Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Israeli-Obama Divide: It is Widening

The smoke has cleared since the Israeli elections last year.  As reported last week, the clear winner was Prime Minister Netanyahu. He does have his flaws, as we all do, but the Israeli people obviously see that he is the one leader who will keep them safe from the threats that surround them.  (I heard one radio commentator say that the clear loser in the Israeli elections was President Obama).

The re-election of the Prime Minister has deepened the divide between the Obama Administration and the Israeli government under Netanyahu's leadership.  As reported in today's "Wall Street Journal," during a press conference yesterday, President Obama stated that there would be "no Mideast peace deal during his term."  He said, "What we can't do is pretend that there's a possibility for something that's not there.  And we can't continue to premise our public diplomacy based on something that everybody knows is not going to happen at least in the next several years.  For the sake of our own credibility I think we have to be able to be honest about that."  The President also said, "The issue is not a matter of relations between leaders.  The issue is a very clear substantive challenge: We believe that two states is the best path forward for Israel's security, for Palestinian aspirations and for regional stability.  And Prime Minister Netanyahu has a different approach." 

Reading between the lines, one hears from our President these words, "It is all the fault of Prime Minister Netanyahu that we will not have a peace agreement."  President Obama has less than two years remaining in office, while Netanyahu was just re-elected for four years.  One hears our President say, "I don't have enough time and, besides, I can't work with Netanyahu.  So, I accept that my legacy will not include a Mideast Peace Treaty." 

Is the Israeli Prime Minister open to a negotiated peace with the Palestinians?  Prior to the election, the Prime Minister seemed to indicate that there would be no Palestinian State created while he was leader of Israel.  Following the election, Netanyahu explained that he meant to say that, given the condition of the unity government between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, there could be no Palestinian State negotiated.  And, he is right. Israel has learned the lessons from 2005 when, under the leadership of then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip in the hopes that "olive branch" would bring peace with the Palestinians.  Instead of peace, there has been nothing but hostility, initiated by Hamas who controls the Gaza Strip.  Hamas has let it be known that their ultimate purpose is to drive Israel into the sea.  Last year, Hamas and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority - President Abbas being the leader - entered into a unity government.  President Abbas has stated strongly in the past that, if a Palestinian State is created, there would be no place for Jews within it.  In The Israeli Prime Minister's mind, a unity government has to mean that President Abbas is in agreement with the ultimate purpose of Hamas.  Therefore, as long as this unity government is in place, there can be no negotiated peace or the creation of a Palestinian State.  In our government's eyes, the fault lies with the Israeli leader, not with the Palestinian leadership.

So, what is next?  I look for the Palestinian leadership to return to the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly and ask that a resolution be passed that grants them the status of statehood.  In the past, when this has happened, the United States has always stood ready to veto such a resolution.  But, given what has happened and the deepening rift between our government and that of Israel, my guess is that, if a resolution should happen sometime later this year, the United States would not give it verbal support, but would not veto it or stand in the way of its adoption.  Perhaps a Britain or a France might step in with a veto, but not highly likely. 

Increasingly we are seeing what the Bible affirms will happen in the last days.  Israel will become isolated from the rest of the world.  There will be a strong turning against Israel, increased hostilities toward it, eventuating in an armed attack against it.  I believe God is at work in these things preparing the pathway for the coming of the Messiah-King who will reign in Jerusalem over the nations of the world.  Then and only then will there be a lasting peace...and it will not involve a two-state solution, but a one-King solution. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Israel's Elections and a Warning from Joel Rosenberg

Yesterday elections were held in Israel to determine the direction of that nation's government and future.  Pre-election polls indicated that the race between the Likud party, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and the Zionist Camp party, led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, was virtually deadlocked.  Mr. Herzog had campaigned on the promise that he would reopen negotiations with the Palestinians toward the creation of a Palestinian State, even saying that he would agree to a divided Jerusalem and a retreat back to the 1967 cease-fire lines created after the Six Day War.  Just hours before the election, Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that he would not support a Palestinian State if elected to the Prime Minister's position. 

Early results from the elections seemed to indicate that the race was a tight as the polls had indicated.  American newspapers this morning reported that Likud and Zionist Union had both won 27 seats in the Knesset.  Yet, as I scanned the headlines from my Israeli news sources, a different outcome was seen.  With 99% of the votes counted, was reporting that the Likud party had won 30 seats in the Knesset while the Zionist Union party had won 24 seats.  Trailing in third place was a united Arab party, the Joint List, which won 14 seats.  So, a close race was not that close. 

