Inside Israel

We recently returned from a robust trip to Israel.  While our itinerary was jam packed, certainly every site we saw is a well tracked path.  So, I will not post pics of Masada, Jerusalem, the Western Wall, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea or even the Armenian Quarter  (ok, maybe one)…

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Yousef*, our Arab Christian tour guide, expounded a depth of spiritual and historical knowledge as a native with 20 years experience leading Americans through Israel and Palestine.  He introduced himself as a “true believer in Jesus Christ” and often taught scriptural truths as related to various historical sites. It was obvious that he had a love for all the people we encountered – Jews, Muslims, Bedouins, and Druze – rich or poor.

It is not only what Yousef shared of Israel that still stirs my heart but what he revealed about us.

Yousef challenged the group at every Christian/religious site, “Can anyone describe what happened here?” “How was this place significant to Jesus Christ?” “Who was Herod the Great?…”  Either most of the group was shy or had little Biblical foundation.  While traveling at great cost and distance to see religious sites, most of the group was either unwilling or unable to converse in Biblical truths.

Yousef shared his experience during the tumultuous ‘Second Intifada’, 2000-2005, a time of violent uprising between Palestinians and Israelis.  He left Israel during that time, traveling to USA to possibly relocate to relative’s homes.  Job opportunities were sparse for him but what he recalls to us is this:  “I visited their church and was sure they would be focused with concern and prayer for the crisis in Israel.  When I came to the meeting however, they were all talking about which pizza had the best cheese.”  I felt a collective inner shame for the sated Body of Christ, isolated and disinterested in the suffering of distant brethren.

Our tour ended with an exhortation and plea,  “When you go home, open your Bibles, read them!  Let all that you’ve seen bring the words to life.”  Referring back to his time in the United States Yousef opened his heart, “I left the States in 2005 – I missed the dirty, noisy streets of Jerusalem!  I love this country and had to return….but now I regret it.  There’s an undeniable stirring, an certain unrest and hostility.  I tell you for sure, it is not ‘if’ war breaks out here, but ‘when’.”

As elsewhere in the Middle East, particularly Syria, the Christian population is suffering and shrinking.  Once 20% in Palestine, now Christians are 1%, fewer than 10,000.  Many may be ‘nominal’ Christians but even still my heart was burdened.  With the nonstop traffic of tour buses from all over, I wonder how many of these sojourning Christians will seek and receive a burden for these brethren?  Multitudes flock to religious icons and shrines, but how many will align with the burden of Christ’s heart for His people?

If we will “open our Bibles and read them” we too will see, it is not ‘if’ but ‘when’.  If we take our salvation with certainty, we must take the prophecies of scripture with like conviction in our hearts.  A celebrated authority will arise, the charismatic Antichrist.  Betrayal, violence, and chaos are destined for Israel.  Yes, God Himself with be their victory and triumph, but what is our role as Christ’s Body in the world?

I loved every bit of Israel and my visits to Palestine.  I want though, more than any itinerary and tour, to realize what the Holy Spirit is showing me – Lord, align and press in my heart your truths and views of this great land.

Go to Israel while you can.  See everything, there’s so much!  But let the Holy Spirit be your inner tour guide and open your spiritual eyes with heaven’s view!

(*not his real name)

 

Remember the Darkness But Stand in the Light

Cattle Car

Actual cattle car used to transport unsuspecting Jews to Auschwitz – Freedom Tower looms above.

There is a profound exhibit at The Museum of Jewish Heritage commemorating those who perished during Jewish Holocaust, particularly at Auschwitz.  I highly recommend a lengthy visit there to anyone visiting NYC.

I take a personal interest in the Holocaust as it sequentially follows the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide, 1915 to 1922.  In fact, Hitler famously boasted,

“Our strength consists in our speed and our brutality. Genghis Khan led millions of women and children to slaughter – with premeditation and a happy heart. History sees in him solely the founder of a state. It’s a matter of indifference to me what a weak Western European civilization will say about me….. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formation in readiness – for the present only in the East – with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”  August 22, 1939, excerpt from Hitler’s orders to Wehrmacht commanders, a week prior to Nazi invasion of Poland.

Premeditated, systematic and diabolical, the Ottomans’ plan proved a formidable forerunner for the Nazis.

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Transport strategy to rout European Jews to Auschwitz

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tally of Jews in Europe, summed for extermination

 

While Armenians, Jews, and other victims may cry, “Never again!”, we as believers understand that, even as our brethren are persecuted and suffer today, global persecution and annihilation is on the sure horizon.

