Questions of Israeli Politics

Holy Land visitors often have questions about the current political situation in modern day Israel. Scores of books and articles have been written about the issues of Israeli politics, a subject too extensive to be addressed in this short essay. Here I have attempted to distill the issues and present short answers to the basic political questions raised by travelers in Israel.

What is the “West Bank”?

After WWI, the allies divided up the Ottoman Empire and Britain was given the mandate to govern the formerly Ottoman lands on both sides of the Jordan River. The land east of the Jordan (Transjordan) was separated from the British Mandate in 1922 and became an independent country, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. In 1947 the United Nations partitioned the remainder of the British Mandate into two states, Arab and Jewish. The Jews agreed with this decision and declared their independence as the Jewish State of Israel (May 14, 1948). The Arabs rejected the decision and immediately went to war against Israel in what is now called Israel’s 1948 War for Independence. The Kingdom of Jordan joined in the war, crossed the Jordan, and captured land west of the Jordan River, which has become known as “the West Bank.” The Kingdom of Jordan controlled this area until the Six Day War (June 1967) when Israel captured the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, Sinai, and the West Bank.

Since 1967, the West Bank has been disputed territory since both Israel and the Arabs claim this land. The Kingdom of Jordan has since relinquished any claim to the West Bank. The Arabs living in the West Bank claim that this land was promised to them by the United Nations in 1947. Israelis claims that this region, which they call Judea and Samaria, was promised to them by God’s covenant with Abraham. There have been many attempts to resolve the dispute over the West Bank, but none so far have been successful.

Who are the Palestinians?

Before 1948, all the lands of Israel, the West Bank, and the Kingdom of Jordan were “Palestinian.” Governing authority over these lands was entrusted to the British by the League of Nations after WWI and called the “Mandate for Palestine.” The word “mandate” refers to the official directive for the British to govern the region. The term, “Palestine” is a Latin derivation of “Philistine” which can be traced back to the first century AD. When the Romans defeated the Jews and destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70, they changed the name of the land from “Judea” (land of the Jews) to “Palestine,” (land of the Philistines). The Romans were saying, “This is no longer the land of the Jews. It is the land of their old enemy, the Philistines.” The name stuck, and for the centuries that followed, the land which had been promised to the people of Israel was known as Palestine. When my grandparents visited the Holy Land in the 1960s, they spoke of visiting “Palestine,” a land that was shared by Palestinian Jews and Palestinian Arabs.

More recently, the name “Palestine” has been adopted as an ethnic identifier Arab people who live in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip (the coastal region south of Israel). They claim that their rights to Palestine precede Israel’s establishment as a nation in 1948. Israel disputes this claim. Today, the terms “Palestine” and “Palestinian” have taken on such a political connotation that they are no longer useful in describing or referring to the physical land of Israel. Historically, those who embrace their identity as “Palestinians” are people of Arab descent whose Moslem ancestors invaded and conquered Israel in AD 638.

Do Arabs living in Israel have Israeli citizenship and the right to vote?

When Israel declared itself to be a Jewish state (May 14, 1948) and was recognized by the United Nations, the people living within the borders of Israel, both Jews and Arabs, were given Israeli citizenship. As Israeli citizens, the Arabs born in Israel have the right to vote and have representatives in Israel’s parliament. Arabs who left Israel before or during the War for Independence were denied the right to return and claim citizenship. Arabs living in the West Bank have separate identity cards, passports, and license plates on their cars. While their personal rights are protected by Israeli law, they do not have citizenship or voting rights in Israel.

Did the Israelis “steal” land from the Palestinians?

Israel has often been accused of stealing land from the Palestinians. This is a complicated subject. Some of the land within the borders of Israel was purchased from absentee landlords with money provided by the Jewish National Fund. In addition, much of the land within the borders of Israel was granted to them when the United Nations partitioned the British Mandate of Palestine west of the Jordan between the Jews and the Arabs (Nov. 29, 1947). When five Arab nations attacked Israel in an attempt to destroy the fledgling nation, the Israelis fought for the land which had been promised. When the war was over, Israel’s borders included some Arab lands. Israel’s borders today include land that was purchased, land that was promised, and some land which the Arabs lost during Israel’s War of Independence. The Arabs want this land returned. Israelis argue that the Arabs lost this land when they rejected the United Nation’s 1947 decision to partition the land and attacked Israel .

