Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Another Cycle of Revenge?

Today a suitcase bomb was exploded near the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem. Two buses, filled with students and market shoppers were heavily damaged resulting in a 59-year old woman being killed and approximately 30 others wounded, some seriously. No one has claimed responsibility for this act of terrorism - the first attack upon an Israeli bus since 2004 - but suspects include Hamas, Hamas, and Hamas. Also, in recent days Hamas has stepped up its rocket assaults from the Gaza Strip, launching dozens of rockets and mortar shells. Most of these have caused very little damage.

Why this sudden increase of attacks? Let me share a statement from the "Daily Israel Report" published by the "Hamas has considerably stepped up its missile attacks on Israeli civilians in the past week. Some analysts see the belligerence as an attempt to divert Gazans' attention away from demonstrations in favor of a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. [My note: Fatah is the organization founded by Yasir Arafat and is presently in control of the West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria. Fatah is under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas. Recently Abbas invited Hamas to join in elections in all the Palestinian Authority territories this summer, but Hamas has refused]. Others see it as a result of Hamas' heightened confidence following recent events in Egypt. [My note: Hamas has long hoped that the Muslim Brotherhood would gain control in Egypt and establish an Islamic government there]. Still others see it as an attempt to divert the civil rights denied Gazan population, especially the Fatah sympathizers among them, from joining the wave of popular uprisings throughout the Middle East." Perhaps it is a combination of all three. How does Hamas get attention? It is only by attacking Israel.

What will be Israel's response? My guess is that they will conduct some surgical air attacks deep into the Gaza Strip. If the attacks persist, the Netanyahu government might even consider a second counter-attack such as Operation Cast Lead in 2009.

As I read the reports coming out of Jerusalem today, my heart was saddened at the loss of life and how almost effortlessly some can seek to destroy life. Now more lives will be taken in retaliation.

I am reminded of the tragic biblical story of Samson, really a study in terrorism. Samson's response to the Philistines was one of revenge, followed by the Philistines acting in a greater manner of savagery. Of course, that angered Samson, so he responded by destroying fields. Then the Philistines had to counter that. You can read the story in Judges 14-16. It is sad. Even when he died, Samson was still seeking retaliation for the taking of his eyes. This cyle of retaliation and revenge occurs when one of the parties refuses to sit down and dialogue about differences and how those can be resolved. In the present case, Hamas has refused the dialogue. Their focus - like that of the Philistines - was to seek the destruction of Israel. [One could say that that was Samson's focus - the destruction of the Philistines].

Just another reminder of how we need to pray for peace to come to Jerusalem.

Speaking of Jerusalem, next Wednesday Marlys and I will be taking a group of 40 others to Israel. Am I excited? Yes. Am I nervous? No. But I know our group will greatly appreciate your prayers for us those days we are in Israel. The dates are March 30-April 12. Upon my return I will give you a firsthand report of what God is doing there in that land. My next blog posting will be on April 13. Until then, keep looking up - our redemption is getting closer.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan's Apocalyptic Images

The images coming from Japan seem surreal and, at times, almost apocalyptic. Large ocean-going ships tossed about as if they were plastic toys played in a child's bath. Automobiles piled one on top of another like cords of wood beside a fire pit. Buildings crumbling as if they were made of match-sticks. And everywhere there are the cries of those who survived looking for and mourning those who did not. Honestly, I do not remember seeing such destruction ever in my lifetime.

Two thoughts come to my mind when I view those images. First, the magnitude of the clean-up. Where do the Japanese people begin? How does one begin removing the thousands of cars that awaited transport to the United States and now are only fit for the scrape heap? How does one begin untangling the hundreds of cargo containers that look as if they could grace the front of a giant jigsaw puzzle? Miles upon miles of devastation. Where does one start? And then one begins to ponder who long will it take. (We are still cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina and it has been five years). Then I remembered a statement from Ezekiel 39 - "Then those who live in the towns of Israel will go out and use the weapons for fuel and burn them up - the small and large shields, the bows and arrows, the war clubs and spears. For seven years they will use them for fuel (Ezekiel 39:9). After the war with Gog and Magog, it will take Israel seven years to remove the debris. As I watched those images from Japan, I thought of the impending day when Israel will be faced with an even greater challenge - a clean up that will take them seven years to complete. (It will be finished just in time for the return of their King!)

The second image concerns the earthquake itself. What power the world only rarely sees! The consequences of this 9.0 earthquake almost stun one's beliefs. The island of Japan is now eight feet closer to us; the axis of our earth has been changed by four inches; and last Friday was shortened by a fraction of a second. Now it takes a pretty strong force to move an entire island. But then I remembered reading in Revelation about an even greater earthquake yet to come. John writes, in Revelation 16 - "Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. ...Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found" (Revelation 16:18-20).

