Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Hosanna: Yes He Did

As I sit at my computer and look out my window the landscape looks more like a pre-Christmas setting than just four days before Easter.  Snow is falling and beginning to pile up on the ground.  Robins have the appearance of total dismay.  And what flowers had begun to peek through the cold soil wonder exactly what season of the year it truly is.  Yet, within days we will celebrate that most amazing demonstration of God's love the world has ever seen: the crucifixion and then resurrection of Jesus Christ. 


Today also marks the second day of Passover, a time when our Jewish friends celebrate as families one of the most amazing demonstrations of God's power the world has ever seen: the bringing forth of the children of Israel out of their centuries long bondage in Egypt. 


It was one of those remarkable first days of the week.  Streets and alleyways of Jerusalem were beginning to swell with those pilgrims arriving for the Passover celebration.  There was an aura of excitement that seemed more prevalent than in the past.  It certainly made the Jewish leaders and Roman authorities more edgy.  Talk among the pilgrims centered upon some Messianic figure who would soon come to bring freedom even as Moses had nearly a millennium and a half ago.  It seemed that all eyes were focused upon Jesus.  So, it was with pomp and celebration that, as He made His way down the slopes of the Mount of Olives across the Kidron Valley and into the city itself, there were cries of "Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord."  "Hosanna" means "save us."  And that is exactly what they expected Jesus, the great miracle worker from Galilee, to do.  After all, if He could heal lepers and lame men and open the eyes of the blind, could He not rally an army for liberation?  After all, if He could bring the dead back to life, could He not bring back a nation that was in the spirals of death in slavery to their Roman oppressors?  I believe that journey also buoyed the thoughts that had been incubating within the hearts of the disciples.  Perhaps all this talk of death at the hands of Jewish leaders was simply that, talk.  Perhaps Jesus would act with power and authority to bring about salvation for the Jewish people.  They certainly hoped it would be that way.


Little did the people and the disciples understand that those cries of "Hosanna!" would be answered in a matter of a few days.  Yes, Jesus came to bring salvation, not from Rome, but from an even greater and more insidious evil - sin itself.  It would have been an easier task, I believe, to assemble an army to fight the Romans, but, when victory came, what then?  Would it not be right back to a different form of slavery?  Might it not even be a more intense form of religious slavery under a new set of rules and regulations?  No, the people did not need freedom from Rome's whips.  They needed freedom from Satan's tyranny. 


As one reads the various Gospel accounts of the events that transpired between that Palm Sunday and that final meal Jesus had with His disciples, one is amazed at the bold, confrontative spirit of Jesus.  He turned over the tables of the money changers in the Temple.  He gave a "tongue-lashing" to the Pharisees, reminding them of their own spiritual hypocrisy.  He refused to answer a question as to the origins of His authority unless His critics answered His question of the authority of John's baptism.  The Jesus we see during Passion Week is not the meek and mild Jesus often portrayed.  There is an anger that is burning within Him, an anger toward the sins that are holding the people captive.  And, I believe, these accounts of Jesus only propel those feelings of the disciples and the people that something dramatic is about to happen. 


The first group to experience a deflation are the disciples.  As they enter that room that evening for a Passover dinner with Jesus, they are arguing among themselves as to who would share in what position of power in the coming Kingdom.  Then Jesus "pops the balloon" by announcing that, before the evening is over, one of them will betray Him to the authorities, Peter would deny Him, not just once but three times, and the rest of the disciples would scatter to the winds.  Talk about ruining a wonderful party. 


And that crowd that had cried out "Hosanna! Save us!" on Sunday became convinced that Jesus would not bring their deliverance from Rome.  So their cries became those of disappointment - "crucify Him!"  Little did they know, or anyone else for that matter, that it was in that way that salvation would come.  And so Jesus was crucified enduring a punishment that should have been yours and mine.  He was that Passover Lamb slain for sins - not His own, but yours and mine.  I am reminded of those powerful words from the pen of Isaiah, "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). 


And so the curtain dropped that Friday evening upon a dead Jesus, hastily buried in a borrowed tomb, and a handful of His followers who locked themselves in that room where they had first tasted of disappointment.  They feared a similar fate as that of their leader.  One can only imagine the tears of disappointment and perhaps even of anger that were shed there.  "Why didn't we do something?  How could we not have seen this happening?" 


