The Last Days Indeed!

LastDaysIndeed-360Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do (1 Chronicles 12:32)

Do you understand the times in which we live? Do you really know what’s going on? Do you think you know what’s going to happen? Do you think it’s the end of the world?

There are many people who think we are in what are referred to as “the Last Days” or “the End Times.” Pointing to Bible passages and current events, they claim that we are finally and absolutely in the twilight of time, the brink of destruction, as if Yeshua (Jesus) is going to return any day now, the precise details of which are subject to one’s eschatology. “Eschatology” means “the study of the last days.” The Greek word, “eschatos”, simply means “last” and refers to the final item in a succession of things or time. An example of this word relating to eschatology is 2 Timothy 3:1, where Paul, who is nearing the end of his own life, writes “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.” This sentences introduces a description of “the last days,” which includes selfishness, greed, rebellion against parental authority, lack of self-control, and religious hypocrisy. Doesn’t this sound just like our own day? Certainly this is indeed the end of days!

Hold on a second! Peter uses eschatos when preaching to the crowds during the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost). He explains the strange phenomenon of Yeshua’s followers praising God in other languages. Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, writing in Greek, provides Peter’s quoting of the Hebrew prophet Joel: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Act 2:17). Peter is not speaking of a day afar off, but his own present time. He uses eschatos similarly in both his letters (see 1 Peter 1:20; 2 Peter 3:3) as does John (see 1 John 2:18) and Jude (see Jude 1:18). In John’s case he describes the time in which he is living as “the last hour.” Did he expect the Messiah in less than sixty minutes?

But didn’t Yeshua tell his followers that troubled times would signify the end?

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matthew 24:29-31)

But while this may sound as if Yeshua said these things so that a future generation would recognize the time of his return, the context of these words, found earlier in the chapter, imply a different motive:

For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Messiah (ESV text: ‘Christ’],” and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake (Matthew 24:5-9)

Far from speaking about troubles to signify his return, Yeshua is teaching his followers (both then and now) to not be put off or distracted by the occurrence of such troubles. Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, Yeshua proclaimed, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). After his resurrection he would say, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-19). Such triumphal language would understandably lead his followers to assume that troubles would melt before them everywhere they went. But no; trouble would remain. In fact, trouble would increase. Their troubles would increase. Just as Yeshua’s presence caused the evil of darkness to manifest itself, resulting in his suffering, his disciples should expect nothing less. It would be some time before the day of the Messiah’s final rescue and judgment, but until then, his people should not lose heart.

But don’t we live in unique times? Has not trouble increased to an extent such as never before – the wars, the disease, the moral decay? The end must surely be at hand. It seems, however, that this is how every generation thinks of itself. And every generation does exactly what Yeshua warned us against. We get discouraged by the problems of our age instead of staying focused on the mission he gave us. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look for his return. Far from it! Being expectant of his soon appearing is supposed to fuel ongoing diligence to stay faithful to our Gospel mandate, which, rightly understood, is the proclamation of Yeshua’s kingship in every area of life. Are we closer today to the Lord’s coming than we were yesterday? Absolutely! But what difference is that supposed to make to seeking first God’s kingdom (see Matthew 6:33)?

Every time period since Yeshua’s first coming has been a mix of good and bad to varied degrees. In this age of Gospel proclamation, while we should expect trouble, we are to be encouraged by Yeshua’s victory over the world (see John 16:33). As Peter told the crowds in Jerusalem, as being in the last days, we live as recipients of the gift of God’s Spirit, poured out upon us to equip us to assail the gates of hell. Captives the world over are being set free and are joining the ranks of the redeemed, so they too can be used of God to break the curse’s chains.

While we don’t know the day of his coming, let’s keep focused on whatever the Lord has called each of us to. He will eventually and fully establish his kingdom, but until then, you never know what difference you will make.

All scripture references are from the English Standard Version.

Are You What You Do?

Who Are You?

How do you define yourself? Maybe this isn’t something you normally think about. Or you think about it all the time. If asked, you might give what you think is the right answer, such as “Child of God.” But really—who do you think you are?

Would you agree that most people define themselves like this: “I am a student”; “I am a carpenter”; “I am a stay-at-home mom”; “I am unemployed”? Yet we know we are much more than our occupations or lack thereof. At the same time, I don’t think we should be too quick to unidentify ourselves with our activities. After all, even though we are called human beings and not human doings, it isn’t possible to be without doing unless you are sleeping or unconscious.

We have been placed on earth by God to do, not simply to be. Our first parents were mandated to do things, including have lots of kids, rule over the animals, and cultivate the earth under God’s oversight. Every legitimate activity since then is an extension of these. Yeshua had no issue about doing. In fact, if I didn’t know any better,  these words of his sound as if they were spoken by a workaholic: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). Not only did he take his doings seriously, he had to be pretty obsessed with them to call them “food.”

