Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Thoughts on Earth Day

Today is Earth Day.  Now I am not sure exactly what that means.  It certainly is not a celebration of the earth's birthday because we don't know when that occurred.  Is it a celebration of something that the earth has done?  Well, the earth has been doing what the earth has been doing for a very long time - that length of time dependent upon how one understands Genesis 1 and 2. 


Earth Day is a relatively new celebration having first been celebrated in 1970, thus making the event 45 years old.  Its purpose was to call people's attention around the world concerning the needs of environmentalism.  The Bible calls us to be good stewards of the earth that God has created for us to enjoy.  We read of God's first commandment to mankind following their creation: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground'" (Genesis 1:27-28).  Man, the last in God's creative order, was given the task of superintending the earth.  Man was to be a good steward of the world God had entrusted to his care. 


As a Christian, I have a responsibility to use the resources of this earth wisely.  I need to exercise care in how I use the water resources around me.  Should I pollute a nearby lake by throwing my trash along its shores?  Absolutely not!  Should I exercise care in how I use herbicides and pesticides on my lawn so that they will not damage the water table?  Yes, absolutely...I have used those sparingly, but I have used them.  A Christian forester exercises care in his logging operations, carefully replanting replacement trees for everyone he has harvested.  A Christian fisherman exercises care in his fishing operations, guarding carefully those spawning beds so future generations can enjoy fishing as much as he does.  A Christian farmer exercises care in his tilling of the soil making sure that both wind and water erosion is minimal on his lands.  Those practices model what God's first command to mankind really meant.  Yes, a Christian is to be an environmentalist.


But here is where the problem comes.  Many of today's environmentalists have elevated the status of this earth to that of being like God.  We hear of those who worship Mother Earth, as it is called.  At times there is almost a silliness to some of the decisions that are reached: a beneficial dam that would bring necessary irrigation to parched farm ground cannot be built because such a dam would endanger the life of a little snail.  And the list of such silliness grows each year.  Friends, this planet earth is not a god to be served, but is a creation by our God to be used and enjoyed with careful stewardship.  Perhaps, instead of celebrating Earth Day, as Christians we ought to celebrate Creation Day.  That way we keep the priorities right. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What Is Iran Up To?

The race for the White House in 2016 is heating up.  The Republican field is getting crowded with strong candidates representing strong conservative values throwing their hats into the ring.  And it is sounding as if the first non-politician in a long time to run as president will soon declare.  The momentum for Dr. Ben Carson has grown, especially since his address before the National Presidential Prayer Breakfast two years ago.  As a non-politician he certainly sees the office through a different lens than do others.  It will be very interesting to see how far his candidacy will go and what following he will have in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina during the early days of the process. 


On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton did what she was supposed to do.  But it is interesting the manner in which she entered the race.  The clouds that hang over her head are many.  The questions about Benghazi - what she knew and when she knew it, and about her deleted emails while Secretary of State will linger, demanding answers - and not just pat-ones.  And she will need some transparency which she has always found difficult to do.  I think it will be interesting to see whether any other Democrats will challenge her "already crowned nomination."  If they do, it could be very interesting.


I continue to watch with great interest the alignment of powers in the Middle East.  No sooner had the ink dried on the agreement that outlines the continuation of the Iran Talks, then the Iranians make two items non-negotiable.  First, President Rouhani stated that Iran will NOT give regulators access to all nuclear sites, and second, that Iran DEMANDS that all financial constraints placed upon Iran be lifted immediately the day the accords go into effect.  I wondered why they could make those types of demands so quickly.  Then I remembered seeing a picture in a newspaper of the celebration on the streets of Tehran at the announcement of the signing of these preliminary accords.  Friends, you only celebrate if you feel you have won.  There certainly was no celebration on the streets in London or Paris or Berlin or Washington.  The Iranians believe that they have won; that the P5+1 nations will not do anything.  Therefore the quick demands. 


