Tuesday, September 24, 2013

More in Our Troubling Day

An article appeared in Sunday's "Variety" section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  The article was entitled "beyond gender."  I think the substance of this article represents the decadence of current American culture.  Let me quote from the article:
     "Gender is a fixed fact of life for most people, from the moment the doctor says, 'It's a boy' or 'It's a girl.'  But a small yet increasingly visible segment of the GLBT community is challenging the idea that every person must live as one gender or the other.  Instead they're choosing to live openly - personally and professionally - as both, or somewhere in the middle.
     "People who experience a blending or alternation of gender states are recognized by the American Psychological Association as a subset under the umbrella term of transgender.  But unlike some transgender individuals, such as recent Wikileaks newsmaker Bradley-turned-Chelsea Manning, who seek to transition to the gender that reflects their inner gender identity, some people prefer not to be confined by 'binary' gender at all.
     "'We live in a culture that's pretty gender-binary,' said Katie Spencer, a psychologist and coordinator of the transgender health services program at the University of Minnesota Medical School.  'There is a lot of pressure on people to pick a box.  Lots of practical things - like restrooms and pronouns - push people to pick one.
     "Pronouns get complicated when 'he' and 'she' aren't options.  Some genderfluid people prefer 'they.' Others advocate new neutral pronouns, such as 'ze.'"

The article is filled with illustrations from individuals who are men one moment and women another moment.  Men and women who vacillate between genders, depending upon the situation.  Now, I don't know about you, but I would find this confusing: Do I dress today as a male or as a female?  Do I display my feminine side today or my masculine side?  Am I a Jim or a Julie?  And how confused would be those colleagues at work: one day you are Jim, the next day you might be Julie. 

Friends, as I read the above article last Sunday afternoon, my thoughts drifted back to that very first chapter in the Bible.  There we read, "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:26-27).  Did you see what the text clearly states?  God made only two types of people: male and female.  And God so created the sexes that each was clearly distinct from the other.  A look in the mirror told whether one was male or female.  The concept of genderfluid individuals is foreign to Scriptural teachings. 

For centuries the distinction between the sexes was clearly defined.  Little girls grew up playing with dolls and playing house.  Little boys grew up playing with trucks and playing backyard football.  Both were making discoveries of what was expected because of their sexuality.  Along came World War II, and with the men off to war in two theatres, work at home became the responsibility of wives and mothers.  And, following the war, many of those wives and mothers found some satisfaction within the workplace and decided to remain.  More and more women entered the work force.  Some even began doing jobs that had previously only been associated with men.  Then came the clarion call for equality between the sexes.  And the confusion of the roles between the sexes continued to be muddied. 

Now, not only are the gender roles confused, but there is a confusion regarding gender itself.  On some application forms you can check whether you are a male, a female, or other.  Now, friends, I truly do not know what an "other" is.  I don't believe I have ever met an "other."  I have met many males and females, however. 

This article hits home as I am presently meeting with 28 men on Tuesday mornings (6-7:30 a.m.) for a verse-by-verse study in Romans.  Those closing verses of Romans 1 are the subject for next week's lesson.  There the Apostle Paul speaks much of gender confusion.  And he clearly states, in fact he states it three times, that "God gave people over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity, to shameful lusts, and to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done" (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). 

There is confusion today because we have abandoned truth found in the Word of God.  Yes, we are to love these people even as Jesus does.  But let us not give acceptance to their gender confusion.  Let's point them to Jesus who can truly set them free to become what God desires them to be. 

Just another sign pointing in the direction of the soon coming of Jesus.  I don't know about you, but I can hardly wait.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

An Interesting Poll

Last week a new poll, conducted by the Barna Group, was released.  It had been commissioned by Jim Fitzgerald, author of "The 9/11 Prophecy."  One of the featured questions on the poll was: "Do you, personally, believe that the world is currently living in the 'end times' as described by prophecies in the Bible, or not?"

41% of Americans agreed that the end times are here.  Fitzgerald said that he was surprised by the results: "I thought the numbers could possibly be as low as 10 percent for the overall population and maybe 30 percent for Christians in general, or less.  I had no way to know before the survey.  But the response of the overall population was higher than what I expected from Christians, and the evangelicals' response was nearly twice what I thought." 