What is the “Land for Peace” plan?

Many attempts have been made to resolve the conflict between the Arabs and the Israelis and create a lasting peace in the Middle East. The “land for peace” was one of the peace plans that failed. The plan called for Israel to give up some of the land in the West Bank which the Israeli Defense Force had captured during the 1967 Six-Day War. In exchange, the Arabs were to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish nation and cease all terrorism and attacks on Israel’s borders. Israel made a good faith offer to meet the Arabs’ land demands, but the Palestinian leadership refused to reciprocate by recognizing the Jewish State and has continued to support military attacks and terrorism against Israel. Most Israelis have given up on the “Land for Peace” plan as a means to reconciling differences with their Arab neighbors.

How should visitors to the Holy Land respond to the Arab-Israelis conflict?

First, recognize that there are two sides to every conflict. As visitors and observers, we need to keep our eyes and ears open, and our mouth mostly shut. We should try to learn by listening to the voices of those engaged in the conflict and refrain from offering easy answers and shallow minded opinions. .

 Second, recognize that both the Arabs and the Jews have historic family roots in the land. Many Arabs and Jews can trace their family roots back hundreds of years.

Third, recognize that many Arabs (both Christian and Moslem) and Jews have suffered considerably as a result of this conflict. Many have lost family members as a result of terrorism and war. We must appreciate the fact that the Arab-Israeli conflict is emotional and personal, not simply political or religious.

 Fourth, remember that while God has promised the land to Israel for duration of Jesus’ coming kingdom, Israel today is a secular, unbelieving nation. When God grants the land to his believing people, it will be with justice and consideration for all residents of the land, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

 Fifth, appreciate the fact that there are no simple solutions to this issue. The problem is unbelievably complex and intensely emotional. It will take strong and courageous leadership to bring about a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict in our day.

 Finally, remember that prayer changes things. We should heed the admonition of the psalmist David who said, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6).

The Story of Moses

Moses is regarded by many as the most important figure in the Hebrew Bible. His name appears 767 times. Only King David is mentioned more often than Moses. The great codifier of Jewish law, Maimonides, wrote that belief in the primacy of “Moses our teacher” is one of the foundations of Jewish faith. This opinion is supported by Scripture where we read that since the time of Joshua, “No prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face (Deut. 34:10).

The writers of the New Testament appear to concur with this assessment since Moses is mentioned more times in the New Testament than any other figure in the Hebrew Bible. Moses is honored by three prominent religious traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Abraham is regarded in Scripture as Israel’s spiritual and physical ancestor.  But Moses, for his role in mediating the covenant between God and His people, can be regarded as the nation’s founder.

Having written books on the Story of Israel, the Story of Jesus and the Story of the Apostle Paul, it seemed appropriate that my next book in this series should be about Israel’s most prominent and highly regarded leader, Moses.

Moses rose to a position of leadership in Israel through circumstances that were beyond his control. It was during the dark and distressful days of Israel’s bondage in Egypt that a child was born to a humble, Hebrew couple. After the birth of their son, they sought to protect his life by allowing their child to be adopted by an Egyptian princess. Having been raised in pharaoh’s royal court, Moses seem destined for a life of privilege and luxury. But God had other plans. When Moses intervened to defend an Israelite worker being attacked by an Egyptian taskmaster, his life suddenly and dramatically changed. Moses was forced to flee from Egypt and spent the next forty years as a shepherd in the land of Midian. But God’s plans for Moses were actually being accomplished, not thwarted, by this desert experience.

It was as a shepherd in the desert, caring for a flock of sheep, that God was preparing Moses to lead the flock of His people. When Moses had been thoroughly prepared for his mission (a process that took forty years), God appeared in a burning bush and charged Moses with a challenging mission. Moses was called by God to lead His people out of Egypt and into the land that had been promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses would spend the next forty years in the wilderness of Sinai, fulfilling his divine calling. But as we will see, this undertaking was not without some serious misadventures and mistakes along the way.

