Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A New Year's Crystal Ball

We are nearing the end of another year. Where did 2010 go? As one looks back over the past year there are so many things to remember with fondness, and so many things that one hopes will quickly be forgotten in the recesses of our minds. Oh for the opportunity of doing some things over again - for a second chance, but alas, that never happens. One can only hope that better judgments will prevail in the coming year.

As one looks ahead to the coming year, one asks "What will the year hold for us?" Of course the correct answer is "We do not know, only God knows that." But it is fun to do some crystal-balling. So, here is my list of what MIGHT happen in the coming year.

1. I believe there will be some very strange political posturing in the coming year. In Washington, Republicans will control the spending as they control the House of Representatives. The question is: will they hold to their fiscal conservatism - the banner under which most of them were elected this past November? How will the President respond to this change in ideology? The politics in Washington will be very interesting, to say the least.

2. Then there is the question of Iran. According to a report in the December 29 issue of, Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon said that "we are talking in terms of three years before the Islamic Republic of Iran can achieve its presumed aim of producing a nuclear weapon." The recent damage from the Stuxnet virus on the Iranian computers has been more severe than first indicated. Furthermore, reports from inside Iran indicate that the sanctions are beginning to have an affect upon the common people, leading some analysts to state that an Iranian revolution might be at hand. I know that Iran will keep the world guessing in the coming year. (So, also, I might add, will North Korea).

3. The Middle East seems poised on the verge of a tremendous explosion in the coming year. Although he will deny reports, PA President Abbas seems to be moving ahead with having the United Nation make a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood sometime in late summer of 2011. Later this week, Abbas will lay the cornerstone for a Palestinian embassy in Brazil, which, along with Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia have announced the recognition of a Palestinian State. If such a declaration is forthcoming, it will only lead to war. What will happen to the nearly half million Israelis now living inside what the Palestinians claim will be their State? You remember that the Palestinians have already declared that there will be no Jews living in Palestine. What about the possibilities of Hamas taking over the West Bank and creating another terrorist camp? I am glad that I am leading a group to Israel in the Spring - the summer might get very hot, in more ways than one.

4. I believe that attacks upon Christians around the world will increase significantly. And, I believe that American believers will be persecuted, and even imprisoned, for their faith. This has not happened on American soil in many years. It is time for the Church to begin preparing their members on how to respond to this coming persecution: to have a resolve as did Daniel.

5. Finally, I believe that 2011 will see the continued separation of churches from the truths of the Word of God. Many have already started down that pathway. More will yet follow. The goal will be to become relevant and tolerant to culture. In the process truth will be cast aside and the Word of God will become just another book. Oh to remain biblical in these days! It is going to be increasingly more difficult to do.

There you have five items I am keeping my eyes upon as we enter 2011. Friends, it is time to focus upon Jesus. He is coming! Will it be in 2011? I don't know! I had hoped for His return in 2010, but the "fullness of time" is not yet. So, as we wait and watch for His return, we need to be at work because the fields are white unto harvest.

I do want to wish you a blessed New Year filled with the special favor of God.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Of Angels and Advents

That first Christmas so long ago an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to a group of shepherds who were tending their sheep on the hillsides near Bethlehem. Later this angel was joined by a multitude of angels in a rapturous anthem.

On Christmas Eve I will be preaching on the actions and attitudes of the shepherds, those to whom the angel appeared. But, in my reflections and preparations, I noticed something startling about the proclamation(s) of the angel(s). I share these with you as my Christmas greeting.

First, the angel of the Lord quieted the hearts of these fear-filled men, and then spoke these words to them: "do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger" (Luke 2:10-12 NASB). This was the strong message of the First Advent. A Savior had come! One had arrived on the world scene who would take upon Himself the only way that sinful man could be successfully reconciled to a holy God. The message encompassed an announcement of a manger (immediate) and of a cross (future: Savior - the term itself implied a sacrifice). That angelic proclamation is still the message of Christmas now two millennias removed. Jesus was born to die so that you and I might live. It is the message that should quiet our fearful hearts.

Then the angel was joined by a multitude of other angels who, in turn, proclaimed another anthem: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased" (Luke 2:14 NASB). Although this angelic anthem has become such an integral part of the Christmas story, I would like to believe that the message this angelic host proclaimed was not centered on the First Advent but the Second. Jesus Christ did not come to bring peace on earth. He Himself said that He came to bring the sword. But the day is coming when His peace will be upon men with whom He is pleased. It will be that day when He returns to reign from the throne of His father, David, in the city of the great King, Jerusalem.

So, friends, the entire story of Christ is presented to the shepherds that first Christmas so long ago. Did those shepherds truly understand the entire story? I am not convinced they did. But they believed enough that they were convinced and then eagerly told others about what they had heard and seen. Their example should become our passion.

I want to wish you a very Merry Christmas. Listen carefully to the message of the angels and you will hear them say, "He is coming soon!" Amen!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An Ancient Rabbi, Tevet, and Christmas

I want to write about something entirely different for most of us - The Tenth of Tevet. I know what you are saying, "What is a Tevet?" Tevet is the fourth month of the Jewish Civil Calender. (You need to remember that there are two calendars our Jewish friends follow: the civil calendar which begins with Rosh Hashana in the fall, and the religious calendar which begins with Passover in the spring).

I know you are really scratching your head now: What significant event happened on the Tenth of Tevet? Great question. The answer is that it was on that date that King Nebuchadnezzar began his siege of Jerusalem which would eventuate in the destruction of the city and the Temple. Because it was just the first day of the siege very little damage was done and no one was killed that we know about. So, why is it celebrated? It is because of the eventuality that the siege caused: the Temple's destruction and the exile of the Jewish people into captivity in Babylon.

What intrigued me as I read about this fast-day was the story of one of the rabbis of those days. His name was Rav Chiyah. The story is told that he knew the impending outcome of the siege. So he killed a deer, tanned its hide and made one copy of each of the five books of the Torah. He then gave one book to each of five children he had selected. He taught each child that book which they had received. Then he instructed them to teach one another what they had been taught. He believed that you could only teach what you yourself had been taught.

As I read this story, the truth hit me that I have a responsibility to share with others what I have learned. I cannot share what I do not know - that would be perpetuating ignorance, and this world has more than enough ignorance. I was reminded of the words of Peter and John as they approached the Temple and saw the beggar on the steps begging alms. You remember what Peter said: "Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk" (Acts 3:6). "What I have I give to you." What I have been taught is what I can share with others. What I have mined of God's Word for myself is what I can share with another.

O the wisdom of Rav Chiyah. He taught each child one book. They, in turn, taught that one book to the other four. Then those five could teach another five children those five books. And so the multiplication begins.

Here at Village Schools this truth energizes us. What you learn you are to share with others. What you experience is yours, not just to keep, but to share.

This Christmas Season, let me ask you, what are you sharing? What are you imparting to others? What special memories of Christmas can you relate to others?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Christmas Carol

One of the greatest story-writers of all time wrote one of the best-known Christmas stories of all time. Of course I am referring to Charles Dickens, who in December 1843 published a 66-page novella titled originally, "A Christmas Carol in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas." The title has been shorted to just "A Christmas Carol." Since its publication in 1843, this little story has never been out of print - a remarkable feat, when you come to think of it.

The story has been adapted for both stage and screen. Perhaps the classic adaptation is the 1951 screen version starring Alastair Sims. According to critics, he portrays the Ebenezer Scrooge that would have met with Dickens' approval. My Christmas Season is not complete until I have watched this masterpiece. A strong rival would be the 1984 adaptation for television starring George C. Scott as Scrooge. He does a remarkable job with the role. Either film clearly portrays the heart of Dickens as he wrote in the fall of 1843.

That was the time the Industrial Revolution was radically changing the landscape of England. What gripped Dickens heart was the forced labor many of England's children endured. He himself had experienced this early in his life when his father was imprisoned for several months. Historians tell us that Dickens, from that time on, had a love-hate relationship with his father. The character of Scrooge portrayed both those relationship.

Of course we best remember Scrooge for his "Christmas! Bah-humbug!" statement. Haven't we all felt that way once or twice? Come on. You know what I mean. Another program to attend. Another trip to the mall to buy another gift. Another card to send. I don't know about you, but there are times when Christmas can become a "Bah-humbug!" I want to hurry through get it over with. That is the way Ebenezer Scrooge looked at Christmas.

What caused the change in his heart? Was it the three spirits who visited him? I am sure the very presence of a ghost would cause alarm. But I think it was what the spirits showed him. As you read the story or view the filmed adaptations, the focus is upon family. There is hardly a mention of gifts being exchanged. The only gifts were the ones being raised by a few businessmen to provide food and drink for the poor. The great scene at Mr. Fezziwig's party focuses upon family and friends. There is the Christmas morning scene at the Cratchetts as the goose is cooking and the pudding is singing in the copper. Its about family.

As I have reflected upon that first Christmas carol, recorded in Luke 2, it was an invitation to become part of a family - the family of God. So when the spirit of "Bah-humbug" creeps into your heart, focus on family, beginning with your relationship with Jesus Christ. Perhaps then everything else will come into a proper focus. Then you and I can sing with Tiny Tim, "God bless us, everyone!"

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy Hanukkah!

