from that dreaded disease. At least Jesus interpreted their request as such. His reply to them was, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." Now there was only one reason He instructed them to go to the priests - to have the priests affirm that they were healed.

And, as those ten men hastened to the priests, presumably in Jerusalem, they discovered that they had been healed. I am confident that joy flooded their hearts as they considered how life would now be changed for them. They would be united with their families whom they had probably not seen in quite some time. They could become part of a community once again. One can almost hear the change in their conversations.

Suddenly one man left the group. He carefully retraced his footsteps back to the place where he had encountered Jesus. Before doing anything, even appearing before the priests, and certainly before any reunion with family, he knew he had to say "thank you" to Jesus. He just had to. When he finally encountered Jesus and shared his gratitude, Jesus' response was one of almost embarrassment: where were the others? Were they not thankful for their cleansing?

This story of Jesus seems to be teaching the two attitudes which we have toward the blessings we have received from God. We can either accept them as if we were owed those blessings by God. I think that was the attitude of the nine. I think they had come to expect that Jesus would heal them, after all, that is what Jesus did - He healed people. Too many people have a similar attitude - God is indebted to bless them. That is what God is supposed to do!

How different was the attitude of the one man - and a Samaritan at that! He returned to Jesus with a song of praise from his heart and words of thanksgiving from his lips. Maybe, he thought to himself, those Jews were entitled to be healed, but he was a Samaritan. But he knew he could never live with himself without first giving thanks to the One who had healed him.

As we enter this time of Thanksgiving, I need to ask myself: How many times am I like the nine who just came to expect God to bless them? I am afraid it is too many times. How I need to be like that one Samaritan and to have a heart full of praise and thanksgiving to God. For His blessings are not to be taken for granted. Everyday is an opportunity to return thanks to God for His provisions for my life. Lord, give to me a grateful heart, not only during this Thanksgiving Season, but everyday.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Psalm 83 War - The Complete and Glorious Victory

Back on October 28, I began the first of a two-part series on the Psalm 83 War. At that time we looked carefully at verses 1-8, focusing our attention upon who the participants in that war would be, and the reasons for their attack upon Israel. You might remember that we identified those nations that presently surround Israel as being the ones the psalmist Asaph described. And the reason for their attack was simply their desire to drive Israel into the sea.

Today we want to examine the remaining verses of this chapter. The prevailing thought of verses 9-18 is of the impending destruction to be wrecked upon those nations by God. We read in verses 9-12: "Do to them as you did to Midian, as you did to Sisera and Jabin at the river Kishon, who perished at Endor and became like refuse on the ground. Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna, who said 'Let us take possession of the pasturelands of God.'"

Two events, recorded in the book of Judges, are cited here by the psalmist. The first is a reference to the victory of Deborah and Barak over the forces of the Canaanites under the leadership of King Jabin and General Sisera. You can read this story in Judges 4. It was a tremendous victory actually leaving General Sisera dead on the ground "like refuse." You will remember that he lay dead inside the tent of Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite, with a tent peg driven through his skull.

The second event is found in Judges 7 and 8. Gideon and his army of 300 are in hot pursuit of the fleeing Midianites. The Ephraimites who soon joined the pursuit captured two of the leaders of the Midianite army - Oreb and Zeeb. The text tells us that they killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb at the winepress of Zeeb. As for Zebah and Zalmunna, the two kings of the Midianites, Gideon captured them and killed them, thus ending the the threat of the Midianites. You see the Midianites had thought they would take possession of the Promised Land for themselves. They paid an awful price for their greed with 120,000 soldiers falling on the battlefield (Judges 8:10).

History has shown the powerful involvement of God on behalf of His people. In recent times we have witnessed the miracles of 1948-49 (the War of Independence), 1967 (the Six-Day War), and 1973 (the Yom Kippur War). Does another victory lie on the doorstep? I believe it does.

The psalmist then continues, "Make them like tumbleweed, O my God, like chaff before the wind" (verse 13). Both tumbleweeds and chaff have no economic value. They are both driven by the wind and soon disappear. They have no lasting value. The psalmist reminds his readers that that is the way these nations who oppose Israel will be shown. They have no value. They will be drive before the wind of His wrath.

"As fire consumes the forest or a flame sets the mountains ablaze, so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm" (verses 14-15). I have seen pictures of the destruction wrought by a forest fire. Those pictures show an all-encompassing devastation. So will be the totality of the destruction upon those nations who conspire together to cause the eradication of Israel from the face of the earth.

"Cover their faces with shame so that men will seek your name, O LORD. May they ever be ashamed and dismayed; may they perish in disgrace. Let them know that you, whose name is the LORD - that you alone are the Most High over all the earth" (verses 16-18). One of the resultant consequences of the Psalm 83 War is that men will know that God is sovereignly in control. Some eyes will be opened; most, however, will not, or if they are, it will only be temporary. Sort of like the acclamation of the people of Israel following the fire coming from heaven upon Mt. Carmel (see 1 Kings 18).

Let's see if we can summarize the events of the Psalm 83 War. First, there will be a coalition of nations that presently surround Israel: Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, the Jordanians, the Saudis and the Egyptians. The purpose of the coalition is "let us destroy them as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more" (Psalm 83:4). We have heard this cry often in recent months. So war will be engaged, but the outcome will be very similar to those wars of the past: God will grant Israel the victory. And it will be a complete victory, thus ending the immediate threat of a Palestinian aggression.

Are you not glad that God is in absolute control? And I am glad that He has chosen to reveal His plans to us. We just need to stay focused upon Him. We just need to stay in the Word. We just need to have a firm resolve to trust Him. Then we, too, as with Israel can say, "We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Startling Announcement from the Palestinians: What Does It Bode for Israel?

A surprising announcement came forth from Ramallah, the de facto capitol of the Palestinian Authority. Current President, Mahmoud Abbas, announced that he has "no desire" to run in the January 24, 2010, presidential elections in the PA territories. Later in the week, several of the key Fatah personnel surrounding President Abbas also indicated that they were "thinking" of walking away from their posts as well. Now you need to remember that the Fatah Party is one of the oldest political parties among the Palestinians, dating back to the early 1960's when it was founded by Yassir Arafat. He led that party for forty years, before his death in 2004.

If the Fatah Party becomes weakened because of these announcements, then one can only wonder exactly what the outcome of those January 24, 2010, elections might be. It is no secret that Hamas has been salivating at the thought of controlling the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). You might remember the elections within the PA territories several years ago when Hamas actually captured enough votes to control the Palestinian Parliament. If not for the leadership of President Abbas, who knows what might have happened. And you will remember what happened in the Gaza Strip, one of the PA territories, when Hamas actually gained the leadership role there through a violent take-over. The Gaza Strip has become one of the most tightly controlled terrorist camps in the world. Over the past eight years, thousands of rockets have been launched from the Gaza Strip into the surrounding Israeli towns and villages, causing untold human suffering.

What do you think would happen if Hamas captured, not only the Palestinian Parliament, but also the leadership positions? How soon before the West Bank would become another terrorist camp. Now all of Israel would become vulnerable to the threats of daily rocket attacks. What would the family of world nations do? What would be their response to such a situation?

In answer to those questions, one needs to look no further than the recent approval of the Goldstone Report by the United Nations General Assembly. That report, commissioned by the UN to investigate the actions of Israel and Hamas during last winter's Operation Cast Lead offensive into the Gaza, was highly critical of Israel for the heavy loss of civilian lives. The essence of the report was to condemn Israel and to seek its punishment for war crimes through the International Court of Justice at the Hague. Last week, when the voting occurred, 114 nations approved the Goldstone Report, only 18 nations voted against the Report, with another 44 nations abstaining. The result of this vote caused one writer to issue these headlines: "An Evil Wind Is Blowing" (Joel Rosenberg's Weblog - Did 158 nations really care about the continual rocket attacks from Gaza into Israeli towns? Don't think so! Did 158 nations really care to check the manner in which Hamas used human shields - even hospitals and schools - in this fight? Don't think so! Will 158 nations really care if Israel becomes surrounded on all sides by enemies firing rockets, not just into small towns like Sderot, but cities of Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem? Don't think so.