So, what does the re-election of Prime Minister Netanyahu mean?  First, if he keeps his campaign promises (and, as we know from experience here in America, politicians do not always keep those promises), then the future of negotiations with the Palestinians is a dead issue.  Second, because the past several American Presidents have made it their goal to create a Palestinian State, the divide between the Israeli government and the Obama administration will become wider than ever and more volatile.  Without Congressional intervention, Israeli concerns will certainly take a "backseat" with this Administration.  Third, the Palestinians will become more vocal in their appeals for the United Nations to step in to create a Palestinian State by the actions of the General Assembly and through the Security Council, knowing that this Administration would be reticent to veto such a measure.  Yet, for the Israeli people, there is that knowledge that Prime Minister Netanyahu is committed to keeping them safe, especially from a possible nuclear Iran.  Having just returned from Israel, I understand the safety concerns the Israelis have. 

Yesterday, Joel Rosenberg posted on his blogsite, his speech before the National Religious Broadcasters Convention.  He titled it, "Three Existential Threats Facing America."  You can read this speech at  Let me just summarize Joel's three points.  Threat #1: What if America is not simply in a season of decline but heading towards collapse, towards implosion?  He believes that America is under the judgment of God because of the over 58,000,000 babies that have been aborted since 1973.  Staggering number - nearly 10 times those murdered by the Nazis in World War II.  Threat #2: What if America is not simply at rising risk of attack by Radical Islam but heading towards the risk of annihilation by Apocalyptic Islam?  Rosenberg declares that "the threat of Radical Islam is a very serious threat to us and our allies."  He cites both Jordan's King Abdullah and Egyptian President el-Sisi as two men who see the threat, yet our leaders refuse to even state that Radical Islam is a threat.  The statistics that Rosenberg cites are powerful, as we relates the presence of Apocalyptic Islam.  He states, "Apocalyptic Islamic eschatology is a photographic negative of Biblical eschatology.  The leaders of Iran and ISIS believe the way to hasten the coming of the messiah is to kill as many people as possible.,  The followers of Jesus Christ, on the other hand, believe the way to hasten the coming of the messiah is to save as many people as possible."  Threat #3: What if America is not simply entering a season of strained relations with Israel, but we are heading towards total American abandonment of the Jewish State?  Rosenberg writes, "The Bible teaches us that all nations will turn against Israel in the last days - and all nations will face judgment for it - but woe unto us if it happens on our watch. ...This is the most dangerous moment in the history of the U.S.-Israel relationship.  What do the next two years hold?  I'm not sure.  But this much I know: on top of all America's national challenges and sins, we dare not also abandon or turn against Israel and the Jewish people.  If we do, we will seal our fate with God." 

Friends, this is a very sobering address and one that we need to read carefully and then prayerfully ask God what we need to do.  Yes, we are watchmen on the walls.  Are we sounding the trumpet loudly and clearly?  Are we pointing people to Jesus Christ as the only place where salvation, hope and peace can be found?  Are we directing people to dig more deeply into the Word of God?  May we heed the signs of the times?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Shalom from the Promised Land

It has been a couple of weeks since my last blog.  I just returned from leading a 10-day tour to Israel.  Our group was 11 in size - just a great group of people who had a passion to walk where Jesus walked and to experience His presence in the Holy Land.  The weather was absolutely ideal while we were there.  And the country-sides were alive with nearly every color in the rainbow.  The fruit trees were in bloom, as was the wild mustard - in fact, the hillsides were alive with that majestic yellow color.  The red anemones were full of life as they competed for space with the royal purples and blues of the wild cyclamens.  And everywhere there were the luscious shades of green.  The rainy season was coming to an end, and the hillsides showed their beauty before the dry hot summer months begin. 