The poll found that among Protestant responders, one in two believe the end times have arrived.  Among Catholic responders, nearly three out of four said that we were not living in the end times.  Another interesting statistic from the poll was that 54% of the blacks said yes, as did 48% of Hispanics.  Whites were at about 39%. (Taken from an article at www.wnd.com/2013/09/shocking-number-say-end-times-have-arrived).

So, what does this poll mean, if anything?  First, I am excited to believe that nearly half of Americans are waking up to the thought that the world is going out of whack.  That what we are experiencing today is really not normal - at least as measured against the past.  Second, I am thrilled that many are beginning to see the events of the world as having some purpose beyond just the here-and-now.  Perhaps authors such as Jonathan Khan, with his book "The Harbinger," and Joel Rosenberg, with this most recent thriller, "The Damascus Countdown," are causing people to see world events through a different set of lenses - through prophetic and biblical lenses. 

Let me just enumerate a few things that help bring things into perspective:
1.  Syria: Russia's involvement in Syria should not have surprised us.  Syria has been an ally of Russia since the days of Assad's father.  Russia has built a warm water port along the shores of northern Syria.  Syria is a key to Russia's keeping their hands on what is going on in the Middle East. 

2.  Iran: Wasn't it interesting that in the same week that Russian President Putin was declaring to the world that he would go into Syria to destroy their chemical weapons, that he entered into an agreement with Tehran to help them build a new nuclear reactor?  Didn't hear that one?  Thought so...sort of just snuck in there, forgotten by the media in their Syria frenzy.  But remember the words of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that the real problem in the Middle East is Iran and its rush toward becoming a nuclear power.

3.  Weather: What a wacky year it has been.  From record heat waves in Alaska this summer to historic floods in Colorado to destructive wildfires in California and other western states to drought once again in the nation's midsection.  Climate change?  I just read where the Arctic ice cap grew by 6 million square miles this year.  Hardly sounds like it is getting too warm.  As someone said recently, "the only thing we can depend upon in the weather department is that it will happen." 

4.  Papal statements: Like so many others I am trying to figure out Pope Francis.  I love his passion for the poor and his more simple way of living.  But he has made a few statements that make me wonder just what his theology is.  Can atheists enter into heaven?  According to Pope Francis, yes they can if they have not violated their conscience.  But my Bible, and I think the Catholic Bible says the same thing, at least the version I have on my study shelf, says that the only way to enter into heaven is by believing on the Son of God, Jesus, and that necessarily means believing in God.  I read the Pope's statement and came to believe that we are rushing down the pathway toward universalism. 

Friends, I, too, believe that we are living in the early days of the end times.  I believe the world will get worse.  I believe persecution of Christians will increase, not just in Syria and Egypt (the stories coming out of those two war-torn nations are gut-wrenching) but here in America as well.  Not looking forward to it, but believe it will definitely happen in my lifetime. 

Many are beginning to be awakened.  That is very good.  But there are many more who simply prefer to sleep and be awakened when it is all over.  How we need to just keep proclaiming the message of God's love, but also of His coming judgment. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Is America A Lost Tribe?

It is tempting to continue talking about the situation in Syria, but let's give it some time.  Perhaps the plan put forth by the Russians to avert another international war will work.  We should know the answer to that question within the next few weeks, if not sooner.

I read an article that was posted on the WND website on August 30, titled, "Glenn Beck: U.S. Identified in the Bible."  You can find it at www.wnd.com/2013/08/glenn-beck-u-s-is-lost-tribe-of-Israel.  As reported by Joe Kovacs, a reporter for the World News Daily network, Glenn Beck has come to believe that Great Britain and the United States are the lost tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh.  This teaching is known as "British-Israelism" or "Anglo-Israelism."  The basic premise is based upon the historical and biblical fact that, following the death of King Solomon, the nation of Israel was divided into two separate nations.  The Northern Kingdom, known in the Bible as both Israel and Samaria (so named after its capitol city), and the Southern Kingdom, known in the Bible as both Judah and Jerusalem (again named after its capitol city), were created because of the sins of Solomon.  The books of 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles detail the stories of these two kingdoms.  The Northern Kingdom has 19 different kings throughout its 209 year history (931-722 BC) and the Bible indicates that each of those kings followed in the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, the Northern Kingdom's first king.  Those sins included the worship of two golden calves - one set up in the northern part of the Kingdom at Dan, the second set up in the southern part of the Kingdom at Bethel.  Although warned by many prophets, including Elijah and Elisha, the nation continued on its bent in sinning.  Finally, in the year 722 BC, God allowed the Assyrians to capture Samaria and the people of the Northern Kingdom were taken into captivity into Assyria.