Happy Hanukkah! Yes, that very special Jewish celebration known as "the festival of lights" begins tonight at sundown. It will conclude at sundown on December 9. Just what is Hanukkah and why should I care? Among Jewish celebrations, Hanukkah is a relatively recent addition. Its history goes back to the second century BC during the times of the Maccabees. In the year 168 BC, the Syrian King, Antiochus IV Epiphanes sacked the city of Jerusalem. He was sort of ticked off because he had lost a battle with the Egyptians and on his way home he was feeling very ugly. Jerusalem stood in the way. He had strong feelings against the Jews so why not stop and bolster his fractured ego with taking Jerusalem. After killing many of the inhabitants, he went into the temple, erected an image of his god Zeus and then offered a pig upon the altar where sacrifices were made. This act came to be known as the "abomination of desolation."

Now enter into the story an aged priest by the name of Mattathias. He lived in the little village of Modiin, a few miles northwest of Jerusalem. A Greek officer and some soldiers gathered all the people of that village together and demanded that they bow to an idol and eat the flesh of a pig (perhaps a ham sandwich!). Mattathias refused to take part, but another villager stepped forward to initiate the required sacrifice. Mattithias drew his sword, killed the villager and also the Greek officer. He and his five sons, along with many of the villagers escaped to the hills. There an army was assembled, under the leadership of Mattathias' son - Judas Maccabeaus (Judas "The Hammer"). This revolt, known as the Maccabean revolt, eventuated in the recapture of the city of Jerusalem in December 165 BC. The temple was in complete disarray so the cleansing began. Enough oil was found to light the menorah for one day, but miraculously the menorah stayed lit for eight days.

Hanukkah commemorates this miracle of the oil. It celebrates the freedom of the Jewish people from the enslavement to the Syrians and their Greek culture. It is a time of great festivities that last for eight days. One important part of Hanukkah is the lighting of the Menorah. The Hanukkah Menorah has eight branches and one servant or host branch. This host is lit and then one of the eight branches is lit on each of the succeeding days of Hanukkah. These menorahs come in many shapes and sizes, but the flames of the lamps must not look too big and resemble a pagan bonfire.

Among the popular foods for Hanukkah are latkes. These pancakes are made from grated potatoes mixed with eggs, onions, and flour, then fried in vegetable oil. Served hot, they are topped with either sour cream or appleasauce. Another very popular food for Hanukkah is known as sufganiyot. These are jelly-filled donuts without a hole. They are fried in oil, then covered with either powdered sugar or cinnamon. I am getting hungry just describing these.

Another strong tradition of Hanukkah is the dreidel. This is a four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter inscribed on each of the sides. It is very popular among children. The children spin the top and then bet on which letter will appear when the top stops. Betting is made with chocolate coins covered in foil, or other pieces of candy, nuts, or other goodies. If the one who spins the top has the top land with the letter nun - which means "nothing" - then the spinner does nothing; he gets nothing, nor does it cost him anything. If, however, the top lands with the letter gimmel - which means "everything" - then the spinner gets all the candy that is in the pot. If the top lands on the letter hey - which means "half" - the spinner then gets only half of the pot. finally, if the top lands on the letter shin - which means "Put in" - then the spinner must add one piece to the pot. Sounds like a game for those who have a sweet tooth.

So, now you know about Hanukkah. And I want to wish you and your family a very happy celebration, even if are not Jewish. Perhaps you can use these special days to say a prayer for Israel and for the people there. Especially pray that God would send them rain. This has been an historically dry winter so far. They desperately need the rains and the snows. Pray that God would bless their Hanukkah Season with abundant rains.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Netanyahu and Clinton: Not Exactly a Marriage Made in Heaven

The United States is up to its old tricks again when it comes to dealing with its only true ally in the Middle East: Israel. Last Thursday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Secretary of State Clinton in New York. At the top of the discussion list was the status, or should I say non-status, of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. As I have shared with you in previous blogs, the 10-month moratorium on Israeli building in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank, as the world calls it) was allowed to expire on September 26. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas followed through on his demands that unless the building freeze was re-instituted, there would be no more negotiations. So, there have been no more negotiations.

Prime Minister Netanyahu stated in early October that he would return to the negotiating table with Chairman Abbas if the Palestinians would declare that Israel would be a Jewish State. You would have thought that he asked for the Dead Sea to becoming living. Of course the Arab world would never acknowledge that Israel is a Jewish State. That would have consequences that would be detrimental to their plans to eventually destroy Israel, if not from without, then from within.

Last Thursday Secretary Clinton made the following offer to the Israeli Prime Minister: In return for extending the building freeze in Judea and Samaria another 90 days, the United States would provide Israel with 20 jet fighters, as well as an automatic veto of any anti-Israel resolution or demand in the United Nations. On the surface this looks like a win-win for Israel. The 90 day building moratorium cannot be renewed and Israel gets needed fighter planes as well as the promise of United States support in the United Nations.

But, as Israeli Minister of Infrastructure Uzi Landau stated to the reporters, "All the American promises share a similar characteristic - they lack specifics, and are not carried out if they are found to be damaging to American interests." He goes on to state, "You see that the Americans are demanding that we come to a full agreement with the PA in order for the benefits to kick in. You only get the benefits in the event of a final-status agreement - only when everything is over." Furthermore Minister Landau was concerned that America's veto interest in the United Nations on behalf of Israel was now something that could be negotiated.

It is also interesting to note that the Palestinians are not happy with this newest American proposal since the 90-day building freeze does not include those areas around Jerusalem that the Palestinians claim as belonging to them. So, the likelihood of their coming to the negotiating table seems rather remote at best.

As of today, November 17, the Israeli Knesset has not voted on accepting this newest American proposal. Prime Minister Netanyahu is leaning in the direction of accepting it; a near majority of the members of the Knesset are opposed. Could this topple the Netanyahu coalition government? Quite possibly.

We need to be in prayer for the leadership within Israel. These are critically important days. We are instructed in Psalm 122 to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem." May God soon sent the Prince of Peace.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Canadians Got It Right!

Our President is now on another of his foreign junkets, this time to India, Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan. (I find it very interesting that in his first two years in office he has made numerous trips overseas, but he has never visited the nation of Israel. I wonder why?) His purpose is to shore up trade relations with those nations and to secure cooperation in the war against terror. Plus, he has had the opportunity of doing some tourist events - like visiting the Taj Mahal in India. He has made some statements that seem confusing to me. While in India he was asked why he was traveling in India because so many American jobs have been outsourced to India. There is even a network television program based upon this outsourcing. His response, "Well, he has helped create 50,000 jobs in India." How will those jobs help create jobs in our country? I don't know. Perhaps he will explain that when he returns on Sunday evening.

I find it very interesting that while our President is overseas visiting, among other places the nation with the largest Muslim population in the world, the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, is visiting our country. While addressing a large Jewish Convention meeting in New Orleans, the Prime Minister informed the audience that Israel would build another 1300 housing units in Jerusalem, primarily in what is known as East Jerusalem. Our President's response was swift, "This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations. I'm concerned that we're not seeing each side make the extra effort involved to get a breakthrough....Each of these incremental steps can end up breaking trust."

Let us review history for just a few moments. It was last December that the Israelis imposed a building moratorium both in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem in order to bring the Palestinians to the peace-table. That was what PA Chairman Abbas had demanded. Nine months elapsed with no inclination on the part of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to come to the table. Then, when Israel announced that it would not extend the building moratorium, the PA said that they would not come to the table unless the building freeze was extended. On September 26 that building freeze was lifted.

The Prime Minister's response to our President's statement was this: "Jerusalem is not a settlement; Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel." Good for him, for that indeed is what this city is. Although only recognized by the Israeli people and a few world governments (not the United States, I am saddened to say), all of Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

I read in Joel Rosenberg's blog today about the actions of Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. Listen to his words: "As long as I am prime minister, whether it is at the UN or the Francophonie or anywhere else, Canada will take that stand, whatever the cost. Not just because it is the right thing to do but because history shows us, and the ideology of the anti-Israeli mob tells us all too well, that those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are a threat to all of us." He went on to say, "When Israel, the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack, is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand." There is a lot about Canadian policies that I do not agree with, but with this one they hit the target squarely.

I have shared with you in previous blogs these past three years that I still believe in the promise God gave to Abraham nearly four millenniums ago: "Those who bless you I will bless; those who curse you I will curse." Let's see, would I rather be on the side of the blessing of God or the curses of God? The decision is not even close.

Continue to pray for the "peace of Jerusalem." We know it will happen when Jesus returns. Oh Lord hasten that return.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Persecution: It's Coming!

Yesterday was an historic day. The balance of power took a decidedly different look both in Washington and here in the state of Minnesota. The cry of "out with the old and in with the new" rang true in many places - among the exceptions were Nevada and California. The incoming class of freshman Representatives will be one of the largest in history. We can only hope that those elected yesterday will have their ears to the voices of the people. The American people still desire change, but they certainly spoke loudly yesterday that the change being offered the past two years was not the change they desired. Perhaps now we will truly see cooperation between the parties in Washington. I know a lot of prayer was offered for the election yesterday. But it is not time to stop; we need to pray even harder now for those who have been elected.

Earlier this week news from Iraq sounded a tragic note. Reports vary as to total casualties, but we know that over 50 people died and nearly that number were injured when a radical Islamic faction took over an Iraqi Church. The casualties were incurred when commandos stormed the church to free the hostages. Then, yesterday an Arab Church in East Jerusalem - founded by the Christian and Missionary Alliance nearly a century ago - was firebombed. Suspects include a radical extremist Jewish sect. Fortunately a group of tourists who were staying in the church escaped unharmed.

