Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Tribute to Chuck Colson

The Christian world lost a giant this past week with the home-going of Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship.  He was 80 years old and entered into glory following a brief illness.  In many ways Dr. Colson touched each of our lives influencing us to become better ambassadors for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

As I read the various news articles about his death, I was intrigued as to how Chuck Colson was presented by the mainstream media.  Such terms as "former Watergate conspirator" and "Nixon's hatchet-man" were used.  Yes, that was what Chuck Colson used to be.  He did not hide the fact that he was a man driven by power during those days of the Nixon Administration in the late 1960's into the early 1970's.  Yes, he did state on one occasion that he would do anything to help President Nixon to a second term, even if it meant killing his grandmother with an axe, thus the term "hatchet-man."  And, yes he was deeply involved in what proved to be one of the greatest scandals in American political history - Watergate.  But, like I said, that is what he was.  How the media missed relating who Chuck Colson had become.

After being convicted for the role he played in the Watergate scandal, Chuck Colson was sent to a Federal prison.  There he could have grown more calloused and cold-hearted, as many prisoners become.  But God had other plans and purposes for Mr. Colson.  While in prison and through the efforts of many, including that of the late Iowa Senator Harold Hughes, Chuck Colson came to know the love and forgiveness that come only through Jesus Christ.  His life was dramatically changed - by the way, isn't that what Jesus still does and He does it so well.  Upon his release from prison, God laid it upon Chuck Colson's heart to begin a ministry that would impact the lives of prisoners.  Thus was born Prison Fellowship, a ministry that literally began to change prisoners and prison systems around the world.  Through the program called Angel Tree, the families of prisoners were remembered at Christmas time with gifts given as if the incarcerated mom or dad had made the purchases.  Wholeness was restored to the families of prisoners.  And through Prison Fellowship a model program was created that not only taught prisoners useful skills, but focused upon the change of heart that was needed so that the ways of evil would not be perpetuated upon release from prison. 

Chuck Colson became one of the great Christian apologists of our time.  His book, "How Now Shall We Live?" is a classic that every believer should read, or that every church should consider offering as a small group study.  And his book, "Kingdoms in Conflict," helped me to better understand the clash between the spiritual and the natural worlds.  Stories told in that book will be forever remembered.  He was truly a man who understood the times and the culture and sought to bring truth to each situation. 

As I reflected upon how the world viewed Chuck Colson - the "hatchet-man" - I remembered how the world viewed Rahab.  You remember her story told for us in Joshua 2.  She was a harlot living in Jericho who came to believe in the God of the Hebrews.  At the risk of her own life, she hid the two spies sent by Joshua, and because of her faith she and her family were the only survivors of the destruction of Jericho.  Yet, how does the Bible remember her?  In Hebrews 11:31 - that great Hall of Faith chapter - we read, "By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient."  And in James 2:25 - that great portion of Scripture that encouraged the demonstration of faith through works - we read, "In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off to a different location?"  It is not "Rahab the heroine."  It is not "Rahab the first Gentile convert in the Promised Land."  No, it is "Rahab the prostitute."  The world may remember us for what we were, but praise God, He knows us for what we are! 

As I close the blog today, I want to say "Happy Birthday" to the Jewish people upon the 64th birthday of the State of Israel.  I have been privileged to have been alive as long as the Jewish state as existed.  And I have been blessed to have visited Israel seven times and to have fallen in love with its people, its history, and its culture.  They have not been an easy 64 years, but God has been faithful and the people have been blessed.  May the favor of God be shown to them in increasing ways until the time of the Messiah comes.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Yom HaShoa

This evening marks the beginning of a very special 24 hour period of time for the nation of Israel, a day known as Yom HaShoa, or the Day of Remembrance. It is a time when the Jewish people stop and recognize those six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust of World War II.

