Wednesday, March 26, 2014

World Events As Seen Through a Biblical Lens

Last week Marlys and I enjoyed some time in Florida with the families of two of our kids.  After months of bitter cold, it was so good to just sit beside a pool and soak in the sunshine.  I think I began to thaw out, only to come back to the cold of Minnesota.  We enjoyed many of the sites in and around the Orlando area, including a day at Epcot Center - the fireworks show in the evening was one of the most amazing I have ever seen; the Kennedy Space Center - I found it hard to imagine sitting in a little space capsule on top of one of those giant "bombs" ready to be blasted into space; and an afternoon along the shores of the Atlantic making sand castles and searching for shells.  Also got to watch some of the NCAA basketball tournament - especially following the Iowa State Cyclones.  "Go ISU!"

Yet things continue to happen around the world that draws our attention back to what God is doing to awaken us out of our slumber and to remind us that the days are getting shorter until His arrival.  I don't know if you have noticed the acceleration of earthquakes during March.  There were several the other day alone in Oklahoma.  And the recent quake off the northern California coast caused many to wonder if the "big one" was in the near future.  Then there was the tragic mudslide in the State of Washington causing an estimate of dozens of deaths and the destruction of an entire town.  From fires to floods, from bitter cold in Minnesota to the burning heat in Australia, it seems that the natural world is crying out.  Could it be that it is through these natural events that God is seeking to draw us to our senses so that we realize the imminence of Christ's return?  Friends, I believe there are simply too many such events to be coincidental.  Jesus reminded His followers that they were to discern the signs around them. 

Then there is the situation in Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula.  Russia has now annexed the Crimean and made it a part of Russia.  Now they have their eyes set upon a greater prize - recapturing parts of the Ukraine that were lost when Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union back in the early 1990's.  It was several years ago that I wrote in one of my first blogs that I believed that Vladimir Putin was one of the most dangerous men in leadership.  And that opinion has not changed any.  He is from the "old Soviet school" and has his sights set upon a greater Mother Russia as it was during the days of the Czars.  He knows the West will do virtually nothing to impede his goals of recovering for Russia what she lost.  After more then ten years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the world is tired of war.  The West threatens with sanctions, but, at least from the reports I have read, Putin has pretty much laughed those off.  In order for sanctions to work, there has to be some real strength behind them, and that strength is simply not there. 

Of course the question is often asked, "Could Putin be the Gog mentioned in Ezekiel 38?"  My response is, "I don't know for sure, but I do believe he is setting the table for whoever Gog might be."  We know that he has been actively involved with Iran even to helping the Iranians begin building another nuclear site.  We know that he has been actively involved with the military leadership in Egypt, entering into the vacuum that was created when the Obama Administration could not decide how to respond to the overthrow of Morsi last summer.  We know that Putin covets the return of those southern "-stan provinces" that are now rife with radicals.  We may not see the return of the Iron Curtain, but we definitely will see a return of a stronger Russia. 

Yesterday the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in the case brought by Hobby Lobby regarding the Obama Care mandate that requires for-profit companies to provide health insurance coverage that includes abortion.  Hobby Lobby has sought to be excluded from that provision based upon the strong Christian principles of the company.  Now the Supreme Court will decide whether a for-profit company can be excluded because of religious principles.  I believe the case will be decided by the end of June.  This is a case that will certainly be worthy of watching.

Yesterday there was a very interesting article published at the website:  The article titled, "Lessons of history: Americans fear 'second Holocaust' if Iran gets the bomb," was written by former Senator Rick Santorum and Joel Rosenberg.  The article begins by recounting the speech Adolf Hitler made on May 21, 1935, known as his infamous "peace" speech.  This was a speech given by a wolf-in-sheep's-clothing.  As the world now knows, Hitler was never interested in peace.  In 1935 he was simply buying time in order to be prepared for war.  Then the article quotes Iranian President Hassan-Rouhani's speech this past fall at the United Nations: "Let me say loud and clear that peace is within reach.  Nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran's security and defense doctrine, and contradict our fundamental religious and ethical convictions."  And so an agreement was reached between the P5+1 (Russia, the United States, France, England, China + Germany) on November 24, 2013.  The Iranian President said, "The Geneva deal means the surrender of big powers before the great nation of Iran."  I remember reading a copy of this accord after it was signed and then knew why the Iranians were so excited about it: They got the release of much of their frozen financial assets and in return were able to keep their centrifuges and even to continue enriching uranium. 