Israel is an exciting destination.  In a matter of minutes one can travel back over four thousand years to the time of Abraham.  One of the most special places we visit on our tours is found at the ancient tel of Dan.  This location was the northernmost place in ancient Israel; you remember seeing that phrase "from Dan to Beersheba" often in the Old Testament.  That simply meant "from north to south."  The tel of Dan was originally known as Laish - you can find this story in Judges 17-18.  Near the gate of Dan lies an even older gate - the gate to the city of Laish - a gate that dates back over four thousand years.  I know some of you are saying, "So, what is so special about a four thousand year old gate?  Isn't it just an old gate?'  The answer is: It was through this very same gate that Abraham walked as he entered into the land of Canaan; the land that God would promise to him and his descendants.  As you stand there, you see the ancient stones that formed the road entering into the city of Laish.  You close your eyes and you can see a princely man, mounted on a camel, entering through that gate.  He is a stranger to the land, having come from Haran, some four hundred miles to the north.  Friends, this gate is known as "Abraham's Gate."  It is just one of those "wow!" moments.

We traveled to Mt. Bental, a former Israeli listening post on the Golan Heights.  From there we witnessed the Syrian border just a few miles below our position on the heights.  As we stood, we could hear gunfire from below.  Our guide simply said that it was his "cousins" shooting at one another.  We know that rival factions in the Syrian Civil War have challenged each other for the position in and around the village of Kuneitra in Syria. 

Jerusalem continues to be one of the most awe-inspiring cities I have ever visited.  It is a city that teems with both the ancient and the modern.  As we were walking down the roadway to the Pool of Siloam, we noticed a rather large flock of sheep and goats headed directly toward us.  They were being herded by a young Arab boy riding a donkey.  We got excited for this wonderful photo-op from the ancient past, until we noticed that the Arab boy was talking on his cell phone.  So much for the idyllic photo we had anticipated. 

It had been a mere sixteen months since I was last in Jerusalem and I was amazed at how much work the archaeologists have done, especially in and around the City of David, also known as the Orphel in the Bible.  One of the things that most excited my heart was the excavation of one of the gates of the old Jebusite City before the time of David.  Some archaeologists believe that it was through this gate that Melchizedek, king of Salem, came to greet Abraham after his return from rescuing Lot (found in Genesis 14). 

Oh I could go on and on about Israel.  But my heart was saddened to learn that tourism is down dramatically from the previous year.  The dining rooms in the hotels were filled with lots of empty chairs.  At certain of the sites we visited, the usual crowds were simply not there.  We asked our guide why the steep drop in tourism.  His response was that people are afraid to travel to the Middle East because of ISIS and other radical Islamic groups.  Friends, I want to assure you that Israel is a very safe country in which to travel.  As believers, one way in which we can support Israel is by visiting there - walking where Jesus walked; listening carefully to the stones as they tell their stories; and listening to the hearts of the people living there.  The Western media is so quick to report the negatives and so reticent to share the good news found in Israel. 

Friends, if you know of a group that is going to Israel, consider joining that group and going on the adventure of a lifetime, an adventure that will dramatically change your life.  Or plan to join with a group in the future.  I have begun working on planning another tour for late Spring 2016. 

Israel needs our prayers.  Next Tuesday they will have a national election to determine who will lead their government for the next four years.  The most recent polls show a very tight, almost "too-close-to-call" race.  Please join with me in praying that peace will come to Jerusalem and for God's will to be done in the election next week. 

I close with a statement found on a tee-shirt hanging on a rack in one of the little shops in the Old City: "Don't worry America, Israel has your back!"  I liked that.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Lesson From History That Needs to Be Learned Once Again

Over eighty years ago, a dark shadow began to appear over the landscape of Europe.  At first the world gave it little attention, its leader virtually ignored.  Yet that shadow continued to grow; its leader grew in stature among the people of Germany.  Almost without warning, the growth of Nazism exploded.  The world's leaders tried to appease its radical-madman leader, but Nazism continued to infiltrate: Austria, the Sudetenland, and Bohemia.  The goal of this maniacal Nazi leader was to rule all of Europe, if not all the world, and to show the superiority of the Arian Race.  On September 1, 1939, the armies of Nazi Germany advanced into defenseless Poland.  Brimming with success other countries soon collapsed as well.  It looked like the dream of domination by Hitler would be achieved. 

Not satisfied with just crushing nations, Hitler was bent on purging out all those who were not accepting of his radical belief system.  Concentration camps soon became extermination camps.  The Nazis became creative in how they put people to death.  Josef Mengele practiced his horrific brand of medical procedures upon the helpless victims at Auschwitz.  Millions perished through starvation, suicide, or through the gas chambers.  It was a most brutal time: the pictures still haunt us. 

