Is it the End of the World?

Is it the End of the World?

Evangelicals Silent on Hamas Kidnappings

posted by jfletcher

Bradley Scott’s shout-out to the White House, silent so far about the kidnapping of three Israeli youth this week, could also be directed at an audience formerly supportive of Israel: American Christian leaders.

Response from American “Christian Palestinianists” to the kidnappings this week by Hamas of three Israeli teenagers is almost non-existent. These supporters of the Palestinian Narrative (the idea that Israel is a belligerent and violent bully in the “occupation”) never miss an opportunity to criticize Israel loudly over real or perceived abuses of Palestinians.

This silence is shameful and outrageous. Yet it goes on.

When looking at the usual suspects, one is struck by the fact that only a couple have even mentioned the kidnapping of Gilad Shaer, Naftali Frankel, and Eyal Yifrah. The hostages have names and should be recognized.

Those American Christian supporters of the Palestinians are led by a host of well-known activists, media outlets, and ministry leaders, among them: writer Donald Miller, Sojourners, Shane Claiborne, Christianity Today magazine, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding (EMEU), Telos Group, Lynne Hybels, World Vision, Relevant magazine, and Tony Campolo.

Todd Deatherage, co-founder of Telos, posted about the kidnappings on Twitter, citing a statement that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas had condemned the kidnappings. CMEP posted about the kidnappings on its Facebook page.

The others, especially Miller—who has accused the Israel Defense Forces of war crimes, without documentation—are silent in the face of this humanitarian outrage. In particular, media outlets like Christianity Today usually are quick to post negative articles about Israel (for example, when the Knesset considers bills to curtail “missionary activity”), yet so far the flagship periodical of the American evangelical world is silent about the kidnapping of Jewish youth by jihadists.

Relevant, a leader in the evangelical Millennial community, has also been silent about the kidnappings, yet rarely misses an opportunity to portray Israel in the most negative light possible. The grotesque abduction of Shaer, Frankel (an American citizen), and Yifrah does not fit the anti-Israel narrative of Relevant, CT, and others, and goes a long way in explaining their silence on this story.

Some Christian media are spotlighting the kidnappings. World magazine, in the “Midday Roundup” on June 16, detailed the Israeli search:

“Politically charged. Israeli troops have been searching house to house in the city of Hebron for three teenagers who went missing in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the militant group Hamas kidnapped them. Israeli spokesman Mark Regev blamed the kidnappings on the Palestinian Authority, but a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that was not the case. He said Israeli security controlled the area where the teens went missing. Today, Abbas publicly condemned the kidnappings.”

Abbas, of course, has allowed incitement against Jews to rage in Palestinian society for decades, and images of Palestinian children holding up three fingers to symbolize the cultural delight in the taking of three hostages have made the rounds on social media.

Posters of terrorist "martyrs" in Jerusalem's Old City.

Posters of terrorist “martyrs” in Jerusalem’s Old City.

CAMERA, a Boston-based media watchdog group, has acknowledged the silence from several surprising quarters.

One would hope that those progressives who identify as Christian in America would have the decency to decry the kidnappings. Usually, the only time such do reply in these situations is when they take the opportunity to employ a common tactic from the Left: change the subject. This involves changing the focus from three Jewish kidnap victims now in the hands of jihadists, to focus on Israeli checkpoints, “occupation,” etc.

This silence stands as a macabre witness to the erosion of morality in the American Christian leadership community.

It would appear that Jewish life is cheap in powerful religious circles. We have been down this bloody and horrifying road before.

I call on the aforementioned activists for the Palestinians—and their wider circle of friends—to acknowledge these kidnappings.

All in Good Fun?

posted by jfletcher

One of the primary sources of hope in our world today is the marvelous example of predictive prophecy in the Bible.

Contrary to the view of some Christian leaders in America—who like to marginalize Bible prophecy teaching—the Bible is loaded with such examples. From epic, sweeping prophecies (God promising Noah He will never again destroy the earth by water, in Genesis 9) to the more mundane (though no less miraculous: Matthew 17:27, the coin in the fish’s mouth)…God is telling us loudly that He knows all, considers all, and cares about every person.

