Jerusalem — there is no city in all the world or in all of history that has seen as much conflict as Jerusalem. From the days when King David drove out the Jebusites to make Jerusalem the capital of his great kingdom to the present day there have been battles over who would control Jerusalem. Today the conflict continues, as the Palestinian Arabs lay claim to the city and vow to once again control the Holy City.
What is our response, as Christians, to the conflict over that ancient city? Unfortunately, there are many who claim the name of Christ that side with the Arab nations in their claim to the city of Jerusalem. What is often forgotten is that God himself put His name on Zion, the Holy City of Jerusalem.
When the prophet Abijah predicted the dividing of the kingdom after the death of King Solomon he said that God would not take the entire kingdom from Solomon, but that “…he (Solomon) shall have one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel … that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I have chosen to put my name.” (1 Kings 11:32, 36)
I just finished reading a book entitled “For the Love of Zion” by Elwood McQuaid. I don’t think anyone has a better understanding of the Jewish people and God’s promises to Israel than he does. The book is a fairly heavy read, but he does a marvellous job of showing the wonderful destiny God has in store for Israel and the Jewish people. In spite of the hatred and animosity of the nations around Israel, and their determination to wipe Israel off the map, the future of God’s chosen people is assured.
God chose the descendants of Abraham, through his son, Isaac and Jacob as the recipients of His covenant promises and He has not and will not abandon them or go back on His promises. In Deuteronomy 7, under the inspiration of God himself, Moses told his people,
“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations,” (Deut. 7:6-9 ESV, emphasis added)
And He has chosen Jerusalem as the one city out of all the cities of the earth, to be the place to name as his own. As Elwood McQuaid says in the closing pages of his book,
“It was there His Temples stood and will again stand in the future. It was there His kings reigned. It was there all males were called to worship three times each year at the great feasts. And there the Messiah shall hold sway over reconciled Israel and all the nations in the Kingdom Age."
Yes, Israel will survive and Jerusalem will survive. In fact, they will more than survive. As Christians who believe the prophetic Scriptures, we look forward to the day when the Messiah will establish His Kingdom and reign over all the earth from His throne in the Holy City Jerusalem.
I watched a movie a couple of days ago. That, in itself, is a notable event as it happens very seldom. But there was one scene which raised some interesting questions in my mind. Is it possible to stare death in the face with confidence? What does it take to have hope when confronted with the possibility of dying?
The movie was a 2013 suspense thriller, called Gravity. In the movie, Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski, played by George Clooney. On a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalski completely alone – tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth...and any chance for rescue. Eventually they become separated and Stone is left on her own to find a way back to earth. At one point she manages to get to a Soyuz spacecraft, where she is sitting, freezing and hallucinating, not knowing what to do. She begins thinking about her daughter who had been killed years earlier, at the age of 4, in a freak playground accident. In her hallucination, she begins to talk to her daughter.
“I’m gonna die … I know, we’re all gonna die, everybody knows that … but I’m gonna die today … funny that, to know … but the thing is, I’m still scared … I’m really scared. No one will mourn for me, no one will pray for my soul. Will you pray for me? Will you say a prayer for me? Or is it too late? … I mean, I’d pray for myself, but I’ve never prayed in my life, so … nobody ever taught me how … nobody ever taught me how.”
Over the past couple of days, that scene has haunted me. The sadness of someone coming face to face with death, and having no hope—of being completely unprepared—is overwhelming. I am reminded of the words of Hebrews 2:15 which speaks of those “… who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” For someone who has no hope for eternity, the prospect of death is both frightening and enslaving.
How different this is from a person like the Apostle Paul. In his final hours, as he faced the prospect of death, he wrote these words to his young apprentice, Timothy:
“I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
What made the difference? There are two things that come to my mind. The first is the knowledge of sins forgiven. Knowing that Christ has died for my sin, and that through faith I have been forgiven and am assured of an eternal home with Christ, makes death less frightening. The second difference is a life that has been lived with purpose. The Apostle Paul knew that he had put everything on the line for Christ. He could have confidence in the reward that was awaiting him because long before he had surrendered everything and had left everything from this life behind in order to follow Christ and serve Him.
So, yes, it is possible to face death with confidence and hope. But only because of what Christ has done for us. As we trust him, for salvation and for service, he gives us hope that extends beyond this life into eternity.
The most glorious event I can think of is seeing a person come to the point of recognizing their need of a Saviour and putting their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. A very close second is seeing a person make that decision public by following the Lord Jesus in baptism.
Yesterday we had the joy of watching four individuals from our church enter the waters of baptism. Two were young ladies, and the other two were older gentlemen. It was a very hot afternoon in the church, but what a joy to hear these four people share how God had changed their lives, and how their desire is to walk with Jesus and continue to grow in Him.
Some other people who have had a special place in the lives of these individuals shared some special words of encouragement and challenge, not only to the ones submitting to baptism, but to all of us. Following the service inside, we proceeded outside to a tank that was set up behind the church. There, one by one, these four believers again expressed their faith in Jesus for salvation, and were immersed in the waters of baptism.
