Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Christmas Reflection from Tragedy

Well according to the Mayan calendar we are now just two days away from the end of the world.  From the crowds that I have witnessed at local shopping malls in recent days, the thought of the world ending certainly has not disquieted many hearts.  Oh you read of a few groups that have huddled together to welcome the world's ending, but I wonder what will be their response when December 22 arrives with all its uncertainty.  Friends, we know that the day is coming when this world as we know it will end.  But of that day and hour only the Father in heaven knows.  Mayan calendars, Nostradamus, and other instruments of prognosticating the future know nothing of the mind of God, let alone the dates that He and only He has determined.  Now, I believe that Friday might be the day that Jesus comes for His Church, an event we know as the Rapture.  If that would happen, I will gladly join with millions of other believers to welcome that exciting day.  But, unless that event occurs, the world will keep spinning on its axis as it has for countless years; mankind will continue his quest to be like God, much as he has done since the Garden of Eden, with its resulting heartaches and sufferings; and the Church should, and I emphasize that word "should" proclaim with all the authority of heaven that God has provided a way for mankind to be reconciled to a holy God. 

This year the Advent Season has been marked with incredible tragedies.  Those images that filled our television screens and computer monitors this past Friday will be etched into our minds and hearts.  We ask ourselves the question, "How could God allow this to happen?  How could God stand by and allow a madman to destroy the lives of 27 innocent people and their families?  Friends, I have to admit that I have no answers for those questions except to say that they come as a consequence of living in a world still dominated by the power of sin.  Bad things happen to good people because we are citizens of a world still under the curse.  Every day good, decent people die in car accidents.  Every day good, decent people die of cancer and heart disease.  Every day good, decent people lose their jobs.  Every day good, decent people have their marriages ripped asunder.  And each event is as tragic as was that of Newtown, CT this past Friday - except there the tragedy was magnified twenty-seven-fold and was before us on national television. 

Now as we witness the sorrow and the funerals for these children and their hero-teachers who gave their lives to protect other children, our hearts are filled with both sorrow and rage.  How could this happen so close to Christmas?  But did you know that a similar tragedy occurred as part of that first Christmas story.  We read in Matthew 2, "When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.  Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 'A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.'" (Matthew 2:16-18).  Last Friday in Newtown, CT, parents were unaware of the danger that lurked in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School.  They sent their children off that morning thinking it would be another normal day.  Yet tragedy struck.  Now just imagine what it would have been like if they had been forced to stand there and watch their children being murdered and could do nothing about it.  Yet that is what happened in Bethlehem that day.  Can you imagine the horrors?  Can you hear the screams of the mothers and fathers?  Can you hear the cries from the little boys, many of whom were just learning to walk, as they were wrested from their parents grasp?  This is part of the Nativity story that we intentionally forget because it causes us to ask the unanswerable question - Why, God?  The birth of Jesus Christ caused the deaths of many little boys in and around Bethlehem, little boys whose lives lay before them, lives filled with hope and joy.  Why did God allow this to happen?  Perhaps it was a proclamation that just as those innocent children died so that the boy Jesus might live, that years later the innocent Jesus - the Lamb of God - would die for those who were not so innocent. 

As I have pondered the events of last Friday through the lens of the Advent story, I have discovered that there is a depth to the story of that first Christmas that we often never explore.  In fact, to be honest, the Advent story raises a lot of deep questions that are ignored in our haste to retell the story in its simplicity.  So, in these remaining days before Christmas, perhaps you could take some time, sit down with your Bible, and re-read the Christmas story.  Read it slowly.  Ponder how you would have responded if you had been Mary and greeted by an angel.  Ponder how you would have responded if you had been Joseph and told that your fiancee was pregnant.  Ponder how you would have responded if you have been one of the shepherds.  Be honest with yourself.  What questions would you have asked?  What information would you have wanted?  In that way you will be getting deeper into the significance of the story.  And, if you want to be totally blown away, read John 1:14.  That should cause you to pause in bewilderment: God became a baby.  The One who created the world became a created being; the One who parted the waters of the Red Sea and caused the walls of Jericho to fall became a helpless infant.  Oh that we might probe the depths of the Christmas story.

Friends, I want to thank you for being on the journey with me for another year.  One can only wonder what the New Year will hold for us as we await the return of Jesus.  But we will be there to help you understand the events from a biblical perspective. 

So, I wish you and yours a very Merry and Blessed Christmas and a New Year filled with His presence in all things.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Of Korea, the Middle East, and the Fiscal Cliff

The eyes of the world were on North Korea this morning as they launched a missile with the purported purpose of putting a satellite into orbit.  The South Koreans and the Japanese governments are filled with uncertainty as to what this launch really means.  But it does demonstrate that the North Koreans have the capacity to deliver a warhead into South Korea, Japan, and possibly even to the United States.  We know that the regime in North Korea is anti-God, anti-West, and anti-democracy.  Reports indicate that a contingent of scientists from Iran were present at the launch.  This only confirms what was already speculated of the ties between those two countries.  One can only feel for the people of North Korea, the most impoverished nation on the face of the earth.  Resources that could have been used to promote their welfare were used to enhance North Korea's pledge to be a scourge to the rest of the world.  I will be interested to see what the reaction from Beijing will be. 

Fall out continues from the recent Israeli offensive in Gaza and the renewed Arab Spring in Egypt.  Last week Khaled Mashaal, the political leader of Hamas who has been in exile from the Gaza Strip, returned amid much fanfare.  The Egyptian government under President Morsi, a leader within the Muslim Brotherhood, permitted Mashaal's return, the first time in 45 years.  Can the connection between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas be more clear?  While in the Gaza, Mashaal said, "Palestine will be Palestine.  We will never surrender the land, Jerusalem, the right of return or our right to resistance.  We will not leave any inch of Palestinian land and we'll never give up any of our rights."  According to the article published in "Religion Today", Israeli President Shimon Peres stated in response to Mashaal's comments, "He unmasked the real nature of Hamas: to kill, to conquer, not to compromise, the people of Gaza can remain poor and hungry." 

There are two things happening now in the Middle East that I find alarming.  First, the situation in Egypt continues to unravel.  As I have shared with you, this coming Saturday, December 15, the Egyptian people will be voting on the new constitution which is primarily forcing Egypt under Islamic Sharia law.  The outcome of this election is uncertain at the moment, but if passed will have disastrous consequences to Egypt's Coptic Christian minority as well as to those liberal Egyptians who have enjoyed freedoms under the Mubarak regime.  Protests continue in Tahrir Square.  One wonders what the arrangements are between Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Egyptian military leaders.  To further compound this concern is the recent decision by the Obama Administration to deliver 20 F-16 fighter planes to the Morsi government.  Malou Innocent, a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute is quoted in an article in Arutz Sheva, the online news from, "Should an over reaction by Egypt spiral into a broader conflict between Egypt and Israel, such a scenario would put U.S. officials in an embarrassing position of having supplied massive amounts of military both belligerents.  Given Washington's fiscal woes, American taxpayers should no longer be Egypt's major arms supplier." 

The second alarming situation still developing comes as a result of the Palestinians being given a new status at the United Nations.  Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas now believes that the world recognizes the legitimacy of a Palestinian State, although officially there is none.  But the international perception is greater than the reality.  The Israeli government compounded the problem with its granting permission to build some 3,000 housing units in Judea, Samaria (the West Bank) and around Jerusalem.  The International Community, especial the European Union nations, were incensed with many recalling their ambassadors in protest.  According to Israeli authorities, these permits were granted in areas that would not be part of any two-state solution. 

A senior Abbas aide, Nabil Shaath, said, "by continuing these war crimes of settlement activities on our lands and stealing our money, Israel is pushing and forcing us to go to the ICC (the International Criminal Court)."  Israel is withholding some $100 million in tax rebates and other fees it collects on behalf of the Palestinians to pay for Palestinian debts to the Israeli communities.  If the Arab world cannot destroy Israel through acts of violence, it will seek to do it through attacking its reputation at the World Court.  Friends, isn't it great to know that according to the Bible we know how this story will end - not with Israel's demise at the World Court or through a series of attacks, but with the arrival of their King, the Lord Jesus. 

With less than three weeks remaining, Congressional leaders and the President appear to be no closer to a solution to the impending "fiscal cliff" than they were before the November elections.  To be perfectly honest, I am not sure what a solution would look like.  The problem is that no one wants to bear the inevitable pain that will be associated with a solution.  It is time for churches to begin creating a plan to help parishioners when the difficult times come.  Clothing closets, food shelves, listing of who is a plumber, an electrician, a roofer, a doctor, etc, and the list goes on.  This is how Christians have survived difficult times in the past.  And, in our preparedness, the Church will be ready to help their communities to be salt and light in difficult times.

