Friday, May 27, 2011

Standing with Israel

No other land in the world is more contested than Israel. Have you ever wondered why this is? I am convinced the tension concerning this land is more spiritual in nature than anything else. The church is not Israel, nor is God done with His chosen people. I believe that every Christian should stand with Israel for a number of reasons.

The apostles loved Israel and so should we. Listen to the pain and passion of the Apostle Paul as he penned these words, "I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of by brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen." (Romans 9:1-5). Did you catch that? He basically says he would be willing to go to hell if his countrymen would trust in Christ for salvation. Could you say that? I don't think I could. If you are like I was, you are thinking, "So what, he was an Israeli and this doesn't mean I should feel the same way towards Israel." Okay, that's fair, let's look at some other passages in the Bible.

The nations will be judged in relation to their treatment of Israel. One major passage is Genesis 12:1-3. It is here that God promises Abram (later to be called Abraham) a great nation that would become Israel. A significant promise is made in the third verse when God tells Abram, "And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse." This theme of blessing and cursing in relation to the treatment of Israel seems to unfold throughout the Old Testament. I noticed this sharply as I studied through Isaiah last year. It seems there are a bunch of sections in Isaiah that echo this truth, but Isaiah 41:8-16 stands out in a major way. Here God essentially comforts Israel with a promise of hope and promises destruction to those who oppose her. I believe God has blessed the United States partially because of our historical support of Israel and think we should be concerned if this support is withdrawn.

Christianity's Jewish Roots. Romans 9-11 speaks of Israel in rough terms of past, present, and future respectfully. I encourage you to study these chapters. Paul develops the picture of Israel and the church through an illustration of an olive tree that has branches grafted in. Here is a picture to of such a tree. Notice how thick the trunk is in relation to the top branches. Romans 11:17-18 states, " But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you." Christianity is not separate from Judaism, but rather the roots of Christianity are completely Jewish. If we divorce Christianity and Judaism, we fail to understand Christianity with clarity.

Pray for peace in Israel. The psalmist commands, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they prosper who love you" (Ps. 122:6). Last September I was blessed with a trip to Israel. It was amazing. I think every Christian should go to Israel to discover the land of the Bible. You will be changed. But when you go, go with the intention of meeting the people and experiencing the culture. Talk with Israeli's about their land and culture. This is what I did and I was tremendously blessed.

I gained so much from my trip, but two things struck my in a new way. The first was the longing for peace by the people of Israel. On evening, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, I had a memorable discussion with a former member of the IDF Special Forces. He was about my age with kids about the age of my kids. I felt as though I were hanging out with one of my SEAL buddies talking about life and taking in the beautiful sunset over the lake. This man shared with me how he longed for peace in a way that people who live in peace will never understand. He pointed out to me that Israel has never attacked without provocation--only in self defense. He hoped that his sons would see lasting peace, but realized that his sons would serve as he did and this gave his wife much anxiety.

On the last day of our trip, a local Israeli elementary school, just east of the Gaza Strip, wanted to thank us (the organization I was on tour with--the ICEJ) who had recently donated a significant gift. I was expecting to see a new playground, or school house, or freshly painted walls, or something along these lines. Boy was I surprised. What was the gift? A new bomb shelter pictured bellow. Crazy. This is life in Israel. We must pray for peace there. The only lasting solution is for God to intervene. I will close with the words of an Israeli Christian man who shared his thoughts about the political attempts for peace in Israel. He said, "They are trying to solve spiritual problems through political means. It will never work." Let us pray for peace in Israel.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

May 21, 2011--The Rapture of the Church?

I don't know about you, but the discussion of the rapture of the church has taken center stage as a result of a certain group claiming that the rapture is happening today at 6:00pm. There is some confusion about which 6:00pm exactly...but as I type this post at 11:34am PST many time-zones have been ruled out. I suspect May 21, 2011 will pass as normal. Who knows what Harold Camping will say Sunday morning when he is proved wrong yet again?

There seem to be two camps of people: 1) those who think this prediction is right, and 2) those who are scoffing at this prediction. Obviously, by the picture on the left, you can see that I am in the scoffing group...or I was until a few hours ago. I would like to present a third option--the Bible's teaching concerning the rapture of the church.

As a Christian I don't feel any sort of connection to Harold Camping's group. They seem like the wacko fringe that I don't identify with. But as I have been shaking my head and laughing at the precise predictions being made, I realized that there are many who are mocking the return of Christ. I think Christians need to be cautious in our response to this group. I think Harold Camping is a false prophet and cannot be trusted as a Bible teacher. My heart breaks for those who have followed after him and made great sacrifices.

What does the Bible say about the rapture? I have no intention of writing a theological perspective concerning End Times, but if you are interested in reading more click HERE to read a paper by John Walvoord. Here are a few points for us to consider.

1. Nothing in the Bible points to the exact time of the rapture, we are simply to be expectant (1 Thess. 5:1-11).

2. Christ is coming for the church (John 14:1-3; 1 Cor. 15:50-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18).

3. We are to abide in Christ until He returns (1 John 2:28).

4. Christ is coming to earth again to reign and rule (Matt. 24; Rev. 19-20).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Other "SEAL" Pastor

When I sat down to blog last time, my goal was to address the wide array of opinions within the Christian community concerning the killing of Osama Bin Laden by Navy SEALS. There was no way to foresee the craziness that the last 10 days have brought to my life. My blog had some 10,000 views, there were newspaper interviews, radio interviews, and television interviews. This has all been a little overwhelming, but affirms that I must write a book to help Christians who serve in the capacity of law enforcement and the military.

