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!