And so the world rushes on this Advent Season unaware of the cliff it is careening toward.  Yet, for those of us who are believers, as we prepare to celebrate Christ's birthday, we are preparing to celebrate His return.  That makes the Christmas Season extra-special.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Of EMPs and Chemical Weapons

There was a very interesting article this morning in Arutz Sheva, the Daily Israel Report from  The headlines were: "Doomsday for Iran? US Tests EMP Bomb."  The article was written by Tzva Ben Gedalyahu.  "Boeing has successfully tested an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) missile that turns 'science fiction into science fact' and could be the doomsday weapon against Iran, but media have largely ignored the development."  The article continues, "The U.S. Air Force and Boeing demonstrated the device more than two months ago over a military site in the Utah desert, reported the VR-Zone technology website.  Boeing did not keep the test a secret, but most mainstream media and technology sites overlooked the report.  The test was named CHAMP - Counter-Electronics High Power Advanced Missile Project and was the first time a real EMP missile has been tested with positive real world results."

What does an EMP device do, you are asking?  The article states, "EMP causes non-lethal gamma energy to react with the magnetic field and produces a powerful electromagnetic shock wave that can destroy electronic devices."  According to the article, the Utah test was successful in that video cameras showed images of numerous desktop computers running and then suddenly all of them go out quickly followed by the camera going black. 

What is the significance of this little article tucked away in an Israeli online paper?  Reports had circulated for years of the possibilities of using an EMP device to create targeted damage through the destruction of the electrical grids.  Now possibilities have become realities.  Just think, for a moment, of the damage an exploded EMP would create over a city the size of New York.  All of the power would be destroyed.  No lights.  No traffic signals.  No subways.  No automobiles (don't forget the heart of modern cars is a sophisticated electronics system).  No telecommunications.  The result would truly be chaos and anarchy as everyone would be in survival mode.  In literature about EMPs the little phrase, "back to the dark ages" is often used.  Now we know that that can in fact happen. 

Should we be concerned?  Absolutely.  If the United States has this technology, it is almost assured that other nations are developing it as well.  Could it be possible that Iran is working on EMP alongside of its nuclear program?  Most assuredly.  We know it is developing a more sophisticated long-range missile system, including satellite launchings, that could be used as a delivery system both for a nuclear and EMP bomb. 

I don't want to be an alarmist, but just thought you should know.  The fiction of yesterday is now the reality of today.

Are you following the events in Egypt?  Lots of unrest in Cairo and beyond.  The proposed Constitution is scheduled for a popular referendum on December 15th.  Will the people approve this return to Islamic rule by the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi?  I guess that will depend upon how intimidated the people are by the MB.  There just might be another "Arab Spring - the Sequel" on the horizon.

And Israel's response to the United Nations General Assembly vote to recognize the Palestinian Authority as a non-member observer state has aroused international concern.  Several nations either have threatened to recall their ambassadors or have done so in response to Israel's decision to proceed with the construction of 3,000 housing units around Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria (also known as the West Bank).  But, according to Israeli sources, these units will be built on land that would not be included in any land given to the PA as part of a two-state solution.  Stay tuned, this one might get very interesting.

And then there is the threat that the beleaguered Syrian President Assad might use chemical weapons against the rebels within his country.  This brings alarm to Turkey and Israel especially.  NATO has agreed to send Patriot missile batteries to Turkey's border with Syria.  And you know that Israeli forces are on high alert along the Golan Heights.  Will NATO step in if chemical weapons are deployed?  Another unfinished story.

Jesus told His disciples as they sat overlooking the temple and its glory, that in the end of the age there would be "wars and rumors of war."  The rumors are spreading quickly these days.  Perhaps as we celebrate Christ's first Advent, He will honor us with His second.  Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Aftermath of the UN Vote on Palestine

I know it is highly unusual for me to post two blogs within the same week, but I wanted to let you know of the vote of the United Nations General Assembly last Thursday afternoon on the question of the status of Palestine.  By a vote of 138-9 the General Assembly now recognizes the Palestinian Authority as a non-member observer state.  The United States and Israel condemned the vote and indicated that it did nothing to further the peace process toward a two-state solution.  In fact, it probably set the process backwards.

The Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas knew the symbolic importance of November 29, the date of the vote.  It was November 29, 1947 that the United Nations voted to recognize a two state division of the Palestinian Mandate that had been overseen by Great Britain since the end of World War I.  For those who do not know, the Jews, under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion, accepted that division, while the Arabs rejected that two state solution.  Thus the War of Independence of 1948-49. 

President Abbas said that Jerusalem was the eternal capital of the State of Palestine.  He said that "history is with us; the future belongs to us and God is with us." 

There is now bipartisan support in Congress to withhold nearly $600 million in aid to the Palestinians.  Several Senators - Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Charles Schumer (D-NY), John Barrasso (R-WY) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) have also gone on record as wanting the PLO office in Washington closed.  Voting on the funding issue could come as early as this week.  Other nations are considering similar options against the PA. 

Meanwhile, the turmoil continues in Egypt.  President Morsi has declared December 15 as the date for the Egyptian referendum on the newly written Egyptian Constitution.  Of course it was written entirely by Islamists without any representation from either Christians or moderate Muslims.  Egyptian judges are now on strike against Morsi's government.  Demonstrations and counter-demonstrations continue in and around Tahrir Square.  Will the Morsi government and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt be short-lived or will Egypt once again be under the authoritarian rule of one?  Stay tuned as this one is far from being played out. 

Keep looking up this Advent Season.  As we prepare to celebrate Christ's first coming, let us also be prepared to celebrate His second.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Another Arab Spring in Egypt?

The ceasefire, although very fragile, is holding between Israel and the Hamas leadership within the Gaza Strip.  I think both sides realize that its continuance is highly unlikely.  As one looks back over other ceasefires that have been declared in that region, the winners have appeared to be the ones who have been opposed by Israel.  It is almost certain that Hamas is using this time to rearm itself as it bathes in the favorable international media attention that it has received.  Who has not grimaced at those pictures of bodies of children being removed from the rubble of buildings IDF planes had destroyed.  Yet the media has paid little, if any, attention to the destruction, both real and emotional, that the hundreds of Hamas rockets have caused in the lives of the millions of Israeli citizens who live near the Gazan border. 

The strength of the ceasefire lies within the hands of the Egyptian President Morsi.  Yet now he himself and his administration is under attack within Egypt.  Hundreds of Egyptians have camped out in Tahrir Square just as they did back in January 2010.  This time they are demanded the resignation of President Morsi.  Strikes have been called.  Violence has occurred.  Egypt is in a state of unrest once again.  What was the reason for this latest unrest in Egypt?

This past weekend President Morsi declared that he alone possessed absolute powers within the Egyptian government.  In essence he declared that he would be another autocratic ruler just as the ousted President Mubarak had been.  Even the Egyptian Supreme Court is struggling with the legality of Morsi's declaration.  Headlines today indicate that the Supreme Court in Egypt has joined the lower courts in striking against the rule of President Morsi.  Wait a minute, I thought the Arab Spring had put Egypt on the road to a democratic, what am I missing?  How could the tide of popular opinion for Morsi turn so quickly? 

First, we need to remember that President Morsi is both a member and a leader within the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the largest and most powerful radical Islamic movements within the Middle East.  And, as you will remember, the Muslim Brotherhood has as its stated purpose the destruction of the State of Israel and the promotion of the next Islamic Caliphate.  You cannot separate Morsi from his political roots anymore than you can separate President Obama from his Democratic roots or George Bush from his Republican roots. 

Second, we need to remember that Islam is a religion that does not relate well to the principles of democracy.  Islam is a religion that is founded upon autocratic ideals.  When one looks at those nations where Islam is the religion, or at least the dominate religion, those nations are governed by autocrats.  Libya for years was dominated by Gaddafi.  Syria has been ruled by the Assad family for decades.  Saudi Arabia has been ruled equally long by a monarchy within the hands of one family.  So, yes, Morsi was elected by the people in a democratic election, but his comfort lies in being the leader with all the powers at his disposal.  Even though he has indicated that this is only a temporary assumption of powers, history is hard pressed to find those who have held such power ever relinquishing those powers later.  As someone has said, "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely."  Time will tell what will happen in Egypt.

But the impact of the Egyptian situation has great bearing upon Israel and Hamas.  If Morsi is forced to resign because of the pressures of another uprising, then the influence he has upon Hamas to keep the ceasefire will be rendered ineffective.  And we know that Iran is already prepared to step in to champion its proxy in Hamas. 

If you are interested in reading about the situation between Israel and Gaza I highly recommend an article written by Dr. Earl Tilford titled, "The Gaza Trap."  You can find it at

Tomorrow a resolution will be presented before the 193-seat United Nations General Assembly to grant an upgrade in the Palestinian Authority's status to non-member observer state.  The United States has gone on record as opposing this resolution.  One US senior official, in an interview with the "Wall Street Journal" stated, "Our message to the Palestinians has not changed.  We believe that bringing forward a resolution on statehood is unwise, does not help bring them closer to their legitimate aspirations, and will create an environment less positive for negotiations.  We are trying to prevent this from happening, don't want it to happen, and it has not happened yet."  On the other hand, the European Union has not yet decided how its member nations would vote on the resolution.  However the United Kingdom has gone on record as supporting the resolution if the Palestinian Authority can grant assurances that it would not seek to join the International Criminal Court or any other UN agencies and would not take its statehood bid to the United Nations Security Council.  You can find this full article at under the heading of "PA submits draft statehood resolution to UNGA."  It was posted on November 27. 