The power of social engineering, scapegoating, and ostracizing was blatant in Germany, permeating the culture through education, media, and government.  Wickedness was ripe in the hearts of Germans when a Jewish teenager avenged the deportation of his parents by killing a German diplomat.   Kristallnacht – ‘the Night of Broken Glass’-  was the horrific response.   Fermented anti-Semitism exploded with violent destruction of Jewish stores, homes, schools, and synagogues.  From one youth’s crime came the arrest of 30,000 Jewish men who were then sent to concentration camps, solely for being Jewish.   While this unleashed the holocaust, Nazi Germany was strategically and socially prepared.

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Thousands of Jewish men arrested during Kristallnacht. 

 

Those fortunate to visit this engrossing exhibit will see filmed testimonies, rare artifacts, Auschwitz reconstructions, military charts, photos and more.  Juxtaposed against cruel and relentless suffering and death was the phenomena of overwhelming German passion and devotion to Hitler.  Moreover, civilians and businesses were complicit in the murder of thousands systematically killed every day –  none of the concentration camps, death chambers, and crematories could have functioned without architects, engineers, suppliers, builders, and transport experts.

Two grievous realities became evident at this exhibit.  Despots like Talaat Pasha and Adolph Hitler are satanically inspired, if not indwelt.  Secondly, evident in the filmed interviews and testimonies, is the heartbreaking reality that nearly all the Jews marked for destruction did not believe it or perceive it until they actually arrived and faced it.

We must commemorate and honor those who suffered and perished and uphold the memory of brave heroes that stood up and risked all on their behalf.  But as believers in Jesus Christ and the living word of God, we must remember one more thing:  tribulation, persecution and death await those saints who live as the Anti-Christ arises.

We may not believe it, we may not perceive it, but unwarranted hatred for Christians is fermenting.  While our brethren in Islamic areas suffer daily, our plight is stirring in the undercurrents of social engineering, political posturing, and educational indoctrination.  This world power, the Anti Christ, will be “…given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them.”

Unlike Hitler, who basked in the adoration of Nazi Germany, the Anti Christ will be adored throughout the world, “…every tribe, people, language, and nation.  All inhabitant of the earth will worship the beast..”   Unimaginable?

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The world watched as Christians and Jews were annihilated and the apathy continues today.  But we, as believers, cannot afford to be complacent, scripturally ignorant, or enrapt with the world.   This world is fermenting and cultivating an anti-Christ spirit that will ripen like ‘Kristallnacht’ – may we stand today and on that day in a way that honors our Lord. 

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“…you despicable reprobate.”

This is a partial quote from a comment I made on a social media page under a photo of a triumphant hunter gloating over a killed magnificent elephant.   Wanton animal cruelty and desecration of God’s creation provoke intense emotions (in me anyway) however, even as I wrote that comment I sensed it was my flesh arising, not the Spirit of God within.

While this was still stirring in my heart, I read today David Ettinger’s post, The Gold Standard of Christian Behavior .  His focus points to the angry and provocative political comments posted by many believers in social media.  Through scriptural reference David rightly contends that it is unbiblical and ungodly, challenging readers:

“What possible good does such behavior accomplish in sharing the love of Christ with a lost and dying world? …Does posting hateful political messages…do anything for the cause of Christ?  Would an unbeliever really want to hear what you would have to say about Jesus?”

What would I say if I passed by such a ‘hunter’?  Can I, at all, change my focus from his prideful killing and imagine his eternal fate before the Creator?  Or, more to the point, can I look at my own past sinful deeds and call myself a ‘despicable reprobate’?

There are so many reasons to justify emotional fervor but only one reason for believers to resist – the word of God calls us much higher.  Investing our heart into political, social, environmental, animal welfare causes etc will always lead us into a fleshly battle where we’re fighting those lost in darkness.  It’s no threat at all to the works of Satan and sadly, no gain at all for the Kingdom of God!

Is there any place for righteous anger?

In Living As Jesus Lived, Zac Poonen presents the divine attributes of Jesus as our only standard – His purpose, His holiness, His power, His love.  In Christ’s holiness is also “His zeal for the purity of God’s house.”     Brother Zac further expounds:

“The Bible commands us to be angry without sinning. (Eph 4:26).  When the Roman soldiers beat Jesus and whipped Him in Pilate’s hall, He patiently bore it all.  He was never once angry where it concerned His own person.  Such anger would have been sin.  But where it concerned the purity of God’s house, it was different.  There, to refrain from anger would have been sin.”  (emphasis Zac Poonen)

The  apostle Paul expressed such zeal as he founded the first churches:

“But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.  What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?  Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside.  “Expel the wicked man from among you”.”    (I Corinthians 5:11-12)

To our discredit, much of our ‘righteousness’ as believers comes from judging unbelievers – we’re not as bad as those ‘despicable reprobates’.  But our claim to follow Christ mandates aspiring to a higher, separated standard.  Judging those in the world, who live in darkness, ‘captivated by sin’ is futile and ungodly.  But upholding God’s standards within the Body of Christ is mandated – we are His ‘ambassadors’, representing a holy God before a dark world.

