Saturday, July 30, 2011

What Does God Say about Our Current Debt Crisis?

The debate of the hour is focused on America's debt crisis, and all the rhetoric seems to be generating more heat than light. Could the political brinksmanship actually be missing the core issue, which is the fact that America has been consistently spending more than it receives in income? And this pattern of overspending has been present whether those running the White House and Congress have been Republicans or Democrats.

No family could ever survive long-term if it consistently spent more than it took in. Eventually it would max out its credit cards, reach it's debt limit at the bank, and exhaust its savings. The family would need to make drastic changes in its lifestyle to control spending and pay down its debt. So why have we thought our government could consistently spend more than it takes in without experiencing the same consequences?

Maybe it's time to go back to the Bible and remember the principles God gave about debt. Here are some we might want to point out to those in Washington who are now deciding how best to move our country forward.

Psalm 37:21--"The wicked borrows and does not pay back, but the righteous is gracious and gives." Whatever Congress decides, defaulting on our national debt is not a biblical option. God says those who borrow and don't repay their obligations are "wicked."

Proverbs 22:7--"The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave." By continuing to borrow we are putting our nation in greater debt...which makes us "slaves" to those who loan us the money to temporarily live beyond our means.

Ecclesiastes 5:4-5--"When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it, for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay." Much like Psalm 37:21, the principle here is that God expects those who make a vow (or enter into a agreement) to pay what they have committed...and to do so in a timely fashion.

2 Thessalonians 3:10-12--"For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread." Individuals (and governments) ought never be in the business of subsidizing the lazy and undisciplined. Fostering an entitlement mentality destroys self-respect and leads to greater disruption. All who are physically able ought to be expected to work rather than living off the hard work of others.

And perhaps the most significant principle comes from Deuteronomy 28. While the passage refers specifically and directly to Israel and the Jewish people, it is still instructive for other nations.

Deuteronomy 28:12--"The LORD will open for you His good storehouse, the heavens, to give rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hand; and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow." And what is the principle? It's this: Ultimately, the material blessings that allow nations to prosper (so they can lend to others rather than borrowing from others!) come from God...and is poured out on those who honor Him.

So what's the bottom line for our current crisis? First, Congress and the President need to commit to paying all of America's current creditors. We borrowed the money, and we need to pay it back when it is due. Second, we need to commit to working our way out of debt--nationally and individually. Let's stop putting ourselves into financial slavery...and learn to live within our financial means. Third, let's start dismantling our growing programs of national entitlement and heed the words of President John F. Kennedy from his inauguration in 1961. "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country."

And finally, let's remember that there is a God...and He does expect nations and individuals to live by His standards of right and wrong. At its very core, what we are facing in our country is a moral and spiritual crisis, not a fiscal one. And we need to help those around us understand what God expects from us if we hope to experience His blessing on our country.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Don't always believe what you read

Last Saturday (July 23) an scientist was assassinated in Tehran. Initial reports indicated he was a nuclear engineer who was part of Iran's covert nuclear weapons program...and who was assassinated as part of the ongoing efforts by the West to thwart Iran's attempts to acquire nuclear weapons.

Iran vigorously denied the individual had any part in their nuclear program. They described him as a master's-level university student who was married with a child. And they pictured his assassination as a case of mistaken identify...and terrorism. This position was reported in many media outlets, and the story largely disappeared from the news.

However, one day after the assassination Debka, an Israeli web site, posted an article refuting Iran's claims and stating the man had indeed been an Iranian scientist who had been helping design a detonator for a nuclear bomb. No mainstream media picked up on the Debka report...until yesterday. An article finally appeared in Haaretz stating that officials have finally admitted the man was a scientist involved in developing high-voltage switches needed to trigger a nuclear warhead.

I see two lessons coming from this story. First, we need to understand there is a serious, though largely covert, war taking place between Iran and the West. The West is doing everything possible--short of active military intervention--to stop the Iranians from developing nuclear weapons. The Stuxnet virus and targeted assassinations of key nuclear scientists are part of these covert operations. And they are likely to continue--and increase--as Iran pushes toward a nuclear threshold.

Second, we need to realize Iran has been using--and will continue to use--every means possible to distort and cover up the real extent of their nuclear program...and any impact the West is having in disrupting it. Iran downplayed the impact of the Stuxnet virus, and they have now tried to deny the involvement of the scientist who was assassinated. This was not a case of mistaken identity. The assassination targeted a specific individual who was evidently developing a key element of the triggering device for a nuclear bomb.

A life-and-death struggle over the future of the Middle East is being waged...though most people aren't even aware of the battle. And the truth won't always be found simply by reading the news headlines!

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Bell from a Priest's Robe

In the Book of Exodus God gave specific instructions concerning the garments to be worn by the priests. One detail seems, at first, to be somewhat unusual...decorative bells and pomegranates that were to be fastened to the bottom of the priests' robes.

Here's the specific command from Exodus 28:33-35:
"And you shall make on its hem pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet material, all around on its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all around on the hem of the robe. And it shall be on Aaron when he ministers; and its tinkling may be heard when he enters and leaves the holy place before the LORD, that he may not die."