And things have gotten much more interesting in Israel as they prepare for elections in January.  Defense Minister and former leader of the Labor Party (he left that party and had formed his own party known as Independence Party) Ehud Barak has announced his retirement from politics.  And former Kadima Party leader and former Prime Minister Livni has announced that she is forming her own political party.  You have to love the way the Israelis do their elections.  Stay tuned, this is going to get very interesting in the coming weeks. 

And here in the States all eyes will be focused upon Washington as the "fiscal cliff" gets closer and closer.  Many ideas are being kicked around with the emphasis upon "kicked."  As of yet no one from either party has presented "the straw man" from which negotiations can begin.  And until that happens, really nothing will happen.  I am wondering who will show the courage and boldness and political risk to step forward with a proposal.  But to be perfectly truthful with you all, any resolution now will only move the cliff down the road a little further.  The debt load that our country has right now and our insatiable appetite for government funding of almost every aspect of our lives precludes any realistic reigning in of the impending financial disaster.  We can merely postpone it. 

But I am glad that my hope is not based upon stocks and bonds, silver and gold.  "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness."  And I hope you can say the same. 

Thought for the Week:  Forbidden fruits create many jams.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Perspective on Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense

For the moment anyway the eyes of the world are focused upon the Middle East and the renewed conflict between Israel and her Hamas neighbors in the Gaza Strip.  The Israelis, both Jewish and Arab, living in communities near the border with Gaza have endured the anguish of hundreds of rockets launched at their communities from inside Gaza.  Classrooms have been emptied, stores and businesses have closed while families have huddled in the safe-rooms within their homes.  The world has stood by and watched with hardly a whimper coming from the international community. 

In late December 2008 Israel began what came to be called Operation Cast Lead in response to the increase in rockets targeting Israeli communities.  That Operation began with an aerial assault followed by an incursion of IDF forces on January 3, 2009.  Operation Cast Lead was concluded by January 21, 2009.  Of course Israel was accused of unnecessary civilian casualties during that incursion and aerial assault.  But the world tends to forget that Hamas has placed its rocket launchers and weapons storerooms within civilian communities.  (It would be like closing all the American military bases and dispersing those units within major civilian centers - Chicago, New York, Miami, Minneapolis; those potential targets, if attacked by an enemy, would result of many civilian casualties.  Who then would bear the responsibility for those casualties?)  This is similar to what is happening in Gaza.  If you put rocket launchers on school grounds, expect some children to be hurt.  If you put military weapons in rooms in hospital basements, expect some patients to be hurt. 

A week ago Israel began Operation Pillar of Defense in response to the increased number of rocket attacks upon Southern Israeli communities.  The rockets even hit as far north as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem - something not seen since the days of Saddam Hussein.  Damage from those rocket attacks have been kept to a minimum thanks to the presence of the Iron Dome defensive shield that has knocked out many of those incoming rockets before they could hit their intended targets.  Now, over 75,000 IDF forces and reservists are poised to launch a ground invasion into Gaza for the purpose of destroying the military capabilities of Hamas and other Islamic terrorist groups.  As of this writing such an incursion has not happened.

And to complicate any chances of a ceasefire, this morning a terrorist bomber boarded a transit bus in downtown Tel Aviv, planted a bomb and then fled.  The resulting explosion caused nearly two dozen injuries, some serious.  This is the first terrorist attack upon an Israeli bus in quite some time.  Does it represent an escalation in Hamas' plans? 

What makes this renewed conflict different from that of 2008-2009 is the Arab Spring, particularly its results in Egypt.  Back during Operation Cast Lead, the Egyptians cooperated with Israel in closing the borders with Gaza thus preventing any weapons from entering into the Strip.  Today, Egyptian President Morsi has gone on record as giving support to Hamas, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood to which he belongs.  Egypt has said that it would not seal its border with Gaza.  Would the Egyptians chance a war with Israel over Hamas and Gaza?  That seems to be a very viable question.  Another concern is whether Hamas' allies to the north, Hezbollah in Lebanon, will be stirred up against Israel's northern border.  They probably have a greater weapons capability than does Hamas because of their pipeline through Syria from Iran.  And unrest grows within Jordan against the government of King Abdullah.  What are those implications at this particular moment?  It seems that Hamas has become emboldened this time because the response from the Arab world has not been condemnatory.  They feel they have the blessings of the Arab world to continue their assault, for after all, the ones the world holds responsible are the Israelis.  In a way, Hamas cannot lose, no matter the outcome. 

If one looks carefully at what is happening right now, plotting the major players on a map, you will find Israel in the center, surrounded by Hamas and possibly Egypt on its south, Hezbollah and Lebanon and Syria on its north, and Jordan on its east.  Now, let's refresh our memories with regard to the Psalm 83 War.  There Asaph lists a future grouping of nations that will go up against Israel with the purpose of causing Israel's extermination.  Who is included in that list?  Edom, Moab, and Ammon represent the modern nation of Jordan.  Philistia represents the state of Gaza.  Tyre is representative of Lebanon.  Gebal, ancient Byblos, represents Syria.  And many scholars believe that the Hagrites represent Egypt.  Could what is happening today be the prelude to this war prophesied by one of ancient Israel's most notable musicians and seers?  I am not saying that it is, but it is does seem more than a mere coincidence. 

Friends, on this Eve of Thanksgiving, when it appears that the world is spinning more rapidly out of control and we can wonder about who is at the steering wheel, I am grateful to know that my God is still the Sovereign Ruler of this world.  This is a rather unusual Thanksgiving verse, but I have drawn great comfort from it since the election: "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).  This verse is one of the truly great statements of hope and assurance that our God is still in control.  Therefore I need not panic; I need not despair; I need not worry.  I am in good hands when I am in God's hands.  And, friends, I think that is a tremendous blessing for which to give praise this Thanksgiving Season.

So, with that I wish you a Blessed and Happy Thanksgiving.  And, keep looking up, because I think Gabriel is about to begin warming his lips for that great trumpet blast.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Romans One Comes to Life

In our church here in Buffalo (MN) we have been encouraging members to read through the Bible this year.  It has been exciting to see what God does when people begin to take His Word more seriously.  I have been reading ahead as I want to anticipate and be prepared for any questions our readers might have concerning an interpretation of a passage.  I have recently been reading in Paul's letter to the Romans.  As I read through chapter one I asked myself this question, "How did a first century disciple of Jesus Christ know with such accuracy what culture twenty centuries removed would look like?"  It could only be a God-thing.

Take a few moments and read Romans 1:18-32.  What struck me again as I reread it was that little phrase - "God gave them over" - that was used three times.  In verse 24 we read, "Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another."  In verse 26 we read, "Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts," continuing then to describe lesbian and homosexual acts.  Finally, in verse 28 we read, "Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done."  Paul then creates quite a list of sinful practices that came as a consequence of willfully turning away from God.

Let me cite an example of where we are today.  This incident occurred at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and was published on November 1.  The headlines read, "Aaack! Girls Getting Eyeful in Locker Room."  This is a reference to Evergreen State College's nondiscrimination policies that allow a grown man to get naked and change into his swimwear right alongside a girls swim team.  A college spokesman told WorldNetDaily that the school would make sure "transgendered individuals would continue to have access to the women's locker room, and the school would uphold civil rights for all."  A letter was sent from the Alliance Defending Freedom organization to both the college's recreation director and vice-president of student affairs.  The letter reads in part, "Most of these students are minors, and range from ages 6 to 18.  On several occasions recently, the children saw a naked man in the women's locker room sauna who was displaying his male genitalia.  The children saw him through a sauna's glass door, which allowed him a plan view of the young girls while they were changing.  The children notified their swim coach, who called police."  The offender is a male, aged 45, who believes he is a woman. 

Friends, I read this article and could hardly believe what I was reading.  Is it no longer safe for my granddaughters, for your daughters to go to a public swimming facility for fear that a grown man will be in the shower room because he thinks he is a woman?  Has God given us over to the depravity of our shameful lusts? 

Then, just this morning, I read an article published by WorldNetDaily citing a new booklet printed by the International Planned Parenthood Foundation that is advocating "sexual rights" for all children.  There was a link to that booklet.  I share the link with you at
Let me warn you that you will be disturbed by what you read. 

