Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Signs of the Times Multiplying Around Us

A couple of articles this past week caught my attention - and hopefully yours as well.  The aftermath of our days in Iraq continually seem to haunt us as the headlines of a Reuters News Service report on February 24 stated.  "Iran has signed a deal to sell Iraq arms and ammunition worth $195 million, according to documents seen by Reuters - a move that would break a U.N. embargo on weapons sales by Tehran.  The agreement was reached at the end of November, the documents showed, just weeks after Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki returned from Washington, where he lobbied the Obama administration for extra weapons to fight al Qaeda-linked militants.  Some in Washington are nervous about providing sensitive U.S. military equipment to a country they worry is becoming too close to Iran.  Several Iraqi lawmakers said Maliki had made the deal because he was fed up with delays to U.S. arms deliveries."

What makes this weapons purchase so alarming is that Iran has always had strong aspirations of claiming Iraq for itself.  You might remember that a long, bloody, costly war between Iraq and Iran was fought during the 1980's.  And, you will also remember how Iran kept sending its Republican Guard into Iraq to fight against coalitions forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom.  And we know that Iran has wormed its way into the very heights of Iraq's government.  This weapons sale is just another indication that Iran has not lessened its interests in its next door neighbor. 

Friends, Iran is certainly a country to keep one's eyes upon.  Recently they tested a longer-range missile that would be capable of reaching into Europe, and, as I shared a couple weeks ago, they have sent Iranian warships into the North Atlantic - sort of a "tit-for-tat" with our fleet's presence in the Persian Gulf.  Are we seeing the rumblings of an Ezekiel 38-39 scenario?  It is for sure that Iran is not going away anytime soon.  But we know that God will take care of that matter.

The second article appeared on the Fox News website yesterday -  The article shares about the recently passed bill in Arizona that "updates existing Arizona law on the 'exercise of religion' and protects businesses, corporations and people from lawsuits if they deny services based on a 'sincere' religious belief. Supporters argue that bill is about protecting religious freedom, not about allowing discrimination.  And they frequently cite the case of a New Mexico photographer sued for refusing to take wedding pictures of a gay couple.  'This bill is about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith,' said state GOP Sen. Steve Yarbrough, the bill sponsor. ... The bill allows any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or an individual.  It also allows the business or person to seek an injunction once they show their actions are based on a sincere religious belief and the claim places a burden on the exercise of their religion." 

This bill has caused an uproar and Arizona's governor, Jan Brewer, has not yet indicated whether she will sign the bill or not.  By Arizona law she has until Friday to sign or to veto the bill.  There is  a lot of hysteria about the bill by those who oppose it.  Some say it will cause businesses to post signs saying that gays will not be served - sort of a revisiting of the Jim Crow laws in America's south in the 1950's.  It seems to me that businesses will not discriminate their service to their customers.  If I own a bakery, for instance, I certainly would sell donuts to all those who came into my shop.  But, and here is where the bill takes affect, I would have the right, as a bakery owner, to say that I would not make a wedding cake or cater a wedding for a gay or lesbian couple because it went against my religious convictions concerning marriage.  I will sell you donuts, but don't ask me to make your wedding cake.  That is the heart of this bill. 

Friends, how sad that we even have to have such a bill.  Why should not my religious convictions be held in honor by all?  If I own a business, I should have the right to choose whom I will serve with that business as long as it does not violate any known laws or statutes. I cannot refuse to sell you a donut or to post a sign on the door of my bakery that I will not serve gays or lesbians - to do so would be to violate laws of discrimination.  However, I would expect everyone to respect my religious convictions to refrain from doing something that I believed strongly to be counter those convictions.  But, we live in a time when a person's personal convictions take a backseat to toleration of the rights of others.  Yes, the laws in over a dozen states allow for a man to marry another man, or a woman to marry another woman - and I have to respect that law, even though I strongly opposed it.  But that law does not mean that I have to be involved in your wedding - taking pictures, making a cake, arranging flowers, etc.  You may take your business elsewhere and that is your prerogative and, as a consequence of my convictions, my business might suffer.  As a business owner, that is a decision I will have to make.  But don't force me into going against my personal convictions. 

How sad that we have lost all respect for one another!  As a pastor I have counseled my flock to know what your beliefs are and to claim ownership for those beliefs.  As part of that claiming ownership, one needs to also know those biblical passages that give support to those beliefs so that your beliefs are not just a matter of personal opinion.  And, once you have claimed ownership, stand resolutely behind those beliefs.  Often I have used the illustration of Daniel and his three friends.  Daniel resolved in his heart that he would not defile himself by eating the food of the king.  I truly believe Daniel was willing to be sold into slavery or even die.  And, certainly his three friends faced the reality of death - and they did so with a resoluteness.  Here is what is interesting, in both stories in Daniel 1 and in Daniel 3, the king gave honor to Daniel and his friends for their willingness to stand with their convictions, even in the face of death. 