Persecution is becoming increasingly more common around the world. Christians have become the target of every radical extremist group. And I wonder how much longer before similar events will be happening here in our country. Christians are the centerpiece of the late-night comedians. Christians are often portrayed on both the big-screen and the small-screen as people who are out of balance. Christians are known as being so intolerant and narrow-minded. So far Christians have escaped loss of life for taking a stand for Christ.

I have been working on a message for November 14 - International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. It is based on Matthew 5:10-12 where Jesus invokes a blessing upon those who are persecuted for the cause of righteousness. In fact, this statement is the capstone of the Beatitudes. It is as if Jesus is saying to us, "Better expect persecution so as to respond to it appropriately." But, we have not come to expect persecution. Persecution happens in China, in Indonesia, in the Arab world, and in South America. But persecution is coming. In my study for the message I was drawn to the words of Jesus to His disciples: "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." (John 15:18-20)

We are not to be seeking the approval of the world. The world's system is not God's system. The way the world conducts its business is not the way God's people ought to conduct the business of reaching the world. The Church marches to the drumbeat of Someone greater. Yet, sadly, the Church has tried to reach the world by adopting the world's practices. It is as if we were saying, "If we become like you, will you be inclined to become like us?" And the response has been a resounding "no!" The more the Church becomes like the world, the less it has to offer to the world. And what we have to share with the world is Jesus Christ - the very One that the world crucified on a cross; the very One that the world falsely accused of blasphemy; the very One that the world hated with a passion, unless He was feeding them or healing their sick. Throughout the history of the Church, those times when the Church was most successful in its witness for Christ were those times when it so strongly differed from the world that it was persecuted because of the difference.

Churches commandeered in Iraq and firebombed in East Jerusalem. When will we begin experiencing this in the United States? I believe it will happen when the Church begins to take a stand for truth and for the Word of God. May God help prepare us for those coming days.

Just a reminder to those of you living in the Greater Des Moines area. This coming Friday evening and Saturday morning (November 5-6), I will be sharing in a Prophecy Conference at Westchester Evangelical Free Church. Friday night begins at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday morning at 9:00 a.m. I would love to connect with you while there.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Shocking News! There Is No Longer a Chosen People!

Are all God's promises still valid for us today? Or have some of them expired? Or have some of them been rendered invalid? When it comes to Israel, the debate over God's promises becomes a testy one, often resulting in heated arguments.

At a recent meeting of the Synod of Bishops at the Special Assembly for the Middle East, the Greek-Melkite Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros of Newton, MA, said "the concept of the promised land cannot be used as a base for the justification of the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of Palestinians." He further stated that "sacred Scripture should not be used to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestine." The archbishop further stated that "There is no longer a chosen people."

Did you read that correctly - NO LONGER A CHOSEN PEOPLE? Wait a minute! Has someone told God about this? Has someone shared with Him that He no longer has a chosen people? Has someone explained to Him that, because of the current situation in the Middle East, He no longer can have a chosen people? Have you ever heard of anything more blasphemous than that statement - "There is no longer a chosen people?"

Have we forgotten the promises that God made to Abraham concerning descendants (which would be greater than the sand on the seashore and the stars in the sky) and a certain piece of property that bordered the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea linking three continents of the world? Furthermore God stated that these were "forever" promises. Now, does "forever" have an ending? Can we safely state that "forever" will run out in the year.......? Of course not! "Forever" is just that - forever. And this "forever" promise was reiterated to Isaac and to Jacob and to the people of Israel through Moses and Joshua. It was affirmed through the centuries by judges and prophets.

Somehow today we have become smarter than God, or at least we think we have. So now we can declare, "There is no longer a chosen people!" Nonsense. I think it would be easier to change a leopard's spots than to nullify one of God's promises. Furthermore, if His promise concerning Israel being His chosen people is no longer valid, then how can we accurately state that His promises concerning our salvation are still valid? Perhaps those have been nullified as well.

The problem is that Israel is settling on land they justifiably took during the 1967 Six-Day War and then successfully defended during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. I find it very strange that the world community does not demand that North Viet nam give up its claim to South Viet nam. Seems to me that the same principle applies - the North Vietnamese won the war. Israel has willingly given control over certain portions of their land to the Palestinians. What have they received from these peace-offerings? A continual state of terror and threat of war. Yet the present Israeli government is willing to negotiate.

So, is there no longer a chosen people? God forbid! as the Apostle Paul would say. I doubt if we will ever understand why God chose the Hebrews to bear His name before the world, but we cannot deny that He made that choice. It is not for us to debate their validity, but to accept it. And they will continue to be His chosen people long after the Archbishop from Newton, MA has disappeared from the world's stage.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Of Bees, Pop, Grandsons, and Biblical Truth

Our daughter, Beth, and her two boys were with us for a few days a couple of weeks ago. They live in Dallas, TX and had come up for my Mother's 85th birthday celebration. One day we drove to a nearby orchard to select some pumpkins and to enjoy all that an orchard in the fall offers. As Ethan - he is 8 years old - and I sat on a picnic table, we noticed a yellow-jacket trying to get into a nearby partially empty soda can. We watched him first fly and land on the top of the can, then fly away. Soon he would return and the routine would start all over again.

Ethan said, "Grandpa, what is that bee trying to do?" I responded, "Ethan, he wants to get into the can because he wants the sweet pop that is left inside." "Well, what will happen if he gets inside?" Ethan replied. I said, "He will die!" Then Ethan asked the most important question, "Grandpa, if he will die, then why does he want to get inside?"

How would you respond at that moment with an 8-year old grandson? I knew God had given me an unique moment to share a biblical truth with him. I said, "Ethan, the pop inside that can is like sin. And that bee is like you and me. Sin always looks like something we want. And we say to ourselves, 'If only we can have it.' But, when we finally get inside the can, we find the effect of the sin to only be death." Then I reminded Ethan of that verse, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus" (Romans 6:23).

I hope my grandson will remember that illustration always. Sin is attractive. When was the last time you saw a television ad for beer showing broken families or broken bodies lying on the highway? Of course those ads don't exist; they show people having a great time laughing and having fun. Sin is always wrapped up in shiny ribbon, just as that pop was contained in a shiny can. But, once the wrappings are removed, we see the deadliness of what is inside. Yes, sin is death!

But praise God there is an answer that is found in the person of Jesus Christ. His death provided the antidote for sin, and it is 100% effective. And this gift is free to anyone who would call upon Him.

Don't be like that bee finally succumbing to the temptations of the pop inside the can. He would never be freed from it alive. But, rather accept the free gift God has given you in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. He will help you to see through the wrappings to the dangers of the sin inside.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

More Thoughts on Middle East Peace

Have you been paying attention to what is happening in the Middle East in recent days? From a biblical perspective these are exciting days. Let me share why.

For what has seemed like decades the Israelis and the Palestinians have been negotiating about a two-state solution. At times there have been more bullets in the air than words around a table, but that is sort of the mentality of Middle East negotiations. In early September the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority Chairman Abbas met in Washington DC to begin face-to-face negotiations. Two weeks later the two met in Sharm-el-Sheik, Egypt to continue the dialogue, with more negotiations later that same week in Jerusalem. But since that time, the dialogue has ceased with the rhetoric becoming increasingly more intense.

To further compound a delicate situation, on September 26 the Israeli government lifted the self-imposed 10 month construction freeze on settlements within Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). Of course this aroused the ire of the Palestinians who had only decided to come to the negotiating table after nine-months of the freeze had expired. They have stipulated that they will not continue any face-to-face dialogue unless the freeze is extended. Interestingly, this past weekend, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu offered a two-month extension of the freeze; the only condition being that the Palestinians recognize Israel as being a Jewish State.

What do you think has been the response of PA Chairman Abbas? Of course it is a resounding "no!" Once the Arabs recognizes Israel as being a Jewish State they have lost all their leverage on the issue of "right to return," one of the critical components of any peace deal for the Arabs. They are demanding that the descendants of those Arabs who left their homes during the 1948-49 War of Independence be allowed back to their ancestral homes. This numbers several millions of Arabs. But, if Israel is recognized as being a state for Jews...well, you get the picture.

Chairman Abbas has threatened to resign as head of the Palestinian Authority, which, if he does, will throw the West Bank into chaos. Elections will undoubtedly be held and the great fear is that Hamas will be the great victor. You remember what happened when they took over the Gaza Strip back in 2007.

If Israel sees her existence being threatened not only from Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah along the northern border, but from Hamas along a long front in Judea and Samaria (West Bank), Israel will go to war. It will almost be forced to do so for survival. Now, does this sound familiarly similar to what the ancient choir director Asaph recorded in Psalm 83? Of course it does.

Now, just to make things really interesting, today (October 13) the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is traveling for a state-visit to Lebanon. (You might remember from other blogs that Hezbollah is being financed by Iran). Tomorrow he has asked for permission to travel to the border between Israel and Lebanon. He wants to throw some stones across the border. I guess he needs to get rid of his anti-Semitic aggression. One person, jokingly said to me, "I hope someone shoots him." My response, "You had better hope that not happen! That would be the prelude to World War III." For it was just something like this that ignited World War I.