The article continued describing a recent poll that was taken.  The question asked of 1,000 likely U.S. voters was this: "Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: 'If the world does not take decisive action, and the Iranian regime is permitted to build nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them, the Iranian regime will one day attempt to annihilate the State of Israel and bring about a Second Holocaust?'"  Of those asked, 80% agreed, only 16% disagreed. 

The article concludes with a quote from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu: "Now you know how to get an agreement with Iran?  Not by relieving pressure but by adding pressure.  Pressure is what brought Iran to the negotiation table in the first place, and only more pressure will get them to abandon their nuclear weapons program.  Greater pressure on Iran will not make war more likely; it will make war less likely - because the greater the pressure on Iran and more credible the threat of force on Iran, the smaller the chance that force will ever have to be used."

Friends, we are living in a very complexly connected world.  America is losing its influence around the world.  Fifty years ago when the leader of the Free World spoke, the rest of the world sat up and paid attention.  Today few even care what our President says.  Putin is not listening.  The Iranian President is not listening.  The leaders of Europe only listen with cautious ears.  Perhaps there is a prophetic significance here as I do not see the United States mentioned within the prophetic scriptures.  Perhaps some of our influence has been lost because our nation has been slowly severing ties with our most dependable ally in the Middle East - Israel.  Perhaps some of our influence has been lost because, like the children of Israel of old, we have worshiped at the altars of gods of our creation: sexual perversions, political power, social status, addictive drugs, fatherless homes. 

Yes, I believe America is still great.  I still believe that America is good.  But it is not as great and good as it once was.  As I have been reading through the historical books in the Old Testament, I have become increasingly aware that the success or decline of ancient Israel was directly related to their walk with God.  When they were obedient to the laws and commandments God had given to them and served Him with all their hearts, then the nation prospered (days of Hezekiah and Josiah comes to mind).  But when they turned their backs on God saying that they did not need Him, then disaster came upon them (days of Ahaz and Ahab come to mind).  Let's be realistic, friends, our nation has turned its back upon God.  Those acts God has described as an abomination before Him, we have endorsed wholeheartedly.  The home - the foundation of society as established by God - has been willfully destroyed, in fact, through our welfare programs, I believe the destruction of the home has been hastened.  What made the days of Hezekiah and Josiah so special?  There is only one answer - both kings led their people in the reading of the Word of God and in turning their hearts back to God.  These kings were not perfect - there is no perfect leader until Jesus comes. 

Friends, I urge you to read through the books of 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles and to see the story of America through its pages.  Yes, God does have a remedy.  "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 I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sins, and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14). 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

An Alarming Story Few Reported

In the wake of the disappearance of the Malaysian Airliner with 239 people on board and the international search for the wreckage, the world lost sight of an important event that happened in the Red Sea off the coast of Somalia.  There Israeli commandos intercepted a Panamanian-flagged freighter filled with dozens of Syrian-made missiles and over 400,000 rounds of ammunition.  These weapons had traveled from Syria through Iran and were on the way to support the terrorist regimes within the Gaza Strip. 

The following is from the news conference Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu held as the weapons were unloaded and shown to the world.  "There are those who would prefer that we do not hold this news conference here today.  They feel uncomfortable that we show what is really happening inside Iran.  They prefer that we continue to nurture the illusion that Iran has changed direction.  They're not prepared to recognize that Iran, a brutal regime, has not abandoned its deep involvement in terrorism, its systematic efforts to undermine peace and security throughout the Middle East, and its ambition to destroy the State of Israel.  The weapons on this ship were destined for terrorists in Gaza who are committed to Israel's destruction.  The goal was to have these weapons rain down on the heads of Israel's citizens. The ship was organized by Iran, dispatched by Iran, financed by Iran. The missiles were loaded by Iran in Iran."

The Prime Minister then stated in bold, but true words as he related the reactions of the world, or should I say, the lack of reactions of the world to this weapons seizure: "This determination to ignore the truth, that was exposed once again with the capture of the ship, is first of all hypocritical.  I said a moment ago that at most I heard a few faint condemnations of Iran from the international community after we intercepted this murderous shipment.  We even saw representatives of the world powers shaking hands and smiling with the heads of Iran's regime, at the same time we were unloading these missiles here in Eilat.  And by contrast, if we build some apartment or some balcony in a neighborhood of Jerusalem, we hear a chorus of vociferous international condemnations against the State of Israel (emphasis added).  This is not only farcical, it's dangerous.  Because the willingness to ignore Iran's real fallacies is highly irresponsible.  Just as Iran hid its deadly missiles in the belly of this ship, Iran is hiding its actions and its intentions and many of its key installations for developing nuclear weapons."