This "final solution" plan created, authorized, and carried out by the Nazi Germans is still perhaps the greatest act of genocide that this world has ever seen. Its purpose was the systematic elimination of a group of people, not based upon any type of national or tribal identity, but upon a religious identification - they were Jews. There were Hungarian Jews. There were Polish Jews. There were French Jews. There were Italian Jews. There were Russian Jews. There were German Jews - Jews who had helped Germany begin to rebuild after the devastation of World War I. There were Jews who were bankers. There were Jews who were businessmen. There were Jews who were engineers and technicians. There were Jews who were musicians and artists. There were Jews who were public officials. There were Jewish infants and children. There were Jewish mothers and fathers. There were Jewish grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles. There were Jewish brothers and sisters. Age, nationality, professional skills made no difference. If you were a Jew you were a wanted person. And either you were murdered immediately upon your surrender, or you were sent to an extermination camp - Auschwitz, being one of the major ones - where you were either worked until you died, or sent to the gas chambers for a quick death. And six million were murdered.

And so the people of Israel will remember. Tonight a special service will be held at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial and Museum. Both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres will give speeches. Six torches will be lit, commemorating the six million who died. Each of the torches will be lit by a survivor of the Holocaust. And tomorrow at 10:00 a.m., across Israel sirens will sound for two minutes. Everything in Israel will come to a complete standstill - literally. On the freeways, cars and buses and trucks will stop with their drivers and passengers getting out and standing at attention for those two minutes. Business will stop transactions as employers and employees stand at attention out of respect for those whose lives were so brutally snuffed out.

And so the people of Israel will remember. And you might ask, "Max, why is it so important?" The answer is rather simple: If we fail to remember, then we will forget. There are voices crying out loudly today denying that the Holocaust actually happened or, if it did, it was not as bad as we have made it out to be. Friends, I have walked the ghost-filled streets of Auschwitz and entered into those rooms that still echo the screams of pain and sorrow of those whose lives had no value. It was an experience I shall never forget. We must remember...we must!

And as I think of Yom HaShoa, I am reminded of how often God tells us to remember. In Joshua 4, after the miraculous crossing of the flooded Jordan River, the people of Israel were commanded to erect a memorial so they would not forget what God had done for them. Even the Lord Jesus instructed us that as we partake of the bread and cup that we were to remember His death until He comes. Why do we celebrate Communion? It is because God does not want us to forget the price paid for our salvation.

So I was thinking, perhaps tomorrow at 10:00 a.m., it would be good if we all just stopped briefly what we are doing, and remember our Jewish friends and also remember the great gift God has given to us in the person of Jesus Christ. We must remember...we absolutely must!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

An Easter Postscript

Easter has come and gone. We joined our voices in singing that great Easter hymn, "Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Hallelujah!" affirming the realities of His resurrection. We responded to the acclamation, "He is risen!," with joy and delight, "He is risen, indeed!" The cross was remembered. The sufferings of Jesus were remembered. The empty tomb was celebrated. Now, it is back to life as usual.

Unfortunately that is often how it is. Many of those who jammed into our crowded sanctuaries and worship centers this past Sunday will not be seen again...until Christmas. The enthusiasm of preparation and remembering will quickly fade into the humdrum of the ordinary. Why does our Christian walk seem to be so ordinary? Why is the excitement so quickly dissolved? How can we maintain an "Easter enthusiasm" throughout the remainder of the year?

Let me suggest that we need to, first of all, have a new vision of Jesus Christ. The disciples' joys had vanished after the arrest and later crucifixion of Jesus. I believe it was a pretty somber group there in that Upper Room those two days, huddling and fearing that sudden knock on the door. But then Jesus came and those joys were restored. I believe it is time for us to look around and see Jesus in our places of employment. In our homes and families. In our neighborhoods. In our towns and villages. In our playgrounds. It seems that we don't look for Jesus anymore, at least we don't expect Him to show up. Perhaps if we would begin to write down those "Jesus sightings" on a daily basis we might rediscover the excitement that seeing Jesus can bring. Get out of your Upper Room and see Jesus around you. He is there, make no mistake about that!

