Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Saying "Good-by" to My Brother

I spent some time yesterday with my younger brother - younger by some 17 months - who is in the final days of his life here on this earth.  Over a year ago he was diagnosed with kidney cancer which had metastasized in his bones.  He went through many rounds of chemotherapy which helped him to have a measure of quality of life with his family for many months.  But this cancer would not surrender to the chemo, although it was attacked by those drugs vigorously. 

My brother is home having expressed that as his desire.  I had last seen my brother some ten days earlier.  He had been alert and we talked about politics - which he loved to do; we had many conversations through the years as he pushed 18 wheels down between the two white stripes on the highway.  He joked with the nurses who came in to administer his medications.  I could tell that he was in a lot of pain, but it was being monitored with his newly acquired morphine-pump.  I put my hand on this shoulder - he winced because of the pain - and I prayed for him and his family.  I said, "Mike, I may never get to see you again here on this side of glory, but I will see you up there someday."  We both had tears as we said good-bye.  Our usual way of ending a conversations was, "Talk to you later." 

As I walked into my brother's room yesterday, I could hardly believe what I saw.  He had slipped into a deep-sleep, perhaps one might call it a coma.  His breathing was shallow but would be interrupted with an occasional gasp for more air.  His eyes were nearly closed and his body was at rest.  I leaned over the side of his bed and told him I was there.  I think he knew my voice as he tried to move his head and briefly looked up at me; then the eyes closed once again.  As my Mom and I sat around his bedside with his wife and daughter, we talked as if Mike were part of the conversation.  I have been told by many that people who are in a coma can hear those conversations, so we were careful in our discussions. 

Then it was time to leave.  I once again put my hand upon Mike's shoulder and prayed, thanking God for those drugs that were keeping his final days as pain-free as possible; thanking God for a loving wife who was as an angel in her care for her husband; and asking God to surround that family with His love and care as they watched and waited.  And, as I was leaving, I said to my brother, "Mike, I know I will never see you again here, but I will look forward to seeing you in glory." 

As I drove home several thoughts lingered in my mind.  First, I tried to imagine what my brother's expressions might be when he steps through those portals into glory.  My brother was a truck-driver for over 35 years.  He once told me that he had driven truck in every state except for Alaska and Hawaii, and had logged well over a million miles - probably closer to two million.  If there are trucks in heaven, I know my brother will stand in line to get behind the wheels of one.  I know he will search through the crowds looking for our Dad and our grandparents.  I don't believe we can ever comprehend what those first views of eternity will be like...but I am guessing that they will be pretty fantastic.

Second, I realized once again that, even though we know the joys and glories of heaven that await those who lie there in that bed, we struggle with "letting go."  I put my arms around my niece and she said that it was so hard to see her Dad lying there and yet it was so hard to let him go.  I thought of that scene at the foot of the cross of Jesus and wondered how Mary handled the "letting go" of her son.  I think Jesus sensed her struggle when he invited John to take care of her - she was going to need someone.  We struggle with "letting go" because of the love that binds us together.  Yesterday I had flash-back moments of standing beside the bed of my Dad in those final hours of his life.  My Dad was my best-friend.  How could I manage without his counsel?  Yet I knew I needed to "let him go."  Death is a "letting go", isn't it?  Never easy, but vitally important.  And, it is easier to "let go" when we know where our loved-one is going. 

Third, as I watched Mike's wife tenderly care for him, carefully swabbing his mouth with the little sponge, gently wiping his beard with a towel after trying to get him to swallow a little broth.  She was aware of any hint of discomfort and knew exactly what to do.  I called her an angel.  She did that because of her love for her husband.  And then I thought of the Lord Jesus and those familiar words of David came to mind: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me."  That is exactly what Jesus does: He tenderly takes us by the hand and with a love that knows no limitations, He leads us safely home. 

I do not know how many days my brother has here - my prayer is that God would soon call him home.  I will miss my brother - those conversations while he was driving down the road - his contagious laugh - his friendship.  But I am blessed to know that our separation will only be for a short while; then a glorious reunion will occur.  "Therefore, comfort one another with these words."

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Why the Violence in Israel? A Theory

Almost daily we hear of violent attacks in and around the city of Jerusalem.  IDF soldiers are shot.  A young couple traveling to their home are murdered in front of their children.  A rampaging car leaps a curb while the driver attempts to hit as many people as possible standing at the bus stop.  Men and women, often with children in tow, are suddenly attacked with knives or machetes.  And, as they seek to defend themselves, Jewish authorities have killed many Palestinians. 