Friends, I share with you as I have shared with my flock - what beliefs are you willing to go to jail for?  What beliefs are you willing to even die for?  I truly believe the day will soon be upon us when our jails will be filled with Christians who are not willing to compromise their beliefs.  Are you ready for such a time as that? 

I do want to leave you this week with a good note.  This past weekend our church hosted Dr. Rob Rienow for a Family Life Conference.  It was outstanding.  If your church is looking for someone to come and light a fire under families getting them excited for the things of God and for what God would have a family to be, I strongly encourage you to look into bringing Rob Rienow to your church.  You will not be disappointed at all.  Families were the very first institution of God and they are still the key to reaching the world for Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Famine in the Land

I came across two articles this past week that, although at first glance seem to be unconnected, yet, when carefully read reveal a common thread - the decline in morality and the cause of such a decline. 

The first article made headlines on most of the major news sources.  I will be quoting from the website:  Now, I know that because we are living in an age where gay rights has been paraded before us as being almost "gospel," this decision on the part of Facebook should not have been alarming or shocking.  But it was!  The article begins, "You don't have to be just male or female on Facebook anymore.  The social media giant is adding a customizable option with about 50 different terms people can use to identify their gender as well as three preferred pronoun choices: him, her, or them. ...The changes...are aimed at giving people more choices in how they describe themselves, such as androgynous, bi-gender, intersex, gender fluid or transsexual."  Friends, as I read through the list of some of the 50 different option, there were terms I had no idea what they meant.  Is society confused?  Absolutely!  The article on Fox News quoted Jeff Johnston, an issues analyst for Focus on the Family: "Of course Facebook is entitled to manage its wildly popular site as it sees fit, but here is the bottom line: It's impossible to deny the biological reality that humanity is divided into two halves - male and female. Those petitioning for the change insist that there are an infinite number of genders, but just saying it doesn't make it so.  That said, we have a great deal of compassion for those who reject their biological sex and believe they are the opposite sex."

The second article I want to mention did not make headlines on the major news sources.  You can find the article at  This article reflects the findings of the British Bible Society on a survey they prepared for the launch of "Pass It On", a campaign intended to raise the level of knowledge about the Bible.  The survey "reveals that more than half of the adults who responded believe 'The Hunger Games' are biblical and one in three say 'Harry Potter' could be a storyline from the sacred text. ... Of the parents questions, 46 percent did not recognize that the account of Noah's Ark comes form the Bible.  Three in 10 secondary school pupils, aged 12 to 15, did not realize the Nativity was form the Bible. The study revealed one-third of the parents were unsure or did not recognize the stories of David and Goliath and Adam and Eve as being from the Bible.  But 27 percent through the storyline from 'Superman' was or could be in the Bible.  Likewise with the 'Da Vinci Code.'"

Do you see the connect between these two articles?  The lack of knowing what the Bible has to say creates a vacuum that allows for the belief in just about anything.  We don't know the story of Adam and Eve - God did create only two types of people: male and female.  And because we don't know that story, then we believe that "gender confusion", as I call it, is permissible and acceptable.  Because we don't know the Bible stories, we just assume that any story that has some sort of moralistic base is from the Bible - thus the acceptance of the "Da Vinci Code" and "Hunger Games" as coming from a biblical basis. 

There is a powerful statement made in the book of Amos which states: "The days are coming," declares the Sovereign LORD, "when I will send a famine through the land - not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD" (Amos 8:11).  Are we in that time of famine?  The results of the Bible Society survey would appear to affirm that we are.  The decision by Facebook would appear to affirm that we are.  As a society and culture we have lost our moorings because we have not taken the Word of God seriously.  Oh we "cut and paste" passages to give approval to any activity or immoral choice that we desire.  Churches are crowded today with people who want to "have their ears tickled" as the Apostle Paul warned Timothy.  They want to hear what they want to hear - not what they need to hear.  Preach the whole counsel of God?  I don't think so today as it might drive people away and we need them to fill our programs and we need their money to maintain those programs.  So, let's just give them what they want, and what they want is to just feel good.  And, as a result, there is a famine of the Word of the Lord in the land. 