However, I am not trying to say that we should find our identity in what we do. It’s only that it is pretty clear to me that we aren’t going to discover who we really are by downplaying the role our activities have in our lives. Since doing is an essential part of being human, disassociating ourselves from our activities is impossible. Once we accept that our doing is an essential part of who we are, we still face the problem of over identifying with our activities. But instead of attempting the unhelpful tactic of trying to detach ourselves from our doing, let me suggest another solution.

God mandated human beings to serve his purposes on earth. Each one of us has a part to play in the fulfillment of God’s plans. The things each of us does should contribute to God’s overall purpose. Therefore what we do is not, or at least should not, be about us, but about God. Therefore, we should be able to take our doing seriously without our taking it overly personally. My work is something I do because of who I am, but my work is not me. We should be able to step back from our work as God did with his upon the completion of creation and say, “It is very good” (see Genesis 1:31).

It seems to me that a healthy understanding of the relationship of what we do to who we are is essential to how we relate our work to others. A parent who takes his or her parenting personally will tend to mold their child rearing according to the latest trends or the expectations of others. Retailers who are too concerned about the impression of others over and above the quality of their products and services won’t stay in business for long. Medical professionals who lose their objectivity when treating patients will find themselves overwhelmed with fear and depression. People who in charitable work who cannot separate their identity from their activities will mistakenly think that donations are personal gifts rather than the funding of their work.

Being in charitable work myself, I have a feeling that I am not the only one who struggles with this. The size and structure of the organization we are affiliated with plays a part as well. If the organization requires personal promotion and personal contact with donors, as mine does, it’s easy to confuse our work with ourselves. If this is the case, we might have to more intentionally clarify to ourselves and others that the funding of our work is just that, funding the work in order to provide the necessary resources to accomplish it.

Whatever the work we do, we may all need to take a step back and remind ourselves that we aren’t what we do, but we do what we do as an expression of who we are in God and our calling in him, whatever that may be. We are not called to simply be, but also to do in serving his purposes in this world.

Are You in Trouble?

I am currently reading For the Love of Zion by Kelvin Crombie, which chronicles the contribution of the world’s oldest evangelical Jewish mission to the restoration of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. CMJ (The Church’s Ministry among the Jews), was founded in 1809 as “The London Society for the Promotion of the Gospel to the Jews.” In the late 18th and the early 19th centuries British evangelicals were keen on the restoration of the Jewish people to both God and the Land. CMJ and its supporters were pioneers of what was called the Restoration movement, helping to establish not only the first Protestant church in the Middle East (Christ Church in Jerusalem in 1849), but also spurred the establishment of all sorts of other institutions, such as hospitals and schools. They tended to the needs of both Jews and Gentiles in the midst of very challenging circumstances. Against all odds, the vision to reestablish the Land of Israel as a Jewish homeland was embraced by Bible-believing Christians long before anyone else did, including the Jewish people themselves.

What has struck me while I have read this account is the great amount of trouble these believers endured. Physical dangers, including mortal illness and war, and opposition from fellow believers and non-believers, including disdain on the part of the very people they sought to serve. It is difficult to picture from our vantage point what it must have been like to initiate this venture, when there was so little interest outside of their circles, and the Land for which they had great hopes was desolate and hostile. Yet they persevered through every trial.

My reaction to their tenacity has caused me to see how much I hate trouble and how I do whatever I can to avoid and escape it. Should I also mention my futile attempts to wish it away? Yet trouble is something Yeshua guarantees: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33; ESV). He warns us about trouble, so that we would know peace in its midst, without downplaying its inevitability or its intensity.

I don’t think I am alone regarding my apprehension towards trouble. Many of us go to great lengths to make life as smooth and easy as possible. Ever since God cursed the creation we have been fighting a battle against the thorns of life, doing whatever we can to overcome them. The pursuit of comfort and convenience, which generates a huge percentage of our time, energy, and money, is nothing more than trouble avoidance and escape.

But thankfully that’s not what the early Restorationists did. Nor is it what most people in history who have made a positive, lasting difference have done. Rather than being put off by trouble, people who make a difference are those who are willing to do whatever it takes no matter what.

But it wasn’t trouble that motivated the Restorationists; it was the Scriptures. As they embraced God’s unconditional promises regarding the Jewish people’s return to God and the Land, these Christians ventured into unchartered territory with little else to encourage them. What difference should danger, sickness, death, and opposition make when one is convinced of God’s direction? Should the impossible get in the way of a God inspired vision?

The Restorationists understood God’s words through Moses: “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3; ESV). As I explain in a recent TorahBytes message (Overcoming Evil), sin entered the world because Adam and Eve failed on this very point, and sin continues to have its way for the same reason. We were designed by God to serve his purposes on Planet Earth by carefully keeping in tune with his voice. What Israel was to learn in the wilderness, we still need to learn today—we must not be driven by personal desires or circumstances, but rather be led by the Word of God.

