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.