Syria, Russia and Iran—Any Significance?

 

The unending conflict in Syria just keeps on giving.  It seems that one nightmarish event is topped by yet another, and this week has provided the specter of civilians (again) being killed with poisonous gas. The Assad government’s brutality is well documented, and one wonders how someone like this manages to stay in power.  Bashar al-Assad took over Syria in July, 2000, and he retains his power these many years later.  But it is not because he possesses great leadership skills or because he can charm the socks off everyone in the region. He retains power because of the support of Russia and Iran.

The Russians supply him with military aid and private Russian contractors are regularly airlifted from Moscow to Damascus to support and aid Assad.  Without the Russians, Assad’s rule would have ended long ago.  Then there is Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps who are deployed by the thousands at military bases all over Syria. Iranian commanders are often involved in the battles that rage throughout this land.  Iran is gaining more influence and a greater presence in the region because of this civil war. 

Israel knows that Bashar al-Assad is not the main problem, but it is Iran and Russia together that form a terrible threat to their existence. Israel keeps a watchful eye on their northern border and periodically targets convoys, military bases and other situations that they cannot allow to exist.  But while Israel had indeed experienced some notable successes, Israel will not be able to do this forever and time is definitely not on their side.  

The Scriptures tells us that the God of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps, which means He will not be caught off guard by Israel’s enemies.  Long ago a prophecy was given to Ezekiel which has become well-known in these days. It states that after Israel has geographically returned to the land given to Abraham, there will be an invasion of Israel that is led by Russia and will include Iran. The massive invading army will be crushed unilaterally by the Lord God.  So great will be this intervention by God that Israel will begin turning in faith to their God (which is the primary purpose for this event).  Ezekiel 39:21-22 informs us that the nations of the world will sit up and take notice, but more importantly, Israel will become a believing nation (something that they are not presently).  The text reads:

“And I shall set my glory among the nations; and all the nations will see My judgment which I have executed, and My hand which I have laid on them. And the house of Israel will know that I am the Lord their God from that day onward.”

We, of course, must not get caught setting dates for the fulfillment of biblical prophecies. We simply don’t know when God will do what He says He will do. But neither can we ignore what is evolving in our world today, assuming that there is no relevance to current events. Jesus said that we are to discern, as best we can, the “signs of the times” (Matt. 16:2).  At just the right moment, God (whose timing is impeccable) will tell these enemies that “it is time for you to invade Israel” (see Ezekiel 38:8 and 39:2), and He will compel them to attack Israel. (Note that Russia, Iran, et.al are not going to determine when these events will take place). It is hard not to believe that what we are observing in Syria is somehow preparatory for those events long foretold by Israel’s prophet.  

Donald Trump and Abraham

 

I just returned from Israel where I went to the future site of the United States embassy in the Arnona neighborhood of Jerusalem.  In a nice, but unspectacular setting, just south of center Jerusalem, the USA will establish its official diplomatic presence in May, 2018. (Though a permanent embassy will be built in the months ahead).  When I went, it was a sunny, quiet day there, with the breeze blowing gently. Very pleasant. But, in contrast to that tranquil setting, the diplomatic storm that rages around this site, and the action taken by Donald Trump, is anything but tranquil.

This decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been met with threats of violence and dire warnings of terrible events that will take place, from rioting to World War III.  We would expect nothing less from groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, the Palestinian Authority and nations like Iran.  But a little less expected (though not much) are voices in the US media which say this action by Donald Trump will set back the “peace process”. This, of course, immediately raises the question of “what peace process is being referenced?”  When one side of the table refuses to even allow for the existence of the nation of Israel, and insists that the Jews must forever be pushed into the sea and removed from the land, then there can be no peace, and there certainly is no ongoing process. The move of the US embassy does not impact the present “peace process”, but could actually force the Palestinian Authority et. al. to reconsider its position. Whether you like everything President Trump does or not, it ought to be acknowledged that this action of his was courageous and long overdue.  And, it was a powerful statement of support for the nation of Israel, our one real ally in the Middle East. (Incidentally, just on the western edge of Jerusalem, I also saw Israel’s memorial to the victims of the 9/11 attack on America.  Israel is the only nation in the world, aside from our own, that has such a memorial to what happened to us on September 11, 2001).