The curtain then rises early on another first-day of the week.  Several women had left early to complete the task of giving Jesus a proper burial.  Their thoughts centered around who would move the massive stone that had been rolled in front of the tomb's entrance.  It was with heavy hearts they meandered through the streets to the site where Jesus was buried.  To their utter amazement, the stone was already rolled away.  And two angelic beings announced to them that Jesus was not there, but had risen from the dead.  Now there was a mixture of emotions.  Mark tells us they were filled with fear.  Matthew says they were afraid yet filled with joy.  They hurried back to the disciples and reported to them the good news.  The reaction of the disciples was similar to those of the women.  Only two - Peter and John - ran to the tomb to see for themselves whether the story was indeed true.  Yet, even though Jesus would appear to them later that evening, it took several days before the truths of His resurrection would impact their lives. 


"Hosanna! Save us!" was the people's cry.  The response of Jesus was "Father, not My will but Yours be done."  And salvation was accomplished.  Jesus was the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"  Jesus is "the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me."  As the disciples, weeks later would publicly proclaim, "there is salvation found no where else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved."  It is Jesus and only Jesus!


Bill and Gloria Gaither captured the power of that first Easter morning with these words: "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow; Because He lives, all fear is gone; Because I know He holds the future, And life is worth the living just because He lives."


To my Jewish friends I wish you a Chag Kasher VeSameach.  And to my brothers and sisters in Christ, I proclaim with you, "He is risen!  He is risen indeed!"

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Auschwitz - A Review of the New Joel Rosenberg Novel

In March 1997 I had been invited to travel to southern Poland to share as the Bible-hour speaker for a conference of missionaries and national staff affiliated with International Messengers, a mission organization located in Clear Lake, IA, whose ministry included English Language Camps in Eastern Europe.  God had blessed that week with His blessings.  Following the conference I was invited to spend a couple days with the IM staff team located in Krakow, an invitation which I eagerly accepted.

It was a cold, windy morning, with flakes of snow flying through the dark-gray skies, when Greg McKelvey, an IM staff leader living at the time in Krakow, and I traveled the few miles from Krakow to one of the most infamous and notorious killing fields of all times - Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Of course I had heard about this "death camp" and had even seen scenes of it in the recently released film by Steven Spielberg, "Schindler's List."  But I was not ready to experience Auschwitz itself.  I remember walking through those double fences of electrified wires, underneath that iron sign that hung over the gate reading, "Arbeit Mach Frei," translated "work makes free."  We walked over to the underground gas chamber.  I remember feeling so uneasy as we entered and stood under those shower heads.  If one were quiet the screams of those who had entered in the past could still be heard.  I was never so excited to excit a place as I was that gas chamber.  To walk the grounds and through the barracks that remained at Auschwitz provided images that my mind, yet today, still wants to deny.  Rooms filled with nothing but hundreds of thousands of pairs of shoes.  Another room filled with wheel chairs and prosthetics.  Yet another room filled with hair - human hair - tons of it.  And wherever you walked there were the ghosts of the past that lingered in the shadows, crying out, "Why didn't you care?"  I remember walking past those rooms where Dr. Josef Mengele performed his medical experiments that could only be described as subhuman.  And there were the gallows where many were hung, as a warning to those within the camp as to the penalties of violating camp rules.

As difficult as Auschwitz was, the journey into Birkenau was more so.  Birkenau was established, not as a labor camp, but purely as a death camp.  The clapboard barracks were built not to house people, but merely to shelter them until it was their turn to enter the gas chambers and then to have their bodies consumed in the gigantic crematories.  As we entered one such building, with the cold and snow swirling around us, I tried to envision what it must have been like to have been in this place; yet my mind could not comprehend such a thing. 

I remember leaving Auschwitz feeling totally drained emotionally.  There is a spirit of darkness that hangs over that place.  Your heart and mind cry out, "How could human beings do these things to other human beings?"  That verse from Jeremiah came to mind reminding me that "the heart is desperately wicked, who can know it?" 

