Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Uppermost Branch

In that day his strong cities will be as a forsaken bough And an uppermost branch, Which they left because of the children of Israel; And there will be desolation.  Isaiah 17:9  NKJV

I find it unfortunate that it seems, at least to me, that verbal threats against the nation of Israel have become so numerous and frequent that they have begun to be perceived as commonplace and without merit.  Anyone who chooses to study prophecy, however, is well aware that the future of Israel is bleak and foreboding to say the least.  An article caught my eye recently in which the leader of Hezbollah once again threatened to send missiles into Israel.  Now that might not be anything new, but what caught my eye was the fact that he chose to single out the city of Tel Aviv as the possible recipient of his onslaught. 

One of the conclusions I came to years ago as I studied Isaiah 17, was that a portion of the prophecy more than likely referred to the modern city of Tel Aviv.  This is, of course, simply my personal belief based on my studies of both the passage and the current situation in Israel today.  I may well be wrong, but I think it highly likely that events will play out much like the scenario I describe.  What follows is an excerpt from the book I wrote about the Isaiah 17 prophecy, and a possible result of Israel’s decision to strike at the city of Damascus as revealed in this chapter of Isaiah.

“Most people are more familiar with Jerusalem than any other city in Israel; however it can be argued that it is not necessarily the most important one.  Tel Aviv, located in the northwest part of the state is arguably the most important city in Israel today.  Although smaller in population than Jerusalem, if you include all of the outlying metropolitan areas or "suburbs", it is by far much larger.  It is as well considered to be the "economic capitol" of Israel.  It is home to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, Tel Aviv University, most of Israel’s national sports teams, and is considered by Newsweek magazine to be one of the world's top ten most "technologically influential" cities.

The outlying metropolitan area of Tel Aviv is home to what could be considered the equivalent of our "silicon valley".  Tel Aviv has best been described as the Israeli equivalent to New York City in regards to its importance to the nation.  So what does this have to do with verse 9?  Notice that verse 9 states that Israel's "strong cities" will resemble a "forsaken bough".  So what can this picture possibly mean you ask?  I think I can help with that from my own personal experience.

 I will freely admit to not possessing a green thumb, but that doesn't mean I don't try my hand at growing things.  I have an apple tree in my back yard that produces some of the best tasting apples I have ever eaten, and I like nothing better than watching it fill up with fruit every year, providing I do what I have to do to insure that happens.  Unfortunately learning how to take care of a fruit tree by proper pruning has been personally challenging.  I can still remember when we first bought our house and found that it came with an apple tree, how excited I was to watch it grow.  Not knowing anything but that the Bible teaches that a tree needs to be pruned, I just went out when I saw neighbors pruning their trees and had at it.

 When I was done pruning, and stood back to admire my work, it can best be described as an apple tree with a "buzz cut"; round on the sides and flat on the top!  So when time came for apples to grow, I had plenty of apples on the highest reaches of the tree, and virtually none on the sides.  My ladder wasn't long enough to reach the top of the tree so most of the very best apples that year were left for the birds to enjoy, while I could only watch.  Now when I read this verse in Isaiah, I can't help but remember that experience and wonder if this is exactly what Isaiah is trying to tell us?

 Is it possible that Tel Aviv, made up of many individual metropolitan areas, yet the largest and most important cities in Israel, will be attacked in such a way as having to be abandoned and left as indefensible because it is so far away from Jerusalem?  It might not be as unbelievable as you think if we look at the rhetoric coming from Hezbollah and their leader Hassan Nasrallah.  Most remember the Lebanon War of 2006, and that the main weapons of choice by Hezbollah were rockets, but most don't know that a war that lasted only about thirty days, more than 4000 rockets were launched at Israel.
On October 31, 2007, a United Nations report stated that Israel was reporting that Hezbollah was rearming with "hundreds" of Zilzal and Fajr rockets with a range of 155 miles, which will put Tel Aviv well within their range.  In the past, Hezbollah leader Nasrallah has said that under "certain circumstances", they would have no hesitation to attack Tel Aviv with rockets, and it now appears they have the capability to do so.  Is this what Isaiah is predicting here when he says that Israel must forsake its strong cities that are like an "uppermost branch"?  If so, what is the result?”

 Because you have forgotten the God of your salvation, And have not been mindful of the Rock of your stronghold, Therefore you will plant pleasant plants And set out foreign seedlings; In the day you will make your plant to grow, And in the morning you will make your seed to flourish; But the harvest will be a heap of ruins In the day of grief and desperate sorrow.  Isaiah 17:10-11  NKJV

As I said in the beginning of today’s study, most students of prophecy are well aware of what the Bible reveals as the future of the nation of Israel.  Have you ever wondered why a nation that is only slightly larger than our state of New Jersey can somehow find itself in the news every single day?  There is no question in my mind that we have arrived at that point in time which the Bible speaks so much about, and that the removal of the Church will shortly occur so that God can once again focus His attention on Israel. 

