Sunday, February 26, 2012

Not Me, but We.

"Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
John 14:27 NKJV

Most of us understand that the world's definition of peace is the absence of conflict. Two parties can disagree on anything, for any reason, but as long as there is no open warfare what you then have is called living in a state of peace. As I said, however, this is what the world calls peace. As believers though, shouldn't we should be more interested in what God calls peace instead of the world? Most would say yes but I think if we take a good look around it becomes apparent that within the church today, most believers are relying more on the world's definition of peace rather than on what our Lord had to say. I think that if we take a closer look at what Jesus had to say about peace, we can see several things that might help us have a better understanding about how to live peacefully with one another within the body of Christ.

One of the first things I noticed when looking at passages dealing with this subject is that it would appear that the finger always points inward. Kind of humbling isn't it? You see, whenever there is conflict we tend to focus on the “what” and not the “who”. The problem is, we personalize the argument by blaming the conflict on the other party, and whatever position they may have taken which is in opposition to our own. Yet God makes it perfectly clear that true peace comes not from the absence of conflict, but in the form of a person, Jesus Himself, who lives inside each of us who have made the decision to invite Him to do so.

I believe the point here is that when we make the decision to accept the salvation offered to us by Christ, one of the things we receive by way of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the ability to live in true peace with those around us. Notice however I said we have the ability to live in peace, not that it is automatic. Peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit, yet as we all know, those fruits are the result of cultivation on our part by using His word as the food we need to grow in our faith. The second thing you find in this passage from John is the command “let not your heart be troubled”, yet as I'm sure you would agree, our first response to conflict is to let it trouble us and to get upset with whatever or whomever we perceive to be the cause.

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.
Colossians 3:15 NKJV

Notice the word rule. When I think about that I get the picture of a throne room and a ruler sitting on the throne. In the believers heart, God should be sitting on the throne ruling, but when something happens and we get offended and want to react in a worldly manner, did we just push God off the throne and sit in it ourselves? When we choose to get upset is it possible that what is really going on is a lack of faith on our part that God really is in charge and nothing can happen to us without His approval? God's will for our lives is for us to be submissive to His will, and to therefore allow Him to accomplish His purposes through us. That can't happen if we allow others to draw us into conflict by arguments and disagreements which in reality, serve no purpose other than to detract from the real purpose for which we are here. So how do we live the peaceful life God intends for us? It all starts with our focus.

You will keep [him] in perfect peace, [Whose] mind [is] stayed [on You], Because he trusts in You.
Isaiah 26:3 NKJV

Two points are made in this verse which help us understand how we might begin to experience peace in our lives as God intended. The first thing we are told is that our minds should be “stayed” on Him. The Hebrew word for stayed is camak, which means to lean or rest upon, the result being we are supported by whatever it is we are leaning on. Now that might sound simple but in truth exactly how do we do that in a practical sense? Personally I try to look at it this way; when I made the decision to accept Christ into my heart, He did in fact come in. Therefore, it is no longer “I” or “me”, but “us” and “we”.

Think of it this way; how often in the course of the day do you think of “I” and “me”? Most of us would have to say all the time. It's always about what I should do, or how does that affect me, what do I want to do, etc. Truth is, as believers it's now about the two of us. So if something should occur in our lives which could present circumstances that might produce a non-peaceful reaction, the question becomes which one of us is reacting in a negative way, God or me? So to my way of thinking, having my mind “stayed” upon Him is to always think of us rather than me, and to consider how Jesus would respond and then adjust my attitude to reflect that.

Secondly, this verse says that the result of having our minds stayed on Him is that we trust Him. The word translated to trust is batach which is actually a verb phrase which means to trust, have confidence in, and as a result be bold in our response. Now one might think of boldness as the courage to fight, but I ask you, what is harder to do? React in a hostile, defensive manner, or to simply smile and accept what comes knowing that God is in control and He will defend us?

I'm sure many of you probably have seen the movie The Passion, which came out some years ago. I also think it's safe to say that many of you, like me, were moved to tears during the scene where Jesus is beaten by the soldiers. The thought that kept going through my mind during that scene was Jesus could, at any time, simply have called on angels to deliver Him and kill all of those who were persecuting Him. Yet He did not. What do you think was going through His mind at that time? He certainly knew what He could have done, yet He chose to do nothing. I truly think what happened there was exactly what this verse is telling us. His mind was stayed on the Father, and He willingly submitted Himself to whatever came knowing that God was going to deliver Him rather than doing what might have come naturally by striking out.