I know you are asking me, "Max, why this 'memory lane' trip to Auschwitz?"  Well, last week I read the newest novel from the pen of Joel Rosenberg.  It is titled, "The Auschwitz Escape."  Friends, it was a gripping book, yet, I must add, one of the most depressing books that I have read.  And perhaps that was caused because of the flashback memories to that cold, windy, snowy day in March 1997.  This novel is Joel's first entry into the world of historical fiction and he has done a masterful job, howbeit a difficult job of telling the story of those who dared to plan to escape from Auschwitz to tell the world what was happening there.  Joel tells the story as graphically and as realistically as possible.  Yet, throughout its pages, there is the story of hope: Perhaps if but one person can get out safely, then others will come to our rescue.  As Joel recounts, for many there was the absence of God in Auschwitz, yet for others God was still there.  I will not share with you how the story ends, only to say that the ghosts of decisions made concerning Auschwitz and the other labor-death camps still haunt world leaders.  Friends, I highly recommend this book.  Its story will keep you turning pages.  Your heart will call into question about the conditions of the human heart.  Yet your spirit will see the hand of God at work even in the midst of the darkest period of modern history. 

I just want to comment on a couple of others stories that caught my attention this past week.  The first is an article found at www.foxnews.com/health/2014/04/08/scientists-grow-human-body-parts-in-lab.  The article begins, "In a north London hospital, scientists are growing noses, ears and blood vessels in the laboratory in a bold attempt to make body parts using stem cells.  It is among several labs around the world, including in the U.S., that are working on the futuristic idea of growing custom-made organs in the lab."  Let me close with the final paragraph, "'If people are not that fussy, we could manufacture different sizes of noses so the surgeon could choose a size and tailor it for patients before implanting it', said Alexander Seifalian at University College London.  'People think your nose is very individual and personal but this is something that we could mass produce like in a factory one day.'"  I can only wonder if God will allow that to happen.  We are certainly entering into an area of uncharted waters ethically and morally.

A second article was equally disturbing.  It was found at www.wnd.com/2014/04/supremes-serious-about-gay-suits-vs-Christians.  This past Monday, the United States Supreme Court "refused to hear the appeal of a New Mexico photographer sued by a lesbian couple after she refused to take pictures at their commitment ceremony because of her religious convictions.  The case centered on Elaine and Jonathan Huguenin and their business, Elane Photography.  In 2006, they refused to work at the commitment ceremony of Vanessa Willock and Misti Collinsworth.  The lesbian couple was able to find another photographer but still filed a discrimination grievance against Elane Photography with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission."  The article continues by recording that at each judicial level, the Huguenin's lost.  Jordan Lorence, of the Alliance Defending Freedom organization, said that while the refusal by the Supreme Court to hear the case was a disappointment, there was still a silver lining.  He said, concerning the actions of the Court, "They do have a general habit of waiting for an issue to percolate in the lower courts and not necessarily take the first one but take the third or fourth one or something like that." 

This case in New Mexico joins with dozens of other cases around the country.  Lorence cited a case in Maine: "I had a case in Maine, where a social worker spoke out in a political campaign in support of marriage.  He had complaints filed that he should lose his professional license as a social worker because of his position on marriage.  I think the imagination of those zealots on the other side knows no boundaries, and they will be pushing this to ostracize and marginalize people as much as possible."  His words of advice are sound and so necessary, "Americans need to stand up and just say, 'This has gone too far, that we can have reasonable debates without demonizing and ostracizing the losers of the debate or people that are on a side that the courts and others are not supporting right now." 

Friends, I believe Attorney Lorence is correct.  We have created a society where we can no longer have a debate over issues.  We live in a culture where there are winners and losers.  If I am on the winning side, I certainly do not need to listen to you, the loser.  And, if I am on the losing side, then how dare I speak against those on the winning side.  And so we put people into categories.  Our Founding Fathers, in their marvelous creation known as the Constitution, believed that people had the right to freely speak what was on their hearts.  Within that freedom comes the power of persuasion, not of intimidation.  We have lost the ability today of persuading people.  Instead we intimidate them with threats of legal action.  Read or listen to some of the greatest speeches of all time - the words of George Washington in his "Farewell Address" or of Abraham Lincoln in his "Second Inaugural" or of Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall.  These were leaders who spoke words that persuaded and influenced generations.  But, as long as intimidation works, there will little opportunity for civil dialogue and decency. 