In this book, I trace Moses life from his birthplace in Egypt to his death on Mount Nebo in the land of Moab. On the way, we will consider the high points and low points of Moses’ spiritual journey. As we do, we will look for leadership lessons and practical principles which can help us on our own spiritual journey through life. I invite you to join me in taking a long walk with Moses. We will learn from his actions, be guided by his leadership principles, and consider the teachings in his final sermon, the book of Deuteronomy. Pick up your walking staff, and let’s begin our journey.

The book is available on Amazon for $12.95 (paperback) and $6.95 (Kindle). Here is the link to Amazon:

 

Twelve Sermons Which I Love to Preach

I am thrilled to announce the publication of my new book, Twelve Sermons Which I Love to Preach. I began this project intending it to be a Christmas gift for my family. But as the book developed I realized that it might be of interest to people beyond my immediate family. I whittled my “favorite” sermons down to twelve, wrote an introduction about my own preaching experiences, added a chapter on how I prepare a message, and finally included a classic hymn appropriate for each sermon. It has been fun to refine these twelve sermons for publication and distribution with the hopes that they will encourage and edify the body of Christ.

The following is an excerpt from my book where I describe some of the interesting experiences of preachers:

Preachers can usually share some interesting experiences that happen during a Sunday morning sermon. One of my former professors, Dr. Grant Howard, had been invited to preach at a church in Arizona. He was about halfway through his message when a woman stood up and asked, “What do you want me to do, take off all my clothes?” Fortunately, she was gently ushered out of the auditorium by a kindly deacon before she could act on her mental confusion.

My most embarrassing experience as a preacher took place at my home church where I had been invited to deliver the Sunday sermon. It was a warm, summer morning and the hospitality committee had prepared lemonade and cookies for the congregation to enjoy between Sunday School and the church service. Having taught Sunday School for the previous hour, I was pretty thirsty. The chilled lemonade was so delicious and refreshing that I drank two full glasses. Thirty minutes later as I sat on the platform looking forward to preaching my sermon, I began to feel “nature’s call.” As the minutes ticked by, I realized this was a call that I could not ignore.

During the next hymn I decided to quietly leave the platform and visit the restroom during the pastor’s prayer. I returned a few minutes later much relieved. But the pastor had finished his prayer and was asking the congregation where was his guest speaker! I knew that I had to answer his question before beginning my sermon. With a face flushed with embarrassment, I briefly explained the consequence of enjoying two glasses of delicious lemonade before the service. Everyone had a good chuckle about “nature’s” inopportune call on the preacher.

Favorite Sermons promo
Carl and his new book

Twelve Sermons Which I Love to Preach is available on Amazon for $9.95 ($4.95 Kindle Edition). https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Twelve+Sermons+Which+I+love+to+Preach&ref=nb_sb_noss

 

Encountering Jesus in the Real World of the Gospels

Encountering Jesus in the Real World of the Gospels, by Cyndi Parker (Hendrickson Publishers, 2021). Pp. 1-172. Reviewed by J. Carl Laney

I first met Dr. Cyndi Parker in Jerusalem where she was studying at the Jerusalem University College. Her love for the land and growing knowledge of physical geography of Israel were quickly recognized by the school’s president, Dr. Paul Wright. Parker soon found herself leading short term students around the land of Israel. Her interaction with maps, along with her engaging teaching, has been an inspiration to many students first being introduced to the biblical lands.

It is rare for me to discover a book about the land of Israel that is so comprehensive and yet not overwhelming. The emphasis of Dr. Parker’s book is “the real world of the gospels.” In Part One (“Context Matters”), she demonstrates the importance of context in studying the life of Jesus. Parker begins by providing readers with a survey biblical history from Eden to the Babylonian exile. This is not the dry facts of history that you can read about in other books. Parker leads readers in a study of the biblical theology that is behind the history, showing what God is doing with His people in the Promised Land.

The book goes on to present a concise survey of Eretz Israel and shows how the international situation of surrounding nations makes this region so central in the politics and history of the Ancient Near East. The chapter on “Lifelong Learning” presents the essential cultural background for the life and ministry of Jesus.

In Part Two (“Reading Jesus in Context”), Dr. Parker applies the principles of context to the study of the life of Jesus. In the birth narrative, she demonstrates the importance of the genealogies for understanding how Jesus fits into the story of Israel. Then she skillfully introduces a number of key events in the life of Jesus providing fresh insights based on the geographical and cultural context. In chapter 8, Parker presents Jesus as a “skilled communicator,” making use of nature, parables and fables to provide insight into the development the kingdom of God. She efficiently traces the events of the last week of the life of Jesus and follows this with the implications of the resurrection.

