Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Somethings Do Not Change

We live in an age characterized by words such as: noise, confusion, anxiety, fear, frustration, self-centeredism (I am not even sure that is a word, but it should be). We are becoming increasingly more anxious over governmental interference into our private lives. That anxiety has become more real with the recent passage of the Obama Health Care Reforms. People on the street ask themselves, "What is coming next? What aspect of my life will the government want to dominate?" The anxieties have led to both frustration and fear, resulting in threats of physical violence to leaders and to those who might have differing opinions. Name-calling has become common place. And the noise. It seems that decibel levels have elevated to the point where most people either have developed a hearing problem or will.

As I have thought about the scenes on many street corners in America today, my mind has drifted back to what it must have been like in ancient Jerusalem that first "holy week." Bible scholars have assured us that the population of Jerusalem swelled to record levels because of the Passover and the levitical requirement that all Jewish males come to Jerusalem for the Passover sacrifices. Many came accompanied by their families. Streets and markets that were already overcrowded, now became nearly impassable. One can close his eyes and hear the shouts and screams of the sellers as they negotiated with anxious buyers. An occasional braying of a donkey or two could also be heard as its master tried to force it through those crowded streets.

And everywhere the buzz concerned the great imposition the Romans had become. How much more could the Romans tax them? It seemed that all they did was work to pay their taxes. Would there never be an end to the Roman thirst for taxes? The talk among the common folks was that hope had arrived in the person of the Prophet from Nazareth. And then people recalled the noise and praise that had graced the road down the Mount of Olives into the city itself. One brings up the confusion this Prophet caused when He went into the Temple and drove out the money-changers and sellers of sheep and goats. And He did it with an angry voice and a scourge of whips. "It was about time that someone did something. Prices were getting out of hand." So, what else could this Prophet do? Might He be the one who would unite the various factions in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee and lead an uprising against the Romans? Might this Prophet be the next Judas Maccabeus?

It appears that even Jesus' disciples were caught up in the noise, confusion, and anxiety of the moment. They certainly were not thinking "cross"; but were instead focused upon a "kingdom." In just a short time, they, too, would join the ranks of the disappointed. Their world would be devastated; their hopes dashed; their dreams disappear upon an old, rugged cross. What had started out so promising, had ended so tragically.

Deliverance from Roman oppression was the not the main problem the people faced. And today deliverance from our government and its long reach into our lives is not the main problem either. Jesus understood that. He came to deliver people from that which held them in chains. Not Roman authorities. Not Congress or the President. But sin. His sacrifice upon that old, rugged cross cut the chains to set people free.

So, times have not changed a whole lot. We are still a people looking for hope. We think that hope can be found in a change in governmental leaders; in repealing laws we do not like; in exerting our will. But real hope - lasting hope - is only found in accepting the gift Jesus Christ offers. He will remove the fears. He will alleviate the frustrations. He will quiet our hearts.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Night to Remember

The last few weeks had been filled with much anxiety. What had initially seemed like such an innocent declaration had become a scene where tensions were stretched to the breaking point. Leaders on both sides of the argument resolutely held their ground, with neither side conceding defeat. Suddenly it all came down to a one-night showdown. Who would be the victor? How would the people respond?

Many of you are thinking about the events surrounding the late Sunday night passage of the Health Care Reform Bill by the House of Representatives. And it would be easy to come to such a conclusion. But, what if I told you that I was not describing a scene from the modern day, but one from the ancient world? For what I have described fits the biblical account leading up to the night we know as Passover.

Moses' statement to Pharaoh seemed innocent enough: "Let the people of Israel go into the wilderness to worship their God." But that statement had the opposite effect upon Egypt's leader. Instead of granting Moses' request, the burdens of brick-making were increased upon the backs of the Hebrews. And thus the tug-of-war began between Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt versus Moses and the God of Israel. And what a contest it had been those past few months. Rivers turning into blood, swarms of frogs inundating the entire land, mosquitoes (I am from Minnesota - that is our state bird!) driving the people nuts with their buzzing and bites. Then there were thousands of cattle dying in the fields, crops being destroyed by hail and locusts leaving nothing edible - these alone left Egypt's economy devastated. Then came the long night of darkness that continued for three days. The nerves of the Egyptians were frayed, yet the Pharaoh continued to balk at that initial innocent request.

