Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Earnest Prayer Is Needed

I want to begin my blog this week with an urgent call to prayer for an imprisoned Iranian pastor who is under a sentence of death. His name is Yousef Nadarkhani, a husband and father of two small children. He was arrested in 2010 and convicted of converting from Islam to Christianity. His trial before an Iranian court resulted in his receiving a death sentence. His lawyers appealed his case to the the equivalent of the Iranian Supreme Court which in the fall of 2011 rejected that appeal. In January, the Court released Pastor Yousef to be hanged. As of today, that sentence has not been carried out, and the outcry from across the world is great for his release. Even representatives from both sides of the aisle in Washington have co-sponsored a resolution that will be presented to the United States Congress in a few days strongly requesting the Iranian government to release Pastor Yousef.

As I have been sharing this request with many these past few days, I was strongly reminded of the account in Acts 12 where Peter and James had been imprisoned for their faith. The Bible tells us that Herod Agrippa I had James put to death with the sword. Peter's trial and death could await the end of the Passover. I love verse 5: "So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him." I wonder how much "earnest prayer" is made by the church today? I am afraid that too often our prayers are weak and anemic, certainly not powerful and effective as the prayers of a righteous man should be (James 5:16).

As the church prayed, God worked, sending an angel to appear before Peter and telling him to get up. When Peter did, the text tells us that his chains fell off. Now that should have told Peter something. But Peter was still in a daze, thinking this was all a dream. Finally when he walked outside the prison, he came to his senses. He knew this was a miracle of God. His first thought was to go to the house where he anticipated people would be praying. I will not elaborate on what he found there, except to say that the people had prayed but had difficulty in believing that God would act on their prayers. Pretty common malaise among Christians today, by the way. We pray with so little faith to believe.

I have been praying that God would open those prison doors in Iran for Pastor Yousef and bring him forth so the world will know that it was God who had acted strongly on Pastor Yousef's behalf. Do you think that if this happened many of the Iranians might come to Christ?

Perhaps, as you are praying for Pastor Yousef and his family, you will be reminded of others whom you know that are in some type of bondage and need freed by God's grace. It might be a relationship or marriage. It might be a job situation that is difficult. It might be with neighbors or friends. It is time that you pray for God to open those prison doors and release the "peters" there. Our God is still able to do this. His power has not diminished one iota since the day He brought forth Peter from that prison in Jerusalem. Our God truly is mighty to save!

One other matter for prayer: This coming Monday, March 5, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with President Obama in Washington. From all indications, it will be a rather cool reception by the President. Word has come from several sources indicating that Israel has already informed our government that they will not be given an information concerning any pre-emptive strike Israel might take against the Iranian nuclear program. Please join with me in praying for this meeting on Monday that the Prime Minister might have courage and boldness to share the feelings of the Israeli people well and that our President might have a listening heart. I will keep you posted as to the outcome of that session.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Call for Reality in the Midst of Exuberance

As I turned on the television this morning to catch the headlines that were attracting attention, the lead story was the Dow crossing the 13,000 point barrier briefly yesterday. It has not crossed that threshold since the great collapse back in 2008. Some of the pundits were excited and predicted that the Dow would be even higher at the close of the year. Yet, I do not want to be the bearer of bad tidings, but look at reality:

  1. Gasoline prices are nearing record territory, in fact, in some places those records have already been smashed and it is still February. Forecasters are saying that gasoline will reach $5 per gallon as early as Memorial Day. And, if there is some type of conflict between Iran and Israel in the near future, the price of oil and gasoline will sky-rocket into ranges never before even pondered, let alone realized. Every dollar that does into the gas tank is another dollar less to spend elsewhere.

  2. Food prices are soaring especially beef prices. Because of the drought in West Texas that began last summer, ranchers sold their herds because of the price of hay. There will be a shortage of beef for the next couple of years until those herds can be rebuilt, and that rebuilding process will be dependent upon the drought being broken. By the way, food prices will soar even higher if the price of fuel continues to climb. Consumers are always the end of the line.

  3. Although there have been slight decreases in the number of homes being foreclosed, there yet remain many home owners who are under water. The question is when will these homes come onto a market already struggling to find some stability?