Meanwhile, the Southern Kingdom continued its existence until 586 BC when, because of its continual bent in sinning, God allowed it to be taken captive into Babylon.  The focus of the remaining historical books in the Old Testament - Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther - focus upon that Judean remnant and their eventual return from Babylon. 

Of course many will exclaim, "But what happened to those from the ten northern tribes who were in captivity in Assyria?  Did they ever return to the Promised Land?"  Beck and others say, "No, they did not.  They fled from Assyria and crossed the Caucuses Mountains into Europe, thus deriving the name Caucasian." 

Friends, this idea that the British and the United States are the lost tribes of Israel is not a new one.  It formed the backbone of the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong and his Worldwide Church of God.  I want to share a rather lengthy quote from his book titled, "The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy." 
      "The House of Israel is the covenant people.  The Hebrew word for covenant is 'beriyth' or 'berith.'   The Hebrew word for man is 'iysh' or 'ish.'  In the original Hebrew language, vowels were never given in the spellings, so omitting the vowel 'e' from 'berith,' but retaining the 'i' in its Anglicized form to preserve the 'y' sound, and you have the Anglicized Hebrew word for covenant, 'brith.'  The Hebrews, however, never pronounced their h's.  The Jews, even today, in pronouncing the name Shem will call it Sem.  Incidentally, this ancient Hebrew trait is also a modern British trait, so the Hebrew word for covenant would be pronounced, in its Anglicized form as Brit.  And the word for covenant man or covenant people would therefore be Brit-ish.  So the true covenant people today are called the British.  And they reside in the British Isles."

Friends, this is very bad biblical interpretation.  You cannot play with words to proof a point.  You cannot make Hebrew into English.  Hebrew is Hebrew.  Furthermore, the Hebrew word for covenant is 'berith' and it is pronounced that way.  So, the case for British-Israelism falls on linguistic evidence. 

But it also falls on biblical evidence which is more important.  The prophets are emphatic that both the Northern Kingdom as well as the Southern Kingdom would return from the Babylonian Captivity.  We read these words in Jeremiah 50:4 and 5 - "in those days, at that time," declares the LORD, "the people of Israel and the people of Judah together will go in tears to seek the LORD their God.  They will ask the way to Zion and turn their faces toward it.  They will come and bind themselves to the LORD in an everlasting covenant that will not be forgotten."  This passage speaks of the captivity in Babylon and the desire on the part of the people to return to Zion or Jerusalem.  And notice Jeremiah includes the people of Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and the people of Judah (the Southern Kingdom).  Then there is the passage from Ezekiel 37:18-28 wherein the prophet is told to take two sticks, labeling one of them the stick of Joseph and the other the stick of Judah, and bind them together as one.  The prophet then is instructed to relate, "This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone.  I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land.  I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel.  There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms." 

I have respected Glenn Beck in the past for his stand on some of the great moral issues of our day.  But his belief that America is part of the family of Israel and will inherit the blessings of God because of that fact, is blatantly unscriptural. 

If you are interested in learning more about British-Israelism, I would encourage you to read that section of Walter R. Martin's book "The Kingdom of the Cults" that focuses upon that teaching. 

Meanwhile, stay in the Word of God during these tumultuous days.  Don't be swayed by popular teachings, but incline your heart solely to the Word and be in tune with the Holy Spirit.  Let's sit at the feet of Jesus, not Glenn Beck.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Syria - Whose to Blame?

I hesitated to write once again about the situation in Syria, but it seems like that country is dominating the news right now.  And we know that the Bible has much to say about Syria or Aram as it is sometimes called in the Bible.  So, it is only proper that we should focus attention on it, especially because of its close proximity to Israel.  I have the had the privilege of standing atop Mount Bental on the Golan Heights and look down into the country of Syria; and, the Lord willing, I will be on Mount Bental in a matter of a few weeks. 