Let's see if we can begin to put some pieces together. Presently, on Israel's southwest border is Hamas in the Gaza Strip. And on Israel's northern border is Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon. (Thankfully they are 500 tons short of rockets, mortars, and grenades because of Israel's quick actions against the ship trying to bring the munitions from Iran to Lebanon). And there is Syria on Israel's northeast border...announcing just this past week that the time for peaceful negotiations for the Golan Heights will soon end, then war will begin to reclaim that strategic piece of land for Syria. And, if Hamas wins in January, then the West Bank will also become a place for terror. Israel will be totally surrounded.

Now this sounds like the script right from Psalm 83. Go back and reread those verses. The only ones missing are the Egyptians and the Jordanians. But both those regimes are being pressed hard by radical Islamists, so who knows how they might fall.

More pieces of the end-times puzzle is beginning to take shape. The Bible tells us repeatedly that Israel will stand alone during the last days. I think we are already seeing how the world will respond. But let us not despair, God is in control. His promises and His plans for Israel and for us can never be changed because He is a God who never changes. Now, that is some good news we need to hear.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Post Election Analysis...Perhaps Room for Optimism

Yesterday was election day in many places in our country. Two of the most closely watched races were in Virginia and New Jersey where governorships were up for grabs. Both states voted solidly for Obama during the 2008 presidential elections. New Jersey has been a predominately Democratic state for many years - identified as being a blue state; Virginia, more recently had become a Democratic state after many years of Republican leadership - identified by many as a purple state. Both Virginia and New Jersey had been served by Democratic governors the past four years. President Obama had campaigned often in both states.

As the results were being tabulated last night, it was clear early on that Bob McConnell, the Republican candidate in Virginia, was closing in on a landslide victory over his Democratic challenger. I believe the final margin of victory was 59-41. That was huge! In New Jersey, the Republican challenger, Chris Christie, held on to win an upset victory over the incumbent Jon Corzine by a margin of 49-45. Thus, Mr. Christie becomes the first Republican to hold a state-wide elective office in New Jersey in over twelve years.

Does this mean that the Republican party is poised for a successful run in 2010? Two elections do not determine a mandate. But, I think there is a note for optimism here that should not be overlooked. From exit polling done in Virginia and New Jersey, the number one concern on the minds of voters was the economy and jobs. The Obama stimulus plan simply has not produced jobs. It has not softened the economic blows as it was purported. I believe Americans are finally waking up to the reality of the sea of red-ink that our government is creating right now. This is a debt that will certainly not be erased during my lifetime, nor the lifetime of my children, nor even of my grandchildren. What a legacy we are leaving for unfettered debt and an uncontrolled entitlement program! Through the "tea parties" of this past fall and now this election, American voters are stating, fairly loudly I am convinced, that government spending needs to be reined in. I think that those members of Congress who are "blue-dog" Democrats or who represent districts that went marginally for Obama in 2008, need to take a serious look at what bills they should or should not be supporting in Washington right now. The electorate has been aroused. They have begun to shun fancy rhetoric. They are doing their homework. They are following what is happening. And they want their voice to be heard. Perhaps some real change is coming!

Let me also comment on an important ethical issue that was defeated in Maine yesterday. You might remember that last May, Governor John Baldacci had signed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Maine. However, a conservative group obtained enough signatures to force that piece of legislation to be presented to the voters of Maine for their approval. And the people of Maine rejected the matter by a 53-47 margin. Maine becomes the 31st state whose electorate has affirmed that marriage should be defined as being between a man and a woman. Just think of that...31 states have seen people rise up in defense of traditional marriage. They are strongly stating that there are some things that just should not be changed. Brian Brown, spokesman for the National Organization for Marriage, stated it best: "even in a New England state, if the voters have a chance to have their say, they're going to protect and defend the commonsense definition of marriage."

So, yesterday was a great day for those of us with conservative principles. Gay-rights marriage was defeated once again...still batting 100% in that category, and fiscally conservative advocates were put into positions of leadership in two key states. It is a small step forward...but at least it was in the right direction for a change.

Sorry for not getting into Psalm 83 this week...will continue that study next week.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Psalm 83 War: Who and Why?

During the past year I have been spending some time focusing upon the teachings of Asaph, one of the musical directors within the court of King David, especially as those teachings related to the end times. My focus has been upon Psalm 83. For the next couple of weeks I would like to have us turn our attention to that Psalm. Let's see what God is revealing to us through this 10th century BC music director.

First, I immediately notice that the psalmist is inviting God to become involved in a matter...and that matter is concerned with the enemies of God's people, thus they are enemies of God Himself. The psalmist writes: O God, do not keep silent; be not quiet, O God, be not still. See how your enemies are astir, how your foes rear their heads. With cunning they conspire against your people, they plot against those you cherish (Psalm 83:1-3). Notice how Asaph makes the strong assertion that those who oppose God's people were also opposed to God. Now who were God's people at the time Asaph was writing this particular hymn? Of course they were the people of Israel. Throughout the Old Testament God continuously refers to them as "my people." Therefore, Asaph lets us know that this psalm concerns a time when God's people are being threatened...therefore, God Himself is threatened.

But let us continue: "Come," they say, "let us destroy them as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more." (Psalm 83:4). This is the battle cry of Israel's enemies. They do not want merely a battlefield victory over the Jews; but will be content with nothing less than the complete and total destruction of the Jewish State and the Jewish race itself. Theirs is the cry of Haman, the archenemy of the Jews in the story of Esther. Theirs is the cry of Adolf Hitler and his "final solution." Theirs is the cry of the radical Iranian President Ahmadinejad who declared that "Israel will be wiped off the map." Theirs is the cry of Hamas and Hizbollah and the Palestinian Organization (today's Palestinian Authority) as expressed in the 1964 Palestinian Charter: The partitioning of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of Israel are fundamentally null and void (Article 19). Theirs is the cry of Nasser, the Egyptian dictator who led Egypt into the 1967 War: The Arabs' aspiration is the full restoration of the rights of the Palestinian people. In other words, we aim at the destruction of the State of Israel. The immediate aim: perfection of Arab military might. The national aim: the eradication of Israel. The cry of the nations mentioned in Psalm 83 is echoed by the cry of the nations today. This is the heartbeat of the Middle East Conflict.

Finally, the psalmist identifies those members of this focused coalition: With one mind they plot together, they form an alliance against you - the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, of Moab and the descendants of Hagar, Gebal, Ammon and Amalek, Philistia, with the people of Tyre. Even Assyria has joined them to lend strength to the descendants of Lot (Psalm 83:5-8). Now let us see if we can make some modern day equivalents to these ancient people groups:
1. Tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites - many Bible scholars believe this is a reference to the Palestinian people today.
2. Moab - this represents the southern portions of the Kingdom of Jordan
3. Descendants of Hagar - Hagar was an Egyptian
4. Gebal - this is the ancient area of northern Syria known today as Byblos
5. Ammon - this represents the central portions of the Kingdom of Jordan
6. Amalek - these were nomadic people who wandered the areas of the Saudi Arabian peninsula and the Sinai peninsula
7. Philistia - this is the region of today's Gaza Strip
8. Tyre - the southern region of Lebanon
9. Assyria - this is a reference to the northern portions of Iraq

Now, let's summarize this coalition: Egypt, Hamas (Gaza Strip), Hizbollah (Lebanon), Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. If you look at a map of the Middle East, you will find that this coalition represents those people who are immediately contiguous to the nation of Israel. In other words, the Psalm 83 war is a battle between Israel and her neighbors. This will not be the first time such a conflict has been incurred. We witnessed it in 1948-49 (The War of Independence), in 1956 (the Suez Canal Crisis), in 1967 (The Six-Day War), and in 1973 (The Yom-Kippur War).