Now, listen to these closing words from the Prime Minister.  They are almost prophetic: "The missiles that we uncovered today were intended to strike at the citizens of Israel. The intercontinental ballistic missiles that Iran is developing are intended to strike at the citizens of the West.  Come to think of it, Iran might not need ICBMs.  Just as they concealed these weapons in containers on this ship., they could tomorrow conceal in other containers the ultimate weapon, nuclear weapons, which they could ship to any port in the world.  So my message today is simple: those engaged in self-deception must awaken from their slumber."

I also need to share one other news article, reported by Joel Rosenberg.  The Times of Israel reported that "Brigadier General Hossein Salami, the air force commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, was quoted as saying that Iranian military commanders are prepared to attack and destroy the Zionist regime of Israel as soon as they receive such an order.  He went on to say, "Today, we can destroy every spot which is under the Zionist regime's control with any volume of fire power right from here.  Islam has given us this wish, capacity and power to destroy the Zionist regime so that our hands will remain on the trigger from 1,400 kilometers away for the day when such an incident takes place."  Friends, this article, reporting this speech of this Iranian general, came one day after Israeli commandos intercepted the Iranian weapons shipment. 

Friends, the world paid no attention to this act on the part of Iran.  The world is paying no attention to the actions of Iran in Syria, in Lebanon, in the Sinai peninsula, in the Gaza Strip.  The world is paying no attention to Iran's new found friend in Venezuela and in other parts of South and Central America.  The Ayatollah believes that the coming of the Twelfth Iman is near and the world must be in crisis as he arrives in order to establish the final worldwide Caliphate.  A few years ago I read Robert Spencer's book titled, "Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn't."  It was an eye-opening read.  Perhaps it is time this book is reread.

One final article that I read with alarm, but not shocked at its conclusions.  At website, an article appeared written by Kristin Wright and titled, "Support for Israel Fading in Evangelical Circles."  Allow me to share portions of the article: "Support for Israel today isn't as unquestioned as it once was in evangelical circles.  Today evangelical leaders on both sides say that the millennial generation sees the conflict differently - viewing it with a perspective of neutrality and empathy for both sides.  In June 2001, with church leaders convening in Cape Town, South Africa, for the third Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey among evangelical leaders.  The finding showed lower support for Israel than many expected.  in fact, when asked if they sympathize more with Israelis or with Palestinians, a majority of American evangelical leaders (49%) expressed neutrality.  Of the leaders polled, thirty percent stated support for Israelis, and 13% for the Palestinians.  David Gushee, professor of Christian ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University in Atlanta commented, 'What is happening is that the hard line of Christian Zionists was not successfully passed forward to the next generation, because it was based on theological themes that are now being questioned by younger evangelicals.'"

I have observed this trend happening.  People today tend to just shrug their shoulders and say, "Why should I care?"  The Bible tells us that as believers in Jesus Christ we need to care.  Yes, we need to care about those being displaced because of Syria's ongoing civil war (now entering its fourth year).  Yes, we do need to show concern for those Palestinians who are suffering economic hardships - primarily within the Gaza Strip; however, I must add, that much of that hardship is imposed upon them by their Hamas leadership.  Friends, I have traveled down the Jordan Valley from Galilee to the Dead Sea on many occasions and, while traveling through that area described as the West Bank, I have seen the growth of cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian farmers - both laboring side by side to achieve a level of prosperity.  But, friends, the Bible explicitly declares that we cannot turn our backs upon the nation of Israel.  Is it a perfect nation?  No, but what nation is perfect?  But it is the nation that God has called to bear His Name before the world.  I believe it is time that Christians rise up in support of the people of Israel, to pray diligently for God's wisdom to be given to their leaders, and to pray, more specifically, that God would open their eyes to see Jesus Christ as their Messiah. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Grandfather's Lesson Learned from a Genealogy