Keeping attentive to God’s Word enables us to live effective, godly lives in the midst of trouble. Just because we learn to accept trouble’s inevitability doesn’t mean that we don’t confront it. On the contrary, God’s will is often related to confronting trouble on several fronts. Yeshua’s encouragement regarding trouble reminds us that sin and its effects have not been eradicated. We will continue to face the razor sharp edges of life’s thorns, but do so as we extend Messiah’s rescue mission to the nations. We should therefore not be put off by the difficulties we encounter as we follow him wherever he leads.

God’s Mirror

mirror01_480

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25; ESV)

I always found the imagery of the mirror here intriguing. James tells us that a person who hears God’s Word, but doesn’t do it is like someone who after looking at themselves in a mirror forgets what they looked like. But what is it they’re seeing in the mirror? Mirrors reflect. When we look at a mirror, we see ourselves as we currently are. So what is being forgotten? Is it our intended actions based on what we saw—something akin to “Oh look, my hair is messy; I need to brush it!”—but then, for some reason, we leave the house having neglected to brush our hair?

That makes some sense. We read the Bible and see we need to make changes. Perhaps I have been holding a grudge against someone—a serious case of unforgiveness—and I say to myself that I should let it go, and perhaps call the person who offended me to apologize and treat them again with kindness. But it’s not long before the hurtful memories of the past burn afresh in my heart, and I let my brief resolve slip away. So while looking into the pages of God’s Word brought a certain level of conviction, I quickly forgot about it and did nothing about my condition.

While that might be it, what is it about the nature of this mirror that enables it to reflect who I am so effectively? We know the Bible teaches us about God and his ways and that through it we discover how to have a right relationship with him. This includes learning that we are alienated from God and that we need his grace through the Messiah to be reconciled to him. Then as God’s children we are called to worship him and live fruitful godly lives. I regularly quote 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

I like to point out that “all Scripture” here is the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, since the New Testament wasn’t written yet. These words apply to the New Testament by extension, but they primarily apply to the Old. That means that there’s something about the Hebrew Scriptures that equips us “for every good work.” The way James puts it we are to be changed by God’s “perfect law”. He may have meant the Five Books of Moses or the entire Hebrew Bible, but either way the point is similar. There is something about how God reveals truth that is designed to reflect who we are in order to initiate change in our lives.

So how is it that we see ourselves so accurately in this mirror? It’s not as if the Bible is a compilation of abstract philosophical musings over human nature. Not that there aren’t such comments here and there, but by and large we learn about human nature by reading about the experiences of others. Strangely these others are from cultures and contexts very different from our own. Yet as we encounter the characters of the Bible, we see ourselves—people just like us, struggling to be people of God. Not having what it takes in and of themselves, they can’t escape their calling as God’s chosen ones, who cannot find either peace with God or clarification of their mission in life apart from God’s grace.

Who are these people? Who are the players in this divinely-designed story through whom we see our own reflection? You know the answer, of course—it’s the Jewish people. You know the answer, but does it surprise you anyway to learn that you see yourself in them? Everyone, no matter what time or place they’re from, whatever their cultural or ethnic origin, sees themselves in the Jewish people. This is because God picked the perfect people group to whom all other nations would most be able to relate and from whom we all could potentially learn.

This might explain something I have wondered about for a long time. I have had trouble understanding why there is so much fuss over the Jewish people. There is so much going on in the world. But why is it that when Jewish people or the State of Israel is involved, it evokes so much interest. Could it be that the reflective function of the Jewish people isn’t confined to the pages of Scriptures, but that they continue in this role forever?

As far as Scripture is concerned the Jewish people play center stage in the unfolding of God’s plans and purposes. This is not only true for the Old Testament but for the New as well. As Paul said regarding the Jewish people: “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29; ESV). The final book of the entire Bible concludes with God dwelling in Jerusalem with Jewish names embossed on its foundation stones and gates. The destiny of the Jewish people will have worldwide repercussions. The future of the whole of mankind is wrapped up in them. Could it be that somewhere deep inside all of us we know that? So whatever happens to them evokes all sorts of reactions.

I can’t say for sure that my psychological speculations are correct. But regardless, we cannot escape the reality of the biblical understanding of the Jewish people’s central role in God’s plan. To disregard that is to ignore what we see in God’s mirror.

Why I Am Not Neutral

Not Neutral image“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” – Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, Author, Nobel Peace Laureate

Recent events, including the Israel/Gaza conflict, have helped to me to rethink what is the proper biblical response to social issues. Up until recently I have wrongly associated the need to demonstrate authentic love toward everyone, including our enemies (see Matthew 5:43-48), with neutrality.