As one listens carefully to the dialogue coming from the Middle East, especially from the lips of those leaders from the above mentioned nations, it is easily discerned that the antagonism against Israel is increasing. What will Israel do? What will God do on their behalf and for the sake of His Name? We will continue that discussion next week. Until then, keep looking up for our Redemption comes soon!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Can You Hear Me Now?

A few years ago the Verizon company ran a series of television commercials that featured this question: "Can you hear me now?" In each of the commercials the focus of attention was on the clarity with which the people were able to hear each other via cell phones. Now, those commercials implied two principles: one, someone was doing the talking, and two, someone else was doing the listening. In order for communication to become valid, listening is as important as is the talking.

Our politicians in Washington these days feign to be listening, but in reality they only hear what they want to hear. We had a tremendous example during August when hundreds of grass-roots "tea parties" were held. There voices were raised primarily in opposition to a proposed government take-over of our health care. At times shouting was heard. And, unfortunately, at times rudeness became commonplace. Were our political leaders really listening? Or, did they want to do all the talking? Or, was their listening through the sieve of their own biases? To hear what is happening behind closed doors in hallways and closets of power in Washington today, one could state that, even through the shouting, they did not hear us. Perhaps they needed Verizon cell phones.

I don't know about you, but I find this very disturbing. It is almost as if our leaders look down upon us and think, "Well, what do you know?" Being a Senator, Representative, Governor, or President does not automatically give a person the right to believe he or she is above another. It seems that we have forgotten that our country was founded upon the principle of "the consent of the governed." Today, it is more like "the consent of the government." Our Founding Fathers would roll over in their graves if they witnessed our nation's leaders today. "Can they hear us now?" "No, and they do not want to hear us."

As you know I spend time doing research on what God is doing in the world today especially as it relates to the end times. Over the course of the past months we have talked about several of the findings through this blog. I believe that God is shouting to us, "Can you hear Me now?" Yet we pay no attention to what God is saying. We are quick to explain God's work with human efforts. Earthquakes in unusual locations; tsunamis that wreck incredible damage; early snowfalls in many parts of our nation's heartland...caused by too much carbon in the atmosphere. Are we listening for what God is saying? No! Rush toward a centralizing of currencies; a treaty to be signed that will in effect deny our First Amendment rights of free speech; and a hate-crimes bill that threatens to stifle any teaching of biblical truth about sexual perversity...all done for the sake of advancing the cause of humanity. Hey, are we listening for what God is saying through these and knowing what the Bible is stating so clearly? No!

Sadly I know of many Christians who just do not want to know what God is screaming these days. They are content to continue in their apathetic state: don't rock my boat! At times I can almost hear God screaming: "Church, wake up! There is not much time left! Take notice of what I said I would do and of what I am doing! Can you hear Me now?"

Yes, God, I can hear You. I am glad that You dare to speak, yes, even to scream today. Help me to show others how they, too, can be listening.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Interesting Days...Interesting Thoughts

Winter in October! Impossible, you say! This past week those of us who live in Minnesota experienced something that had last happened in October 1909...three inches of snow before the 15th of October. I must admit that the white ground looked very picturesque. Some of the children in our neighborhood created a snowman...of course they had to dress him in a Adrian Peterson football jersey. And, a few of the kids got very entrepreneurial...they opened a stand along the street selling snowballs. On several of the golf courses in the Twin Cities area, instead of golf clubs it was cross-country skis that were prevalent. So, this is what "global warming" looks like!

But this wacky-weather started me thinking about a verse of scripture. It is found in Romans 8 - one of the outstanding chapters in the Bible. There the Apostle Paul writes: "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time" (Romans 8:22). It seems to me that the natural world is letting out some pretty loud groanings right now. From the powerful earthquakes that recently struck the Samoan Islands and Indonesia to record-setting cold temperatures in many parts of our country, one can almost get the sense that the natural world is shouting to us: "Wake up, the Redeemer is coming!" And so, as I don a sweater about 6-weeks too early, I say, "Thank you, Lord, for reminding me of the nearness of Christ's return and that the natural world is excited as well." It helped my "I-am-not-ready-for-winter" attitude...a little.

So, our President is now joins a long list of prestigious winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. He is the third American President to win the award, the others being Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. The question everyone is asking is this: What has President Obama done to promote peace around the world? Remember, nominations for this award were closed on February 1...only 11 days after Obama was inaugurated. What has this virtually unknown leader done that is worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize? And here is what I find fascinating. According to testimony from the 5-member Nobel Committee, the award was issued not on what President Obama has accomplished, but what they anticipate that he will accomplish. Again, it seems to me...and it is only my opinion...that this is another sign of how desperate the world is for leadership. They will award one of the most honored prizes to someone they hope will bring peace. Could this not be another indication that the world is ready for a world-leader? (Note: I am not saying that President Obama is the antichrist).

Yesterday the Senate Finance Committee, by a 14-9 vote, gave approval to its version of the Health Care Reform Act. One lone Republican voted with the Democratic majority on the committee. Now, behind closed doors, the two Senate plans are being melded together into one bill that will be presented to the full Senate. That vote will probably occur before the Thanksgiving Senate recess. Will the federal government take over the management of the largest piece of the GDP within the American economy? Healthcare presently accounts for nearly one-third of the national GDP. How has it managed Medicare? Not well! And Medicare was only targeted toward the elderly. What will the government do when it has to manage healthcare for each of us...from the cradle to the grave? What will doctors do? I have read reports that as many as 45% of America's doctors will quit medical work if a national healthcare plan is enacted. Just think of what that will do to your already long wait at the doctor's office.

I don't have an answer to the problem of healthcare. I know that medical costs are terrifically high. But, then again, we have come to expect the best medical care in the world; that means the best in medical technology - not cheap; the best in drugs and prescriptions - again, not cheap to research and develop. Perhaps we need to allow for greater competition between pharmaceutical companies, thus bringing down prices. Perhaps, instead of reforming the healthcare system, the subject of medical lawsuits should be addressed. The threat of litigation adds significantly to medical costs. I am not confident that having politicians and bureaucrats administer my healthcare is really in my best interest.

From a scriptural point of view, in the end least according to my understanding of Revelation...the government will be responsible for every aspect of life, even to buying and selling. Perhaps this is just another indication that the coming of Christ is sooner than we would think.

I cannot help but think that God is at work in ways we often do not understand. Yet we know what His ultimate plan entails...preparing the world to receive His Son as its King. And what a day that will be!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tabernacles, Temple Mount, and Trouble

This week the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot is being celebrated by our Jewish friends. This is one of the three "pilgrimage" feasts defined in the Book of Leviticus. During this week, Israelis eat and sleep in a "sukkot" or booth that they build and decorate. The Feast is a celebration of God's faithfulness to them during those long years of wandering in the wilderness. It is a time of joy and gladness.

Yet, this year, the Feast of Tabernacles has been marred by persistent violence in Jerusalem, especially in and around the Temple Mount area of the Old City. Muslims were throwing stones at Israeli police after Israel had barred all men between the ages of 18 and 45 from ascending to the Temple Mount. This order came after the Palestinian Authority and an Al-Aqsa Mosque group known as the Islamic Movement, called on Arabs to come and to defend the Mosque against supposed Jewish threats.

