Sep 12, 2011

Stand against Israel at your own peril: Psalm 2

The case against replacement theology – the belief that the Church has replaced Israel regarding God’s promises to Abraham – can easily be made by Romans 11 as clear evidence that God has a future plan for Israel. I’m so thankful the Holy Spirit inspired Paul with those words because they are so clear to point out that God does have a beautiful future for the Jews in the Kingdom to come.

Then, this past Sunday, my pastor was teaching on Psalm 2 and I was struck with how powerfully this Davidic psalm also shows God’s plan for Israel.

God’s word in Psalm 2 clearly points out that any Gentile nation who stands against God’s plans will be broken and shattered. The passage tells of nations that rage against God, His Messiah and Israel. The psalm, through literary form, claims God laughs at the nations that take a stand against Israel and Jesus Christ.

What is God’s response to nations who take counsel and actions against Israel and the Messiah? God will terrify these nations and tell them that He “has installed My King upon Zion.”

Notwithstanding preterist viewpoints, does anyone living today believe this won’t take place? Look at what God the Father tells God the Son. “’Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession.’”

And for the nations’ disobedience, the Messiah is told “’You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.’”

Though the picture is violent, the point is that all nations will be subdued under the rule of God’s anointed king, Jesus Christ.

But, the picture isn’t bleak for all Gentiles. There is hope for the nations. The psalm ends with a stanza of assurance. God invites the leaders of nations and their peoples to worship Yahweh and honor Jesus Christ as the Messiah so that they may be saved and even be blessed.

What’s the takeaway? Nothing is going to stop God’s plan for Israel and Jesus Christ as the one who will sit on the Davidic throne without end. No nation, no religion, or no alliance can put a halt to what God is doing today and what He will do in Zion.

Sep 9, 2011

God has not abandoned Israel, though others have

Recep Tayyip Erodogan, the Turkish prime minister, was in talks with Egypt in Cairo this week which could foretell further political isolation for Israel, according to a report from the U.K.’s The Guardian. The Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood writes that this is an attempt to seek an alliance between the two countries “with the aim of increasing the Jewish state’s isolation in the region.”

It’s believed that Turkey’s money will give voice to its influence in Egypt and the growing influence of Islam there. This follows Turkey’s expulsion of the Israeli ambassador to Turkey and dissolution of all military agreements between the two nations.

When you add this to the concerted and massive public relations effort the Palestinian National Authority is expending against Israel and in favor of its own statehood, Israel could use more praying and supportive friends from its Christian younger “brethren.”

All this leading up to the expected vote in favor of recognizing a Palestinian state by the United Nation’s general assembly later this month. “Turkey and Egypt are backing the Palestinian bid,” Harriet wrote.

I want to impress on all believers the need to pray for Israel and God’s protection. But, God has not abandoned Israel, and according to the original promises to Abraham and the Spirit-inspired words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 11, we can be fully assured there is a future for Israel in the kingdom to come.

Sep 2, 2011

Another deterrent to violence is removed in the Middle East

In this humble observer’s opinion, another cog slipped into place that is creating a context for escalated violence in Israel following the United Nations’ vote that is anticipated to recognize Palestinian statehood.

Today, Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador to Ankara and suspended all military agreements following the U.N. report of investigations regarding Israel’s Gaza Strip blockade. At the heart of the issue is the “excessive and unreasonable” force Israeli commandos used to stop a Turkish ship attempting to break the blockade.

The U.N. reported in their findings that the boarding raid was a legitimate security measure and in accordance with international law. The report also explains that the Israeli commandos who boarded the Turkish vessel used force to protect themselves in response to what it called “significant, organized and violent resistance” from some of its passengers.

So, how is this a cog slipping into place? There is a sort of deterrence to Middle East conflict if Turkey and Israel aren’t battling. This damage to the Turkey-Israel relationship will embolden anti-Zionists.

But, I think a bigger question is how will the White House dance its delicate waltz with Turkey expelling the Israeli ambassador and severing military agreements? Will the Obama administration feel tugged in different directions here, or will this be another excuse for this administration to continue its slow divorce from Israel?

Aug 31, 2011

A concerted call for prayer for Israel

September will likely be a month many believers won’t soon forget. September is the month the United Nations general assembly is expected to vote in favor of Palestinian statehood.

Consensus of the situation on the ground in Israel indicates that violence will escalate, possibly leading to full-scale war. The Israeli Defense Forces have already been planning for Palestinian demonstrations, attacks, and terrorism in West Bank settlements.

According to
The IDF has conducted detailed work to determine a “red line” for each settlement in the West Bank, which will determine when soldiers will be ordered to shoot at the feet of Palestinian protesters if the line is crossed. It is also planning to provide settlers with tear gas and stun grenades as part of the defense operation.
Media are reporting that officials have already assumed that when the Palestinian declaration of independence is made, it will incite mass disorder. Settlers have been given means to disburse protests and maps indicating where the red line is located.

I believe that Israel’s right to defend itself combined with demonstrations and attacks by pro-Palestinian forces will lead to a conflict level that we haven’t see in quite a while. Thus, our need to pray for Israel and her people is great.
Please pray for our ‘elder brethren’ and God’s will in Israel and the conflict.