A correct understanding of godly impartiality is illustrated through the heavenly messenger who appeared to Moses’ successor Joshua in preparation for entering the Promised Land. When Joshua first encountered this person, Joshua confronted him with the question, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” (Joshua 5:13; ESV). The response is instructive, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come” (Joshua 5:14; ESV). God is supremely impartial and objective. His is always the side of right. The question we need to ask ourselves not whose side he is on, but are we on his side. Right has a side.

When we face the messiness of life, it may sound spiritual to be neutral. It may indeed be spiritual, but not a spirituality rooted in the Bible. In Buddhism, for example, to disengage from life’s concerns in pursuit of bliss is a value. Spirituality based on the God of the Bible is anything but that. Biblical spirituality is a call to engage, to get involved, to make a difference. Joshua wasn’t instructed to chill out, to “let go and let God,” as if faith is an alternate state of being, disconnected from life’s harsh realities. Faith is hearing God and obeying him. In Joshua’s case it was to lead the people of Israel in the acquisition of the Promised Land. Joshua’s faithful obedience to God resulted in dramatic consequences. Some benefited, others suffered. Decisive actions lead to definite results.

Neutrality will never produce the justice God requires. As we read in Proverbs.

Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
   hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
   does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
   and will he not repay man according to his work?
(Proverbs 24:11-12; ESV)

Effectively helping victims of injustice requires taking sides. If we are not willing or able to differentiate between abusers and victims, we will not be able to alleviate unjust suffering.

Following Yeshua (Jesus) calls us away from neutrality. He said:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34-39; ESV)

Yeshua’s coming forces people to be decisive with regard to what it means to truly follow God. Because of Yeshua, no one can afford the luxury of sitting on the sidelines.

One passage that is often used to fuel disengagement is found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 6:1-8. Paul here confronts the believers regarding how they are handling their grievances with one another. This passage is often wrongly used to prevent believers from effectively resolving conflict. Paul’s words in verse seven, “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” are taken to mean that victims should always absorb wrongdoing. But that is not what is going on here. I discuss this more fully in a recent TorahBytes message (Expressing Concern – http://www.torahbytes.org/74-41.htm), but for our purposes here, let it suffice to say that Paul’s admonition to learn how to personally get along with each other should not be confused with the need to confront injustice. In fact, these words earlier in the passage should call us to be anything but neutral in the face of social issues:

Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! (1 Corinthians 6:2-3; ESV)

“How much more!” Paul says. Not less. While there is a time to tell people in conflict to stop acting like children and stop fighting, that is not the appropriate response in all situations. Not all problems can be solved by simply holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” or “Give Peace a Chance.” But whatever the problem, we will never find lasting solutions unless we stop being neutral and get on the right side of issues.

What does this mean for you and me?

That neutrality is not godly is clear, but how to determine which issues are worthy of our attention and how to deal with those issues is no easy task. Determining what God requires of each of us has to do with our calling and gifting along with the level of responsibility we bear and our sphere of influence. No one can effectively carry every legitimate care and concern in the world. We cannot even be expected to pray for every important issue there is. Each of us therefore, needs to be sensitive to the leading of God’s spirit in our hearts and lives that we would give ourselves to the things God is calling us to. Ultimately we all must answer to God. So as I share my concerns with you, I am content to encourage you to consider what I am saying, hoping that your response will be based, not on my will for your life, but God’s will.

What this has meant for me is that I have realized that I can no longer remain neutral over issues relating to the Land of Israel and the Jewish people. Until recently, my claim to neutrality has been based on my call as a Bible Teacher. Even though I have regarded that an aspect of my God-given task is to help people see the central role of Israel in the plan of God, I have continually emphasized (and rightly so!) that the term “Israel” in the Bible is the people, not the Land. The Land is the land of the people of Israel. Moreover, Israel in the Bible should not be immediately and necessarily associated with the modern State of Israel. Be that as it may, the Bible is clear that God’s commitment to the natural descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob includes the Land. Therefore if I am called and equipped to teach the Bible, I must also teach what the Bible teaches regarding the Land.

As I do so, I am keenly aware that this, like any other issue, needs to be approached with love, compassion, and mercy for all. But as I have tried to explain, these virtues don’t lead to neutrality, but definitive godly justice.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not the only topic I will address. As I am given opportunities to teach and write, my prayer is that I will provide what is most helpful to God’s people at the time.

I have no plans to become obsessed with this issue. I still believe “all Scripture for all of life” (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17). In fact, it has been this pursuit that has kicked me off neutrality’s fence. My heart is to engage life as God intends. I hope I am calling you to do the same. This has to include every important personal and societal issue covering every aspect of life, Israel included.

