Monday, October 15, 2018

Israel and Hamas Poised on the Brink of War

The crisis between Israel and Hamas within the Gaza Strip seems near the "boiling over" point.  Tensions have been building since the border-fence riots began last March.  Dozens of Palestinians have been killed as the IDF has retaliated following attacks by Hamas rebels.  Thousands of acres of Israeli farm fields, pastures, and orchards have been scorched by the incendiary balloon and kites launched from Gaza into Israel's Negev communities.  The border crossings have often been closed because of violence that occurred there.  And, when the border crossings are closed, that means that the people living in Gaza are denied those supplies upon which they rely for survival.  But, when Israel does open those crossings, immediately they become the focal points of Hamas attacks.



In today's front page article of the Jerusalem Post, Prime Minister Netanyahu states that unless quiet is restored along the border with Gaza, "fearsome blows" would occur.  He did not detail what those "blows" would be, but it appears that Israel might launch another offensive into the Gaza Strip as they did several years ago.  The continued draining of the financial resources of the people living within the Gaza Strip by the leadership of Hamas certainly demonstrates that they have very little, if any, concern for the welfare of its citizens.  People are starving, but let's spend those dollars sent to us on bullets instead of beans.  Unemployment is high, but, instead of creating jobs that will benefit the welfare of all its citizens, people are told to stoke fires with tires, dig tunnels, and to create mayhem along the borders. 




In spite of the obvious fact, at least to many of us, that Hamas is the chief antagonist, the world continues to condemn Israel, with the Palestinian Authority leadership bringing Israel before the International Court on charges of "crimes against humanity."  If the charges were not so serious, they would seem ludicrous.  I find it fascinating that, when there are days with no Hamas-directed attacks against the frontier fence, the IDF merely monitors as they would any other part of the nation.  It is not the IDF that is stirring up conflict, but Hamas seeking to cause as much destruction and death as it possibly can.  Yet, I don't hear anyone declare about Hamas that it is guilty of "crimes against humanity." 




And the United Nations continues it assault upon the legitimacy of Israel as a nation.  Last Wednesday, the PX Commission of the Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, better known as UNESCO, adopted a resolution that declared the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem to be an integral part of the Palestinian Territory.  I find this to be a resolution based, not upon history, but upon political bias.  The cave of Machpelah in Hebron, was purchased by Abraham from the Hittites to be used for a burial place for his wife Sarah.  Subsequently Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Leah, and finally Jacob were all buried here.  Friends, the history of a Hebrew presence in Hebron goes back nearly four millenniums.  Centuries later, Hebron was given as an inheritance to Caleb who drove out its giants.  The city became one of the Levitical Cities, even being a City of Refuge.  The earliest known Muslim presence in Hebron did not occur until the 7th century AD - some 2700 years after the time of Abraham.  Yet, somehow in the minds of the leadership of UNESCO, Hebron is a Palestinian Historical Site. 




According to an article published on the United with Israel website, "Israel has long criticized the anti-Israel bias within UNESCO, where Israel and its allies are far outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters.  Since 2009, UNESCO has passed 71 resolutions condemning Israel and only two resolutions against all other countries combined."  (www.unitedwithisrael.org/unesco-again-attempts-to-steal-Israeli-heritage-with-lies-and-biases.)




Last year United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Nicki Halley, withdrew the United States from UNESCO citing its increasingly growing anti-Semitism.  (She will be sorely missed as an advocate for our nation and for Israel in the United Nations).  Israel is in the process of withdrawing from UNESCO as well. 




Prime Minister Netanyahu declared that "UNESCO must top the absurdity of passing resolutions which deny the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, between the Jewish people and our eternal capital Jerusalem.  No matter what UNESCO says, the Western Wall is not occupied Palestinian territory and the Cave of the Patriarchs - the burial site of Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah - is not a Palestinian Heritage Site."  On those two issues, the Prime Minister is absolutely correct. 