But, as we know from our history books, the world came together in a united front to defeat that Axis of Germany, Italy, and Japan.  The victories did not come easily: the cost was tremendous in lives lost and monies spent.  But radical Nazism was defeated. 

Friends, I believe there is a direct parallel between the Nazi brand of beliefs in Germany of the 1930's and early 40's and those of the Islamic State today.  IS seeks to create a new Islamic Caliphate that would subject the entire world to a radical interpretation of Islam.  Their brutality is almost beyond description - certainly nothing like it has occurred since those days of Nazi domination in Europe.  These past couple of weeks we have witnessed some of the most gruesome pictures imaginable: a Jordanian pilot, locked in a cage, and then burned alive; twenty-one Egyptian Coptic Christians beheaded along the shores of the Mediterranean in Libya; forty five Iraqis burned alive just a couple days ago.  Those images need to be ingrained upon our minds as strongly as those from the Nazi death camps.

And look at how IS has expanded.  They are no longer just contained in portions of Iraq and Syria.  There are IS cells in Libya, as evidenced by their brutality this past weekend - and I read yesterday that they have captured another 45 Egyptians in Libya, whose fate can only be guessed.  There are IS cells in the Sinai, threatening both Egypt and Israel.  There are IS cells in Afghanistan, linking up with the Taliban there.  And there is a known connection between IS and AQAP (Al-Qaeda Arabian Peninsula) in Yemen.  What about the connection between IS and Boko Harum in Nigeria?  And look what has happened in Europe.  The attacks in France, then in Denmark. 

And it gets even more scary.  I was reading an article published in the Jerusalem Post that stated: "Islamic State has set its sights on taking over Libya as a bridgehead to eventually waging war all across southern Europe, the British "Telegraph" is reporting on Wednesday.  The newspaper cited letters written by ISIS supporters.  According to the report, ISIS jihadists plan to 'flood Libya with militiamen from Syria and Iraq, who will then sail across the Mediterranean posing as migrants on people-trafficking vessels.'  ISIS would then run amok in southern European cities and also try to attack maritime shipping."  Friends, look at a map.  Libya is no more than 300 miles from the southern tip of Italy.  And, as they were butchering those Coptic Christians, the IS leader said that they would destroy Rome and behead the Pope.  These people are to be taken seriously.

The Islamic State has become a real threat around the globe.  The Jordanians know it and have become aggressive in their assaults upon IS bases and supply lines in Syria.  The Egyptians know it and have launched air assaults against IS in Libya.  Even the Iranians know it and are sending supplies to Iraqi forces battling IS militants.  The Saudis are nervous, especially since the death of their king and the enthroning of a new king.  The instability in Yemen threatens the entire Arabian peninsula. 

I was reading this week that our government has agreed to allow nearly 30,000 Syrian refugees into our country.  That is a magnanimous gesture, but a very dangerous one; for as the article continued, our government has no way of adequately screening those who are entering.  Do you think that some IS militants just might be among those who slip in - legally, mind you?  How many IS militants slip over our southern border every day? 

Where is American leadership in this hour of crisis?  Well, let's look back into history and we see another parallel.  Britain and France declared war on Germany in September 1939.  President Roosevelt determined to keep America out of "Europe's War."  And that lasted until December 7, 1941 when our nation was attacked, not by Germany, but by their partner Japan.  Only then did our nation go to war.  Our President certainly does not seem to be very excited over what is happening in Africa, in the Middle East, and in Europe.  Golfing is one of his priorities - he is setting a record for golfing that I hope his successors never try to emulate.  The Egyptian president Sisi is looking for leadership; he knows taking on IS is a bigger challenge than Egypt can handle alone.  King Abdullah is looking for leadership; he knows taking on IS is a bigger challenge than Jordan can handle alone.  Prime Minister Netanyahu is wondering how the lack of American leadership will impact Israel. 

Our President can begin by identifying IS as what it is: radical Islamic terrorists.  King Abdullah has named them rightly, so has Egyptian President Sisi, and, interestingly enough, so has the Iranian President Rohani.  It is time for America to be bold, to be brave, and to lead the world once again in victory over an evil that is as destructive as was Nazism.  If the world does not unite against IS and those aligned with them, then I am fearful of the consequences for the world.

