Monday, August 11, 2014

What in the World is Going On

I don't consider myself to be an expert in eschatology by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, anyone who says they know the details of how the end times will unfold is most assuredly wrong. God has preserved an element of mystery while also providing enough detail for His people to be prepared. And so I look at what is happening in our world with great interest. As I do, I have so say that it seems as if (at a minimum) the stage is being set for our Savior's return. Let me give you a few reasons why I believe this is true.
  1. All Eyes on Israel - Events in Israel continue to capture the headlines as the world increasingly criticizes the Jewish people in their defense against the terrorist attacks from Hamas. Multiple cease fires have been broken and each time Israel has been on the defensive from the barrage of rockets fired from Gaza behind their human shield of innocent women and children. And yet, the wave of antisemitism growing in our world is matched only by what was witnessed during the time Hitler's evil reign.  It is right to pay attention to Israel because God is not yet finished with the covenant promise He made to His people.  He will bless those who bless His people and He will curse those who curse them.  In the end, it is the church who may be Israel's only friend.  Keep your eyes on Israel.
  2. An Alliance of Evil - The growing alliance between Russian and Iran must not be ignored.  This is a partnership that is unprecedented in history and yet the Bible promises it will be a major factor in the end times.  The growing unrest in Ukraine and the atrocities of shooting down a commercial jet liner seem to hide behind the shadows.  Despite the economic sanctions imposed by the west, Russia has been strengthened by an historic $20 billion oil deal with Iran to by pass the Western sanctions.  Keep your eyes on this alliance.
  3. Hidden Atrocities - Also almost undetected is the bloody civil war in Syria that has left over 170,00 dead and millions of refugees fleeing for safety.  The Islamic extremist group, know as ISIS, is sweeping through much of Iraq killing scores of Christians and other religious minorities.  Their demands are simple, "Convert to Islam or Die!"  Their brutal rampage includes the beheading of children, crucifying Christians and massacres of genocidal proportion.  Keep your eyes on this growing evil.
  4. Transition of Power - In all this chaos, it has been to policy of the United States to keep their hands clean.  Our passive approach to these world events was only slightly (and reluctantly) modified when President Obama recently gave permission to allow the US military to protect the interest of the United States in the southern region of Kurdistan if they had to.  Our airstrikes seemed to have slowed the progression of the ISIS onslaught in the area but it's certainly not enough to remove the threat completely.  The United States is equipping the Kurdish army, known as Peshmerga, to fight this battle on their own.  This is of special interest from a biblical perspective because the ancestors of the Kurds are known in the Bible as the Medes.  The Medes have a key role in destroying Babylon in the end times so keep your eye on Kurdistan.
  5. The Silence of America - One of the most nagging questions when considering the end time is the role of one of the most influential countries in the world, the United States of America.  And yet, the Bible seems to be silent on the subject.  It's as if we don't exist.  And yet we are witnessing a time in history when America is increasingly losing respect and influence in foreign affairs.  Our own economic crisis only compounds this problem.  Perhaps we simply implode in an economic crisis that prevents us from making any meaningful impact in world events.  No one knows, but keep your eyes on America.
Regardless of your agreement or difference of opinion on these matters, I hope we can all conclude, at the very least, that these events should cause us to pray.  Brothers and sisters in Christ are being killed and persecuted and they should consistently occupy our minds and be the focus of our prayers.  In addition, whether the Lord is returning in 3 months or in 3000 years, we should always stand ready for His arrival.  The fields are white with harvest and until his return we are called to spread the good news of the Gospel as  Ambassadors for Christ and Ministers of reconciliation.  So be committed to your calling so that when Christ does return, He will find you faithful.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Endurance of a Nation

