Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Founding of Israel and Bible Prophecy

Do you think the formation of the modern state of Israel in 1948 was a fulfillment of prophecy?

Yes and no.

I really don’t mean to be evasive or waffling; it’s just that I’m not sure the question is capable of being answered without a number of important qualifications.

Let me explain.

On the one hand, I don’t believe the formation of the modern state of Israel was a fulfillment of prophecy in the sense that there is a particular passage or group of passages that specifically point to the events of 1948.

Some prophecy teachers point to Jeremiah 16:14-15 as a passage that prophesies the formation of the state of Israel.
The days are coming, declares the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers (Jer 16:14-15)
And there are a number of other passages in Jeremiah and Ezekiel in which God promises a re-gathering of Israel. However, we have to remember the historical context. Jeremiah and Ezekiel were both prophesying on the eve of the Babylonian invasion which resulted in the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jews. This exile was to last for seventy years, as Jeremiah indicated, and then God would bring them back to the land.
For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place (Jer. 29:10).
All this happened just as God said it would. When Babylon was overthrown, Cyrus, the king of Persia, issued a decree allowing the Jews to return to their land and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. And this is what we read about in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

And so the passages which are so often applied by prophecy teachers to the events of 1948 really were fulfilled many centuries earlier.

Now, having said this, I must quickly add that I do not believe what happened in 1948 is without significance. The Lord has promised a glorious future for the Jewish people, a future that includes them recognizing Jesus as the promised Messiah. Listen to what Paul says in Romans 11:
I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with themwhen I take away their sins” (Rom. 11:25-26)
Could the re-establishment of Israel as a nation in 1948 be one of the precursors to this great ingathering of Jews into the fold of Christ? It may very well be. But it’s difficult to say. For all we know there may come another dispersion and another re-gathering a thousand years from now. I hope not. I hope that we are on the cusp of seeing at least the beginning of what Paul envisioned in Romans 11. But there is no way of knowing for sure.

Let me summarize: there are no prophetic passages so far as I can tell that speak specifically about the formation of the modern state of Israel. But there are a number of passages (chiefly, Romans 11) that speak in general terms about the Jews as a people turning in true faith to their Messiah before he comes again. The restoration of the Jews to the land in 1948 may be one of the means God will use to accomplish it. Their re-gathering to the land of Israel is certainly consistent with what is promised to them with regard to their spiritual restoration, though it is not necessarily tied to it.

In any event, one of the first and most fervent prayers of Christian people ought to be for the conversion of the Jews.

About as simple as it gets

Liberals like to talk about how complicated our economic woes are and often charge conservatives with offering simplistic solutions that are just unworkable. The fact of the matter is that most of economics has to do with understanding human nature and the motives for behavior. John Stossel makes it about as simple as it gets when it comes to taxes.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Anguish of the Jews

I have just finished reading a book that was very painful to read, The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-Three Centuries of Antisemitism, by Edward H. Flannery.

The book was painful to read, not only because it is a tale of terrible suffering endured on an unprecedented scale for so long a time, but also (and especially) because so much of that suffering was inflicted by the hands of Christians. Flannery, although a Roman Catholic priest whose own church figures prominently in the story, doesn’t shy away from exposing the instances in which the church was either complicit in the persecution of the Jews or the actual perpetrators of said persecution.

While Flannery cites many examples of Christian leaders’ affection for, and defense of, the Jews, the sad fact of the matter is that the church as a whole has a terrible track record. And this in spite of what Paul says so clearly in his letter to the Romans. We are not to be arrogant toward the Jews, much less persecute them. Instead, we are to humbly acknowledge our indebtedness to them (Rom. 11:13-24). As Jesus said, “Salvation is from the Jews” (Jn. 4:22). Paul’s concern for them caused him great sorrow and unceasing anguish; so much so that he said he could wish himself accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of his brothers according to the flesh (Rom. 9:2-3). Strong language indeed! And shall we Gentile Christians be indifferent, or worse, hostile toward them?

How can Gentile Christians not feel a great affinity for the Jews? Isn’t our Lord Jesus Christ himself a Jew? Didn’t it please God to give us the books of the Bible (save two) through the hands of the Jews?

Of all people, Christians should love and respect the descendants of Abraham. Paul said that it should be our aim to live in such a way as to make Israel jealous so that they would come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ (Rom. 11:12). Not likely to happen, though, when his representatives commit their Talmud to the flames, their bodies to the ghetto, and their souls to humiliation.

May God hasten the day when ungodliness will be banished from Jacob and "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26-27). Then, truly, blessings will abound for Jew and Gentile alike (Rom. 11:11-15).