A Biblical Case Against Passivity

Active/Passive directional image

In a small Canadian town, city officials gather to discuss shutting down an innocuous leadership event because of its alleged association with certain Christians who have traditional views of marriage and sexuality. Even though they were aware that these issues were not to be part of the event, its slight association with such organizations and/or individuals was sufficient reason to cancel a legal contract just three and a half days before its start. The event and the persons involved were deemed by these officials as criminal, hateful, and divisive. The motion to cancel was passed by an overwhelming majority without hearing from the sponsors or organizers because, as one official stated, these were not just Christians, but “strong Christians.”

This is not the stuff of fear-mongering conspiracy theorists, but the real happenings in the lovely British Columbian town of Nanaimo in early May over Leadercast (http://leadercast.com). The motion established the council’s role of being the conscience over the use of all city-run or -funded facilities, thus banning any or all events that might have even a slight connection with anyone possibly holding to traditional biblically based values (see Page 3, Section 7 here).

Nanaimo Waterfront

Nanaimo Waterfront

I am happy to report that this is not the end of the story. Last Thursday evening, two months later, the same Nanaimo city council voted to rescind this motion, but why? People did complain. Christian leaders in Nanaimo spoke up. The federal Member of Parliament for that region, James Lunney, wrote to the city council urging them to reconsider. But, it appears that the key force that made the difference was conservative social commentator and host of Sun TV’s “The Source,” Ezra Levant. About two week ago, Levant dedicated an entire show to this story and rallied support through various means. At one point the council issued a statement of regret, which Levant analyzed on his show, demonstrating its half-hearted uselessness. So he continued speaking up about the issue until, as I mentioned, the council finally backed down.

Ezra Levant headshot

Ezra Levant

This is not the first time Levant has stood up for what he deems to be discrimination against Christians and their views. Some years ago Stephen Boissoin, a Canadian youth pastor wrote a letter to the editor of a local newspaper in an attempt to expose his understanding of the gay agenda. Boissoin was taken to the Alberta Human Rights Commission and lost. After untold grief and expense Boissoin was vindicated, partly due to Levant’s involvement. When I first read what Levant was doing I was brought to tears, not simply because I was grateful for his support, but because no one else to my knowledge was doing anything to stop this overt injustice (read an op-ed that covers much of the Boissoin story.

Currently Levant is fighting on behalf of Trinity Western University (TWU), located in Langley, British Columbia, near Vancouver. TWU is a private, Christian-based, institution that has recently established a law school. More than one provincial legal association across Canada has already decided not to recognize TWU’s law graduates, thus barring them from practicing in those provinces, citing TWU’s Community Covenant Agreement’s inclusion of a statement that calls for the abstention of “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman”. They are doing this even though guaranties under the Canadian constitution, in particular our Charter of Rights and Freedoms include freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression; and freedom of association (for more information, see Trinity Western University takes legal action to defend religious freedom).

Trinity Western University, Langley, British Columbia

Trinity Western University, Langley, British Columbia

There is a good argument to be made that such freedoms are well grounded in a biblical understanding of society, especially since the Charter’s preamble states, “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”.

Ezra Levant somehow understands how the issues surrounding the TWU law school, Stephen Boissoin, and Nanaimo City Council, threaten the foundations of Canadian society. And whether Levant is aware of it or not, he is standing up for biblical values.

The Nanaimo situation is not the first time I have wondered why believers are not doing more to stand up to growing totalitarianism in Canada and elsewhere. Depending on our theological perspectives, many believe that either evil has the upper hand, and there is nothing we can do about it; or that evil has the upper hand, and we shouldn’t do anything about it. The reasons we have for either of these two vary. It may be due to our understanding of God’s sovereignty, our ideas about the end times, what we think about faith, or a narrow definition of evangelism that doesn’t include societal issues. However we look at it, many are convinced that we are to be passive with regard to the current spiritual and moral decay.

But is this passivity biblical? There is a wonderful story in the Hebrew Scriptures that may suggest it is. When King Jehoshaphat prayed to God about an impending threat, God said that they would not need to fight (see 2 Chronicles 20:1-23). They should stand their ground and he would rescue them. The next day the army went out, Jehoshaphat appointed some to sing to the Lord, who then caused Israel’s enemies to destroy each other.

So are we to take from this, that whenever we face adversity or injustice of any kind anywhere, we are to sing to God, and he will take care of whatever it is? That should be our conclusion if there is any indication in this passage or elsewhere in the Bible that this is to be standard procedure for God’s people. I can only think of one other similar occasion, when God killed off the enemy army while Israel was sleeping (see 2 Kings 19:32-37). There are other situations where the Lord directed his people to perform unusual acts such as putting lamb’s blood around their door frames before the final plague before the Exodus, marching around Jericho before its walls collapsed, and Gideon’s army’s lighting torches and blowing ram’s horns to defeat the Midianite army. But in each case there were things for the people to do albeit out of the ordinary. Be that as it may, most of the time when Israel faced battles, they fought in a conventional manner. God helped them to overcome, but they fought. Israel was correct to begin with the assumption that their response to threats was to actively engage their enemies. From time to time God gave unusual directions to follow. He very rarely called them not to engage at all. But standard procedure was to fight.