Friends, if you would wake up tomorrow morning and hear on the Today Show that war had broken out in the Middle East, please don't be surprised. All the elements are in place for such a war. The only thing that is missing is the match that will light the fuse. Yet, we must not be distressed because God is still in control. His plan is being accomplished. His will is being done. Israel's victorious war over her enemies would be just another step toward the establishment of the King upon His Throne.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Of Worms, Computers, Peace-Talks and War

It has been especially quiet on the Iranian nuclear front in recent weeks. There was much build up to the mid-August fueling of the Bushehr nuclear plant by the Russians. Yet, now we read that that plant will probably not be in operation for another two months at least. The reason: a worm called Stuxnet. Yes, I know you have not heard of that worm before, and neither had I. It is not a worm that lies in the soil, but finds its living quarters within the hard drives of computers. Yes, the great computers operating the nuclear machinery of Bushehr fell victim to this worm. And the interesting thing about this worm is that the more a person, or in this case a nation, worked to correct the worm, the more damage the worm caused. How did this computer worm get into Iran? That is the unanswered question; but we know that it came via the route of China, India, and Indonesia. Many believe that it was a collaborative effort between the United States and Israel. This might possibly be true. Computers within nuclear facilities in Iran may be protected from "bunker-busting" bombs, but not worms.

Some have asked where the Middle East peace talks stand. Right now they are on an indefinite hold. Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Abbas was meeting in Cairo today with the leaders of the Arab League. He is strongly urging them to back his leaving the peace table because Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu lifted the construction freeze in Judea and Samaria and in East Jerusalem. I was so grateful that the Israeli PM honored the pledge he had made to the Israeli people last winter when he announced the freeze. It is time that someone call the Palestinian bluff. Do the Palestinians really want peace? Let's see: yesterday rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip into the surrounding Israeli farmlands. Fortunately there were no injuries or serious damage. Is that a sign of peace? Riots occurred over the weekend in East Jerusalem with cars being burned and rocks being thrown. Is that a sign of peace? Sadly, even Jews on the far-left are joining in those who wish to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Is that a sign of peace? King Abdullah of Jordan stated last week that, unless the peace talks resumed and the building freeze was reinstated, the region could be engulfed in war before the end of the year. Is that a sign of peace?

I believe that we are continuing to see the build up toward what is known as the Psalm 83 War. (For those of you who live in the Des Moines, IA area, I will be speaking at Westchester Evangelical Free Church on Friday evening, November 5, on this very topic. You can contact the church for times and directions. I will also be speaking that evening on the War of Gog and Magog - Ezekiel 38-39; on Saturday morning the topics will be "How the End Will Come" and "A Timeline for the End Times"). Who knows perhaps we will be in the midst of another Middle War by then. Seriously, the Palestinians do not want a Jewish state on what they consider to be their land. They will only be satisfied when Israel is driven into the sea. All this peace-talk is merely posturing so that the ultimate destruction of the nation of Israel might be realized.

Keep looking up. Keep listening for the trumpet. I believe it will soon sound. Are you ready to meet Jesus?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dancing with the Creator

I never cease to be amazed at what I can learn from studying the feasts and festival cycles of Israel. For years I simply paid no attention to their significance, even though I taught Old Testament classes in both churches and college classroom settings. My response was usually, "These are for Israel and not for us today." Now I have learned that that response was only half correct: yes, the feasts and festival cycles were given for Israel to guide them in their relationship with a holy God; but, also yes, they can share much with us today.

Last year I made a determined effort to read through the Torah - the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Pentateuch or the Books of Moses - as they were being read in the synagogues around the world. I found a brief devotional book, written by a young rabbi, who shared thoughts associated with each of the scripture portions. God literally began to open those often difficult portions of Scripture to my heart. I began to notice truths I had not seen before. Perhaps it was because I was taking time to ponder those passages in a new way.

Today marks the final day of the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot. Tonight will be the final meal served in the sukkahs and then they will be dismantled and put away for another year, much like we do our Christmas decorations at the end of December. But there is one final event to mark the end of Tabernacles. It is known as Simchat Torah, or the Rejoicing in the Torah.

Friday will mark the observation of this special day. On this day the Torah scrolls will be removed from the "aron kodesh" (holy ark) - the place where the scrolls are contained in the synagogues - and will be embraced and celebrated with dancing and rejoicing. Priestly blessings are recited with many synagogues huddling all the children under the tallit (prayer shawl) to receive the words Jacob gave to his children so many years ago, as recorded in Genesis 48:16).

Friends, when was the last time you held the Word of God in your arms and danced in joy before the Lord because of it? If you are honest as I was, it has never been done. Somehow I never think of handling the Word and dancing as being related. But, remember David danced before the Ark of the Lord. The Psalmist said that God turns our mourning into dancing. The Word of God is to be our joy. Perhaps we could learn something from our Jewish friends and clasp the Word in our arms and rejoice over it. Perhaps then it will become for us more than just another book, but what it truly is - the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God!

As part of Simchat Torah, the final Torah portion for the year will be read - the closing two chapters in Deuteronomy, and the first Torah portion for the coming year will also be read - the opening chapters in Genesis.

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Ancient words. Words read every year about this time. Words expounded upon by many rabbis in synagogue services this weekend. Yet words that carry a new sense of excitement and wonder. God created! Things did not happen by chance! There was no magic pool from which life began! There was no lightning strike that ignited the protein molecules and sent them on their way! (I always wondered where the lightning came from and how the protein molecules got into that pool and, for that matter, how the pool came to be - never got any answers!)

I would encourage you, sometime this weekend, to reread Genesis 1 and 2 and give some reflection to the powerful truth that God is your Creator. Perhaps you might want to take a stroll in the woods - in Minnesota this is truly one of the most amazing season - and praise God for creating such brilliant colors. Celebrate the Word and your Creator! Perhaps that will be your personal Simchat Torah!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Chag Sukkot Sameach"

Sunset this evening will begin the seven day Jewish celebration known as Sukkot - the Feast of Tabernacles. So I want to wish each of you a "Chag Sukkot Sameach" - "A joy-filled Sukkot."

This is the final festival in a month of important Jewish events. You might remember that on September 8-9 was Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. That was followed on September 17-18 with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. We conclude this first month of the Jewish calendar - Tishrei - with this celebration.

The Feast of Tabernacles or Booths was one of the three so-called "pilgrimage feasts" cited in the Bible. All Jewish males were to make the trek to Jerusalem for this time of remembering God's provisions during the forty-years wandering in the wilderness. One aspect of this feast was that the Israelites were to erect booths - sukkot. In such structures all meals will be eaten and men will sleep. The sukkot are made of various materials - including wooden panels, curtains, even cardboard - and the roofs are covered with branches, allowing enough opening so that the stars are visible. Today some sukkot are very elaborate, while others are very simple; it all depends upon the resources available. Moses commanded the people in Leviticus 23:42-43: "Live in booths for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in booths so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God."

Another aspect of Chag Sukkot is the recitation of blessings over the Four Species that represent four types of Jews that comprise the people of Israel. These include the etrog (citron) - a fruit that has a good taste and fragrance, representing those people who have both good deeds and are filled with the wisdom of the Torah. The second Species is the lulav (palm frond) - it is edible, but has no fragrance, representing those people who have the wisdom from the Torah but are lacking in good deeds. The third Species is the hadassim (myrtle tree sprigs) - these have a very good fragrance but cannot be eaten, thus representing those people who have good deeds but lack wisdom from the Torah. The fourth Species is the aravot (branches from the red willow) - branches that have no taste and no fragrance, thus representing people who lack both wisdom and good deeds. Yet, on this particular occasion, all of these people come together to represent the entire people of Israel.

I find it fascinating that the Jewish year begins with two closely aligned celebrations. Yom Kippur is a reminder that only God can be our salvation; it is only through God that our sins can be atoned. The Sukkot is the reminder that God is the source of our provisions, as the people remember God's faithfulness during those 40 years of wilderness wandering. Think about those two truths for a moment: God is our salvation and God is our provision. What a great way to enter into a new year with those two thoughts upon hearts.

I know it is not time for our New Year. But I wonder what would happen if, during January, believers in Jesus Christ would take time to celebrate the salvation that we have in Him and to remember with joy the blessings we have in Christ. Perhaps then we might keep our focus upon Him more readily during the year.

So, once again I wish you a "chag sukkot sameach" - a "joy-filled sukkot."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Peace Talks: Who Is Driving the Car?

These are very interesting days if you are a prophetic watcher of the times. Peace talks continue today in Jerusalem between the Israeli government, headed by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and the Palestinian Authority - claiming to represent the Palestinian people, but that is hardly an unanimous acclamation, just ask Hamas - and their Chairman Abbas. Of course Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell are there representing American interests, or at least what they claim to be American interests - to be honest, they are not my interests.

The subject is peace in the Middle East. I know I have written on this topic almost endlessly since I began this "Christianity for Today" blog over two years ago. But, it is important, not only from the standpoint of today, but from a biblical one as well. Remember, the land whose division is being proposed is the land God gave to Israel as their forever inheritance. It was a promise God made to Abram in Genesis 13 and 17. And, friends, when God makes a promise He does not renege on it.

Since 1948, Israel has been a member of the family of nations in the world. Its birth was predicated upon being a home for Jews, especially those who survived the Holocaust. And, according to the Israeli Constitution, freedoms are accorded all people who live within its borders. There is room in Israel for both Arab and Jew. [You won't find that to be true regarding the Arab lands...they only have room for Jews in Gaza today]. Israel has been threatened and attacked by her neighbors; the 1967 Six-Day War resulted in Israel reclaiming much of the land that God had promised to her, including the Old City of Jerusalem. Armistices were declared creating a greater Israel. Of course the world did not recognize the fruits of war, still using terms like "West Bank" or "Occupied Territories" for identification. [I wonder if I live in an "occupied territory" here in Minnesota; land taken by force from the Indians who lived here first. Ouch! I know that steps on toes!]