The Japanese quake was one of the largest ever recorded. But it will pale in significance to that final quake that God will send just before the arrival of His Son. Mountains will disappear! Islands will not only move, but flee away! Every city on earth will collapse and be destroyed! This quake in Japan is a foreshadowing of a greater one yet to come!

We do need to be in prayer for Japan. This is a great opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus in that desperate place. And, as we minister to the physical needs to the people of Japan, may God open their hearts so that He might minister to their spiritual needs.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What about Hell?

One of the inevitable facts of life is death. Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, the curse of death has been man's history. To date, only two individuals have escaped its clutches: Enoch and Elijah. "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27 KJV). That is the Sword of Damocles that hangs over mankind.

If there were only something we could do about death. Well there is. We cannot avoid it - unless the Rapture comes - but we can avoid its sting. When Jesus Christ died on the cross and later rose from the grave, He removed the power of death over us. Paul wrote: "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:55-57 NIV). So, when I accepted Christ as my Savior, the sting of death was removed.

But there is a second question: What happens after a person dies? For many Christians down through the centuries, the answer has always been - either heaven or hell. Heaven is the place for those who have accepted the eternal life that Jesus Christ came to give; hell is the place for those who have rejected that gift. There seems to be abundant biblical evidence for both locations. Even Jesus described hell as a place of torment - a place where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:48 NIV).

Yet, there is a spirit afoot among evangelicals to deny the reality of hell; to call into question the very statements of Jesus about that place. A new book, to be released next week, by Rob Bell, the renown pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI, has taken the evangelical community by storm. In the book he describes as "misguided and toxic" the dogma that "a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better" (from Star Tribune article, March 6, 2011). Bell joins a growing list of evangelical scholars, including the late Clark Pinnock, to deny the existence of hell.

If there is no hell, does that mean that all will go to heaven? If all will go to heaven, does that mean that we don't need to evangelize any longer? If we don't have to evangelize what is the purpose of the Church? These are the questions that proceed from a dialogue about the reality of hell.

The Bible is very clear on the reality of hell and of those who will go there. Take a few moments and read Revelation 20:11-15, especially that final verse: "If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." That seems to be the exclamation point, at least in this blogger's mind.

The dangers of the teachings of a Rob Bell is that it leads to universalism - everyone will be saved. That is a dangerous position to take as your eternal life might hang in the balance.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Don't Despair...God Delights Over You

The eyes of the world continue to focus upon what is happening in Libya. Forces loyal to Qaddafi battle for control of strategic locations against those forces demanding that he step down from power. The nation has become embroiled in a civil war. What should be the response on the part of nations around the globe? Economic sanctions are being empowered. There has even been talk of a military intervention. Personally, this last idea surprised me. Just as we are beginning a pull back from Iraq, are we so quickly to engage in another conflict in Libya?

Qaddafi appears to have lost credibility with many in Libya. Because of this conflict we are learning of his involvement in the Pan Am flight disaster over Lockerbie, Scotland, years ago. He was a madman then, he remains a madman. And yet many are willing to die for him.

As I listened to portions of his speeches last week and watched the responses of those who applauded him, I began to understand once again the power of delusional thinking. Qaddafi has believed the lie that he can do no wrong; that everyone in Libya loves him, in fact, they would gladly die for him. And some would. I believe that the Antichrist will hold a similar sway over his followers. They will have believed the lie that he foisted upon them. They will have committed themselves to him even to the point of death. It is only the truth that we have through Jesus Christ and His Word that can truly liberate a person from bondage. This is the great need that Libya truly has.

A second place the world has focused attention upon in recent weeks is in neighboring Madison, Wisconsin. Could this be the beginning of another American Revolution? Whether you agree with the plan Governor Walker has put in place, you have to applaud the fact that he is taking leadership for that plan. He believes in that plan. He is willing to put his political career on the line for that plan. I believe that if he succeeds, a spark will have been lit that will blaze brightly in other statehouses around our nation and, perhaps, even reach Washington itself. We are bankrupt financially and morally. There are no longer any "rainy day" funds available. Yes, probably taxes will have to be increased, but first there needs to be a measured response in the form of significant spending cuts. Yet, I believe the Bible correctly describes that a coming economic disaster is about to overtake the entire world. You can read about it in Revelation 6. Inflation will once again be in a run-away mode. Prices will be soaring. The chasm between the financially well-off and those who are not will be widened greatly. So, what happens eventually in Madison will only have a limited impact. Ugly financial days are forthcoming.

All is not lost. There is still much for which to celebrate. God is still in control. I want to close with a great verse that really shares so powerfully God's commitment to us, His children. It is found in Zephaniah 3:17. And it states: "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." Pretty amazing, don't you think? When things get bad this week and you tend toward despair, just recite Zephaniah 3:17 to yourself and celebrate the fact that God delights in you and enjoy being quieted with His love.