I recently finished a book by Joel Rosenberg entitled, The Auschwitz Escape. I purchased the audio version of this novel so that I could listen to during my morning jog. Like most of this authors other titles, this novel is a work of historical fiction. Which simply means that although the characters in the story are fictional, many of the events are historically true. This particular account follows the life of a Jewish boy who was caught in the turmoil of Adolph Hitler’s rise to power during WWII. The details of his experience in the Nazi death camp in Aushwitz was deeply moving. As I finished the book this week, I was wiping tears from my face as I jogged through my neighborhood streets. It was a moving reminder of the plight of the Jewish people during such a tragic time in our history. And yet, it is just one of the stories involving God’s people. They suffered during their slavery to Egypt and the oppression of the Roman Empire. Even as we speak, the nation of Israel wakes up to a barrage of rockets fired from Gaza. The rhetoric of Muslim leaders around the world is a call to completely “eliminate the Zionist regime”. And yet God made a covenant promise that protects the enemies of Israel from ever accomplishing this threat. He will one day restore the nation of Israel under the rule of Jesus as their Messiah and King. Until that day, may we pray for the nation of Israel to see the hope of their salvation in their Messiah today.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Beauty of God's Design

Let’s talk about rain… that’s something near and dear to us here in West Texas. And let’s go back to where the process begins - the ocean. This is the place where water that ultimately falls on our crops must begin its journey. This is where the sun causes the water in the ocean to evaporate… a process by which water stops being water for a while so that it can go up and not down. It rises as a vapor until it forms a cloud. And once in the sky, the clouds actually begin to remove all the salt from the ocean water, because saltwater on our crops would kill them. Once purified, these tiny droplets of water begin to form around microscopic particles of sand. This cloud of water then travels hundreds of miles carrying billions of pounds of water. In fact, one square inch of rain, which falls on one square mile of farmland, would be almost about 2 million gallons, or 1.6 billion lbs of water. So billions of pounds of water ascend from the earth, traveling hundreds of miles in the sky, and then it all falls back to the earth with a gentle tap of a rain drop… giving life to the fields, to the animals, and to us. Now let’s turn from a rain drop to a tear drop. Tears are the lubrication system for the eyes. Inside each tear drop is a thin layer of oil that keeps water in your eye from evaporating. That’s important because tears give clarity to your vision… which is why you blink in order to see more clearly. And have you ever started crying when you cut onions? Do you know why? It’s because onions release a chemical that turns to sulfuric acid when it comes in contact with the eye. But those tears make that sulfuric acid harmless… and even though it stings, your tears are actually keeping you from going blind. In fact, each teardrop is filled with all kinds of antibacterial agents that fight infection in your eye every second of every day. Even tears that are released when you’re sad have a purpose. How many of you have actually felt better after a good cry when you’re sad? There’s a reason for that! The chemicals that accumulate in your body during times of stress are released in incredibly high concentration through your tears. I give you these examples because I want you to see the deep complexity in the apparent simplicity of God’s design, because we are just scratching the surface. All we’re talking about is rain drops and tear drops. But even in them we see the miraculous beauty of God’s design guided by His infinite wisdom. You see, God understands how life is supposed to work because it was His idea to begin with. He wants us to live in the beauty of His design. And when we learn to walk in wisdom, guided by His Word and empowered by His Spirit, we experience more than we could ever ask or imagine. It is a profit that is greater than silver or gold and more precious than jewels. Nothing you desire could ever compare to the richness of who you are in Christ!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Celebrating Freedom

Independence Day, commonly known as the Fourth of July, commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence declaring America’s independence from Britain. It’s one of my favorite holidays because it is often filled with many of my favorite things: cookouts, family, friends and fireworks! It is a great celebration as we enjoy the freedom we have in our country that many in our world will never know. But actually, at Melonie Park Church, we began this celebration of freedom a week early... but in a different way. We celebrated the testimonies of changed lives through baptism. People spoke of the new freedom they found through faith in Jesus Christ. A freedom from the penalty of sin and the hope of a new life in Christ. I love the way Eugene Peterson portrays the picture baptism in The Message. He says,
“That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace = a new life in a new land! That’s what baptism in the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of is raised into a light filled world by our Father so that we can see where we are going in our new grace-sovereign country.”
As we celebrated the freedom we have in our country, always remember that this world is not our home. We live in a new life in a new land where grace reigns through faith in Jesus Christ. May your life tell the story of His redemption every single day!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Telling Your Story