  4. And the global financial situation has not improved greatly. Yes, the Europeans have solved the problem with Greece, thus preventing a major default by the Grecian government. But who will be paying for the impending crises in Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Ireland? Where is all this money going to come from? And, who is going to buy the projected 1.3 trillion dollar deficit the present Administration is proposing for fiscal year 2013?

Yes, for those of us who have money invested in the stock market, a rising Dow average is good news. The monthly statements are much easier to receive now than they were several months ago. Yet I believe too much exuberance is very much premature.

And the news coming from the Middle East continues to keep us on the edge. Just today, the Russians, in an article published by the Reuters featured this statement: "Russia warned Israel on Wednesday that attacking Iran would be disastrous and played down the failure of a U.N. nuclear agency mission to Tehran, saying there is still a chance for new talks over the Iranian atomic programme." ( Also this week, senior Iranian officials threatened that Iran would launch its own pre-emptive missile attack against Israel accompanied by a wave of suicide bombings in the U.S. In recent weeks we have seen what Iranian-backed terrorists have been able to do in Thailand, India, Georgia, and other places around the world. I think we are only fooling ourselves if we think those cells do not exist here in our country.

For those of you who have been following this blog for the past few years will understand that, I believe, the Bible declares an upcoming war in the Middle East known as the Psalm 83 War to be followed by the Ezekiel 38-39 War. I believe the stage is being prepared for either or both of those to occur. Certainly the players are there. I think we are just waiting for the Director to announce "lights, camera, and action!" But it won't be long!

Friends, be encouraged as you read the Scriptures. Our hope is not in our armies or in our government or in our financial plans. Our hope is in Jesus Christ...everything else is sinking sand.

P.S. Again, for those of you who live in Central Iowa, I will be speaking on Friday night and Saturday morning at the Westchester Evangelical Free Church on many of these matters. Would really enjoy meeting you. Please call the church office for times.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Of Iran, Lipstick, and School Lunches

Among the headlines today was Iran's loading nuclear fuel rods into a research reactor despite repeated warnings from the international community and the United Nations to stop their nuclear development program. In addition, the Iranians have moved one of their nuclear testing sites into a deep underground facility near the city of Qoms. It is likely that in a few months all of Iran's nuclear facilities will be housed in underground bunkers which will make for difficult military targets, whether Israeli or American or United Nations.

And we have been hearing this week of attempts made on the lives of Israeli diplomatic personnel in India, Georgia, and Thailand. Israeli authorities have placed the blame on Iranians and their proxies Hezbollah. Fortunately no one was killed, although the wife of one Israeli diplomat in India was severely injured, yet thankful that her children were not in the car with her. These attacks come in response to Iranian accusations that the Israeli Mousad has been behind the recent string of assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, which involvement Israeli authorities have strongly denied.

Continuing our focus on the Middle East. This past Sunday a new poll was released by the Independent Palestinian Center for Public Opinion that indicated that if elections were held now, Palestinians would re-elect President Mahmoud Abbas over Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal by a 49.9 to 29 percent margin. In addition the poll suggested that 40 percent of Palestinians believe that their economic plight will only deteriorate under a unified Fatah-Hamas government. This poll came after Abbas and Mashaal had signed a reconciliation deal a few days earlier in Qatar, which gave Abbas the title of President and Prime Minister. Hamas leaders in Gaza have been furious over the deal because they were not included in the planning. One thing is for certain: this new deal will not advance the cause of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Let me ask you: Aren't you glad that your government is watching out for you? Ladies, aren't you glad that the government has said that certain lipsticks you have been using "might" contain enough lead to cause medical problems. As I read that article in this morning's paper, I thought to myself: how can the government protect me from all the risks that come because I am alive? Life necessarily brings risks. If I undergo surgery, there are risks for infections. If I eat at a restaurant, there are risks of e-coli bacteria that might be present. If I use a cell phone there are risks of electrical waves that might cause brain cancer. If I get into my car and drive to my office at the Church, there are risks that I might have an accident. Yet I do drive to my office; I do use my cell phone; I do enjoy eating at various restaurants; and I will have surgery when the need arises. I do not need the government to monitor my life telling me how to avoid risks. Maybe I am over-reacting, but I do not believe that it was the intention of the framers of our American way of life that the government should be intrusive into every area of that life.
Even Jesus, when asked why 18 people died when the tower in Siloam fell on them, basically said that there are risks in life and that one needs to be prepared for what occurs when death does come (Luke 13:4).

