Monday, June 21, 2010

More on the Gulf Oil Disaster

There are some who are saying this gulf oil disaster is a sign of the beginning of the End Times. Of course people have been predicting the End Times for 2,000 years, and see signs of the Apocalypse in every major event. I think the End Times will be very obvious when it happens.

While the oil spill is a terrible tragedy, it is still a local event that affects a relatively small area compared with the whole world. So we can’t read into it anything except maybe God trying to get our attention through this man-made catastrophe. It is man’s sinfulness that caused it, and man’s technology (which we have made into a god) that can’t solve it quickly. God can use tragedies for his own purposes, and maybe God’s message to the US from this disaster might be “Trust in Me, not in technology” and “Go and sin no more.”

What do you think?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

One Disaster after Another

I never thought I would live to see the kind of disasters we’ve had just since the turn of this century. We had an American city almost completely destroyed by a hurricane (New Orleans), and Galveston, Texas, was pretty much wiped off the map by one. We had a series of terrible terrorist attacks on 9/11/01 that killed thousands of people. Now the gulf coast of four states is being ruined by massive quantities of oil, which was not a terrorist attack but might as well have been. We wonder, what’s going to happen next?

In addition to these disasters, the world political situation isn’t good. There are new tensions on the Korean peninsula. The Middle East is heating up, and things could really get bad if Iran acquires atomic bombs. Economically, Europe is very shaky, and their problems could result in a “double-dip” recession here. In addition, several American states are almost in as bad a financial shape as Greece.

I’m not one of those people who claim the end of the world is coming every time there’s a calamity or war. However, I’m beginning to wonder why all this is happening, especially to the United States. The gulf oil spill is a disaster of nearly biblical proportions. Is God trying to get our attention? Maybe we should turn back to the God of our grandparents, the God of the founders of this country, and the God who has blessed us so much. If we do, we won’t be immune from troubles, but maybe God will look down on us a little more favorably.

When things are good, we go merrily along thinking we don’t need God. Oh, but we do! From where did those blessings come? I watched the series “America, The Story of Us” and it reminded me of how blessed we have been. Let’s stop ignoring the source of those blessings and return to the faith of our fathers.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Terrible Traffic Accident

I read with joy the survival of that young man who ran off the Taconic Parkway and lived for over four days before being found. No water, no food, but somehow he made it. By the way, I think I’m staying off the Taconic from now on. Too many strange things happen on that road.

Then I read with sadness the death of Kyle Schmidt, a student at the Beacon High School. He was riding his bike down a hill and went through a stop sign, colliding with the right front fender of a car driven by another BHS student. He was pronounced dead at the scene. See the Poughkeepsie Journal article for more on this tragedy.

What brings this close to home for me is that a number of the high school kids at church either knew Kyle or know the driver. I feel bad for all concerned, because this is such a traumatic experience:

-For the Schmidt family, who tragically lost a 15 year old;
-For the driver and her family;
-For the boys who were accompanying Kyle on their bikes and witnessed this accident;
-For their family and friends.

I’m hoping that out of this unspeakable tragedy comes some good:

-It brings BHS kids closer together as they realize the fragility of life and how short it can be:
-It brings these kids closer to God, who can provide them with the comfort and assurance they need;
-It can serve as a warning that roads are dangerous and driving (whether a bike, motorcycle, or car) is serious business.

May God bless the families involved and give them peace and comfort in this time of trial.
May God make some good come out of this, perhaps saving some lives in the future so that Kyle’s death will not be in vain.
May God bless and comfort the BHS kids during this time of trial and bring them closer to himself as they ponder the shortness of life and eternity.
May God give us the strength to help those who are grieving.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Jews for Jesus (Part 4)

In this series of posts I’m attempting to explain the Christian understanding of Judaism.