I highly recommend Dr. Parker’s new book as a refreshing and insightful introductory study of the historical, geographical and cultural background of the life of Jesus. The book includes 21 helpful illustrations and is replete with full documentation and a supportive bibliography. For further information about Dr. Cyndi Parker’s teaching, podcasts and Israel tours, refer to her website, narrativeofplace.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Justice and Peace Now

The other day on my morning run, I saw a popular sign reflecting the protests over the tragic shooting deaths of black Americans by the police. The sign read, “No justice; no peace.” People today are calling for justice–justice for black Americans; justice for women; justice for the unborn; justice for the “Dreamers” (DACA); justice for everyone who has been oppressed. When will there be “justice for all” which is promised by the U.S. Constitution and highlighted in our nation’s Pledge of Allegiance?  American’s have looked to lawmakers, the courts and judges with the hope of getting justice. But they have been disappointed by unmet expectations. 

The Apostle Paul believed in a God of justice. The Greek word for “justice” (dike) denotes “what is right.” The Greeks believed in Dike (counterpart to the Roman Justitia), a goddess of justice, who would inflict a just punishment on the guilty. When the poisonous viper attached itself to Paul’s hand, the observer assumed that Paul was a murderer and “Justice (Dike) has not allowed him to live” (Acts 28:4). The word is used by Paul to refer to the just “penalty” (dike) for rejecting God and His provision of salvation through Jesus (2 Thess. 1:8-9). Paul used a related word (dikaios) to refer to what God has declared to be right. He told the Thessalonian believers that it was “just (dikaios) for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (2 Thess. 1:6). On the other hand, God was “right” or “just” in acquitting believers of their guilt and consequent punishment on the basis of their faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26).

When most people ask for justice, they are appealing for the rights, freedoms and opportunities they believe they deserve. But when Paul writes about justice, he is referring to God being “right” in executing judgment on those who have rejected Him and the truth of His Word (Rom. 1:32). Many people are demanding justice now! But Paul assures us that justice is coming and it is not going to be nice. God’s justice means that we get what we deserve. The wages of sin is death and eternal separation from the presence of God (Rom. 6:23, 2 Thess. 1:9). That is not the “justice” most people are looking for today.

I am thankful that the justice I deserved fell upon Jesus. He took my place and received the wrath which I deserved. As a result, I can enjoy “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1). Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. Believers in Jesus receive both peace and justice now through His gracious person and work.

I Don’t Call Myself a “Christian”

Forty years at Western Seminary (1977-2018)

You are probably surprised to read these words, “I don’t call myself a Christian.” How can someone who is an ordained minister, taught the Bible for forty years, pastored churches, written Bible commentaries and “Christian” books say, “I don’t call myself a Christian.”

I am not trying to be sensational or gain a bit of notoriety. Yet I have come to believe the word “Christian” is not the best term to identify me or describe my spiritual commitment. The word “Christian” is based on the Greek word, Christos, which is means “anointed one” and refers to Israel’s promised messiah (meshiach). When Jesus’ disciples were asked who they thought he was, Peter answered correctly saying, “You are the Christos (messiah), the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Peter was simply affirming his belief that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah.

The first time the word “Christian” appears in the Bible was when it was used by the pagan gentiles of Antioch (Acts 11:26).  In their attempt to identify the congregation that had gathered to hear the teaching of Saul (Paul) and Barnabas, the people of Antioch called them Christianos (Acts 11:26). The root meaning and cultural background leads me to translate Christianos as “Messianics.” Since the strange community of people who had gathered in their city believed that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah, they were identified by the citizens of Antioch as “Messianics.”

It is helpful to point out that none of Jesus apostles ever called themselves “Christians.” Nor did Paul ever identify himself as a “Christian.” Paul was born a Jew and died as a Jew. He testified to his Jewishness even after he became a follower of Jesus (Phil. 3:4-6). After hearing Paul’s testimony about his personal spiritual journey, King Agrippa said, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26:28). In replying, Paul didn’t use the term Christian, but simply said, “I would wish to God, that…all who hear me this day, might became as I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:28). Although Paul wanted Agrippa to believe in Jesus, he didn’t invite King Agrippa to become a “Christian.”

