Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Israel: A Land of Contrasts

For the past couple of weeks my wife and I have had the privilege of leading a group of people to the Holy Land. Spring is such a wonderful time to visit Israel. The black basalt stones on the hillsides stood like silhouettes on a carpet of green splashed with brilliant reds, blues, purples, and yellow. The wild mustard glistened in the sunlight, its bright yellow heads waving in the breeze, reminding us of those words of Jesus, "If only we had faith the size of a mustard seed..." The almond trees were nearing the end of their blooming cycle, again reminding us that spring had truly arrived in Israel.

The land truly blossoms like a rose. Trees were heavy laden with oranges and grapefruit. Apple, pear, and apricot trees were alive with their spring flowers, promising an abundant harvest in the fall. The grape arbors were beginning to stir from their winter slumber. Bananas, dates, and figs joined the cornucopia.

Israel is a melting pot of the ancient and the modern. Where else can you go travel from a water system over 3000 years old to a McDonalds in a matter of minutes? Israel is a land of contrasts. One of the most unusual scenes was that of a young Arab driving a herd of sheep and goats up a hillside outside of Jerusalem. He was riding on a donkey...yet talking on a cell phone. Now that was a contrast between the old and the new.

There are many reasons why one travels to Israel. But the primary one is to reconnect with the Scriptures. After visiting Israel now for six times, I can honestly say that I am still delighting in the discovery of Scriptural truths. We forgot how small even ancient Israel was. I think we have this mistaken idea that the stories of the Bible are spread out over miles and miles of countryside. But that simply is not the case. Let me share one example with you. Standing upon Mount Carmel, the place where Elijah called down fire from heaven, one looks out over the broad expanse of the Valley of Jezreel. From that vantage point you can see: the Mountains of Moreh from where Gideon attacked the Midianites; the Mountains of Gilboa where King Saul and his sons died at the hands of the Philistines; the River Merom where Joshua defeated the Canaanites; Mount Tabor from where Deborah and Barak again defeated those same Canaanites; the village of Endor where Saul entertained the witch; and Jezreel where King Ahab and Queen Jezebel had their summer palace and where Ahab died. If only those hillsides and rocks could talk...well, I would still be there listening...recorder in hand.

Israel needs our prayers today. The nation hears the continued threats of her neighbors promising not peace but annihilation. The world hears the plaintiff cries of Palestinians suffering at the hands of their terrorist leaders, yet wrongfully assumes that Israel is responsible for that suffering. Should Israel be charged with war-crimes when it is the hands of the Hamas terrorists that have caused the great loss of life? The people of Israel clamor for peace...real peace. They want to go to bed at night knowing that no warning siren will sound giving them 15 seconds to seek shelter. They want their children to go to school without the worry of seeking bomb shelters in the midst of their studies. They want the freedom to dine in a restaurant or to visit a nightclub without wondering if someone will enter with a suicide vest. Let's remember our biblical responsibility to pray for the "peace of Jerusalem."

In upcoming weeks I want to share more with you about the experiences our group had while in Israel. But, as they say in Israel...Shalom and Mazel tov.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What's Gone Wrong? Have We Lost Our Way?

What's going wrong? The economy is now in a state where people are beginning to use the "d" word, as in "depression," to refer to what is going on. I remember how long it took before the word recession was used. Wall Street averages have plummeted 25% these past two months. The one who was elected on the platform of giving America hope, is now only offering choices inviting fear. Wall Street is not yet in panic mode, but it can see panic on the not-too-far-distant horizon as investors begin to pull out what little money they have left.

In recent weeks I have done a lot of reading on economics. I must admit that it is an area where I was not greatly interested several months ago. Yet, now as I, too, watch my retirement account shrink to levels of the mid-1990's, I realized that I had better start taking an interest. And, to be honest, what I have been reading scares me.

In the past, say - in 1981-82 for example - when we had another bad recession, the government kept a "hands-off" approach. Yes, there were some failures. Yes, there were many bankruptcies. Yes, some businesses closed. But those that survived became stronger. And the nation's economy began an upward spiral that seemed to never end. And, because of the unprecedented growth, consumers, bankers, and businessmen became greedy wanting a little bit more. Thus the relaxing of requirements to secure a home mortgage loan, and the relaxing of requirements for small business loans.

Now, here we are in 2009, and the consequences of our sinful, greedy actions are being reaped. Friends, the Bible tells us that sin always pays a wage; it may be a wage delayed, but it will always be paid.

What should happen? I hesitate to use the word "suffer the consequences" but that is what should happen. If I, as a home owner, over extended myself so I could have that "dream house", and now I cannot afford the mortgage, then I need to walk away. And if I, as a home loan officer in a local bank, took that risky loan, then my bank should be in trouble...perhaps even to closing its doors. There are consequences to sin!

There are two alternatives, it seems to this unenlightened economic mind - but getting more enlightened all the time. First, we can let the market take care of itself. This will involve some painful consequences, but remember, sinful choices always brings painful consequences. Some businesses will fail. Some banking institutions will cease operations. But, in the end, the market will correct itself. Stocks will once again have some value. Investors will once again put money into the stock market, thus driving businesses to expand and consumers to buy.

The other alternative is to let the government do it for us. And, it seems that is the pathway we have decided to go. Troubled...let government come to your rescue. Can't pay your mortgage...let Uncle Sam help you with your payments. Business in debt because of poor planning...hey, no trouble, just tell Washington how much you need. Friends, I hope you can see the handwriting on the wall. We have begun sliding down the slippery slope toward a national socialistic government. And the more money the government produces to bailout those who made wrong choices, the less value any of our money becomes. We have now reached the height of our entitlement mentality: let the government take care of my consequences; I am not responsible for them.

Now what does this gloomy news have to do with a prophetic picture. Simply this: in the end times, the world's finances will be in such desperate shape that one man can suddenly have the reigns of power. I had for a time thought it would come through some type of military intrigue; but now I am becoming more convinced that this one man will take control of the world through an economic collapse that he will orchestrate to his advantage. And, because Mammon is our god, we will fall in obedience to whatever he dictates.

Well, Marlys and I leave tomorrow morning, along with our two daughters and 20 others, for two weeks in Israel. It will be good to be back in the land God calls His own. Thanks for praying while we are gone.