Do the Palestinian leaders really want peace? Do they really want to create a Palestinian State that will live in harmony with its neighbor Israel? To gain an answer, I would encourage you to view some of the video clips offered by the Palestinian Media Watch. Just this past Sunday - remember this is only days before talks about peace resume - Fatah TV (run by Chairman Abbas) stated that even cities like Joppa and Haifa should belong to a Palestinian State. Also, on Sunday, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO, which is part of the Palestinian Authority, headed by Chairman Abbas) envoy to Iran stated that if the Arab world would unite the "complete eradication of the fabricated regime of Israel" would happen. Sounds like real interest in peace, doesn't it? Then, today the Palestinian Media Watch shared portions of a Fatah TV documentary released last Thursday for Rosh Hashana, that showed the Western Wall - Judaism's most holy site - and the text stated, "They (Israelis) know for certain that our (Arab) roots are deeper than their false history. We, from the balcony of our homes, look out over (Islamic) holiness and on sin and filth (referring to the Jews praying at the Western Wall)". Another real incentive for peace, don't you think?

Friends, what greatly disturbs me is the American attitude of conciliation toward the Palestinians. Chairman Abbas can do no wrong; Prime Minister Netanyahu is criticized at every turn. It is always pressure upon the Israeli government and the Israeli people to make concessions: give in to whatever demands the Palestinians place upon them. And what of Israeli demands of the Palestinians: forget those!

On this eve of Yom Kippur (which begins at sunset on Friday), the holiest day in Judaism, the day when the high priest would enter into the Holy of Holies and make atonement for the sins of the nation, Israel is positioned to be the sacrificial lamb so the world might have peace. Will there be peace? There might be a document of peace signed by all parties; but that will not mean peace! The Arab world will not recognize peace until Israel is driven into the sea. Peace can only come with the Prince of Peace arrives in Jerusalem to claim the throne that is rightly His! Until that time comes, we will watch with interest the "pseudo-peace" talks in the city of the King.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Shana tova on this Rosh Hashana

"Shana tova" to all of you and a Happy New Year. No, I have not lost my marbles, although I think I might have misplaced a few or they have gotten glued together. Today is Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the year 5771 on the Hebrew calendar. Actually it begins at sundown this evening. So, if you hear trumpets sounding in your neighborhood, I want you to know what it is all about.

In the Bible this celebration is called the Feast of Trumpets. Leviticus 23:23-25 states: "The LORD said to Moses, 'Say to the Israelites: "On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the LORD by fire."'" Rosh Hashana occurs on the first day of the month Tishri, which is the seventh month in the Jewish calendar. It is a two day celebration. The festival begins with the blowing of the trumpets or shofar, thus the name Feast of Trumpets. One of the traditions for the Rosh Hashana is the dipping of apples into honey, expressing the strong desire that the coming year be filled with sweetness. Also, the bread bakers produce round loaves of the challah bread, representing the circular aspect of time - another year has come.

In the Jewish Talmud - the ancient rabbinical commentary on the Torah - the rabbis suggested that the world was created during the month of Tishri; others taught that man, himself, was created on Rosh Hashana.

The term Rosh Hashana means "head of the year." And the greeting "Shana tova" literally means "the year is good." There is something about the way the Jews express their ideas that I find fascinating. We go around on January 1 and say "Happy New Year." But, will the year be filled with happiness? It usually is not, as problems, heart-aches, and difficulties arise. The Jews are not oblivious to the problems that will come during the year either. But, in their greeting of "the year is good" there is the hint of a purpose, I believe. "The year is good" because it is another year given by God. "The year is good" because we will find purpose during our traversing through it. We may not know what the year will hold, but we do know that important lessons will be learned, friendships will be established, life will become fuller because of the year; thus the "year is good".

So, my friends, "Shana tova" and welcome to the year 5771. May it be a time of renewed commitment to Christ. May you know the goodness that comes from the hand of the Lord.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Let There Be Peace...?

How should we define the word "peace" today? Is it merely the absence of armed conflict? If all the armies and navies in the world suddenly disarmed themselves would there be peace? Or, is peace merely the good intentions of trying to live together in harmony? We often say that peace comes into a family when Mom and Dad and the kids no longer are shouting at each other. If the world stopped "shouting at each other" would there be peace?

The dictionary defines peace: 1. freedom from war or civil strife; 2. a treaty or agreement to end war; 3. freedom from public disturbance or disorder; public security; law and order; 4. freedom from disagreement or quarrels; harmony; concord; 5. an undisturbed state of mind; absence of mental conflict; serenity; 6. calm; quiet; tranquillity. If I could summarize these definitions, I think one could say that "peace is the absence of any problem that causes people to be at odds with one another."

Peace is NOT a signed peace treaty. Following the surrender of Confederate General Robert E Lee, the armed conflict known as the Civil War stopped, but the hatred continued for years and, in some respects, continues even until today. Treaties, in and of themselves, do not bring peace. Just ask the Israelis who thought peace was finally theirs following the 1993 Oslo Accords being signed ending a long six-year Palestinian Intifadah. But, just because signatures were on the paper did not bring peace.

I have been thinking about how the world goes about providing for peace. This is probably because of what is taking place in Washington DC today and tomorrow. As you know - or at least you should know - President Obama has invited the leaders of the Palestinians and the Israelis, along with the heads of State for Jordan and Egypt, to our nation's capital to begin dialogues about peace. The goal is to have peace in the region within one year's time. (Now remember that the Arabs have threatened and attacked Israel since that May 14, 1948, day when Israel was born...62 years of hatred and violence. And this will be resolved in a year?!)

From accounts I have read the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is coming with a list of pre-conditions, although no pre-conditions have been invited to the table. He wants Israel to continue the building freeze in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). He wants Jerusalem to be divided and patrolled by an international police force. And, he has threatened to walk out on the talks should his demands not be met. Does he want to be there? Not really. And, I believe in yesterday's attack by Hamas upon a car carrying four innocent Jewish civilians near Hebron and causing their deaths, we have the response of many Palestinians. Their only wish is for Israel to disappear back into Europe's ghettos (remember Helen Thomas's famous statement) or into the sea (the wishes of Iran's leader).

On the other hand, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is under pressure from many back in Israel that he return immediately because of that attack. This would be a strong statement that the Israelis will not dialogue unless and until safety is guaranteed to every Israeli. So far the only thing the Prime Minister has done is to issue a statement strongly denouncing that murderous act.

A new treaty will not bring peace to Jerusalem, the Middle East, nor any other place. An international police force will not cause the citizens of Jerusalem to rest more easy. Supplying the latest military hardware to Middle Eastern countries will not bring peace by creating a military standoff.

Friends, real peace will only come to Jerusalem, Israel, the Middle East, and the entire world when the Prince of Peace comes. He will then establish a government that people will trust and respect because it is founded upon the eternal principles of God. The ancient prophet Isaiah spoke of those days: "Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this" (Isaiah 9:7). Did you see those words "justice and righteousness?" "Righteousness" refers to the vertical component of life - to our relationship with God. When the Prince of Peace reigns, the world will be rightly configured with God through Him, thus resulting in peace. "Justice" refers to the horizontal component of life - to our relationships with others. When the Prince of Peace reigns, the world will be rightly configured with each other, thus resulting in lasting peace.

Until that day, the world will continue playing the game of "finding peace." More treaties will be created and signed - many of them broken within hours of the signing ceremonies. More conferences will be called to discuss peace with resolutions being passed to promote peace, only to have the peace shattered with an act of violence.

Let me close with a statement Jesus made to His disciples upon a mountainside in Galilee. It is the seventh Beatitude: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for their will be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9). It is the will of God that we should help people find peace. That peace comes when we lead them to Jesus who, through forgiving of their sins, truly sets them free. And that peace comes when we help people to be reconciled to one another.

Let there be peace...? Absolutely a worthy goal, but not attainable until Jesus comes!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Iran Is Now Nuclear - What's Next?

The past ten days have been interesting as one continues to observe the defiance of Iran to the demands of the rest of the civilized world. Suspense built last week as the Russians announced that they would begin fueling the nuclear reactor at Bushehr on August 21. You might remember that this was the nuclear plant that they began building in Iran nearly a decade ago. Almost immediately the former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, stated that Israel would have to do something before those fuel rods were placed into the reactor. If Israel failed to launch an attack against the Bushehr facility, then the world would have to live with the knowledge that Iran had joined the handful of nations possessing the capabilities of having a nuclear weapon. Saturday, August 21, came and went. National news media showed pictures as the rods were placed into the reactor; Israel never sent its military aircraft to Bushehr. Had Israel accepted the fact of a nuclear Iran?

The answer came in an article written by Jeffrey Goldberg and published in the "Atlantic Monthly". He wrote that there was a better than 50-50 ;chance that Israel would attack Iran after next July, but that many Israeli officials believed a better solution to the Iranian nuclear threat would be an American strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. Goldberg wrote that the Holocaust echo of "Never Again" will cause Israel to strike Iran, even without seeking US permission. The alternative would be the Iranian annihilation of the Jewish State. So, is Israel just biding time? As the pages of the calendar of 2011 begin to turn, we will learn the answer.