How can we refrain from judging ‘despicable reprobates’ in the world?  How can we have the boldness to uphold God’s standards in the church?  Only God can ignite a grief in our heart for the lost and unlovable.  And only the Lord can raise up a godly zeal and impassion us toward holiness in the Body that claims to be His in this world.

Help me Lord, to walk in your ways!

Addendum:  I’ve received some verbal comments from some who are familiar with these ‘trophy hunters’.  They rightfully assert that the acts desecrating God’s creation is ‘despicable’.   I agree.  And, I would add, we are never called to redefine or diminish sin.  But, I clarified, when we judge the sinner, there’s no room to warn him that “the wages of sin is death”.   We can preach the Gospel and call people to repent, pray that the Holy Spirit brings them to “godly sorrow that leads to repentance”, but the gavel at the end belongs to the Judge.

 

 

Making The Last Seconds Count

Remember my elderly friend Hilda,  from Juanita’s Joy?

I had just visited Hilda the end of January, before leaving on a family trip.  She was in rehab, suffering from a respitary ailment, weakened and less responsive.  As usual, I shared neighborhood news and friendly regards from the few she could remember.

“I’ll see you when I get back from my trip!”

I turned to leave but felt a restraint.  Turning back to her wheelchair, I put my hand upon her shoulder and spoke loud enough for her to hear without her hearing aids,

“Hilda, consider Jesus as your Messiah!  Turn to Him for forgiveness of sins.  Be ready for the moment you meet God!”

Slumped in her wheelchair, she didn’t wave me away this time but neither did she respond.  Who knows, I thought, it may be a word for the others around her too.

Yesterday, partaking in Jewish tradition,  I sadly shoveled dirt upon Hilda’s simple pine coffin.  The rabbi called this Gemilut Hasadim, “an act of kindness that can’t be repaid”.

God’s kindness to me though, was that moment of ‘restraint’ – an inner upstirring – that left my dear friend with words of eternal value.

The apostle Peter warned, “the end of all things is near”.   Beloved John wrote, “Dear children, this is the last hour…”  Agreeing with Bible teacher Zac Poonen, if, 2000 years ago was the last hour, we must surely be living in the last seconds before Christ’s return!

For true believers in Jesus Christ, those who strive to live as a branch connected to the Vine and a sheep pressing near to the Shepherd, I pray for a fresh awakening.  Before any other role or occupation, may we see ourselves as the Body of Christ in this world, interfacing with ordinary people, under ordinary circumstances yet availing ourselves to God’s upstirring, God’s leading and restraint.  We may not pass by fishermen or women by a well, but perhaps a stranger on a park bench, a mother in the grocery line, a student on the train.

We’re living in the last seconds, I pray we fulfill our ‘assignments’ and ‘appointments’ before the Lord returns!  Pray for unsaved family members…but be an answer to someone else’s prayer.  May the Lord break down every flimsy dam that blocks the Holy Spirit flow through us and let these last seconds count!

 

 

 

 

 

When No One Else is Watching…

Everyone knows that God chose a shepherd boy to slay a giant, but why a shepherd?

God chose David and displayed His glory through David’s life, making unconditional covenant promises,  “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”  (II Samuel 7:16)  But why David?

David did not ‘score points’ with God by slaying Goliath or championing God’s honor in the face of scorners.  God was watching what David was doing when no one else was watching.  

Most of us know that David was the youngest son of seven and given the lowly job of tending sheep out in the fields.  We’re familiar with his bravery, fighting lions and bears who attack the lambs.  Who doesn’t want that courage and strength?  I really believe though, that God’s eye was on much more…

David was outstanding in a job that nobody wanted.  A shepherd extraordinaire who:

  • never bragged or broadcasted his exploits.  No one in his family seemed to highly regard David – he was initially excluded when his brothers were presented to Samuel.  In fact, his father Jesse could say nothing about David except, “he is tending the sheep”.  David’s fierce courage only became known when he sought to convince King Saul that he could slay Goliath.
  • risked his life with no apparent motive for reward or acknowledgement or even possibility of promotion!  No sheep would celebrate when rescued, neither would David receive an award, trophy, or bonus.
  • worshiped God in the dark and lonely places, praising and exalting without audience or witness except God alone.   Although gifted, David did not perform, he worshiped.

I believe there are such ‘young Davids’ in the Body of Christ who may risk their lives as a servant extraordinaire for their Father.  They may also risk reputation, position, and livelihood and find themselves in lowly places but it doesn’t matter.  They have a task at hand and will excel even when no promotion is possible, no one acknowledges or esteems them and in fact, no one is even watching.   And out in that field they will worship, without choir, without musicians and without special effects.  

Perhaps we won’t meet these brethren until we get to heaven and even then they may be far closer to God’s throne!  There we may find caretakers to the infirm, single parents, elderly believers, disabled brethren…and some whose only ministry was to pray – and giants fell because of them!