Then, this past Monday, Fox News reported that Russia has agreed to deliver to Iran a sophisticated S-300 anti-missile system.  Iran had initially purchased this system in 2007, but Russia had halted the shipment to Iran in 2010.  Russia, one of the signatory nations of the P5+1, by virtue of its lifting the shipment ban is declaring that Iran has won.  The American response from Secretary of State John Kerry was, "We don't believe it's constructive at this time for Russia to move forward with this but we've worked very closely with the Russians on the P5+1 negotiations.  We don't think this will have an impact on unity in terms of inside the negotiating room."  Are the Israeli's concerned?  Yes they are.  Iran has always been a major threat to them.  They worry about the impact of a nuclear Iran upon Israel and upon the entire Middle East. 


Then, just this morning, Christianity Today reported that "influential Egyptian TV personality Tawfik Okasha has reportedly told Israel to bomb Iran. ... 'Put your trust in God and bomb it.  We are with you and if you need fuel for the jets, we will give it to you,' Okasha said." 


This strengthening alignment between Russia and Iran makes others in the Middle East very nervous.  And it certainly has shades of Ezekiel 38-39 written all over it.  For there, in those familiar prophetic verses, we see a strong alignment between Persia (today's Iran) and the ruler of the land of Magog (modern day Russia).  Are we nearing the end of the days of waiting for the sounding of the trumpet?  I cannot speak with absolute authority, but the Scriptural texts do seem to come alive right before our eyes.  Friends, Iran is not going away.  They have a mission to accomplish...to bring in the Twelfth Iman.  And, according to their understanding, he will come during a time of chaos and war. 


What should be the attitude of the believer?  Fear?  Absolutely not!  Apathy?  Definitely not!  Excitement?  This is a must.  Energized?  Yes, for we have a great task that still is unfinished.  These are great days.  

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Ministry With a Purpose

For the past two years, I have had the privilege of leading a group of 30 men through a verse-by-verse study of the Book of Romans.  We have met on Tuesday mornings at 6:00 a.m. for an hour of study and 30 minutes of prayer.  This time with these men has been a highlight of my week.  Oh the truths that God has taught us as we have dug deeply into His Word.  I must admit that there have been weeks when we have only delved into one or two verses, but the discussion has been so incredibly rewarding and encouraging.  God has been strengthening our walk with Him.  We are now nearing the end of that two years, as we are now in Romans 15.

This week I wanted to share with you some truths that God challenged me with in Romans 15:14.  There the Apostle Paul writes, "I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another."  God impressed upon my heart that this verse really is an outline of effective purposeful ministry.  There are three parts to it.  The first part is found in that phrase "You yourselves are full of goodness."  I believe this has reference to having a high moral character.  Moral integrity is lacking in our world today.  In fact, quite honestly, the lack of moral integrity is championed through the various media sources.  Honesty is no longer a desired feature in many corporate structures today; it is "get ahead at all costs" that brings success.  A strong work ethic is no longer built into the American workforce; it is to get paid as much as you can for doing as little as you can, and who cares if the work is done well.  One of the purposes of ministry is to help people rediscover the values of moral integrity; to be people who always take the moral high ground.  To be people who do not compromise their moral integrity for any purpose; in other words, to be like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Okay, you say, that is a very good purpose.  But how can a person get there?  That brings us to the second phrase Paul uses in this verse: "complete in knowledge."  I do not believe that Paul is talking here about learning that comes through an educational system, although that is very important as well.  But today's educational system and its values hardly guide a person to cultivate a high moral character.  So, where does this knowledge come from?  It comes through the study of the Word of God.  You see, as I dig more deeply into the Scriptures, I get a much clearer understanding of what God's desires are for my life.  I get a much clearer understanding of what God considers to be right and wrong.  I hear His heart as I read.  Now I am not talking about a brief devotional exercise - although I do not discount that God can work through His Word in any amount of time that we give to it.  But I believe the thought Paul would have us understand is that we need to commit ourselves to a serious study of the Word.  He advised Timothy, "Study to show yourself approved unto God...one who handles the Word of God correctly" (2 Timothy 2:15).  Small group Bible studies are important for this reason.  Adult Sunday school classes are important for this reason.  Online studies are important for this reason.  As we study the Word, we grow in our moral integrity and our moral character becomes more defined.