Muslims consider the Temple Mount to be the third most holy place in Islam. They teach that it was from here that Mohammed took his night ride into heaven. And, in recent years, they have come to strongly deny that the Jewish people had any presence there. They deny that a Temple ever existed. Dimitri Diliani, a spokesman for Fatah - the Palestinian faction that now controls the West Bank area - said earlier this week, "Don't use the term Temple Mount. It doesn't exist. I don't know where it is. I cannot see any Temple. Can you? No one can find any trace of it. The area you refer to is only a Muslim holy site." I know what you are thinking: How can they deny the vast quantity of archaeological evidence that has been unearthed in and around the Temple Compound? They just choose to ignore it, and, if possible to have it destroyed. And sadly, tons of "archaeological dirt" has been destroyed from the Temple area.

Why are Muslims so determined to deny any Jewish presence at the Temple Mount? If they acknowledge a Jewish presence at the Temple Mount, if they accept that there was a Jewish Temple that stood upon that location centuries before their Dome of the Rock was built, then they would also be forced to admit that the entire land had a Jewish presence before there was any Muslim presence. Every archaeological discover in and around the Old City is confirmation of the truth they wish to deny...this land was Israel long before it ever was Palestine. And, what I find incredibly interesting, the archaeological discoveries around Jerusalem are increasing at a rapid pace. From stone quarries to palace foundations to pottery shards bearing biblical names, the discoveries elicit great excitement from both students of ancient history and of the Bible.

Could the land of Israel be on the verge of a third Intifadah. You might remember that it was during this same time period in 2000 that Defense Minister Sharon (he would later become Prime Minister) made a visit to the Temple Mount. He was met by Muslims throwing stones. That was the beginning of the second Intifadah. Only time will tell how this event will be resolved. But tensions are running high. You can only keep the lid on a boiling pot for so long before the pot boils over.

Speaking of archaeological discoveries, did you hear about the discovery of Egyptian coins bearing the image and name of Joseph which were recently found at the Museum of Egypt in Cairo. The report, published in Cairo's "Al Ahram" newspaper said: "A thorough examination revealed that the coins bore the year in which they were minted and their value, or effigies of the pharaohs who ruled at the time of their minting. Some of the coins are from the time when Joseph lived in Egypt, and bear his name and portrait." I will be anxiously awaiting the publication of photos of these coins.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Iran, the West, and the Bomb

Tensions continue to mount between the Islamic Republic of Iran and nations in the West. Tomorrow, in Geneva, Switzerland, talks begin between representatives of Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, and the United States with Iran. The topic: Iran's continued development of nuclear technology with the goal of creating a nuclear weapon. Meanwhile, sitting in the wings watching these talks is the nation of Israel. More than any other nation, it stands the most to either gain or lose through these talks.

It has not been a secret that Iran has been working on the development of uranium enrichment for the past several years. The Iranians have claimed that it is being developed so that it might be used to create nuclear power for commercial and residential use. But, when the Iranian President Ahmadinejad boasts that his country will soon be able to "wipe the Zionist scourge off the face of the map" one begins to wonder about the expressed intent of the nuclear program. Glyn Davies, the US envoy to the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency is quoted as saying: "Iran is now either very near or already in possession of sufficient low-enriched uranium to produce one nuclear weapon, if the decision were made to further enrich it to weapons grade. This moves Iran closer to a dangerous and destabilizing possible breakout capacity." And the US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently said, "The Iranians have the intention of having nuclear weapons."

Just this past weekend, the Iranian government held a series of war games. (I find it very interesting that these were held during the most holy Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. Could Iran be sending a statement with the timing of these games?) As part of those games, the Iranians fired a series of rockets. Some of these mid-range rockets had the ability to reach targets in Israel, as well as US and European military bases in the Middle East and in southern Europe.

What will be the results of tomorrow's meeting? If it follows the pattern of previous dialogues, it will be a verbal threat of increased economic sanctions against Iran at a certain date in the future. And, what Iran will do is to ignore these threats, continue with its nuclear program development, and then, as the date which has been established draws closer, will declare that it is ready to resume negotiations. The Iranians have become very good at playing this game.

But, what of Israel? This past week, the IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, in an interview with a Jewish paper, stated, "We all understand that the best way of coping with the Iranian nuclear threat is through international sanctions. However, Israel has the right to defend itself, and all options are open. The IDF's working premise is that we have to be prepared for that possibility, and that is exactly what we are doing." In a recent interview with Reuters in the UK, Israel's former deputy defense ministry Ephraim Sneh said, "We cannot live under the shadow of an Iran with nuclear weapons. By the end of the year, if there is no agreement on crippling sanctions aimed at this regime, we will no choice." Friends, the end of the year is getting closer.

So, will Israel use the military option against Iran? Will Israel act on her own, or will she work in concert with other allies including the United States? Will such an attack come within the next 90 days? How I wished I had answers. If history is a guide, then Israel will use a pre-emptive strike against Iran. Certainly Israel possesses the military and technological capabilities of making such a surgical strike. The question then becomes...will others join together with Israel? The answer to this question is not as certain I am saddened to state.

But, here is the good news. God has a plan for Israel and that plan will be accomplished. When all the shooting is over, and the King has arrived, where does He come? It is to Jerusalem - the city of David in the land of Israel. That's about all I really need to know.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Will There Be Peace in the Middle East?

This is always a very interesting week on the world's stage. It is the week that the United Nations begins another year. So the world's leaders come to New York City to address the General Assembly. This morning our President addressed the world body. Others on the speakers list include Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Those final two will spill out their brand of vitriolic hatred about America and the West.

Yesterday President Obama met with both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to try to begin the stalled Middle East peace initiatives. From reports that I have read from both American and Israeli papers, the meeting was described as "cool but hospitable." In other words, they did not yell and scream at each other, but neither party changed their position. The Palestinian leader has declared that no peace talks can occur as long as the Israelis continue building new homes in the suburban areas of Jerusalem. Once again they have changed the conditions for talks to occur. This is not a new tactic. It is as old as Yassar Arafat. He was the master at changing the rules in order to play the game. In the past Israeli leaders have given in to the new rules; but this time Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that he will not play by the new rules. This has irritated our President. (Personally, and this is just my opinion, I am not sure our President understands the history of how the game has been played in the past.)

Recently I was asked, "Max, do you think there will ever be peace in the Middle East?" Of course the answer to that is a resounding "yes!" when Jesus Christ returns to set up His kingdom and to reign from David's throne in Jerusalem...that is in Israel, by the way. The prophets declare that the nations will come to Jerusalem to worship the one true God. And the justice and peace that flow from Jesus' administration will penetrate every nation of the world. The follow up question was, "Until that time, will there ever be peace?" Of that I am not sure. I am aware that the prophet Ezekiel declares that when the forces under the leadership of Gog invade Israel, the people there will be under a time of peace. And we know that the Antichrist will bring about at least a temporary peace during the early years of his rule. But from my understanding of the biblical texts - Psalm 83, Obadiah, Ezekiel 38-39, Zechariah 12-14, and several in Isaiah - peace will come, not as a consequence of negotiation, but as a consequence of war.

Because of this biblical truth, I am convinced that nations in the Middle East will continue arming for war. And they will continue their threats to annihilate Israel, driving her back into the sea (read Psalm 83 to get the perspective of this prophetic psalmist). They will talk peace, but continue sharpening the sword.

So, the meeting that occurred yesterday in New York accomplished nothing. The Israelis, although desiring peace, realize that they cannot trust their neighbors. They have seen the evidence through the situation in Gaza, and they are leery of a similar situation in the West Bank. Meanwhile, the Palestinians have loudly declared that their intent is to have all of Israel for themselves. Have you looked at a recent map of Palestine? Have you read pages from the textbooks used in Palestinian schools?

Until Jesus comes there will be no lasting peace in the Middle East. Following the Psalm 83 War and then again following the Ezekiel 38-39 War there will be momentary times of cessation of war, but nothing permanent. Only the Prince of Peace can bring that about.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A True Mountaintop Experience

For the last two days I have had the rich privilege of sharing the Word of God with an exciting group of Senior Adults. We have been hosted at a beautiful facility in Northern Minnesota - Camp Shamineau - and have enjoyed wonderful times of fellowship.