Yet what a marvelous hope we have as believers as we look forward with enthusiasm to the coming of Jesus.  "Lord, come quickly!"  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Of Earthquakes, Famines, and Negotiations

There is a very interesting text in the little post-exilic prophecy of Haggai that says, "This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land.  I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come (a reference to the coming of Jesus), and I will fill this house (speaking of the temple in Jerusalem) with glory,' says the LORD Almighty." (Haggai 2:6-7). 

Have you been noticing how the earth is suddenly shaking at an almost alarming rate?  For the past couple of years, the frequency and intensity of earthquakes around the globe has been rather subdued.  But, recently they have increased in both frequency and magnitude.  Last Saturday, a 5.1 magnitude quake rattled the cities in Southern California.  It caused people to wonder if the "big one" was soon to come; even one seismologist said that there was a 5% chance that the "big one" would come in a matter of weeks.  The earth has been rumbling in Oklahoma for the past couple of months - nothing severe, but just enough to catch people's attention.  There have been some quakes reported in Yellowstone National Park, perhaps associated with the volcano that lies under the park.  Then last night, off the coast of Chile, an 8.2 magnitude quake was felt, prompting a tsunami warning all along the western coast of South America.  Is God shaking the earth as the ancient prophet proclaimed?  We remember that Jesus shared with His disciples that in the last days "there will be famines and earthquakes in various places" (Matthew 24:7). 

Speaking of famines, a report issued this past week by one of the United Nations Commissions, predicted that global warming will increase the likelihood of continued famines around the globe causing a stress upon food production worldwide.  (Now, let me state that I am not a supporter of the theories of global warming - and that is just what they are - theories).  But one cannot deny that there has been some strange weather patterns lately.  I live in the Twin Cities and the forecast for tomorrow and Friday - April 3 and 4 - is for a major snow storm with up to a foot of snow predicted.  Let' see: we have had mudslides in Washington State, drought in California, deadly heat in Australia, crippling floods in the UK, record snows in Chicago and points east, and one of the coldest winters on record in the Upper Midwest.  Could it be that the changing weather phenomena is part of God's plan and has nothing to do with flatulence from cows or exhaust from cars? 

I have been known to grumble about weather - just ask my wonderful wife and she will confirm that truth.  Perhaps, instead of grumbling, I should be rejoicing because it is another sign that God is giving to us to encourage us to look up because the coming of Jesus is near. 

On another front, I have been following the on-again, off-again peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  Our President is desperate to have a peaceful settlement of this decades-long conflict come under his watch.  Just this morning I read that Palestinian Chairman Abbas has requested that 15 commissions within the United Nations recognize the legitimacy of the State of Palestine.  Friends, as part of the agreement reached last July that led to these negotiations, Abbas agreed that he would not seek to go to the United Nations with such a request.  What is his reason for doing so now?  It is because the Israeli government did not follow through with the final release of some 400 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.  And why did the Israelis refuse to release those prisoners?  Because of the recurring and intensifying strife going on in the West Bank between Jewish settlers and Palestinians.  Do the Palestinians actually want peace?  If a settlement is reached, within the space of months would the West Bank become another Gaza?  These are the legitimate questions Israeli leaders are facing.  Furthermore - I have to admit I show my bias here - I have often wondered why Israel is forced to make all the concessions with regard to peace.  Unless there is an unconditional surrender following a war, it takes two parties to create a peace.  The burden of responsibility falls equally upon both parties.  Yet, as long as I can remember - and I have been following this conflict for the past two decades - the burden has always been upon Israel to yield to the wishes of the Palestinians.  Prisoner release: how many and when.  Settlement stoppage: just tell us when.  Surrender of land: hey, we will give you 90% of what you are asking.  And what has Israel asked in return?  A guarantee of a peaceful border and the recognition by the Arab world of their existence as a Jewish state, yet both requests have been continually rejected by both the Palestinians and the Arab world as a whole

Because of the breakdown in negotiations, I read this morning that Secretary of State Kerry has told the Israelis that there is a new bargaining chip - the release of Jonathan Pollard, who was convicted in 1985 of being a spy for Israel.  Mr. Pollard has been serving a life sentence in an American prison.  His health is rather fragile and Israel has been seeking his release for the past several years.  Suddenly the American government says it can release Mr. Pollard if Israel will agree to releasing those 400 prisoners and having a partial building freeze within East Jerusalem and the West Bank.  Friends, it will be interesting to see how this new wrinkle plays out because Mr. Pollard has said that he had no desire to be part of a prisoner trade that would permit many Palestinians terrorists back onto the streets. 