This is the world your children, your grandchildren, my grandchildren are growing up in.  It is time for the church to be emboldened by the Holy Spirit and take a stand for biblical morality and decency.  It is time to help moms and dads teach biblical principles to their children.  It is time for the church to be an advocate to teenagers who want to stand strongly for Christ in the midst of school systems that have caved to the "new morality of indecency."  I believe there are many such young people, but they need our prayerful support and encouragement.  They can't do it alone.  I believe it is time that we stop playing games and begin to count the costs of desiring to serve Jesus Christ with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.  It will probably mean that we are ridiculed.  It will probably mean that we will be ostracized by family as being "old-fashioned" and not politically-correct.   Friends, it is time to awaken out of our slumber.  This is war - war for the souls of boys and girls, of teenagers, of families.  The stakes are high and we simply cannot afford to lose - the consequences are eternal.  Get your church into the fight! 

Speaking of fighting, according to a report in Sunday's edition of The Jerusalem Post, the IDF fired warning shots into Syria after a stray Syrian shell exploded on the Golan Heights for the second time.  "The shell hit as Israel suffered a barrage of missiles from Gaza, putting the IDF in the position of monitoring enemy fire along both the northern and southern borders."  The IDF fired one missile at a Syrian artillery cannon, but it caused little damage.  These were the first shots fired by Israeli forces into Syrian territory since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.  Three weeks prior to this action, three Syrian tanks entered the demilitarized zone on the Golan Heights and remained for several hours. 

I have been on the Golan Heights several times during the tours I have led to Israel.  It is a strategic location paramount to the security of the Galilee and of Israel as a whole.  The Syrians and the Assad regime have demanded its return almost since the ink dried on the armistice that ended the Yom Kippur War.  One wonders why Syrian president/dictator Assad would attempt to incite Israel to war.  By the way he is also doing something similar on his northern border with Turkey.  Perhaps he believes that the only way he can save his leadership and bring the factions in Syria together is by having a war with Israel.  Anyway, the situation in Syria bears continued watching. 

I know these are days in which we could become easily discouraged.  But God has placed us here for this moment with His purpose in mind.  The question you and I must ask ourselves is this, "Am I resolved to not be defiled by the world and to take a strong stand for Jesus Christ no matter what it might cost?"  How we answer that question will reflect greatly upon how influential we will be in our world.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

An Election Response

As many of you did last night, I stayed up late to watch the election returns.  I was guardedly optimistic because of the closeness of the various polls in the final days before the election.  And I know that so many believers had united hearts in prayer for this election knowing of its critical nature to the future of our nation.  But as the evening hours began to wane the optimism was replaced by first shock and then disgust.  How could Americans vote for a continuance of a policy that had failed so miserably for the previous four years?  How could Americans vote for a series of promises that was nothing more than the reiteration of the same promises made four years before and never kept?  How could Americans vote for a continued gridlock in Washington?  How could Americans vote for the status quo?

As I lay in bed last night - really I was sleeping on the couch as Marlys and I had driven down to Ankeny, IA for our granddaughter's honors band concert earlier that evening, so Marlys had one couch and I had the other - sleep escaped me.  I began to remember the America that I had grown up knowing.  A nation where people looked out for one another.  A nation where governments only stepped in when neighborhoods and churches failed to do so.  A nation where trust in one's leaders was earned and respected.  America - the land of the free and the home of the brave - was a place you were proud to call your home.  I remember that during my first trip overseas to Israel in 1979, there was a pride in telling people you were from America.  I remember those famous words of John F. Kennedy as he took the oath of office in January 1961: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

Today those words of a Democratic president are as foreign to us as if they were in another language.  After the recent hurricane Sandy hit New York City, I saw a video clip of a lady hanging on to New York's Governor Cuomo and saying, "Will you build me a house?  I need a house."  And he responded, "Of course I will build you a house."  Now I am not diminishing the anguish that woman had, but her question and, unfortunately the governor's response, is indicative of what ails America today.  Why solve my own problems?  Just let the government take care of it.  Why should I take the initiative to help myself?  The government will provide for me.  Our nation now consists of nearly equal numbers of "givers" and "takers."  The "givers" are those who pay their taxes and are quick to solve their own problems without governmental interference.  The "takers" are those who, as a rule, pay no taxes, and yet are dependent upon government for assistance just to live.  The "takers" are easily swayed.  Where is that pride we once had as Americans?  We were independent thinkers.  We were independent problem solvers.  We had initiative.  We had drive to be the best in the world.  Today we have accepted second-rate status as being the new normal. 

As Marlys and I were talking over dinner tonight, she related an article she had read earlier in the day that simply stated that those of us who grew up in the Republican party with its focus upon high morality and love for country are now in a minority.  Even within the Republican party there are those who want to escape from the controversy of the abortion and homosexual issues by softening the party's stance.  Perhaps that will have to happen if the Republican party is to compete with a party that has already sold out its moral base.  But, if that happens, there will be many of us who will be left without a political house.  

One final thought entered my mind.  In fact is a thought I have been ruminating upon for the past several weeks:  What if God's will for this election is not what I wanted?  I have even prayed that I would be accepting of the outcome.  But that acceptance has not come without disappointment I must admit.  So what does this election mean for us as Christians?  First, I need to accept that God's will has been done just as I had prayed for weeks that it might be.  Second, I need to recognize with praise and thanksgiving that God is still on the throne; His plan has not been rattled because President Obama won a second term.  Third, I need to put this election into its proper focus.  I believe the time of God's judgment upon our nation is close at hand - and I believe it is even closer at hand because of yesterday's election results.  Let me just give an example from here in Minnesota where an amendment was on the ballot that would have given the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman constitutionality.  That amendment was defeated - the first time in our country's history where a state denied that constitutional definition of marriage.  Other states also gave legitimacy to same-sex marriages.  Friends, this is an egregious act before a holy God.  How much longer before God says, "I will give them over to their depraved minds and morals?"  I believe such a time is closer than we want to think.  I will not be alarmed over increased droughts that threaten people's livelihoods or violent storms destroying property and lives.  They will be acts of God "giving us over to our depravities."  Fourth, this election reminded me once again that this world is not my home, that I am a stranger here.  Perhaps we have grown too comfortable in recent years, but now that comfort has been removed.  I believe tough times are coming to those who truly profess Jesus Christ.  I believe it is time for churches to stop playing games and get seriously into the Word of God.  It is time to prepare for the persecution that is coming.  It is time for churches to create plans to help one another when such persecutions come:  legal counsel, financial assistance plans, emergency shelters and food stores, perhaps even educational resources when our children are forced to flee from the public schools.  Perhaps we had better take a lesson from our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. 

It has now been nearly twenty-four hours since those first returns were announced.  The shock has disappeared, the disappointment and disgust will take some more time to heal.  Yet my confidence in God and His Sovereignty remains even stronger.  It is time that I take more seriously my role of leadership over the flock God has entrusted to my care to prepare them for what will happen; it is not a question of "if" but "when."  As someone said, "We are just getting that much closer to the return of Jesus Christ."  To that promise and hope I will say an enthusiastic "Amen!"

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Response to Sandy

Our minds are still struggling to comprehend the magnitude of the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy.  As hurricanes go, it was a relatively minor one, barely making it to a category 1 storm.  But its timing and scope was incredible.  A hurricane, even with relatively minor wind speeds, arriving at the same time as the high tides under a full moon - probably not on anyone's radar screen.  A hurricane arriving just as a strong cold front was arriving as well along the East Coast - also probably not on anyone's radar screen.  Yet that combination has proven to have had devastating and deadly consequences.  Shorelines literally changed.  Towns along the Atlantic Coast now completely gone.  Subways filled with water.  A thirteen foot wall of water inundating houses and businesses.  And significant snowfalls in the mountains.  Wall Street closed for two days because of the storm - a first since the latter part of the 19th century.  Political campaign events postponed as both candidates focused upon people facing very real problems.  What I found so amazing about this storm was its magnitude - stretching east-west for over one thousand miles - causing damage as far away as Chicago and Milwaukee.  The satellite imagery was startling.  With one storm, one third of our nation was impacted.   

Little noted because of Hurricane Sandy was the strong 7.7 magnitude earthquake along the western coastline of Canada.  Tsunami warnings were posted as far away as Hawaii.  Yet, thankfully, damage was minimal. 

Were these two events a wake up call from God?  I am not sure, but the timing this close to the election hardly seems coincidental.  Does the Bible say anything about weather in the last days?  In His Olivet Discourse, Jesus mentions earthquakes and famines: "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of birth pangs" (Matthew 24:7-8).  In the Book of Revelation, there is mention of earthquakes (Revelation 6:12 and 16:18) as well as changes in the atmospheric heavens (Revelation 6:12-14 and 16:18).  John also describes an incredible hailstorm with one hundred pound hailstones (Revelation 16:21).  So hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms, and floods are not directly cited, but I believe it is safe to say that weather conditions are truly used by God to get men's attention.  But are we listening?  That is the ultimate question.  And sadly it is my belief that we are asleep spiritually. 

The continued drought that has plagued America's heartland for nearly a year, wildfires in America's western wildernesses, and now this devastating hurricane are tools that God is using to cause our nation to get back to is foundational roots, roots based upon the Word of God.  The warning is being sounded, the end is getting closer.  How are we going to respond? 