If Jesus could endure being reviled, rejected, falsely accused, beaten, and killed for His faith, is it too much to ask for us to put up with a few insults or disagreements without striking out in anger? This same Jesus lives inside of each of us who have chosen to invite Him in. What it really comes down to is are we mature enough in our walk with God to allow Him to dictate our reaction to those who offend us, rather than doing what we might want to do? The next time someone offends you remember that it is both you and Jesus who are the recipients of the offense. Which one will you allow to respond?

Blessed [are] the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.
Matthew 5:9 NKJV

Keep watching.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Finishing Strong or Puttering Along?

Many of the subjects I discuss here are in response to questions I receive from people who take the opportunity to write me and ask for my thoughts concerning a great number of things. Today is one of those times where what I wish to talk about is something I was asked about this week and it concerns the actions and attitudes of some within the body of believers which we call the church. As we approach what many of us believe is the end of our struggle here on earth culminating in an event we call the rapture, you would think the body would be performing at peak efficiency. The sad truth, however, is that there are numerous examples that this is simply not the case at all.

When I was twenty something (all too long ago), I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to rebuild and restore a 1955 Chevrolet. As you might expect, the motor I chose to put in it was slightly more powerful than necessary. Did I say "slightly"? Oh yeah, it could really move down the road. Unfortunately for me, however, in the late 70's and early 80's the government began to mandate change in the formulation of gasoline which led to the removal of lead as an additive. The result of this was immediate and profound in my car as the motor needed lead and the octane that came with it in the worst way. Basically, with the wrong kind of gas in the tank, my car ran about as lousy as my lawn mower.

As believers, we have a fuel tank as well, and the gas we choose to put in it will dramatically affect our performance for Christ. I have spent a lot of time studying and analyzing what the Bible has to say about the Church just before the end of the age, and the best thing I can say about it is that it looks like it runs just about as well as my car did with the wrong gas. If you find that hard to believe, just look at what Jesus says about it in His letter to the Church.

"I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. "So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.
Revelation 3:15-16 NKJV

Since the issue here certainly seems to be a lack of performance, my question was what were they doing wrong to put themselves in this position? Or better yet, exactly what was wrong with the gas in their tank? The answer to that may be far more simple than you think. If we look at Jesus' own words to His disciples just before He ascended to Heaven, we might get our first clue.

"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
Acts 1:8 NKJV

The power to which Jesus refers is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which He sent to us on the day of Pentecost just 10 days later. So if Jesus Himself told us that when we become believers we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and along with that gift the "power" we need to serve Him as we should, why isn't the Church "performing" as it should? The answer to that is given to us by Paul the Apostle in his letter to the Church in Rome. Notice if you will that the problem he addresses is the same, as well as his description of the reasons.

Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Romans 13:11-14 RSV

You may notice that I used a different version than I usually use for this particular passage, and I did that for a particular reason. There are two parts of this passage that describes things I see happening more and more lately within the body, and I like how this particular version translates those. I want to draw your attention to the words “becomingly” and “quarreling and jealousy”. Becomingly is translated from the Greek word euschēmonōs, which simply describes the manner in which we act, or in other words what we are being told is to be sure we act as we know Jesus would want us to by exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit. One of the ways we do that is to avoid doing certain things that are demonstrative of a worldly attitude rather than one focused on serving God as an example of a people filled with the Spirit. Two things we are told in this passage that are “works of darkness” are “quarreling and jealousy”.

These two words are actually used together elsewhere in the scriptures, and it seems that it follows you can't have one without the other. The word translated as quarreling is eris, which is defined as contention, strife, or wrangling. Jealousy is translated from the Greek word zēlos, and means zeal, ardour in embracing, pursuing, defending anything. So if we take a step back and examine this passage in it's context it appears that Paul is telling us that something we will see in the church as we approach the end is believers acting like the world by choosing to argue strongly about something rather than to demonstrate the fruits of the spirit such as gentleness, kindness, and meekness. If this sounds a little strong to you, consider another place where Paul uses the same two words to describe a situation in the Corinthian church.