But Paul is not yet finished.  He concludes by adding, "competent to instruct one another."  Let us follow the train of thought here: Our purpose in ministry is to help people to cultivate a high moral character.  This is done through helping them grow in their understanding of the Word of God.  But, real ministry does not end there.  No, those who are growing in their understanding of the Word of God need to reach out and share with someone else.  We call this discipleship.

Discipleship, for many churches, is a program that is done for several week.  I may go to a class for a few weeks, read a couple of good books, and then be declared that I have been certified as a disciple-maker.  And, unfortunately, that is where discipleship sadly ends for many churches.  Friends, discipleship is not a program.  Discipleship is a lifestyle.  Discipleship does not happen in a few weeks.  Discipleship happens over the course of many months and even years.  Jesus built into His disciples for three years.  Paul spent many years building into the life of Timothy.  Discipleship is sharing with another what God is doing in your own life.  It is sharing with another what you are learning from the Word of God.  It is building the moral character that God has been cultivating in your own life into the life of another.  And then, discipleship is completed when your disciple becomes a disciple-maker himself.

Friends, I have now claimed Romans 15:14 to be my focus for the remaining years of ministry that God will give to me.  I want to help those within my congregation to begin to value being men and women who take the moral high ground with their lives; it makes no difference if they are 15 or 35 or 65.  I want to challenge them to dig more deeply into the Word of God.  I want to preach and teach the Word with more clarity so it can be better understood by all.  And I want to continue building into the lives of the men within my congregation, so that they, in turn, can build into the lives of their families and of those with whom they work.

We do not have much time left before the trumpet blows.  The tragedy in Kenya last week and the kidnapping of hundreds of Christians in northern Syria and Iraq remind us that followers to Jesus Christ are marked by Satan for attack.  The owners of the Indiana Pizzaria better understand now what Jesus meant when He said, "the world will hate you because it hated me first."  Will you and I take the moral high ground when we are confronted with being a Christian?  Will we dare to be like Daniel and his friends?  Will our character withstand the assaults because it is firmly established upon the Word of God?  We will be skilled in the use of the armor that God provides for us?  Let's get started before it is too late.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Iran, Indiana, and Knowing God is in Control

The negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 countries have been extended for at least one more day.  One wonders if we will ever know exactly what is happening behind those closed doors.  One wonders who is in the driver's seat there in Switzerland; one can almost imagine that the Iranians are feeling pretty good.  From initial leaked reports, the Iranians will be allowed to keep approximately 6,000 centrifuges operating - this is out of an estimated 10,000 or more centrifuges that they presently have.  They will have to scale back on their nuclear development program for ten years.  And, in return, many of the economic sanctions will be lifted.  What happens at the end of ten years?  It looks like it could be full-speed ahead toward the creation of enough nuclear material for a bomb. 

I am left wondering why the United States is all of a sudden trying to curry the favor of the Iranians.  The Ayatollahs ruling Iran today represent a government that has not changed since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.  I remember those anxious days when many Americans were humiliated by the Iranian revolutionaries for over a year.  The chant then was "Death to Israel and Death to America."  Perhaps the "Death to America" is not being trumpeted as loudly today as back in 1979, but you know that the intent of the Iranian regime has not changed.  Just look at what the Iranians are doing right now in the Middle East:  1) they are backing the Houthi rebels who are seeking to bring Yemen into the radical world of ISIS; 2) they are sending advanced missile systems to the Hezbollah rebels in Lebanon.  According to an article published today at the Israelnationalnews.com website, "A senior Israeli security source revealed on Tuesday that Iran is smuggling rockets souped-up with advanced guided warheads to its terror proxy of Hezbollah in Lebanon, posing a direct threat to the Jewish state of Israel from right over its northern border.  Col. Aviram Hasson, a leader in the IDF's top-level missile defenses ... said Iran is taking unguided Zitzal rockets and upgrading them into guided M-600 missiles by swapping out their warheads with more advanced components.  The Islamic regime is a 'train engine that is not stopping for a moment.  It is manufacturing new and advanced ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.  It is turning unguided rockets that had an accuracy range of kilometers into weapons that are accurate within meters.' ... The assessment posited that Hezbollah would hit Israel with 1,000-1,500 rockets every day, and the number of Israelis killed daily will be in double or even triple digits." 

