Sunday, August 26, 2012

Another Week, Another Threat

The burden against Damascus. "Behold, Damascus will cease from [being] a city, And it will be a ruinous heap. The cities of Aroer [are] forsaken; They will be for flocks Which lie down, and no one will make [them] afraid.
Isaiah 17:1-2 NKJV

Syrian envoy: We'll destroy Israeli nuclear facilities with 20 missiles

Jordanian media report that Syria's ambassador in Amman, Bahjat Suleiman said that his country is capable of destroying Israel's nuclear facilities should Damascus come under attack      Roi Kais

Speaking during a meeting with a Jordanian-Syrian delegation at the embassy in Amman, Syria's Ambassador to Jordan Bahjat Suleiman said that Syria is capable of destroying Israel's nuclear facilities with 20 missiles, should Syria be attacked, in spite of the many casualties Syria would incur over such a move, Jordanian media reported Thursday. The delegation arrived at the embassy in order to wish the ambassador and his country a happy Eid el-Fitr holiday and express support for Bashar Assad's regime.
"What the Zionists have, nuclear weapons-wise, could cause us major casualties should they attack Syria. In contrast, we could cause massive losses to their nuclear facilities and we wouldn't need more than 20 missiles," the ambassador told the delegation.

According to Jordanian reports, the ambassador said that in spite of the disparity in the number of casualties, Israel would not be able to bear the loss of life and the significant strategic losses. He explained that this would lead Israelis to emigrate elsewhere and would symbolize the beginning of the end of the State of Israel.

According to the Ambassador, Syria would not stand idly by if attacked, but would not be the one to launch a war. Suleiman also commented on the defection of Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab, claiming that he fled the country and joined the rebels in exchange for $20 million.

Meanwhile, tensions between Syria and Jordan remain high following the firing four Syrian missiles in Jordan's northern region, injuring a child and several others. This led to a strong response from the Jordanian government which summoned the top Syrian diplomat in Amman to protest the attack. A Jordanian government spokesman said that he believed the missile fire was unintentional but a government official warned that Jordan would take the appropriate measures should the missile fire be repeated.,2506,L-4272386,00.html

Another week, another threat against Israel. If you are like me, you probably begin to wonder when the threats will actually result in action, or if ever. Well I submit the answer to the question “if ever” has already been answered by the prophet Isaiah. It's the “when” which seems to be unanswerable, yet it would certainly appear we are about as close as we can get without it actually happening. The article this week from Ynet prompted me once again to revisit the Isaiah 17 prophecy and suggest an explanation for the events we are told about there.

Something I think we should notice from the article above is that the Syrian envoy is very specific as to what they would target if they were to attack Israel. Any attack on Israel, especially to it's nuclear facilities, would certainly invite a response by Israel. Something else to consider is the fact that there is ample evidence that the Syrians have already armed the missiles capable of hitting that far into Israel with their chemical warheads. As for the suggestion that they would attack Israel's nuclear facilities as a “response” to an Israeli aggression, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria has already said he would start a war with Israel if he feels his rule is threatened.

One of the questions most people have when they consider the possibility that this prophecy from Isaiah seems to describe a future nuclear attack on Damascus is “why”? The use of nuclear arms is certainly abhorrent to most, yet most agree that this is exactly what is described in these passages. I believe that the clue to the answer to that question lies in the identification of the “cities of Aroer”.

In all of the research I have done up until now, the one consistent fact has been that most people who have studied and written about this prophecy place the location of Aroer in the country of Jordan. Unlike Damascus, Aroer no longer exists, so we are left to try to identify its location by studying past references, and looking for archaeological evidence that might support a conclusion as to its whereabouts.

Aroer is mentioned three times in the Bible, and all occur in the Old Testament. Unfortunately for us, however, each describes a different location, so we are left to examine what the Bible says about each and see if we can decide which location Isaiah is attempting to describe. The first mention of Aroer is found in the book of Deuteronomy where it says;

"From Aroer, which [is] on the bank of the River Arnon, and [from] the city that [is] in the ravine, as far as Gilead, there was not one city too strong for us; the LORD our God delivered all to us.
Deuteronomy 2:36 NKJV

This site has been identified as being on the northern bank of the Arnon ravine located in the modern country of Jordan, just east of the Dead Sea. The second mention of Aroer we find is in the book of Joshua, where Moses is allotting land to the twelve tribes and describing their boundaries. In this verse he describes;