However, I need to close on a bright note: God is in control and everything is working toward the accomplishment of His plan.  So we need not despair.  We need to just move forward trusting the Lord.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Some Thoughts on the Presidential Prayer Breakfast

Last Thursday was the National Presidential Prayer Breakfast held in Washington D.C.  Back in 2007, Marlys and I had the privilege of attending that event.  I am not sure why they call it a "prayer breakfast" - you do eat a nice breakfast and you do get to meet some wonderful Christian people from around the country, but there is very little praying that is done.  There is always a guest speaker - this year it was Darryl Waltrip, the famous racecar driver.  The year we attended, it was Dr. Francis Collins, director of the Genome Project.  Most of the Congressmen and Senators are present, along with cabinet members, and of course, the President of the United States. 

This past Thursday, during his remarks to this Breakfast Meeting, President Obama said that we, as Americans, had better get off our "high horse" and remember that Christianity has been guilty of many of the same atrocities that IS is perpetrating today  He said, "Unless we get on our high horse and think this (beheadings, sex-slavery, crucifixion, roasting humans) is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ."

In an article posted at the Middle East Forum website, titled, "Obama" We're No Better Than Islamic State," the author writes: "First, the obvious: the wide gulf between violence and hate 'justified in the name of Christ; and violence and hate 'justified in the name of Muhammad' is that Christ never justified it, while Muhammad continuously did.  This is not just a theoretic point; it is the very reason that Muslims are still committing savage atrocities.  Every evil act IS commits - whether beheading, crucifying, raping, enslaving, or immolating humans - has precedents in the deeds of Muhammad, that most 'perfect' and 'moral' man, per Koran 33:21 and 68:4."

The author continues, "Does Obama know something about Christ - who eschewed violence and told people to love and forgive their enemies - that we don't?  Perhaps he's clinging to that solitary verse that academics like Philip Jenkins habitually highlight, that Christ - who 'spoke to the multitudes in parables and without a parable spoke not' once said, 'I come not to bring peace but a sword' (Matt. 10:34, 13:34),  Jesus was not commanding violence against non- Christians but rather predicting that Christians will be persecuted, including by family members (as, for example, when a Muslim family slaughters their child for 'apostatizing' to Christianity as happens frequently)."

The author then proceeds to remind us that the Crusades were a response to the same atrocities being committed then as they are today.  The author says, "The true lesson of the Crusades is that Islamic violence has been remarkably consistent, down to its very patterns of persecution.  And, according to primary historical texts - not modern day fantasies peddled by the likes of Karen Armstrong - Muslim persecution of Christians was indeed a primary impetus for the Crusades."

"In short, Obama's claim that there will always be people willing to 'hijack religion for their own murderous ends' is patently false when applied to the Islamic State and like organizations and individuals.  Muhammad himself called for the murder of his enemies; he permitted Muslims to feign friendship to his enemies in order to assassinate them; he incited his followers to conquer and plunder non-believers, promising them a sexual paradise if they were martyred; he kept sex slaves and practiced pedophilia with his 'child-bride,' Aisha.  He, the prophet of Islam, did everything the Islamic State is doing.  If Muslims are supposed to follow the summa or example, of Muhammad, and if Muhammad engaged in and justified every barbarity being committed by the Islamic State and other Muslims - how, exactly, are they 'hijacking' Islam?  Such is the simple logic Obama fails to grasp.  Or else he does grasp it - but hopes most Americans don't." 

You can find the article at

The day before the Presidential Prayer Breakfast, President Obama met in the White House with "Muslim leaders" across America.  The meeting was held in secret and only now are we finding out the names of those who attended, including members of known jihadist groups.  You can access this article at:  It is a most enlightening article - makes one wonder what is really happening in the White House.

Friends, there is cause for concern.  We have an Administration that seemingly has not come to grips with the intent of these radical Islamic groups.  Yes, they are radicals.  But they are radical Islamists.  And that is the fact that the Administration does not want to address.  Yes, those who participated in the Crusades and during the time of the Inquisition did some incredibly evil the name of religion.  But, and here is where the similarity stops...the Church eventually condemned those acts...the Crusades were abandoned...the Inquisition was stopped.  But the evils committed by radical Islamists back in the 11th-13th centuries still persist today.  And, although there are some voices within the Muslim community calling for the eradication of IS, they are voices that are not being heard loudly enough.  And so, IS grows...perhaps even here in the United States.  And the indifference toward them is growing.  How confused are our times! 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Risks of the Final Play