Aug 26, 2011

Why give a madman a bullhorn?

I find I’m at odds with myself today. I’m trying to refrain from lashing out against the lunacy that is Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Reports from and other outlets tell us that he is reiterating the anti-Semitic claim that the Holocaust is a lie.
“The Zionist regime’s establishment was based on numerous deceptions and lies and one of the biggest lies was the Holocaust,” Ahmadinejad said in his speech at a rally in Tehran.

But, after observing Egypt and Libya, I’m now believing that rebels will one day end this madman’s dictat… er, presidency. Many in Iran are oppressed and it can only be hoped that a grassroots effort will continue to grow in and around Iran to bring about this end.

I confess that he is a headline magnet. However, the global media must stop giving this guy a platform to spew his idiocy. He’s not making real news anymore. When will the impotent United Nations take a stand and stop affording this man a chance to demonstrate his inability to communicate in a lucid manner?

A quick study of Romans 11 will reveal that there is a place planned for Israel and we can trust that as part of God's plan.

Aug 16, 2011

The post-Christian era isn’t someone else’s fault, it’s mine

I’ve mentioned that I am reading Chuck Swindoll’s The Church Awakening. He’s careful to explain the book isn’t a call to revival, but more a call for individuals to wake up and stop the erosion in the body of Christ.

As I’ve studied the book and examined the related scripture passages, I found it helpful and telling if I replaced the word “church” with the word “I” or “me” or even using my own name in place of the word church.

This simplistic exercise doesn’t allow me to distance myself from what is being described by Swindoll as the erosion of the body of Christ as something that others are letting happen. It helps me keep in mind my own culpability, accountability, and responsibility in my family, my local assembly and the full body of Christ.

It’s not difficult to see that we have entered a post-Christian era in the United States where relativism out shouts truth. But, Swindoll’s work here has helped me examine my role in appeasing or capitulating the post-modern advance.

What I’m pleased about in Swindoll’s The Church Awakening is his offering of solutions to the errors he highlights. He is not content to simply cry foul without pointing to actions I must take to stop erosion of Christ’s church.

Christ told us that even the forces of Hades will not prevail over His church. Let’s re-establish the front line where battle is taking place and go in the power of the Holy Spirit wearing the full armor of God.

Aug 4, 2011

Is sin different today than in the past?

To some, this may seem like a rhetorical question, but from what I hear and read, I’m not sure even knowledgeable Christians think clearly on this point.  One thing I’m happy that God has helped me understand is that man has been sinful (not just having an old sin nature) since the fall of the first Adam.
Yet, as I read commentary on religious history or simply listen to people talk about how sinful man has become, I’m somewhat perplexed … especially when I hear people discuss this through the lens of the last 500 years of Western thought.

No reasonably informed Christian would find it surprising that man is sinful by nature and has been so since the fall in Eden.  But, that knowledge seems to escape many people when they view society as a whole and they lament its condition.

I suggest we take a very close look and examine the culture and practices of non-Jewish peoples throughout the biblical account  (Yes, the Hebrews were wayward, but that's a topic for a different post.)

I think what we will find is that man as a species isn’t any more or less sinful today than in 70 AD or in 1,000 BCE than he was at Adam and Eve’s disobedience.  Yes, there is a certain kind of societal entropy that occurs until the second advent (I hope not to digress into an eschatological debate here).  But, our standard is not one that compares man to man, or age to age.  Our standard is the one God gave us: a standard of righteousness.

With righteousness, there is no grey or degree.  A person is either righteous or not; he sins or he doesn’t sin.  The Bible clearly teaches us that all sin and fall short of the standard God set for us.  Thus, with that perspective, it should be easy to see that sin is sin, regardless of the era.  Instead of seeing the world around us as waxing or waneing in sinfulness, we should simply see our need for a solution to our unrighteousness -- Jesus Christ.

Jul 30, 2011

An evaluation: I failed

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm reading Chuck Swindoll's new book, The Church Awakening.  It's a must read for all church leaders, teachers, and lay people.  I'm also working on developing Sunday school lessons from this book to teach to our adult class.

In some related materials, I ran across a very basic evaluation tool that I thought would be a good reminder to readers as they think about their own Christian life and the life of their local assembly (ekklesia).

Swindoll first asks about the four elements a church must posses to be effective according to Acts 2: teaching, fellowship, worship, and prayer.  Then he asks the reader to use a five-point evaluation for each with 1 being neglectful and 5 being committed.

Teaching 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5
Fellowship 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5
Worship 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5
Prayer 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

Note the scriptures indicates that the body must be "devoted" to these, not just to include them in what we do.  Tough evaluation on myself more than it was for my view of the local church I attend.  It means I need to get in gear and devote myself to these four more so than I do now.

Swindoll doesn't claim these are the only four a church must do exclusive of any other thing, but these are the mandatory elements.

So, here's my point.  I have a lot of work to do.  If I didn't circle 5 on any of these, it means I'm falling short of what the Bible teaches about these minimum requirements.  More succinctly said, I must be "devoted" to these four life elements or I'm missing out, I'm not serving as I should, and I'm not glorifying my God and enjoying Him in the way He desires for me.