Their territory was Jazer, and all the cities of Gilead, and half the land of the Ammonites as far as Aroer, which [is] before Rabbah,
Joshua 13:25 NKJV

Joshua describes Aroer as being "before Rabbah". This city or any ruins of it have never been located, but by the description we know it would need to be situated be some twenty miles or so north of Jerusalem. The final time Aroer is mentioned before Isaiah’s prophecy is in the book of Samuel, where we find it listed among a group of cities that David is sharing spoil with from his defeat of the Amalekites. We find when we read that;

[those] who [were] in Aroer, [those] who [were] in Siphmoth, [those] who [were] in Eshtemoa,
1 Samuel 30:28 NKJV

This location has been identified as being in the Negev, twelve miles southeast of Beer-sheba. We also see from reading this passage that it was one of many cities located in the same area which helped and supported David in his battle with the Amalekites. Ruins of this city have been found, and you can even locate it on a map if your Bible has maps in the back. Simply look for a map of Israel in the time of David, and you should be able to see Aroer located in the south of Israel, southwest of Beer-sheba.

So we have three different locations to choose from, and no help from the Isaiah passage to identify which one he is referring to. Is it possible to find a way to know for sure exactly which one of these locations is the one that Isaiah describes as being "forsaken"?

First of all, I think it may be logical to assume that Isaiah is referring to the location southeast of Beer-sheba for several reasons. The first is that if you compare the dates that these three books were written, you find that the Samuel passage was written closest to the time of Isaiah, as opposed to the others which were written much earlier in Israel’s history. Also, if you look closely at these three locations, you see one of them is in Jordan, not Israel. Since Isaiah is describing a conflict between Syria and Israel, I think we can dismiss the Jordan location as a possibility. So we are left to choose between two locations, one which has never been positively located, and one which not only has been located, but may have some military significance as well.

If we look at a map of Israel during the time of the twelve tribes, we can easily see where Aroer is located. Now compare that map with a map of Israel today and you may be surprised to find that a very significant complex has been constructed in the same approximate location of ancient Aroer, and that is the nuclear research facility known as Dimona. Since Isaiah is describing a future conflict between Israel and Syria, obviously there must be a good reason that Israel chooses to completely destroy Damascus. Is it possible that it is in response to an attack of some sort on Dimona? I think it is not only possible, but logical as well if we examine the situation that exists today in the Middle East.

In the past few months we have seen the unrest occurring in Syria, and most are familiar with the threats being made against Israel from the president of Syria. He seems to believe that the only way to save his own rule is to start a war with Israel. Will an attack on Iran give him reason to respond by launching his own missiles? Those missiles are known to be armed with chemical warheads, which are also considered to be weapons of mass destruction. If they are launched in an attack on Dimona, it could easily explain why the cities of Aroer are described in Isaiah as “abandoned”, and not destroyed.

The use of WMD's against Israel would invite, if not justify a response using Israel's own WMD's, which are nuclear and not biological. I am constantly amazed at how the prophecies of the Bible written over two thousand years ago describe exactly what is occurring in the Middle East today. It certainly is beginning to look like the stage is set for the fulfillment of what the Bible describes as the “end of days”, and the completion of the prophecies concerning Israel's future written by the prophets so long ago.

Keep watching.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Adjust Your Attitude

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.                       1 Thessalonians 5:16-23  NKJV

Even if you are not a fan of professional sports, I think you are probably aware of the fact that as time winds down and the end of the game is near, the approach of the players towards the game begins to change. Now this could be a result of the coach making adjustments, or a response to how the other team is playing, but generally speaking most of the competitors are very aware of the time remaining and adjust their game accordingly.

As I have studied the subject of the end times over the course of my life, it soon became apparent to me that the Bible contains quite a bit of instruction on how we as believers are supposed to live as we see the end of this age approaching. Paul especially seems to focus on this subject in most of his writings, and this passage is a very good example of that. Here Paul has been talking to the Thessalonians about the rapture of the Church and the events surrounding it, and after admonishing them to be watchful, he immediately gives instructions on our personal conduct.