Friends, there is so much going on in the world right now.  Ukraine - is Putin playing a game of "chicken" with the West and seeing who will blink first?  Egypt - are the recent death sentences placed upon over 500 members of Morsi' party the death knell for the Muslim Brotherhood?  China - is its declaration of an increase in military spending an indication that China wants to reclaim the role of defender of the Pacific Rim?  If so, how will that impact Taiwan?  North Korea - do they really want a war with their southern neighbor?  And, of course, the burning question of the upcoming weekend is: which animal will win the Final Four - a badger, a huskie, a gator, or a wildcat?  Oh if life were as simple as that final question!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

World Events As Seen Through a Biblical Lens

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday there was a very interesting article published at the CNN.com website: www.edition.cnn.com/2014/03/25/opinion/santorum-iran-hitler-holocaust.  The article titled, "Lessons of history: Americans fear 'second Holocaust' if Iran gets the bomb," was written by former Senator Rick Santorum and Joel Rosenberg.  The article begins by recounting the speech Adolf Hitler made on May 21, 1935, known as his infamous "peace" speech.  This was a speech given by a wolf-in-sheep's-clothing.  As the world now knows, Hitler was never interested in peace.  In 1935 he was simply buying time in order to be prepared for war.  Then the article quotes Iranian President Hassan-Rouhani's speech this past fall at the United Nations: "Let me say loud and clear that peace is within reach.  Nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran's security and defense doctrine, and contradict our fundamental religious and ethical convictions."  And so an agreement was reached between the P5+1 (Russia, the United States, France, England, China + Germany) on November 24, 2013.  The Iranian President said, "The Geneva deal means the surrender of big powers before the great nation of Iran."  I remember reading a copy of this accord after it was signed and then knew why the Iranians were so excited about it: They got the release of much of their frozen financial assets and in return were able to keep their centrifuges and even to continue enriching uranium. 

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

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

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

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

Friends, I urge you to read through the books of 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles and to see the story of America through its pages.  Yes, God does have a remedy.  "If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sins, and will heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14). 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

An Alarming Story Few Reported

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Grandfather's Lesson Learned from a Genealogy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Signs of the Times Multiplying Around Us

A couple of articles this past week caught my attention - and hopefully yours as well.  The aftermath of our days in Iraq continually seem to haunt us as the headlines of a Reuters News Service report on February 24 stated.  "Iran has signed a deal to sell Iraq arms and ammunition worth $195 million, according to documents seen by Reuters - a move that would break a U.N. embargo on weapons sales by Tehran.  The agreement was reached at the end of November, the documents showed, just weeks after Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki returned from Washington, where he lobbied the Obama administration for extra weapons to fight al Qaeda-linked militants.  Some in Washington are nervous about providing sensitive U.S. military equipment to a country they worry is becoming too close to Iran.  Several Iraqi lawmakers said Maliki had made the deal because he was fed up with delays to U.S. arms deliveries."

What makes this weapons purchase so alarming is that Iran has always had strong aspirations of claiming Iraq for itself.  You might remember that a long, bloody, costly war between Iraq and Iran was fought during the 1980's.  And, you will also remember how Iran kept sending its Republican Guard into Iraq to fight against coalitions forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom.  And we know that Iran has wormed its way into the very heights of Iraq's government.  This weapons sale is just another indication that Iran has not lessened its interests in its next door neighbor. 

Friends, Iran is certainly a country to keep one's eyes upon.  Recently they tested a longer-range missile that would be capable of reaching into Europe, and, as I shared a couple weeks ago, they have sent Iranian warships into the North Atlantic - sort of a "tit-for-tat" with our fleet's presence in the Persian Gulf.  Are we seeing the rumblings of an Ezekiel 38-39 scenario?  It is for sure that Iran is not going away anytime soon.  But we know that God will take care of that matter.