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual [people] but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able [to receive it], and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where [there are] envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like [mere] men? 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NKJV

So what Paul seems to be saying as he takes these believers to task is that if they are preoccupied with quarreling and arguing, not only are they “carnal” Christians, they can best be described as immature babes in Christ. I'm sure most of us understand that the actions of babies are for the most part entirely selfish in nature because at their age, they only know what they want for themselves. But as babies grow into children and then adults, they hopefully mature to the point where they begin to think of others first and consider their actions and how they might affect those around them. Unfortunately as we all know, there are always those few who refuse to grow up, choosing instead to remain selfish and self-centered.

As we see from what Paul writes, believers in the body can, unfortunately, make that same decision to remain immature in their dealings with others. Why a decision? As believers these people are just puttering along like my hot rod because they choose to run on gas without the high octane available from the Holy Spirit. We as believers must not only make the decision to accept the salvation offered to us by God through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, but we must also make the decision to allow the Holy Spirit to control our actions which is in essence, the process of maturity.

To be filled with the Spirit is to receive the power to say no to self, and to say yes to obedience to Christ. We serve Him by being different and letting our light shine, not by acting the same as the world. In 2 Kings 2:9 the prophet Elisha asks for a "double portion" of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a gift to all believers, but it is also something that can and needs to be refilled at times. Have you asked God lately to fill your tank with more of the power for living that you need? Is your desire to be filled with the Spirit, and to act as a mature believer should by exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit, or do you fall back into immaturity and cause the body to putter along by “quarreling and jealousy”? All we need to do is ask, and God will give us all of the Holy Spirit our tank can hold, and we can then finish the race running as strongly as we can.

So my question to you today is are you finishing strong, or just puttering along?

Keep watching.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

One Step Closer

By all accounts, events in the Middle East seem to be reinforcing the belief that a war is not only possible, but inevitable. Each week brings even more reports that prompt many to not only predict the imminence, but even go so far as to speculate on dates the conflict will erupt. When I wrote in 2007 about the possibility that the prophecy in Isaiah referred to the use of WMD's, little did I know how overt the preparations for that scenario might become.

Reports surfaced this past week revealing the movement of chemical weapons inside of Syria in obvious preparation for use either against their own people or to be launched into Israel. We also have seen a marked increase in language condemning Israel coming from Russia. Since many believe the prophecies of Isaiah 17 and Ezekiel 38 are related, one the result of the other, what we see may well be the preparation for the fulfillment of these two events.

One of the points I have made in the past few years in regards to the use of WMD's is that I firmly believe Israel does not make the choice to launch one preemptively, rather it is a response to their use by Syria which results in the destruction of Damascus. What is important to note is that the while the government of Syria makes no secret of the fact that they have an extremely large arsenal of chemical weapons, they also have demonstrated in the past they are more than willing to use them.

It was also reported Saturday that Iran is expected to make a major announcement concerning it's nuclear program sometime this week, which could add more urgency to Israel in making a decision about the possibility of military action. Looking at all that is going on in context with the prophecies concerning Israel, is it any wonder many are expecting their fulfillment in the very near future? What follows is a small portion of what I wrote concerning the relationship between Iran and Syria, and just how it might result in the decision to use a weapon of mass destruction against Israel.

The relationship between Iran and Syria is complicated, but the one thing that remains clear is that Iran has invested a lot of money, materiel, and personnel to develop and upgrade Syria’s military capabilities. Much of Syria’s missile technology and armament has been provided by Iran, and at present it is reported as fact by many intelligence sources that members of the Iranian Republican Guard are in Syria helping develop and train Syrian troops. So the question must be asked, just what does Iran want from Syria in exchange for all of this help?

There is no question that Syria now finds itself indebted to Iran in a very big way, so it's logical to wonder to what extent Syria might go in order to repay the debt, or, for that matter, how much would Iran require as a payback for its investment? Iran has made known their desire for the total annihilation of Israel, and even gone so far as to brag about how many missiles could be launched in the event of a conflict, however most intelligence organizations agree their boast exceeds their capabilities. This fact leads many to wonder if Iran has agreements with other Arab countries for help in any attack on Israel. If so, this would easily explain the extent to which they have gone to arm Syria with weapons and technology they have not previously possessed. It may well, in fact, explain one of the most disturbing reports to come out of that region in the recent past which is the Jane's Defense Weekly report about the WMD accident in Syria. If Syria indeed has the capability to launch a WMD into Israel, is it possible that Isaiah is trying to tell us this is exactly what is going to happen?

