Archive for July, 2014

July 28, 2014

Nation of Israel (August)

As I write this article, the fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza strip rages on, with over 700 Palestinian civilians, many women and children, having lost their lives in the fighting. The very area of the world where Jesus Christ our Lord proclaimed “peace on earth and good will towards men” is once again embroiled in violence. The people of Israel have always held a special place in the hearts of Christians. If one equates the modern state of Israel with the people of Israel of our Scriptures, then we have some serious questions to answer regarding this most recent strife.

Aside from the Jewish people themselves, arguably no one knows their history better than Christians, for we cherish their history in the pages of our Holy Scripture. And we know how often the Jewish people stumbled in their pursuit to walk in God’s ways. God would send prophet after prophet to call them back on the path of righteousness. Today is no different. We must be careful not to support any and all that the nation of Israel does, for they too stumble, and God continues to call them back.

I often hear from brothers and sisters how we are to support the nation of Israel, but I rarely hear that we must call them once again to seek shalom (peace), to be a city on a hill that draws all nations to itself. We cannot give Israel a blank check to do anything it wants, for that is putting Israel ahead of Jesus. There is a danger of forsaking the commands of Jesus for the sake of the nation of Israel, and this is something we should never do. When Israel (or any country for that matter) uses gratuitous violence against innocent civilians, we must be prepared to stand up and say, “No.”

Years ago, there was a group of people who forsook the Savior for the sake of the nation of Israel. They were described as the Pharisees. According to the Gospel of John, the Pharisees were so preoccupied with the safety of Israel, they were willing to go as far as to orchestrate Jesus’ execution.

But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:46-50)

The Pharisees made the conscious choice to save their lives and the life of their country by forsaking the Messiah. Ironically, Jesus prophesied that in just a few years Rome would indeed come and take away both the temple and nation. Perhaps this is a sober reminder of Jesus’ warning, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it (Mat 16:25).”

God has called us to be ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Cor 5). In a very real way, we citizens of God’s Kingdom can serve as ambassadors between Israel and the people in Gaza, seeking reconciliation, condemning violence, whether perpetrated by Hamas or the Israeli government, and being witnesses on behalf of the One who called us to be peacemakers. And in all these things we can hold securely to the promise: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Pastor Rich

July 1, 2014

The Songbook of the Church (July)

This summer we will be spending a good amount of time in the book of Psalms, a collection of 150 ancient songs from the history of the people of God thousands of years ago. It is an amazing book that miraculously continues to speak to us today as it spoke to God’s people throughout the years and will continue to guide us as a Church until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Psalms can be considered the first songbook of the Church. When God’s people gathered together to worship, they would open up the book of Psalms and sing those songs together. They understood the words as powerful and true as they let the Word of God penetrate their hearts as they sang. Writers of the New Testament loved to quote from the Psalms. The Psalms pointed to Jesus the Messiah and consequently took on an added level of significance and beauty.

We have lost the melodies initially used for the 150 psalms, but that hasn’t stopped modern musicians. We have composed new melodies so that the Church can continue to sing these songs today. In fact, most of the psalms I have memorized were because someone put music to them. It is much easier to memorize words when you can sing them.

These 150 songs will continue to be the heart of our singing as Christians. We return to them time and time again. I find it so very powerful as I sing a rendition of Psalm 23 to imagine that the saints for the past 3000 years sang these very same words. When we sing, or even recite, the Psalms, we join the unending choir of God, ever praising and rehearsing for that great day we praise God face to face.

But the Psalms does not restrict us to these 150 songs. No, in fact in Psalm 33 and Psalm 96 we are commanded to sing to the Lord a new song! The Psalms serves as a springboard into creating new music and lyrics to God. The Psalms is like a schoolteacher, guiding us in what to sing and how to sing it, then sending us out to create our own songs. Thank God the Church has been obedient, giving us beautiful songs like “It Is Well” and “Amazing Grace.” The command still stands: Sing to the Lord a new song! As we gather as the Lord’s Church in 2014, let the ancient songs and the new songs fill our sanctuary and fill our hearts!

Pastor Rich