Monday, September 29, 2008

Is the Time Ripe for Us?

Reading: Amos 8 – 9
This morning as I was reading this in my devotions, I could not help but wonder if this prophetic utterance given to Amos regarding Israel has application to America today.
This is what the Sovereign LORD showed me: a basket of ripe fruit. 2"What do you see, Amos?" he asked. "A basket of ripe fruit," I answered. Then the LORD said to me, "The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.  3"In that day," declares the Sovereign LORD, "the singers in the temple will turn to wailing. Many, many bodies—flung everywhere! Silence!"  4Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land...” (Amos 8:2-4)
What application could it possibly have? Let's answer that by asking two questions re: this text: Who and what? Vs. 4 says, “Hear this...” Who needs to hear this? What do they need to hear?
Who needs to hear this?
You who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land.”
Oppression of the poor and needy has taken various forms at various times in history. But, the powerful have always oppressed the helpless, the weak, the needy. In America today the greatest oppression, the most helpless and weakest needy are clearly seen in the abortion industry. While there were abortions done by individuals prior to 1973, since 1973 our nations has condoned, supported and stood behind what is approaching 50 million abortions. No oppression in history, as far as I am aware, even approaches this magnitude. And it continues today; right now.
And the abortion industry targets the needy and poor...doing away with the poor of the land. In Jeremiah 22:3 we read, “This is what the Lord says, ‘Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow. And do not shed innocent blood in this place.” Abortion targets the fatherless. And regardless of circumstance, abortion targets the helpless—those unable to defend themselves.
One can also see that it targets the poor and needy by the fact that it is designed to target minority babies—to eliminate or reduce the poor from among us. That may surprise you, but a simple study of the facts will reveal that it is true. African-American women, who make up 13% of the female population account for 36% of all abortions. Latino-American women make up another 13% of the female population, but account for 20% of all abortions. More African-American babies have been killed by abortion since 1973 than the total number of African-American deaths from AIDS, violent crimes, accidents, cancer, and heart disease combined.
Why? Because the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, was an avowed racist with a desire for a pure, white race with much the same philosophical beliefs as Adolf Hitler. She envisioned birth-control and abortion to be a primary means of reducing the population of, inferior races that were human weeds and a menace to civilization.” She viewed charity to ethnic minorities as a “malignant, social disease” and desired to “create a race of thoroughbreds by encouraging more children from the fit and less from the unfit.” Thus, the Negro Project, launched in 1939 by Planned Parenthood, was designed to target, “the mass of Negroes in the South that still breed carelessly and disastrously so as to focus on that portion of the population least intelligent and fit.” Studies today show that many Planned Parenthood clinics are strategically placed in neighborhoods of the highest concentration of African-Americans.
Who needs to hear this message in Amos? Those who trample the needy and do away with the poor. And, since we as a nation condone, support and stand behind the abortion industry, we need to hear this message.
What do we need to hear?
The Lord showed Amos a basket of ripe fruit. Imagine you have a bowl of fruit at home. This is the one that has the black bananas, the soft apples... it is about ready for being tossed. Time is up for that fruit. It no longer has time to wait. So what did this mean for them? God's wrath was coming (Amos 8:2-3). The description is clear, “bodies flung everywhere!” “Silence” indicates a time of sheer shock and awe. The terror will be so great that those present will stand in stunned silence, unable to utter a word.
Have we reached this point as a nation? I don't really know, but we are definitely flirting with disaster every day that abortion continues being supported and condoned in our nation.
You may say, “This can't be applied to America, because God was speaking to Israel, His covenant people.” True enough that His original audience was Israel. However, the context makes clear that this isn't because of their status as the chosen people; we can't claim exemption either.
"Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?" declares the LORD. "Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?  8"Surely the eyes of the Sovereign LORD are on the sinful kingdom. I will destroy it from the face of the earth—yet I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob," declares the LORD. (Amos 9:7-8)
If Israel could not claim exemption from judgment because they were God's chosen nation, neither can America. We don't even have the same status. God will judge the sinful kingdom. And I don't think anyone can exclude America from that description. May God have mercy on us.
Is the time ripe for us as a nation? I hope not, but no doubt our decisions as a nation in the coming days will have an impact on this. Presently the Supreme Court and many of the federal courts are filled with judges who would stop abortion because it destroys innocent lives. Whatever else one might think of George Bush, thank God he has appointed pro-life judges who will outlast every other decision he made. If our next president does the same, this industry will be stopped. If the next president supports abortion, and appoints judges who also support it, then the wicked will rule, and the helpless will continue to be slaughtered. One of the candidates not only supports abortion, but supports the most horrific forms of abortion known. He even voted against a ban on partial birth abortion. He voted against reviving babies born alive, after a botched abortion...wanting them to be discarded as waste while still breathing. May God deliver us from such a wicked man. May he have mercy on our nation. Don't be caught up in a man, or discouraged by a man. Make decisions to save lives on election day.