Only a Being whose essence is love would provide us with such irrefutable evidence that He is alive and active in our world. One of my favorite “substitute words” for prophecies is promises. When God promises to do what He said He would do (Isaiah 46:9,10), we can all have confidence that Good is in control. By reading the Bible, we get the full picture of God’s overall plan for humanity, and the planet itself.

It is divine revelation.

Yet it is supremely ironic (and a fulfillment of prophecy; see 2 Peter 3) that major Christian leaders today, and many ministries—including apologetics ministries—either ignore or marginalize prophecy. As Bob DeWaay writes in the Winter 2014 issue of Critical Issues Commentary:

“As soon as divine revelation is rejected, despised or twisted we end up in despair of knowing the truth.”

This of course is the great tragedy of the teaching of men like Brian McLaren, and other, more mainstream evangelical leaders who seem embarrassed or otherwise put-off by prophecy teaching. Sadly, this mindset is affecting Millennial leaders. Bloggers like Margaret Feinberg and even Southern Baptist heavyweight Ed Stetzer strive to take people away from prophecy teaching.

(In a 2013 piece in Charisma magazine, Feinberg twists the question of an earnest Millennial, who wants to know if we are living in the end-times.)

And because so many young people feel despair today, they have no way of finding a way out. The so-called Emergent theology says that we can’t know absolute truth, and so they twist Scripture.

I was reminded of all this a couple days ago, when yet another swipe at the new “Left Behind” movie (starring Nicholas Cage) appeared in the pages of Relevant magazine. Publisher Cameron Strang, who by extension also uses his magazine to marginalize the great fulfillment of prophecy—Israel—loves to mock Cage and this film.

Roman destruction in Jerusalem's Old City—prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24.

Roman destruction in Jerusalem’s Old City—prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24.

Here, I’m not arguing for or against the film itself, or even particularly about Dispensationalism (connected to several failed predictions of the Rapture in the past 40 years). What I am saying is that the “guilt by association” tag is harming legitimate prophecy teaching, and depriving young people in particular of a great source of hope in an increasingly hopeless world.

In a short piece titled, “When You Stare Into the ‘Left Behind’ Poster, the ‘Left Behind’ Poster Stares Back,” published May 29 in Relevant, we are treated to this jab:

“It’s been a little while since we’ve had any news to report on our generation’s defining moment, the release of Nicolas Cage’s Left Behind reboot. The film’s inner machinations have been shrouded in mystery, far from the public eye, perfecting every point of the story in much the same way Michelangelo perfected every point of the Sistine Chapel.”

Dripping with sarcasm, this is but one of several such tweaks in the past year. In an email response to my query about why the Relevant staff does this, Strang wrote:

“We don’t poke fun at Bible prophecy (never once has our coverage made light of any actual theology); we simply lampoon Christian culture kitsch.”

Except that isn’t really true.

A 2009 interview between authors Jason Boyett and Rob Stennett is a good example of the general tone Millennial Christian leaders take when discussing the subject of Christian eschatology. As Stennett explains:

“I’m really not sure if one day all the Christians will just vanish in piles of clothes and unmanned vehicles, because over the 2,000 years there have been so many different ways we imagined the end of the world coming. And I’m pretty positive it’s not going to happen in my lifetime, but now that I’ve said that I’ll probably be raptured right in the middle of answering this question (or you’ll be raptured right in the middle of the answer).”

In another 2009 piece, writer Brett McCracken clearly signaled the tone Relevant (and its publisher) take with regard to Christian eschatology:

“We could make fun of evangelical end-times ridiculousness all day, but the question remains: why does it sell? Why are we so strangely excited by the possibilities that the earth will be destroyed and throngs of people will perish at the hands of a God antsy to get the wheels turning on the whole Revelation thing?”

So…Cameron Strang says his magazine doesn’t “poke fun at Bible prophecy,” but one of his writers does, calling it “end-times ridiculousness.” And that’s just one example.

Relevant booth, "Catalyst East," Atlanta—influencing the next generation leaders.