Another biblical justification for passivity is a particular view of Jesus. He is often regarded as the great passive victor, as if he simply allowed evil to have its way with him, with the result being his vindication by God the Father through his resurrection. But is this an accurate picture? Certainly under the Messiah we see the people of God transition from a fundamentally military posture to that of preachers and teachers. While there was a time when Israel was commissioned to bear literal swords in the conquest and retention of the Land, the Messiah commissioned his followers to bear the sword of the Word (see Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus in the Gospel accounts is anything but passive. He confronted and engaged follower and foe alike. He let nothing simply be as it was. He even regarded his death as active, for he said “No one takes it (his life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:18).

But doesn’t the rest of the New Testament call us to focus solely on evangelism and personal and congregational spiritual issues? We don’t seem to find the kind of social critique and activism as demonstrated by the likes of Ezra Levant. But if we took the time to think through the social implications of what we find in Acts and the Letters, we would discover that submitting to God’s Word necessarily results in the call to confront ungodliness at every level of life, personal, family, congregation, and social. The Bible’s teaching on the vulnerable alone is sufficient to take a stand against injustice (Psalms 82:4; Proverbs 24:11-12; Isaiah 58:6-7; James 1:27). Once someone gives themselves to the teaching of Scripture, how could they just sit back and allow anyone to undergo the abuse, defamation, and discrimination those associated with the Nanaimo Leadercast were subjected to? Or TWU. Or Stephen Boissoin? The heart of God for justice, truth, and goodness cries out in the streets. Thank God for Ezra Levant! But what about the rest of us?

This is why I support what some of our children our doing. This week our daughter Devorah is leading a team from the Canadian Centre of Bioethical Reform (CCBR), reaching out to people on the streets of Ottawa to consider the truth about abortion. Babies are being saved from slaughter, because these activists care enough to not be passive.

Devorah doing "Choice Chain"

Devorah doing “Choice Chain”

Our son, Daniel, among his other activities, recently started a ministry called “Porn Fuels Rape Culture”, helping people to see the real roots of pornography. How so much of it is actually sexual abuse and is used to fund some of the worst sex crimes on the planet. With sexual addiction and abuse on the rise and destroying so many lives, how can we be passive?

Daniel

Daniel

I am not saying that every single person should join activist causes like these for the same reasons why I wouldn’t encourage everyone to adopt King Jehoshaphat’s methodology. The correct biblical standard is obedience to God. But however God leads, he calls us to be an active, not passive, people. We need to be actively listening, actively aware, actively obedient.

Toward A Biblical Understanding of Israel & the Middle East

Map of IsraelWhile deserving of a much fuller discussion, I offer here an overview of what I understand to be the Bible’s perspective on the people and Land of Israel.

Brief biblical overview of Israel and the Land

The nation of Israel (as a people) was specially and purposely formed by God (Isaiah 43:1; 44:2).

The granting of the Land of Israel, as defined in Scripture, is an essential aspect of God’s unconditional eternal promise to the people of Israel.

  • God’s promise of the Land to Abraham is unconditional (Genesis 12:1-2; 12:7; 13:14-17; 15:5; 15:17-21; 17:8; 22:17).
  • Moses prophesied the restoration of Israel to both God and the Land (Deuteronomy 29-30).
  • Restoration of Israel to the Land is affirmed by the Prophets (Isaiah 11:11-12:6; 27:12-13; 43:5-7; Jeremiah 16:14-15; 23:3-4; 23:7-8; 31:7-10; Ezekiel 11:14-18; 28:24-26; 36:24; Amos 9:14-15; Zephaniah 3:18-20; Zechariah 10:8-12).

Israel’s covenant relationship with God as established through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not dependent on their descendants’ obedience to God (Jeremiah 31:35-37; Romans 11:28- 29).

The Abrahamic and Sinai covenants are related but distinct (Galatians 3:15-18). The Jewish people’s lack of faithfulness to the Sinai (Old) Covenant resulted in the promise of a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34), which was established the Messiah (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25). Both the Old and New Covenants are rooted in the Abrahamic one. Neither abrogates it (Romans 11:28- 29; Galatians 3:17-18).

Under the Sinai Covenant, restoration to God and to the Land was based on the unconditional Abrahamic covenant, not the conditional Sinai one (Leviticus 26:40-42).

“Israel” in the New Testament is never made synonymous with “The Church.” [1]

The “mystery of the Gospel,” which is the incorporation of the Gentiles into the spiritual blessings anticipated by Israel through faith in the Messiah is no reflection on the continued relevance of the covenant promise of Land to the people of Israel (Ephesians 3:6).