But there is something that is of great significance beyond the political issue of the embassy move.  In essence, President Trump was “blessing” Israel; doing something to support, defend and encourage that nation.  There is a powerful, ongoing principle found in the Bible about this kind of thing.  Long ago, God said to Abraham, in Genesis 12:3: “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.”  This is good for America.  God does not specify how He will “bless” or “curse”, but He doesn’t lie and He does what He says He will do. This guarantee given to Abraham has proven true time and again over the centuries as God has indeed dealt with nations according to their blessing or cursing of Israel.  Once powerful nations who “cursed” the Jews (like Great Britain who dealt deceptively with the people of Abraham during World War II), are shadows of their formers selves.  Trump and Abraham have crossed paths, and we may benefit nationally. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”

Guns, Cars and Liquor

The matter of guns in America once again is front page news as another school shooting took multiple lives.  This is another senseless, tragic and terrible act of violent behavior.  I do not know how the parents feel, because I have not personally experienced the violent death of a child.  The pain must be horrible, and we would wish that such things would never happen again (though we suspect it will).

The response from politicians (and others) follows the traditional knee-jerk response that has been seen in the past: “ban guns”. But getting rid of guns of any and all kinds does not address the problem.  More laws will not eliminate such violent deaths, as people will still get their hands on guns, but also are capable of using bombs, cars, poisons and whatever else their minds can dream up, to get their 15 minutes of fame by means of destroying multiple lives. There are plenty of ideas given to people on how to destroy other humans in the movies, on television and in video games.

What should we do about the problem of some 30 people killed every day where drunk drivers are involved; and we assume that in that statistic there would be multiple deaths in a single incidents.  There are laws on the books, and many of them, which are designed to deal with drunk drivers. Those don’t seem to be working very well, so why not make a new law that makes it impossible to buy a car if you have ever been drunk.  Or, a law which would prohibit a person from getting a driver’s license if they have ever been drunk. Surely background checks would reveal those who have been drunk. Only teetotalers can own and operate a car might be a good law to have.  Think that would work?

In America, there has always been an abundance of guns owned by the citizens of this country. But the problem is not gun ownership, the NRA or that there not being enough “gun free” zones.  The problem is the people themselves who shoot up schools, malls and theaters.  We are rapidly becoming an uncivilized, immoral society and are reaping the results of our abandonment of moral standards.  As a culture, we mock the idea of moral absolutes.  We dismiss a holy God from the public square, including the school.  We foolishly hide behind “individual rights” to the extent that there is little or no accountability for bad behavior.  We make excuses for aberrant behaviors and pride ourselves on how tolerant and broadminded we are.  And then, when we begin to experience the consequences of these pseudo-standards, we decide it is the evil NRA that is to blame, or Fox news, or gun loving rednecks, or those detestable right-wing politicians.

The moral standards which used to have a restricting effect on societal behavior has pretty much evaporated as “enlightened”, “progressive” folks do their best to remove more and more of the Judeo-Christian ethic which helped put a lid on bad human behavior. The traditional family unit (with a mom and dad operating on biblical principles given by the Creator Himself) which is the core to the stability of any civilization is openly disparaged.  And then, there is nothing much said about the incredible level of gun violence glorified in Hollywood movies; the slaughtering of human beings in violent video games and the casual taking of human life night after night on television.

Unless this nation does a U turn and heads back to the moral standards given by God, there is no possibility that we will not see and experience the kind of terrible actions that have become part of American life. Without moral standards there will inevitably be immoral behavior.

 

The Problem of Our Culture

The recent school shooting in Florida brings another heartbreaking moment to our nation, but especially to those whose lives will never be the same because of the loss of loved ones or close friends.  We see such an event as senseless (and it is) and want to “fix” the problem (which is a proper response).

And so, politicians and leaders of all kinds once again make authoritative pronouncements on how the problem can be solved.  These pronouncements sound an awful like the ones made in the past.  But somehow making schools “gun free zones” or piling on more laws and regulations do not seem to be working. And the hot debate over the 2nd  Amendment to the US Constitution will heat up all the more.  How can this problem be solved?

Probably most do not want our country to become a police state where citizens are stripped of many rights in order to control life (with the idea of keeping us safe).  So are more laws and new laws the answer?  It is possible that legislation might be enacted that could help a little.  But whatever legislators might come up with really is just a bandaid on the situation.  The foundational matter is generally not talked about in the halls of congress or state legislatures, because of the propensity to keep God and His truth out of the discussion.