This is one of those failures that is encouraging and has spurred me to live my life (note I didn't write "work up to") so I can circle 5s for all four.

Jun 14, 2011

Guilty of mote picking and hand wringing no more

I’ve been reading Chuck Swindoll’s book, The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal. It fits nicely with what’s been weighing on my mind the last few years. My pastor at church lent it to me with a recommendation. In it, Pastor Swindoll does a wonderful job of illustrating just how far Christ’s church has drifted.

In Swindoll’s words, the church has eroded; and, this erosion has led to a number of heretical, false and unbiblical movements and trends in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This isn’t stop-the-presses news. Many have decried the degradation of the church. However, this isn’t a new phenomena, church leaders and laypeople alike have railed against this. We can even see church erosion all the way back to the writings of the Apostle Paul.

However, what I enjoy about this book is the fact that Swindoll doesn’t just point out the error. Being truthful without slinging mud, Swindoll moves from pointing out error to teaching us solutions to the problems he observes.

As simple and obvious as that sounds, many outspoken believers point out error without shining light on correction. I’m guilty of this very thing. So, one of the key learnings I’ve come away with is not to be so quick about railing against things without providing carefully considered correction based on scripture.

Yet, even offering solutions isn’t enough. Each believer much take action when there is error around them. Stemming the tide of erosion of the church is not the sole responsibility of church leaders or even particularly gifted Christians. It’s a responsibility of laypeople under the leading of the Holy Spirit to recognize error, point it out and take action to deal with it.

Of course there are elders in churches and there is biblically prescribed discipline. But, if a layperson hears or learns of something that isn’t aligned with God’s word and leading, then that layperson’s inaction is sinful. My inaction is sinful.

So, now I am going to work hard at confronting error with solutions instead of just ringing a bell.

May 19, 2011

The snowball of relativism bigger than Darwinism

My sister-in-law frequently shares spiritual treasures and useful nuggets with me via email. As we were recently exchanging email messages, she shared this quote from Todd Kappelman's "The Breakdown of Religious Knowledge."
"Now, in the late twentieth century, we are in the middle of a revolution that will likely dwarf Darwinism in its impact on every aspect of thought and culture: the revolution is postmodernism, and the danger it holds in its most serious form is that truth, meaning, and objective reality do not exist, and that all religious beliefs and moral codes are subjective. In every generation the church has had its particular heresies to deal with, and postmodern relativism is ours. Christ has called us to proclaim truth to a dying generation, and if we fail at this task, the twenty-first century may be overshadowed by relativism and a contempt for reason as much as the twentieth century was overshadowed by Darwinian naturalism."

Here's the full article.
This was prophesied in God's word.  The question is not if we should lament or even argue these facts. The question is what are God's redeemed people going to do about it?
We must make our courage fast and no longer remain passive in word or deed. We must brave the slings and arrows we will undoubtedly experience when we actively defend biblical principles and proactively proclaim the Gospel. We must count the cost and find the sum that it is far more costly to remain idle while truth is decimated than whatever personal suffering we may experience by proclaiming and defending truth.
We must not wait for post-modernism and its relativism to touch our lives, we must circle its towered walls, not shrink from its parapets and sound the shofar against this deceit of Satan.
This is not the battlefield of a select few with uniquely honed skills of debate or scholarly knowledge. All whose position is "in Christ" are called to proclaim truth and use that great offensive weapon we are each equipped with: the sword that is the word of God. We carry all the information we need to thwart the assault of relativism either in our hand or our heart because all we need is contained in the Scriptures.
Where we have failed is in our courage. This is why the snowball of relativism has not only grown, but has gained such momentum that, as Kappleman writes, it will have a greater impact than the naturalism of Darwin.

Mar 10, 2011

Walk before God, not after Him

I was really blessed recently in my study of Genesis 17. When studying this chapter, it’s pretty common to focus on the name changes from Abram to Abraham and from Sarai to Sarah. It’s also common to examine the significance of the covenant of circumcision. That can be very heady stuff – at least for me.

But, as I studied, I was taken by something that I’ve never considered before. In Verse 1, I made an amazing discovery for my personal process of sanctification. Look at the verse:
Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless.” (Gen. 17:1)
Christians often refer to their lives as a walk. It’s a good metaphor. Notice in this verse, walking is the picture God uses in this case, too. But, what struck me was the position of where God is in this picture. God tells Abram to “walk before Me.” That’s a much different notion, to me, than following God.

As I discussed this with my adult Sunday school class, we came away with two applicable ideas from this. One – all we do is in God’s view. Two – we have free will to make choices on the direction of our lives.

Now, in context, Abram has been given clear guidance by God on where he should be and once in that obedience, Abram had the full assurance of God behind him. Yet, in his relationship with God, Abram had freedom. And Abram lives out this freedom under the watchful eye of the One who just called Himself El Shaddai – God Almighty.

I confess that I like the notion that I have the Heavenly Father who is fully sufficient and all capable looking over me … and if I’m attuned to His Spirit, I can continue my process of sanctification for His glory and my edification. I’ll make mistakes, just as Abram did. However, I know God is behind me and I must walk blameless before this Almighty God.