Let's look a little closer at the prophecy in Isaiah and examine exactly what it says. In the Isaiah oracle it says;

The cities of Aroer [are] forsaken; They will be for flocks Which lie down, and no one will make [them] afraid.
Isaiah 17:2 NKJV

The word "forsaken" in the Hebrew is "azab" which means "to depart, abandon, loose, relinquish, leave." The first thing that crossed my mind when I read this was not what it does say, but what it doesn't say. It doesn't say that Aroer is destroyed; only abandoned. It also says “cities” which gives the impression of a very large area being affected. I believe this may be our clue to understanding the entire scenario Isaiah presents here. If we look at this with the understanding of what technology Syria now possesses, it seems extremely possible that Isaiah is describing an attack on Israel with a weapon of mass destruction, such as a chemical, biological, or possibly a nuclear "dirty bomb" warhead. This would perfectly explain why this area is "abandoned" but not destroyed.

Isaiah even goes so far as to say that only animals will wander this area. Why would that be? If an attack of this type occurs, after the evacuation, the contaminated area would be quarantined and posted with warning signs in order to keep the public out. Unfortunately for animals, they can't read, and although I’m sure there would be patrols to keep people from entering the area, they aren’t going to be too concerned with policing the wild animals that want to wander. This area in Israel is well within range of Syria's Scud missiles, and we know they are placing chemical warheads on them. The area known as Aroer is now home to Israel’s nuclear research facility named Dimona. That would, in effect, make it a logical place to attack, and a very worthy target, but the real question is obviously why?

Again, I believe the most logical reason returns us to the question of Iran. Iran is at present considered to be the most dangerous, if not unsettling country in the Middle East. Their pursuit of nuclear capabilities has the attention of the entire world, and most fear what they intend to do when they achieve their goal. A military response by the west has been in the forefront of the news for more than a year now, and speculation on the possibility of a strike to cripple their facilities makes the news almost weekly. Iran has made it very clear what they intend to do if attacked by the west, and as you might expect, they include an attack on Israel as part of that response. The trouble is, while they boast about just how many missiles they would launch against the west if attacked, we know they do not possess near the number they promise to launch in response. If their threat is to be taken seriously and not as just bluster and exaggeration, the only answer to the question of how they would accomplish this is if they intend to enlist the help of another country or countries. What exactly would happen if Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Syria all began to fire their entire arsenals at Israel at the same time? Is it possible Iran is not bluffing? Does Iran have the leverage over these organizations to the point they could compel them to join in a response against Israel?

The world waits to see what Israel or the United States will do about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the news is full of speculation about existing plans to strike Iran militarily. Could an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities provoke a response against Israel's nuclear reactor at Dimona? If so, the most important question we can ask at this point is just what kind of response could the world expect from Israel if they were attacked by all these organizations at the same time, especially if the attack included WMD's? The answer to that question might have already been written in something known as the Sampson Option.

Below you will find links to some of the articles that appeared this past week in regards to what we have talked about today. I hope you will find them useful in drawing your own conclusions as to what is happening in the Middle East, and perhaps motivate you to join myself and others as we watch expectantly for the return of Christ for His church.

Keep watching.

Assad forces mull use of chemical weapons in Homs, opposition says

The Syrian Dictatorship Prepares for Chemical Warfare

Russia to lash Israel for War Rhetoric against Iran

Iran to announce 'very major' nuclear advance

Krauthammer: Israel ‘will strike’ Iran to ‘prevent a second holocaust’

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Going Too Far?

One question I get asked a lot from some of my readers is what do I think of those who seem to feel they are called to predict when the rapture of the church will take place? It's no secret that many have tried to predict certain dates for this event, and if you take the time to read some of the scholarship that led to their conclusions it is often very compelling. Yet so far they all have one thing in common and that is they were wrong! An unfortunate result of this is that often people begin to disregard their work as a whole and I believe that is a tragedy for there is nothing wrong with their research. Rather the tragedy is that they went one step too far by trying to set a date, and the result is that all of their work is called into question.

On the other hand, there is no question that we are commanded by God to watch diligently for the signs of Jesus' return. The Bible is full of verses and passages which illustrate what is required of us as believers in regards to the approaching end of the age, so I think the answer to the question about setting dates lies in a close examination of what the Bible has to say about what it means to watch.