The brilliant rabbi/apostle Paul logically, clearly and forcibly sets forth our present situation, and by application, the solution to it.  In his letter to the Christians at Rome, he gave the basic principle of life; that when people reject/neglect the moral standards that the Creator God has set forth for His creation, then multiple bad things happen.  With this rejection comes the phenomenon of a “depraved mind” (Rom. 1:28).  This is speaking of a person who fundamentally is without conscience and is mentally twisted.  One of the dozen or so results from such a “depraved mind” is murder (Rom. 1:29).  Living life individually, or as a culture, according to God’s truth and standards keeps most all of this kind of behavior away.

So, until our culture sees its growing independence from God, and the aggressive (and often arrogant) departure from His standards as reckless, and turns back to His standards (often referred to as the Judeo-Christian ethic), this problem will never go away.  Next week, or next month, some other person with a “depraved mind” will emerge from the growing pool of those with “depraved minds” and commit a gruesome atrocity.

The heart of the problem must be addressed if our nation is going to put a lid on these terrible events.  God really does know best. This is something that many of our “elites” apparently refuse to admit.

Illegal Immigrants (DACA Included)

The politicians assure us that they are deeply interested in the fate of illegal immigrants (including DACA).  Color me cynical, but it doesn’t seem that many of these politicians are really concerned about them. Their inner concern seems to be on how this matter is going to affect getting re-elected and staying in power. It is fascinating to observe that there are politicians who today hold views that are exactly opposite of what they championed just a few short years ago. Granted, this is a complex issue, but it will be interesting to see how this plays out as politicians in Washington DC and elsewhere try to sort it all out.

God gave some interesting directions to the nation of Israel on the matter of foreigners that would come into that nation.  Perhaps there are some ideas and guidelines that we can learn from Israel’s law code (e.g. Lev. 20; Deut. 10; 15; 21).  Several truths are discovered in looking at these operating principles given to Israel.  First, compassion is always a good thing. Very short term help for itinerate foreigners was to be given (e.g. food for dinner). The point was that Israelites were once aliens in Egypt, and they were to remember what that was like.  Second, there was a time element involved. Time was needed, as it would take time for a foreigner to adjust and learn about life in Israel. Third, there was difference between genuinely needy Israelites and aliens. Israelites were to be taken care of, but that did not apply to aliens. Israel was not responsible for wandering Moabites, Edomites, etc.  There were many differences between Israelites and the foreigner amongst them (eg the rules for debts and interest charged was very different). Just because a foreigner was in the land area of Israel did not give them the rights of an Israelite.  Fourth, any foreigner identifying with Israel had to obey the laws of Israel.  If they didn’t, then they would be punished (sometimes by death) and/or removed from the nation. Fifth, it appears that applying the principles was done on a case by case basis. Maybe some of the guidelines found in Israel’s law code might provide some help in sorting out this complex issue.

Perhaps some version of the following might be of value.

  • No government handouts for non-citizens apart from very short-term aid of an emergency nature.
  • Time. A two year probation (just to give a number) would be imposed during which time any criminal behavior would result in punishment and deportation after punishment was concluded.
  • Time is also needed for foreigners to comprehend the way we live life and do business in America.  Some come from countries where our American standards (many of which come from Israel’s law code) simply are not understood. Their view of family (maybe having multiple wives or women being second class), theft (by which they might have, in the past, provided for their extended family), cleanliness (e.g. public defecation) and a work ethic (which may not exist).
  • During the two year probationary period the individual must be gainfully employed and paying income taxes.
  • Whatever requirements for those going on the legal immigrant route, would also be required of these.
  • During the two year probationary period, these would not be eligible for government handouts.
  • After the two year probationary period, the individual could apply for immediate citizenship (assuming there was nothing by which they would be disqualified).

There was clearly wisdom in the way this matter of aliens was legislated in the Law Code of Israel and maybe some truths could be transferred.

Cultural Slide and Church Slide

It is neither new news, nor fake news, that the church has always had to live in a culture while resisting being infected by that culture. It has not been easy to be near the mud puddle without being splashed with mud to one extent or another. Generally the church, through the ages, has not been gloriously successful in this endeavor. Unfortunately, these days are proving not to be any different.

Calvary Baptist Church in Washington DC has recently announced that they have called a married lesbian couple to be their co-pastors.  One has a Master of Divinity from Duke Divinity School and the other has a Masters in Theology from Emory University. The church is apparently happy with the academic status of their new pastors, but they are especially delighted in the vision these two women have for Calvary Baptist; a vision of being a church where those who find themselves “disregarded and maligned” (particularly in sexual orientation) will be warmly accepted. The church is to be a place where “justice and compassion” reign, according to the press release.

