Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Signs Of The Times

On a Sunday afternoon last month after morning worship, I went out to our church property to load wood in our outdoor firebox, which is our primary method of heat. The wind that day was blowing ferociously, and I was trying to fight getting debris under my contacts while I loaded the wood.  Since my family was waiting for me to serve my birthday dinner, I frankly didn't do as thorough a job as I should have.  About an hour after I left, we heard  a knock at the back door.  Alert neighbors informed us that there was a fire on the church property and that 911 had been called.  When we rushed outside to drive down to the church, we could see smoke from six blocks away.  My heart was in my throat as we pulled up.  Smoke was billowing out the rear of the firebox as a fire engulfed it and threatened to race down the hill which the box was perched on.  I believe it was only about five minutes before the firefighters arrived, but it felt like an eternity.  It took two fire companies about three hours to beat down the blaze and put out the fire that took only minutes to start.  Unbeknownst to me, some sparks had blown out of the firebox and had run around the back of the box and lit into some wood we were storing back there.  Thankfully, the church was untouched, the firebox survived with superficial damage, and no one was hurt.  But it put the scare in me!

Even before the fire was out, I began praying that the Lord would help me learn from my mistake.  As I've reflected on this since then, I realize now that my initial mistake was that I didn't size up the situation correctly to begin with.  There was danger all around, but I was oblivious to it.  I saw the wind as an inconvenience, but I wasn't seeing it as the potential threat that it actually was.  Debris had blown all around  the front of the firebox and was just sitting there waiting to be lit.   I should have made sure that the debris was removed, but  in my haste I didn't take care of it.   And since then, all of us have decided that storing wood behind the firebox just wasn't a good idea.

In my daily Bible reading this morning, I came across this interesting passage:

The Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Jesus, they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven. But He replied to them, When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’  And in the morning, ‘There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times? (Matt 16:1-3)
The Pharisees and Sadducees were the religious leaders of Jesus' day.  They were the teachers, the rabbis, the priests.  If anyone could have sized up the situation correctly, these men ought to have been the ones.  They knew God's word backwards and forwards.  They were the most influential men in Israel.  Yet, here they were, with the very Son of God standing in front of them, clueless to what was staring them in the face.  This Man had performed astonishing miracles in their midst time after time, yet they had the audacity to ask for "a sign from heaven!"  He was The Sign!  Yet, Jesus reply showed that their lack of discernment ran even deeper.  No only did they miss the true Sign from heaven in front of them, but they also neglected to appraise the dangerous "signs of the times" all around them.  These men were about to reject the only Hope of Israel.  This rejection of the Messiah would lead to a downward national spiral that would eventually lead to the sacking of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, and the dispersal of the Jewish people that would last almost 2,000 years.  They were oblivious to the fact that they were sitting on a powder keg that would blow up on them a few short years later.

How about today?  Are we making the same mistake that I made that Sunday last month in not noticing the dangerous situation around us?  Are we, like the Pharisees, not discerning the "signs of the times" all around us?  I greatly fear so.  I see us in America and the world at large near the edge of several dangerous cliffs.  Consider the following facts:
  • Iran, the outspoken enemy of both the reconstituted nation of Israel and of the United States, is scrambling to obtain nuclear weapons with the intention of using them against Israel and perhaps even against the U.S.  The leaders of Iran are so warped in their thinking that they believe the Jewish Holocaust never took place, and that they, by destroying Israel and America, could help usher in the coming of the Islamic Messiah.
  • North Korea, with their new leader Kim Jong Un, is proving to be even more dangerous than under Un's father, Kim Jong Il.  Though we mock his threats, we do so at our own peril.  North Korea already has developed nuclear weapons largely by starving its own people, and now is on track to build delivery systems which could be launched against South Korea or even U.S. territory.   Last month the North Korean government announced that they are scrapping the peace treaty with South Korea that has been in place since the end of the Korean War.  Since then, they have been provocatively staging missile launchers near their east coast as tensions in the region have escalated to a level not seen in over half a century.
  • Potentially even more alarming, Iran and North Korea are reportedly sharing technology with each other.  If this is so, when one has nuclear capabilities, the other would probably have the same capabilities very soon.
  • Europe sits on a volatile situation as they encounter staggering debt, massive unemployment, and social unrest in places like Greece and Spain.
  • America is racking up it's own staggering debt, having passed the 16 trillion dollar mark last year.  We will soon be closing in on 17 trillion.
  • As America follows Europe into an age of moral relativism, the concepts of right and wrong become old-fashioned and outdated.  The results of this include rampant promiscuity, the rapid breakdown of the family, and the acceptance of "alternative lifestyles" which, in the end, can only destroy the foundations on which we stand.
Am I being alarmist?  I don't think so.  As a student of history, I see parallels between the world today and the world of the late 1930's.  Very few saw Hitler for what he was.  Very few recognized the far-reaching schemes of the Japanese government.  Yet, the world of today could be facing a coming storm could be far worse than anything the world experienced in the 1940's, as traumatic as that was.   Iran and North Korea of today could be like Germany and Japan on steroids.  Imagine, what Hitler and Tojo could have done with nuclear weapons!  Even more tragic, it seems to me that the moral fiber of the American people and the world at large today has broken down and more apt to crumble under pressure than in the past.  I sincerely hope I'm wrong about this.