What really got me angry was reading an article out of Raeford, NC, where a young preschooler at the West Hoke Elementary School had a state agent inspect his lunch which his mother had packed for him. The lunch included a turkey and cheese sandwich, a banana, apple juice and some potato chips. The agent said that the lunch "did not meet US Department of Agriculture guidelines." In other words, it was not "healthy" according to Federal guidelines. The preschooler was then given a school-lunch and a note was sent home saying that the child owed $1.25 for the three chicken nuggets which he ate off the tray. Really makes you wonder what goes on behind closed doors in Washington?

Yet there is good news, friends. Jesus is coming! How we need to keep clinging to that powerful truth!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rumors of War Are Increasing - What's Next?

Over recent days I have had numerous requests to share my perspective on what is happening in the Middle East. Tensions in that region are mounting, perhaps greater now than they have been since the Second Lebanon War of 2006. War seems to be on the minds of many international leaders and editorials in many newspapers and news magazines around the globe are speculating about not if there will be war, but when.

Let's consider the Syrian situation. The removal of President Assad was dealt a crippling blow last weekend when the Russians and Chinese vetoed a strong United Nations Security Council Resolution demanding that Assad step down from office and allow democratic reforms within Syria. Almost immediately after the veto reports began to circulate of increased violence in Homs and elsewhere with a rising death toll. The Russians and Chinese have shown their hands. They are willing to commit arms and resources to keep the present Syrian regime in power. For the United Nations to authorize any type of military intervention into Syria, like that of NATO into Libya, would be to invite a war against Russian and Chinese military, as well as invite Assad to launch an attack at Israel either directly or through the Syrian proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon. I believe the only way Assad will be forced to leave is if there is a mass defection of Syrian soldiers from the military - which seems highly unlikely. Civil War is inevitable unless the Russians and Chinese are persuaded to change their minds.

Now for the escalating rhetoric between Iran and the rest of the world. This week the Iranian parliament's official website published an article that appeared in the Alef News Agency calling on the Iranian government to attack Israel before the end of the year. The target, according to the article, would be the area between Jerusalem and Lod (including Tel Aviv). Last Friday, February 3, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that "Israel is a cancerous tumor that should be cut and will be cut. ... From now on, in any place, if any nation or any group confronts the Zionist regime, we will endorse and we will help. We have no fear expressing this." Khamenei also had these warnings for the United States: "A war would be 10 times deadlier for the Americans... These threats indicate America's weakness and the Americans need to know that the more threats they make, the more they damage themselves." One Iranian computer engineer stated that Israel could be annihilated in a matter of nine minutes with a coordinated rocket assault.

Also, it has been learned that the Iranians are mass-producing anti-ship cruise missiles. The Zafar missile is capable of destroying both small and medium sized targets with great precision. They can be mounted on speed boats which we know the Iranians use in patrolling the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz. Even more alarming was the docking of an Iranian naval vessel in the Saudi port city of Jeddah over the weekend. The captain stated: "This mission aims to show the power of the Islamic republic of Iran on the open seas and to confront Iranophobia." What makes this so interesting is that relationships between Iran and Saudi Arabia have greatly deteriorated over the past year or so.

So will Israel launch a pre-emptive strike upon Iran's nuclear facilities? That is the $64,000 question. It is almost certain that Israel will not sit back and watch Iran continue its pathway toward nuclear warhead production. And Israel's intelligence community knows that Iran is acting quickly to bury their nuclear facilities into deep underground bunkers. When those bunkers are finished the task of removing the nuclear threat through air strikes alone will be significantly decreased. Israeli Defense Ministry Ehud Barak, this past Friday, said: "The world has no doubt that Iran's nuclear program is steadily nearing readiness and is about to enter an immunity zone. If the sanctions don't achieve their goal of halting Iran's nuclear weapons program, there will arise the need of weighing an operation."