You see, much like a player in a game adjusting his efforts as the end approaches, we as believers need to “adjust our game” as we see the end is near. So Paul lists a few things we should all be aware of and use as guidelines for our walk with God especially at such a time as this. So I want to share a few points I see in this passage from Thessalonians with the hope it will help you as well as it has helped me.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks”. Now I suppose we could call these the big three of the Christian life. Why is that? Maybe because it is so hard to do? Everyone will at some time or another experience some of the hardships that life can throw at us. Yet it is the attitude of believers towards hardships that should set us apart from the world around us! Many of you probably saw the news this past week of the wildfire in Central Washington which caused so much damage. Over 60 homes and outbuildings along with a number of animals and livestock were lost. Fortunately for us personally, the fire got no closer than about 5 miles away, yet the effect on those who experienced loss is devastating.

However it was amazing to hear interviews with some of those who lost everything and yet thanked God for sparing their lives and acknowledged that there was a reason for it and God was in control. What a witness it is to stand up and rejoice in the middle of suffering and thank God for the circumstances we find ourselves in. Where the world would be bitter and resentful, the Christian rejoices and thanks God for whatever happens. Why? “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” God arranges the events we find ourselves in for the express purpose of allowing us the opportunity to serve Him by exhibiting the attitudes listed above. Strange as it sounds, no one really notices your witness when everything is going great. It's easy to be happy when things are good, but when things go bad it seems everyone is watching to see how you will react. Those are the times when our witness can glorify God in ways we could never imagine.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things;” Speaking of a fire, the Greek word for “quench” literally means to put out a fire! As hard as it seems, the fact that we are warned about this obviously means as the end approaches some will succumb to the temptation to ignore what the Holy Spirit is telling them to do. The late Ray Stedman of Peninsula Bible Church shared some great words on this verse and I think he does a much better job of explaining it than I can, so let me share that with you.

Two simple things are here: Do not ignore the Spirit's prompting; and do not despise the Scripture's wisdom. The Spirit's promptings always come in two areas: Stop doing what is wrong, and start doing what is right. If you are a Christian at all you are familiar with the inner feeling that says, "God wants you to do something," or "God wants you to stop doing something." We all have felt this inner guidance. What the apostle is saying is, "Give in to those feelings." When the Spirit prompts you to show love to somebody, do it; do not hold back.

I once heard of a man who said, "Sometimes when I think of how my wife works and blesses me, it's all I can do to keep from telling her that I love her!" There is a man being guided by the Spirit, but he is quenching the Spirit. Do not do that. Go ahead and tell her you love her. You may have to pick her off the floor afterward, but do not quench the Spirit!

Then, second, do not ignore the Scripture's wisdom: "Do not despise prophesying." Unfortunately, because of certain cultic tendencies in our day, we think of prophesying as some special power to predict the future either for ourselves individually or for the world at large. But prophesying was not that. Dr. F. F. Bruce, who is one of the great expositors of our day, says prophesying is "declaring the mind of God in the power of the Spirit." In those early days, before the New Testament was written, this was done orally; prophets spoke the mind of the Spirit in an assembly. But since the writing of the Scriptures we have very little need for any kind of prophesying other than that based upon the Scriptures. So prophesying really becomes what we call today expository preaching and teaching. It is what I am doing right now. It is opening the mind of God from the Word of God. Do not despise that, says the apostle. That is the wisdom of God. That is telling you how to act, how to think and how to order your life. Do not treat it lightly. It will save you countless headaches and heartaches if you observe it.

But, the apostle adds, "test it." It is easy to imitate this. Anyone can stand up and say in a deep tone of voice, "This is the word of the Lord." We must learn to test what is said from what has already been revealed. Paul commended the Bereans for this, saying they were more noble than those in Thessalonica because they "received the word with all readiness of heart and searched the Scriptures daily whether these things were so," (Acts 17:11). Test it, is what Paul is saying.

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely” Do you notice who it is here that does the changing in us? So often we think that sanctification is a result of our hard work, when the truth is that sanctification comes from God, and our good works are the result. Our responsibility is to simply make the choice to allow God to work in us and He will do the rest. “He who calls you [is] faithful, who also will do [it].” Our Father in heaven is faithful to do what He has promised. Ray Stedman also had this to say about this verse; “Choose to obey and he will give you power to perform; but he will not give you the power to perform until you make the choice to obey!”

Most of us would agree the signs of the end are all around us. How important is it then to pay attention to these verses which Paul uses to instruct us on how we are to live in the very time we find ourselves in?