"But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. [For the Son of man is] as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.
Mark 13:32-37 KJV

Anyone who decides to seriously study God's word eventually is introduced to someone I fondly call “Uncle Herman”. That is the name I gave to something called “hermeneutics”, which is simply the name given to the science of interpretation, or in other words, the rules we use to interpret scripture. The reason I use “Uncle Herman” is because it reminds me of the character in the old “Munsters” television show. You know, a little slow, simple, dimwitted? That's me. You see, quite often people would like us to believe that understanding the scriptures is a difficult process which is beyond many of us, when the fact is that God wrote the Bible for all of man to read and learn from.

I have heard many different scholars and lectures discussing methods of Biblical interpretation, and after all of that came to the personal conclusion that all I needed were two rules to understanding the Bible, and I call these Uncle Herman's two rules. One, the Bible says what it means, and means what it says. Two, always examine a verse or passage in it's context. (the verses that come before and after) Pretty simple isn't it? Of course, there are those who would argue with me that this is an oversimplification of a complex process, but there will always be someone who disagrees. The best answer I can give to that comes from a respected Bible teacher who once said “we agree to disagree agreeably”.

So looking at the passage from Mark, there are a couple of things I think we can all agree on. First of all is Jesus' statement that no one knows the day or the hour of His return. I have heard and read numerous opinions about this statement, but the truth is, what Jesus said is that no one knows. I personally have difficulty believing Jesus would state this so plainly, yet really mean something else. Secondly, He commands us to watch for His return. He then goes on to emphasize these statements by giving us an illustration of a master leaving on a journey who tells his servants to watch for his return. Why watch? Because, although he does not tell them exactly when he will return, if they watch, they will see him coming. So the illustration supports the statement He already made of the fact no one knows the day or hour of His return.

I think we also need to look closely at the command; take heed, watch and pray. In the Greek, the phrase “take ye heed” means to see and discern, or in other words to use your mind to examine and understand exactly what your eye is seeing. A phrase I learned long ago comes to mind whenever I try to make sense of what I am seeing in the world today in light of biblical prophecy. Translated from the Latin, it simply says “make haste slowly”. All too often there is a tendency for us to jump in with both feet whenever we discover something we feel has implications on the return of Christ for His church. The result in many cases is someone going a little too far and trying to set a date for the rapture, when as we have just seen, Jesus said quite plainly no one knows. Yet how do we reconcile that fact with the command to watch?

Did you notice how many times we are told to watch? Did you also notice the last verse says we ALL are being commanded to watch? I get the idea this is a rather important point Jesus is trying to make. So why is watching such an important responsibility? Consider the following passage from the Old Testament concerning watchmen and what was expected from them.

Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman: If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people; Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul. But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take [any] person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand.
Ezekiel 33:2-6 KJV

It was the last verse in that passage that got my attention. If a person is appointed to be a watchman, and does not fulfill his responsibility to warn of what he sees, he will be held accountable for those who perish because of his failure. Talk about responsibility. I have no doubt that watchmen in the Old Testament took their job very, very seriously. So here is my question to you; since we are commanded to watch, have we as believers been appointed "watchmen" with the same responsibilities as those in the past? Are we required by God to not only watch, but to warn of what we see?

I believe that is exactly what we are being instructed to do, but again I want to make the point that we should fight the urge to go too far. While the watchmen of the Old Testament were instructed to watch and give a warning of what they saw, I don't see anything written that says they should speculate on when they thought the enemy would attack. You see, their responsibility was to warn of the approaching enemy, and that was all. The obvious problem with setting dates is that when you are proven wrong, you lose your credibility. Somehow I think that if a watchman in the Old Testament voiced his opinion on the exact time he thought the attack would take place and was proven wrong, it probably would not take too long for his opinions to be ignored.

I think today we can look at the situation in the Middle East as a perfect illustration of this principal. Everyone seems to agree that from what they see happening, and from what is being said in that part of the world right now, a war is not only inevitable, but imminent. Many thought it was going to start this past January, and from all that I saw I considered that a real possibility, yet as we see now January has come and gone and still no war. Does that mean the war is not going to happen? Certainly not! Not only is there plenty of evidence to support the inevitability, we also have God's word that it is going to happen. We just don't know exactly when.

So let me try and summarize what I am trying to share with you today. I believe that Jesus has told us plainly that we are all commanded to watch for His return. He took the time during His ministry to tell us of many different signs to watch for, as well as the prophecies in the Old Testament which refer to things still yet to come. Yet even as we see these things coming to pass and know the time is near, and as we tell others of what we see, we should never forget we are told no one knows the exact day or hour. Be alert, know what to watch for, pray about what you see, warn others, but fight the urge to go too far.

Keep watching.