Well the football season is finally over.  A new champion has been crowned.  And now the pundits are asking the question of why Coach Pete Carroll called that play with timeouts remaining, one of the best running backs in the game in his backfield, and on the one yard line of the opponent.  Four points down, it seemed that a touchdown was imminent.  But then the play was called.  The pass intercepted.  The game over.  Was it the right call?  That is the question many around the NFL, and especially in Seattle, are asking.  In an interview yesterday, Coach Carroll said it was the right call and he had an explanation for it.  Not understanding all the intricacies of football, his explanation made sense to me. 

There is an important lesson to be learned from those final moments of Super Bowl XLIX.  Play-calling involves risk taking.  That is true not just in football games, but in all sports.  Woody Hayes, the late head football coach at Ohio State often said of the forward pass, "Three things happen when you throw the ball, and two of them are bad." In other words, there is always the risk when you throw a forward pass.  Coaches know that they might call the wrong play.  Players know that they can execute a play badly.  Yes, there are risks in the world of athletics. 

There are also risks in the world of business.  What is a safe investment?  Outside of giving your money to the work of the Lord Jesus, all investments come with risks.  The stock market is up one day and down the next.  It is bullish, then bearish.  One never knows how long one animal is going to stick around.  Yet a person makes a decision regarding investments.  Sometimes it is a good one.  Other times it is not so good.  A wise old financial planner once told me, "Max, never invest money that you cannot afford to lose."  Yes, there are risks in the world of business.

All decisions come with risks.  There is a safe way out...and that is to let someone else make the decision for you.  When we do that then we do not have to assume responsibility for the consequences of the decision.  There comes a time when a person just has to "bite the bullet" and make a decision.  You have studied all the options.  You have weighed the costs.  You have looked at all the alternatives.  It is time to make a decision, to take a risk.  Is it scary?  At times very much so.  But there is a time for action. 

One of my favorite leaders in the Old Testament is Joshua.  As his life was drawing to a close, and after he had led Israel in their conquest of the Promised Land, he gathered the people together for one final word of encouragement.  He was troubled at what he was seeing in the people's attraction to the gods of the peoples they had conquered.  Joshua understand the history and heritage of the people - after all, they had come from a pagan background and had lived in a pagan land for nearly 400 years.  But God - his God and their God - had led them this far.  It was time for them to make a decision.  He knew he could not make it for them.  He knew there were great risks if they decided to serve other gods.  But the people could only remain on the fence so was time to decide which side of the fence they were going to land in.  Listen to these familiar words of Joshua: "Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness.  Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.  But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.  But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:14-15).

Joshua had confidence in his God.  And so Joshua made a decision.  He took a risk that following God was the right choice.  He led the way.  Others soon made the same declaration.  Did Joshua ever second-guess his decision?  Probably not! 

Friends, perhaps God is calling you to do something.  Only you know what it is.  You might even say, "But God, I really need more information; I really need more clarity.  How can I be sure?"  And God's response is simply, "You have all the information you need; you have all the clarity you need.  Now, just trust Me!"  What God is saying is, "It is time to take a risk.  It is time to make a decision.  Now, go for it; dare to trust Me."  And, unlike Coach Carroll's final play-calling that snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, you can't lose when you are following God's leading. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Three Books to Capture Your Heart and Mind

Have you read a good book lately?  I find winters to be a great time to turn on the fireplace, grab a cup of hot chocolate, and open up a good book.  I would highly recommend the following three books for your reading pleasure.

The first book is titled, "41", and was written by former President George W Bush.  It is the story of his father, former President George H.W. Bush, our 41st president, thus the title.  George W writes in a style that is very readable.  You almost get the feeling that he is sitting in a chair opposite you and just sharing a personal story with you.  As one reads this book, the respect, love, and admiration that George W had for his father becomes very apparent.  As he writes in his introduction he is not writing an objective story, but a very subjective one.  Three facts stood out to me about the life of George H.W. Bush.  First, he was a man who was not afraid of hard work.  It seemed that whatever the position he held, he always performed it with zeal and dedication.  Second, he was a man who showed respect toward others.  It began with the respect that he showed, as a young boy growing up, toward both his father and his grandfather.  This would carry over as George H.W. grew in his political service: as ambassador to the United Nations, as director of the CIA, as U.S. liaison to China, as Vice President under Ronald Reagan, and finally as our 41st President.  He was bold, yet respectful of others.  Third, he was a man who was committed to his family and to the values that he had grown up with.  He was more than just a father-figure to his children; he was their mentor, confidante, and friend.  As I read this book my appreciation for our 41st President grew.  Distance has a way of bringing reality into a better perspective.  And I believe history will show a kinder view of George H.W. Bush.  After reading this book, I feel like I know him as a person, more than just a former president.

