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: www.vsb.net.

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!"