On a lighter note, but just as relevant: Fox News reported yesterday that Dina Kourda, a local volunteer with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has requested that the Orange County (CA) highway department erect a sign honoring hundreds of fish who were killed when the truck hauling them to market crashed - those fish were soon going to grace the tables of some of America's finest restaurants.  You have got to be kidding me? 

With relevance to those who are voting on the same-sex-marriage question.  In an article published October 18 at the website, "Australian school children are to be told that heterosexuality is not the norm, according to a new education department pilot program called 'Proud Schools.'  'Heterosexism' is one of the evils that the Proud Schools program is intended to stamp out, along with 'homophobia and transphobia' education officials have said.  ... The committee suggested that teachers must monitor the playground in order to stamp out 'heterosexist' language among children in out-of-class hours."  I guess teachers don't have enough to do so they can become "language monitors."  Is it any wonder that our educational system is broken?  Friends, this is what happens when one removes God from culture and from civilized norms.  Read those verses in Romans 1:18-32 and see if you don't agree that they mirror our thinking today.  Will God give us over to our depravities?  Yes He most certainly can and will. 

One final scary piece of news.  According to a report in the Al Arabiya News, published on October 29, Iranian officials have acknowledged that they now have very sophisticated drone planes.  As reported a couple weeks ago, IDF warplanes shot down a drone near the Dimona nuclear reactor in Israel.  This drone had been sent by Hezbollah, Iran's proxy in Lebanon.  Now Iran admits that it has far better drones than that one and will use those drone to patrol and police the Persian Gulf.  And so the rhetoric continues in the Middle East.  A showdown seems inevitable...but when? - that is anyone's guess. 

Let me leave you with this thought for the week: Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Verse for Our Times

The final countdown has begun toward the fall elections.  The debates are over.  The television and radio ads have multiplied like rabbits.  Mailboxes are being inundated with information proclaiming the deficiencies of the candidates.  Newspaper editorial teams are making their prognostications, but the value of these editorial endorsements has decreased as newspapers continue to falter in the delivery of the news.  And the polls, I never knew there were so many polling groups.  And I have always wondered how a person gets called for one of these polls.  I have been a registered voter since 1965 and I have yet to be called.  Not sure what the magic formula is to get your name drawn. 

And as we approach November 6, many people are meeting for prayers of intercession on behalf of our nation.  I hear terms such as "this is the most important election in my lifetime" spoken over and over again.  And I believe that statement to be true.  And I have heard that promise from 2 Chronicles 7:14 quoted over and over again as if it were some type of magic formula.  I thought I would spend some time with that verse as I have been giving it a lot of thought these days.  The verse is found in the context of God answering the prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the newly constructed temple.  And the immediate context is found in connection with God's statement concerning judgment that would come upon the people for their sins.  Then God says, 'if my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

Remembering that this verse is found in the context of a declaration of national judgment (vs. 13), I want us to notice the following:
1.  The onus for any national healing falls upon the shoulders of "my people."  And who are they today?  They are those who have put their faith and trust for salvation into the hands of Jesus Christ.  In other words, if there is to be any type of national healing, it must begin in the household of God.  We cannot expect the world to shape up; it does not know how to do that.  But we can expect that those who follow Jesus Christ should shape up. 

2.  The beginning point for national healing comes when believers in Jesus Christ "humble themselves."  Humility is one of the most difficult traits to achieve for just when you think you have arrived, pride of accomplishment can set in.  We live in a culture and society that worships at the throne built by pride.  And because of that spirit of pride we have come to the conclusion that we do not need anyone's help.  We can do it ourselves.  We can fix any problem.  We can solve any dilemma.  Humility admits that "I can't do anything alone." 

3.  National healing begins with humility and continues with believers praying and seeking the face of God.  We seek a lot of things today: possessions by the score, advancement in our careers, promotion of our families, etc.  But how many of us truly seek the face of God?  This seeking does not come by accident.  It must be deliberate on our part.  I must have the strong desire to pursue the very presence of God in my life.  That hunger is what drives me to the very throne of grace.

4.  Finally, national healing becomes available when God's people "turn from their wicked ways."  Friends, this will not happen unless there is first a humbling and then a seeking of God's face.  It is only when we truly see ourselves as God sees us that we discover how sinful we truly are.  No more excuses.  No more rationalizing.  No more blaming someone else.  Not only are we to confess our sins, but to make a deliberate decision to turn away from those sins. 

Friends, it is then that national healing can begin.  And what our nation truly needs is a healing from God.  How sad is it that we think of this need only when our nation is either facing a crisis or facing an election.  Let's not just read this verse in order to win an election.  But let us face the fact that God's judgment is coming and, unless God's people turn once again to Him, that judgment will be experienced.  No administration can prevent its happening.  No government can stop its influence.  Only God's people can stay God's hand. 

Quote for the week: God loves everyone, but probably prefers "fruit of the Spirit" over "religious nuts."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Important Election News

We are now twenty days from the most important election in my life time.  According to most of the polls the election is too close to call at this moment.  One final debate on foreign policy next Monday evening will prepare the way for the final two weeks of campaigning.  The President's track record on foreign policy has been less than stellar the past four years.  Is the world a safer place now than it was four years ago?  The answer is an obvious "no."  We have seen the increased boldness of al-Qaeda and its affiliates, even after the death of their leader Osama bin Laden.  We have witnessed the Arab Spring - a moment of hopefulness - become a time of increased hostilities toward anything Western with the exception being money from the American taxpayers.  We have watched as Iran continues its pathway toward becoming the newest nuclear member - the sanctions put in place against Iran have done little to detour it from its intended goal, causing only hardships upon the common people.  We have seen China grow in power and come to the brink of war with neighboring Japan.  And there was the tragedy of Benghazi and the murder of our ambassador there.  And, finally, and close to my own heart, is our coolness toward our only ally in the Middle East - Israel.  While we may not have thrown Israel under the bus, we have opened the door of the bus and have our foot on their back ready to do so.

Friendship with America was once held to be a high honor.  Those who had been our enemies soon became our friends.  Look what happened after World War II.  Our friendships with Britain and France gained strength during the war years, and after the war, we held out the hand of friendship to both Germany and Japan - both of whom became strong allies.  We were there to help the German people following the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain.  And, in 1948, we were among the first nations to recognize the independence of the State of Israel.  Yet today something has happened.  Those solid friendships have developed cracks in their fascade.  Questions of "can we count on America?" are echoed around the world.  It is time to ponder the fact that we no longer are that friend we used to be.  So, it is that with interest I will be listening to the debate on Monday night.

Finally, especially for those readers of my blog who live in Minnesota, just a reminder of the crucially important constitutional amendment that we are voting on November 6.  It is that amendment that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.  I know there has been lots of confusion because of the television ads against this amendment.  The focus of those ads has been upon emotion and love and tolerance and acceptance of alternative relationships.  But the heart of this amendment has absolutely nothing to do with emotions.  This amendment is not anti-love nor anti-commitment.  And this amendment has absolutely nothing to do with gender relationships.  This amendment does not prohibit those who wish to enter into a same-sex union.  What this amendment does is to clearly define what marriage is.  And this definition was not created by some religious zealot in the Minnesota State Legislature or any governmental body.  Nor was this definition a creation of Western civilization and culture.  Friends, this definition of marriage - between a man and a woman - is as old as the Garden of Eden.  We read these words in Genesis 2:24 - "for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh."  There, the definition of marriage was given by God Himself.  And what is interesting is that down through the millenniums since, no matter the culture, no matter the civilization, that definition of marriage has remained.  Even among the pagans, marriage was between a man and a woman.  But suddenly, here in the 21st century, we think we know better than God what a marriage should be and so we shake our fist in His face and are urged to vote "no" on this amendment.  I have been asked, "what will happen if the amendment is not passed?  Will anything change?"  The answer is that nothing will change immediately, but that the definition of marriage will now be determined either by state statute or judicial declaration, thus opening the door to a variety of relationships that could be defined as marriage - not just between two men or two women, but between a man and three women, between a brother and a sister, between a man and his dog.  Now you are saying, "Don't be ridiculous, Max, that will not happen!"  Honestly, twenty years ago if you asked me if the definition of marriage would be called into question, I would have unhesitatingly said, "absolutely not!"  So, my Minnesota friends, and those who live in other states where this will be on the ballot, I urge you to vote "yes" and declare with your vote that you believe in the sanctity of marriage as defined by God.