A second book I strongly recommend is the new political thriller from the pen of Joel Rosenberg.  The book is titled, "The Third Target."  This is the first volume in a new series Joel is writing, therefore, you can expect that this book will leave you hanging on the edge of a cliff.  Joel is a gifted story teller.  His characters seem life-like. And, what distinguishes Joel's novels from others, is their connection to the events in the real world today.  This story centers around a young reporter for the "New York Times" who seeks an interview with the one of the leader of ISIS.  He understands that the mission is fraught with dangers, yet he is driven by the urgency of seeking confirmation to the story circulating that ISIS has captured weapons of mass destruction in Syria.  And he also seeks an interview with the inspirational leader behind ISIS.  The story moves at a very fast pace.  There are moments of excitement.  There are moments of suspense.  There are moments of disappointment.  There are moments of profound tragedy.  Yet, although the story is fictional, there is a sense that it could become a true story.  ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the White House, the CIA, the Mossad are all very real today.  Beheadings, sarin gas, suicide bombings are terms that we have grown too accustomed to today.  One word of warning: When you begin reading this book, you will need sufficient time to complete it; it is one you will not want to put down. 

A third book I highly recommend is the latest from one of my favorite writers, Philip Yancey.  The book is titled, "Vanishing Grace: Whatever Happened to the Good News?"  I think I have read nearly everything Phil Yancey has written and have always grown spiritually through those readings.  This book is no exception.  The author begins by noting that in a recent survey, created by the Toronto sponsors of a debate between Britain's former Prime Minister Tony Blair and the atheist Christopher Hitchens, and asking the question "Is religion a force for good?", an amazing 52% of people said religion was not a force for good in the world.  Where is the impact that the Gospel of Jesus Christ once had upon culture and society?  What happened?  Can it be corrected?  Thoughtfully Phil begins to explore the causes for the decline in the influence of the Gospel.  Of importance is the hypocrisy within the Church itself.  We have been guilty of preaching and teaching one thing on a Sunday morning, but then leave to do what we have always done the other days of the week.  Our one-hour of weekly religion has had little impact upon our lives.  Young people have especially noticed this hypocrisy and have bailed out of the Church.  Yancey writes: "The uncommitted share many of our core values, but if we do not live out those values in a compelling way, we will not awaken a thirst for their ultimate Source.  Christians can do no better than to follow the example set by Jesus, who specialized not in techniques and arguments but in spirit and example."  Perhaps Stanley Hauerwas, named as America's beat theologian by "Time" magazine, summed it up best when he said, "I have come to think that the challenge confronting Christians is not that we do not believe what we say, though that can be a problem, but that what we say we believe does not seem to make any difference for either the church or the world." 

Throughout the remainder of the book, Phil Yancey seeks to present options and opportunities for the Church to rediscover the impact the true Gospel of Jesus Christ can have upon our world.  There will be those whom he describes as activists - those who crusade for one cause or another.  "A skeptical world judges the truth of what we say by the proof of how we live.  Today's activists may be the best evangelists."  A second group is described as artists - these are those who use the visual and auditory arts to proclaim the message of Christ.  A third group is described as pilgrims - those who minister to others with hugs and tears.  Yancey writes, "Consistently, I have found, the uncommitted respond best to someone who leads from weakness rather than one who appears to have it all together."  This is a book that is best to be chewed on and digested slowly.  I believe it would make an excellent book for a small group discussion but only if that small group is open to any changes that God might want to make within their group. 

What I have always appreciated about the writings of Phil Yancey is that you cannot ever read those works and remain on the same square from which you began your reading.  This is another of those books.

So, turn the TV off for an evening or two.  Lay aside that ipad with its multitude of apps.  They can wait for another day.  Grab a good book and begin to grow both your heart and your mind.  Someday you will look back with gratitude that you did just that.