The body of Christ is promised deliverance from the wrath to come, and becoming part of that body is the result of our choice to accept the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ for our sins.  If you haven’t made that choice, what better time than right now to do it, before it’s too late. 

Simply pray a prayer like this; Jesus I know that I am a sinner, and have sinned against you.  I believe you loved me enough to send your Son Jesus to die for my sins, and that He rose from the dead so that I can live.  Forgive me of my sins and come into my life and help me to live for you.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Saturday, April 16, 2016


 “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, “leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”  Matthew 5:23-24  NKJV

As strange as it may sound, the one thing I look forward to the most is something I have a hard time imagining.  That statement probably doesn’t make a lot of sense now does it?  Well, let me try to explain.  What I look forward to the most is life without sin, or a sin nature.  That would be a perfect description of our future life in Heaven, yet because I have never known a life without sin or my sin nature, I have absolutely no idea just what that would be like.  What I do know, however, is what I have observed in this life about how sin can have a detrimental effect on our relationship with God and with others.

If you took the time to study all that Jesus taught on His time on earth, and categorized the subject matter, you would find that the subject of forgiveness was one of, if not the most discussed subject He shared with us.  I’m sure also, that most of us have learned somewhere along the line is that anything given that much attention must be considered rather important.  It is my thought that the subject of forgiveness is one of the most basic, fundamental building blocks of our lives as believers.  That being the case, it then becomes one of the most important ones for us to not only understand, but practice as God has revealed to us.

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  Matthew 6:14-15  NKJV

I believe these two passages from the book of Matthew tell us just how important the spirit of forgiveness is to our Father, and why it should be to us as well.  As believers, we have made the choice to ask God to forgive us of our sins, and He did as He promised He would, thus establishing our relationship with him for all of eternity.  Yet although that relationship as God’s children is unbreakable, these passages also tell us that our relationship with Him can be severely affected by our unwillingness to forgive others as He has forgiven us.

The passage from Matthew 6 says unless we forgive those who’ve sinned against us, God will not forgive our sins. This doesn’t apply to our salvation but to maintaining our fellowship with God after we’re saved. As born again believers, the failure to forgive will not endanger our eternal salvation but it will cause us to be estranged from God during our lives here.  If we look at it this way, can any of us really believe that being angry at someone else and choosing not to forgive is worth the price we will pay?  I would have to say that from what I read, it appears that forgiveness is a command from God, not a suggestion.

Although hard for most of us to understand, especially given our sin nature, in God’s eyes it’s rather simple.  When someone does something that hurts us, we suffer.  But if we choose not to forgive them, we too then sin and according to God, will suffer even more.  If we obey God and choose to forgive, then He will remove the anger from within us, give us peace, and restore our relationship with Him to good standing.  I think what many of us fail to realize is that by choosing to be angry, and not forgiving someone who has wronged us, we end up being the one who suffers the most.

 “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.”  Ephesians 4:26-27  NKJV

Making the choice to be angry, and not forgive, simply invites Satan to come in and work on us to try and justify our wrong attitude causing a downward spiral that becomes harder and harder to escape.  Paul’s advice to us is to deal with our anger immediately by following God’s command to forgive, and not let Satan get a foothold in our life.  James also tells us how and why it is important to do as God instructs us.

“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”  James 4:7-8  NKJV

When we made the decision to accept the sacrifice Jesus made for our sins, we were forgiven.  Failure to forgive others will not endanger that salvation, but it will definitely negatively affect our relationship with God and deprive us of blessings in this life as well as the loss of rewards in the next one.  Our sin nature creates in us the desire to punish someone when they do something which offends us.  We naturally want to be angry, and find it easy to justify our feelings of payback and punishment as being well deserved.  Yet punishment is under God’s purview, not ours.  We are commanded to forgive others just as we have been forgiven.
God made the choice to forgive us before we even asked.  Can we not do the same for others as well?  

"Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven."  Matthew 18:21-22  NKJV

Has the sun gone down on your anger?  Is there someone in your life you have chosen not to forgive?  The truth is, you have chosen to sin by ignoring God’s command and it is affecting your life in ways you may not even realize.  Give your anger over to God, and forgive those who have offended you.  Allow God to deal with the problem and restore your relationship with the Father to its rightful standing and begin again to enjoy the life He has planned for you.

