Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Biblical Challenge in an Uncertain World

I was reading the other morning in the prophecy of Isaiah.  Chapter 2 is one of many passages that describe the events of the "last days."  Isaiah writes: "The arrogance of man will be brought low and the pride of men humbled; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear" (Isaiah 2:17-18).  The arrogance of man and the pride of men are exalted today.  There is a defiance of God that has become louder.  The sinfulness of man continues to grow almost unchecked.  We openly flaunt our sexual deviancy with no shame; at times, I think, our attitude would even make Sodom and Gomorrah blush with embarrassment.  We continue aborting babies with little national outcry anymore.  Our children are abused by their parents, some scarred for life with emotional pain, while others have their brief lives ended in death.  Our teenagers are abused by the gossip and innuendo that pervades the airwaves of Facebook and other social media, resulting in an exponential increase in teenaged suicide. Yet we are reticient to point the finger at ourselves and admit that the real problem is our rebellion against God.  Being humbled resulting in repentance from our sins is certainly not part of the American cultural scene today.  But, as Isaiah says, that day is coming when arrogance and pride will be brought low in humility and God will be exalted. 

With all the problems the world is facing is it still possible to stem the tide that seems to be rushing toward the shore bringing destruction with it?  I believe the answer is found in a familiar verse: "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" (2 Chronicles 7:14).  The starting point is with you and me - believers in Jesus Christ.  The humbling must begin with us.  The turning away from sin must begin with us.  No more excuses.  No more self-justification.  No more rationalizations.  We must fall on our faces before God, confess our sins - both corporate and individual - and repent of our evil ways.  If we will do that, then God has promised that He would forgive our sins and heal our land. 

Will this work?  We have some clear examples in the Scripture.  For example, when Josiah followed his father upon the throne of Judah, he inherited a nation that was wildly involved in idolatry.  His own father, Manasseh, had led the way for decades, promoting one idol after another.  He even went so far as to offer his own children as sacrifices.  The prophets brought God's message of judgment.  Yet, when Josiah became king, he immediately got on his face before God and sought God.  We read: "In the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David.  In the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of high places, Asherah poles, carved idols and cast images" (2 Chronicles 34:3).  Did the judgment promised by God come?  Yes, but not until years after Josiah's death.  The reforms he initiated and his repentant heart before God stemmed the tide.  Can it happen here in America?  I believe the judgment of God upon our nation is inevitable.  But I also believe that that judgment can be postponed if Christians would earnestly seek the face of God and repent of the sins that we have in our own lives.  The question that should ultimately be asked is this: Will we be obedient in doing this?  Each of us must answer that question from the depths of our hearts.

Now for a couple of items in the news that I find interesting.  First, concerning the status of the events in Syria.  Last Friday seemed to be a wake-up call to the world as to what has been happening in Syria these past 14 month.  The massacre of 108 people in the village of Houla - including the execution style murder of women and children - has caused worldwide outrage against the Assad regime.  Yesterday, many Western nations expelled the Syrians ambassadors and other attaches.  The UN representative Kofi Annan stated that Syria is "at a tipping point."  Yet the Iranians keep supplying arms to the Syrian government.  Will there be some type of military intervention as there was in Libya?  Seems like we might be moving in that direction.

Second, the economic uncertainty in Greece continues awaiting elections on June 17.  According to a report on yesterday, some analysts believe that Greece will be leaving the Eurozone on June 18.  So, stay tuned.  This story is far from over. 

Third, the first round of presidential elections is now history in Egypt.  As predicted, there was no clear-cut winner, thus a run-off election will be held in June.  The two candidates are: Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate who received 25.3% of the vote, and Ahmed Shafiq, the former Egyptian air force commander and the last prime minister to serve in the Mubarak administration who received 24.9% of the vote.  George Friedman, in his editorial titled "The Egyptian Election and the Arab Spring," writes "Morsi's strength is that he has the support of both the Islamist elements and those who fear a Shafiq presidency and possible return to the old regime.  Shafiq's strength is that he speaks for those who fear an Islamist regime.  The question is who will win the non-Islamist secularists' support.  They oppose both factions, but they are now going to have to live with a president from one of them. If their secularism is stronger than their hatred of the former regime, they will go with Shafiq.  If not, they will go with Morsi.  And, of course, it is unclear whether the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the military committee that has ruled Egypt since the fall of Mubarak, will cede any real power to either candidate, especially since the constitution hasn't even been drafted."  Friends, what is happening in Egypt certainly bears watching in the coming weeks.

