Category Archives: Religious Issues

Have You Considered the Relationship Between Israel, the Church, and the Middle East?

Published just in time to celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary, Darrel L. Bock and Mitch Glaser have collaborated as editors on a book explaining the current conflict in the Middle East from a biblical viewpoint. Written by theologians on both sides of the Atlantic in meticulously researched articles, the book walks us through the conflict step by step, explaining not only the historical background but the present situation and future prophetic promises concerning the role of Israel in the world: “God always intended to use the Jewish people as his bridge of redemption to a sinful and broken world” (Dr. Darrell Bock, 262).

As an evangelical Christian, I have always believed the Old Testament teaching that God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people as an eternal inheritance. What I didn’t realize is that I am part of the 82% of white evangelicals who hold this position, but according to a Pew Research Center poll, less than half that many Jewish or Catholic Americans agree (187). I was a little amazed, but then it occurred to me that if you don’t believe the Bible, then of course you wouldn’t have any particular basis for believing the Jewish people have any right to an independent nation of their own. However, as recently as 2017, the FBI reported that Jewish people are subjected to more hate crimes than any other religious group in America, and the statistics aren’t much different in Europe (197). Even for those who don’t believe the Jewish people have a “right” to the land,  doesn’t it seem good that every group of moral, law-abiding people deserves to have a haven of refuge where they can “secure domestic tranquility,” just as we have in America?

I loved this quote from an AIPAC document, pointing out the shared values between America and Israel: “Both nations were founded by refugees seeking political and religious freedom. Both were forced to fight for independence against foreign powers. Both have absorbed waves of immigrants seeking political freedom and economic well-being. And, both have evolved into democracies that respect the rule of law, the will of voters and the rights of minorities.” Perhaps these common values are shared by many nations around the world, but I deeply appreciate being able to live in a land that enjoys democratic rule “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” and I am thankful for other countries that provide similar freedoms. As far as I know, Israel is probably the truest democracy in the Middle East. Would you agree?

Finally, the book is written from the perspective of God’s love for all, and I’d like to end with Mark Bailey’s conclusion: “If one is not careful, one will look through the colored lens of politics and end up despising either the Arabs or the Jews, or both. A proper gaze through a biblical lens will engender a genuine love for Palestinians, Arabs, Israelis, and Jews alike as people created in the image of God, the object of his love, and all viable candidates to receive the love of Christ through our proclamation of the Gospel message” (201).

By the way, if you’ve never read the Bible, and wonder why anybody thinks Israel “deserves” their own state, here are a few passages about God’s giving the land of Canaan (present day Israel) to Abraham (the “Father” of modern Jewish people).

Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).

And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee” (Genesis 13:14-17).

And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8).

Of course, Muslims and Jews both descended from Abraham, and this is part of the problem. I’m not sure if the Koran has anything to say about which land belongs to whom, but in the Bible, a distinction is made between Abraham’s two sons, Ishmael (via Hagar, progenitor of the Muslims) and Isaac (via Abraham’s wife, Sarah, progenitor of the Jews):

 And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her. Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee! And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year” (Genesis 17:15-21).

 

 

Rise Up, My Love (293): Paradise Lost and Found

Song of Solomon 8:13 “Thou that dwellest in the gardens…” How do we live in a spiritual paradise in a world of paradise lost? The secret is in learning to dwell in the sanctuary God has created within our hearts! He makes us his “garden enclosed” (Song 4:12). As we surrender to his care and yield to his chastening, he plows and plants, waters and weeds, prunes…and prizes his garden. The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, and so it is that deep within the individual believer the gardens of the king are developed.   He creates his paradise where it cannot be scorched by the sun or devastated by disaster. On the day I first wrote this, Hurricane Frances, a tropical storm as large as the state of Texas, was pounding parts Florida with one inch of rain per hour, and Hurricane “Ivan the Terrible” was coming on its heels as a second incredible category four monster. Many of Florida’s paradisal gardens could have been destroyed in a day…but not God’s gardens. His paradisal gardens, blooming in our spirits, are warmed by son-shine and watered by the wellspring of eternal life.  The Holy Spirit, the king’s master gardener, readies our hearts for communion with him, so that the king may say, “I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse,” and we may say, “My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies.” “Thou that dwellest in the gardens…” Oh, beloved, what an amazing privilege to be known to our Lord as the one who dwells in the gardens. What a challenge!  If you feel like you are in the desert, know that this is not God’s intention. He desires that we be dwelling in the gardens that he has created for us. “Draw nigh to God and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 4:8). “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). God is near to us right now. Are you his? Are you dwelling in his gardens? If you are, then why not stop and thank him for his amazing grace and love!  On the other hand, if you have never given him your heart, please surrender to him this very minute and let him create a paradise found within you! If you became a Christian earlier but have since quenched the Spirit so the living water cannot flow and your garden seems withered away to nothing, or if you’ve barred the door of your heart so the master gardener cannot work, and your garden has turned into a jungle of tangled weeds, then come back! Stop running. Surrender to God and let him begin his work anew. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, NIV).