As one who is growing older, soon to join the ranks of those to whom I was sharing the Word - but I guess we are all growing older, aren't we? - and as I listened to their hearts cry out as to why their churches were abandoning them, my heart was drawn to the fact that these people still have many gifts and abilities they want to share. Although their energy levels are not what they once were, the passions for service are perhaps even deeper than they once were. These men and women have been the backbone of many local churches for many years. And yes, they have relinquished the reins of leadership to those they have mentored, but why should they feel alienated from their own churches?

As I was returning from those two days my heart cried out to God as to why it is so easy to put Senior Adults "on the shelf." We have taken worship away from them. I watched these people those days as they sang the great old hymns of the Church. No, they could not stand for 20 minutes at a time. But how their faces lit-up as they sang songs like "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty" and "Because He Lives I can face tomorrow!" These were songs that had spoken to their hearts with blessings in the past and accomplished a similar blessing yet. How different from the blank stares I see on so many of their faces as they stand - often very uncomfortably - in our worship services today. Why can't we provide at least one great hymn every week so these Senior Saints can find a blessing in their heart during worship. And, you know what, it would be good for the younger generation to discover the powerful eternal truths that those old hymns taught. Perhaps they, too, would discover the blessing.

As I sat around the dining hall tables visiting with many, I soon learned that these Senior Saints want to be engaged with their world and with the Word. Many have developed a comfortableness around the Internet. Others diligently read papers and books. But the one question I continually heard was this: Why don't we hear good preaching about the End Times any more? Now I am not advocating a continuous diet of End Times, of Revelation, or of the Prophets. But, could we not, at least a couple of times a year, offer a mini-series on what is happening in our world from a biblical viewpoint.

Friends, what a privilege to be with about 175 Seniors who still had a passion to learn the Word of God. Who still had a strong desire to be used by God. Who still loved to worship their God. I truly was blessed to be on this mountaintop called Shamineau this week. And my heart was filled to overflowing with the blessings from these dear people of God.

I think it is time that the Church rediscover the treasure that bears the name Senior Saints. Oh the blessings that will follow.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

An Anniversary We Need to Remember

What were you doing eight years ago this Friday? It is one of those anniversary dates that we should never forget. I remember it was one of those bright beautiful early fall mornings. I had driven to work, fighting the traffic as I usually had done. I had no sooner gotten to my desk than the phone rang. It was Marlys telling me about the plane hitting one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York. At that time no one knew what type of plane it was. I turned on my little radio to one of the local stations. Soon the reporter described another plane hitting the second Tower, followed by a plane hitting the Pentagon in Washington DC. A fourth report indicated that a plane had crashed into a farm field in Pennsylvania. Soon Americans stopped what they were doing and huddled in disbelief around television sets. Feelings of both horror and anger began to well up inside as we watched the collapse of those towers that represented the American spirit. How could this have happened on American soil? Who would do something like that?

Fear gripped our lives. I must admit it was with an uneasy spirit that I climbed onto that first airplane following 9-11. There was a hesitancy even to enter a local shopping mall; especially here in Minnesota there was a great concern for the Mega Mall. Attendance dropped at sports stadiums as people feared an attack there. We looked over our shoulders and all the time wondered where the next attack would come from. Yes, September 11, 2001, forever changed our world.

It has now been eight years. What have we learned about ourselves as a nation during those eight years? Has our country changed any since that fateful day? Let's see. For a brief moment there was a great turning to God as we cowered in fear. But soon we recognized that our military and our security systems could keep us safe. I am reminded of those words of David found in Psalm 20:7, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses..." In other words, many put their confidence in military strategies and hardware. Yet David continues in that same verse: "...but we trust in the name of the LORD our God." This is where we have failed as Americans. We have not put our trust fully in God. Today, our trust is in government with its bailouts and "cash for clunkers" programs. Even as churches our energies are put into programs. For a brief moment after 9-11 we needed God, but not any more.

Immediately after 9-11 Americans had a resolve to fight diligently against those who had perpetrated the greatest criminal act upon American soil. There was a spirit unlike any seen since the days of World War II. There was that spirit represented by the phrase "Don't tread on me!" Yet what is happening today? Terrorists are being released from captivity and returned to countries where they take up the battle against us once more. The present Administration is pursuing legal indictments against the men and women who interrogated those we had captured. "Don't tread on me" has now been replaced with "Go head, kick me!" What has happened?

Is America safer today than before 9-11? I believe we are, but thanks is given only to our military leaders who have resolutely led the fight against those terrorist regimes that gave haven to our enemies. As we near another anniversary of this momentous event, I want to thank those men and women who have served us so well in the hostile climes of Iraq and Afghanistan. Theirs has not been an easy mission. Not only have they had to battle the elements of a different type of enemy, they have often had to battle the apathetic spirit represented back home. Yet they have been faithful. And we are safe.

Friday, September 11, 2009, will come and go and for most of us there will be hardly a thought about what happened eight years ago. Shame on us! It is a day that should cause us to fall on our faces before a living and holy God and confess our need for Him and our dependence upon Him. Instead it will be just another ordinary day. I wonder what it is going to take for God to get our attention once again.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What Are the Palestinians Up To?

While the focus of many Americans has been upon the healthcare reform bill and the awakening of the grassroots over what passage of this bill will mean, other events have been happening around the world that also have tremendous implications for our lives.

This past month, over 2000 Palestinian delegates from the Fatah Party met in Bethlehem for their 6th Convention. The last Convention was held 20 years ago. Now some of you may be asking "What is the Fatah Party?" Let me give you a brief background. Fatah is the arm of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO - you remember them) that was ruled by no lesser a person than Yassar Arafat. For decades he ruled the PLO-Fatah with an iron hand. He was able to carry both the olive branch in one hand and a pistol in the other. Yet the world granted him the Nobel Peace Prize (please don't ask me how that happened!). When Arafat died in November 2004, the reins of power were given to Mahmoud Abbas who, since 2004, has been the leader of the Palestinian Authority - a more attractive name given to the PLO. In the summer of 2007, just months after the Israeli Defense Forces removed all Jews from the Gaza Strip, that area was taken over by Hamas, who broke off from the Fatah-led PA. Today, Hamas still controls the Gaza Strip, while Fatah-led PA controls the West Bank.

The purpose of the Bethlehem Convention was to select new leadership for Fatah and to establish a renewed commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian State. So, what happened at the Convention? First, the Convention accused Israel of being responsible for the "assassination" of Yassar Arafat and demanded that an investigation be conducted into that "assassination." (It must be admitted that the details of Arafat's death are shrouded in secrecy. All we know is that he was in a French hospital when he died; some say of complications from a liver disease, others from the effects of AIDS. Nothing was officially said.)

Second, the Convention reaffirmed that Jerusalem would be the capitol of the Palestinian State. The PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said, "The future of the national project and the future of a comprehensive peace in the region are both dependent on protecting Jerusalem, its status, its history, and Palestinian rights in the city." He also went on to state that the presence of Israelis within the entire city of Jerusalem "threatens the viability of a two-state solution." (taken from Arutz Sheva August 3, 2009).

Third, the Convention stated that "controlled violence" against Israel was an option if dialogue was not successful. Could another Intifadah be on the horizon? Might there be an increase in acts of terror being directed toward Israeli citizens in order to force the creation of a Palestinian State? If those acts occur, what will be the response of the Obama Administration?