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Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Sign of Spiritual Maturity

"If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.Romans 12:18  NKJV

Do you have a favorite chapter in the Bible, or maybe a book that you find yourself going back to time and again because for some reason it speaks to your heart?  My book is Paul’s letter to the Romans, and my favorite chapter is the twelfth where today’s passage is found.  I can remember when I first read it as a student in the Christian School my parents had enrolled me in when I was just eleven or twelve.  We had to memorize it completely, which probably had a lot to do with remembering it all these years, but it did have a message as well which I have never forgotten and that is that God expects us to try and get along with everyone else in this world.

Of course, it won’t take anyone watching the news or reading the internet, very long to realize this world is nowhere near close to following the admonition of Paul in this passage.  On the contrary, if one were to try and describe the state of mankind right now I expect it would be a far cry from living peaceably with others.  Yet while many might point the finger at others in attempting to explain the reasons for this sorry state of affairs, I want to go so far today as to suggest that although there are plenty of examples we could use to illustrate this point, Paul directs his admonition to us as believers rather than to the world around us.

So what is Paul’s message to believers when discussing how to live peaceably with all men?  I want to take the time today to point out just four things Paul shares with us in this passage, and surprisingly, it won’t be about what we need to do.  Although this chapter is full of positive instruction regarding what we should be doing, and I would suggest you read the entire chapter to see exactly what that is, instead what I want to focus on today are four things Paul tells us not to do.  So bear with me as we look at Paul’s four “do not’s”.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”  Romans 12:14  NKJV

Now this is going to be one of those times when it is important to look at what these words mean in the original Greek.  I can hear some of you now saying “I never curse or use swear words”.  Well while I applaud you for that, it might be important to understand that this is not what the text is saying.  The Greek word for curse is “kataraomai”, which translates to mean “to imprecate evil upon”. What exactly does that mean?  Simply put, imprecating is when you wish or hope something bad happens to someone else.  Think of sayings like; “what goes around comes around”, “same to you”, “you’ll get yours”, or maybe something like “payback is coming”, etc. In essence, your reaction to what someone else does to you is to hope something equally bad or worse happens to them.  Although many would say that it is a “natural” reaction, Paul says don’t do it.

“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.”  Romans 12:17  NKJV

Not only are we not to wish something bad happens to someone we feel has wronged us, we are also told not to try and “payback” someone for what they have done.  How many of us have felt justified in taking it upon ourselves to “do unto others as they have done to us”?  The world says “tit for tat” is an acceptable response to being hurt, and unfortunately many believers feel the same way.  Yet Paul admonishes us to regard, or simply to look at the good in someone else instead of focusing on the wrong we feel they might have done.  Have you ever been angry at someone for something they may have said or done, only to find out later it was unintentional and unintended, or possibly never happened as you might have thought?  In situations like that, not only is your response wrong in God’s eyes, it will have unjustified consequences which only serve to make a situation worse.  Paul tells us, don’t try to repay.

"Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.Romans 12:19  NKJV

Most of us have heard the phrase “judge not”, but here Paul introduces another one which we all would do well to become just as familiar with; “avenge not”.  Who hasn’t wished to be the instrument of God’s judgment on another?  Why is it that we somehow feel better when we try to punish someone else for something they have done to offend us?  Why do we take joy in someone else’s suffering?  Paul tells us here that not only is it wrong to try and pay someone back, we are to give that feeling over to God, and allow Him to repay as He sees fit.  We would do well to notice that God “promises” to repay, so there is never a doubt that if deserved, judgment will fall on those who wrong us.  Further, if it is left up to God, there won’t be any mistake that the judgment is deserved, as God knows the heart of man and where we could make a mistake deciding to pass judgment, God never does.  Paul makes it clear that it is God’s job to punish, not ours.

"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."  Romans 12:21  NKJV

Two wrongs don’t make a right. A negative and a negative won’t make a positive. Evil will never cure evil.  The only proper response to evil is to repay with good.  It is unfortunate that our nature is to focus on other people’s behavior rather than our own.  Paul takes pains to tell us in these verses that our only responsibility is to monitor our own behavior.  The context of the book of Romans was that believers were suffering unimaginable evil at the hands of the government, as well as non-believers.  The entire book of Romans could well be described as a treatise on the Christian belief of personal non-retaliation.  As difficult as this philosophy might be for the believer, I have heard the book of Romans and the concepts it contains described as the “pinnacle of Christian maturity”. Paul admonishes us to not try to fight evil with evil.

Timothy tells us that all who desire to live Godly will suffer from the actions of an unbelieving world.  Paul, surprisingly, tells us we can expect it from other believers as well.  Jesus even taught that we will suffer from members of our own immediate family.  Christians are a walking target, and Satan lives to take his shots at us from unexpected places.  What is the key to living peaceably with all men?  A mature believer looks at his own life and actions rather than those of others. Try practicing the four don’ts Paul shares in these verses and see what a difference it will make in your own life.

"He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.Isaiah 53:7  NKJV

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