The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers: Learning to Interpret Scripture from the Prophets and Apostles

The title is a mouth full, but the book is well worth chewing. If you ever wonder how to interpret the Bible, this might be a good study for you. Is the Bible to be taken literally? Did Moses really exist as a person? Is the Bible just a set of untrue stories written to teach moral principles, or did all these things really happen?

Hermeneutics is the study of the methods and principles used to interpret something (in this case, the Bible, although the same techniques could be employed in a study of the U.S. Constitution for those of us who are interested in constitutional law). In short, how do you read the Bible so you can understand what the authors were trying to teach…and who were the authors, anyway? I believe the best hermeneutics require understanding the “author’s intent.” In the case of the Bible, the author is God (who inspired human authors), and our understanding of authorial intention and logic should be derived from studying the normal use of language, facts of history, context, grammar, and ultimately the individual words, guided by the Holy Spirit, who also superintended the original writings.

The book defends the evangelical position, positing that the prophetic hermeneutic of the Old Testament flows seamlessly into the apostolic hermeneutic of the New Testament, and that the intention of the writings are to provide a redemptive history for all people, so that all of us will be redeemed and love God, worshiping Him because of his mercy and good works. A truly biblical hermeneutic will spur us to grow in our faith and trust, respond to life with appropriate moral choices, and develop a worldview based on God’s redemptive works throughout the universe.

There is a wealth of information concerning particular issues in biblical interpretation, but the author also points out that ultimately his book is meant to give evangelicals confidence in embracing a literal, historical interpretation of Scripture. The biblical authors read and responded to Scripture the way they demand us to read it: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). The biblical authors were consistent, and there was no hermeneutic shifting in the Scripture.

I love Abner Chou’s conclusion: “The Bible comes with ‘hermeneutic included.’ We may not always get everything right but that does not mean a standard does not exist. Rather, the biblical writers have set that standard. For a Christian, our hermeneutic then must be one of surrender and obedience, one that bows before how the Author has demanded his children read and seek what he has confluently intended through the human author.” Amen!

Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

What Makes America Exceptional: Ninety-Second Video by a Harvard Professor

Clay Christensen on Religious Freedom (His personal views, not HBS)

I hope you’ll take a minute to listen to what Dr. Christensen has to say, because I think he’s absolutely right. But, if you’re unsure or have never heard of this Harvard economist, let me introduce him, because I think he’s earned the right to one minute of our attention! His pedigree includes being a Rhodes Scholar, studying econometrics at Oxford University (M.Phil.), an MBA and later a DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) from Harvard. Christiansen set a record for becoming a “full professor” at Harvard’s Business School in only six years. In 2011 Forbes called him “one of the most influential business theorists of the last 5o years” in their cover story. In both 2011 and 2013 he was ranked #1 in the Thinkers 50, considered “the most prestigious ranking of management thinkers” (Wiki). His seminal work, The Innovator’s Dilemma (1997) received the Global Business Book Award for the best business book of the year. According to Wikipedia (where I garnered this biographical info), “He’s best known for his theory of ‘disruptive innovation,’. . .which has been called the most influential business idea of the early 21st century.”

Now are you willing to listen? https://www.youtube.com/embed/YjntXYDPw44

 “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3).