Here are the facts as we know them.  First, the civil war in Syria has gone on for over two and a half years.  It began as part of the Arab Spring and the attempt to overthrow the Assad regime as the Egyptians had the Mubarak regime.  But, the military in Syria was firmly behind Assad and the rebels were not well organized.  Second, over the course of the civil war, an estimated 100,000 Syrians have been killed, many of them civilians.  Both the Assad regime and the rebel forces have been guilty of killing innocent civilians, many of them Christians who have been brutalized by the Islamic radicals in control of many of the rebel factions.  Third, that some type of chemical attack occurred on August 21 cannot be denied.  The photos are grizzly that show the dead, primarily children.  And the use of chemical or biological weapons of any type were banished from military arsenals after World War I. 

That is what we know.  Here is what we do not know with clarity: Who was responsible for that chemical attack on those suburbs outside of Damascus?  The world immediately accused the Assad regime of using WMD against its own people.  Perhaps he was responsible, but perhaps not.  Assad is certainly a dictator who rules with an iron fist over his people, much in the manner of his father.  And he certainly would be capable of using chemicals against his own people.  But why would he?  The tide of the civil war has definitely turned in his favor over the summer months.  The rebel forces have often fought among themselves.  They have differing agendas as to how they see a post-Assad Syria, and some of those agendas are not America-friendly.  Assad's military was not in a desperate situation that called for desperate measures.  They held the upper hand.  Would Assad do something of this magnitude just to make a statement before the world?  Yes, it is possible.  I doubt whether Assad's conscience afflicts him any longer as to what is wrong or right.

But, could there be another scenario?  What if the rebels used chemical weapons upon civilians in the hope that the world would blame Assad and come to their rescue?  Possible, indeed it could be.  Yesterday, radio talk-show pundit Rush Limbaugh raised that specter on his radio show.  According to the report by Kathy Shaidle on the WND website, (www.wnd.com/2013/09/rush-syrians-gassed-with-help-from-u-s) "Limbaugh said he base the theory on emails he received from friends over the weekend, both of whom 'have lived in the Middle East' and 'claim to know Bashar.'  The correspondents told Limbaugh that they suspect Assad is 'being framed.'  Limbaugh told listeners he was prepared to brush his friends' opinions aside until he read an article by Yossef Bodansky, former director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, which claims that the chemical weapons attack was carried out by al Qaida terrorists posing as Syrian rebels - and that the U.S. may have had foreknowledge of the attack."

"Limbaugh read the first two paragraphs of Bodansky's World Tribune article on the air: 'There is a growing volume of new evidence from numerous sources in the Middle East - mostly affiliated with the Syrian opposition and its sponsors and supporters - which makes a very strong case, based on solid circumstantial evidence, that the Aug. 21 chemical strike in the Damascus suburbs was indeed a premeditated provocation by the Syrian opposition.  The extent of U.S. foreknowledge of this provocation needs further investigation because available data puts the 'horror' of the Barack Obama White House in a different and disturbing light."

"Limbaugh reminded listeners that back in September 2012, Foreign Policy magazine reported that 'the U.S. has lost track of some of Syria's chemical weapons ... and does not know if any potentially lethal chemicals have fallen into the hands of Syrians rebels or Iranian forces inside the country."

I have been careful not to rush to judgment against Assad even though I do not respect him or his leadership.  If he were losing the war, then perhaps; but Assad is not losing the war.  He had everything to lose and nothing to gain by a chemical attack.  The rebels, on the other hand, had everything to gain by making it look like Assad was responsible. 

So, now the ball of judgment is in the halls of Congress.  They will be the ones to finally decide how America should respond.  If chemical weapons were indeed used, then those responsible should be held accountable - how that should be implemented, well, that is another story.  The frenzy of the crowd often results in wrong choices.  I am praying that wisdom will be deployed so that the response will be targeted to the rightful parties in Syria. 

Someone asked recently if this could lead to the destruction of Damascus that is so strongly reported in the Scriptures.  I believe it certainly is setting the stage for that last time event.  But, if I understand Psalm 83, Syria will play a role in that war, so perhaps this is merely a prelude event.  Stay tuned, friends, this is far from being over.  Perhaps I can give you a first-hand report in a few weeks...right from the front.