Mar 7, 2011

Populist and felt-need preaching

“I really would like to enhance my marriage,” the church member said. “Pastor, that’s what your next sermon series should be about.”

“You know, that’s a good idea,” the pastor replied. “I’ve been reading a lot of books about the modern relationship and it would be a good opportunity to develop sermons around that.”

If you attend a church where a conversation similar to this is common, then I suggest you seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance to determine if that church is where God wants you.

Many churches today have filled their pews and enlarged their budgets by preaching and teaching based on the members’ felt needs or a popular issue. Though preaching to felt needs will make a pastor popular, it weakens the spiritual life of his flock.

Fellow blogger George Cannon puts it this way in a recent posting at West Branch Ramblings.
Populist preaching keeps people shallow in their faith. They can quote their preacher’s position. But there usually is no depth beyond the popular issue of the day. Populist preaching solidifies biblical ignorance. There is no need to exercise their faith, since the preacher is fighting “the fight for the Kingdom.” Also the listener tends to confuse the work of the gospel with the work of the populist message. Populism is popular. But the minister of gospel needs to recognize that our message is not one that is popular. In fact, populist preaching is a sign of the coming apostasy.
I was a member and teacher in a church just like this and I’ve personally witnessed the devastation preaching to felt needs can cause. When questioned about it, the lead pastor became defensive and suggested I leave the church.

At first, I thought I must have missed the point in American church history when preachers felt their job was to entertain and give the people what they want instead of what God wants to give them. However, I realize that this is nothing new and the Apostle Paul was cautioning against this kind of thing when he wrote to Timothy.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2 Tim. 4:3-4)
As George Cannon mentioned, this kind of thing will only grow as we draw ever closer to His coming.

Mar 3, 2011

Pope apparently confused

Praise continues around the world for Benedict XVI for stating the already known truth that Jews as a people aren’t to be blamed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Anyone with only cursory study of the Bible would know that it is, in fact, all mankind and its sin that caused Christ to be sacrificed.

However, based on the excerpts that have been released, the content of the pontiff’s new book about Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, must be considered suspect when he makes exegetical claims that are simply wrong.

For example, in a passage commenting on a Gospel account of the scene where the crowd is clamoring for Jesus’ execution and shouting for Christ’s blood, I believe Benedict is confused about the meaning of what the people said regarding their call for His crucifixion and Christ’s blood being on them and their children.

The pontiff writes that the chant from the crowd, "His blood shall be on us and on our children," really means that "we all stand in need of the purifying power of love which is his blood. These words are not a curse, but rather redemption, salvation."

Does he really believe this? Or, does he believe that Matthew is writing some cute doublé entendre?

Yes, all mankind is in need of the purifying power of Christ’s shed blood. But to claim that the clamoring crowd was shouting for the application of Christ’s purifying blood is simply wrong. Apparently, Benedict didn’t read the immediately preceding verses which helps us know what they were talking about.
Pilate said to them, "Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" They all said, "Crucify Him!" And he said, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they kept shouting all the more, saying, "Crucify Him!" When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this Man's blood; see to that yourselves." And all the people said, "His blood shall be on us and on our children!"  (Matt. 27:22-25)
Whether the Jews are being punished for this or not isn’t my main point. My point is that the Pope’s interpretation of this passage is so far off that it reveals a problem.

This latest blunder by the pontiff is evidence of the invalidity of the church’s claim that a pope is inerrant regarding theological issues.

Benedict’s claims about the accusers of Christ are poorly shadowed attempts at an ecumenical truce with Jews. I hope that most Jews aren’t fooled by this and realize that the church of Rome, and Pope Benedict XVI, are no friends to the Jewish people nor to the true state of Israel. The Vatican and its inhabitants have long been anti-Zionist. Regardless of any rhetoric, the actions of past and current leaders of the church of Rome speak very clearly against God’s chosen people, their homeland and their future promised by God.

This recent exhibition of erroneous interpretation should illuminate the fact that this man and his church can maintain no credibility.

Feb 23, 2011

Only God walked through the valley of blood

Continuing with my study of Genesis 15, I am awe struck at the level of theology contained in this chapter. I’ve even read where some theologians write that Verse 6 is the most important verse of the Bible. I don’t know about that claim, but I understand their point.

The fact that Verse 6 explicitly spells out that Abram was accounted as righteous by the Heavenly Father by belief in His promise makes it an important verse. But studying the passage on this occasion, I am taken by the fact that it was God alone who passed through the sacrificed animals to ratify the covenant with Abram.

Covenants of this nature were usually ratified by the two parties joining hands and then walking between the halved sacrifices. The point of note here in Verse 17 is that this covenant is not a promise bound to two parties. In this covenant, God bound Himself to His own promise to Abram. Abram didn’t walk through the pieces with God, only God passed between the pieces.

I love how this scene reinforces the truth that salvation is by God’s grace alone, it is not merited by man, but a free gift of God.

Feb 18, 2011

God’s great reward

I was reading over what theologians call the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 15. I was especially struck this time with the notion that God’s provision for Abram – and us – far outshines anything we can envision for ourselves.