So what are we to make of such matters?  First, our response is neither shock nor disbelief.  We know that once the standard is no longer what God has revealed in His Word, then the standard will be set by the culture. And, it should be noted, that the standards of culture have never been nor ever will be better or more beneficial than the ones God has given to mankind.  Second, Jesus, the Lord of the Church, has not over the years become disinterested in how church’s live and behave. It is true that He is so very loving and patient, but He is never tolerant of the willful disregard of “you are to be holy because I am holy”.  (He made this clear to the Church in the incident with Ananias and Sapphira, in Acts 5).  While there might be rejoicing in DC over this great “progress”, there is no such mood in heaven where day and night the angels declare the holiness of God (Rev. 4). Third, because He is the one and only Lord of the church, all of us are accountable to Him. As Hebrews 10:31 warns even believers: “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the Living God”. Our task as bondservants of Christ is to faithfully, tenaciously hold on to the Word of God, and proclaim it, even if that means we are labeled “intolerant”, “unloving”, “insensitive” and other pejorative terms. We are to be like Jesus who was “full of grace and truth”. He never compromised one in favor of the other. Let us walk in His steps as we navigate near the mud puddle.

MTD AND THE CHURCH IN 2018

The church in North America is badly infected with MTD and it likely going to get worse in 2018.  This spiritual disease is now so rampant and pervasive, that the spiritual health of the church will undoubtedly continue to decline noticeably.

But, you say, what is MTD? It sounds really bad.  Some years ago this label was employed to describe (with accuracy, I believe) a growing theological idea spreading in the church.  MTD stands for Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.  Quite a mouthful.  But essentially it alters one’s view of God, salvation and purpose of life. It says that there is a good, nice God who created and watches over the world; and He wants us to be good and nice to one another, and He says so in the Bible, and also in most other religions.  And the main goal He has for life is that we are happy and feel good about ourselves.  However, on a daily basis, it is not really necessary to involve Him in our lives. But He is there if and when we run into problem and difficulties, and He is happy (and apparently even obligated) to bail us out.  And, because He is nice, we are told that good people will all end up going to heaven. And if you listen closely, these ideas are being heralded to tens of thousands each week in churches and over the air waves.

What has brought MTD about is that over the past 60 years there has been the lack of solid, biblical teaching of the Word of God. Good theological instruction is not what folks want and they are quite satisfied with the sweet, frothy motivational stuff that passes regularly for biblical preaching.  But this should not come as a complete shock to us.  The writers of the New Testament foretold this happening as this age moved along.

“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 with their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” (The Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 4:3-4)

The solution to MTD, of course, is a return to the careful exposition of God’s Word.  To replace the Word with MTD is to replace the nourishing wheat with the valueless chaff.  But, frankly, it does not seem hopeful that 2018 will witness the return to the expository preaching of the Scriptures in American churches.  Os Guiness said, in his book “Dining with the Devil”, that today’s churches are fundamentally interested in “nickles and noses”; that is, in money and attendance.  MTD brings in lots of people, as the Apostle predicted.  And, in spite of the declarations by most MTDers that they are seeking to reach people and see them changed, the truth is that only the Word proclaimed can transform people (Rom 12:2).

CHRISTMAS IS ABOUT LOVE

Often in the high stress days that surround Christmas, we tend to forget the most fundamental focus of this event.  It is that God loved the world so very much that He sent His Son into this world to deliver people from sin, shame and meaningless lives to a life of peace, purpose and joy.

God took on human flesh, in the womb of a virgin, so that He could be born into the world of mankind.  He did this expressly to restore what had been lost back in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve chose disobedience and so broke their fellowship with Him.  At that moment in Eden, God could have just washed His hands of the whole thing, and started over again with two more responsible and obedient people.  But instead, we witness His amazing love for us in that He chose to restore and reconcile what was lost back then.

And the wonderful truth is that He still, in this Christmas season of 2017, loves people so very much.  Many people see themselves as pretty unlovable because of the things they have done or the failures in their lives; failed personal relationships, addictions, really unpleasant attitudes and some very bad deeds done in the past.

We all, to one degree or another, have experienced some or all of the above items.  But to restore us back into a life-giving relationship with our wonderful Creator God is why the baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem ages ago. That innocent little One would, some 35 years later, die a terrible death on a Roman cross to pay for the sins of all people in all ages.  Now that is love.