God now came to Moses and gave instructions for the people to pack all their belongings and prepare for a journey of a lifetime. But, before their were to leave, they were to have one final meal in Egypt. It was to be a night they would always remember. Lambs were killed. Blood was applied to the door frames of their homes. Bread, made without yeast, was quickly baked. And dinner was served. While the Hebrews ate, the angel of death hovered over the land of Egypt. He entered into every home that did not have blood applied to the door frames killing the firstborn. Hardly a home in Egypt was exempt from the anguished cries of mourning for the dead.

Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and told him to take the Hebrews and get out of the land before all Egypt was dead. When the smoke cleared, God had shown Himself to be more powerful than the pantheon of Egyptian gods.

Passover became one of the most important seasons of celebration for the Jewish people. This year the traditional celebration begins at sundown on Sunday, March 28. Families will gather to retell the story through a special meal. They will look back into the past, identifying with their ancestors who came out of Egypt. And they will look ahead into the future, anticipating the day when all shall be gathered once again in the land of Israel.

My friends, the great God who delivered Israel from the depths of despair in Egypt, is the same great God who is more than able to deliver you and me from the depths of despair we may have because of what is happening in our world. As Israel had to trust Him, so we must do also.

I know that most Gentiles are not accustomed to join in a Passover celebration. But, perhaps we should at least stop long enough to retell our story. We just might find a note of encouragement as we recall what God has done for us.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Crisis Building: Israel and the United States

This present American administration is creating a crisis of such proportions that our country has never seen. No, I am not speaking of the sleazy tactics being presented in Washington to pass a health care reform bill that the overwhelming majority of Americans do not want and the majority of House of Representatives do not want to vote upon. Yet the Administration presses forward, now offering a tactic that has never been used on such major legislation before. Is it possible that we have people representing us, whom we have elected, who are ignorant of what the Constitution of the United States truly states? These are very sad days!

The crisis I am referring to is our nearly shattered relationships with the nation of Israel. Let me begin by stating two personal opinions regarding the nation of Israel. First, I will admit that the Israeli government has made mistakes in the past. It is not a perfect government, but what government is perfect. They are all predicated on the desires of sinful human beings. So, I do not want you to think that I believe the nation of Israel can do no wrong. Second, I strongly adhere to the biblical teachings that God has a future for the nation of Israel and will be mightily used by God in the coming days. Furthermore, I still believe that the promises God gave to Abraham via His covenant with him are still operative today. Included in that covenant are these words: "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse" (Genesis 12:3).

Last week Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Israel with the purpose of helping to restart dialogue between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership. While there, Mr. Biden told the Israelis what they wanted to hear, then turned around and traveled to Ramallah and told President Abbas and the Palestinians what they wanted to hear. It was classic politics. Unfortunately, while Mr. Biden was in Jerusalem, the Israeli Interior Ministry announced approval of plans for construction of 1600 apartment units in Ramat Shlomo, one of the suburbs of East Jerusalem.

Let me just pause and bring you up to date on the history of East Jerusalem. Prior to 1967, this area and all the West Bank was under the control of Jordan. During the Six-Day War in June 1967, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) captured all the West Bank, including East Jerusalem in a battle that lasted only a few hours. Quickly the Israeli government incorporated East Jerusalem into the configuration of Jerusalem and made it the capital of Israel. However, the Palestinians have never accepted Israeli control over East Jerusalem, and the status of that part of Jerusalem has been a deterrent to any peace-settlement.

So, when the Israeli government announced 1600 new Jewish apartment units to be built over the course of the next several years, Mr. Biden became angered and accused the Israeli government of sabotaging renewed talks. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu quickly apologized for the timing of the announcement, but indicated that construction would proceed as Jerusalem - a united Jerusalem - would always be the Jewish capital.

Of course the Palestinians were enraged. Stones were thrown. Threats of another Palestinian Intifadah were hurled. The situation was tense. Enter onto the stage our very own Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She phoned the Israeli Prime Minister and, according to reports, spent 43 minutes rebuking him with strong language. According to IsraelNationalNews.com, the Obama administration apparently is not making any effort to tone down the rhetoric against Prime Minister Netanyahu, and American political analysts have commented that the president may be trying to topple the Israeli government (March 16, Arutz Sheva). Friends, Israel is a democratically led government. This is not a dictatorship as was that of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Israel has been a strong ally of America since the days of President Truman.