The apostle Peter used the term Christianos to describe followers of Jesus who were undergoing persecution. He wrote, “But if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify” (1 Pet. 4:16). Peter used the term “Christian” in the same way as those who were persecuting the believers. He was saying to the persecuted, “Glorify Jesus when you are persecuted as a “messianic.”

The greatest concern I have with the term “Christian” is that it is too broad and widely used to be helpful in self-identifying as a follower of Jesus. People sometimes claim to be “Christians” because they were born into a Christian family. Many religious minded people call themselves “Christians” even though they don’t believe that Jesus is the divine Son of God and Savior of fallen humanity. They call themselves “Christians,” because they are not Jewish, Moslem or Buddhist. The heretics who darkened the church over the centuries called themselves “Christians.” The Crusaders who led a murderous spree across Europe to “liberate” Jerusalem from the Moslems and Jews regarded themselves as “Christians.” The Spaniards who carried out the Inquisition were “Christians.” Adolf Hitler and his Nazi followers identified themselves as Christians, as have members of the Klu Klux Klan.

“Christian” Klu Klux Klan members gather at their church

Years ago I was reading my Bible and praying at the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem when I was greeted by Jewish man who asked, “Are you Jewish.” I responded, “No, I am a Christian.” He turned and walked away. I wonder how he might have responded had I replied, “I am messianic.” Perhaps he would have inquired further. Perhaps we might have had a conversation. But by calling myself a “Christian,” I had conjured up two millennia of anti-Jewish sentiment and history of persecution by so-called “Christians.”

In a day when self-identifying has become so acceptable in our increasingly diverse American culture, I wonder if there is a better way for believers to speak of our relationship with Jesus. When the Lord called His first disciples, He simply said, “Follow me” (Mk. 1:17, Matt. 4:19). And immediately the fishermen left their nets and “followed Him” (Mk. 1:18, Matt. 4:20). Jesus’ invitation, “Follow me,” is found repeatedly (ten times) in the Gospels! The word “followed” is commonly used in the Gospels to refer to the crowds who attached themselves to Jesus as His disciples. They became followers of Jesus.

I suggest that “Jesus follower” is a more meaningful way to self-identify than using the traditional, but rather empty term, “Christian.” What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? First, a follower of Jesus must believe and trust that what the Bible says about Him is true (Jn. 20:30-30). A follower of Jesus believes that He is the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world. Intellectual ascent to these facts is not enough. These essential truths must be personally embraced and individually relied upon. Second, a follower of Jesus must count the cost of discipleship (Lk. 9:59-61). Jesus wants followers who are moved not merely by their emotions or family background, but have thoughtfully considered the commitment they are making. Third, a follower of Jesus must be willing to sacrifice (Matt. 16:24). To follow Jesus will require the sacrifice of pleasures, habits, aims and ambitions that we have woven into our lives. This act of turning from ourselves and turning to Jesus is called “repentance.” It is an act of surrendering the leadership of our lives to Jesus. Self-surrender is never easy. It is an act of sacrifice.

Jesus was not a “Christian.” He was the Jewish Messiah of Israel. The apostles were not a “Christians.” They were first century followers of Israel’s promised Messiah. Paul was not a Christian. He was Jewish man whose life changing encounter on the road to Damascus led him to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues saying, “He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). So, I don’t call myself a “Christian.” I identify as a follower of Jesus. And I invite you to be His follower too.

“I Could Never Vote for Trump!”

I have heard a lot of people say recently, “I could never vote for Trump.” I agree. I could never vote for Donald Trump to be my pastor, my church’s Sunday School superintendent or Boys and Girls Club leader. But, here is what you need to know. He’s not running for any of those offices.

I find Trump’s “tweets” annoying, his personal lifestyle unacceptable and his hair atrocious.  But those issues rank pretty low in my consideration of a candidate. What interests me most of all are the political and moral issues which a candidate supports. While there are things I don’t like about Mr. Trump, I applaud his stand on issues. Show me another candidate who embraces the sanctity of unborn human life, who supports the nation of Israel, who appoints conservative minded Supreme Court Justices and who supports the rights of citizens as stated in the Second Amendment, and I will consider giving that person my vote.