End of life issues

What things should we consider when making decisions about end of life issues for ourselves and for our loved ones?

This is an important question, and one that affects us all very deeply, seeing as how we are all going to die. More than this, we are all likely going to be called upon at some point in our lives to help make such decisions for others whom we love, whether an aging parent or a terminally ill spouse.

It’s an issue which is greatly complicated by the advance of medical science. A hundred years ago the question was much simpler because there were not the artificial means that are available today to keep people alive. Now we have respirators and IV’s and feeding tubes and pacemakers and a plethora of other mechanisms that can cause organs to continue to function when in previous generations they would have ceased to do so on their own. This has had the effect of blurring the line between life and death, so that there is some question among medical and ethical experts as to how to even define death.

A discussion of these issues could fill many volumes. To deal with them adequately we’d have to talk about the patient’s age, his overall health, whether or not he has dependents, the likelihood (or not) of effective treatment, whether the negative side-effects of the treatment are worth the potential benefits to be received, etc. There are a great many things to discuss and a great many specific scenarios we could imagine, but we can do more today than to give some general guidelines.

First of all we should say that in general there should be a presumption in favor of life. In other words, under normal circumstances, whenever it is possible to preserve life, life should be preserved. This should be our instinctive response. I say “under normal circumstances” because sometimes there are other considerations that have to be taken into account.

The second thing to keep in mind is that, ever since the fall, death has been inevitable. We know by painful experience that “there is a time to be born, and a time to die” (Ecc. 3:2). Life is a gift from God, and death is his judgment upon sin, a judgment that will be visited on everyone. As we read in Hebrews, “it is appointed for man to die” (Heb. 9:27). Medical means are limited by this unalterable fact.

Thirdly, when considering end of life issues a distinction has to be made between killing and letting die. Under certain circumstances it’s permissible to omit the use of extraordinary means to save life; but it is never permissible to administer treatment that is specifically designed to hasten death.

Suppose, for example, that a terminally ill cancer patient goes into cardiac arrest (his heart stops beating). It is permissible to forego treatment that would resume normal heart function. Why is this permissible? Because if the patient is terminal, one is not so much sustaining life as he is prolonging the process of dying, and thereby prolonging his suffering.

The decision to forego this treatment, however, should have been made by the patient beforehand. If this has not been done, it ought to be presumed that the patient wishes life-saving treatment, unless someone entrusted with durable power of attorney decides otherwise.

But what if the patient is not terminal? That is, what if he is not near death? Say a cancer patient who prefers to let nature take its course rather than suffer the negative side-affects of chemo. Is it morally permissible to refuse treatment? Or instead of cancer, perhaps it’s a heart condition, that requires bypass surgery. Is it permissible for a patient to refuse treatment?

It depends on a number of factors. If the patient is relatively young, and there is a good chance of the treatment being successful, and he has dependents, then no, it is not morally permissible to refuse treatment. He should seek to prolong his life in order to continue his service to God and his family in this world.

If, however, the patient is elderly, and has no dependents, and deems the side-effects of treatment to be worse than the symptoms of the disease, then yes it is permissible for such a patient to refuse treatment. It is permissible to refuse treatment that simply prolongs suffering when there is no reasonable hope of recovery.

This is quite a different thing than taking active measures to end life or giving treatment designed to hasten death. This is not permitted. Both euthanasia and assisted suicide are clearly contrary to God’s law. If someone is suffering from an incurable disease, rather than taking active measures to hasten death, we should make every effort to provide palliative care. Wonders can be done today with pain management.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Go figure

"Two Polish neo-Nazis who were childhood sweethearts and later became skinheads have discovered what for them is a shocking family secret: They're actually Jewish..." (more)

Wouldn't it be funny if a member of the KKK found out he was black!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pastor Steve at work on the streets of NYC

It was a real blessing this past summer to worship with the saints at Messiah's Covenant Community Church pastored by Rev. Steve Schlissel, who faithfully ministers in the pulpit and on the street.

The view from above

A while back I posted a few pictures from our trip to New York. A couple of shots were from the ground up. Here's one from the top down (from the observation deck of the Empire State Building). Click to enlarge.

It was a pretty amazing view. Nothing like this in Kansas! Nothing but city as far as the eye could see. If I remember correctly, this is looking SE.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

How do they do that?

Here are some pretty amazing feats by some guys who have far more strength, agility, and courage than I do. Enjoy!

The Price of Gold

The price of gold is related to the strength of the dollar. When the government inflates the money supply, the value of every dollar decreases compared to the relatively stable supply of gold. The decreasing value of the dollar means less purchasing power. In other words, it takes more money to buy things than it used to (i.e., prices rise).