Dr. Constable’s notes on Genesis indicate God was determined “to give Abram great ‘reward.’” This was in light of Abram’s recent victory over the four kings, rescuing Lot and all Lot’s estate. Yet Abram refused any spoils of war. What was Abram’s response to the victory? We can learn from his response.

When Melchizedek, king of Salem, came out to bless Abram upon his return to the Promised Land, they shared in a worshipful celebration giving God blessing. Abram’s response was to worship God in light of the victory and then he turned over first-fruit gifts to Melchizedek, broadening his worship of God and demonstrating he understood the source of the victory and the source of his provision.

Scholars write that Abram put himself in a vicious loop of violence when he defeated the four kings, which likely would have put him into a life of retaliation and defending against retaliation, which was the custom for this period of time.

Yet, that doesn’t seem to be what’s on Abram’s mind. Abram is “legitimately concerned about God’s provision for the Promised Land as well as his need for an heir,” (Constable). God meets with Abram and reassures him of the promise of a seed and a great nation. This reward of a seed and a nation, this God-given reward, would make the spoils of war seem minuscule.

Then, when we continue reading, we see that Abram wasn’t questioning God, but communicating his legitimate concern. We can be happy in the report that Abram believed God’s promise and it was this belief that God accounted righteousness to Abram.

Trust is God’s word, His promise, is what results in justification; and, worship of God is what results in our sanctification.

What greater reward of our trust in God than our being rescued from the penalty of sin through belief in the promise of Jesus Christ? All other rewards pale in comparison.

Understand what we ask for

Heady days in the Middle East, to be sure. Popular protests turned to popular uprisings in Egypt and ousted the country’s autocrat of three decades. But, much Western hope may have turned to concern when the Armed Forces Supreme Council announced a constitutional panel, led by an Islamist judge with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. The temporary ruling council gave the panel just 10 days in which to offer a new constitution, which has led many analysts to believe that a long-term secular state is going to be difficult to maintain.

In London’s online version of The Telegraph, Richard Spencer wrote, “the make-up of the new committee, and the fact it has been given just 10 days to come up with a new constitution, has dashed hopes that it will remove Article 2, which makes Islam the state religion and says Shariah is the main source of law.”

One would have to be living in a cave the last 30 years to not understand that Shariah law is not conducive to a free, politically diverse state that sees evangelical Christians equally with Jews or Muslims.

With public protests taking place still in Egypt and in several other Middle East nations and the protesters’ demands not fulfilled, there exists a growing place for someone or some system to step into place to capitalize on the proclivity for uprising, independent of national borders.

As alarmist as this may sound, I think there could be a case made that these events in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and Iran are foundational to an evolutionary change among millions of people to adopt a propensity to accept a universal rule or structural system.

How long will people tolerate oppression? One can only guess. However, when this kind of disenfranchisement becomes as widespread as it appears to be in the Middle East, it increases the opportunity for a single system to offer change for these people and unify them in a way that we’ve seen only on rare occasion during the last century.

I’m not advocating for oppressive regimes, believe me. I am asking a question that I hope helps us all understand how easy it would be for a single system to unify people of different nationalities and faiths by promise of relieving their oppression and promising to give them a voice.

I can also see how this system, once in place, would make a peace accord with Israel. When this happens, we will know the future course of events with great precision.

Feb 13, 2011

Biblical foreshadowing?

I've been studying the life of Abram and have come to see an amazing biblical repetition.  In standard literature analysis we'd call it a foreshadowing, but I cannot see into the mind of God know if that is what our Creator is doing in His word.  Let me tell you what I've been seeing.

God promised Abram a land to possess, descendants so many they can't be numbered and that his family would be a blessing to the nations.  Of course this promise was reinforced several times ... even when that promise seemed very unlikely.  The the scenes of this promise and it's repetition didn't happen in isolation, they happened in the context of Abram's life.  What I see repeating is a divinely given victory in battle for the nation of Israel starting before there was even a nation.

Note that when Abram learns of Lot's capture by the Mesopotamian kings who were victorious in the battle of nine kings of Genesis 14, we read of an amazing victory by a small band of Abram's trained men.  The Bible records that he took 318 of his trained men and went up against the recently victorious armies of four city-states.  God gave Abram and his men the victory and returned back to the promised land with Lot and his entire estate as well as the spoils of war.  God's man going against insurmountable, overwhelming odds after hiking at least 180 miles and coming away victorious.  No other explanation can be given except that it was a divinely given victory.

Now, race centuries ahead.  Picture yourself in what is modern Israel.  You've been a nation for less than 24 hours and you are attacked.  Attacked not by one or two nations, but by five nations: Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon and Iraq.  This is commonly known as the War of Independence.  Israel has regularly been attacked in major offensives by the regional peoples in each of the successive three decades.  And, beginning with that first victory in 1948 against insurmountable and overwhelming odds, God has delivered Israel and awarded victory to His people -- even when His people are rebellious against Him. Despite the numerical superiority of the Arab armies, Israel was defended by God to the degree that it not only repelled the opposing forces, but returned with blessing just as Abram did when he defeated the Mesopotamian kings.