President Trump has stated that he has developed a plan for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.  His plan has not yet been made public.  Is it a workable plan?  President Trump has declared before the world that he recognizes Jerusalem as the historical, undivided capital of the states of Israel.  The Israeli leaders have categorically stated that the issue of the return of Palestinian refugees is a non-starter for them.  To grant such a request would be tantamount to the destruction of the Jewish State.  And Israel would certainly strongly object to having any Palestinian State become an armed one.  You had to have traveled in Israel in order to understand why Israel would make this demand.  The very survival of Israel would depend upon an unarmed Palestinian state.  So, there are not a lot of substantive issues remaining upon which to broker a deal for a two-state solution. 


Friends, I am convinced that there will always be unrest in the Middle East until, first the antichrist comes and declares a time of pseudo-peace in the region which will last for a brief time.  Then he will declare his true intentions and conflict on a scale unseen before will be unleashed in the Middle East.  True peace will only come when The Prince of Peace returns to establish His Kingdom.  And oh what a day that will be.  Perhaps it will occur soon!  Hallelujah!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A New Justice and a New Hurricane

Over the weekend Judge Kavanaugh became Associate Justice Kavanaugh.  But the final decision was wrought with drama.  In spite of an FBI report, which the Democrats had aggressively sought and for which Senator Flake (R-AZ) had requested, that showed there was no corroborative evidence for the allegation that Dr. Ford had brought, the minority party was still not satisfied.  They now yelled that the FBI had not done an adequate job.  But, you can only go as far as the evidence will direct you, and, in this case, there simply was no evidence.  Would the confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh be stopped because of unsubstantiated allegations?  The fate of that decision would be decided by the vote of three senators: Collins (R-ME), Flake (R-AZ), and Manchin (D-WV).  Senator Collins, on Friday afternoon, made an impassioned speech in which she affirmed her "yes" vote on the confirmation.  Almost immediately she became the target of the aggressive hatred from the Left.  Senator Collins speech was based upon her belief that a man should not be convicted if there was no evidence to substantiate the charges brought against him.  In fact, Senator Collins spoke in favor of what the United States Constitution declares: a man is innocent until he is proven guilty. 


On Saturday afternoon we witnessed an historic vote.  Judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to sit on the highest court in the land - the United States Supreme Court.  With his confirmation, the Supreme Court has a conservative majority.  This will be a Court that will NOT be inclined to make law, but merely to interpret law.  It is a Court that will ask the question: what was the original intent of the framers of the Constitution.  And with that the Court will be in the place where the framers originally intended it to be. 


I have had people come to me and say that now Roe v. Wade will be overturned.  Friends, I highly doubt that will happen.  If one studies the rulings of the Supreme Court it is very adverse to overturning precedent-setting cases, even if those cases really were bad rulings.  The Dred Scott Decision, perhaps one of the worst rulings ever from a Supreme Court, was not overturned.  Roe v. Wade will not be either.  But, I believe the Court will be more inclined to listen to arguments that might restrict some of the latitude we have seen with recent Roe v. Wade type cases.  There are many interesting and important cases the Court will be hearing in this Fall Session.  Justice Kavanaugh will not have the opportunity to crawl into a corner and just listen.  No, his positions will soon become evident. 


But this is what grieves me - the hostility and hatred shown by the Left and by the mainstream media toward those who voted for this confirmation.  Emails threatening beheadings have been sent to family members of the Senators.  Vicious verbal assaults have been unleashed upon Senators when in public.  Friends, these actions are simply un-American and totally unacceptable.  Yes, we can have disagreements.  Yes, we can choose sides on issues.  But we do NOT have the right to incite riots or to threaten bodily harm to those who disagree with us. 


We are now just four weeks away from the most important midterm election of my lifetime.  The stakes could not be any higher.  The control of the House of Representatives and the Senate are prizes that both parties are eagerly seeking.  Positions of leadership on both the state and local levels are to be determined.  Here in the State of Minnesota we are electing a governor and two United States Senators.  This is not a time when Christians are to sit at home indifferent to what is happening.  This is the time to study the candidates and the issues.  Then, on November 6, it is time to go to the polling places and vote your conscience. 