If you are going to disqualify Trump from consideration as our nation’s leader, then forget about honoring George Washington who owned over a hundred slaves or Thomas Jefferson who had sex and bore children with his slaves, or Benjamin Franklin who was a flirtatious and unfaithful husband, or Abraham Lincoln whose Emancipation Proclamation applied only to the southern states, leaving slavery to continue in the north, or John F. Kennedy who was having an affair with a Soviet spy when he was assassinated, or Lyndon Johnson, another womanizer, or Richard Nixon who was a foul mouthed liar, or Bill Clinton who was having sex (or something) with Monica in the Oval Office. Did I mention Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. whose birthday our nation celebrates annually? His extramarital affairs make Clinton look like a choir boy by comparison!

I am not writing to “dis” these national leaders. They did some good things. But they weren’t perfect. Nobody is. I don’t judge presidential candidates based on their lifestyles, personal choices or moral compromises. I judge them on the basis of what they have done or are doing for our country. Some politicians in Washington D.C. manage to hide their personal lives and moral compromises better than Mr. Trump. His are right out there in the open for the world to see…and criticize. But one thing is sure about Trump; you see what you get. He is certainly not the pristine example of moral uprightness. But he is doing a better job at keeping his campaign promises than many others who have occupied the White House. Twenty years after congress voted to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Trump had the … well, courage to do it.

Many great men of history have blots on their personal records, but we remember and appreciate them for what they did, not necessarily for who they were. Americans have the right to cast their ballot for a candidate who supports a woman’s prerogative to terminate the life of her unborn child, redefines the meaning of “marriage,” and subverts the original meaning of our nation’s constitution. There are lots of those candidates to choose from. But whether Democrat or Republican, that’s a person I could never vote for!

Oregon Ducks Rose Bowl Winners! But there is more to the story.

The University of Oregon fighting Ducks were victorious over the Wisconsin Badgers in the 106th Rose Bowl football game. The fourth quarter was the most exciting part of the game as the both teams fought for the victory. The Ducks and the Badgers were pretty evenly matched, with Oregon squeezing out one more point than Wisconsin. The final score was 28-27. Whew!

Without wanting to take anything away from Oregon’s hard earned win, I was disappointed in how the game finished. The Oregon team walked to the scrimmage line, got in position for a play. It looked as though the Ducks were going to kick. But when the clock started and the ball was hiked, they quarterback took a knee, put down the ball and walked away with 30 seconds left in the last quarter.

As the clock continued ticking, the team began celebrating. Fans started pouring out onto the field. Water was dumped on the coach’s head. All this while the official game clock continued ticking away the final seconds of the game.

People who know more about football than me are quick to explain. They say that the Ducks didn’t want to start another play with the risk of turning over the ball and giving Wisconsin a chance to score. Other say that the Oregon team didn’t want to risk another play which might result in injury. OK, I get it. Still, even as an Oregon alum and Duck fan, I believe it was wimpy to quit playing the game before it was officially over.

What lesson did the finish of the game have for me? Eighteen months ago I concluded my forty-year career as a professor at Western Seminary. Although I still enjoyed teaching the Bible, I knew that there were others who could do the job equally as well. And they were ready and waiting their turn. In addition, I wanted to leave my teaching post before I ran out of steam and someone suggested that it was time to move on.

So I am officially “retired.” But I really don’t like that word. My game is still on. The clock is still ticking. And I plan to keep playing. I still have sermons to preach, books to write, lectures to teach and disciples to mentor. I don’t plan to spend the next decade of my life coasting to finish line of my life. I want to finish strong and finish well.

I have been in enough marathons to know that the last six miles is the toughest part of the 26-mile race. Plodding along with blistered feet, hungry and thirsty from pushing my way through the first twenty miles, I have wondered, “why am I doing this? I am not going to win. Who cares if I finish?”

But in spite of how I feel or how badly my legs ache, I know I have to finish the race. I will stop at the finish line, and not before. It would be easier to stop running and disappear into the crowd of spectators. But my family would be surprised and a bit disappointed. Most importantly, I would be disappointed in myself.