I was recently asked if I thought I would live to see a Palestinian State created. My response was "possibly." Historically, there has been several opportunities for the creation of two-states: Israel and Palestine. In 1936, the Peel Commission made such a recommendation to the British Government, who was in control of the area through the British Mandate given in 1920-22. But, the Arab world rejected that recommendation. In 1947, the United Nations resolution again divided the land into two states. Once again, the Arab world rejected it. During the Clinton years, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yassar Arafat 90% of the land that the Palestinians demanded; Arafat walked away from the table. I do not believe the Palestinians want two-states. They want one state - Palestine. Their maps prove that. Their text books prove that. Their dialogue proves that. They want Israel driven into the sea. That is their ultimate goal and purpose.

Let's say that tomorrow an agreement is reached that gives the entire West Bank along with East Jerusalem to the Palestinians. All Jewish residents are forced to leave - because no Jews will be allowed in a Palestinian controlled state. (Funny, Palestinians can live in a Jewish State, but Jews cannot live in a Palestinian State). Families are uprooted as they were from Gaza. What do you seriously think would happen? How soon before the rockets would be flying to Haifa and Tel Aviv, to Tiberius and Beersheba? We know this will happen...we have the Gaza Strip as proof. And the world has done nothing about the thousands of rockets that have been launched into Israeli communities from Gaza. Yet, the world strongly condemned Israel earlier this year when they launched a retaliatory operation into Gaza. And, when the rockets come from Ramallah and Tulkarem, you know they will be flying from Southern Lebanon as well.

Perhaps, it will be at this time that the war described in Psalm 83 will occur. There will be another "67 War", and this time the Israeli forces will not yield to any American sponsored ceasefire, but will completely drive out those who have opposed them and threatened to drive them into the sea.

Friends, healthcare is important. But don't forget that around the world God is preparing those events that will precede and then usher in His Kingdom.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Healthcare Reform - Why Governmental Involvement?

Here is the question that I think most Americans are beginning to ask themselves as the healthcare reform discussion - or is it now the health insurance reform - continues with its series of town hall forums. When was the last time that governmental involvement made anything better? Think about that for a moment. Now be realistic. Drug prescription reform - the infamous Part D - created a nightmare of paperwork for most seniors. Has it significantly made obtaining prescriptions easier? Probably not.

Then there is the most recent CARS program - you know, the cash for clunkers. Yes, it has gotten some vehicles off the roads that needed to get off the roads. But at what cost? Car dealers are awash in paperwork with federal payments sporadic. Nonprofit organizations that depended upon people donating those very same vehicles to help subsidize their programs have found that those resources are now not available. Even junk dealers are finding it difficult as salvageable parts become increasingly more difficult to find. Yes, the concept was good...but there was little consideration given as to the consequences such a program would have upon others.

And now we want the government to operate our entire healthcare system. Medicare and medicaid - both governmental programs - are nearing insolvency. How soon before a total government-controlled healthcare would be in a similar straight? I have been told that, if the healthcare bill is passed, it will create 17 new governmental bureaucracies. How much money will it take just to run those entities? In spite of all the disclaimers, two things are true. One, someone - or should I say someones - will have to pay for this. That can only mean higher taxes for some, but also increased fees for all of us. And second, there will be a system of rationing that will be put into place. There has to be. If the pot of money is limited...and remember, the government has already assumed many other obligations with the debt load soaring to astronomical proportions...then thee will have to be a system as to how to distribute those funds available, thus rationing. Some will get the benefits; others will not. Who will and who won't will have to be determined by someone and I am not thinking it will be your doctor or your family who will decide.

There is already too much government intrusion into our lives today. Do we really want more? Perhaps it is time for the people to rein-in government. I know that will be difficult to do because we have become "entitlement conscious" - the government owes us. But perhaps it is time for the government to get back to doing with the founding fathers ascribed the federal government to do: to coin money and to equip an army for defense. It was not to regulate healthcare. It was not to purchase old cars. It was not to purchase shares in GM or AIG. Perhaps it is time for each one of us to take a refresher course in our country's Constitution. We just might learn a thing or two.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Weekend to Remember!

One of the great words in language is "family." The dictionary defines "family" as: a group consisting of the two parents and their children. Somehow that definition seems so sterile, doesn't it? Over this past weekend, Marlys and I had the privilege of discovering once again the wonder of "family."

This coming Saturday marks our 40th anniversary. Yes, it is a milestone. And we had celebrated an early anniversary with our children and grandchildren last summer during a week in Estes Park, CO. (We celebrated a couple of 60th birthdays as well). And we had a great time that week creating memories that still bring smiles to our hearts. So, when our daughter, who lives in Rochester, MN, called a couple of weeks ago and said that her family would like to come up for the weekend to help us celebrate, we said we would love to have them come. We enjoy when Merideth, Dan, and Abby and Annie come. Because they live closer, we can see them more often. So, as we walked into the Timberlodge Restaurant in Maple Grove on Friday evening, expecting to meet Merideth, Dan, and the girls, we suddenly became speechless. Sitting around the table were our Iowa kids Barry, Carol, and their three children: Josiah, Meghan, and Carson; and our Texas kids Beth and Greg and their two boys: Ethan and Max; and my Mom. I was at a loss for words. Our kids and grandkids had pulled off one of the best surprises ever. And so our weekend plans were changed!

Our daughter-in-law, Carol, who suffers from MS, had written a special song for the occasion which all sang with glee. It was about the "Frazier Clan." Each family participated in a family worship experience on Sunday morning. What a blessing! And our seven grandkids were as near perfect as they could get the entire weekend.

Family: a group consisting of two parents and their children. Dictionary writers, you have it all wrong. Family is about relationships. It is playing baseball with seven eager grandchildren, even getting eaten by mosquitoes on the way to the diamond. It is quiet talk with our kids after the grandkids have gone to bed. It is playing Phase 10 while stretched out on the floor. It is having one of your grandchildren lead in prayer around the dining room table. It is eating sweetcorn and watching the melted butter drip down your chin. That's what "family" is all about. It is building into the lives of each other. It is "iron sharpening iron" as Solomon would say. It is giving encouragement when it would be easier to be discouraged.

On Monday evening, as Marlys and I sat in the quiet - somehow that is always the most noticeable after everyone has gone - we still asked ourselves if the whole weekend had been a dream. But we had the pictures to show that it had not been a dream. What a wonderful way to celebrate what had begun 40 years before! Yes, this past weekend was one that was 40 years in the making. And I would not trade those years for anything.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

More Signs of the Times - The Hour is Getting Late

August 4-6, over 2000 members of the Fatah Party are meeting in Bethlehem. This is the first Fatah Party convention in 20 years. The purpose of the convention is to determine the leadership of the Party as well as that of the Palestinian Authority for the coming years. The battle lines are being drawn between the present PA Chairman, Mahmoud Abbas and his main challenger Marwan Barghouti, who is presently serving five consecutive life-sentences in an Israeli prison for murder. Barghouti once made this comment concerning Israel, "After we attain a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria, there will be greater things for which to strive... There is no room for more than one state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean." We all know how the Palestinian Authority has, on more than one occasion, resorted to violence in their struggle to create a State - which they want in name only. The sole purpose of the Palestinian Authority, as well as Hamas and Hezbollah, I might add, is the total destruction of the State of Israel. Watch as the world continues to isolate itself from Israel and side with the Palestinians.

Also, it is reported that the Russian and Iranian navies are set to begin joint naval maneuvers in the Caspian Sea. This according to the Iranian Mehr News Agency. As I read this article I was immediately drawn to Ezekiel 38 where the 6th century BC prophet described a coalition that included Russia and Iran - in fact, I think they will be the powerhouses for this coalition. This joint naval exercise is not just another coincidence. It is part of God's plan!