As a matter of fact, I really hope that I am wrong on all of this.  Maybe things will just get better.  Yet, I fear that just won't happen.  As a nation, there are things we can do that may prevent these things from happening.  Yet, it doesn't seem like we have the will to turn it around.  I certainly know that as individuals there are things that we can do to prepare.  Above all, we need to be prepared in our hearts, looking to God as our protector, who can get us through anything that might come our way.  And we simply need to be aware of the situation around us.  I made the mistake last month of being undiscerning of my surroundings.   It cost a lot, and it could have cost us a whole lot more, save for the grace of God.  I hope that we as a country and we as Christian people won't make that same mistake!

Want to read more?  Here's links to some of my more popular posts:
Lincoln & Obama-Two Views of Welfare
TR on Lincoln-The Great Statesman
Reflections On 30 Years of Marriage-Part 1
My Take On "The Bible" Series

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

My Take On "The Bible" Series-Parts 9 and 10

This is the conclusion of a series of posts on "The Bible Series"  To start at the beginning of the series, click here.

The Good-

  • Part 9-"Passion"-This hour depicted Christ's passion and His resurrection.  I actually thought this was portrayed remarkably well.  Parts of this were pretty much word-for-word out of the Bible, while other parts took some liberties from the sacred text.  I thought Jesus' interview with Pilate was especially well-done.  I was pleased that they included the scene with Pilate's wife, in which she told her husband that she had had a dream about Jesus, and warned her husband not to have anything to do with His death.  It's an interesting biblical detail that most are unaware of.  My wife and I were especially moved by the scene with Simone of Cyrene, the man who was chosen to carry Christ's cross.  Now, we don't know exactly how all this happened, as only Luke tells this story.  The other gospels speak of Jesus carrying his own cross, so scholars extrapolate that Jesus must have fallen down while carrying the cross and Simone was ordered to pick it up at that point. What was moving to us in "The Bible" version is that they had Simone helping Jesus carry his cross, so that Jesus and Simone finished walking the Via Delorosa together.   I never thought of that possibility, but it could have indeed happened that way.  I also was moved by the way that they showed Jesus being beaten every step of the way.  I think that they showed "The Passion" about as realistically as they could have and still been fit to show on television.  The actual torture of Christ must have been far worse.  The resurrection scene was told more or less as the Book of John portrays it, which is mostly from Mary Magdalene's perspective.  Although somewhat truncated, they did a good job of showing Jesus' varying appearances after His resurrection.  
  • Part 10 -The final of hour of "The Bible" (which was actually only about 45 minutes as "The Passion" section ran a little over an hour) was about the rest of the New Testament.  I enjoyed the portrayal of Paul's conversion, brief as it was.  I enjoyed the portrayal of Paul, showing the change in this great Jewish intellect from persecutor to preacher (although it was rather annoying that they called him Paul of Tarsus when his pre-conversion name was actually Saul).  I also appreciated how they showed what happened to each of the apostles, yet explaining that this was according to church tradition rather than actually from the Bible.
The Bad

  • Part 9 - Probably my biggest beef with "The Passion" section was the portrayal of Christ on
    the cross.    The biblical account states that there was total darkness over the whole land for the last three hours of Christ's passion on the cross.  In "The Bible", it looks more like a bunch of clouds moved in during the final moments of Jesus' life.  It accurately portrays that there was a great earthquake at this time, but they miss a great opportunity that would have been extremely powerful.  In "The Bible", they show the earthquake toppling the curtain they separates the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple.  Their curtain looked liked something you might have picked up at J.C. Penny's!  I'm told that the real "veil of the temple" that enclosed the Holy of Holies was so strong and so thick that a team of oxen pulling on either side couldn't have torn it apart!  Yet, in the scriptures, when Jesus released His Spirit to His Father, the veil was rent from top to bottom, opening the way now for every believer to enter the Holy and Holies.  (See Matthew 27:51)  It's an impressive detail that would have been a powerful conclusion to this section.
  • Part 10- To show the story of the New Testament from Acts to Revelation in less than an hour seems like an impossible task, and, in fact, I don't think it was done particularly well, mainly because of the time constraints.  The Pentecost section to me was rather disappointing.  The Bible talks of tongues of fire lighting on the disciples, but there was none of that here.  It speaks of a violent rushing wind.  This wind was rather tame.  The Bible also tells of more than 3,000 baptized that day, but this little detail is left out as well.  While the Saul/Paul narrative was well-done, the Peter narrative as he is called to preach to Cornelius could have been done much better if they had stuck to the version in Acts 10 (although I will have to say I enjoyed the actual scene in which Peter enters Cornelius' house and is startled when he bows down before Peter)
Overall Impressions of "The Bible" Series-  I was rather disappointed in the first couple of episodes of the Old Testament section, yet I thought the last three hours of this section were much better than the first two.  With some notable exceptions, I thought the New Testament section was done tastefully and mostly accurately, though I was disappointed in the way that they had to rush through the post-Resurrection sections of the scriptures.  The production really shined the most in sections when they were able to tell a fuller description of the scriptures, especially in the life of Christ.  Where they had to cover hundreds or even thousands of years in a short time, they often fell short.  I kept wishing through this project that they had been able to do ten hours on the Old Testament alone, and then come back and do ten hours on the New Testament.  However, I commend Mark Burnett and Roma Downey for producing this daunting project.  All-in all, I have to say that the good far outweighs the bad, and it was well-worth watching.  If the end result of this is that it draws people back to the Bible, they will have accomplished their goal.  The movie was good, but The Book is far better!

Want to read more?  Below are links to other articles on this site that may interest you:
A Man Of A Different Spirit
Reflections On 30 Years of Marriage-Part 1
Obama's Record-Where We Are After Four Years (written right before the election)
Hosea and the 2012 Election (written right after the election)

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