I have been asked several times in the past few weeks if I was optimistic about the future.  Yes, I am because I know that Jesus Christ is coming.  It is upon that foundation only that I base my reasons for optimism.  Will America change?  I am not very optimistic with that answer.  I see our country becoming more comfortable in the pail of boiling water.  We have been swimming in it for some time and are not aware of our own demise.  We need an awakening from God!  We need the rise of another Jonathan Edwards or D.L. Moody to call us back to repentance.  Remember that passage in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that we use so matter-of-factly?  "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."  If America is to be turned around morally and spiritually, where must it begin?  With "my people."  It must begin with those of us who have a personal and intimate relationship with God.  It must begin with us who need to take a strong stand for the Lord Jesus now!  It won't be easy, but revival and renewal is never easy. 

Friends, our hope is in the Lord.  Praise God for that!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Of Lincoln, Persia, and Electricity

Today marks the 205th anniversary of the birthday of one of the greatest leaders in our nation's history - Abraham Lincoln.  In my personal library I have several biographies of Lincoln, including the entire 6-volume set of Sandberg's Lincoln. (Did you know that there is only one other person in history about whom more is written than Lincoln; that person is Jesus Christ).   Lincoln was a complex individual, perhaps one of the most complex men to ever serve as President.  He was self-taught and people were amazed at the scope of his learning.  He could delight audiences with his homespun stories that usually had a strong lesson.  He was driven by what he believed were rights based upon his understanding of the Scriptures.  And he had a profound understanding of those principles upon which our country was founded.  His grasp of the true meaning of the Declaration of Independence is manifest in many of his speeches, including his most famous one given at Gettysburg in November 1863. 

One of my favorite books about Lincoln is the one written by Doris Kearns Goodwin and titled, Team of Rivals.  Lincoln, in the appointment of his first cabinet following his election in 1860, did something that had rarely, if ever, been done before and more rarely since.  He appointed men to positions of leadership within his cabinet, not based upon whether that individual had supported him in the election or not, not even based upon whether that individual liked him.  He appointed men to those positions based upon the strengths of their leadership roles and their ability to accomplish the tasks given to them.  William Seward, one of Lincoln's opponents at the Republican convention for the office of President, was not a great fan of Lincoln, but became one of his greatest supporters because Lincoln trusted the affairs of the Secretary of State's office to him.  A similar story is told with regard to Edwin Stanton in his role as Secretary of War. 

So, on this day in which we remember his birthday, I thought I would just say "Happy Birthday, Abe.  Thank you for your courageous leadership in seeing our nation through some of its darkest days.  You have set a high-bar of leadership for many of us to seek to follow."

I want to share a link with you that hopefully you will find alarming.  It is at  This was shown over Iranian television and shows how Iran will respond to any type of American or Israeli attack upon its nuclear sites.  Now, what makes this so scary is that, just this past week, the Iranians have declared that they are sending warship to patrol off the east coast of the United States.  Their claim is that if we can have American warships in the Persian Gulf, then there can be Iranian warships in the North Atlantic.  And, also this past week, the Iranians successfully tested a new longer range missile that would be capable of delivering a nuclear warhead a greater distance from Iran.  They claim that they want peace, yet their actions demonstrate that they are preparing for war.  Friends, let me remind you that Iran (ancient Persia) has a role in the prophetic future.  Just read Ezekiel 38 and 39.  Perhaps the actions portrayed in the television show and the threat of Iranian warships off our coast are just Iran preparing for their role in that prophetic scene.  If that is the case, then perhaps the coming of Jesus is getting even closer.

Also, this past week we read about a little reported incident that occurred at a central California electrical substation a year ago.  (The attack actually occurred on April 16, 2013).  According to an article in the Wall Street Journal and reported at, "at least one person entered an underground vault to cut telephone cables, and attackers fired more than 100 shots into Pacific Gas & Electric's Metcalf transmission substation, knocking out 17 transformers.  Electric officials were able to avert a blackout, but it took 27 days to repair the damage."  There is debate as to whether this was an act of terrorism or not.  As recent ice storms in the Southeast have shown, America is vulnerable when it comes to its power system.  An ice storm creates havoc that can last for days, even into weeks.  Can you begin to imagine what would happen if one of the central power grids for our nation was knocked out of service by some type of terrorist attack?  What would you do if you had no electrical power, not just for a few days, but for a few months or more?  No computer service because batteries could not be charged.  No gasoline for your car because gas pumps would not operate.  Even water supplies would be limited as many of the pumps are driven by electricity.  For many of us, our homes are heated with electricity, our food is cooked by electric ranges and ovens.  Can you imagine a world where microwaves would not work? 