Another interesting topic concerns the temple in Jerusalem. According to a recent poll, 64% of Israelis are in favor of building a temple on the Temple Mount. And this included a large percentage of what we would call secular Jews. Last Thursday, members of the Temple Institute began construction of the sacrificial altar that will be used. The altar, built of stones gathered from the Dead Sea will be cemented together with a mixture of sand, clay, tar, and asphalt. It will measure 12 feet tall, 18 feet long, and 18 feet wide. Not exactly something you could keep in hiding. And it will be transportable. According to Daniel 9:27, a temple will be rebuilt upon the Temple Mount. Can it be far away?

This news comes from the Prophecy News Watch website. According to a banking official in Australia, Peter Evers, cash will be replaced for most transactions by computer chips in five to seven years. These chips can be embedded into your cell phone for instance. It seems to me that I recall that the mark of the beast will be the means for buying and selling during the days of the Tribulation. Could these chips be the forerunner? Frightening thought.

And, what is going on in Europe...I mean, besides the great influx of Muslims. Well, according to another article from the Prophecy News Watch, the European Union is developing a new security system. It is known as the "Stockholm Program". What this plan will do is to create an European Union ID card register, create an internet surveillance system as well as a satellite surveillance system, establish automated exit and entry border systems operated by machines to read biometrics - fingerprints and eyeprints. Could this be another step toward a one-world governmental control, much like the one the Bible tells us the Antichrist will create?

And, I have not even discussed the proposed Healthcare Reform that our President is so eager to have passed by Congress. We will save that discussion for another time. Yet I believe it is all part of a plan that will make people more dependent upon government - something that is absolutely essential for a one-world government to be successful. We are replacing the Declaration of Independence for a Declaration of Dependence.

But we should not despair. Our hope is not found in governmental resolves, but in the return of our Redeemer Jesus Christ. How we need to keep our eyes fixed upon Him as we anticipate His soon return. "Come quickly, Lord Jesus!"

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

God Still Changes Lives

This past Sunday my wife and I had the privilege of attending a local church where we heard the choir from Minnesota Teen Challenge. There were about 40 men and women in the choir and all were students in the Teen Challenge Program. As many of you know, Teen Challenge is a ministry for those who are addicted to alcohol and drugs, seeking to help them find total release and healing through the Lord Jesus Christ. Minnesota Teen Challenge is one of the largest such ministries in the country. The results are highly successful.

We sat there Sunday listening to one testimony after another of men and women whose lives had been severely impacted because of either drugs or alcohol. Some had a criminal past because of their addiction problems. Most had destroyed their jobs and careers, their families and friends because of their addiction. Several had tried other treatment programs but had reverted to their addicting ways following those treatments. As one student expressed it, "All hope seemed gone."

But then they were introduced to Minnesota Teen Challenge, who in turn introduced them to Jesus Christ, who changed their lives completely. As one of the directors of Minnesota Teen Challenge put it so clearly, "Addiction is not a disease, it is a problem of sin. And once you make that discovery, then healing can begin."

Several of those students who gave their testimonies indicated that they believed God was now calling them to help others who were addicted. One man said that he knew God was calling him to the mission field.

As I listened to their testimonies, my heart rejoiced realizing once again that God indeed does change lives. I was reminded of those words of the Apostle Paul, "If any man is in Christ he is a new creation; old things have passed away, behold, all things are new." The old was gone in the lives of these members of the choir; the new life given by Christ was evident in their singing and in their testimonies. As some of them were to soon experience graduation from the program, it was with confidence that they knew they were leaving Minnesota Teen Challenge in an entirely different way than when they had entered. For there they had met God...and that made all the difference.

Perhaps you have a Teen-Challenge type of ministry in your area. I would encourage you to give it your support. Friends, it is the power of God that can still change lives today. And each life changed is a miracle of God's saving grace.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Very Interesting Neighbors

Tensions in the Middle East continue to build. A spirit of unrest over the recently disputed Iranian elections lingers with even the ruling Muslim clerics taking divergent sides. The Iranian leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been more quiet, and I expect that will remain until after his inauguration early next month.

Meanwhile, Israel has picked up a "big stick" (to use a Teddy Roosevelt phrase) and has received tacit approval from the Arab world in doing so. Recently, the Egyptians allowed an Israeli submarine and two Israeli guided-missile destroyers to pass through the Suez Canal, making their way from the Red Sea into the Persian Gulf. I believe the movement of these Israeli ships was more than just a military maneuver. Then, it was announced last week that the Saudi government had given approval to the Israeli Air Force to fly over Saudi airspace during any attack upon Iran. I had wondered how Israeli warplanes would get to the nuclear facilities in Iran, especially since the relationships with Turkey had cooled tremendously since the first of the year.

You might be asking the question why both Egypt and Saudi Arabia would extend a hand to help Israel. Although Egypt has a peace agreement with Israel, neither Egypt nor Saudi Arabia could be called allies of Israel. So, what gives? The Saudis, the Egyptians, and the Israelis have a common enemy - an nuclear armed Iran with a radical Shi'ite power in control. Neither the Saudis nor the Egyptians, both nations being predominately Sunni Islamic, would be benefited with a nuclear Iran. And, Israel is the only country that has verbally spoken out against Iran and threatened a military intervention. And, as history has shown, Israel is not afraid to use military intervention...just ask the Iraqis and more recently the Syrians, both of whom had nuclear facilities destroyed by an Israeli air strike.

I referred to the quote made famous by President Teddy Roosevelt: "walk softly, but carry a big stick." Many are doing the "walk softly" bit today. We have sought diplomatic intervention. We have tried various forms of economic sanctions. And our President wants to continue along that pathway. Both he and Secretary of State Clinton have stated that sanctions will soon have to be replaced with other options, but will they truly "carry a big stick" and then not be afraid to use it? Israel has said that it will use the "big stick."

I do believe that something will happen, perhaps even before the end of the year. I do not see a "nuclear" Iran playing a role in the prophetic future, but a conventionally armed Iran certainly will (read Ezekiel 38 and 39).

When the attack finally comes, and it will come, the Arab world will be the first to lash out at Israel and make threats against it. But, in Riyadh and in Cairo, secretly they will be grateful for what Israel has done. It will just be another step in the preparation of the nations for an invasion of Israel prior to the Advent of the King.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Man from the Past Reminds Us of a Man in the Future

This past week I have had the privilege of spending time studying the eleventh chapter of Daniel. Now I realize that chapter is not a favorite of too many people. It is very confusing, unless you have an ancient history text lying next to the biblical text. Beginning with verse 2 and continuing through verse 35, it is an accurate portrait of much of the history we know as Intertestamental. In fact, it is so accurate that many believe it could not have been written by the sixth century BC prophet but only by someone writing after the fact. Sadly those people have forgotten that God is the writer of history and the book is already completed...believe it or not, that book was already completed before God even created the world. So, God was just giving Daniel a "heads-up" on what was to happen.

But what I found intriguing was the lengthy description Daniel gives to a man we know as Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who ruled the Syrian Empire from 175-163 BC. He possessed an innate hatred for the Jews, punishing them twice while returning from defeats in Egypt. In 167 BC he entered Jerusalem, not content with just taking a few trinkets as he had done in 169 BC, and went into the Temple where he erected an image to his god, Zeus - for he was a Greek and Zeus as a Greek god - and then offered a sacrifice of pig's broth upon the altar. For the Jews this was an unheard of abomination, later called "the abomination of desolation." He then instigated a series of laws that prohibited the practice of every vestige of Judaism - from circumcision to dietary laws. The penalty for such practices was death. Antiochus sought the complete strangulation of Judaism. But, as you might remember, an old Hasidic priest named Mattathias resisted Syrian law and urged others to do so as well. We know this as the Maccabean Revolt.