Dr. Martin Luther King's Daughter's Dream
I want to close with words from Dr. Alveta King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., founder of King for America. She has a dream of her own.
We have been fueled by the fire of Women’s Rights so long that we have become deaf to the outcry of the real victims whose rights are being trampled upon – the babies and the mothers. Oh God, that Martin Luther King Jr., who dreamed of having his children judged by the content of their character… What would he do if he had lived to see the contents of thousands of children’s skulls emptied into the bottomless caverns of the abortionists’ pits? It is time for America, perhaps the most blessed nation on Earth, to lead the World in repentance and in restoration of life. Abortion is at the forefront of our destruction. The only healing and redemption is in the blood of Jesus – blood willingly shed so that we could stand today and cry for the blood of the unborn that is drenching the land of our children. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘The Negro cannot win as long as he is willing to sacrifice the lives of his children for comfort and safety’ How can the dream survive if we murder the children? Every aborted baby is like a slave in the womb of his or her mother. If the dream of Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. is to live, our babies must live! Our mothers must choose life! If we refuse to answer the cry of mercy from the unborn and ignore the suffering of the mothers, then we are signing our own death warrants. I too, like Martin Luther King Jr., have a dream. I have a dream that the men and women and boys and girls of America will come to our senses and humble ourselves before God Almighty and pray for mercy and receive His healing grace. I pray that this is the day, the hour of our deliverance. May God have mercy on us all.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

On What Are You Basing This Confidence of Yours?

Reading: Isaiah 36 – 37
Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, had just captured all the fortified cities of Judah. These are the military outposts which were the outer band of protection for the country, keeping enemies from getting to the capitol city. Now Sennacherib has sent his military commander to Jerusalem. Arriving outside the city, some officials of Jerusalem went out to meet him.
The field commander said to them, "Tell Hezekiah, "'This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours?  5You say you have strategy and military strength—but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me? (Isaiah 36:4-5)
Most of us have never experienced anything quite like this. This isn't like being down 3 touchdowns in a play-off game with only 4 minutes on the clock and needing to come back. This is more like the Taliban are outside your house with weapons and you are inside, guarding your family with steak knives and a couple of teenagers. The Taliban are telling your family they can all be spared as long as they surrender. Add to this, they have just taken out most of the neighbors before arriving at your house. Half of them surrendered, and are alive, even if not so well; going to Assyria now. The others didn't, and were killed. You aren't surrendering, and you are believing the Lord is going to deliver you. You let them know that you have no intention of surrendering.
So the question is reasonable, “On what are you basing this confidence of yours? On whom are you depending?”
Some of us might quickly respond, “On the Lord. I am depending on the Lord.” Others would stop and ask themselves, “Yeah, on whom am I depending?” But the answer might more realistically be revealed by our actions.
It's not as if the Assyrian field commander was naive to Jewish religion; he knew upon whom they were relying. But he didn't fear the Lord. He made four specific attempts to undermine Israel's faith in God.
  1. The field commander questions Hezekiah's and Israel's faith in God.
In Isaiah 36:7, he points out that Hezekiah had removed the high places. We know that the high places were bad; that kings were commended by God for doing this. But that is looking back; hindsight is 20/20. Hindsight needs no faith. But when it happened, it required faith. (For instance, two days after the lion's den incident, Daniel knew there was no reason to fear. However, the moment before being thrown in it took faith.)
I imagine there was very likely a backlash from the people against the kings for doing this. No doubt many argued, “Why are you tearing these down, we can't get all the way to Jerusalem every time we need to sacrifice. We are, after all worshipping Yahweh.” Tearing down the high places then might seem a lot more like telling people in America today that you can't do church in front of your TV on Sunday morning; you need to have a body of believers that you are joined to in a local church. Some would think you were crazy. So the field commander exploits this, as if Hezekiah had actually slighted God.
  1. The field commander points out the impracticality of faith in God.
In verse 8, he mocks the absurdity of thinking they will succeed by pointing out that he could actually provide them with 2,000 horses, if only they could provide riders for them. In other words, “We've got 2,000 spare horses... you haven't even got 2,000 horsemen to defend yourselves against us.” Faith in this situation seemed absurd to those who merely look at practical matters. This battle wasn't even going to be close. But times like this call for us to remember truths as expressed in Psalm 33:16-19:
No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. 17A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. 18But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, 19to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.