Individual salvation for Jewish people (as is true for all people) is only through faith in the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 4:12).

The church has a special responsibility to pray and work towards the spiritual restoration of the people of Israel (Romans 9:1-5; 11:30-32)

Israel’s covenant relationship to the Land is not undermined by the New Testament.

Gentile domination of Jerusalem is regarded as temporary (Luke 21:24).

  • When the apostles expressed their expectation of a literal kingdom, Jesus cautioned them regarding the timing, not the essence of their inquiry (Acts 1:6-8).
  • The New Jerusalem is intimately associated with physical Israel (Revelation 21:12-14).
  • While exile from the Land and/or non-Israelite rule over the Land is a sign of God’s disfavor over the people of Israel, God has never given the Promised Land to any other nation as a “possession” (Luke 21:24).

While God chooses from time to time to judge the people of Israel via foreign domination of and exile from the Land of Israel, unfaithfulness to God on the part of the majority of the people of Israel does not disqualify them from resettling the Land.[2]

Reflections

God’s covenant relationship with physical Israel is primarily about the people of Israel. The Land constitutes only one aspect of God’s promises to the people of Israel.

We can expect that through the Gospel and in the name of the Messiah, the people of Israel will be restored to both God and the Land.

There are no prophetic events that must necessarily precede the restoration of Israel to God and the Land.

The essential nature of faith in the Messiah for individual salvation does not undermine or lessen the reality of God’s purposes among the people of Israel, the Land of Israel, or the nations.

The concept of a modern Jewish national home within the boundaries of the Promised Land is biblical.

God’s covenant relationship with physical Israel doesn’t automatically justify the current return to the Land, Zionism, or necessarily endorse the policies of a particular Israeli government or Israeli political party.

Insofar as it is proper for believers in Messiah to speak into the policies and social issues of any nation (Matthew 28:18-20), so it is proper for godly people of good will and wisdom to speak into the policies and social issues of all the nations, organizations, and individuals involved in the current Middle East conflict.


[1] “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16) need not mean “The Church”; “But a Jew is one inwardly” (Romans 2:29) is a reference to authentic spirituality, not a redefinition of “Jewish” that includes Gentile Christians.

[2] The return from Babylon occurred, not because of increased faithfulness on Israel’s part, but because the predetermined 70 years were completed. The whole second temple period was marked by foreign rule and oppression except for the Hasmonean period (140 – 37 BC).

Sorting Out My Online Presence

Online presence imageI am sure there are people out there whose online presence is more complicated than mine, but I would like to take this opportunity to list the various ways you can follow what I am doing online. Feel free to engage any or all of these.

Email lists

Currently I have two email lists. I produce a D’var Torah (word from the Torah), called TorahBytes. This is a short “thought for the week” based on the annual synagogue reading cycle of the Torah (the Books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible).

I also send out a monthly newsletter, which usually includes a lead article on a biblical topic and an update of my teaching and writing services. From time to time, I will use this list to inform my subscribers of urgent matters that I deem of interest.

You can subscribe to both or either of these lists or update your current subscription, by clicking here.

Note: This has nothing to do with the new Canadian anti-Spam legislation. If you ever want to be removed from either or both of my lists, there is an “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of every email.

Facebook

I have both a TorahBytes and personal Facebook pages. I post my weekly TorahBytes message in both locations. I post other TorahBytes-related items on the TorahBytes page, while reserving my personal page for a wide assortment of personal and ministry-related items.

To access my TorahBytes page, click here.

To access my personal page, click here.

Note: You need to be a Facebook member to access the above pages.

Twitter

I have two Twitter accounts. @torahbytes is for TorahBytes-specific tweets (usually the weekly message). @alangilman for ministry tweets that are broader in scope. I do not tend to tweet personal news.

To access my TorahBytes account, click here.

To access my ministry account, click here.

Note: You do not need to be a Twitter member to access Twitter pages.

Web Sites

My ministry site is www.alangilman.ca. This is where you will find information about my teaching and writing along with access to audio and video resources and more.

www.torahbytes.org is dedicated to TorahBytes. This is where the weekly messages are displayed and stored (text and audio).

Blogs

You are currently reading https://alangilman.wordpress.com, which I will be using for general blog posts on a wide variety of topics.

http://torahblog.com is an alternate site for posting my weekly TorahBytes messages and allows for comments. My intention is to also include posts supplemental to the weekly messages.

Looking back on 2013 – Revised

This is a revised version of my previous post. Sorry for the inconvenience.

     *     *     *

I haven’t posted anything to this blog since our European trip. As I was preparing my December newsletter and was considering doing a review of the past year, I thought it would be better placed here, so that my newsletter subscribers could have the choice of reading something with this kind of detail or not. So here goes…!

Looking back on 2013, I am so grateful to God for so many amazing opportunities! From January through the beginning of April I taught the second part of my Old Testament Survey course for our own church, Calvary Fellowship Ottawa.