Friends, I don't know where you are putting your trust these days.  But if you do not have that trust placed solidly in the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ, then your foundation is not very secure.  I echo the words of the hymn writer, "On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand."  Keep your heart prepared for His return, but keep your eyes on how you can help someone else come to know that trust and peace.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Of Peace and Boycotts

Making headlines this week, at least in the Israeli papers and websites, was the statement Secretary of State John Kerry made this past weekend at the Munich Security Conference.  In a speech before the conference Kerry said, regarding the status of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, "Today's status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained.  It's not sustainable.  It's illusionary.  You see for Israel there's an increasing de-legitimization campaign that has been building up.  There are talks of boycotts and other kinds of things.  Are we all going to be better with all of that?" 

This threat of boycotting of Israel struck a raw nerve within Israeli leadership.  Communications Minister Gilad Erdan, speaking at Arutz Sheva's 11th annual Jerusalem Conference on Monday, said, "Currently threats are still heard against citizens of Israel and they try to terrorize us.  When we hear John Kerry and the American State Department, we think they are wrong in their analysis of what's happening in the Middle East.  It would be expected from someone who's supposed to be a fair and objective intermediary to also tell the Palestinian side about the price they will have to pay over their stubborn refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to their own nation state.  Where's the Palestinian price on all the continued incitement against Israel's existence?"

Prime Minister Netanyahu, in his opening remarks to his cabinet, said, "Attempts to impose a boycott on the State of Israel are immoral and unjust.  Moreover, they will not achieve their goal.  First, they cause the Palestinians to adhere to their intransigent positions and thus push peace further away.  Second, no pressure will cause me to concede the vital interests of the State of Israel, especially the security of Israel's citizens.  For both of these reasons, threats to boycott the State of Israel will not achieve their goal."

Just this morning I read that a group of Rabbis sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry.  Portions of their letter read, "Your incessant efforts to expropriate integral parts of our Holy Land and hand them over to Abbas's terrorist gang, amount to a declaration of war against the Creator and Ruler of the universe.  For G-d awarded the entire Land of Israel to our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in order that they bequeath it, as an everlasting inheritance, to their descendants, the Jewish people, until the end of all time."  (Might I add, sadly, that many Christians in America today do not believe that God's promises to Abraham concerning a particular piece of land have any merits today.  But if that promise that God made to Abraham is abrogated, then, friends, are there other promises God made that will be nullified as well?)

The immediate response on the part of the United States State Department has been to state categorically that John Kerry is "staunchly opposed" to any boycott against Israel.  His spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, stated, "We are absolutely opposed, we have been opposed to any attempts at boycotts - boycotting Israel." 

Now, just to make this all the more complicated, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has suggested that NATO would be left in charge of the future Palestinian state instead of an army.  And this NATO force would be predominately led by American soldiers, being there for an indefinite amount of time.  They would provide for all the security at the borders.  And just what will this new state of Palestine look like?  According to leaked reports of the Kerry proposal to both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, the borders would be drawn along the lines established with the armistice in 1949 and East Jerusalem would become the capital city of the Palestinian state.  Concerning the present settlements in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) 75 to 80 % of the Jewish residents would remain in their homes as a result of land swaps.  Yet, Abbas continues to states that he will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state and has strongly declared that there will be no Jews living in a Palestinian state.  As one recalls the history of the relationships  between Israel and the Palestinians, going back to the days of Yassar Arafat, the onus has always been upon Israel to be the ones who give; the Palestinians are always the ones who take.  And yet the one thing that Israel has asked in all negotiations - whether under the leadership of Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, or Benjamin Netanyahu - is that the Palestinians recognize Israel as being a Jewish state.  This has been a request that has been continually refused. 

Expect tensions to increase as we get closer to the self-imposed deadline of April for some type of finalized peace negotiations.  The world's leaders and media have already cast all blame for any failed attempt at the feet of Israel.  Look for increased pressure to be placed upon Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu by John Kerry and others of the Obama Administration to capitulate to the wishes of Abbas and the Palestinians.  I believe that in spite of Kerry's denials that he would recommend a boycott of Israel, he will continue using that as threat hanging over Israel's heads.  I simply cannot imagine the pressure being put upon Israel's leaders today.  I may not always agree with their decisions, but I am called upon to pray for them.  I am reminded of the words from the pen of the Psalmist David, perhaps as he walked around that city he claimed as his capital: "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.  For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, 'Peace be within you.'  For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your prosperity." (Psalm 122:6-8).

Friends, will you join with me in "praying for the peace of Jerusalem."  I believe that when we pray such a prayer, we are then really looking forward with hope to the return of Israel's Messiah, our Savior, Jesus Christ.  When He returns, there will be real peace in Jerusalem.  Praise the Lord.