  1. The field commander makes statements designed to introduce doubts about God's faithfulness. In Isaiah 36:10 we read,
Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this land without the LORD? The LORD himself told me to march against this country and destroy it.
This one reminds me of the serpents strategy in the garden. “Has God really said...” Here it is more like, “Has God really said He would deliver you? Actually He told me to come and destroy you. Maybe He has betrayed you.”
This falsehood is designed to impugn the character of God, to cause the Jews to wonder if God had turned against them. And it is not so far fetched either. A few generations later, God did send Nebuchadnezzar to Jerusalem to take the people into captivity. Then the people had a cocky kind of faith that wasn't real. They thought, “We are God's people. We have the temple. We are Abraham's children. There is no way we can be defeated.” It wasn't faith and trust in God; it was arrogant confidence in who they were. Not so in Hezekiah's day: The people were pursuing obedience to God and a life of faith.
  1. The field commander tried to incite fear in the hearts and minds of the people.
Check out this interchange between him and Hezekiah's officials.
Then Eliakim, Shebna and Joah said to the field commander, "Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, since we understand it. Don't speak to us in Hebrew in the hearing of the people on the wall."  12But the commander replied, "Was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the men sitting on the wall—who, like you, will have to eat their own filth and drink their own urine?" 13Then the commander stood and called out in Hebrew, "Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria! 14This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you! 15Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the LORD when he says, 'The LORD will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.' 16Do not listen to Hezekiah. This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then every one of you will eat from his own vine and fig tree and drink water from his own cistern, 17until I come and take you to a land like your own—a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards. (Isaiah 36:11-17)
Notice that this particular attack on faith does 3 things. First, it attempts to strike fear at what will happen to them. This reminds me of politicians who are constantly trying to tell us that if the other side wins we will have have mud coming out our water facets and our children will starve to death at school, and retired people will stop getting their social security. However, in this case, the fear is more realistic. From an earthly standpoint, Sennacherib can and will do this very thing; he has done it to others quite successfully. This is no idle threat or fictitious fear mongering.
Second, this attack posits the possibility that Hezekiah is the one who is doing the deceiving. It suggests that to believe in God as Hezekiah has asked them to is to believe in something “made up” or imaginary. Sounds a lot like attacks on faith that can occur to each of us. Our society at large is quite fine with religion. But don't take that religion into a sphere where it really matters. Once again I am reminded of politicians who will talk all about how religious they are, but attack the other guy if he actually allows religion to affect a policy, or a stance on any given issue. This field commander was quite alright with the people worshiping God; but don't believe Hezekiah's declaration that God will deliver you.
Third, this attack offers false hope. If you turn from trusting God to trusting Sennacherib, you will have prosperity and hope. As if Sennacherib is their promised deliverer. No longer a need to trust in this God you cannot see.
Now we turn to the response of faith. We first see the faith of the people in their silence and obedience (Isaiah 36:21). This was a simple act of obedience. Faith can be seen, not in our proud proclamations, but in our simple acts of obedience. They didn't start making bold declarations of how they would be victorious. They simply did not answer because the king had commanded them not to answer.
They were probably quite afraid. It might well be that questions were swirling about their heads; they probably were. But, they knew to do one thing: “Do not answer him.” “I can do that. I might not be able to remain confident; I might be trembling on the inside; but I can remain quiet.” Often faith is expressed in simple steps of obedience; doing what we know we are called to do. It might be not turning on the TV, when you know that you need to have time with the Lord. It might be, not going to the convenience store when you know that you have a hard time resisting going to the magazine section. It can come in a number of ways. But it is often a simple act of obedience we are called to make.
The second response of faith is seen in Hezekiah's reaction (Isaiah 37:1). Hezekiah didn't panic, he turned to the Lord. And he was serious about calling on God. In fact, in Isaiah 37:2-4, he sends his officials to Isaiah and asks Isaiah to pray also. Isaiah sent back a word from the Lord that indeed the Lord would deliver them by causing the enemy to retreat. Later, when Sennacherib was again delayed by the Egyptian army he sent a letter to Hezekiah telling him not to deceive himself thinking they were safe now. He promised to return and conquer them soon.
Hezekiah turns to God once again (Isaiah 37:14-20). He spreads out this letter before the Lord. He acknowledges the truths which it contains. He compares the gods of the nations which Sennacherib had taken over with the Living God. He asks God to deliver them from his hand. Our prayer life reveals where our confidence is. On whom are you depending? Faith is about where we go with our fears.
On whom are you basing this confidence of yours?” That was Sennacherib's first question. Hezekiah and the people answered with their actions; actions which revealed trust in God.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,