I want to close with a prophetic weather update.  A 7.2 earthquake with its accompanying tsunami takes the lives of over 1200 people in Indonesia.  One of the strongest cyclones in history brings destruction to the Philippines, Hong Kong, and into China.  Hurricane Floyd left a path of devastation across the Carolinas.  Now Hurricane Michael, one of the strongest storms to hit the northeast coast of Florida in years, is poised to strike.  Portions of the Midwest have been drenched with multi-day rain events.  Rivers are swollen and flooding has become almost inevitable.  Now, we can either blame all these events on climate change, or we can say that God is trying to get our attention that time is running out.  I prefer to believe the latter.  I believe the natural world is probably more conscious of the imminent return of Jesus than are most people.  The Apostle Paul, in Romans 8, proclaims that the creation groans awaiting its redemption.  Seems to me that the groaning is getting louder and louder.  I think this planet is getting excited because its King is soon to come! 


It is time for us to "wake up" from our slumber and apathy.  It is time for us to put on the whole armor of God.  It is time for us to get back into the front lines of the struggle for the souls of lost men and women, teenagers, and boys and girls.  Time is running out...it's time to get going for Jesus!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Why Are People Leaving the Church Today? Two Viewpoints.

It appears that the FBI is nearing the end of its investigation of the allegations made against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanagh.  The findings of the FBI should prove to be interesting as the foundations for these allegations appear to be crumbling - filled with inconsistencies and still lacking corroboration.  It appears, at least from reports from several news sources, that the confirmation vote will occur probably on Saturday.  As people will look back upon this nomination they will certainly discover that this was NOT one of America's finest moments.  It can only be hoped that what happened with this nomination is not setting a trend for future nominations not only to the Supreme Court but to other governmental appointments. 


Last week two articles came across my desk.  One was an editorial, written by Ron Way who lives in Edina, MN, that was published in the September 23 edition of the "StarTribune."  The editorial was titled, "What Churches Get Wrong [and how to repopulate them]."  The second was an article, written by Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Ministries located in Georgia, that was published by Fox News.  It was titled, "Five reasons people leave the church."  This article can be found at: www.foxnews.com/opinions/2018/09/23/five-reasons-people-leave-church


Both Mr. Way and Pastor Stanley are looking at the growing concern of people leaving American churches today.  As Mr. Way looks at the churches of today he describes the scene of abandonment by many this way: "Sure, folks are busy.  But there's something more basic: The church, broadly, has been hijacked by TV scammers, narrow-interest evangelicals and unending sex scandal.  Too, the church has largely stuck with Sunday school scripture by anecdote and has failed to remain relevant to society's altered priorities.  Frankly, the institutional church has itself to blame.  In a period of social divide and gathering doubts, it's a bit puzzling why so many mainline churches seem mired in orthodoxy and creedal dogma that take us on Sunday morning jaunts through antiquity before sending us out and into today."  Later in the editorial he would write, "Mainline churches too often take the Bible wildly out of context, spread misinformation (no, Jesus did not oppose gay marriage, and it was Romans, not Jews, who crucified Jesus as a Galilean insurrectionist), and insist the Bible was divinely inspired.  As more people peeked behind the curtain as I did, they see a church tied to ancient myth while missing the larger messages for today."  One of Mr. Way's criticisms of the church is that it is "mired" in the scriptures.  He states that is one of the problems that is causing people to leave the church. 


But is proclaiming the Scriptures really the problem?  I am presently teaching a class here at my church on Church History.  It has been a fascinating journey filled with those moments of "Wow! can you believe that!" to moments of "You have got to be kidding."  And yet the Bible was proclaimed.  But something was wrong then, and something is wrong today.  The Bible was preached but it was never made relevant to the needs of the people.  The Bible was proclaimed in a sterile environment.  People never made the connection between what the Bible said and how it was to be lived out in their very lives.  