Archaeologists in Jerusalem may just have discovered one of the bells described in this passage! While excavating a drainage ditch from a street that ran along the western end of the Temple Mount, they uncovered a small golden bell (see above) that had evidently fallen off a priest's garment and rolled into the ditch. The bell had a loop on top to allow that would allow it to be fastened to the hem of the robe.

The bell that was discovered is from the Second Temple period, nearly 1,500 years after God first gave the command to Moses. It's another reminder that the Jewish people in the New Testament era were still being careful to follow the guidelines laid down by God for temple worship.

If you would like to read more about this amazing discovery, click here.

Inside the White House in 1973

The U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian just released historical archives detailing the foreign relations of the United States from 1969 through 1976. Volume XXV of the material highlights the Arab-Israeli Crisis and the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

The materials makes for a fascinating read! In going through the material, here is an example of the kind of exchanges I found to be of interest.

During a White House Bipartisan Leadership Meeting on November 27 (just after the war, as arrangements were being made for negotiations), President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger gave their frank assessment of the war...and of current realities in the Middle East. At one point Congressman Stratton from New York asked, "What is the significance now of Resolution 242" [the UN resolution passed in 1967 calling for Israel to return all land captured during the Six Day War]? Kissinger's response seems to indicate that, as far as the circle of leaders gathered at the meeting in the White House was concerned, the resolution was meaningless. He said, "In the family--242 doesn't mean a thing" (p. 1026 of the pdf file, 992 of the document itself).

President Nixon also responded suggesting that any final deal on borders would give Israel at least some of the land that had been captured by them in 1967. Immediately after Kissinger's words, the President added, "It means 1967 for the Arabs and for Israel it means what they have plus ten percent."

Senator Fullbright objected to these two statements and responded, "It is not right to say 242 doesn’t mean anything." The President answered by saying, "It means different things to different people. To us it means what is negotiated."

Later in that same meeting the issue of nuclear weapons came up. Senator Mike Mansfield asked, "Do Egypt and Israel have the capability to make nuclear weapons?" Henry Kissinger's response appears to have been deliberately understated. "Israel has the capability to make small numbers. Not Egypt" (p. 1027 of the pdf file, 993 of the document itself).

If you want to know what was happening inside our government as this crisis unfolded, click on the link above to download the file. It makes for fascinating reading!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Israel's Renewed Fascination with the EU

A survey conducted by Ben Gurion University found that 81% of Israelis would support Israel joining the European Union, and 64% would support the deployment of NATO forces to the West Bank and Gaza Strip as part of a peace treaty with the Palestinians. A recent Jerusalem Post article reported on the survey and quoted one of the researchers who conducted it. "Israelis are really into strengthening and deepening the cooperation between Israel and the EU. Israelis understand the importance of the EU for the future of Israel and they want to strengthen the relations."

What significance, if any, could this information have in God's prophetic program? I see two possible points of connection. First, Israel's growing interest in Europe could be connected, at least in part, to its realization that the United States might not always be the reliable partner and friend it has been for the past 30 years. Israel's fascination with Europe could reflect a growing belief that Europe might prove to be the more reliable economic and political partner in the future. Second, the Bible describes the last days as a time characterized by interaction between the revived Roman Empire and a restored nation of Israel. The period begins as a time of cooperation and peace, though eventually the European ruler will turn against Israel. This is described in some detail in Daniel 9:27 and Revelation 12–13.

Pay close attention to Israel's growing desire for rapprochement with Europe. It could eventually prove to be another piece of God's end-time puzzle clicking into place.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Granddaughter of Caiaphas

This past week Israeli researchers announced an amazing discovery. An ossuary (stone box used to store the bones of someone who had died) that had been dug up by grave robbers and seized by the antiquities authority was determined to be authentic.

But what's so amazing about verifying the authenticity of a stolen stolen bone box?

The authorities spent three years verifying that the box was not a forgery because the inscription on it was so significant. They wanted to make sure the box was authentic before announcing the discovery. The inscription on the box read, "Miriam Daughter of Yeshua Son of Caiaphas, Priests of Ma’aziah from Beth Imri."

Miriam, the name of Moses' sister, was a common Hebrew name. The New Testament name Mary is the Greek form of this name. The Miriam in this inscription is identified as the daughter of Yeshua. That's the Old Testament name Joshua, and Jesus is the Greek form of this name.

We read the New Testament and know that Jesus was the daughter of Mary. Some may have wondered why both names aren't found in the Old Testament. In reality, they are--once one understands what the Hebrew equivalents are--and they were also very common in during the New Testament era. In this particular case Mary is the daughter of Jesus!

But what's most remarkable about the inscription is the fact that it also names Miriam's grandfather, Caiaphas. He was the high priest who presided over the trial of Jesus, and who had Jesus delivered over to Pilate for crucifixion.

In one of those historical oddities, Caiaphas had a son with the same Hebrew name as Jesus. And that son eventually had a daughter whom he gave the same Hebrew name as Mary. Isn't it just like God to allow this particular bone box to be preserved...perhaps, in part, to help us remember once again the historical reality of the events we know from the Bible!