I don’t know how many more minutes, hours, months or years there are left in my game. Someday the Lord will blow His whistle and stop the clock. But until that day, I will be playing hard, playing to win, giving Satan some hard knocks and doing all I can to advance the kingdom of God here on earth. The mighty Oregon Ducks won the 2020 Rose Bowl football game. But they didn’t finish strong. They didn’t fight until the clock stopped. They coasted into the finish. They started the victory celebration before the game was officially over.

I hope and pray that by God’s grace, I will still be in the race, pushing hard in the marathon of life until I cross the finish line and the clock stops.

 

The Impeachment Hearings: A Biblical Perspective

I usually begin my day with a 3-5 mile run in and around Portland’s premiere greenway, Mt. Tabor Park. But on Fridays, I take a break from the trails and tarmac to give my upper body a workout at Cascade Health Club. The “stair master” is great for keeping my calves and quads in shape for backpacking and mountain climbing during the summer.

This morning as I started stepping up, up, and up, I couldn’t help noticing that five of the nine televisions were providing live coverage of the public impeachment hearings. The stated purpose of these public hearings is to present sufficient incriminating evidence against President Trump that the American citizens will support his impeachment.

As I watched the hearings, I couldn’t help but think of the words of King David in Psalm 2:4 where he declares, “He who sits in heaven laughs.” Who is David referring to? He is referring to God, the Creator and Ruler of the universe. You may be surprised to discover that God actually has a sense of humor and laughs.

As you read Psalm 2, you discover what God is laughing about. He is laughing at the nations and their rulers who are focused on devising their own plans and exercising their own power. They have set themselves against God and His authority. They believe they are so important, powerful and wise, that no one is going to challenge them.

Sadly, the judges and rulers have an inflated opinion of themselves. They think they are in charge. But David declares that they are deceived and deluded. So who is in charge, if not the rulers, judges and kings of the earth? David has the answer. God is the sovereign Ruler of His creation. God declares, “I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain” (Psalm 2:6). The rule of God’s appointed, messianic King is so certain that His dominion is declared in the past tense, as if it has already been accomplished.

David concludes Psalm 2 with a warning for the kings and judges to “wise up” and heed his warning. “Worship the LORD with reverence…and do homage to [His] Son.” God is the ultimate ruler and judge. And David promises blessing “for all who take refuge in Him.”

While the impeachment process is a serious matter, we must keep an eternal perspective on such temporal events. While the world seems to be in disarray, there is comfort in knowing that the King is still on His throne. God, not man, is in charge. God’s kingdom work is progressing and will be culminated with the return of King Jesus, the world’s sovereign Ruler and ultimate Judge. What is happening in the impeachment hearings is less than a dot on the pages of world history. Whatever the outcome, the BIG news for today is that God is still in charge! The press, National Public Radio and the television stations are ignoring the most important news story of the ages. Today’s news will soon be forgotten. The BIG news story is that the King, is coming! “Take warning, O judges of the earth.” King Jesus is coming to rule and to judge.

 

Six Principles for Discipling Children

I am thankful for the ministry of Awana, church based program which is being used to reach 4 million kids every week in over 120 countries. Awana is a discipleship program that gives children and youth from every background the opportunity to know, love and serve Jesus for a lifetime. God is the Awana leaders and volunteers to bless children in a way that will impact them for a lifetime!

Awana volunteers recognize that the most strategic time in a person’s life to impart spiritual truth is during their childhood. How do we pass on spiritual truth to our children? Deuteronomy 6 provides the answer. Here we discover six biblical principles for discipling children.

Deuteronomy 6 is primarily an exposition of the 1st commandment, “You shall have no other Gods before me” (Deut. 5:7). The very first thing God wants His people to know is that there is one true God, and He alone is worthy of our worship and service.

