Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Now They Understood the Words

I would like to depart this week from my usual foray into the world of prophecy and current events, to examine a passage of Scripture that I read this morning that intrigued me greatly. It is found in Nehemiah 8. First let me establish the context. Nehemiah has come to Jerusalem with the express purpose of rebuilding the walls of the city which, although the people had been back in the land from exile for nearly 100 years, the walls remained as they had since that fateful summer day in 586 BC when the armies of Nebuchadnezzar had pulled them down. Through some extra-ordinary leadership skills, Nehemiah witnessed the rebuilding of those walls. Now it was time to celebrate.

The people gather before the Water Gate and Ezra, the scribe, brings out the Law of Moses to read before the people. The text tells us that it was the first day of the seventh month - the month that includes Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Situated on a high platform where he could look out over the people, Ezra began reading from the Law. But, in addition to just the reading, I noticed in verse 8 that Ezra and others made the Law clear and gave meaning to the words so that the people could understand what was being read.

The people responded with weeping when they heard the words being read and the explanation being given. In other words, the Scriptures had spoken to their hearts. Ezra and Nehemiah shared with the people that it was not a time for mourning and weeping but for joy and celebration. Then I read verse 12: "Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them." "Now they understood the words" - this phrase grabbed my heart. How liberating it is when we understand the Word. Then I found verse 17: "The whole company that had returned from exile built booths and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great."

Here is what the Lord seemed to lay upon my heart: How many times do we get involved in ritual with understanding? The people of Israel had celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles for almost one thousand times since the days of Joshua and the conquest. But the celebration had become one that had lost its purpose. They did it because the Law demanded it, but they did not understand its significance. Don't we do the same in the Church today. We can even celebrate Communion as something we "always do" and when Communion is not at its regular time each month we complain. We often just go through the motions. Communion for us has become more a matter of time and place than of purpose with understanding.

As a Bible-teacher God impressed upon my heart this morning that my role is that of Ezra of old - to help people to truly understand what the Word of God has to say. Worship will then acquire a new meaning. Communion will take on a new meaning. The Word will become more exciting because people will begin to have an understanding of it.

Friends, don't go through the motions of a ritual; instead, ponder its significance for your own heart. Linger in a text until you truly understanding its meaning. Seek someone's guidance to help you in your understanding. Then true joy will come to your heart and soul.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What in the World Is Going On?

Here it is the second day of summer and the temperatures are about 15 degrees below normal for this time of year. What a spring it was here in Minnesota! More days of clouds than sun. Rain much above normal. With the exception of two days in early June, temperatures have been well below normal. Perhaps this is the new normal.

It seems that everywhere weather conditions are drastic. Wildfires in West Texas, Arizona and New Mexico almost defy imaginations by their magnitude. Flooding in North Dakota is of historic proportions with no immediate end in sight due to the incredible amounts of snow yet to be melted in the mountains of Montana. Parts of the nation are still recovering from devastating tornadoes earlier this spring. I was in conversation with a friend a week or so ago and we were talking about the weather phenomenon that even has seasoned meteorologists talking. Are these signs of the approaching end of the age? Could this be God's judgment upon us because of our failure to repent of our sins? Is there a relationship between these weirdly abnormal weather patterns which really are impacting many nations around the world and the world's intent to divide Jerusalem and the land of Israel into two parts? I am not sure I have answers to those questions but I do believe these are not just coincidental occurrences. They are part of God's plan.

Eyes have been focused upon Greece and their severe economic problems. It looks as if the IMF will give them the necessary loan to keep the country going, but the cuts in programs and social services will be severe. Over the weekend we saw Greek people rioting in the streets over the forced cuts in pay and services. When a people become accustomed to the "handouts" that come from government and begin to develop a mentality that they are entitled to those "handouts," then there is cause of rioting when they disappear. I no longer know what to do for myself. Where do I now turn for medical care; the government has always told me what to do. Where do I go for food and other necessities; the government has always given me food stamps. There is a spirit of helplessness because we have forgotten how to take care of ourselves. These are the consequences of an entitlement mentality. I believe what we have seen in Greece is only a small mirrored image of what will happen here when the inevitable collapse happens. How we need to be prepared NOW!

Although the Palestinian Authority (Fatah) and Hamas have agreed in principle to a unity government, they have agreed on little else when it comes to the implementation of such a government. PA Chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, has stated that the PA should decide who the next Prime Minister should be, and, of course, he has chosen his own Prime Minister for that post. Hamas leadership has cried "Foul!" So, a major stumbling block from the very first. Truthfully, about the only thing they can agree on is the need for the destruction of Israel as a nation.

The presidential campaigns are beginning to heat-up, now that we are getting closer to July 4. Perhaps you are like me in not having a candidate that you are strongly behind. But it is time to pray for God's hand to be upon the right candidate of His choosing. What happens in 2012, I believe, will have a decisive influence upon the future history of our nation. So, I am not taking these early days of jockeying by the candidates lightly. And neither should you!

Let me close by saying that the attitude you have toward what is happening in the world can be a major testimony. If you are terrified and fearful of what tomorrow will hold, how can you then witness to an unsaved colleague and tell them of the peace that Jesus brings? But, if you are full of hope and eagerly anticipating the return of Christ, then that optimism will draw responses from those around you. Keep looking up. Keep a joyful look within your heart. Be a model of God's peace to others.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What Is Going On?