In the past few days Iran has been showing off its new military weapons. One was is the unmanned bomber aircraft that has been named "ambassador of death." It is capable of carrying up to four cruise missiles and has a range of 620 miles -not able to hit Israel yet. And yesterday (August 24) Iran tested a new version of its Fateh missile. With a range of only 125 miles, it is not a threat to Israel. But, hold that thought. According to Iranian sources, Lebanon has requested military hardware from Iran for its Lebanese army. This comes after the United States Congress ordered a halt to the $100 million in military aid pledged to Lebanon. The reason cited for this weapons cancellation was fear that American military hardware would come into the possession of Hizbollah militants, who form a good portion of the regular Lebanese army. So, now that 125 mile range missile becomes an immediate threat to Israeli security.

One final thought. September 2 will be an important day in the on-and-off peace-negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been invited to Washington to begin direct face-to-face dialogues. Also present will be Egyptian President Mubarek and Jordanian King Abullah. There will be lots of photo ops, but very little substance. The Palestinians are coming to the table only because the United States has told them to come. They want all construction in East Jerusalem and in Samaria and Judea to cease...Israel has said "that won't happen." In spite of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remark that peace can be achieved in less than a year, I wouldn't take that as fact. Both sides have been here before. And, in each instance, the Palestinians have walked away. But it will make for some interesting media events.

I keep reminding myself that God is in control. Almost daily I am drawn to that powerful statement declared by a formerly pagan King Nebuchadnezzar: "The decision is announced by messengers; the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men" (Daniel 4:17). It took this King many years before he came to understand that truth that God was in charge, not him. This fact changed his life. This fact gives me peace today. It is time that we begin preparing for the celebration of the King!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bonhoeffer's Challenge Now Becomes Ours

I have been listening to a dramatized story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer produced by Focus on the Family. It is part of their Radio Theatre productions. (By the way, these are excellent. The seven part series on the Chronicles of Narnia are outstanding!) Some of you probably have read, or are at least familiar with, Bonhoeffer's classic work "The Cost of Discipleship." This really should be required reading for every believer.

But what struck me this morning as I was re-listening to this story was the fact of what happened in New York City when Bonhoeffer came as a student at Union Theological Seminary in 1930-31. There he became part of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and grew in friendship with an international cadre of students and religious leaders. It was there that he was confronted with racial discrimination and was faced with the question of how one people believed they had the right to rule over another.

One day a friend asked him a question that would forever change Bonhoeffer's theology and his world. The question was: "Dietrich, if you are forced to choose between obedience to your government or obedience to the Scriptures and to Jesus Christ, whom will you choose?" At that moment in time events were already transpiring in Germany that caused many to fear as to Hitler's intents; but Dietrich waved them off casually as being just emotions of the moment. But still that seed was planted.

As you might remember, Dietrich became a leader in what was known as the Confessing Church, that part of the Lutheran body in Germany that did not subscribe to the teachings of the Nazis. Bonhoeffer became active in helping others to know what the Nazis really stood for. He was arrested and tried for treason, and in 1944 was hung for his crimes. Yes, he had to choose.

As I listened this morning that question, asked of Bonhoeffer that day in 1931, became very real to me. Our nation seems to be as theologically and ethically confused today as was Germany in the 1930s. The Church's voice has been more silent than it has been vocal toward the ills that are pervading our society today. Accommodation and toleration has become the operative words. Yet, on the horizon lies the imprint of a radical homosexual agenda. Will I speak out and speak biblical truth if the government rules that I could be arrested and imprisoned because of those words?

Friends, these are sobering times. Times for each one of us to re-evaluate our commitment to Christ. Will you and I have the boldness of a Peter and John who stated enthusiastically to the Sanhedrin, "We must obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5:29)? Or will we quietly walk away and yield to the will of those who rule over us?

You might be saying, "It won't happen here!" But that is precisely what Bonhoeffer thought in 1931; yet it happened. He had to make a choice; his choice cost him his life.

There is a line from an old hymn that speaks so powerfully: "Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid/Your heart, does the Spirit control?" Powerful questions for today's Christians. How will I answer? How will you answer?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Warning from the Minor Prophets

For the past three months I have been spending two days a week working through the Minor Prophets. I must admit that as I began I had no idea of what God might teach me from these often forgotten final books in the Old Testament. To be honest, in twenty-six years of preaching ministry I had only preached through four of them: Hosea, Jonah (of course, everyone preaches this book), Habakkuk, and Malachi. And, although I teach Minor Prophets as part of our "Cover-to-Cover" Bible Survey, I still felt uncomfortable with many of these books which had been part of the Old Testament canon for over two millennia.

Because God always honors His Word, my heart began to get both excited and challenged as I read and pondered biblical truth. One of the recurring themes, I found, has tremendous importance for the evangelical world today. That theme: the perils of a false religion.

Now, I know what you will respond: "I go to an evangelical, Bible-teaching church. That is certainly not a false religion." Perhaps you are correct; if so, praise God. But, perhaps your worship has become as routine as that of ancient Israel. Perhaps it is time that we listen to the prophets.

Both Hosea and Amos were prophets in the days of the Northern Kingdom. It was the closing days of the reign of Jeroboam II, a competent king who brought prosperity and peace to his kingdom. If you read carefully the account in Amos 6:4-7 one gets the picture of a people who have too much money, too much idle time, and too little purpose for living.

One of the areas of alarm for these men of God was the watering down of religion. The term used is that of syncretization. It is defined as the union of something false with something true. It was the marrying of paganism with the worship of God Himself. Hosea expresses it this way: "They consult a wooden idol and are answered by a stick of wood. A spirit of prostitution leads them astray; they are unfaithful to their God" (Hosea 4:12). Yet these same people continued the pretense of offering sacrifices to God: "When they go with their flocks and herds to seek the LORD, they will not find him; he has withdrawn himself from them" (Hosea 5:6).

Amos expresses this same truth with even more defined language: "Go to Bethel and sin; go to Gilgal and sin yet more. Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three years. Burn leavened bread as a thank offering and brag about your freewill offerings - boast of them, you Israelites, for this is what you love to do, declares the Sovereign LORD" (Amos 4:4-5). Bethel was the place where Jeroboam I had built his first altar to the calf-god he appointed to be Israel's god after the division of the kingdom. Gilgal, the place where Joshua led the people in a renewal of their covenant vows to God after crossing the Jordan River, had become a scene of mixed worship. Amos is declaring that the people performed religious rites so that they could boast about them: how wonderful their worship was, how many offerings were given on a particular day; how many people came. I wonder - don't we do something similar today? We meet with other ministry leaders and compare notes: how big is our congregation; what type of worship music do we use; how big is our budget; how many people we have on staff.

But then Amos is particularly clear about how God views this syncretistic, all-inclusive, focus-on-me worship: "I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps" (Amos 5:21-23). As I read these verses and others from the pens of these ancient spokesmen for God, I began to ponder what Hosea or Amos would say from God about our worship today. How much of what we do on a Sunday morning is mere ritual, done so thoughtlessly? How many of our songs are mere noise to God because we merely sing with our lips instead of from our hearts? How many of our sermons are focused on helping people feel good about themselves, rather than challenging them to become what God would desire them to be?

Friends, I don't have easy answers to these questions. But I am concerned about the direction the Church is going. Michael Horton in his masterful treatise titled, "Christless Christianity," (this is must reading) stated: "Instead of ambassadors, heralds, reporters, and witnesses, pastors become entrepreneurs, managers, coaches, therapists, marketing gurus, and communication specialists. With this transition, the focus necessarily falls on what we do and Jesus' s role is reduced to an example." He continues, "This means that much of our ministry today is law without gospel, exhortation without news, instruction without an announcement, deeds without creeds, with the accent on 'What Would Jesus Do?' rather than "What Has Jesus Done?' None of us is immune to this indictment that we are losing our focus upon, confidence in, and increasingly our knowledge of the greatest story ever told."

So, let us heed the warning from the prophets. Before society can change, the Church needs to change. It needs to rediscover its purpose. It needs to rediscover the Gospel. It needs to redefine its purpose for worship. It needs a new awakening with God!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Heat Is On in Israel

The heat is really building in Israel these days. Yes, it is one of the hottest summers on record there. Drought conditions are beginning to take a toll on some of the olive trees and other crops. Water, which is always a precious commodity even during cooler days, has become a critical issue. How much lower can the Sea of Galilee drop?

But heat is building in another way as well. As you may have heard, although many American news media ignored the story or simply tucked it away in the middle of the paper, the IDF (Israel Defense Force) was involved in a firefight with the regular Lebanese army along the border yesterday (August 3). According to some Jewish papers, the attack was a well-planned ambush by the Lebanese army, accompanied by media. The attack began when the IDF attempted to uproot several trees within Israeli territory in order to remove the branches that were interfering with the electronic detection devices. In the firefight, one IDF officer was struck in the head and died; another IDF officer was hit in the chest and is in serious condition. When the IDF returned fire, three Lebanese soldiers and one media journalist were killed. David Dolan, a former CBS reporter and now a free-lance journalist living in Israel, reported that, as a result of this attack, the Israeli military was on high alert.

Not only was there an attack on the northern border, but on Monday morning (August 2), the Israeli port city on the Gulf of Aqaba - Eilat -was hit with five Katyusha rockets. Thankfully, they caused no casualties and little damage. However, one rocket did strike the Jordanian city of Aqaba resulting in the death of one individual. This morning (Wednesday, August 4) Egyptian sources admitted that the rocket attack was launched from within Egyptian territory in the Sinai. Many suspect that Hamas was responsible.