Why, all of a sudden, the violence?  What has changed?  The central feature in this renewed violence is the status of the Temple Mount - a place within the Old City of Jerusalem that is held sacred by both Jews and Muslims.  The Muslims claim that it was from here that the Prophet Mohammed ascended one night into heaven; it is the third most holy site in Islam.  Atop the Temple Mount today stands the Dome of the Rock, a structure built 691, along with the Al Aqsa Mosque, from which sermons are preached on Fridays, often laced with vitriolic words.  Since the end of the Six Day War in 1967, the Muslim Waqif has controlled the access to the Temple Mount. 

Along the western side of the Temple Mount lies the Western Wall, or, sometimes called the Wailing Wall.  It is the only part of the Temple that remains from the Second Temple period, remembering that the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 AD.  This place is the holiest site for Jews.  Daily, hundreds of Jews come to the Western Wall to meditate and to pray.  I have been to the Wall many times and it is quite an experience. 

So, you are saying, why all the commotion now?  Earlier this summer, Muslim youth, attending services at the Al Aqsa Mosque, were seen carrying rocks, catapult-like machines, and knives into the Mosque with the purpose of using hurling those rocks upon the Jewish pilgrim worshiping below at the Western Wall.  Jewish Authorities gave the Waqif a period of time to clean out the weapons, which they refused.  So, Israeli authorities sent in police that stood in front of the Mosque.  This created a call that the Jews had assaulted the Temple Mount.  And thus the violence began. 

That incident may have been the catalyst for the present violence, but I believe there are two deeper factors that are keeping the violence alive.  First, back in September, in his address before the United Nations General Assembly, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stated that the Palestinians would no longer honor any agreement that had been reached with the State of Israel, thus nullifying the Oslo Accords which had been the legacy of the Clinton Administration.  He further stated that the Palestinians would destroy Israel , even so far as encouraging violence.  And since that speech, President Abbas has been reported as using inflammatory words to keep the Palestinian anger riled against the Jews. 

Second, I believe what we are seeing in Israel is an aftermath of the Iranian Nuclear Accords which were signed this past Sunday and now are in effect.  Suddenly the Iranian regime is being blessed with the receipt of $150 billion as sanctions are lifted.  It does not take a rocket scientist's mind to calculate what they plan to do with much of that new-found wealth.  We know that Hamas (Gaza Strip) and Hezbollah (Southern Lebanon) are proxies of Tehran.  The leadership of those two organizations committed to the annihilation of Israel are now competing for funds and weapons from Tehran.  How could you prove your value than to encourage violent attacks upon Israeli citizens.  You don't need just rockets any longer; you can use knife-wielding or truck-driving terrorists.  Last night I had the privilege of being a gathering with a Jewish Rabbi who was visiting from Israel.  I shared with him my theory and he concurred as to its possibility. 

And then there is the added presence of ISIS in the region.  I was reading an article this morning from The Israel Project website that cited a series of "ISIS propaganda videos released on Sunday praising the latest terror attacks and calling for more.  The videos urge Palestinians to 'return terror to the Jews' and to use any means at their disposal to carry out attacks, including knives, vehicles, poison and explosives.  The terrorist responsible for the attack on Sunday at the Beersheba central bus station that killed an IDF soldier and injured 11 people was inspired by ISIS. The title of one of the videos released by ISIS is 'Project Behead the Jews' and in another video, the speaker says, 'we will not enjoy our lives or take pleasure with a lavish abode until we liberate Al-Aqsa from the defilement of the sons of apes and pigs.'"  This is hardly rhetoric that defuses an already dangerous climate. 

Then, to add fuel to the proverbial fire, I read yesterday that the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) would be voting on a petition presented by six Arab States (Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates) on behalf of Palestine that would "fold the Jewish Western Wall into Islamic domain on the Temple Mount."  Friends, this is another attempt by the Muslim world to rewrite history, to purge every vestige of Jewish presence from the past in and around Jerusalem.  But how can one erase history?  The evidence of Jewish presence is almost insurmountable.  I have walked through some of the archaeological digs just outside the walls of the Old City.  It is an amazing journey back into time - not Muslim time, but Jewish time.  Ancient synagogues, ancient water systems, and ancient walls tell the stories of an ongoing Jewish presence for centuries before Mohammed was even born.  Thankfully, I read this morning that the UNESCO Committee did not adopt that portion of the petition that called for the ceding of the Western Wall into Muslim control.  But, mark my word, the Palestinians will try again and again. 

The Bible instructs us to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Psalm 122:6).  And so we do.  But real peace will only come when King Jesus returns to accept that throne that is rightfully His there in Jerusalem.  Then, and only then, will there be true peace.  So, as we "pray for the peace of Jerusalem" today, yes, we are praying for the violence to end, but we are also praying that Jesus would come soon.  Yes, come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Fall Points to a Time of Rest

I enjoy the fall season of the year.  The colors here in Minnesota have been extraordinarily beautiful this fall.  Must have been the warm, wet summer that made the tree leaves so alive.  And the fields of pumpkins are dotted with the amazing orange spheres that will soon become jack-o-lanterns or pumpkin pies.  As the leaves begin to fall, one can see the myriad of nests the squirrels have built as their winter homes.  I always have wondered how those nests built of twigs and leaves can withstand those fierce winter winds.  But they do.  And who can resist a hot mug of apple cider with a twist of cinnamon?  Couple that with a warm apple donut and a perfect evening is created. 