Furthermore, I did some research - found it actually in a Jewish newspaper article - that in 1995, the Congress of the United States voted to relocate the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It was an overwhelming vote: 374-37 in the House, 93-5 in the Senate. That bill also included a quote from the 1990 Congressional resolution that stated the Congress "strongly believes that Jerusalem must remain an undivided city in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected." Friends, that is the law of our land. But, has the Embassy been relocated? No. Not under Clinton. Not under Bush. And, certainly not under Obama. In fact, the Obama Administration is doing everything in its power to cause Jerusalem to be a divided city.

One final thought. Our nations leaders went ballistic when the Israelis announced a rezoning in a Jewish community in East Jerusalem so more apartments could be built. What was their response when, one day after the Vice President left Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority renamed a square in Ramallah after Dalal Mughrabi, a Palestinian woman who massacred 37 Jewish people in a bus-hijacking along the Coastal Highway in 1978? Absolutely nothing! I think that says it all.

I am saddened and greatly alarmed at the gulf that is beginning to be felt between the United States and Israel. I am heartened that Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to be holding forth in strength. It is time for Christians everywhere to join hands in support of a nation that will someday enthrone the King of kings.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Earthquakes in Various Places"

Hardly a week goes by without a major earthquake being reported. Grabbing headlines several weeks ago was the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated the island nation of Haiti. Tens of thousands of people were killed. Property damage was incalculable. Estimates are that it will take Haiti over ten years to rebuild. Then, during the last days of February, and even more massive earthquake of the 8.8 magnitude variety shook Chili instilling fears of tsunami warnings across the Pacific as far away as Japan and China. And then there was the smaller magnitude - only a 6.0 - that struck Turkey last week.

The seemingly increasing news of earthquakes caused me to do some study. So I went to the website of the US Geological Survey. What a wealth of information I found there. During the first seven days of March there were 73 earthquakes of a magnitude of 5.0 or greater recorded. And there have been 11 significant earthquakes this year already. They estimate that at least 40 earthquakes happen every day, although most are not felt because they are so deep in the earth. In 2008, there were 12 earthquakes of a 7.0 magnitude or greater, with none reaching the 8.0 plateau. But, in 2009, there were 19 earthquakes of a 7.0 magnitude or greater, with one over the 8.0 magnitude scale. And, this year, we have already had one that reached nearly a 9.0. It would appear, at least from the scientific evidence, that earthquakes are increasing both in frequency and in magnitude.

Of course, this led me to do some investigating about earthquakes in the Bible. Did you know that there are only four recorded instances of an earthquake reported in the Bible? (Personally, I thought the number would be higher.) The first one is found in 1 Kings 19:11 - during the time Elijah was at Mt. Horeb. The second one is found in Amos 1:1 and Zechariah 14:5 - referring to a massive earthquake that occurred during the reign of Uzziah. It must have been a tremendous one that years later people still remembered it. (Sort of like Hurricane Katrina in today's history). The third earthquake is found in Matthew 28:2 which opened the grave for Jesus. And the final earthquake is found in Acts 16:26 - which opened the prison doors there in Philippi.

Now, of course the Bible speaks often of earthquakes happening in the end of time. Jesus told His disciples: "There will be famines and earthquakes in various places" (Matthew 24:7, Mark 13:8, Luke 21:11). One such end-time earthquake will occur as God defends His people as Gog leads his coalition into Israel to destroy it and take its plunder (Ezekiel 38:19). A second end-time earthquake will occur when the feet of Jesus touch the Mount of Olives as He comes to claim His throne (Zechariah 14:4). What a moving of the earth that will be! And the Apostle John writes about earthquakes in the Revelation. One such earthquake will destroy one tenth of the city of Jerusalem, causing the deaths of 7,000 people. You can read this account in Revelation 11:13. The final end-time earthquake John refers to is found in Revelation 16:18. John states it will be an earthquake unlike any that the earth has ever seen or felt before. Every mountain will disappear from the face of the earth. Every island will be removed from its place. The devastation will have to be incredibly severe. (It is interesting that the recent earthquake in Chili actually moved one city ten feet in a westward direction...an entire city moved!)

Friends, the earth is shaking, probably in excitement because its day of redemption is drawing near. And I think the shaking will get stronger and more frequent as we approach the time of the King's return. So, if the ground begins to shake under you...get excited!