Memorials are an important part of God’s story in our lives and the Bible is filled with examples. God often uses these memorials to create a conversation that He expects to be passed down from one generation to the next. And this was particularly important for the ancient cultures who depended on their oral tradition as a primary means of communication. In fact, much of what they knew about God was based on the stories the children heard from their parents and relatives in their own social community. This is hard for us to appreciate in the digital age because we often don’t need other people to gain information. For example, if you want to know about a subject, all you have to do is “Google it”. As a result, we don’t often share our personal stories of how God is at work in our lives. In fact, I read a recent study that revealed 40% of church going Christian homes either rarely or never discussed spiritual matters as a family. It is the absence of these stories that can make God into a subject I might learn about instead of a person I get to know. That’s why I want to encourage the body of Christ to be committed to telling their story. We need to raise up the next generation of Christian disciples by teaching them how they might know the living God in a real and personal way as we have come to know Him ourselves. Take some time on this Memorial Day to consider how you might continue the tradition of men and women who have been faithful to tell their story.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Hope of Rose

Well, I went to visit my friend Lisa this weekend, just like I encouraged others to do. It’s easy for me to give out advice that I am unwilling to follow and so I took the time to go and visit my sweet friend in the Lord. Lisa was up in her chair and she grabbed my hand and wouldn’t let go. She went on to explain (as she always does) how good God has been to her and what she has learned from listening to sermons and devotionals that she engages with most every day. Lisa spoke these words over the hum of a ventilator machine that was helping her breath. But that machine was the only reminder that Lisa was in poor health because her spirit is alive and well. During our conversation, she brought up the Easter message and told me, “I heard what you said brother Todd. Jesus is our only hope. I believe that.” Well of course she does. Unlike you and I, she isn’t distracted by the success of a career and the allure of riches. She doesn’t have a family or a marriage that is a security for her. Her health is failing and the promise of healing gives her no hope. Instead, she looks beyond this life and understands that the promise of hope is yet to come. Hope is not an emotion… hope is a person. About that time, I look over at her roommate Rose. Rose is paralyzed from the neck down and I have never seen her in any other position than lying motionless on her back. Mentally, she appears to be a bright person but a stroke has robbed her of her ability to speak. Although she can mouth the words, she cannot make the sounds. I try hard to understand what she says and so when I saw her trying to tell me something, I went up close to her face and watched her lips as she said, “I have that hope too.” Wow! What a humbling reminder. “If we are to hope in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” (1Cor 15:19) I can only pray that I can have the hope of Rose in both sickness and in health. A hope not limited to my present reality but in the promise of things that are yet to come. Hope is not an emotion... hope is a person. And that person is Jesus Christ. Thank you for the reminder Rose!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sunday was Palm Sunday. The day the crowds were ready to crown Jesus as king. "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest." This is the day they had been waiting for... the day Israel would be set free from the oppression of Roman rule... the day the promised Messiah would deliver his people and establish His kingdom on earth. The air was filled with anticipation, and as the night grew dark, the excitement refused to sleep. The next day, Jesus walks into the temple and what He observes makes His stomach turn. The same people who were ready to make Him king were now in the temple preparing their hearts for worship. But instead of bringing their own animals, those that were without spot or blemish, they simply bought one from the merchants in the temple courts. Of course, they weren't as good as the animals they had at home, but it sure was more convenient. And in the end, it allowed them to fulfill their religious obligation without a great deal of personal cost. Jesus looked at the compromise that filled the temple and he knew it reflected the hearts of those who wanted to crown him as king. They liked the idea of worshiping God on their terms. They preferred a religion that minimized sacrifice and maximized benefit. They were all for Jesus when He did what they wanted Him to do. But when He began to turn over the tables in the temple, they just stood and stared. They began to realize that this might actually cost them something. It was a subtle but important shift. Those who were ready to crown Jesus as king began to wonder if this was such a good idea. After all, they like the idea of Jesus as one who would conquer their enemies and give them a comfortable life, but they were not as excited about the idea of Him ruling over their heart as well. They preferred the idea of a customized Messiah that came with minimal cost and maximal benefit... and we are not all that different.