Baptism is truly a step of commitment. It is a public declaration, saying, "I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back." We rejoice with each of these special people and look forward to what God has for each them in the future.
One of the events that we look forward to with great anticipation each year is our annual Village Missions staff conference. Almost every summer for the past 35 years we have made the trek through the Rocky Mountains to Green Bay Bible Camp on Okanagan Lake in West Kelowna. It is certainly one of the most beautiful spots in Western Canada to spend a few days with our Village Missions family.
There are many aspects to the conference that make it an important part of our yearly calendar. There are the times of teaching and encouragement in the Word of God as we listen to the one who is invited to be our pastor for that week. There are the morning prayer times as we gather in groups to share our burdens and to pray for one another. There is the privilege of being served by the wonderful staff of the camp - the camp managers and the summer staff of young people who can always be seen working and cleaning all around the camp grounds.
But I think the best part of the week is the fellowship. The afternoons are often spent sitting on the beach or in the shade under the trees, looking out over beautiful Okanagan Lake, in groups of two or three or sometimes ten or twelve, sharing about family or travel or ministry. Just catching up with friends that we often have not seen or communicated with since last year, is something that we look forward to.
We love our Village Missions family. We love our church family as well. But the fellowship with our Village Missions family at our annual conference is a time that we would not miss. It is a time when we can unload our burdens and share with others who share many of the same burdens.
The Apostle John, in introducing his first epistle, said to his readers, "...that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." (1 John 1:3 ESV) The key to fellowship is the bond we have with one another in Jesus Christ.
"We all worship the same God...There are many different ways to heaven..." Have you heard those kind of statements recently? Are such statements true?
This morning someone directed me to an article in the most recent Macleans magazine. It was an interview with Rev. Josiah Idowu-Fearon, an Anglican bishop in northern Nigeria. The interview focused on the conflict between Christians and Muslims. In the article Idowu-Fearon is referred to as having "...dedicated himself to promoting reconciliation between followers of the two faiths." He was in Toronto this spring to teach a course on Islam in the 21st century at Wycliffe College.
In the interview, this respected Christian leader made some alarming statements. He said, "...because we all descend from Adam and Eve, there is a need for us to see each other in that light, even though we have different races, different tribes, different cultures. The good thing is, in my situation, I use the Quran and the Bible. The Bible does not tell us why some are Canadians, others are Americans, why some are Africans and, in Africa, you have different tribes. The Bible just says we are one body as Christians."
In response to a later questions, he went on to say, "I do not see the Muslim as a non-believer. I see the Muslim as a human being who understands God, the same god I understand, albeit we worship Him differently." Idowu-Fearon makes it clear that he does not see a Muslim as someone who needs to be converted, but simply someone to love and care for. After all, he worships the same God.
To read the entire interview, click here...
If what Bishop Iduwo-Fearon says is true, then we are wasting our time trying to reach out to those of other religions and cultures with the gospel. But what is alarming is the number of people who would agree with him. Even among those who claim to be evangelicals there are many who believe that we all worship the same God and it doesn't really matter what you believe, all faith systems lead to heaven,
The Bible says that there is only one way to heaven, and that is through being born again. Jesus made it very clear that there was no other way. He said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3). And in John 14, as he prepared his disciples for the time when he would leave them to return to his Father in heaven, they expressed concern about how they could join him in heaven. Thomas said what they were probably all thinking, "How can we know the way to heaven?" His answer was clear. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
No, whether you are "Muslim" or "Christian," "Bhuddist" or "Hindu" or any other religion, there is only one true God, the God of the Bible, and there is only one way to God and that is through faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ, his Son.
One of the truly hot-button issues of our day within the church is the question of homosexuality. This week I came across a video message by Kevin DeYoung that addressed this question very clearly from a Biblical perspective.
The message was recorded at College Church in Wheaton, Illinois on March 17, 2015. In his hour-long message he gave a brief summary of the Biblical teaching on homosexuality, addressed four general areas of objection that are often presented by those who would seek to revise the Biblical viewpoint, and then discussed the question of what is at stake in this issue.
I was impressed with the sensitivity with which Kevin approached this very difficult and controversial subject. Yet he is clear and unbending about the importance of faithfulness to the Word of God and its authority in our lives.
I will not try to present his arguments here, but will commend his message to you. I encourage you to spend an hour watching the video which is available on Vimeo. Here is the link:
What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?
“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
What is it that makes Christianity different from any other religion in the world? It is the resurrection. Christianity is the only religion that has a living founder and Savior. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most critical element of Christian doctrine. Without the resurrection, Christianity would be nothing more than another religion of morals and ethics. So, what are some of the implications of the resurrection for us.
First of all, the resurrection is the validation of everything that Jesus taught and claimed during his time here on the earth. He claimed to be the Son of God. He claimed to be the one who would save those who were lost in sin. He took the curse of sin upon himself when he died on the cross. Without the resurrection we would have to believe that he is still under the curse of that sin.