Are you listening for the trumpet?  I believe it will soon be sounding.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thoughts for Memorial Day

Perhaps some of you wondered when Wednesday came and went and there was no blog posted at "Christianity for Today."  And I apologize.  I got caught up in an outdoor project that I needed to get completed as rain was forecast.  I finished just in time.  And how it has rained.  My rain gauge shows nearly four inches and there is the possibility of another one to two inches yet today.  I think I could go fishing in my backyard.  We rejoice over its being received, yet know there are so many places that need rain.  Wished we could share our abundance with you.

These are interesting days.  I trust you are following the elections in Egypt.  They began yesterday and will continue through today.  They are the first truly-free elections in Egypt in nearly a half century.  Thirteen candidates are vying for the position of President, but only four are considered to be front runners.  Included are two members of the Muslim Brotherhood, although both will tend to be more toward the center of the MB - yet they both espouse Islamic Law.  Then there are two members from the old Mubarak regime, including one candidate who is more in tune with the politics of Gamal Abdul Nasser, back in the 1950's and 60's.  Each candidate has gone on record as saying that the 1979 peace accords with Israel should at least be revisited, if not just flatly overthrown.  With the prospect of no one receiving a majority of the vote, there will be a run-off election between the top two candidates in early June.  So, keep your eyes focused upon Egypt - what happens there will have a great impact upon the rest of the Islamic Middle East. 

And I am also watching the negotiations between Iran and the six nation Western coalition: the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China, and Germany.  The proposal presented this week to Iran would require the immediate freeze on Iran's uranium enrichment program.  Iran has balked at this plan because the West is not as willing to reduce the economic sanctions placed upon Iran.  Caution is the watchword here as the Iranians have a history of signing their name to a treaty, only to break it later.  If you want a full description of how this has worked in the past, I highly recommend you read Dore Gold's book, "The Rise of Nuclear Iran."  That book will both trouble you and fascinate you. 

And, who can not keep watch on what is happening in Greece.  Presently there is no Parliament in Greece as it has dissolved itself pending new parliamentary elections in early June.  You might say, "Didn't Greece just have elections?"  The answer is "Yes, they did, but the ruling party did not have an ability to create a coalition to govern."  So, therefore the need for elections.  The future of Greece truly hangs in the balance.  The rest of Europe will be watching the outcome of those elections.  If Greece should leave the Eurozone (for those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, it represents those nations of Europe who have adopted the Euro as their form of currency), there is speculation that other nations might follow because of their own deep financial crises, including Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland.  And the impact of an implosion in the Eurozone would be greatly felt in our own faltering economy. 

On an entirely different note, word was released yesterday of a major antiquities find discovered in digs near the Old City walls of Jerusalem.  I have posted a link to the article:  It is a half-inch seal that bears the name of Bethlehem and dates from the time of the first Temple, indicating that Bethlehem was an important trading partner with Jerusalem back in those days.  And, of course, it gives more evidence of the reality of David who was from Bethlehem.  Friends, over the past decade, the evidence being discovered in digs around the city of Jerusalem are astounding.  Biblical history is literally coming to life through the spades of the archaeologists.  I can hardly wait to get back to Jerusalem to see what has been found. 

This is Memorial Day weekend, a time when we remember those who gave their lives in service of our nation.  I remember, as a boy, going to the cemeteries and visiting the graves of great grandparents.  I remember seeing the brightly blooming peonies, whose blossoms were so large that they literally hung as if in a solemn salute of those honored.  Freedoms that we enjoy came with a high price.  As Julia Ward Howe expressed in her stirring hymn that became the anthem of the Civil War - "As He (speaking of Christ) died to make men holy, Let us die to make men free; While God is marching on."  And she was so correct.  Our spiritual freedoms cost the Son of God His very life.  And our national freedom cost the lives of hundreds of thousands young Americans.  Neither of those freedoms should be taken for granted.  Take a few moments this weekend to perhaps visit a cemetery, to stand in awe of the flag-lined roadways there, and to say a word of thanks to those who gave their all so that you might have the freedom to be who you are today.  Then, thank God that He has provided for your salvation - so full and free. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Hunger Games - A Review from a Christian Perspective

From time to time I am asked to read and make comments on a book that I normally would not be enticed to read on my own. Recently I received such a request concerning the book written by Suzanne Collins and titled, "Hunger Games." This is the first in a series of three books and has become the theme of a blockbuster motion picture. So I decided that I would accept the challenge.

