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 - www.flashtrafficblog.wordpress.com). 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 them...an 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.