Relevant booth, “Catalyst East,” Atlanta—influencing the next generation leaders.

Reading these pieces in Relevant, one comes away with the clear feeling that they do indeed mock “Rapture theology,” “Dispensationalists,” etc. The New Evangelicals do not like to emphasize the kind of eschatology associated with the imminent Return of Christ. They just don’t.

Let me speculate as to why this mindset is strong among Millennials:

•Traditionalists in the church embarrass them. They want to disassociate themselves from “old-school” religion or, as Relevant likes to say, “dead religion.”

•Classic Christian eschatology rubs against the Millennial view that they can “make the world better.” This follows the teaching of Millennial mentors like Rick Warren, who discourage the study of Bible prophecy. The question few ask is, “What if Warren & Friends are wrong?”

•Legitimate concerns over the irresponsible speculations of bad prophecy teachers. They have done great damage to the cause of prophecy teaching. Millennials are right to stay clear of such false teachers.

There is no greater evidence in our world today that God is alive and active…than the fulfillment of prophecy. Israel exists, against all odds, as perhaps the centerpiece of “end-times” theology.

It’s too bad leaders like Cameron Strang, Rick Warren, and Margaret Feinberg risk irrelevance by attacking prophecy teaching.

What do you think?

A Single Human Being

posted by jfletcher

Memorial Day.

Remembering the dead is always poignant. Those of us of a certain generation are emotional at the site of American flags on display in military cemeteries. Decorating family graves is bittersweet. Remembering those who gave their lives protecting us is no small matter. I think of all those 19-year-olds at places like Normandy and the Argonne, and too many others.

Can you imagine (I cannot), in the smoke and mist of battle, feeling alone in a forest, and calling out for your mother? God knows men on both sides have done that since time immemorial.

Thank you, Lord, that people have given of themselves to protect the rest of us.

Death is a specter in our world.

That’s why I take comfort in the promises of the Bible. Resurrection is a strong theme in Scripture, and it reminds us that each person is precious to God. Each one. Not only in our era, but all eras.Bible

Some might think it odd, but when these bits of memory float across my consciousness, I think of how much God has always loved humanity. The Babylonian scribe. The Aztec princess. The Russian officer at Pyana River.

All are precious in His site.

God is always concerned about the individual. Yes, He guides history and eras and civilizations, but the person matters to the Creator.

We hear an echo of this in the sublime closing speech delivered by Spencer Tracy’s character, Judge Dan Haywood, in “Judgment at Nuremberg”:

“Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: Justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

So we think about these things here in America, on Memorial Day weekend.

Is there life after death? The Bible says there is.

(An aside: there are plenty of evidences that the Bible is wholly true. Believing that is the key step in believing its promises of resurrection and full life in the life beyond.)

At the Getty Museum in California, there is a touching display of the effects of death on the human conscience.

An Athenian woman, identified as Sime, sits on a chair, surrounded by her family. The gravestone further depicts her as shaking hands with her husband, and the takeaway is that there is a bond between family members after death.

Our hearts feel more than a twinge at such images. Humanity shared is an intimate experience, no matter who we are or where we’re from. All die.

Yet the Bible speaks of resurrection. I have heard scholars say that ancient man, in his “primitive thinking” knew little about the afterlife. That’s silly and wrong. Job, for example, knew a great deal about the next life. So did the rest of the great figures of the Bible. The New Testament, echoing the Hebrew Scriptures, speaks much about the life beyond.

An elderly friend of mine is currently watching her best friend die from cancer. It has caused her to think about her own mortality, of course. We all do. She is grappling at this moment with understanding how God deals with us at such a time.

Another dear friend lost her mother to breast cancer 20 years ago. I firmly believe they will see each other again, in perfect health and joy everlasting.

The Bible speaks of a future time, when there will be—permanently—no more suffering or death or sadness.

An ancient grave in Jerusalem, which will one day be empty

An ancient grave in Jerusalem, which will one day be empty

“And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying.” (Isaiah 65:19)

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

I am sitting now on my deck, surrounded by woods and the melodies of a thousand songbirds. I am thinking of a placard I read at the World War 2 Museum in New Orleans; the words of a young man speeding across the English Channel in the early morning of June 6, 1944:

“The Channel waves bounced our craft like a bobber, and a heavy mist made visibility far from good. There was no conversation now. Each soldier was making his peace with himself as we got closer to the beach.”