Now, race ahead in time, after the believing church has been caught up with Christ in the air and just before His second advent.  The armies of the entire world will be poised to attack Israel once again in one final conflict.  All nations will stand against Israel (Rev. 16:12ff) with what seems insurmountable and overwhelming odds ... that is from a secular point of view.

You see, that is our weakness as men.  We usually view our situation and conditions from a human perspective.  What we face seems impossible. Yet, if God is for us, who can stand against us?  As we read on in Rev. 16 we see that God, once again delivers Israel and provides the victory when none should be seen to be had from man's perspective.  Christ is victorious and Israel will rule with Him.

Look at Rev. 16:12 as the origin of a portion of the invading armies, "And the sixth poured out his bowl upon the great river, the river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way might by made ready for the kings that come from the sunrising."  Is this the same region of the four kings who came from Mesopotamia in Genesis 14?  And, God's word reassures us of the victory in this future case too.

Was God foreshadowing the battle of Har-Magedon in the supernatural victory He gave to Abram so long ago?  Was God reinforcing His supernatural protection of Israel in the 1948 War of Independence and in the 1956 Sinai War and the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War?

I won't be dogmatic to say definitively that these are foreshadowings of the Har-Magedon conflict. And, I've come to realize that it's not nearly as critical to know if these are.  What's of much greater importance is to know that the future is already defined and our God is victorious and His plan will be executed with flawless precision and in the exact time He has defined.  Something of which we can have confident assurance.

Jan 14, 2011

Worship: An act of reverence

This short definition of the word worship is good for helping us gain some insight into the idea of worship. Examining the two words, act and reverence, we can see an important part of our relationship with our God.

When we look at the short definition, we see that the word act. To act is an active idea. When I was a boy learning grammar, my teacher told us that a verb is an action word. What do you think are the actions we’re to be doing when we worship our God?

I think we must guard against being sponges in the body of Christ. By that I mean we cannot show up and just expect to absorb what God has for us. We must not be receivers only, but we must be in active worship of God. We must be sure we are the “do-ers” and not just the receivers.

So, what are some of the actions we should be doing? Well, like always, let’s find our answers in His word. Examine I Chronicles 16:23-36. A fine list of reverential acts are outlined there.

Sing to the Lord
Proclaim good tidings
Tell of His glory and deeds
Praise Him greatly
Fear Him
Ascribe glory to Him
Bring an offering
Worship in holy array
Say, “the Lord reigns”
Give thanks
Bless the Lord

This is just a short list from King David. These are active ways to worship God. Of course there are more, but these give us some idea about what the active part of worship is. We must do these things as individuals and corporately.

Today, we no longer bring sacrifices and offerings of grain, libations or animals. Those acts were elements of a different part of God’s overall plan. With Christ we have a new covenant and we are to worship in a different way. In fact, Christ Himself tells us the way we are to worship.
But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth. (John 4:23-24)
One of the wonderful things about our relationship with God is that we can communicate with Him directly in spirit. We can talk directly to God without having a human intercessory. But, when we look at this passage from the Gospel of John, we see that we’re also to worship in truth. I think this is a key element of our worship of God.

I believe worshipping in truth means that we’re to be honest with ourselves and honest with God. He already knows our hearts, so we cannot lie to God. So, we can tell Him how we’re feeling and what’s honestly in our hearts.

But, there is a danger in today’s Church. Often, we say and do things in worship because we’ve always done them. We get into habits of worship — sometimes without knowing the meaning behind them. We perform things or say things because it’s expected of us or because we’ve always done so. But, often times these are not the true reflections of our hearts at the time.

God doesn’t want empty worship. He wants our true worship. He wants us to be honest in what we’re saying. The Psalms are an excellent example of worship. We don’t always see praises in the Psalms, do we? We see laments and we see complaints. But, we never see any of the psalmists dishonestly praising God with empty praises. Remember…
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14
The other important word in our definition of worship is reverence. A short definition of reverence is “a feeling of deep respect, esteem, awe and love.”

I don’t think there’s any born again believer who doesn’t feel this way about God. But, let’s combine this definition of reverence with the word act. What does that look like? Again, let’s look in the Psalms for just one example. David writes…
I will tell of Thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise Thee. You who fear the Lord, praise Him; all you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him, and stand in awe of Him, all you descendants of Israel. (Psalm 8)
In this psalm, we get a picture of how David feels about God and how he encourages all of us to worship God.

Let’s look a little closer at the definition of revere. There are some key words in there that are important to study.

Respect – how do we demonstrate deep respect for God? I think the ultimate way to show this level of respect is to be completely obedient to Him. Do not disobey Him.
Esteem – We show how much we esteem God in the way we prioritise what’s important in our lives. Where does God fit in? Truthfully, is He first or second or third? Is He in the background of our lives? Or is God on the throne of our lives? Is God the reason for what we do each day?
Awe – One way to show awe is to tell God who He is. Sometimes a good way to do this is to pray the Psalms. But, acknowledge to the best of your ability your awareness of who God is and what He’s done and will do.
Love – No greater love has a man than to give his life. Love Him with all your heart, mind, and soul. Submit the whole of your life to God. This means turning over control of all parts of your life to God.