  1. Follow the biblical pattern (1-3). Moses begins my showing us the biblical pattern for discipleship. Pass it on! To make disciples, we pass on what we have learned to others. Moses taught the parents. The parents were responsible for teaching their children and grandchildren. And the good results of passing on this spiritual truth is that the recipients will have long life (v. 2) and lots of blessing (v. 3).
  2. Focus attention on the one true God (4). Verses are known as the “Shema,” based on the Hebrew word, “Hear.” But the word doesn’t just mean “hear with your ears,” but respond to what you hear with your heart, mind and body.” Verse four declares the uniqueness of the one, true God. The words, “Yahweh is one (achad), are better translated, “Yahweh alone!” Daniel Block writes, “This is a cry of allegiance, an affirmation of covenant commitment in response to the question, ‘Who is the God of Israel?’” (JETS 2004).
  3. Be passionate in your love for God (5). If you are not passionate in your love for God, don’t expect your children to be excited and passionate about God. Verse 5 calls for an all-encompassing love for God. We are to love God with all our heart (intention or will), soul (our whole self) and our might (the superlative degree of commitment. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 in answer to the question, “What is the greatest commandment in the law” (Matt. 22:37).
  4. Recognize the importance of repetition (6-9). What is teaching? The Hebrew word used in verse six means “repeat.” Teaching is helping others to learn through a process of repetition. People sometimes ask me how I learned the Bible. It was by repeatedly studying and reviewing the truths of God’s Word. I believe that repetition with variety is the key t learning. Moses gives us two examples of the element of variety.

The first is to inscribe God’s Word on your hand and forehead. These verses are the basis for the Jewish tradition of putting a phylactery or teffilin (plural for tefillah, “prayer”) on their forehead and arm. This is a visual and ongoing reminder that all we do should be done in the light of His commandments. Putting God’s Word on your forehead, right between your eyes, places is near your mind and in the forefront of your memory.

The second example of variety in teaching is to put God’s word on the mezuzah (literally “doorpost) of your house and gates. This serves as a constant reminder that as we go out of our homes and into the city, we are to obey God’s commandments.

In Jewish tradition, these instructions are applied literally, as they put on their phylactery (a little black box containing a portion of Scripture) and install the mezuzah (a little tube containing a portion of Scripture) at the entrance of their homes. Another way to apply these verses is to have a box of memory cards which are regularly posted on the refrigerator and bathroom mirror for the purposes of remembering and reviewing Scripture.

  1. Emphasize the holy triad (10-19). Three things rise to the top of Moses’ list for training disciples: First, “remember God” (10-12). Forgetfulness of Yahweh’s goodness is the pathway to disobedience and failure. Here Moses offers a warning that success and prosperity can be dangerous to your spiritual life if you don’t remember that God is the source of these blessings! A famous Jewish rabbi said, “Forgetfulness leads to exile. Remembrance is the key to redemption.”

Second, “Fear God” (13-16). To “fear God” means to know who He is and what He expects of His people. The “fear of God” is a reverence and respect for God that leads us to obey His commandments. Moses warns his people to “fear God” by not becoming entangled with the false gods of Canaan or the secular culture.

Third, “Obey God” (17-19). Be diligent to obey God!  As the grand old hymn reminds us, “Trust and obey, for there is no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

  1. Embrace strategic opportunities (20-25). Discipling children requires embracing teachable moments. A teachable moment is when a child asks a question. Drop everything and respond! Moses instructs parents to teach what God has done in history (21-23). Then what God has revealed in his Word (24-25). Finally, teach what God has promised (24). Moses says that our obedience doesn’t just please God, it is the key to our survival. Obedience is for “our good” and for “our life.”

Since I have not really “taught” until I have repeated, here is a summary of six principles from Deuteronomy 6 for discipling children:

  • Follow the biblical pattern of passing what you have learned on to others.
  • Focus children’s attention on the one true God as revealed in Jesus.
  • Be passionate in your own love for God. You can’t teach what you aren’t doing.
  • Recognize the importance of repetition. If you are not repeating, you are not teaching! “Repetition with variety is the key to learning.”
  • Emphasize the holy triad of remembering, fearing and obeying God.
  • Embrace strategic opportunities, like teachable moments when a child’s mind is open and their hearts are tender.

After visiting my wife’s family in Atlanta, Georgia, we were traveling by metro train to the airport. A few stops after we boarded the train, a group of young boys riding their electric scooters got on and began riding up and down the aisle and verbally abusing the passengers. Alerted by the train security, the police boarded the train a few stops later and escorted the boys off the train. It was sad to see a group of who were headed for a lifetime of trouble and possibly jail since they had not been taught the truths of God’s Word. How different their lives might be if they had been discipled through the ministry of AWANA!