A report in the "Washington Post" by columnist David Ignatius stated that US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta believed there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June. The United States wants to continue pressing economic sanctions against the Iranian regime. But, according to Ephraim Kam, deputy director of Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, "It will take at least six months to see whether sanctions are effective and by then it may be too late." Speaking of the difference between Israeli attitudes and those expressed in Washington, Kam said, "We're definitely using different clocks."

Nicole Gaouette and Jonathan Ferziger, in an article published on the Bloomberg News, quoted an interview with Mahdi Khalaji, an Iranian specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Khalaji said that he doubted that the US or Iran would launch a military strike this year, but cited the possibility that Iran might stage a provocation and use any response as an excuse to launch an asymmetrical attack against US and Israel targets using proxies such as Hezbollah.

So we play the waiting game. Will Israel act without first gaining American permission, or will Israel act first? In the past Israel has been successful when it has been pre-emptive. The 67 Six-Day War is a classic example, while the 73 Yom Kippur War is an example of what happened when they yielded to American pressures and did not act pre-emptively.

Whatever happens we know it will part of God's plan and certainly the Middle East is the centerpiece for that plan.

P.S. For those of you who live in the Des Moines (IA) area, I will be speaking at a Prophecy Conference at Westchester Evangelical Free Church, on Friday night, February 24, Saturday morning, February 25, and Sunday morning, February 26. Among the topics we will be addressing are: Israel and the Land and God's Promises, the Rise of Anti-Christ and the Spirit of the Age, and questions and answers about current news events. Please call Westchester Church for further details.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sermons - What is Truly Being Said

The other day I received a flier in the mail from one of the newer churches that has been planted in our community. The flier was attractively done and showed a young family having fun, headlining the series of topics for the month on the family. But here is what attracted me even more. One of the bullet points for the church was this: we have short sermons that will not bore you.

Is boredom created on Sunday morning because of long sermons? Are shorter sermons less boring than longer ones? In fact, does length of time have anything to do with the matter at all? Let's see, Jesus preached some long sermons - the Sermon on the Mount being among His longest. But there was also His long sermon about the Kingdom (Matthew 13) and His long lecture about the End Times (Matthew 24 and 25). But Jesus also was the master at shorter sermons and dialogues, using picture stories to draw attention to strong biblical truths. His parables are classic examples.

The Apostle Paul also knew the value of using both shorter discourses as well as longer ones. Perhaps his longest sermon resulted in the death of one of those listening. We read these words in Acts 20:7-11 - "On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. 'Don't be alarmed,' he said. 'He's alive!' Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left." Now that was one long sermon - and at least one person thought it boring enough to fall asleep. Probably Eutychus did not consider the rest of the sermon boring after being brought back to life. In fact, I doubt whether he ever went to sleep in church least he did not sit in a window seat.

Friends, the length of the service is not where our focus should be. The focus is on what is being taught. In many churches today, the message is being distorted and watered down so as to be more attractive to people. After all, we certainly don't want to drive people away. What is it that people are really searching for today? Some are longing for acceptance and approval of the lifestyle they have already adopted. Others are looking for some type of reassurance that they are okay - they want to feel that slap on the back and the words, "Charlie, you are a good man!" One way the Church has responded to these people is to create a message that states: "God loves you just the way you are!" Friends, I think if this is the only message we proclaim, then it is a message of deception. It results in people feeling good about who they are in their sin. It results in people feeling that God's love just accepts everyone no matter what.

I know some of you will say, "Max, but isn't it true that God loves each of us just the way we are?" And my response is "Yes, He certainly does. But, when I encounter God's love I am forever changed. I am not the same person as I was previously." I remind my congregation that God accepts us as we are, but He does not leave us that way. He truly changes us. And it is this message of change that is missing today. "Come, hear a short message and you will leave feeling good about who you are." Is that truly what the Gospel message is all about? No! It is about changed lives with changed purposes and with changed attitudes.

As you listen to the sermon this week, whether it is 15 minutes or 45 minutes, ask yourself this question: "Is this message merely telling me that I am a good person?" or "Is this message asking me to change to become the person God wants me to be?"