Then, beginning with verse 36 and continuing through the remaining verses of Daniel 11, there is an account of a king. There is debate among Bible scholars as to exactly who this person is, but most take this passage as a reference to a yet-future king we know as the Antichrist. If you read this portion of the text carefully you will discover the following traits of this man. First, he casts aside all forms of religion, offering homage to no god at all except the one of his creation. So, he is very anti-God. Second, he aggressive opposes Jesus Christ, cited as "the desire of women," referring to the hope of every Jewish woman that she would be the mother of the Messiah. So, he is very anti-Christ. Third, he puts his confidence in military might believing that with sufficient military strength he can rule the world. Finally, he will turn against the Jews, seeking to forever destroy them.

This is the person who will come and dominate our world. Yes, I believe there is a coming one-world government with its diabolical leader. And, if my understanding of the signs of the times is correct, we are closer to that one-world government now than at any time since those days of the Roman Empire.

But this is all part of God's book of history. The events transpiring now were transcribed in His book before the world was born. And I believe we are getting nearer to those final pages.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Death of a "Demi-god"

Yesterday was the funeral service for Michael Jackson. Before a packed Staples Center in Los Angeles, tributes were given for the "King of Pop." Since his untimely death the world has responded as if Michael Jackson had been a leader of renown upon the world's stage. All three major television networks and a host of cable networks provided almost wall-to-wall coverage of the events surrounding his death and the days that intervened before yesterday's services. Not since the tragic death of Princess Diana of Great Britain has the world seen such a response.

Michael Jackson will be remembered for many things. His type of musical interpretation radically changed the musical world. And who can forget that "moon walk" he introduced into the modern dance scene. He will also be remembered as a man who underwent numerous surgeries that radically altered his appearance. And, he will be remembered as a man who stood trial for molestation of children at his NeverLand Ranch. Some had their lives powerfully impacted by Michael Jackson; while others of us cannot even name one of his songs.

I have wondered why his death was accorded such national ceremony. Was it because he was a Hollywood celebrity? Other celebrities have died, in fact, two "super stars" passed away within hours and even days of Michael Jackson, and neither one was accorded celebrity status in their passing (I am speaking of Farah Faucett and Karl Malden). Was it because he was a famous musician? Or was it because his was a story that had been public since he was a small boy - he was one of America's "goldfish bowl" stories?

As I heard portions of the many tributes given to Michael Jackson, I did not hear any testimony to whether he had ever put his faith in Jesus Christ. Many were the accolades for what he had accomplished. Nothing said about his preparation for the eternal destination of his soul.

Through my many years of pastoral experience, I had the privilege of ministering the Good News at dozens of funerals. I was guided by the words of my father-in-law who, himself, was a pastor. He said: "Max, a funeral is not about the dead; it is about the living. The eternal condition of the dead is already determined, but you can affect a change in those who yet are living." And so I preached the Gospel clearly, pointing people to Jesus Christ who is the resurrection and the life. Oh that someone yesterday had pointed that massive audience crowded into the Staples Center and the millions who were tuned in via television to Jesus and the cross!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Happy Birthday, America!

Happy Birthday, America! What a special nation you have been! What a special nation you continue to be! You are the "land of the free and the home of the brave." You are the melting pot of the world. Around the world when people share dreams, many of those dreams are focused upon the opportunities that are accorded people here.

I have often wondered why America has survived as long as it has. It was birthed during days of a bloody revolution that lasted for many years. Growing pains soon followed resulting in sectional clashes, the ultimate one leading to a Civil War that would tear this nation apart. Other wars would follow, some of our own creation. Yet all the while America remained strong. Oh it had its moments when the American spirit was severely tested. One thinks of those difficult days during the Vietnam War with protesters marching down streets of major cities, clashing with police forces. One also thinks of the great unrest between the races during the 1960's. Pictures of the Democratic Convention in Chicago still linger in my mind.

But through it all, America has survived. In many instances the difficulties and hardships it has faced has caused it to grow even stronger. There has always been a certain amount of grit in America's psyche. Tell us something can't be done - and we will prove you wrong and do it. Americans have always loved a challenge. Perhaps it is the remnant of the Spirit of 76 that resides in the hearts of many of us.

But, something is astir in America today that, I believe, threatens to destroy the very fabric of who we are. We are becoming a nation divided by our diversities. In the past the diversity within America was one of its strengths. Swedes, Norwegians, Poles, Germans, Latins, and Asians all came to America...learned its language, accepted its principles, supported the unity that was America. They became Americans...not Swedish-Americans or German-Americans or Asian-Americans. They were just plain Americans! Today, however, diversity is pulling us apart. We are not just Americans anymore. No, we are Hispanic-Americans or African-Americans or...well, the list goes on and on. Many come into this country illegally. They do not learn our language. They do not abide by the principles of this great nation. They are here, but they are not Americans. And I wonder how much longer this can last before our nation completely unravels.

It is time that we revisit those hallowed corridors of Independence Hall in Philadelphia; walk among the quiet tombstones at Arlington; stand in silence peering into the dark waters shrouding the battleship Arizona. It is time that we listen to the words of Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence; the words of Abraham Lincoln uttered on a cold November day at Gettysburg; of a George Washington as he bid farewell to the American people as he left the office of President. It is time that we come together as whites, blacks, browns, yellows, and red-skinned people who call ourselves Americans. It is time that we acknowledge the words of John Kennedy in his inaugural address: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. If we can do this, America will be a better place for each of us and for our children and grandchildren.

So, Happy Birthday, America. And may God bless you with many more.

Monday, June 22, 2009

"Inside the Revolution" - A Review of Rosenberg's Newest Book

I have recently completed reading Joel Rosenberg's newest book. It is titled "Inside the Revolution." It has a fascinating cover complete with portraits of Osama bin Laden, Thomas Jefferson, and Jesus Christ. Immediately one is forced to ask the question: What do these three people have in common? I have to admit that I was puzzled. Interesting, each of those three persons represents a philosophy or a way of life that wants to dominate the Middle East and the entire world. Osama bin Laden - the radical philosophical emphasis of Islam. Thomas Jefferson - the moderate philosophical emphasis of democratic freedom. Jesus Christ - the life-changing philosophical emphasis of a relationship with a holy God and a loving Savior. According to the author, all three are powerfully at work within that region of the world we know as the Middle East.

The first two hundred pages focus upon Osama and the way of the radicals. I must admit, their philosophical bent upon total world domination by Islam and Sharia law is frightening. Some one asked me to explain the difference between Sharia law and the Old Testament law under which the Israelites lived. On the surface they seem to be very similar: strict laws that govern every aspect of living, from food preparations to sexual practices, from health regulations to social mores. Yet, I believe, there is one important underlying difference. In Sharia law there is no room for grace. There is little, if any, room for mercy. Under Old Testament law, the sacrifices offered the opportunity for grace, for forgiveness, for a withdrawal of penalty. Another took your punishment, namely the lamb or goat. I find it difficult to comprehend a world in which there is no room for grace. But such is the world Osama bin Laden and his followers are planning for us.

The next one hundred and fifty pages or so focus upon Jefferson and the way of the reformers. This section began to give me a measure of hope. It was great to know that not all Islamists believed in total jihad. It was encouraging to know that some Islamists actually want to live in peace with their neighbors and to cultivate a world that accepts everyone. The author relates the stories of several leading reformists whose leadership is both inspiring and challenging.

The final one third of the book focuses upon Jesus Christ and the way of the revivalists. These pages were riveting as Rosenberg relates story after story of Iranians, Iraqis, Afghans and Palestinians who surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ. The stories are one of dreams and visions and miracles. It is almost as if one is reading the story of the Early Church in Acts. Can you imagine sharing the gospel with an Iranian and having that person put his or her faith in Jesus Christ in less than five minutes? It is happening all over Iran. And just today I read of Iraq's first Christian radio station beginning operation proclaiming the message of Christ to all of Iraq. Praise the Lord!

I enjoy reading good books...books that stretch a person's thinking...books that challenge a person's faith. This book is one I highly recommend. It will give you a whole new way of looking at the struggles in the Middle East. And, just think, we know how the story ends.