Let me close on a somewhat lighter note with my thought for the week: The good Lord didn't create anything without a purpose, but mosquitoes come close. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Debates, Elections, Iran, and 14-Year Old Girl Targeted fr Assassination

The political scene is heating up with the debate season in full swing.  Last week's first presidential debate showed that there is a substantial difference between the two presidential candidates.  I was amazed at how Romney was able to process his thoughts.  I have had experiences in that type of setting over my years of preaching and teaching and I can assure you that it is difficult to listen to thoughts being expressed by someone else, then organize those thoughts within your own mind, and then to articulate not only those thoughts but your comments.  I believe it is a gift.  (I remember a time when I was in Poland ministering to a conference of missionaries who were working in Eastern Europe.  I had the privilege of working with a young Polish lady as my interpreter.  Now I had worked with several interpreters in previous trips to Hungary and the Czech Republic, so I asked Monika how she wanted me to proceed, knowing that each interpreter has a different style.  She said, "Pastor Max, you just talk and I will interpret."  And it was incredible to see her repeat in Polish as quickly as I was saying it in English.  I asked her how she did it and her reply, "It is easy!")  Romney certainly made it look easy last Wednesday night.

Tomorrow night is the only vice presidential debate.  Both candidates are no strangers to this type of forum.  It will be interesting to see who comes across as being most ready to be president, remembering that the vice-president is only a heartbeat away from that office. 

Speaking of elections, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced yesterday that he was moving the date for general elections in Israel from the Fall of 2013 to late January or early February 2013.  It was be very interesting to follow the election bantering that will take place among the many political parties within Israel.  The Prime Minister leads one party - Likud; the Foreign Minister leads another - Israel Beitenu; the Defense Minister leads still another - Labor; and the leading minister without portfolio leads another - Kadima.  (I think I got those right?)  Anyway, as you can see, there probably will be lots of fireworks in Israel over the next few months.  And center stage will be that nagging question, "What to do about Iran?" 

Speaking of Iran, the American media gave very little attention to the downing of a foreign drone over the skies above Bethsheba over the weekend.  This unmanned drone was shot down by IDF fighter planes.  The drone had no missiles or weapons and was probably on some type of reconnaissance mission, possibly to take pictures of Israel's nuclear facility near Dimona.  IDF experts believe that the drone was sent by Hezbollah, Iran's proxy in Lebanon.  You will say, why is this so important?  I trust you have been reading about the use of drones by US Forces over Pakistan.  Armed with missiles they have proven to be a deadly weapon in the war on terror, but at times with the risk of civilian casualties as well.  One drone equipped with one missile has the potential of creating much damage in Israel. 

Tensions are mounting on the borders of Turkey and Syria with both militaries exchanging fire over the weekend.  NATO has said that it will come to Turkey's aid should Syria cross its borders.  But one wonders how Syrian President Assad could justify a war with Turkey in the light of the continued civil war within his own nation, a civil war that seems to have no end in sight; yet the slaughter of innocents continues almost unabated.  And always lingering in the backs of everyone's minds are those questions of where are the biological and chemical weapons that Assad's forces have. 

Finally I would like to share the sad story we just have come to know about the 14-year old girl in Pakistan who was brutally hunted down and shot by Taliban terrorists yesterday.  What type of crime had this young girl perpetrated that caused her to become the object of an assassination attempt in broad daylight?  She had become a strong advocate for Pakistani girls going to school to learn to become something more than what the Taliban states is the role of women.  She had been involved in interviews that were aired not only on Pakistani television but throughout the world via the Internet.  This morning she remained in critical condition with reports that a bullet is lodged near her brain.  This story speaks volume about the character of those whom we are fighting in Afghanistan, Libya, and around the globe. 

Where can a person find hope today?  Certainly not by looking at Wall Street.  Certainly not by focusing upon government.  Hope is only found in having a relationship with the Prince of Peace - Jesus Christ.  If you have such a relationship, then you know that hope.  If you do not have a relationship with Jesus, I invite you to get to know Him as you accept His gift of salvation.  Then, no matter what happens in the world, you have a hope that cannot be shaken. 

I want to close with a quote of encouragement: God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Of Debates, Sukkot, and World Concerns

Tonight is the much anticipated first debate between President Obama and Governor Romney.  The focus will be upon domestic topics which have taken center-stage in the campaign so far.  Many of us are asking ourselves the question, "Are we better off now than we were four years ago?"  The unemployment rate is still high and only inches downward because more and more people become so discouraged in their job search that they have given up that search entirely.  Housing prices have now begun to slowly increase, but are years away from being where they were before the housing crash in 2008.  And, while the stock market has risen in recent months, the volatility still remains; one little hiccup in either the European or Asian markets could send Wall Street reeling again.  It will be interesting this evening to see which candidate can best articulate a message of hope. 

We are in the midst of the Jewish holiday known as Sukkot or the Feast of Tabernacles.  You might recall that this was one of the three Jewish feasts that required Jewish males to attend services at the Temple (the other two being Passover and Pentecost, both in the spring of the year).  During Sukkot, the Jews were required to live outside in shelters or booths made from branches.  This was to remind them of their years of wandering in the wilderness while on the way from Egypt to the Promised Land.  They were to remember God's faithfulness to them.  As I reflected upon Sukkot, I wondered if we had any similar celebration within Christianity.  Certainly there is none that require us to move outside and live in tents for a period of eight days.  In fact, the closest I could come to any similarity was our celebration of Thanksgiving.  The purpose of that one-day is to remember God's faithfulness and goodness to us the past year.  Often that purpose is lost in the midst of family gatherings, football games, turkey dinners with all the trimmings, and preparations for the annual Black Friday shopping extravaganzas.  In our gratitude we demonstrate our ingratitude.  Perhaps it would do us well to erect a shelter in our backyards and spend a day therein just remembering and giving thanks.  You know, there is much we can learn from our Jewish friends. 

I read an interesting article yesterday from the Telegraph, a newspaper printed in England.  The headlines grabbed my attention: "North and South Korea 'on the verge of nuclear war'."  I searched to see if any of the American news sources had picked up this news, but found none.  Surprise, surprise!  Pak Kil-yon, North Korea's foreign minister said, "Today, due to the continued US hostile policy towards the DPRK, the vicious cycle of confrontation and aggravation of tensions is an ongoing phenomenon on the Korean Peninsula, which has become the world's most dangerous hot spot and where a spark of fire could set off a thermonuclear war."  The article concluded by saying that "South Korean media are reporting that North Korean fighter jets have stepped up training flights since July, while artillery units in the west of the country are preparing for large-scale exercises and more submarines are putting to sea."  Guess we have been so caught up with the potential nuclear threat from Iran that we have forgotten that North Korea already has the bomb. 

I want to just highlight a fascinating editorial by Dennis Prager that appeared yesterday at  You can link to the article at  No, the answer is not Christianity, nor is it Islam.  It is leftism.  I also highly recommend Dennis Prager's book, "Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph."  It is an eye-opening read. 

One final article that I highly recommend was written by Daniel Pipes, one of the leading American writers on Islam.  In fact, you should read everything that Daniel Pipes will help you to better understand the Muslim mindset around the world.  Yesterday's article was titled, "Post-Mortem on the Muhammad Protests."  You can find it at  Let me just share the final paragraph with you.  "As someone who's been watching that clash since Khomeini's time, I ascertain three main trends.  First, Muslims increasingly devote themselves to the political imperative of preserving Muhammad's sanctity.  Second, Western governments and elites (i.e. journalists, lawyers, intellectuals, artists) have become increasingly timid over time when facing Islamist fury, willing to apologize, appease, and placate; for one appalling example, see the U.S. embassy in Cairo's effusions on this Sept.11, as a mob raged outside.  Third, Western non-elites have increasingly responded to Islamists with a You-want-to-be-insulted-well-take-this! attitude that includes Koran burnings, "Defeat Jihad" ads, belligerently offensive French cartoons, and a promised roll-out of Muhammad movies.  In combination, these three points lead me to predict that the conflict over values will continue to heat up." 

Well, we are getting close to the time of our Lord's return.  We are hoping for the best!  Praise the Lord!  I close with a verse of encouragement that Jesus shared with His disciples on that fateful night before He was betrayed.  They were in a state of shock over what He had announced there in the Upper Room.  While on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane, He said, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Thoughts for Yom Kippur and Proceedings at the United Nations

Today marks the celebration of Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement - for our Jewish friends.  You will remember it being described in Leviticus 16:2-34, Leviticus 23:26-32, and in Numbers 29:7-11.  This was a day for fasting before God, in fact, Leviticus 23:29 declares that anyone who did not fast on that day should be destroyed. 

The Day of Atonement was the only day of the year when the High Priest was permitted to enter into the Most Holy Place, that sanctuary where the Ark of the Covenant rested and where the Shekinah Glory of God resided.  On that day the High Priest took meticulous care as to how he was dressed, how he had addressed his own sins in his own life, and the attitude with which he was to enter into this most sacred place.  Two goats were selected with one goat being offered as a sacrifice.  The High Priest carried upon his heart the sins of the entire nation of Israel.  Upon entering the Most Holy Place, he would sprinkle the blood of that goat upon the atonement cover atop the Ark on behalf of the nation.  Then the second goat would be brought to him.  He would place his hands upon the head of that living goat, transferring the sins of the people to that goat - the goat thus becoming the sin-bearer for the nation.  That goat was then led away deep into the wilderness and turned loose, never to be seen again.  It was an illustration and a reminder to the people of how God had removed their sins from them.  King David would later exclaim, "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:12).