Again, we must always remember that worship is active not passive. God blesses us as He desires. If He chooses to bless us through a sermon on Sunday, then we are blessed. But, that is not worship — that’s part of discipleship. In this way we are the recipient of God’s love. However, as God’s people we must be active in our worship of the Creator, the Lover of our souls, Whose name is above all names.

Remember our example of the sponge. A sponge absorbs water much like a believer can absorb from God, from His word and from His teachers. But a sponge doesn’t give the water back unless it’s squeezed. Our heavenly Father doesn’t want to squeeze us all the time for us to give service and worship to Him. So, let’s be sure we as believers revere our God actively in our own lives and when we gather together.

Jan 10, 2011

The wisdom of God versus the wisdom of man

When you hear the word wisdom, what comes into your mind? What are the characteristics of wisdom? What does the Bible says about wisdom?

One passage about wisdom is especially helpful in our understanding of the biblical view of wisdom: James 3:13-18.
Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (NASB)
Let’s examine the words used here to describe what wisdom really is.

Wisdom is made up of parts:

From above – True wisdom comes from God, meaning it is a gift from God, not something that we can simply work hard to obtain. The Bible tells us that we only need to ask God for wisdom who gives it abundantly. It is based on truth and it advocates truth. In the end, it points back to God and His plan for us.

Pure – True wisdom isn’t something that men came up with. It isn’t famous sayings, or platitudes. Wisdom is not the result of some motivation such as popularity or wealth. Wisdom is holy.

Peaceable – True wisdom is demonstrated by those who are at peace, meaning those brought together with God. The word we translate as “peace” is from a Greek word that can carry the meaning “brought together.” In this context, peaceable means those who are together with God, or more simply stated, those who have a good relationship with God.

Gentle – True wisdom is thinking and behavior that is “appropriate” and “mild.” It isn’t furious about opinions or strongly trying to persuade others. It isn’t rude even though it is right.

Reasonable – However, true wisdom is able to persuade just by its truth. Wisdom points out what is right and what is evil from God’s perspective, not from what man thinks is right.

Full of mercy – True wisdom is kind and helps those who need it and corrects what is spiritually wrong. It also forgives offenses when someone else does what is wrong, but points out the error in a loving and gentle way.

Good fruits – True wisdom isn’t just thinking and expressing Godly thoughts. Anyone can learn biblical principles and state them to others. However, wisdom is shown in the life of those who actually do the things God wants us to do.

Unwavering – What was wisdom a thousand years ago is still wisdom today. Since God is eternal and hasn’t ever changed; so too, wisdom, since coming from God, doesn’t change and hasn’t changed since before God spoke creation into existence. Man hasn’t leaned anything more or added anything to God’s creation or God’s plan that makes wisdom different today than it was in the garden.

Without hypocrisy – True wisdom has not disguises, it isn’t crafty or deceitful. It is sincere and open and is plain to the observer. Wisdom brings clarity and understanding, not confusion. Wisdom is sincere and open, it is steady and even. You won’t be confused by wisdom.

What do each of these look like and how do we apply this true wisdom in our lives? Worth contemplating and daily asking God for this wisdom.

Jan 4, 2011

The Roman church continues its anti-Zionist, supersessionist rhetoric

In October 2010, at a special Vatican meeting on the Middle East, Cyrille Bustros, a native of Lebanon and a bishop in Newton, Mass., claimed, “We Christians cannot speak of the ‘promised land’ as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people.”

This was part of the Greek-Melkite bishop’s comments during a recent news conference where attendees presented the final document that emerged from a Vatican synod of Middle Eastern bishops.

I’m not sure what scriptures Mr. Bustros is studying, but I know the Bible teaches that God’s covenant with Israel cannot be broken and that the Apostle Paul clearly illustrates a future for the actual Israel of the Old Testament. To me, it’s apparent that Mr. Bustros has not embraced the idea the Apostle Paul teaches that we are no longer Jew nor Greek or that our alliance is no longer with our nation, but our alliance is with Christ – Mr. Bustros is clearly Lebanese first.

The notion of supersessionism isn’t new thinking. Both Justin Martyr and Augustine are reported to take this position in their writings. But, when studied as a whole, the Bible clearly teaches that God has a plan for Israel and that plan includes the land that was promised. In Luke 21:24, God teaches us that “Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” This is an indication that Jerusalem will be restored. God also teaches us of the eternity of His promises in Romans 11:28-29, “From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God's choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”

Supersessionism is the view that the church is the new or true Israel that has replaced or superseded national Israel as the people of God. If the Roman church has replaced Israel, then Mr. Bustros might be correct in his assessment that there is no exclusive right that Israel holds for the promised land. However, this simply isn’t the biblical case.

Because God does not break His covenants, those who say the church has replaced Israel as God’s chosen people then have to deny the traditional and orthodox interpretation of the Old Testament and deny there is a prophesied future restoration for national Israel. They also have to claim that the New Testament reinterprets the Old Testament rather than is a continuation of God’s revelation of His will (Ezk. 36-37; Deut. 30:1-6; Jer. 30, 31, 32; Matthew 23:37-39; Luke 13:34-35; Acts 3:19-21; Romans 11).