Furthermore, if the Bible is simply a collection of ancient myths, legends, and fables, as Mr. Way contends, then how can it purport to be relevant to our lives today.  I can read the stories of the ancient Babylonian legends but find no connection between those stories and real life today.  I can read the ancient stories that were a part of the Egyptian history, but again, find no connection between those stories and real life today.  So, if I only believe the Bible to be a collection of myths and legends, then it follows that I really cannot make a relevant connection between those stories and the world in which my congregation and I live.  My understanding of the Bible creates the framework for my proclamation of the Bible.  


But, what if the Bible really does relate to us God's Story?  What if the Bible really does tell us of actual people, living in an actual time period, and facing actual problems and difficulties in life?  If those are true, then the Bible takes on a relevancy for life today. 


So, as I read Mr. Way's editorial I was affirmed with two truths.  First, I affirmed that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired, infallible, authoritative Word of God.  I affirmed that God created the heavens and the earth.  I affirmed that God appeared to Moses in a burning bush.  I affirmed that fire fell from heaven when Elijah prayed.  I affirmed that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin and that He died upon a cross and rose three days later from the dead.  Basically I affirmed that the Bible is true!  Second, I affirmed that I MUST proclaim Biblical truth and make it relevant to the times in which we live.  It was not just good enough for the prophets to say "thus says the Lord" to their generation, but they MUST say "thus says the Lord" to our generation.  So, as much as I struggled with many of Mr. Way's points, I have to say that I believe he had a strong point to make and I appreciated the reminder.


Andy Stanley approached this topic of people leaving the church from a different viewpoint.  He states in his article, "Many people see Christianity as anti-intellectual, overly simplistic, and easily discredited.  For decades, college professors with biases against religion have found Christian freshmen easy targets.  Much of what makes American Christianity so resistible to those outside the faith are things we should have been resisting all along.  While many of us have been working hard to make church more interesting, it turns out that fewer people are actually interested."  He then proceeds to share five reasons why people are leaving the church. 


"1.  We tell people that the Bible is the basis of Christianity."  I must confess that I struggled with this thought.  Yet, the more I pondered what Dr. Stanley was saying, the more I had to agree with Him.  Yes, we need to hold the Bible up as our standard of Truth, but the Bible must never replace our focus upon Jesus Christ.  For He alone is the true basis for our faith. 


"2.  They believe suffering disproves the existence of God. ... But the foundation of our faith is not a world without suffering.  Pain and suffering don't disprove the existence of God.  It only disproves the existence of a god who doesn't allow pain and suffering."


"3.  They had a bad church experience."  I have witnessed this many times over the 46-plus years I have been in the ministry.  Those bad experiences are not easily forgotten or overcome.


"4.  We're bad at making people feel welcome. ... It wasn't just his message that made Jesus irresistible.  It was Jesus himself.  People who were nothing like him, liked him.  And Jesus liked people who were nothing like him.  Jesus invited unbelieving, misbehaving, troublemaking men and women to follow him and to embrace something new, and they accepted his invitation." 


"5.  We made 'ekklesia' (the church) a building. ... 'Ekklesia' was not, and is not, a religious term.  It does not mean church or house of the Lord.  It certainly shouldn't be associated with a temple.  The term was used widely to describe a gathering, assembly, civic gatherings, or an assemble of soldiers.  Or as was the case in Acts 19, an assembly of rioting idol manufacturers.  An 'ekklesia' was a gathering of people for a specific purpose.  Any specific purpose.  It's not a building.  It's not a physical location.  It's a group of people.  It's a lot easier to stop showing up at a place than it is to disconnect from a group of people who intimately know, love, and support each other."


Two writers, each looking at the decline of the American Church but through differing lenses.  Yet there is much we can learn from each viewpoint.  I appreciate the way Dr. Stanley closed his article: "If we want people to stop leaving the church - if we want Christianity to be irresistible again to the world - then maybe it's time to take another look at the movement Jesus started 2,000 years ago."  To that I would say a rousing "Amen!"