Praise God that Jesus Christ has borne the penalty for our sins and His blood, poured out upon the cross, removes those sins from our lives as we come to acknowledge and believe in Him as our Savior.  I pause on Yom Kippur and say "Thank you, Jesus, for Your powerful sacrifice.  You were truly the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world.  Thank you for taking away my sins."  Perhaps, on this holy day, you might want to pause and do the same.

Of course, even though it is Yom Kippur, the world continues to shake its fist in the face of the living God.  I trust you are following the events at the United Nations this week.  Yesterday our President addressed the General Assembly and once again reiterated that the United States would use its resolve to stop the Iranians from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  He threatened the use of military force, if necessary.  One wonders how those words were heard in both Tehran and Jerusalem.  The President, in an interview over the weekend with CBS's Sixty Minutes, had said that he would not listen to all the "noise" coming from various regions about the status with Iran.  Of course, everyone knew that the "noise" he was referring to was that of Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel.  Personally, I am getting the feeling that the United States has no plan in place as to this pending crisis with Iran.  I hope I am wrong - guess time will tell, but, if Israeli intelligence is correct, there is not much time left.

Today, the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will address the General Assembly.  Over the weekend, he, too, gave us an insight into what he would be saying.  He reminded the world that Israel has no historical presence in the Middle East at all - that they have only come into the area since the early part of the 20th century, whereas the Muslims have been there forever.  Now, President Ahmadinejad never has excelled in history, otherwise he would know that Israel has been historically identified with the land since the time of Abraham over four millenniums ago.  The Muslims can only trace their presence since the 7th century AD, or less than a millennium and a half.

Finally, on Friday, Prime Minister Netanyahu will speak.  I will be paying close attention to what he has to say.  I believe he is a man who understands what a war with Iran could do to his nation, yet he also understands what a nuclear Iran could do as well.  More next week about the United Nations.

Finally, I have received e-mails from many of my readers that included an e-mail stating that there was a lot of military activity going on in Israel and wondered if something was up.  A friend of mine, David Dolan, who has spoken to several of our tour groups while in Jerusalem, and is a former CBS reporter from Israel, wrote this in his blog: "Reports went out around the world via the Internet during September that Israel was in the final stages of massive war preparations, said to be in anticipation of an imminent Israeli military strike upon Iran's nuclear facilities.  However government and military spokemen said that while Israel is indeed preparing for war, this has been the case for some time, and nothing unusual has been occurring in recent months or weeks.  Well placed Israeli sources have informed me that this was an accurate assertion, although all also realize that growing regional instability means that war could break out at virtually any time.  ....  Some of the spreading war rumors may have been sparked by an unusual Israeli military drill held during the month.  IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz put out an unexpected order to many army unit commanders to immediately rush their forces to Israel's northern border with Syria on the Golan Heights.  Once they got there, live fire exercises and other drills were carried out under conditions that simulated an enemy attack upon the area. .... Although the drill was quite unusual, the IDF later issued a bland statement claiming, 'This drill is part of a routine program of checks and surprise exercises held throughout the year.'  Despite this, many Israelis said the drill was another indication that the escalating internal war in Syria, which has left an estimated 20,000 people dead, may soon grow to directly involve Israel."

Yes, there was a movement of troops.  Yes, Israel continues to prepare for war.  But if one looks at the pages of history since the UN Resolution creating the State of Israel on November 29, 1947, Israel has always been preparing for war.  Even when there have been those times of peaceful interludes, the preparations for war are never removed from their hearts.  I know those of you who sent me the e-mails are diligently praying for Israel - its leaders, its people, and its lands.  Keep on praying, remembering that it was King David who challenged us to "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May those who love you be secure.  May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels" (Psalm 122:6-7).

Thought for the Week: "Some minds are like concrete: Thoroughly mixed up and permanently set."   

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Jesus - Married?! And China and Japan on the Verge of War?

An article appeared yesterday in the Huffington Post Religion page that had the following headlines: ""'The Gospel of Jesus' Wife,' New Early Christian Text Indicates Jesus May Have Been Married."  Of course most media sources immediately picked up on this story as being another refutation of the New Testament account of the life of Jesus. 

What is interesting is that this purported text comes a fourth century AD papyrus that is the size of a business card written in the Coptic language.  It has been translated by Karen L. King, a professor at the Harvard Divinity School.  Dr. King focuses her teaching upon Coptic literature, Gnosticism and women in the Bible and has published research on both the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Mary of Magdala - both of which are Gnostic gospels.  Dr. King went on to state, "The discovery of this new gospel offers an occasion to rethink what we thought we knew by asking what role claims about Jesus's marital status played historically in early Christian controversies over marriage, celibacy, and family.  Christian tradition preserved only those voices that claimed Jesus never married.  The Gospel of Jesus's Wife now shows that some Christians thought otherwise." 

Friends, during the time between the second and third centuries after Christ, there were many stories being circulated about His life.  One story focused upon His childhood, for after all, Jesus must have had a childhood, although we know nothing of it except for one scene when He was twelve years old.  It is a wonderful story of a boy who had power to do worthy things - like heal a bird; but also power to do unworthy things - like cause a friend who snubbed him to become sick.  As evangelical Christians we do not put any legitimate claim upon these fanciful stories.  Much excitement was generated a few years ago over the publication of the lost Gospel of Judas, but it was shown to be just another Gnostic attempt to create another version of Jesus.  And now we learn that Jesus had a wife!  I find it amazing that many people will come to actually believe this to be a true story.  The question I ask myself is this: If Jesus was married - and according to another Gnostic story, Jesus had married Mary of Magdala, better known as Mary Magdalene - why didn't the four Gospel writers mention this in at least one of their accounts?  Why didn't Jesus talk about His own marriage in those passages, such as Matthew 19, where He talks in detail about the significance of marriage?  Truly He could have said to His followers, "Just follow the example Mary and I have set before you", but He didn't say that at all. 

Friends, these Gnostic discoveries are important and reinforce the necessity for those early Church Councils where the doctrines about Christ were established.  I do not put any stock into a few lines that come from a business-card sized piece of a papyrus. 

The other headline that caught my attention yesterday was from the "Washington Free Beacon."  It read: "Chinese General: Prepare for Combat."  I will be honest, I was not aware of the small chain of islands known as the Senkakus located south of Okinawa and north of Taiwan.  Both Japan and China have claimed these islands, but recently Japan purchased three of these privately held islands from their Japanese owners.  This has led to mass protests on the streets of Beijing and other major Chinese cities.  Some protestors carried signs that said, "Kill all Japanese" and "Fight to the Death."  General Xu Caihou, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, considered the most senior military political commissar, said Friday that military forces should be "prepared for any possible military combat."  This was reported by the Xinhua new agency.  China has sent six patrol vessels into the Japanese controlled waters around these islands, ignoring warnings from the Japanese to leave the area.  Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, "While the world's attention was turned to other crises, including Iran's nuclear program and concerns over the faltering Euro, China has upped the ante, playing the role of a schoolyard bully towards its maritime neighbors.  From one end to the other of the South China Sea, Beijing has increased both in belligerence and bellicosity."  You can read the entire article at 

This next week should prove to be very interesting.  On Tuesday, President Obama will address the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly, and on Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will speak before the UN General Assembly.  Of course Iranian President Ahmadinejad will speak - not sure of the day or time, but you know what he will say - 45 minutes of tirades against Israel and Zionism.  The new president of Egypt, Morsi, will also speak, I believe on Tuesday.  These speeches are more than symbolic, for I believe they convey the attitude of the people and we need to listen carefully. 

Friends, keep looking up.  As Marlys and I met with a group of friends this past Sunday evening to celebrate Rosh HaShana, we blew the shofars - certainly not as elegantly as were those blown by our Jewish friends in Israel, but it was a joyful noise just the same - and I thought of how we need to be listening for God's shofar to be blown.  I believe it is not that distant.  Even so come, Lord Jesus!

Quote for the Week:  Don't put a question mark where God puts a period.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Remembering September 11 - Some Things Have Not Changed; and Peanut Butter Is Racial?

Yesterday was a day filled with deep-seated memories of what happened eleven years ago.  Yet, as with many experiences in life, the further removed we are from those events, the less time we take to reflect upon them.  For many, September 11 will soon have no more relevance than do December 7 or November 22.  How quickly and easily do we forget.

What has been learned in the ensuing eleven years since that fateful day that shook America to its very foundations?  Sadly, very little has been learned.  Once again the events of yesterday reminded us that those forces that oppose the freedoms our country has represented these past 236 years have not changed.  The hatred that caused thousands of American citizens to die as planes were commandeered and hurled into the World Trade Center Towers, the Pentagon, and into a farmfield in Pennsylvania, is still as prevalent today as it was then.  In fact, I believe that hatred has grown over the past years.  It is a hatred that will not end until the last vestiges of freedom are removed from our world and the world becomes enslaved to an ideology that has hatred at its core. 