Charles Spurgeon apparently felt that the future of Israel’s sure role in God’s plan was not considered enough by either theologians or the laity. He wrote, “I think we do not attach sufficient importance to the restoration of the Jews. We do not think enough of it. But certainly, if there is anything promised in the Bible it is this.”

In case that was too vague for some, the famous Old Testament scholar Walter C. Kaiser Jr., wrote succinctly, “To argue that God replaced Israel with the church is to depart from an enormous body of biblical evidence.”

When the Roman church takes an institutional position in favor of replacement theology (which it has), it simply is an expression of its anti-Zionist viewpoint and is clearly not aligned with the Bible. Whether viewed from a secular or spiritual viewpoint, the self-determination, and subsequent self defense, by the Jewish people in a sovereign Jewish national homeland is part of the expressed plan of God.

Admittedly, there could be confusion on the part of members of the Roman church. The Second Vatican Council took the position that there existed an eternal covenant between Israel and God and that covenant was linked with the land of Israel. Yet, the Roman church has since issued calls for Israel’s withdrawal of occupied lands, removal of border barriers between Israel and the West Bank and support for a sovereign Palestinian nation. It naively stated that Israel would live peacefully and in security if it would only withdraw from conquered land it won in war. How could the Roman church believe this in light of the codified objective of Islamic groups to eradicate the nation of Israel? This call to return to pre-war boundaries is not biblical and goes against God’s desires (Joel 3:1-2; Gen. 15:18-21; Ex. 23:31a).

In all practicality, this is either an official departure from the Second Vatican Council or the Roman church is taking both positions in the polemic. Regardless, this is in opposition to the biblical position.

In his “12 Reasons Why Supersessionism/Replacement Theology Is Not a Biblical Doctrine,” Michael J. Vlach, Ph.D., points out that “the New Testament does not call the church ‘Israel,’ and nowhere does the New Testament state the nation of Israel has been permanently rejected by God.” He also states in his conclusion, “Various texts such as Matt. 19:28; 23:37–39; Luke 13:35; 21:24; 22:30; and Romans 11 refute supersessionism in that they teach or reaffirm the Old Testament expectation of a restoration of Israel.”

This shouldn’t surprise me because the scriptures teach that all nations will stand against Israel, and all will be defeated. In this case, all includes the United States. Unfortunately, I see it happening far sooner than I would have expected due to the influence of global anti-Zionist institutions, such as the Roman church, the United Nations and a spineless European Union.

Jan 3, 2011

Four hallmarks of the body

The Scriptures teach us many things. We learn more about God and ourselves because we have God’s revelation of Himself and His plan through His word. Praise God. 

When I study the lives of those believers in the first few years of Christ’s church, I come to a better understanding of why there are problems in today’s churches. When studying Acts 2, we read about these people and they should be inspiring to us. I drew out from a recent study of Acts 2 four hallmarks of the body of Christ as found in the example of the early church. 

In Acts 2:42 we see these hallmarks. “And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (NASB)

Notwithstanding the Greek grammatical construction of this verse, I feel confident in asserting four things are revealed as important for any local assembly. These four are for the body of Christ to be continually devoted to:
  • God’s teachings
  • Fellowship
  • Celebrating the Lord’s Supper
  • Prayer
The first thing we have to observe isn’t about the four hallmarks themselves, it’s about the idea that we are to be “continually devoted” to the four. This means Christ’s body is to practice these four with regularity and with consistency.

God’s Teachings
Being devoted to the apostles teaching means committing ourselves to studying and applying God’s word in the Scriptures – not for specific circumstances, but as a way of life. Through the revelation of the Holy Spirit, our pulpits, lecterns, classrooms and assemblies must be focused on proclaiming God’s word, not homiletic stories or on the felt needs of the listeners. 
Too long our churches have turned fellowship into a social event where there is no sharing. The word we translate into fellowship actually means to share. We must share with each other as a body in order to experience the joy the Christian community can bring, experience the working of God in all our lives, in order to be strong together as a group. Finally, we must share in order to bear one another’s burdens. 

Celebrating the Lord’s Supper
We have no basis as a community without Jesus Christ. He is our cornerstone upon which we have a relationship with God the Father. It is in Christ that we are viewed as righteous by the Father and are rescued from the punishment of our sin. Christ Himself asked us to remember Him by a simple act of celebrating His death, burial and resurrection and what those facts mean to us. As a community of believers, we must never forget God’s plan He executed through Jesus Christ for our atonement. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper is one way to remember Christ’s atoning work. 

We learn from that great hymn that it is a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. But, more so than this, prayer is our direct connection with our creator. God still communicates with His people. And, thanks to Jesus’ intercession, we have direct communication to God. The body of Christ must be devoted to prayer individually and corporately because it is our direct link to God. Scriptures also teach us that God wants to hear from us. It is God’s desire that we pray to Him, therefore, it is paramount that we do so. It is also a powerful means to bond a body together, praying for each other and praising God for the results.
This is by no means an exhaustive description of the believing body. But, it gives a good filter through which to view any given local church – do they exhibit these four critical hallmarks.