I wrapped up the course by playing a clip from the Academy-award winning movie Lincoln to illustrate the Bible’s unique ability to guide us in all of life. Here is that clip along with my explanation. If the video is not showing below, click here. Please let me know if you have any issues viewing it.

Also if you never saw this, you might want to see what happened when Mordecai came to class and told the Esther story. If the video is not showing below, click here.

Toward the end of January into February I took a break from the course to return to Vancouver Island where I spoke to a group of pastors in the Nanaimo area and gave my testimony at a special gathering. That was immediately followed by a series of meetings in Victoria. From there I took the ferry to Vancouver and spoke in Maple Ridge, Abbotsford and Burnaby. I was also interviewed by Audrey Mabley on her TV show, “Eternally Yours.” It was aired over two weeks, but here is an edited version featuring just my interview on its own. If the video is not showing below, click here.

Soon after returning, Robin and I were on Lynn Fraser’s Financial Fitness CHRI radio program. You can listen to that interview here. If the audio player isn’t displayed below, click here:

In March I presented my Bible Overview Seminar, God’s Epic Story, locally at East Gate Alliance Church. The end of the month saw my busiest Passover ever as I conducted four Seders in one week!

Alan Leading Passover Seder

Last of four Seders I led in April 2013. Thankfully the folks at “The Oasis” in Kinburn, Ontario were a most enthusiastic bunch!

A couple of weeks later, in mid-April, I headed off to the Matagami First Nations reserve, three hours north of Sudbury, Ontario, where I presented God’s Epic Story and spoke at the church there. On route I shared with the College and Careers group at Lakeshore Missionary Church in North Bay, Ontario. I will never forget the drive to Mattagami in the unusually late spring snow. After Matagami I headed south for a few days, where I spoke in Milton, Oakville, and Toronto.

Tim's in North Bay

My attempt at an award winning Tim Horton’s shot in North Bay. So Canadian, eh?

Mattagami Full Gospel Centre

My time on the Mettagami reserve was worth the harrowing drive in the snow.

First weekend in May Robin and I each presented seminars at the annual Ontario Christian Home Educators’ Connection Convention in Hamilton.

Then in July I taught at the the Camp IAWAH family camp. Robin gave a couple of workshops and Tikvah taught dance.

Alan at Camp IAWAH July 2013

Getting ready to teach a session at Camp IAWAH.

End of July into August I presented God’s Epic Story over three Sundays locally at Grace Presbyterian Church in Orleans and their daughter church in Rockland. Also in early August I was one of the speakers at our church’s Koinania Conference. You can hear my talk by clicking here (mine is Session 4 in the list):

http://www.calvaryottawa.ca/?page_id=541

Calvary Koinania2013

Teaching on Isaiah 6 at the Calvary Koinania conference.

September 1 was the marriage of Josh and Megan. What a day (and the days around it) that was!

Family Photo at Josh & Megan's wedding

Serious and happy!

Josh and Megan's Wedding with Extended Family

With extended family – not so serious, but still very happy!

And then from September 24 – October 8, Robin and I embarked on our first ever European teaching tour in Italy and Slovenia.

wpid-IMG_20131004_174552.jpg

Sort of like a dream come true that we never really dreamed of, if you know what I mean!

From mid-October through mid-November I presented God’s Epic Story on five Monday nights at a home group for a nearby church.

November included “For All the Right Reasons” a benefit concert for my ministry initiated and organized by my son, Josh. It featured him, Amy Dagenais, and Joey McNitt. It was a great show. I was pretty overwhelmed by it all.

Amy, Josh, and Joey - All the Right Reasons

Thanks again to Amy, Josh, and Joey!

Through the year I also spoke at other local churches, we conducted special meetings in our home from time to time, and have had some wonderful one-on-ones with various folks in person or on the phone.

Besides Josh and Megan’s wedding, other key family moments were Daniel’s successful completing of his Master’s thesis, Hannah becoming a student apprentice with the Ballet Magnificat Omega company, and Jonathan’s starting his lawn care company and having a successful first season. Our dance studio (Arise School of Dance) continued to develop and was a blessing in so many ways, including the annual recital and successful company performances.

Alan & Robin with Daniel at his Master's Graduation

At Daniel’s Master’s graduation. Proud parents!

You can read Daniel’s thesis, entitled “The Acoustics of Abolition” here:

http://www.ruor.uottawa.ca/en/handle/10393/24055

Ballet Magnificat Omega - Fall2013

Ballet Magnificat Omega Company (Hannah is second from left, back row).

Arise_MarvelousMystery_2013December

Arise Youth Ballet performing Marvelous Mystery, December 2013

And to think that this time last year, I had no idea that most of this was in store. I wonder what 2014 will bring. Thankfully God knows.