Without telling the entire story, let me give you just a synopsis. The story is set in a country known as Panem, a nation that encompasses most of North America after a major disaster has destroyed the nations presently there today. So, it is futuristic in its setting. Panem is divided into twelve districts along with a Capitol. Each of the twelve districts is focused upon one particular aspect of economic life: some agricultural, some industrial, and some - like District 12, where the two main characters live, focused upon coal mining. Some districts are affluent, while others, like District 12, are very impoverished.

Once a year, each of the twelve districts selects one young girl and one young man to act as their tributes in a contest known as the Hunger Games. This contest is set in a large arena that encompasses forests, lakes, rivers, deserts, hills and caves; yet is an arena that can be electronically controlled by the managers of the games. For instance, if the contestants become too distant from one another, a few buttons can be pushed that will create a wildfire that drive the contestants back into a more centralized location. All of the actions within this arena are televised around the country of Panem.

The two major characters in the book are a young girl by the name of Katniss and a young man by the name of Peeta, both from District 12. Katniss' father died in a mining accident, and she has been given the responsibility of providing for her widowed mother and younger sister. She has become an expert with her hunting skills, including trapping and archery. Peeta's father is the local baker and has not had much skill in the outside world. Katniss has become a very independent thinking young girl but with a heart to help her mother and sister. Peeta has a heart to help others. These are thrust together as District 12's tributes to the Hunger Games.

You are asking me, "Max, what is the purpose of these games?" And here is where I found the book to be troubling. These 24 young people are selected then sent to the Capitol where they are primped, trained, and then paraded before the people of the Capitol and the country. The purpose of the Hunger Games is to turn these 24 young people loose into the arena and watch as they systematically kill one another until only one survives - who is then accorded with great acclamation and wealth. Some fight with spears, others with knives, and still others with bare hands. Some are killed almost as soon as they enter the arena, while others will survive for days and even weeks as they first escape and then begin stalking one another. And all the while the country of Panem is glued to television monitors watching the killing occur. Bets are placed on who will survive. The descriptions of the killings of the young people at times is very graphic. Violence is certainly a theme of this first book.

To be frankly honest, as I read this book my thoughts turned to the ancient gladiatorial contests held in the coliseums of Rome. In those arenas, before an audience that desired violence, men and women would fight to the death amidst the cheers of the crowds. Those who survived such contests were often awarded with their freedom and acclamation, but such survivors were rare. Much blood darkened the sands of the arenas' floors.

A further picture that came to my mind as I read was that recorded in Revelation 11 concerning the reaction of the world when the two witnesses are finally assassinated. For three and a half years, the world has been watching these two men testify boldly and diligently with the message of Jesus Christ outside the newly constructed temple in Jerusalem. Now they are dead. We read: "Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth" (Revelation 11:8-10). The celebration of violence.

I was troubled as I read this book knowing that it was written for those in the "tween years." Why the glorification of violence and death? Why would communities sacrifice the future by offering up as a sacrifice two of their own young people? The images conveyed in the book troubled my adult mind - I wonder what impact they would have upon a young adolescent mind? I have heard others say that there was some redemptive value in the story as some of the contestants reached out to others - Katniss, for example, reaches out to one of the youngest tributes, a girl named Rue. Yet, each knew that as the Hunger Games continued, one would be called upon to kill the other. What redemptive value is that?

To Ms. Collins' credit, she writes an incredible story with believable characters and drama that caused one to keep turning the pages. Yet, the premise of the story was difficult for me as a Christian to accept; in fact, I found it to be very troubling. It certainly would not be a book that I would recommend my "tween aged" grandchildren read. If you want your "tween aged" children and/or grandchildren to read about teens their own age, I would encourage them to read "A Diary of Anne Frank" or even "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer."