Keep watching.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Look In, Not Out!

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for [His] good pleasure.
Philippians 2:12-13 NKJV

I think everyone who chooses to study scripture has a favorite passage or verse which speaks to them in a way that has a very important impact on the way they exhibit their faith as they go about their daily lives. The passage I want to share with you today is one that I particularly like and which has influenced me in the way I choose to relate to fellow believers as well as with an unbelieving world. So bear with me as I share with you my thoughts on this advice Paul gives to the believers in Phillipi.

Paul is writing this letter from Rome where he is being held in prison awaiting trial. He knows that the chances are slim that he will ever see them again so he gives them advice on how to live as believers should. While he was with them, they had only to ask their questions of him to receive an answer but now that he was gone they were at a loss as to what to do. So in this passage we find his advice to them begins with the instruction to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. Unfortunately this phrase has often been misinterpreted to justify some sort of works based salvation, when in fact Paul is telling the Philippians something quite different.

The words “work out” are actually one Greek word “katergazomai” which means to work in order to fashion a result making one fit for something. That is fit as in fitness. In other words, as we would say today, you need to “workout”. Paul is simply telling the believers that in order to grow the first thing they needed to know was to “workout”. Of this passage Charles Ryrie comments that they needed to “learn to stand on their own feet”. So this passage is all about the individual learning how to grow strong in their faith in order to stand up to an unbelieving world.

The word for salvation in this passage is most often used to refer to an individuals personal safety. With that in mind, and seeing that in the context of this passage where Paul is discussing the believers responsibility to exhibit humility just as Jesus did, it seems they are being told that they would need to grow strong in order to withstand the trials that would come their way. Doing this with an attitude of “fear and trembling” refers to an individuals anxiety because of their knowledge that they might lack the strength necessary to do this. Paul addresses that anxiety by telling them that God is in charge of not only providing the strength they will need, but also engineer the circumstances that they will find themselves in.

I personally believe, though, that the most telling advice we are given in this passage is found in the two words “your own”. Paul's advice is that we concentrate our efforts on our personal workout, and not that of others. I spent some time this week as I often do, talking with a friend and catching up on what has been going on in his life lately. It's something we all do when we greet someone we know and ask “what's happening?” or something similar. In a way, with the advent of the Internet and the number of sites you can visit, it's not too hard to figure out what is going on in the body of Christ at any particular moment by just observing the subjects being discussed. I have noticed lately that there seems to be a lot of talk about the rapture, which I believe there should be, but also a lot of opinions given about who will go and when.

Now you might wonder, as I do, that if we all share the same Holy Spirit, why are there differences of opinions on a particular subject? If I don't agree with the conclusion someone else has come to does that mean I am a little slow? Is there something wrong with my “listening” to the Holy Spirit when I ask questions about certain things, and do I only hear what I want to hear? That of course is always possible, yet there is also another side of this coin and it is that there will also always be those who feel they are a little smarter than the average person and have “figured out” something that others have missed. I sometimes look at those individuals and can't help but remember the Gnostics of Paul's time who claimed to have a special knowledge as a result of their desire to look “deeper”.

With that in mind, do you notice the very next piece of advice Paul shares with us?

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,
Philippians 2:14-15 NKJV

So you think it's just coincidence the subject now becomes how we relate to others in the body? I think Paul knows perfectly well that as believers workout and grow stronger in their faith, some will succumb to the temptation to try to tell others how they should workout their faith as well. When this happens, the result is a body of believers who spend time arguing rather than sharing the gospel. Notice too that Paul says that if we fall into that trap we cause harm. Now your first thought might be the harm is to other believers, and it certainly would be, yet Paul goes on to talk about how we should appear to the world as “lights”. The obvious conclusion is that by arguing and complaining we dim our light to an unbelieving world.  The result is that it causes harm by convincing others that we are no different than they are so why bother with this “Christian” thing?

The truth of the matter is that if you look closely at this passage it would seem to me that Paul is telling us to simply look inward when we workout as believers and resist the temptation to look outward at others. If we do that we have the promise that it is God at work in our lives and He will guide us in the way we should go and answer the questions that we might have as we walk in His path. As we learn we can share what we learn with others, but always with the attitude of humility and gentleness that Jesus demonstrated when He walked this earth. It is these attitudes that will attract those who have not yet chosen to believe, not complaining and arguing among ourselves.