As you have heard by now, yesterday - September 11, 2012 - an American embassy and consultate were attacked.  In Cairo Egyptian rioters stormed the American Embassy, scaling its walls, and penetrating as far as the outer courtyard.  They tore down the American flag and replaced it with a black Islamic banner.  Egyptian security personnel stood by as the assault materialized.  And in Benghazi, Libya, not only was the American Consulate attacked, but the American Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other American personnel were murdered and the consultate was burned to the ground. 

Friends, things have not changed in eleven years.  Those who hated us on September 11, 2001, hate us even more on September 11, 2012.  And that hatred continues.  Whether we recognize it or not, there is one source for such hatred.  Our embassy in Germany was not threatened.  Our embassy in Japan was not threatened.  The personnel in our embassy in London were not put on lock-down mode.  The embassies that have been attacked are in countries where radical Islamic followers have control.  Although many welcomed the "Arab Spring" in January 2010 with the overthrow of then Egyptian President Mubarak, the government of President Morsi has been strangely silent in condemning what happened yesterday in Cairo.   In fact, there has been no outcry from any of the Arab states condemning what occurred yesterday. 

What precipitated yesterday's attacks?  It was purported to be an insignificant video that depicted Mohammed in a bad way.  I understand allegiance to religion.  I am firmly committed to Jesus Christ and the Word of God.  And I will do all I can to help persuade another to give his or her life to Christ.  But, will I take a torch to the Egyptian Embassy in Washington DC because their continued persecution of my brothers and sisters in Christ there in Egypt are being singled out for humiliation and even death because they are Christians?  Of course not.  That is usually not the way those of us who adhere to the Judeo-Christian faith respond.  (I know there have been exceptions down through the years, but they are just that - exceptions).  We respect those with differing beliefs and accept them as equals.  We do not seek to retaliate.  And until we truly understand the fundamental differences between a Judeo-Christian worldview and an Islamic worldview, there can be no dialogue. 

I need to make a comment on what happened yesterday between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.  The relationship between these two leaders has been icy these past few years.  We have seen the cold appearances in the photographs that come when they have been together.  The major sticking point in their relationship continues to be what to do with Iran and its quest for a nuclear weapon.  The Israeli Prime Minister last week in talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Jerusalem asked for the identification of "red line" indicators that, when crossed by Iran, would cause the United States to respond in a military fashion.  The Secretary of State said that there would be no "red lines."  The Israeli Prime Minister asked if there could be a meeting between himself and President Obama the later part of September during the opening week of the United Nations General Assembly.  The Prime Minister said that he would be willing to come to Washington, if that would be more convenient.  The response of the White House was that there simply would not be time because of President Obama's tight schedule.  Of course, he did not cancel his scheduled appearance on "Late Night" with David Letterman.  I know we are in the midst of an aggressive presidential campaign, but there is a time to be a candidate and there is a time to act as the President.  With the crisis of war impending in the Middle East, the least our President should do is to sit down with the only ally we have in the Middle East and talk.  Of course, that is just my opinion.

Two other headline items that did not make the American mainstream media.  One: The leaders of Hamas have been welcomed with open arms in Cairo and will make that city their new headquarters after leaving Damascus because of the civil war there.  The London based daily "Al-Hayat" reported Tuesday that Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood administration has agreed to open a Hamas office in eastern Cairo and establish a joint committee with Hamas to discuss issues of security along the Gaza-Egypt border.  You can read the full article by going to  Two: Bill Gertz, of the "Washington Free Beacon" reports that in early August the head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, Major General Murad Muwafi met with a senior official of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security.  Again, you can read the article at

Finally, I read the following headline this morning - "Principal Sees Racism in Peanut Butter" - and thought to myself, "You have got to be kidding!"  "An Oregon grade school principal suggested in a newspaper interview that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches might be racially and culturally offensive.  'What about Somali or Hispanic students who might not eat sandwiches?' Verenice Gutierrez told the Portland Tribune."  You have to read the article for yourself to see how ridiculous our society has become.  You can find it at  How God must laugh at the foolishness of man!

Well, friends, these are very interesting and exciting days.  Aren't you glad you know Jesus?  If you don't have a relationship with Him yet, I would urge you to confess your sins and ask for His forgiveness and invite Him into your life to be your Savior and Lord.  Then, and only then, will you know true hope and experience a true change that only He can bring.

And I want to wish all my Jewish friends a "Shana tova" as they celebrate Rosh HaShana at sundown this coming Sunday.  Happy 5773! to you all.  And may G-d smile with His favor upon you in this new year.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Is An Attack on Israel Imminent?

In the past few days I have been asked this question by several people: "Max, do you think Israel will bomb Iran in October?"  My response is very simply stated, "I don't know for sure, but right now I am inclined to think they would not."  However, that is not to imply that preparations for such an attack are not being hastened.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks about a "red line" that, when crossed, will result in an Israeli attack.  But the problem he has is in defining such a "red line."  That line is much different when viewed through the eyes of the people of Israel than when viewed through the eyes of the American government or the European Union.  Just this past week a former US Air Force General and CIA director said that Iran could not possibly get a nuclear bomb until sometime next year.  Michael Hayden, in an interview with the Haaretz newspaper said, "While it is probably true that the so-called 'window' regarding effective action is closing, there is still some time, as real decisions are to be made in 2013 or 2014."  One reason given for a possible delay in Israel's attacking Iran would be the need to obtain more Massive Ordnance Penetrators (MOP) bunker-buster bombs.  The thought is that Israel will agree to hold off any attack until after the US elections in order to obtain more of these bombs.  From what I have read, these are huge bombs, weighing over 30,000 pounds and able to penetrate through solid reinforced concrete to a depth of 60 feet.  One can understand why Israel would want those types of bombs in its arsenal. 

Meanwhile, the White House has denied reports that it has struck a deal with Tehran through two unidentified European intermediaries.  The report indicated that the United States would not get involved if Israel decided to attack Iran, and in return, the Iranians would not attack American targets in the Persian Gulf region.  There has been no confirmation of the story, but the mere rumor of such a story is indicative of how people feel about the nearness of such an attack.

I found the following news article, bedded deep within the website to be of interest.  They cite a report that first appeared on Israel's Channel 10 News, featuring interviews with Iranian citizens about a possible Israeli attack.  The report revealed a great tension and fear among the Iranians over the possible war with Israel.  One Iranian said, "The Iranians understand their current president says terrible things about Israel.  You can be sure that not all Iranians agree with the behavior of their leaders."  Another said, "There are a lot of poor people who need help, they work day and night to survive.  Please, do not attack us" - this in response to a question regarding how the economic sanctions were working.  One interviewee defended the right of Iran to develop its nuclear capabilities: "We are surrounded by Arabs who hate us.  Just like Israel, it makes sense for us to have a nuclear reactor." 

Other news of interest that reinforce our living in the last days.  In San Antonio's Northside Independent School District, school administrators have encountered a fire-storm of opposition from residents over a ruling that would require each student to wear a RFID chip so that school personnel would know where students were at all times.  Wearing such devices would infringe upon the rights of students.  You can read the full article at  This is just another step in training people to get used to wearing a device that will monitor your activities.  Such devices are described by John in Revelation 13 to monitor buying and selling.  We know the technology is available - it is already used on pets and other livestock.  I think we are getting closer!

One final story that confirms my lack of zeal to fly any longer.  You can find the article at  We are all familiar with the screening in order to get into the main terminals of our airports.  You know the routine: shoes off, belts off, laptops open, liquids in 3 oz containers and in a 1 quart bag, jackets off - that is before you step through the screening device.  And you think - now I can relax until the hassle of the boarding process.  Now the Transportation Security Administration has come up with a new way of interfering with our "pleasant flight experience."  Now, they are going through the terminal testing the soft drinks and water that we purchase inside the terminal itself.  Guess they want to see if there are any secret explosives in those bottles of Coke or Dasani.  But here is what really irritated me, the TSA does not screen the employees working in the airport or the supplies the vendors within the terminal receive.  Don't you think that is a bit strange?  They would rather come up to me, while I am waiting my flight and enjoying my Powerade, and ask to test my drink than to screen those bottles as they come into the terminal.  Just another reason why I limit my flying.  Just more of Big Brother watching out for us!

Friends, the more I ponder what is happening in the world, the more convinced I am that the only security we can have is found in Jesus Christ.  As the hymn writer states so powerfully, "On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand."  Oh so very true!  Praise God for the hope we have in Christ Jesus! 

I have a dear friend who sent me an e-mail containing a lot of great one-line quotes.  I thought that we all needed some cheering up, so I will give one a week.  Here is the thought for this week - timely I thought considering I begin preaching a series through the Ten Commandments this coming Sunday - "Don't let your worries get the best of you; remember, Moses started out as a basket case." 

Have a blessed week!