As one sees the changing landscapes of fall, a person has to marvel at God's great design.  Creation, at least in the northern climes, needs a time of rest.  God knew this.  Trees need a rest - thus the shedding of the leaves.  Fields need a rest - thus the lack of planting and growing.  Even some animals need a rest - thus the long time of hibernation.  The fall season is a reminder that God often asks us to slow down, to rest.

Rest, when you come to think of it, was what God did after six long days of creation.  The Bible tells us in Genesis 2:2, "By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work."  God rested!  The need for rest is a part of God's creative plan for His creation and for the pinnacle of His creation, namely man.  Yes, God expected man to work, for work is also a part of God's creative plan (Genesis 2:15 - "The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.")  But work needs to be balanced with rest.  When it came time for the children of Israel to receive those laws that would govern them as a nation, the fourth commandment stated, "Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.  On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.  For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the seas, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.  Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." (Exodus 20:8-11) 

Now rest is not laziness.  In fact, I believe many people often work hard at being lazy.  Rest does not mean inactivity.  In fact, a change of activity from what is normal can often be a great way to rest.  How important it is for us to understand that God has built a desire within each of us for rest.  Such rest is a time when we can reconnect with God.  Such rest is a time when we can reconnect with our families.  Such rest is a time when we can reconnect with ourselves. 

I know we live in an age when we are almost prideful of our busyness.  We run hither and thither often acting like a "chicken with its head cut off."  I can still close my eyes and see my grandfather swing his axe and off would come a chicken's head; then he would let it flop around.  That chicken would flop all over but had no idea where it was going.  Such scenes are often what our culture demands of us.  We create one activity after another seeking to fill our calendars with events - sporting events, cultural events, school events, and even, sadly, church events.  And today our busyness is compounded with our technological toys.  A few quiet moments become an opportunity to send a text or play a game or use the Internet.  Perhaps we equate activity with spirituality; but that is a wrong equation to make. 

I want to rediscover the value of rest.  I want to rediscover the significance of "being still before a holy God."  I want to know that "the LORD is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him" (Habakkuk 2:20).  Rest does not come automatically.  Rest does not come with a sincere desire.  Rest has to become a priority; it has to be something that we diligently seek after.  Just as creation prepares itself for a time of rest, so you and I need to prepare ourselves for a time of rest.  Perhaps it is to rediscover the value of Sunday being our Sabbath, our day of rest.  Perhaps it is to rediscover the significance of taking a week away from work - remember, leave your laptop at home and don't use that cellphone unless it is an emergency; the office can survive without you for a few days - and spending time with your family.  Perhaps you will rediscover rest by simply opening God's Word as you sit in your favorite rocking chair and allowing Him to speak to your heart in the quietness of an early morning or late evening. 

Friends, our souls long for rest.  Our bodies long for rest.  Our relationship with a living God longs for rest.  My prayer is that God will cause us to diligently prepare and seek for His rest, and that, as we experience that rest, our souls and bodies will become re-energizer with His power and His presence. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Is the Antichrist's Stage Being Prepared?

It almost seems that the events of the world are happening at warp-speed.  Almost daily there are the reminders of the ever-increasing darkness that seeks to envelop this world.  Yet there are those moments when the light of truth shines through as well.  We are in the midst of a cultural and spiritual war for the souls of those who inhabit planet earth.  The Bible reminds us often that this cultural-spiritual war will only reach a conclusion when King Jesus comes to claim His rightful throne there in Jerusalem.  Until that day Jesus said we would hear of wars and rumors of war; lawlessness would increase; and even the hearts of men would grow faint. 

Last Thursday I watched Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address the United Nations General Assembly.  If you did not have an opportunity of seeing this speech, I highly encourage you to watch it on you-tube.  The Prime Minister spoke powerfully against the recently UN approved P5+1 treaty with Iran on nuclear weapons.  The high-point of the speech came after the Prime Minister criticized the Iranian nuclear deal as providing Tehran with some international acceptance and a clear path toward developing a nuclear weapon.  The Prime Minister said, "As a leader of a country defending itself every day against Iran's growing aggression, I wish I could take comfort in the claim that this deal blocks Iran's path to nuclear weapons, but I can't, because it doesn't.  Here's the catch.  Under this deal, if Iran doesn't change it's behavior, if Iran becomes more dangerous in the years to come, the most important constraints will still be automatically lifted by year 10 and again by year 15."  He then cited the recent statement of the Iranian religious leader, made just days after the Iranian deal was signed in Switzerland, that the Iranians would destroy Israel within 25 years.  Netanyahu, referring to that threat said, "...and the response from this body, the response from nearly every one of the governments represented here has been absolutely nothing - utter silence, deafening silence."  Then the Prime Minister stood with a silent gaze over the Assembly for nearly a minute.  His eyes just moved from one end of the Assembly to the other almost as to reinforce the concept of how disturbing their silence had been.  He then declared that the days of Israel's silence were over and that they would defend themselves.  Of the speeches I watched during the course of the opening of the General Assembly, the Prime Minister's was most powerful. 