With this in mind, did you hear that the price of gold hit record highs this week? Take a look at the price of gold over the last 20 years.

The money supply began to rise as a result of increased government spending (i.e., increased debt) in the wake of 9/11, as we began to fight two wars simultaneously (Afghanistan, Fall 2001; Iraq, Spring 2003). We spent money we didn't have.

The wars, of course, were not wholly responsible for our increasing debt. We have been spending money hand over fist on a vast array of other things as well, such as TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program, Oct. 2008:  $700 billion), ARRA (American Recovery and Relief Act, or the so-called "Stimulus Package", Feb. 2009:  $787 billion), and ten-thousand other things the government is involved in that it has no Constitutional authority to do. The result is that we are in debt to the tune of 13 1/2 trillion dollars. If you haven't seen it yet, be sure to check out the U.S. National Debt Clock. Spend some time looking it over. It's very sobering.

The current price of gold dwarfs the previous high of 1980, at the end of the Carter administration (also a time, like today, when Democrats controlled the White House and both Houses of Congress).

Friday, September 17, 2010

On Paul and James

How do we reconcile Paul and James? In Romans 3:28 Paul says, “We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law,” and James says in James 1:24, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

No reconciliation between Paul and James is necessary. They are good friends and they preach the same gospel.

It is not the case—as some people have supposed—that Paul teaches a doctrine of justification by faith and James teaches a doctrine of justification by works. In these two passages they were addressing two very different concerns.

Paul was making the case in Romans that Gentiles don’t have to become Jews in order to be justified. When he says, “one is justified by faith apart from works of the law,” he means, apart from circumcision, apart from the kosher laws, apart the ritual cleansing laws, apart from keeping the Jewish holy days, and so on.

In other words, a Gentile may come into a right standing with God through Jesus Christ by faith, without adopting the distinctive features of Judaism. Elsewhere he makes the point that the same is true even of Jews. They too are justified by faith, and can be so justified even apart from keeping kosher and so on. He makes this point in Galatians 2:15-16.
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law [read: circumcision, keeping kosher, etc.] but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also [we Jews who are circumcised and keep kosher, etc.] have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law [again: not by circumcision, keeping kosher, etc.], because by works of the law no one will be justified.
It’s very important to understand what he means when he speaks of the “works of the law.” He means these distinctive elements of the Jewish religion. He does not mean that a person is justified apart from obedience to God. This is made abundantly clear when he says in First Corinthians, “Neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God” (7:19).

Circumcision was one of the works of the law—in fact the chief work of the law in the Jewish mind. But Paul points out that the ritual or ceremonial elements of the Jewish law are not of the essence of our relationship to God (“neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision”); whereas faith, which manifests itself in obedience, is.

And this point—that faith reveals itself in obedience—is the very thing that James is talking about. He wishes to make it very clear that faith is not merely an assent to a proposition. Do you assent to the proposition that there is one God? Good, you should. Even the demons assent to this (Jas. 2:19). But are they justified? No, because faith is more than mere agreement that a proposition is true. It’s an attitude of the heart toward God, or an orientation of the heart, that serves as the controlling motive of one’s life so that when God speaks, we obey.

Obedience is the essence of faith. Where you find a person who renders consistent obedience to God—and I don’t mean he never stumbles or falters, but that his life can be characterized as obedient—there you find a man of faith. Where you find a life of consistent disregard for God, and disobedience to his commandments, there you find an unbeliever. And in this, Paul and James both agree.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Of Mosques and Men

Here's another good video about Islam by by Acts 17 Apologetics.

A better way to protest the Quran

Here's a more effective way to deal with the Quran and its teachings...and to have a little fun while doing it!

On burning Bibles

Apparently burning the Quran (gasp!) by an American pastor is insenstive to those who hold it to be the word of God, but burning Bibles by the American military is OK.

Government red tape and health care

Sonja Schmidt over at PJTV gives us a scary glimpse of the bureaucratic nightmare that will be government-run health care.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

On Burning the Quran

What do you think about the pastor in Florida who plans to burn copies of the Quran on 9/11?

What do I think about him? I think he’s a dead man. They’re going to come after him and their going to kill him. This, however, in itself is no reason for the pastor not to do it.

There is nothing inherently wrong in burning a book, even a religious one. While the apostle Paul was in Ephesus, many pagans were converted to the truth and as a demonstration of their conversion, they burned their pagan books.
Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver (Acts 19:18-19).
There is no evidence that they were required by Paul to do this; it seems rather that they did it of their own accord in order to demonstrate the firmness with which they rejected their pagan past. Clearly, the manner in which Luke records it certainly indicates his approval. He mentions the incident as an evidence of the triumph of the gospel.