Finally, this morning (Wednesday, August 4), the IDF killed a Gaza terrorist and wounded two others as they approached the security fence in Gaza. Just last Friday (July 30), IDF planes struck a Hamas stronghold, killing a Hamas commander. This followed a Hamas rocket attack on the Israeli city of Ashkelon, just north of the Gaza Strip.

Are these attacks mere coincidences? Was this a coordinated plan? Could this be the beginning of the next Middle East War - a war I refer to as the Psalm 83 War? Are the Egyptians involved in that war? Yes. Are the Lebanese involved? Yes. Is the Gaza Strip and Hamas involved? Yes. Is war an option on the table? At least according to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the answer is yes. According to the Palestinian Media Watch (July 18), Abbas told the Arab leaders that "If you want war, and if all of you will fight Israel, we are in favor. But the Palestinians will not fight alone because they don't have the ability to do it."

Friends, keep your Bibles open these days because God is literally bringing many of the Old Testament prophecies to life. Can the return of the King be that far away? Can the sounding of the trumpet be near? Stay tuned as God continues to reveal His story.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Of Timelines

As I sit and write this blog, the clouds are beginning to thicken and to grow darker gray with each passing minute. Right now - 6:00 p.m. CDT - it is 93 outside with a heat index of 104. Feels like the tropics. The storm clouds are gathering. The watches have been posted. The sirens are in place. It is summertime in Minnesota.

Today was our end of the month prophecy lunch. A group of about 30-35 of us meet twice a month to discuss current events in the light of prophetic truth. We have now completed our third year. Our eyes have been opened in a new way to see what God is doing in His world. We have become more aware of His sovereignty over the nations. We have not always been grateful for how God has directed - the 2008 elections being a case in point - but, nonetheless, we are confident that God is in control.

The topic for today was the continued development of our prophetic timeline. Today we waded through the book of Revelation in 90 minutes. We examined the time markers within the book, identifying three that are fairly concrete. The first is the beginning of the tribulation which is clearly defined for us, not in Revelation, but in Daniel 9:27. The tribulation will begin the moment the ink is dry on an agreement, a covenant, between the Antichrist and the nation of Israel. When will that occur? The Bible does not tell us, but there are many signs that point toward its being soon. The second concrete date is found in Revelation 11 and 13. We know it as the midpoint of the tribulation, or three and a half years after it begins. At that point, the two witnesses who have bothered the heck out of the Antichrist will be killed; the world will celebrate (you will notice in Revelation that this is the only occasion of celebration recorded during the time of the tribulation); the voice of heaven will summon these two into glory; and the Antichrist will then erect an image of himself in the temple and force everyone to worship him. The third and final concrete date is found in Revelation 19 and comes at the end when Jesus Christ comes to destroy the forces of evil at Armageddon and to claim His throne in Jerusalem.

Those are the only markers we have on our prophetic timeline. All the other events such as the Rapture of the Church, the Ezekiel 38-39 campaigns of Gog and Magog, the Psalm 83 War, and the events of the tribulation are placed on the timeline, not with a concrete absoluteness, but with an "I-think-so" based upon an understanding of the text.

While it is interesting to create and to discuss timelines of prophetic truth, the real focus is upon the various texts themselves. It is the Word of God that leads us to truth, not timelines of our creation.

If you are in the Twin Cities area on either the second or fourth Tuesday of the month, I extend an invitation for you to join us for one of these lunches. We meet from 11:30 until 1:00 p.m., or until the last question has been asked and the last comment has been made. The calendar is also posted on our website:

Keep looking to the sky. Storm clouds are on the horizon, not just for a physical storm, but the clouds that indicate the Lord is soon to return.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Thoughts on Tish B'Av

Everyday is a special day in that each one is a gift to us from God. How often do we take a day for granted. We just assume that we will wake up in the morning and go to bed in the evening. For many of us, days become just that...days. We fight the traffic on the way to our office, fulfill our responsibilities, fight the traffic on our return trip home, swallow a meal without thinking, then head off to the gym or to a meeting of some type or other, finally ending in bed for a fitful sleep. We awaken in the morning and begin all over again.

But what if days took on a new meaning? What if there was a specialness about some of the days? Well, today, July 20, is one of those special days in Judaism. It is known as Tish B'Av - the ninth day of the month Av. Yes, I can hear what you are thinking...what does this Tish B'Av have to do with me; I am not Jewish? You are correct, but I hope that, after you hear about Tish B'Av, you will have a better understanding of why this is an important day in Israel and in Judaism.

According to Jewish history and tradition, it was on this day in 586 BC, that the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the first temple as well as the city of Jerusalem. This came as a consequence of Israel's rebellion against God and their forsaking of the covenant God had made with them. The captivity in Babylon would last for seventy years. Another temple would be built, first by Zerubabbel, then expanded by King Herod the Great. This was the temple that Jesus visited on numerous occasions, including twice when He drove out the money-changers. Jesus told His disciples that this temple, too, would be destroyed. And, on the same day - Tish B'Av - the Romans, under Titus, destroyed the temple and the city of Jerusalem. So both the first and second temples were destroyed on the same day...just 656 years apart.

Troubles seem to have their beginnings for the Jews on this day. On Tish B'Av in 1095, Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade which resulted in the murder of over 10,000 Jews by eager Christians on their way to liberate the Holy Land. It was on this day, in 1492, that all the Jews were expelled from Spain by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (of Christopher Columbus fame). It was on Tish B'Av that World War I began in 1914, that resulted in the devastation of Europe and set the stage for the rise of Hitler and Nazism. And it was on Tish B'Av in 1942 that the mass deportation of Jews began from the Warsaw Ghetto en route to Treblinka.

This is a day of fasting and mourning for our Jewish friends as they remember the anguish caused by this day throughout their history. On Tish B'Av, there is no eating or drinking (it is a fast day); no washing or bathing; no application of creams or body oils; and no sexual relations. As part of the rituals for Tish B'Av is the reading of the Book of Lamentations. You will remember that this book was written by Jeremiah in 586 BC as he watched the destruction of his beloved city of Jerusalem. Perhaps at least parts of this book were written on Tish B'Av.

But it is with Lamentations that I wish now to turn for a few moments. This is a book of death and destruction; of judgment because of sins. It is not an easy book to read, nor is it a particularly exciting book to teach or to preach from. Yet, almost smack-dab in the middle of this book of holocaust proportions are these words: "Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.' The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young." (Lamentations 3:22-27).

Do you hear what Jeremiah is saying? Everyday is a special day because everyday is filled with the newness of God. Ordinary days with God? Hardly! They are filled with His presence and reminders of His faithfulness. Boring days with God? Hardly! They are only boring because we are not watching with expectations for those acts of God's faithfulness.

Tish B'Av - a day of fasting and mourning for our Jewish friends. But it is also a day when we are reminded that God is still faithful to His Word and to His promises. So, enjoy this day and tomorrow and the day after that, etc. as being a gift from Him.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Obama and Netanyahu: A Photo Op or Real Substance?

Yesterday, July 6, President Obama welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House. Unlike the previous five visits over the course of the past 14 months, our President rolled out the red carpet for the leader of the only democratic government in the Middle East. You might remember that earlier this year, when the Prime Minister was at the White House, President Obama left him for a dinner engagement and basically told the Prime Minister to call when he was ready to talk. Tensions then increased between the American and Israeli governments.

Yesterday, however, was a piece of scripted perfection. As Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, said, there were more photographers at the White House than had been at the Academy Awards ceremony this spring. The photos of both leaders adorned with smiles and engaged in a hefty hand-shake dotted the front pages of the major newspapers around the world. This indicated that all is now well...correct?

As I have had the opportunity of reading several international papers this morning, particularly from Israel, I am left wondering at exactly what was said during their 79 minute talk. What conclusions did these two leaders reach on resolving the nuclear threat from Iran? What promises were made concerning the settlement issue in east Jerusalem and the West Bank? What timetables were established for the continuation of talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians toward a two-state solution? Reporters are unsure as to what was discussed. But the platitudes flowed freely from the lips of both the President and the Prime Minister. You might have thought that they were bosom friends.

I have a guarded caution about yesterday's meeting. I am well aware that political leaders have a propensity for telling the press and the people what they want to hear. Accolades are spoken and promises made that merely linger on the lips. The track record of the Obama Administration with regard to Israel has certainly not been consistent. He has told one thing to the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, when he visited Washington in June. Now he declares American fidelity to Israel. One would like for the real Barak Obama to step forward.

Friends, the more I read the Old Testament prophets, the more I am becoming increasingly aware that the nation of Israel will be isolated from the world community before Jesus Christ comes to claim His throne. Their only ally will be God Himself. Of course He is the best ally for anyone to have. Therefore I am not surprised at how America is distancing itself from Israel. It is part of God's prophetic plan.

Before I sign off I want to just remind you of one significant passage. It is Joel 3:2 - "I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will enter into judgment against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel, for they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land." Did you notice that last phrase? God will judge the nations because they "divided up His land." Two states? God says, "NO!" A divided Jerusalem? God says, "NO!" Just something to think about.

I will be taking a couple of weeks off from my blog, spending some time with our family in Texas. But, remember to keep your eyes focused upon the Word of God and keep your ears in readiness to listen for the trumpet. It could sound any day. "Come quickly, Lord Jesus!"

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Prophet Micah and Today's God

I have been spending some quality time this week working through the Book of Micah. As I have shared with you before, my favorite book in the Bible is Isaiah. What a grand book that is! And, when I teach Old Testament Survey, I devote almost an entire evening just to Isaiah. And I have always apologized to Micah, whose book is also taught that same evening. Well, after my time this week, I just may have to rescind that apology and spend more time sharing with my students the wonderful truths that flow from his pen.