Michael Medved, in his blog I referenced in an earlier post, said of Moishe Rosen, founder of Jews for Jesus, “he lived his life as a devoted Christian, so his public insistence that he was still fully Jewish emphasized Jewish identity as merely ethnic—denying the religious component important to most Jews.” Let me respond to that statement.

Because the New Testament says we are all one in Christ, there should be no distinction between races, nationalities, original religious background, or gender, as we read in Colossians 3:11 (NIV):

Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

We read something similar in Galatians 3:28 (NIV):

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Jews who become Christians are still ethnically Jewish, of course, but are no longer religiously Jewish. They have given up their Jewish religious practices for faith in Christ, although some may keep the Passover since it so clearly points to Jesus. There is not so much a denial of the Jewish religious component with converted Jews as there is a deep appreciation of the Jewish heritage of Christianity. But these converts also understand that they no longer have to keep Kosher or follow other Jewish religious laws because of what Christ did on the cross.

I would add that Christians should respect the Jewish religion because it was handed down by God through Moses. If Jewish people choose to follow those ancient God-given practices, that is their choice and we must respect that. I would hope Jewish people in turn would honor their fellow Jews’ choice to accept Jesus as their Messiah, and not think they have “gone over to the other side” and given up being Jewish. Hopefully this series of posts has helped my Jewish brothers and sisters to understand where Christians, including those who are ethnically Jewish, are coming from.

Naturally what I have written may be difficult for some Jews to swallow, and I don’t expect you to agree. However, this is what the Bible says, so that’s what Christians believe. So this is why Christians sometimes share the Gospel with Jews, hoping they will come to faith in Christ. It isn’t out of disrespect. I hope these series of posts will give some understanding of why Christians believe what they believe to our Jewish brothers and sisters, and will promote respect for our Jewish heritage among Christians. May God bless you – Jew and Christian – on your walk of faith. Shalom.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Jews for Jesus (Part 3)

There have always been tensions between followers of Jesus and Jewish people going back to the Book of Acts in the New Testament. I want to explain where Christians are coming from relative to Judaism based on New Testament passages. I’m hoping this will provide some understanding to my Jewish brothers and sisters. See my earlier posts on this topic.

This tension between Christians and Jews has recently been highlighted by the reprehensible anti-Semitic statement made recently by the reporter Helen Thomas. I don’t know much about Thomas, but I doubt if she’s a devout Christian. Most devout Christians who know their Bible are pro-Israel in the sense that they believe it is the Jewish homeland and the Jews are entitled to live there, especially given what was done to them in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. Let us all join in praying for peace in that region.

What I laid out in my earlier post does not in any way take away from Judaism as a “serious, ancient faith” to quote Michael Medved’s blog. On the contrary, Christianity came out of Judaism as does our code of behavior, the moral law. The Christian worship service is patterned after the synagogue service. Jesus was a Jew, as were his earliest followers and the writers of the New Testament.

The problem comes with the Christian understanding that the Israelite religious practices were temporary, and would be superseded by faith in the Messiah, Jesus. The Law of Moses laid the foundation for the Messiah, but would eventually yield to faith in him because Jesus would fulfill the righteous requirements of The Law. The Book of Hebrews, written to Jewish believers in Christ who were having second thoughts, expresses this understanding most clearly. Hebrews 9:11-15 (NIV) says:

When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance — now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant

Regarding the Law of Moses and the sacrificial system, Hebrews 10:1-4 (NIV) says:

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming — not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

While Christians should recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish religion, Christianity’s Jewish heritage, and the role Israel plays in the End Times, we also have to understand what the Book of Hebrews passages are explaining to us: Jewish religious practices have been rendered no longer necessary by Jesus. This statement is not meant to denigrate Jews and Judaism, but simply to state the New Testament understanding of Judaism in the Christian era. Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirements of The Law by his atoning death on the cross so we no longer have to, which he alludes to in Matthew 5:17 (NIV):

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

The Apostle Paul understood this and fervently desired that his fellow Israelites would come to faith in Christ, as he wrote in Romans 9:2-4 (NIV):

I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.