Sorry I missed sharing with you last week. I had the privilege of being in Dallas to share a few days with my two grandsons there. My Mother shared in this trip as Marlys had to work. We had a wonderful time. Weather was ideal - nice and warm! Watched some of two Mavericks games (so happy they won the finals!), attended a Rangers' ballgame (which they won, by the way!), and got to see Ethan play in a ballgame. Even got to take my grandsons to the driving range to hit a few golf balls; I had not hit a golf ball in nearly five years. Felt good, and we had a great time.

So, what is happening in the world? Is the economy any better? Well, that depends upon who you listen to. From the devastation we observed traveling through Joplin, MO and parts of Oklahoma, there should be an increase in construction jobs. But, the price of building materials will probably escalate as well. We saw lots of acres that were not planted yet because of spring floods or spring droughts; that can only mean that food prices will continue to rise. And the worldwide economic crisis continues - Greece appears to be ready to declare bankruptcy as a nation (I can never remember this happening in my life time!). The head of the IMF has been indicted for criminal assault and has been forced to resign, leaving the IMF in a state of turmoil. In our own country, June 30 is looming on the horizon; that date marks the end of QE2 - or simply put, the government stops printing lots of money. When the presses stop, what will that do to our economy? And, unless the President and the Congress agree to a compromise, our government soon will begin to default on its obligations. In my opinion, the news on the economic front does not sound too encouraging to me.

Concerning the Middle East, instability continues to reign. In Libya, Qaddafi continues to hold out against rebel assaults. So far the majority of the military seems to be behind him. In Syria, the Assad regime has turned its weapons on its own people; one can only wonder how long before he does something drastic to pull his nation back together - an invasion and war with Israel might be the trick. In Jordan, King Abdullah is trying to placate those who want reforms; time will tell if those placations will help. The Egyptian government has now officially opened its borders with the Gaza Strip. One can only guess at what is now traversing through into Hamas hands. Meanwhile in Bahrain, the Iranians are trying to pick a fight with the Saudis. And in the midst of all this sits Israel. With cautious eyes Prime Minister Netanyahu observes the actions of those around his tiny nation.

Finally, what about this crazy weather that is happening all over. Snows in the mountains of the West - ski resorts still open as we approach the middle of June. Torrential rains in the Upper Plains, along with melting of last winter's record snowfall, creating unheard of floods along the Missouri River. And those waters will eventually reach St. Louis and the Mississippi River and then begin the journey down to New Orleans. Wildfires burn out of control in Arizona; West Texas is burning up; Northern California has been exceptionally cool. Then there are the volcano eruptions in Iceland and in Chili. I know that weather patterns are cyclical, but I am not sure we have seen the magnitude of weather phenomena as we are today. Could God be trying to tell us something? If so, I am not sure we are listening.

Keep your eyes focused upwards, my friends, as our Redemption is drawing near. These are days of excited hopefulness.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Jerusalem Day: A Spiritual Lesson

According to the Jewish calendar, today - June 1 - marks the 44th anniversary of the unifying of the city of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War. In an interview with the "Arutz Sheva Daily Israel Report" Rabbi and former MK (member of the Knesset) Chanan Porat described the events of that day in June 1967. He told how his unit had been headed toward El-Arish on the Egyptian border when news came that the Jordanians had begun to bomb the city of Jerusalem. Their unit was then quickly dispatched toward Jerusalem. He said, "It was no longer a war to defend our existence but a war over Jerusalem, a war of redemption."

After reaching the Temple Mount, Rabbi Porat related, "Truthfully, on the one hand we had the great privilege of getting to the Temple Mount, but on the other hand we were not yet ready to understand the significance of regaining the Temple Mount. ... We were simply not prepared for the spiritual level of the Temple Mount, for the possibilities that had opened up, we did not yet recognize that we need to stand on the Temple Mount and take steps to rebuilding the Temple."

As you might remember, Israeli General Moshe Dayan agreed to return the Temple Mount to the Moslem Waqf to control. That may have been one of the worst decisions ever made in the brief 63 year history of the State of Israel.

Perhaps Rabbi Porat's statement helps us to understand why General Dayan did what he did. Perhaps Prime Minister Abba Eban and his staff had never considered what would happen if the Temple Mount should become theirs. I am not sure they felt that Jordan would enter the war, and if Jordan did not enter the war, there was no possibilities that Jerusalem would be unified. But Jordan did enter the war. The city of Jerusalem was unified. The Temple Mount became a possession of the nation of Israel, however briefly.

I believe there is a spiritual lesson here. Always be prepared! Always be ready! Let me draw a parallel from one of my favorite Old Testament leaders. His name was Nehemiah. While serving the Persian King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah heard the distressing news that the walls of Jerusalem had not been rebuilt even though the people had returned nearly a century before. So what did this great man do? He prayed and he planned. He prayed that God would open doors to share his concern with the king. And he planned for what he would say when that opportunity came.

Too often we simply pray and hope and dream that God would do something. Then, when that door is opened we do not know what to do or how to respond. We are like Rabbi Porat and his men - we are spiritually unprepared. I wonder what the Middle East would be like today if, in 1967, the leaders of Israel had been prepared for the taking of the Temple Mount. Pray - yes!
But don't forget to plan!