If you have read this book, I would certainly welcome your comments and observations.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Very Interesting Weekend With Great Ramifications

Things around the world are happening almost at warp-speed.  This past weekend was no exception.  Recently, in one of my prophecy lunch settings, I shared with the group that one of the areas of the world upon which I was keeping my eye was Europe.  An unsettledness seems to hang as a dark cloud over the entire continent.  Many of the nations of Europe are bogged down in the morass of failed economic policies that have been in place for many decades.  Last year we witnessed the effects of those policies and the accompanying reaction on the citizens of Greece.  With limited funding and without the ability to print their own currencies - the countries in Europe are dependent upon the European Central Bank for the printing of the euros - austerity had become the watchword.  Basically what had happened is that politicians, eager for people's votes, had promised their citizens everything from fully-paid early retirement (we are talking in the 50's) and fully-paid health insurance among other promises. 

When there is no more money and promises are made that can no longer be kept, what are the people to do?  Well, there are two things they can do.  We witnessed the first last summer with the riots that occurred in Greece.  And we witnessed the second this past week. 

Let's begin in France.  The now former President Sarkozy had instituted some tough economic changes into the French economy that would impact every level of French society, but especially hitting the middle class harder.  During the campaign, Sarkozy had pledged to cut heath care spending and find savings of over $125 billion euros over the next four years through spending cuts and new revenue.  His challenger, Francois Hollande stated that he would increase government spending by over $20 billion euros over the next five years.  Angela Charlton, writing for the Associated Press, stated: "Hollande wants to renegotiate a hard-won European treaty on budget cuts that Germany's Angela Merkel and Sarkozy had championed.  He wants more government stimulus, and more government spending in general despite concerns from markets that France needs to urgently trim its huge debts."  As the election returns came in, Hollande was declared the winner having received 52% of the vote.  Hollande, himself a Socialist, has declared that the way out of national economic problems is to "tax and spend" even when there is nothing to spend.  One of the consequences of the French elections is the uncertainty in the stock markets around the globe this week. 

Now, let's turn our attention to Greece.  Yes, the Greeks had an election on Sunday as well, voting for members to its 300-seat Parliament.  The question was: would the two centrist parties retain enough seats to continue their coalition based upon severe economic reforms and austerity measures.  When the dust settled on Sunday evening, the Greek voters were heard loud and clear.  Two extreme parties - one on the left, the other on the right - had garnered enough votes that those seats will now make an impact upon the Greek economic future.  Some analysts immediately proclaimed that Greece would be leaving the Eurozone and reviving its own currency.  The people had grown tired of the hardships.  They wanted a return to the way things "used to be."

So, what is happening in Europe.  People have come to view entitlements as rights.  Big governments are to take care of the people.  Big governments are to provide for my needs.  The only problem with big governments is that they demand a lot of money.  It takes a lot of money to take care of people.  It takes a lot of money to provide for people's needs.  And, where does the money come from?  It comes from the people through taxes.  Did you know that the Bible commands us to pay our taxes?  In fact, Jesus Himself declared that we should "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's" (Matthew 22:21).  The Apostle Paul reminded his Roman believers, "Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes..." (Romans 13:7).  In the ancient world, everyone paid their taxes.  Even the very poorest paid their taxes.  Even as God was giving the Law, it was provided that no one was to be exempt from offering sacrifices because of poverty - there was the offering of the poor that was instituted.  The problem today is that not everyone is paying their taxes.  In fact, nearly half of Americans do not pay any income tax.  When you cut revenue sources by stating that some do not have to pay, yet, at the same time, increase spending - the inevitable is a financial crisis of epic proportions.  The old guard leaders in Europe have finally come to their senses...but it has not trickled down to the general population.  When one becomes used to having "free bread" it is hard to now have to earn it. 

Let me share just one more very important news item that occurred over this past weekend.  Moments before a resolution dissolving the Israeli Parliament, known as the Knesset, and authorizing new elections on September 4 was to be voted upon, Prime Minister Netanyahu, leader of the Likud Party, announced formation of a "unity government" with the new Kadima Party leader Shaul Mofaz.  (You might remember that the Kadima Party's roots were in the Likud Party; the Kadima Party being formed by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon back in 2004 or so).  With now a super majority in the Knesset, national elections were rescheduled for sometime in 2013.  Analysts are still studying the impact this "unity government" will have upon Israel and its relations with the Palestinians including the dialogue concerning a two-state solution, and upon the continued threat of an attack upon the nuclear facilities in Iran.  Stay tuned - this could get very interesting.