More on this topic in a future post.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Jews for Jesus (Part 2)

There have always been tensions between followers of Jesus and Jewish people going back to the Book of Acts in the New Testament. I want to explain where Christians are coming from relative to Judaism based on New Testament passages. I’m hoping this will provide some understanding to my Jewish brothers and sisters.

As a preface to this discussion, let me remind you that the entire New Testament, with the possible exception of the two books written by Luke, was written by Jews. These writers were not anti-Semites, but expressing what they believed had been revealed to them by Jesus’ teachings and God’s Holy Spirit. To keep it brief and simple, let me outline the New Testament understanding of God’s plan for the world, especially as it relates to Judaism.

(1) The Israelite nation (descendents of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob) was set aside by God to:

(a) Be the recipients of God’s divine revelation of himself and to preserve it.

(b) To be an example to the nations (the Gentiles) of righteous living (their location at the crossroads of the world at that time wasn’t an accident).

(c) To be the bearer of the Messiah.

(2) The Old Testament Law (The Law of Moses or Torah) was put in place as a guide to living and worship, and was to be practiced by the Israelites both to have a good life and to find favor with God.

(3) The Old Testament sacrificial system (sacrificing animals to atone for sins) was established by God as a temporary measure for the following purposes:

(a) To give God’s chosen people a way of repenting and having their sins forgiven, thus restoring their relationship with God.

(b) To illustrate the fact that the penalty for sin is death.

(c) To lay the groundwork for what the Messiah would accomplish (see Isaiah chapter 53).

(4) Having a foundation in the Law and prophets, the Jewish nation was to receive its Messiah as a spiritual Savior, not a military savior.

(5) Because the Messiah (Jesus) paid the penalty for our sins once and for all, the sacrificial system and keeping the ceremonial law would cease to be necessary (Hebrews 8-10).

(6) Jesus came first for the Jews, and then the Gentiles, so belief in what Jesus accomplished on the cross was to spread throughout the world, thanks to the Jews.

More on this topic in a future post.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Jews for Jesus (Part 1)

There have always been tensions between followers of Jesus and Jewish people going back to the Book of Acts in the New Testament. Sadly, these tensions still exist, as we saw when Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ” came out a few years ago and a number of Jews were upset about the movie. I saw this tension again in a recent blog posted by Michael Medved (05/27/2010) on his website. The subject of that post was the recent passing of Moishe Rosen, the founder of the Jews for Jesus organization, which is dedicated to converting Jewish people to Christianity. I would like to focus on one quote from that post: “[H]is life’s message denied respect for Judaism as a serious, ancient faith.”

I admire Medved very much, and I admit I don’t know much about Moishe Rosen. However, I believe Medved’s post may have betrayed a misunderstanding of several aspects of Christianity as it relates to Jews. In the hope of providing a better understanding of where Christians are coming from, let me point out some things from the New Testament. I’m not looking for agreement or affirmation, just understanding so that Jews don’t think wrongly of Christians.

Having said that, Christians are as diverse as Jews when it comes to beliefs (well, maybe not quite, but almost). Therefore, I’m not saying every Christian believes or even knows some of the things I’m about to mention. I’m going to present what I believe to be the generally accepted interpretation of the Bible based on the traditional orthodox understanding of it from earliest times. However, some will disagree with me on this interpretation, and there are other interpretations out there.

Part 2 will get into some detail about what the New Testament says about Judaism. Below is Michael Medved’s post in its entirety.

Thursday, May 27, 2010
Religious Identity Involves More than Ethnicity
Posted by: Michael Medved at 2:25 PM

The recent death of Moishe Rosen, founder of Jews for Jesus, occasioned little mourning in the Jewish community because his life’s message denied respect for Judaism as a serious, ancient faith. Ordained a Baptist pastor at age 25, he lived his life as a devoted Christian, so his public insistence that he was still fully Jewish emphasized Jewish identity as merely ethnic—denying the religious component important to most Jews.