Where Love Found Me

If you’re looking for a highly rated (IMDb 8.8) but watchable movie (PG-13) dealing with the problem of orphans in the world today, try Where Love Found Me.                   It’s  gut-wrenching tale about a photo journalist, Hudson,                            who tracks behind a policeman in the Philippines. Although Hudson starts out intent on making a name for himself, he ends up risking his life to protect a little band of orphans,              and in the process, exposes the problems of human trafficking.  Although Where Love Found Me was inspired by true events, it didn’t end with the usual postscript explaining what happened “afterward,” so I contacted David Bolt, the director and producer, who graciously filled in a few of the details.  The movie is true-to-life based on a compilation of stories, but it’s more historical fiction than a true docudrama.  David’s parents adopted from China after he was grown, and he was so inspired by their courage and joy that he wanted to start an orphanage in China. However, David was eventually redirected to a camp ministry that has worked really well. David started Bright Hope (Bring Me Hope.org), a ministry that has worked with hundreds of orphans (mostly in China), and they have been able to help some of the children find safe, adoptive homes in America.Where Love Found Me came out in 2016, but David told me it was more than seven years in the making! His hope is that people will be inspired by the movie.  According to Google, there over 150+ million orphans in the world today. If you’ve got the heart and energy to take in a child, consider adopting an orphan!  If you don’t know where to start, think about watching Where Love Found Me, and if that melts your heart (as it did mine), contact https://bringmehope.org/                What a worthwhile investment in sharing God’s love!

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).  Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy” (Psalm 82:3).

 

Are You a Follower or a Leader?

Are you a leader or follower by nature? Do you think one is better than the other? American culture puts a high premium on being a leader, but this isn’t what Jesus taught, as Joe Stowell reminds us in his book, Following Christ. God calls us first and foremost to be Christ-followers, not leaders! In truth, I don’t think any of us make good leaders until we’ve learned to become good followers.

Joe is the president of Cornerstone University, where six of our seven kids began their college training, and I think this book is spot on! Ever hear of “Wrong Way Reigels”? He was the University of California center who became infamous for scoring a touchdown. . .at the wrong end of the football field during the 1929 Rose Bowl! His team lost to Georgia Tech by one point, and Joe points out that Reigels’s problem was living by “instinct without direction,” which is an issue for each of us.

Perhaps the most crucial of all life’s questions is: Do we want to be the master of our own fate and the captain of our own soul, as the poet William Ernest Henley wrote, or would we rather follow the guidance of a higher being (God!) who is infinite in his knowledge and wisdom, capable of accomplishing his will, loves us more than we love ourselves, and has our good (and that of all people) and his glory as his game plan?

The only hitch is, we have to surrender to Christ, and most of us are either afraid to trust him because we’re not sure he’s really God, or we don’t believe He truly loves us and has our best interests at heart, or we don’t want to share our “glory” with God! By nature, most of us find it hard to believe that God really loves us more than we love ourselves. We are also proud and resent the idea of giving God the glory. We’d rather seize control of our own destiny and bring glory to ourselves, so at strategic crossroads, even Christ-followers often fail to obey, even though we know good and well what we ought to do. If we want to be true Christ-followers, then we need to commit to obeying Christ even when it seems impossibly hard (and probably is, apart from God’s grace and strength).   We’ve each been given one life to live. . .one challenging but glorious adventure. For those who do not believe in God, or have chosen to take a position of being agnostic, they must default either to being their own leader or following some earthly leader, but I would rather be a follower of Christ. Because, as Joe Stowell points out, having “the real, risen, transcendent, ever-present resident Christ to relate to me in the very depths of my being apart from the inherent trappings of visibility is an advantage with which no earthly relationship can compare.”

Amen! There is no Best Friend Forever who was with us at the day of our birth, can abide with us forever, and loves us with an everlasting love. God alone, in the person of Christ’s Holy Spirit, offers to indwell us and provide guidance, purpose, abundance of joy, and life eternal. Besides all this, there’s another wonderful promise attached to being a true Christ-follower: “If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make  you free” (John 8:31-32). Being a Christ follower offers us true freedom and can lead us out of the prisons we’ve made for ourselves.

One of my favorite books as a child was Follow My Leader, a story about a teenage boy who is accidentally blinded by a friend’s carelessness and has to find a way out of the hatred that poisons his soul as a result. If you find yourself feeling imprisoned by hatred or embroiled in sin, My Leader (Jesus) can help you find your way out! Don’t believe me? Well, it’s not about me, it’s about God, and He’s the one who made these promises: “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not” (Jeremiah 33:3). Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).

Will you join me and the multitude of pilgrims who’ve become Christ-followers?