I do not know what happened to that soldier. But I know—here at Memorial Day—that he mattered to God.

Who is in your thoughts on Memorial Day?

The Coming Messianic Temple

posted by jfletcher

The privilege of standing on the Temple Mount — the spiritual center of the universe — cannot be adequately described. Singing birds, lush trees, and the quiet presence of pilgrims from around the world make the place a park-like setting for one’s soul.

For this is Mt. Moriah, the almost-fabled spot where Abraham and Isaac had their encounter with the Divine. Where David and Solomon worshiped the Lord of History. It is where Jesus took a whip to the money changers.

And it is where destruction in ancient Jerusalem, on an unprecedented scale, left a sadness that Jews and many Christians today still lament.

AD 70.

A Roman army has laid siege to the city of Jerusalem, and finally the Legion breaches the walls. Amid the slaughter of Jews, the Temple is itself destroyed. So complete is the frenzied onslaught, nothing at all remains of the Temple; stones and other debris are pushed over the side (where they remain today!). Christians in particular recognize this as the fulfillment of the prophecies in the Gospels, when Jesus had told his disciples that one day, “not one stone will be left upon another.”

For centuries, only the cry of an occasional hawk or the sobbing of a stray pilgrim was heard on the Temple Mount.

Eventually, with the rise of Islam, the golden Dome of the Rock, and the Al-Aksa Mosque were erected on this site. To this day, no one knows the exact spot where the Temple stood (the first, having been built by Solomon, was destroyed by the Babylonians, while the so-called “Herod’s Temple” was the one targeted by Titus.

All this makes a new book by Chaim Clorfene so compelling. I’ve stood on the Temple Mount many times, trying to imagine the location of the Temple. Clorfene’s book, The Messianic Temple: Understanding Ezekiel’s Prophecy, is one of the most extraordinary I’ve seen. Be sure and check out the wonderful promo video, in which Chaim explains the basis of the book.

With over 200 color photographs and illustrations, Hebrew text followed by English translation, and commentary and history about the site…I can’t put this book down.

It helps bring a remarkable segment of history — past, present, and future — alive for the “average” reader. As a Christian, and one whose heart soars when biblical history and my beloved Jewish friends are discussed, I can’t say enough good things about Chaim’s efforts here.

Yes, it does help me that I’ve visited the Temple Mount, but the real value of this book is for those who have not. Here’s an overblown phrase, but one that rings so true with The Messianic Temple: You feel like you’re there.

And there’s something else you need to understand about Chaim’s book: the Ezekiel prophecy, from the final nine chapters of the prophet’s book, describe a future rebuilding of the Temple, thus the “Messianic” flavor of it. This future Temple, which many Jews and Christians believe will be literally rebuilt, will be for the Messiah, Himself. Ezekiel has very detailed descriptions of the physical structure of this Third Temple, and again, Chaim’s book brings it all to rich and colorful life.

Temple model, Israel Museum

Temple model, Israel Museum

He also provides historical detail that will thrill the reader. For example, in 312 B.C., Alexander the Great has extended his rule over Israel, having taken the territory from the Persians. He purposes to destroy the Temple, on the advice of the Samaritans. But one morning at dawn, he sees a group of Jews from Jerusalem approach. They are the high priest, Simeon the Just (Shimon HaTzadik) and some noblemen.

Incredibly, as they come near to him, Alexander descends from his chariot and bows low to the ground, in front of them. He says, “In all our battles, I see the image of the face of a man who blesses me with victory. It is the face of that man. Should I not bow to him?”

This encounter compels Alexander to spare the Temple.

Such historical detail, along with biblical commentary, makes The Messianic Temple: Understanding Ezekiel’s Prophecy, invaluable to the student of biblical history. I want to help Chaim connect with those students, and so I give my endorsement to this masterful work.

Next year in Jerusalem!

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