Since Jesus paid it all that day on the cross, all that remains is that those who need a savior (which happens to include us all) need accept God’s gracious offer of salvation and to place their trust in Him, and when they do that, they will be set free from failure (sin) and given eternal life.  Probably the greatest Christmas verse ever is John 3:16.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

MERRY CHRISTMAS or HAPPY HOLIDAYS

Well it is that time of year again: Deck the halls with advertising, ‘tis the season for merchandising!  “Black Friday” is now history but fear not, the fantastic, unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime, time sensitive, three days only sales are just beginning.  Now, I have no real quarrel with buying stuff at this time of year, nor with people getting presents for others.  I do not rage inside when someone greets me with “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas”.  I do not feel faint when a sign reads “Holiday Trees” instead of “Christmas Trees.”  In our diverse, and fairly materialistic culture, all this is to be expected.

But we who by faith know the baby of Bethlehem, the Lord Jesus Christ, need to consider how we might best remind those in our sphere of influence of the eternal significance of this event.  It was that moment when in the “fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman…” to deal with the core issue that mankind faces: the need to be restored back to a relationship with God.  The Bible tells us very little about that event in Bethlehem (many of the “Christmas traditions” have nothing to do with what is found in the Bible). But it does tell us a great deal about why that event is a critical one: it is that the destiny of each and every individual is at stake.  Jesus was born, as God’s great gift to mankind, in order to die on the Cross so that the sin problem would be taken care of once and for all.  Eternal life is granted to every person who places their faith in Jesus, the one and only Savior.  Now that really is a big deal.

So, maybe we could be a little more proactive this Christmas season (even though it is unlikely Jesus was born on December 25th), reminding folks that the Savior entered the world.  If we decorate our house, let’s make sure Jesus is somewhere in those decorations. As we come in contact with others in our neighborhood, our workplace or school, or just with random encounters, let’s be looking for openings to share the significance of this season.  At this time of year, many folks get frustrated, angry and/or depressed, so let’s reflect the joy, grace and peace that a real follower of Christ possesses…one who knows the real importance of the Christmas season.

SEX in DC, LA and ETC

During these past weeks, it is hard not to notice the flurry of intense activity in the news, on the internet and other places dealing with the matter of sexual misconduct among the rich and powerful. Daily, it seems, more and more revelations come out about the sexual misdeeds of many powerful individuals.  Men and women, apparently against their wills, were subjected to some pretty debasing behaviors from others with money, power and influence. People were abused, violated and humiliated by those who were predators, whose only purpose was to satisfy their raging lusts. And then, there are those who seek many sexual experiences trying to bring some sort of excitement and satisfaction to their lives. In various places and ways, there are those who advertise their sexual prowess. I saw recently where one woman claims to have had over 1,000 men with whom she had sex; apparently, we are to be impressed with this. But, while our response might be that of interest, disgust or something else, the real issue is not being talked about.

The real issue has to do with sex, as designed by the good Creator God. Sex is a good thing given to mankind by God Himself.  It was to be an uplifting and enjoyable part of human experience.  God designed it, approved it and encouraged it…among those who are married.  Only in the marriage relationship does sex have its good and proper place.  Sex was designed to be the capstone of a love relationship.  Undergirding it was to be the friendship and commitment of a man and woman, and further it was to be supported by two people doing what is best for the other person. This is the opposite of the “playboy” philosophy where sex is the foundation for the relationship and where “my needs” reign supreme over everything else. But the “playboy” approach is 180 degrees from its designed purpose, and constitutes the basic reason why “affairs” just don’t last. Affairs are self-centered to the core.

Sex was designed to be enjoyable.  If sexual activity was not pleasurable, it is doubtful we humans would be particularly interested.  But it is.  What is terribly sad is that so many engage in sexual relations apart from God’s grand design for it, with the result that (while they certainly have some temporary times of excitement) they never really experience the fullness of what God created for them.  And they eventually discover that sex outside of a healthy marriage relationship is subject to the law of diminishing results. More and more sexual partners does not bring greater pleasure. One more sexual conquest will not do it. And this lack of fulfillment is what often leads many to more perverted sexual activities.  These folks long for more but will never experience that apart from God’s design.  Scriptural portions like Genesis 1:27-28, the Song of Solomon and Proverbs 5:15-23 elevate our human sexuality to the place that God Himself gave it. Kinsey, Hefner, Freud, Hollywood and the late night talk show hosts have turned from God’s revelation on this matter, and once again fall into the condition of “professing themselves to be wise they became fools.”