Oh there is so much that I would like to write about this week.  One could talk about Ukraine and what is happening there with the Russian takeover of the Crimean Peninsula.  Let me just make a comment.  Russia has her Black Sea Naval Port there in the Crimea, much like we have a naval port in Cuba.  Because of the political unrest going on in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, resulting in the overthrowing of the Russian-backed government there, Vladimir Putin was concerned about his naval port and decided that he needed to protect his interests there.  The big question is what will he do now that his troops are in the Crimea?  Will he continue on to restore order in Ukraine?  He does have aspirations of bringing Ukraine back under Mother Russia.  But Putin also knows that Europe and America will realistically do nothing to stop him.  He knows that America does not want another war.  We do not want "boots on the ground" in Ukraine.  And economic sanctions probably will not be as effective as the West might imagine.  So, Putin, after graciously receiving the world at Sochi for two weeks, is now saying to the world that Russia will get what it wants.  Teddy Roosevelt once said, "Speak softly but carry a big stick."  That was the way he saw the world and America's role.  Today we could say the model is "Make a big stink with words, but leave the big stick in the closet."  Just doesn't seem to have the same ring, does it?

What I would like to share with you this morning is a passage of Scripture that I noticed for the very first time while reading the genealogies in First Chronicles.  I know you are saying, "Can anything of value come out of reading genealogies?  They are just full of names you can't pronounce."  Let me share the passage with you, then seek to answer that question.  "Here are the men who served, together with their sons: From the Kohathites: Heman, the musician, the son of Joel, the son of Samuel, the son of Elkanah" (1 Chronicles 6:33).  Let me share the background.  In this section of the genealogy, the writer is describing those men David had put in charge of the music program at the tabernacle.  The first musician mentioned was Heman.  We read in 1 Chronicles 15:16-17, "David told the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brothers as singers to sing joyful songs, accompanied by musical instruments: lyres, harps and cymbals.  So the Levites appointed Heman son of Joel..."

I know what you are saying, "This is about as interesting as watching paint dry, Max.  So, what's the point?"  Do you know who Heman's father was?  Well, the text tells us his name was Joel.  So, there were a lot of Joels in the Bible.  What was so special about this Joel?  Do you know who Joel's father was?  Well, the text tells us his name was Samuel.  Now, that name should ring some bells hopefully.  But, let's go on for one more generation.  Who was Samuel's father?  The text tells us his name was Elkanah.  That does it.  Heman's grandfather was Samuel, the prophet and judge of all Israel.  You can read his story in First Samuel. 

Now what kind of a man was Heman's father?  The Bible tells us, "When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel.  The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba.  But his sons did not walk in his ways.  They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice" (1 Samuel 8:1-3).  Heman's father and uncle were so bad that the people told Samuel that they did not want those two men leading them any longer.  They wanted a king instead.

Yet, Heman is placed into an important position of musical leadership during the time of David.  How did that happen if his father, Joel, was such an immoral, dishonest person?  What God shared with me this morning was the role his grandfather, Samuel, must have had in Heman's life.  Perhaps Samuel realized that as his sons were growing up, he had missed so many opportunities to minister into their lives.  After all, he was busy with ministry.  He had to travel from place to place because people were depending upon him.  But, as he grew older, he saw that he had lost those precious moments to share with his sons and made a determination that he would not do that with his grandson.  Now I know I am just speculating.  The text does not tell us what Samuel's role was in Heman's life.  But something happened to this young boy who later would become one of the great musical leaders of Israel.  In all likelihood his father did not have a positive influence in his life, so it had to come from his grandfather. 

As grandparents we value our grandchildren.  Yes we poured our lives into our children.  And, yes, as we look back, we probably could have done many things differently.  Yes, there were times when our careers caused us to be away too often, or we had too many nights when we missed those bedtime stories and prayers.  But, grandchildren are almost God's way of saying, "Here, you can do it over."  I think Samuel availed himself of that opportunity and because he did, the worship within the family of Israel was blessed. 

As grandparents, I know that Marlys and I want to be an influence into the lives of our grandchildren.  We want to help them to understand the values that have guided our lives together for nearly 45 years.  We want to help them to understand the biblical truths that have motivated us as a family.  We want to help encourage them in their personal walk with the Lord.  We want to challenge them when we see them getting off that pathway.  We want to be "Samuel" to our grandchildren. 

At our church we have adopted a new philosophy of ministry called Faith@Home.  Really, it is not something new, but a rediscovery of something that is very old - as old as Adam and Eve.  We want to help families to become the dynamic homes that God would like them to be.  And, as we are discovering, the role of being a grandma or grandpa is very important.  Samuel's skills as a father might have been lacking, but his skills as a grandpa resulted in fruit that impacted many lives.