Most everyone imagines being a hero, catching the applause, and receiving an award.  Only the Lord though, can change hearts to be like this David’s – fixed to excel at whatever task the Father entrusts,  a heart that worships the Lord with exuberance, just because He’s with us and worthy to be praised.  

God bestows gifts and talents to us all, perhaps they come forth and bear fruit through faithfulness in those lonely fields.  But this communion with God prepares us…when the giant looms overhead, when the enemy encroaches, when crisis arises we’ll know as David did: ‘victory is mine’!

“Don’t worry about this Philistine,” David told Saul. “I’ll go fight him!”

 “Don’t be ridiculous!” Saul replied. “There’s no way you can fight this Philistine and possibly win! You’re only a boy, and he’s been a man of war since his youth.”

 But David persisted. “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep….”  

What a resume!  What God is fashioning and refining in us may be unseen to the whole world but He gives life to the given gifts within us…and He will be exalted through them, even if no one else is watching.  

Well, IS a Minute a Long Time?

 

stopwatch IIMiss Chafe, my 4th grade teacher, always gave an easy ‘bonus question’ at the end of every test, something impossible to get wrong.  To this day I remember this one, “Is a minute a long time?”  Who wouldn’t say ‘no’?…but the class was divided!

Well, is a minute a long time?

Unfortunately, our culture so highly values immediacy that any downtime or ‘waiting’ is seen as wasteful loss…inefficient and unacceptable.  Mental pop-ups condition us to cyber-check and multitask.  We wouldn’t dream of waiting a minute to hear from Google or any of the ‘answer gizmos’ of our day.   Fastest car, quickest download… instant camera and telegram = instagram.  

But God’s best – His strength, His revelation, His indwelling – only come to those who wait!

I remembered Miss Chafe’s question while praying.  Do I get up upon my last request and start my day?  Can I linger on, for one minute, and wait for the Lord to speak to me?  Can I pause, even a minute, during prayer time to allow the Holy Spirit to align my prayers with God’s will?

Can I meditate upon a verse for 60 seconds, allowing the Holy Spirit to bring it to life in my heart?

God awaits us and often draws us in through fiery trials, unmet needs, and challenging griefs.  But ‘suffering’ is not the designated time to wait upon God.  The Bible calls that designated time ‘Today’. 

Take the ‘minute challenge’ but with reverent trepidation…who brings a stop watch when meeting with a King?  Sixty seconds exposes what’s in our hearts, the importance of our agendas and priorities.

Could taking a minute before praying make all the difference?

“Once you are sure that you are talking to the One who loves you intensely and the One who has all power to do anything in this universe, i.e. once we see the greatness of God, the greatness of His power, and the greatness of His love, then we are ready to pray.”   Zac Poonen

Oh Lord, let one minute turn into two, into three…let us lose track of time in Your presence.   Lord, let us linger not for just ‘an answer’…but to to know You and fellowship with you.  What burdens Your heart?  “Speak Lord, Your servant is listening…”

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“You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning…”

 

When God Keeps Us Waiting….

The work of God in us while we wait is as important as what we are waiting for…

Tremendous and miraculous works of God, the testimonies of the saints, and the glory of God’s creation all build and grow our faith…and rightly so!  The stories of ordinary men in the hands of our extraordinary God  bring hope to our challenges and trials.

But rarely does our spiritual focus point to the faithfulness of the spiritual giants while waiting for God to move, to rescue, to answer their prayers.  Who really marvels at Joseph’s patience and endurance while waiting years in a dungeon?  With plenty of days and months for discouragement and unbelief, Joseph retained God’s favor by excelling while waiting.

True faith believes that waiting is never wasted or futile but rather a prescribed time of unexpected service, preparation and testing without which God’s perfect will might not go forward.  

“for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
(Phil 2:13)

Simeon waited years, perhaps his whole life, to meet the Savior of the world and was not disappointed as an elderly man, holding God incarnate in his arms.  Did Simeon imagine that those seemingly endless seasons of God’s silence would mark him for eternity in God’s word?

Waiting often tests us and often weeds out unbelief.  Exodus 32 presents the tragic story of people who refused to wait on God….they foolishly created a ‘god’ and missed the greatness of God’s plan for their lives.

The hardest part of faith is the last half hour….Pastor David Wilkerson

Faithful- even if not always perfect- waiting upon God yields much for God’s people, whether they are waiting for urgent deliverance, miraculous healing, an open womb, or the Savior of the world.   And so I pray…

Lord, encourage those of us who are heavy hearted… dog sad

Renew our hearts with anticipation….

dog at window

Keep us steadfast at our assigned post….

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no matter how small our post may seem.

Lord, help us to study your great promises and commit to remember:

The Promiser Keeps His promises.