Second, the resurrection of Jesus is the evidence that the power of death was broken by Jesus. Death came into this world through the first man, Adam. the power of death was removed by Jesus, the last Adam. His resurrection gave proof that death could no longer hold man in its grasp.
Third, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the guarantee of our resurrection. For believers in Jesus Christ, there is the assurance that death as we know it (physical death) is not the end. When Jesus rose from the dead with a glorified body, he opened the way for our resurrection as well. "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." (1 Corinthians 15:20)
Easter is the most important holy day of the year for us. The death of Jesus deals with our past, by paying the penalty of our sin, and his resurrection assures our future, providing life eternal with him.
If you have read some of my previous comments you will know that I love the nation and the people of Israel. That is not always a popular position these days. But if we are to take the Word of God seriously, we need to support Israel and the Jewish people.
Twice in the Old Testament the nation of Israel is referred to as "the apple of God's eye" (Lamentations 2:18; Zechariah 2:8). God has a special place in his heart for Israel. They are His people, whom he called out for a special purpose.
Along with the promise God made to Abraham of a land that would be theirs forever, and a promise to bless him and his descendants, He also promised that the nations of the world would be treated according to the way they treated His chosen people. God told Abraham that "...I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse..." (Genesis 12:3 ESV)
In Zechariah 2:8 God makes clear how he feels about Israel as a nation. An angel, sent to Zechariah with a message regarding Israel, tells him "...he who touches you touches the apple of His eye." (ESV) There are many Christians today who believe that God has abandoned Israel, and that His promises have now been transferred to the Church, but that position is untenable from Scripture. God's promises never fail, and they have never been rescinded.
Israel, as a nation, is facing difficult days. General elections are being held in Israel in a few weeks. The Israeli Knesset (parliament) is made up of many political parties and a mixture of Jewish and Arab representatives. We need to support Israel and pray for them as they go into this election.
In the days and weeks to come, Lord willing, I would like to address some of the issues regarding Israel and the tension and pressures affecting the Middle East. There are many who are much more knowledgeable than i, but perhaps I can point you to some sources that will help us all to understand the dire times in which we are living.
I love the spring season - especially once the snow is gone and we get past the mucky, muddy part of spring. It brings such joy to see the grass turning green and the leaves coming out on the trees. It is wonderful to see plants which look so dead spring forth with new life. I guess there is a spiritual lesson in there - God can take a person who is spiritually dead and breathe new life into that person.
Spring also speaks to me about the faithfulness of God. There are times during a long, hard winter when it seems as though it will never end. It certainly seemed that way this year. Yet God's promises never fail, and he has assured us that the seasons will continue. Spring will always come, even when it does not feel like it. He promised in Genesis 8:22 - "While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (ESV) God is faithful and He has the world and the seasons in His hand.
There is also something satisfying about the work that comes with springtime. The grass turning green means we have to start cutting it again. The weeds start growing in the garden and the seeds have to be planted for a harvest in the fall. But even that is an assurance of God's faithfulness and his provision.
I'm sure that everyone who reads this has heard about the book "Heaven is for Real" which was published just a couple of years ago. It records the story of Colton Burpo who claimed to have made a trip to heaven during a surgery for an appendectomy when he was 4 years old. During the months and years following he told many stories of things he said he had seen in heaven.
Well, now the book has been made into a movie that is currently showing at theaters all across North America. It is being hailed by many who claim to be evangelicals as a "must see" event. I have not seen the movie, nor have I read the book, but I am deeply troubled by all of the hoopla about this book.
First of all, I have read and seen enough about the book to know that much of what is recorded about heaven not only goes far beyond what the Bible tells us about heaven, but much of it is directly contrary to what the Bible says about what heaven is like. John MacArthur points out that this book, as do many others like it, focus mainly on trivial, fanciful accounts of angels and wings and such things, and say very little about the glory of God. The Biblical accounts of heaven, recorded by Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the Apostle John are focused almost entirely on the glory, majesty and worship of God, not things like sitting on Jesus knee, listening to angels singing.
Another troubling aspect about this whole concept is that in the Bible there is no record of anyone who died and came back to life ever telling what he had seen or experienced on the other side of death. In fact, the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12 records the fact of his own death or near-death experience, yet says he saw things which were not permitted to be told. Yet today we have an abundance of people wanting to tell their fanciful stories of their visit to heaven. And the sad thing is that Christians are accepting these stories as truth.
I strongly recommend a few blog posts from John MacArthur's website to get a more thorough treatment of this subject:
The Burpo-Malarkey Doctrine - October 18, 2012 - http://www.gty.org/Blog/B121018
Heaven Is Real; Hallucinations Are Not - April 28, 2014 - http://www.gty.org/Blog/B140428
Dead Men Tell No Tales - April 29, 2014 - http://www.gty.org/blog/B140429
Gordon Rowland has been a Missionary-Pastor with Village Missions of Canada for over 35 years. Gordon and his wife Val have lived and served in Clive since 2001. They have four children and nine wonderful grandchildren.