Yet, even as the Prime Minister was speaking before the General Assembly, outside, in the arena displaying the flags of the member-states of the United Nations, a new flag was hoisted for the very first time - the Palestinian flag.  This flag-raising came in the aftermath of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas's statement that the Palestinians will not longer abide by the Oslo Accords.  On that Wednesday, September 30, the Palestinian leader had said, "All security agreements with Israel are now annulled."  And it has been interesting to see the increase in violence in Israel, particularly around Jerusalem, since Abbas uttered those words.  The hopes for a peaceful agreement seem to be fading quickly away.  The Bible seems to affirm that there is only one who will resolve this seemingly unresolvable conflict and he will do so through intrigue and threats.  His name is - the Antichrist.  You can read about him in Daniel 9.  So it seems that we are one-step closer to the end-times. 

I shared with you in last week's blog about the presence of Russian and Iranian military forces in Syria.  Under the pretense of fighting against ISIS, Russian warplanes have attacked those forces that have been opposing the Assad regime.  The Russian President Vladimir Putin has stepped into the leadership vacuum created when our President vacated his "red line" approach in Syria's civil war.  Could this be the beginning of Ezekiel's War?  I can't speak with total confidence, but it sure seems to be the precursor to that event. 

I want to refer you to an article that I found alarming, yet very prophetic in its implications.  It was written by Leo Hohmann and posted at  The article begins with this statement: "The United Nations 2030 Agenda endorsed by President Obama, Pope Francis and the U.N. General Assembly brings the world one giant step closer to true global governance.  The U.N. document approved Sunday (September 27) in New York, 'Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,' includes in its preamble the call for a 'new universal agenda' for all of humanity."  This document has as its focus the elimination of world-wide poverty, combating climate change, the elimination of gender inequality, and resolution of the immigrant and refugee crises.  Paul McGuire, a Fox News and History Channel contributor, after reading the document said, "The only thing they are lacking right now is a sufficient crisis big enough to win enthusiastic public support in America and other nations in the world for full-on global governance.  But, remember, the elite who are behind this are experts at manufactured crisis and their motto is 'ordo ab chao,' which means 'order out of chaos.'  The new global order will be birthed by either a global financial crisis, the prospect of World War III involving Islam, Russia, Ukraine, NATO, Iran, Syria and Israel and a manufactured climate-change crisis."  Is this a preparation for the coming of the Antichrist?  Sure seems that the stage is being prepared for the acclaimed world leader.  He is in the wings awaiting his coronation.  Friends, this is a frightening article, but a must-read if we are to fully understand the workings of the leaders of the world at this moment. 

Finally, I want to just speak for a few moments into the tragic shooting in Roseburg, Oregon this past week at Umpqua Community College.  We have learned that the shooter had instructed those in that classroom to lie on the floor.  Then he instructed them to stand and he asked if they were a Christian.  If they said "yes," then they were shot in the head; if they said, "no," then they were shot in the legs.  The targets for the shooter's rage were Christians - not atheists, not Hindus, not Muslims, not humanists.  Yet the mainstream media organizations and our governmental officials, including our President, failed to focus upon that one fact.  Christians were martyred for their faith, not in Egypt or in Syria or in Iraq, but here in the United States.  This is a sobering thought.  Christians in America have been assaulted emotionally and spiritually in recent years with the advancement of the same-sex marriage philosophy.  Christians have been assaulted economically as many have lost their places of business or careers because of their stand for what they believe to be biblical truth.  And now we see Christians losing their lives because of their faith in Christ.  I asked myself this question: If I had been one of those lying on that classroom floor, what would have been my response to the shooter's question?  What would have been your response?  As I have shared with my congregation on several occasions, the time to think about how to answer that question is not when the occasion arises; the time to resolve what your response will be is now!  Sadly I believe what occurred in Roseburg, Oregon, will be repeated again and again.  Are you ready?  Am I ready? 

Praise God we can place our faith and trust and even our very lives in Him.  Yes, it is time to stand up and be counted.  It is time to be a Daniel in our world.  Read again his story in Daniel 1-6.  Let his resolve become yours and mine.  Let his boldness to stand for truth in the presence of error be yours and mine.  Let his willingness to die for truth become your willingness and mine.