Friends, we didn't have time this week to talk about what is happening in Russia with the inauguration of Vladimir Putin as the new President.  Mother Russia wants to play a role in world politics and from Scripture we know this will happen.  We also didn't have time to talk about what is happening in Africa, a continent that has seemed to be in constant turmoil since the days that colonization ended in the 1960's.  And what about Syria - will Assad survive?  And Egypt - what will be the result of its presidential elections later this spring? 

Friends, become a student of your world because you are a study of His Word.  You cannot separate the one from the other.  Remember these words of Jesus: "When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near" (Luke 21:28).

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Suffering for Jesus - It Is No Longer Just a Theory

The Apostle Peter, writing to believers in the First Century, admonished them thusly: "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.  ... However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.  For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?" (1 Peter 4:12-14, 16-17).

The Suffering Church - a concept that we more closely identify with places such as Iran, Iraq, North Korea, China, and now Egypt with the countless Coptic Christians who have been psersecuted by radical Islamic extremists.  We even set aside a special Sunday every fall when churches are invited to spend time in their worship services to pray for the persecuted church.  Somehow here in America we have thought ourselves exempt from such admonishments that Peter gave.  But, my friends, time are changing.

I came across the following article this past week that will help me illustrate the reality of what Peter said so many centuries ago.  You can find the article at:  I recommend you link to this article and read it for yourselves.  It concerns what happened during a speech given about anti-bullying at the National High School Journalism Conference sponsored by the Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association.  Hundreds of high school teens from around the country attended this conference.  One of the speakers was Dan Savage, founder of the "It Gets Better" project which is an anti-bullying campaign that has reached millions of viewers. 

As Dan Savage gave his speech, it became an episode of Christian-bashing.  Rick Tuttle, the journalism advisor for Sutter (CA) Union High School, said, "I thought this would be about anti-bullying.  It turned into a pointed attack on Christian beliefs.  It became hostile.  It felt hostile as we were sitting in the audience - especially towards Christians who espouse beliefs that he was literally taking on."  Savage's speech was laced with vulgarities and other sexual innuendoes that certainly were not appropriate for an audience of high schoolers. 

The article records an interview of a 17-year old girl who was one of the many who walked out during the speech.  She related, "The first thing he told the audience was, 'I hope you're all using birth control.'  He said there are people using the Bible as an excuse for gay bullying, because it says in Leviticus and Romans that being gay is wrong. Right after that, he said we can ignore all the (expletive deleted) in the Bible."  As these students were leaving the room Savage is reported to have called them "pansy-assed." 

Friends, there is room for toleration of Islamists today and we allow them the special privileges that they request.  There is tolerance for atheists who have blatantly turned against God.  But there is no tolerance today for Christians who dare to stand up for biblical truths and principles founded upon those truths.  Just look at how evangelical believers are portrayed in movies and on television programs.  They are the ones who are backward thinking and certainly not progressive.  Look at how educators are rewriting the history books to eliminate the strong influences of Christianity in those formative years of our nation's founding.  Look at how we have almost had to fight for the freedom to say "Merry Christmas" during the time of the celebration of Christ's birth.  Or think of how many Christian employees are asked to do something for the advancement of their company that might be questionable biblically.  What do you do? 

The Apostle Peter would say that we should not be surprised.  Suffering is coming.  And the admonishment is not to be ashamed when it happens.  How are we to respond?  How can we be encouraged?  I believe that is the role of the Body of Christ.  As we gather, whether for corporate worship or in small groups, we are to encourage one another, and, as the writer of Hebrews states, "even more as you see the Day drawing near"  (hebrews 10:25).  It also behooves the Church to clearly define what those essentials of the faith truly are.  What are those values that are worth contending for and even dying for? (Jude 3)

What happened at the Journalism Conference is a forerunner of what, I believe, will happen in the coming days as we get closer to the return of Jesus.  May we be prepared with a resolution as strong as was Daniel's (see Daniel 1:8).