Micah was a contemporary with Isaiah. While the latter was engaged in sharing with Hezekiah and the court, Micah was out working the streets. His was a message that the laypeople truly needed to hear. It is full of judgment, yet also hope, especially as built around the Shepherd-King would come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Micah also describes Him as the Breaker-King (Micah 2:13).

But, one passage that greatly intrigued me was Micah 2:6 -' "Do not prophesy," their prophets say. "Do not prophesy about these things; disgrace will overtake us." ' The religious leaders are highly critical of Micah's message and demand that he stop his preaching immediately. Their reason being that what Micah is preaching is running counter to what they are proclaiming. If I could paraphrase this verse it would say, "Micah, stop your preaching immediately. You are making us look bad in front of the people."

Now, as I read this passage, my heart immediately raced toward those words of the Apostle Paul to his young colleague Timothy. You remember those words: "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths" (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Is that not exactly what is happening today? People attend church and want to leave feeling good. I call it "the I'm OK, you're OK" Syndrome. Don't rock the boat! Don't make people feel uncomfortable! Don't challenge their thinking! Don't encourage them to have a life-change!

Recently I read an article written by R. Albert Mohler, president of Southwest Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The article was titled, "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism - the New American Religion." You can read the article at: Allow me to share a few quotes from the article, which was based on research done by Christian Smith and the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill).

"As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth. (You might remember that song from years ago titled, God is Watching Over Us from a Distance - my note). 2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions. 3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. 4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem. 5. Good people go to heaven when they die." Friends, I think that is a pretty apt description of what most preaching is like today. Let's make our congregants feel good about themselves. Let's assure them that all is well!

The article continued: "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is also about providing therapeutic benefits to its adherents. As the researchers explained, 'This is not a religion of repentance from sin, of keeping the Sabbath, of living as a servant of sovereign divinity, of steadfastly saying one's prayers, of faithfully observing high holy days, of building character through suffering, of basking in God's love and grace, of spending oneself in gratitude and love for the cause of social justice, et cetera. Rather, what appears to be the actual dominant religion among U.S. teenagers is centrally about feeling good, happy, secure, at peace. It is about attaining subjective well-being, being able to resolve problems, and getting along amiably with other people.'"

So, who is this Moralistic Therapeutic Deistic god? "In short, God is something like a combination of Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes cares of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process."

This is the god of today's young people. This is the god that they will bring into the churches they elect to attend as adults. This is the god they will rely upon in their hour of crisis. Yet, this god is just as pagan as were the idols that were paraded down the streets of Jerusalem during the days of Micah. Perhaps it is time for us to be as confrontation as was Micah. After all the real God did not call us to achieve success in a popularity poll. He has called us to be salt and light - salt, which irritates, and light, which exposes. Neither is particularly pleasant, but, if the world is to hear truth, we must recommit ourselves to being just that.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Small People

Last Wednesday, June 16, after a day of intense grilling in the White House, the Chairman of British Petroleum, better known as BP, Carl-Henric Svanberg, stopped and delivered a statement to reporters. Then he decided to respond to a few questions. Among the comments that he made were these: "He (speaking of President Obama) is frustrated because he cares about the small people and we care about the small people. ... I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don't care. But that is not the case in BP. We care about the small people."

Immediately the media had a hay-day with that term "small people." They accused the Chairman of being insensitive to the small business owners along the Gulf Coast who have had their livelihoods either threatened or destroyed because of the oil spill. They said that this was the attitude of big-business to look out for only themselves and not to care about others. The next day, a spokesman for BP said that Mr. Svanberg's comments were due to a language barrier: Mr. Svanberg is a Swede and his abilities to communicate in English were not the best.

As I listened to the replays of his comments, I knew what he meant. And I think every American knew what he meant. It was not a derogatory term. He was not looking down upon the shrimp and oyster fisheries or the tourist shops or the restaurants that are suffering because of the lack of business. I think, in his own way - limited by language, he was saying that he truly cared about those who were suffering.

But that term "small people" got me to thinking about a statement Jesus gave to His disciples. They were coming from the temple during Jesus' final week of life. They had asked Jesus to share with them signs about the coming of the kingdom. Jesus then told them about the separating of the sheep from the goats on that last day. Listen to these words of Jesus: "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me" (Matthew 25:34-36). Of course that elicited a response from His disciples as to when that had happened. Pay attention to what Jesus says next: "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40).

In this passage I believe Jesus was describing "small people." These were the people that are easily overlooked in the everyday humdrum of life. These are the people that we sometimes go out of our way to avoid, much like the Levite and priest did to the wounded traveler in the story of the Good Samaritan. These are people that we are tempted to think cannot amount to much in the world. But Jesus challenges us to care for them; to provide for their needs; to have compassion upon them.

As I have done some re-reading of the Gospels, I continue to marvel at the time Jesus willingly took for those people that were looked down upon by the elite of His day. Jesus delighted in caring for the small people of Galilee and Judea and even an outcast woman in Samaria.

Mr. Svanberg said that the people at BP care about the small people. Should we not also as believers?

Mr. Svanberg, I knew what you meant. And I am glad that you do care and I hope that caring truly flows, not just from the big pocketbook of BP, but from the heart of everyone associated with your company. And, thank you for reminding me of those words of Jesus to be mindful of the small people around us. They are very important to Him.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What Would Jesus Say about the Oil Spill? is dominating our news these days. It is not the high prices, although they have been quietly climbing in recent days. It is not the threat of an Iranian closure of the Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, although the Iranians have not hesitated to declare that such a closure is a distinct possibility if Israel were to attack it. No, the oil that is dominating our news is what is flowing from a ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico. In late April, one of the many oil platforms that dot the Gulf along the southern coasts of the United States exploded sending the platform down to the bottom of the sea. At first the experts stated that the damage would be minimal, but then the rupture grew and more and more oil was leaked into the Gulf. It is now nearly two months since that accident happened. And, although diligent efforts have been made by BP, the petroleum giant who operated the well, oil continues to spew from the ruptured pipe.

Immediately people responded by doing what we do best these days - cast blame. To hear the talk of some, this was no accident; it was part of a great conspiracy to force through stronger environmental legislation and to penalize the oil giants. Water-cooler conversations included accusations that BP should have responded differently; they should have had a plan. Others blamed the government for not stepping in sooner.

Was this a deliberate act? I highly doubt that the officials at BP sat in a closed room and discussed how they could ruin their company. This was an accident. Accidents do happen every day. Tires blow out causing a car crash. Airplane landing doors fail causing a worker to die. Bleachers collapse at a sporting event sending many to the hospital. Friends, the list goes on and on. Accidents are a part of life.

I have been drawn to an often overlooked portion of the Gospel of Luke. In the early verses of chapter thirteen, Jesus is listening to conversations around the water-cooler. (I put this into a modern context so we can better realize what Jesus is saying). "Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices" (Luke 13:1). That news story probably headlined the local papers. We are not given the background for this attack at the Temple, but several people had died when the government stepped in. Listen to Jesus' response: "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish" (Luke 13:2-3). Notice, Jesus did not cast blame either upon those who died or upon the government who caused their deaths. The event simply happened. What Jesus did state very powerfully was the truth that we do not know when our lives will end; therefore, we need to be ready.

But, another headline appeared: "Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them - do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?" (Luke 13:4). Faulty construction? Shoddy workmanship? Architectural flaws? No! Jesus simply said it was an accident. But, listen again to His warning: "I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish" (Luke 13:5). Jesus is saying, "Accidents happen! Life is short! You have no guarantee for tomorrow! Be prepared now!"

That being said that accidents do happen and that this crisis caused by the exploded well was an accident, BP has two responsibilities and one opportunity. First, they have the responsibility to cap the well as quickly as possible. They have tried short-term strategies which have not worked. The long-term strategy is taking time. Perhaps they can be faulted for not having a redundancy plan in place. But, they did not plan for this accident to happen. After all, the last time there was an oil platform explosion resulting in the platform descending to the bottom of the Gulf was 40 years ago. Those types of accidents do not happen with any sense of frequency. So, they never dreamed this would happen to their well or platform.

Second, they have the responsibility to capture as much of the oil that has flowed into the Gulf as possible. After all, the oil technically belongs to them. This will be an incredible task that could take years to accomplish.

And what is their opportunity? They are aware of the hundreds of lives that have been impacted because of this accident. What an incredible opportunity for the leaders of this giant multi-national corporation is send representatives to the little villages that dot the coastlines of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida to offer assistance to businesses to recover. Perhaps it might include an investment of capital. Perhaps it might include enlisting their ideas as to how something like this could be prevented. Perhaps it is just to say, "we care!" Such acts would go a long way, I believe, to replace the stereo-type of the irresponsibility of big business that most Americans have.

And there is one thing that all the oil giants need to learn from this experience: Be prepared for any accident or emergency. I believe that is what Jesus would tell them. Have a plan in place and then hope you never have to use it.

Friends, earthquakes happen (a 7.2 magnitude quake just this morning in Indonesia; and a 5.7 magnitude quake over the weekend in Southern California). Tornadoes and floods occur (the tragedy in Arkansas over the weekend). And oil rigs can explode causing death and an oil spill. They are simply reminders that the world we live in is still under the curse placed upon it because of the sin of Adam and Eve. And, until the King arrives, we can and should expect those accidents to occur.