So there is nothing wrong with book-burning per se. I certainly don’t agree with those who say that burning the Quran is an act of hatred which is inconsistent with a Christian spirit. Book-burning can be a means of making a very powerful statement; and at certain times and in certain contexts it can serve a useful purpose.

However, I think in the present situation, the act is undoubtedly going to cause far more harm than good. If the only negative consequence—the only danger—was the pastor putting his own life at risk, and he thought it was a risk worth taking in order to make his point, then so be it. But it’s not just his own safety he’s putting at risk. He doesn’t understand the Muslim mindset if he thinks so. Muslims around the world will make sweeping generalizations and will attribute his actions to all Christians and to all Americans.

The vast majority of American Christians are going to be safe. Realistically, we’re not threatened by this. They can’t reach us. But what about the Christians who live in Muslim countries? The simple fact of the matter is this, if the pastor follows through with this and burns the Quran, it will enflame Muslim fury against our brothers and sisters living in Muslim countries. They cannot take their vengeance out on us who live far away, but they can and they will take it out on those who live nearby.

Just because the pastor has a Constitutional right to burn the Quran or any other book doesn’t mean he has a moral right to do so. And just because as an abstraction (that is, apart from any consideration of context) there is nothing immoral about burning a book, it doesn’t mean that in this context it isn’t immoral. In this context it is immoral. In this context it is wrong. Not because burning a Quran is inherently sinful, but because it’s an unnecessary provocation that will inevitably lead to an increase of persecution against Christians in Muslim countries.

I don’t think the pastor has much of shepherd’s heart if he leads Christ’s sheep to the slaughter for…what? What real and lasting good is going to come from this?

When your brother has something against you

What does Jesus mean when he says in Matthew 5:23-24, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift”?

He’s referring to bringing a sacrifice or an offering to the temple to present as a gift to God as an act of worship.

And he says that if while you are doing this you remember that someone has something against you, you must first go and make it right, or God will not find the act of worship acceptable.

Now, I suppose the question largely has to do with what Jesus means when he speaks of someone “having something against you”.

We should be very clear about this. He doesn’t mean that your worship is unacceptable to God just because your neighbor is upset with you, regardless of why he is upset. He means that your neighbor has a legitimate grievance against you because you have sinned against him. You have broken God’s law concerning him. Perhaps you have done this by defrauding him; or you have physically harmed him; or you have slandered him; but in one way or another you have sinned against your neighbor. And if you have not set things right with him and made proper amends by issuing apologies, making restitution, or in whatever way trying to undo the damage you have done to him, then God will not find your worship acceptable.

Now, we must emphasize two things here. First, Jesus has in mind actual sins—violations of God’s law—and not other kinds of offenses. Sometime people feel offended, or they become upset with you and you are not the one at fault. For example, suppose an employer fires an employee because the employee is frequently late to work, doesn’t do the work he’s assigned, and what work he does do isn’t done with the kind of quality that is expected. The employee is fired and he’s offended at his boss. He has no right to be offended. He holds a grudge, but he has no right to hold a grudge because he’s the one in the wrong. The employer is simply acting within his rights and for the good of his business.

Now suppose this employer goes to church and there has it come to mind that this (former) employee is upset with him—angry and offended at him—for firing him. Does this mean that God will not accept his worship until he goes and offers this guy a job? No, because he has not sinned against his employee by firing him for not doing the work he was hired to do.

Or suppose a mother disciplines a child in the car on the way to church and the child is upset with his mother. Will God refuse to accept her worship until the child is no longer angry with her? No, she has not sinned against him for disciplining his misbehavior.

When Jesus speaks of your neighbor having something against you, he means you have sinned against your neighbor.

The second thing that must be emphasized is the fact that once sincere apologies have been issued and proper amends have been made, your duty has been discharged regardless of whether or not your neighbor fully accepts it and is willing to live peaceably with you. Some people are quite uncharitable and unforgiving; and even though you have done everything necessary to make up for the damage done, they will not be pacified. But if you have made a sincere effort and have done everything God requires of you to make things right with your neighbor and it’s not received, you are not bound by their uncharitableness.

Now, I should perhaps add, that for some sins no amends are possible. If you have stolen money, you can restore it. But how can you make amends for murder? You can’t bring a dead person back to life. How can you make amends for adultery? You can’t undo the deed, or the effects of the deed. How careful we should be not to sin against our neighbor in word or deed! And when we do, how quickly and how fully we should seek to make amends!

This is what Jesus means.