Next, let's have a renewed passion for the Scriptures. I shall always remember that statement from the lips of those two who walked with Jesus that day along the Emmaus Road: "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us" (Luke 24:32). Friend, when was the last time you truly got excited over a portion of the Word of God? When was the last time you read a passage, then re-read it, then re-read it again, not wanting to leave it because of its impact upon your heart and soul? May the Word of God become more precious to us than gold and silver.

Yes, Easter is past; but the realities of the resurrection of Jesus are never past. They are to be experienced every day. They are to be our daily hope. They are to be our constant encouragement. Friends, don't let the joys of Easter fade from your life. May the excitement of that news "He is risen, indeed!" stimulate you to love and good deeds for Him.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Some Thoughts for Easter and Passover

We are in the middle of a very special week known as Holy Week. Historically it has been the most sacred of weeks in Christianity marking the remembrance of Christ's death and resurrection. Our salvation from sin is predicated upon the fact of the death of Christ on the cross and the assurance of that salvation is guaranteed by the resurrection of Christ from the grave. There could be no resurrection without a death, but the death of Christ in and of itself had no value apart from the resurrection. The Apostle Paul put it this way: "For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15:16-17). The true significance of Good Friday is found in the reality of Easter morning.

But this is also a very special week for our Jewish friends. Friday sunset will mark the beginning of Passover, the most anticipated of Jewish celebrations. At the Seder on Friday evening, families will gather around the dinner table and methodically retell the story of the exodus from Egypt so many centuries ago. Unleavened bread, known as "matzah," will be eaten remembering that the people did not have time to bake regular bread that night before leaving Egypt. Through symbolic foods on the Seder plate - a roasted egg, the shank bone of a lamb, some horseradish slices, a mixture of chopped apples and nuts and cinnamon, and a few sprigs of parsley along with some salt water - the story of the exodus will continue. The Seder is a yearly reminder to each family member of the faithfulness of God in the past and of His faithfulness in the present. The Seder closes with these words "Next year in Jerusalem" as a reminder that God is not finished with His people yet. They have a hope.

But, even as we celebrate, along with our Jewish friends, the power of God and His faithfulness, there are voices within the world crying out for the destruction of God and of God's people. In an interview conducted by the Fars News Agency (the main news source within Iran), the Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said that Iran's home-grown capabilities (speaking with reference to their production of weapons) have not only made the country self-sufficient in various field, but also given it the ability to help other countries. Did this statement contain the veiled threat that Iran would be willing to export its nuclear capabilities to other nations like itself? But such a statement causes Israeli leadership to ponder the serious threat a nuclear Iran could be. There is an urgency of the hour. As Prime Minister Netanyahu said when he was in Washington last month, "time is running out." Many believe that Israel is already posturing itself for an attack upon Iran that could happen before summer begins. Certainly the threat is not going away.

Of further concern for Israel, and should also be for our nation as well, was the announcement this past week that the Muslim Brotherhood will present a candidate for the office of president of Egypt. A year ago the Muslim Brotherhood had stated that it would not run a candidate for the presidency, but claims the Egyptian military establishment has not done enough to help Egypt in this time of revolution. Israel and the United States both know the intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood, namely the destruction of the state of Israel. Therefore, the elections to be held in Egypt on May 23 and 24 are critically important to watch. Just another sign of the further isolation of Israel in the Middle Eastern world.

Just a final note: We now know who to blame for the rising costs of gasoline. Anyone want to take a guess? The logical choice would be George W Bush for, after all, everything is laid at his doorstep. According to an article on the website (April 3), Israel is to blame for the higher gasoline prices because of "Israel's posturing" on Iran. Just thought you would want to know. I guess we can get into a long line of history that places the blame for all the world's problems upon the people of Israel. They have carried this burden almost since the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. If we do not know history, we are bound to repeat it. I keep finding this fact to be more evident in our world today.

As I close I want to wish you and your family a thoughtful Good Friday and a blessed and joyous Easter Sunday. And, for my Jewish friends, I wish you and your family a blessed Pesach. Together may we join hands and say, "Next year in Jerusalem!"