The gospel of our Lord, the good news, is that anyone who chooses to believe can be saved. This may appear to many as too simplistic but isn't it the very message preached so long ago?

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:
John 1:12 NKJV

So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household."
Acts 16:31 NKJV

Look in, not out.

Keep watching.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Are We There Yet?

Let us hold fast the confession of [our] hope without wavering, for He who promised [is] faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as [is] the manner of some, but exhorting [one another], and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:23-25 NKJV

Have you ever taken a road trip with small children and heard those famous words, “are we there yet”? I remember well taking our first vacation with my children driving over a thousand miles to visit my parents and hearing that phrase for most of the trip. So I used that opportunity to teach my daughters how to watch for the road signs to help answer that question, and it didn't take long for them to concentrate on watching for the signs rather than asking me how much farther we had to go.

It's funny though how that experience taught me something about the coming rapture and Jesus' command to watch for the signs of His return. One of the first things my daughters noticed is that there are no signs telling how far it is to San Diego to be found in Washington. The roadsigns did not begin to appear until we got much closer, and then, the closer we got the more often we saw them. By the time we reached Los Angeles you could see a sign almost every fifteen minutes telling us how close we were.

Now with that thought in mind, might I ask you a question? How many signs of Jesus' return have you seen in the last fifteen years and are those signs decreasing or increasing? I thought so. You see, even those who don't watch are at the point where they are asking what in the world is going on in the world today. The signs of Jesus' return are coming faster and faster almost to the point where it is hard to keep up with them all. Do you think that might mean we are getting close to “arriving” at our eternal destination?

Now did I mention the instructions we would go over as we turned onto the final street where my parents lived? “Be on your best behavior, don't tear the place up, be polite, ask when you want something, remember this is not your house, etc”. We all have done that, yet have you ever thought of what we should do as we approach the rapture of the Church? When I thought of that the passage from Hebrews came to mind and as I read it I was struck by the similarities between what it says and those road trips we would take as a family. So let's look at what this passage says a little closer this morning.

“Hold fast”. Might that translate be patient? It's a long trip but eventually we will get where we are going because our Father has told us so. Many of us have waited a very long time to see the days we are now living in and the closer we get the more impatient we become. Hold fast because the signs are coming so quickly that it can't be much longer before we go.

“Stir up love and good works”. Be on your best behavior? As we approach our final destination, we have the opportunity to share about our faith and give an explanation of what the world is going through. How much more will the world pay attention if we are are seen as a body of believers that are concerned with loving others and doing good works rather than being selfish and self centered.

“Not forsaking the assembling together”. We are family. When one of my daughters misbehaved we didn't leave her by the side of the road and move on. Over the years we have had occasion to hear people tell us how well behaved our girls were, and I must admit that made us feel good about the decisions we made as parents. I believe the most important decision was to attend church regularly so as a family we could meet and form relationships with other believers. Good or bad, what we experienced within the body as we grew as a family helped us form the foundations of our faith which are apparent today. We not only learn from our own experiences, but also the experiences of others.

“Exhorting one another”. We won't learn much if we don't meet together with other believers and also use that time to encourage and lend support to the family we are. The word translated “exhort” in this version is also translated “encourage” and “beseech” in other versions. As I studied this verse I looked to see how this word is used in other passages in the Bible and came to the conclusion that we are being told to “strongly encourage” each other. The word for exhort in the Greek is “parakaleo” and here are a few of those other passages using the same word.

Holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.
Titus 1:9 NKJV

Preach the word! Be ready in season [and] out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
2 Timothy 4:2 NKJV

Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God;
1 Thessalonians 4:1 NKJV

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,
Ephesians 4:1 NKJV

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, [which is] your reasonable service.
Romans 12:1 NKJV

One other thing I noticed is that most often this word is also used in the context of our behavior as believers. I think it's important to understand that God is very concerned with how we witness to the world by our actions, and He expects us to strongly encourage others in the body to “love and good works”.

“And so much the more as you see the Day approaching”. Are we there yet? We have all heard that question, and in this case the answer most believers who watch would give is “yes”! We should expect the rapture of the Church at any time, so now more than ever we need to be encouraging each other. Sharing what we see with other believers is a sure way to wake up those who might be slow to see just where we are in our journey home. How soon? I certainly can't say, but I do know this; we are almost there!

Keep watching.