In fact, some 10% of American Jews today are converts to the faith with no Jewish ethnic background. Moreover, Rosen distinguished his movement from the larger Christian community based on ancestry, disregarding classic Christian doctrine that faith matters more than parentage. In the end, by defining Jewish identity as exclusively genetic or cultural, and not religious, Rosen unwittingly echoed the militant secularists who show contempt for religious Jews and Christians alike.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Arizona Law and Profiling

The recently-passed Arizona law has stirred quite a controversy. As I understand it, profiling is at the heart of the argument against this law. This statute would give police the right to stop and ask for identification from anybody they suspect of being an illegal alien. Since most illegal aliens are Mexican in that part of the country, all Hispanic-looking people could be “profiled” and potentially stopped.

Let’s explore the topic of profiling. The problem with profiling is that somebody who fits a certain profile can be stopped, frisked, investigated, or asked for identification. Since the profile is usually based on looks, anybody who looks African-American, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Muslim, etc., can be stopped. The fear is that profiling can easily degenerate into harassment, persecution, and unlawful searches and seizures. Even the most well-intentioned laws can be abused by less than well-intentioned police or other officials. People fear a Soviet or Nazi type of Orwellian hell as a worst case scenario if profiling is allowed. We all remember seeing those old movies in which a Gestapo or KGB agent checks a person’s papers, and then says those dreaded words: “Your papers are not in order.”

A few years ago, something made the rounds on the Internet that said something like this: “Since most terrorist acts against the West are carried out by Muslim men, doesn’t it make sense to single them out for further inspections at airports? Why are we making little old ladies take off their shoes when no little old ladies have carried out any terrorist acts?” There’s some truth to that statement. Law enforcement should work efficiently and not waste precious time and resources on “random” searches when profiling would allow officials to focus on higher probability groups. By the way, I was once stopped in a foreign airport for a random check. While I didn’t mind, it seemed like a waste of law enforcement time to check out an older person of northern European heritage who most likely didn’t fit any profile. I hope that if I did fit a profile, I would be understanding and patient when given special attention at airports, understanding that law enforcement officials have a job to do (as long as they were polite and didn’t treat me as a criminal).

So the question becomes, how to we balance the need for effective protection of our citizens from those who would do them harm with the rights of people belonging to certain groups not to be constantly stopped? As long as profiling isn’t abused and becomes harassment (and that’s a big “if”), then I believe people should accept the fact that if they fit a particular profile, they may be subject to receiving some extra attention. It’s a sad fact of life that we as a nation are at risk from Middle Eastern terrorists; that we have porous a border with Mexico and our country has large number of Latinos living here illegally; and that members of certain groups commit a disproportionate number of crimes. However, I also believe that looks alone should never trigger somebody being stopped, but actions and demeanor must also be major considerations. Otherwise, an innocent African-American or a citizen of Lebanese descent or a Hispanic citizen could be frequently stopped just because of his or her appearance, and that isn’t right. “DWB” (driving while black) should not be a reason to pull over an African-American who is driving within the speed limit.

While I’m not familiar with the specifics of the Arizona law, I must reluctantly conclude that for law enforcement to do its job effectively, some sort of profiling is appropriate. Freedom and security have a price. Over a million of our military have died in wars since 1776 to gain and secure our rights and freedoms. We, too, must make some sacrifices, mostly in terms of inconvenience and annoyance, to keep our country safe. I know some will strongly disagree with my position on this topic, especially those in target groups such as Latinos and Muslims. Nevertheless, we must realize our government has the duty to protect its citizens as best it can, within the law. We, as citizens, have the duty and responsibility to make sure government doesn’t cross the line from law enforcement to harassment and persecution. It’s a balancing act, and it isn’t easy, but I believe it must be done.