Friends, that is what Iran is doing?  And, if their intentions are not clear enough, the Commander of Iran's Basij Force, Brigadier General Mohammed Reza Naqdi, said, "wiping Israel off the map is not up for negotiation." 

Meanwhile, the rift between the United States Administration and the State of Israel continues to widen.  This past week our government declassified a report on Israel's nuclear capabilities.  I know you did not hear it on the main stream media, but it happened nonetheless.  I read a fascinating op-ed piece this morning, written by Lee Kaplan and posted on the Israelnationalnews.com website.  You can access this very important article at www.israelnationalnews.com/articles/article.aspx/16711.  I encourage you to read this article. 

I also wanted to share with you some thoughts about the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act that has caused an uproar in Indiana.  Basically, the bill is no different from the national RFRA that was passed and signed into law in 1993 by President Clinton.  This bill was passed by the Indiana State Legislature and signed by Governor Mike Pence in order to protect Hoosier citizens from being compelled to conduct a business practice that was against their religious convictions.  The bill was not intended to be discriminatory, but was to be a tool to help ordinary citizens should the government of Indiana call into question an action based upon religious convictions and beliefs.  The freedom of religious expression is one of the basic rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  The Supreme Court has recently upheld that expression in a recent case involving Hobby Lobby. 

Of course, immediately the mainstream media picked up on this Indiana law and proclaimed that it was discriminatory toward the homosexual community.  And so the marches began.  The vilifying began.  The accusations were hurled.  The threats were made. 

Let's look at this law from a different angle.  Supposed I operated a hardware store.  Included among those items that I sold were various poisons used to kill rodents.  Now suppose someone came into my store and inquired about purchasing some poisons because they wanted to kill their child.  Now, I believe that one of the Ten Commandments clearly states that it is wrong to take another person's life.  So, do I sell the poisons that are requested?  Of course not!  Am I being discriminatory?  Yes I am because selling a poison to a man whose intentions were counter to my belief system would be wrong.  And no one would condemn me for my actions in refusing that person's request, anymore than if I refused to sell someone a gun, knowing the intentions for the gun were to harm someone else.  Here is where the ridiculousness of the mainstream media is shown: The law does not preclude a homosexual person from purchasing either goods or services; he has that freedom.  If he wants a cake, he can purchase a cake; in fact, he can buy the cake from me, if I am a baker.  If she wants flowers, she can purchase flowers; in fact, she can purchase the flowers from me, if I am a florist.  But the law does state that I can refuse to provide either goods or services if, by providing those goods or services, I violate those religious beliefs that I strongly hold to.  Such a refusal does not mean that I am making a value-judgment against that person.  It simply means that what he or she is requesting is something I simply cannot do.  As a business owner, I should have that right without being accused of being discriminatory.  In other words, I may sell you a cake or flowers, even though I know you are gay; but I cannot make your same-sex wedding cake or arrange flowers for your same-sex wedding because that would violate a strong biblical belief that I hold dear.

The problem is that the gay community wants everyone to endorse their manner of living.  So, instead of simply walking down the street to another vendor who is willing to provide the requested goods or services, they force the issue because they want universal acceptance. 

Friends, do you feel that the world is spinning out of control?  Well, let me assure you that it is not!  Our God is powerfully in control.  The God who rolled away the stone that first Easter morning and raised His only Son to life, is the same God who is now preparing the world for the return of the King.  Perhaps we will hear the sound of the trumpet on Easter Sunday as we echo those wonderful words, "He is risen!  He is risen indeed!"

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, JerusalemOnLine.com 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 https://flashtrafficblog.wordpress.com/2015/03/12/three-existential-threats-facing-america-my-address-to-the-national-religious-broadcasters-convention/.  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.