The second article appeared on the Fox News website yesterday - www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/02/25/ariz-bill-allowing-owners-to-deny-services.  The article shares about the recently passed bill in Arizona that "updates existing Arizona law on the 'exercise of religion' and protects businesses, corporations and people from lawsuits if they deny services based on a 'sincere' religious belief. Supporters argue that bill is about protecting religious freedom, not about allowing discrimination.  And they frequently cite the case of a New Mexico photographer sued for refusing to take wedding pictures of a gay couple.  'This bill is about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith,' said state GOP Sen. Steve Yarbrough, the bill sponsor. ... The bill allows any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or an individual.  It also allows the business or person to seek an injunction once they show their actions are based on a sincere religious belief and the claim places a burden on the exercise of their religion." 

This bill has caused an uproar and Arizona's governor, Jan Brewer, has not yet indicated whether she will sign the bill or not.  By Arizona law she has until Friday to sign or to veto the bill.  There is  a lot of hysteria about the bill by those who oppose it.  Some say it will cause businesses to post signs saying that gays will not be served - sort of a revisiting of the Jim Crow laws in America's south in the 1950's.  It seems to me that businesses will not discriminate their service to their customers.  If I own a bakery, for instance, I certainly would sell donuts to all those who came into my shop.  But, and here is where the bill takes affect, I would have the right, as a bakery owner, to say that I would not make a wedding cake or cater a wedding for a gay or lesbian couple because it went against my religious convictions concerning marriage.  I will sell you donuts, but don't ask me to make your wedding cake.  That is the heart of this bill. 

Friends, how sad that we even have to have such a bill.  Why should not my religious convictions be held in honor by all?  If I own a business, I should have the right to choose whom I will serve with that business as long as it does not violate any known laws or statutes. I cannot refuse to sell you a donut or to post a sign on the door of my bakery that I will not serve gays or lesbians - to do so would be to violate laws of discrimination.  However, I would expect everyone to respect my religious convictions to refrain from doing something that I believed strongly to be counter those convictions.  But, we live in a time when a person's personal convictions take a backseat to toleration of the rights of others.  Yes, the laws in over a dozen states allow for a man to marry another man, or a woman to marry another woman - and I have to respect that law, even though I strongly opposed it.  But that law does not mean that I have to be involved in your wedding - taking pictures, making a cake, arranging flowers, etc.  You may take your business elsewhere and that is your prerogative and, as a consequence of my convictions, my business might suffer.  As a business owner, that is a decision I will have to make.  But don't force me into going against my personal convictions. 

How sad that we have lost all respect for one another!  As a pastor I have counseled my flock to know what your beliefs are and to claim ownership for those beliefs.  As part of that claiming ownership, one needs to also know those biblical passages that give support to those beliefs so that your beliefs are not just a matter of personal opinion.  And, once you have claimed ownership, stand resolutely behind those beliefs.  Often I have used the illustration of Daniel and his three friends.  Daniel resolved in his heart that he would not defile himself by eating the food of the king.  I truly believe Daniel was willing to be sold into slavery or even die.  And, certainly his three friends faced the reality of death - and they did so with a resoluteness.  Here is what is interesting, in both stories in Daniel 1 and in Daniel 3, the king gave honor to Daniel and his friends for their willingness to stand with their convictions, even in the face of death. 

Friends, I share with you as I have shared with my flock - what beliefs are you willing to go to jail for?  What beliefs are you willing to even die for?  I truly believe the day will soon be upon us when our jails will be filled with Christians who are not willing to compromise their beliefs.  Are you ready for such a time as that? 

I do want to leave you this week with a good note.  This past weekend our church hosted Dr. Rob Rienow for a Family Life Conference.  It was outstanding.  If your church is looking for someone to come and light a fire under families getting them excited for the things of God and for what God would have a family to be, I strongly encourage you to look into bringing Rob Rienow to your church.  You will not be disappointed at all.  Families were the very first institution of God and they are still the key to reaching the world for Jesus Christ.