In the midst of this craziness, another issue surfaced. Initially I thought I should ignore it, but now the media has asked my opinion and I am compelled to write it out so I am not taken out of context.

Last Wednesday I could say, "Just Google: 'SEAL pastor' and I am the only person who comes up." Today, I cannot because a pastor in Pennsylvania lied about being a SEAL and then decided to share his thoughts on the killing of Osama Bin Laden. A number of people have sent me links to this story and have asked for my perspective. I do not have the time nor do I want to write on this in full, but I feel it is appropriate to make a few comments.

1. Honesty is always the best policy. I know this is a little cliche, but it is very possible that this all started with a little misrepresentation or little white lie. Lies lead to more lies and the Bible makes it clear, "Your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23). This whole thing could have been averted if he simply stopped this misrepresentation from the get go.

2. Our self worth comes from who we are in Christ. Most people struggle with self worth. We view perfect looking actors on television and in movies and feel inferior. We think, "If only I had this...(you fill in the blank) and then I will be happy or content." This is a carrot that Satan dangles out in front of us. I chased it, King Solomon chased it, and Mic Jager is still chasing it (I think). We can chase external things till the end of time, but will always conclude with Mic Jager: "I can't get no, I can't get no; I can't get no satisfaction!" Pretending to be something that you are not will only lead to more discontentment. My prayer is that each of you reading would grow in your understanding of who you are in Christ and find satisfaction in Him alone. If you are not a Christian, it is easy--believe upon Christ for Salvation (John 3). Your worth is not is not based upon your bank account, degrees (or lack of them), accomplishments (or lack of them), good looks (or lack of them), but in Christ alone (Philippians 3:4-14).

3. The integrity of the pastor is critical. I can already hear it, "Gunnar, I thought the Bible says, 'Judge not'?" This is uncanny. Last Sunday I had to preach on Luke 6:27, "Love your enemies..." This Sunday I have to preach on Luke 6:37, "Do not judge, and you will not be judged..." On Sunday, I will have more to say about this, but for now I will point out the Scriptures make it clear that the pastor must be above reproach, respectable, and must have a good reputation with non-Christians (1 Timothy 3:1-7). As a pastor, I see why the Bible puts such a high standard upon the man who is call as a pastor. We are ambassadors for Christ and function as His shepherds. The reality of my role within the church and community keeps me very humble and dependent upon the Lord. I am a sinner saved by grace and I am in desperate need of the Lord's help.

4. Forgiveness and consequence are distinct
. I do not know this pastor, nor do I have any affiliation with his church. Ultimately he sinned against the Lord and I pray that he works towards forgiveness and reconciliation with Him as David did in Psalm 51. I do believe he should resign as a pastor in order to work through healing with himself, his family, his church, and his community.

5. We should pray for this pastor, his family, and his church. This is obviously a very sad story. Much shame and pain has been brought to many people. I am thankful that God is in the business of healing and restoration. My prayer is that all people involved would humble themselves before the Lord and allow Him to work through this situation.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Reacting to Osama Bin Laden

Ten years ago today I was an active duty Navy SEAL deployed to the Middle East, today I am the Senior Pastor of Valley Baptist Church contemplating the death of Osama Bin Laden. Every now and again I have these moments where my two worlds sort of collide. Today is one of them. The internet is a furry with news, Facebook status updates, and blogs all reporting on this historical event. The chatter has inspired me to blog on a topic that is near and dear to my heart--The Christian and Combat.

First, let me begin by stating that I am writing this on my own behalf. My views are my own and do not necessarily reflect any group that I represent. These are my thoughts in progress and I do not claim to be an expert...although, I probably could. :)

Second, I have had many discussions with Christian pacifists over the years. I love the majority of them dearly. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ and we just don't agree on this one issue. Some have accused me of not being able to see the Scriptures clearly because my background distorts my ability to listen to the Bible's teaching. I admit that this really bothers me. They are simply wrong and assume my inclination is to hold a "pro war/violence position" because of my military background. In all honesty, the opposite is true. I have had to draw my gun on people (although I have never actually had to kill someone) and I have lost a number of very close friends in battle and have seen the after affects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I would LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to take a pacifist position on this subject, but the Scriptures will not allow me to do that (in my humble opinion). Violence of any sort is horrible and I long for the day when God scraps this world and starts a new, but for now I am here living in a sinful fallen world faced with horrible things where there is no simple answer.

"The Christian and Combat" was the title of my Master of Divinity thesis. As a former Navy SEAL who is now a pastor and law enforcement chaplain, I feel I need to get to work and convert it into a user friendly format for publication as I am often asked for my thoughts on this subject. One of these days, one of these days...

My first combat mission was on September 9, 1999--my 25th birthday. At this point in my life, I had spent the last seven years preparing for this moment and had been a Christian for about 3 years. It was dark, pitch black dark, in the Northern Arabian Gulf off the coast of Iraq, my adrenaline was flowing, and I distinctly remember thinking, "Gunnar, how did you get yourself into this one?" I know the feeling that many soldiers and cops prayer is that I can help those who protect us answer these deep theological questions prior to finding themselves in combat.

There is no way for me to blog about this in its entirety--I need to write that book. But I will attempt to answer a couple of questions: 1) the need for warriors, 2) the authority of the warrior, and 3) the Christians response to violence.

The need for warriors. There is a story in the Old Testament that inspired the writing of my thesis and it is found in 1 Samuel 23:1-5. David and his mighty men are on the run from Saul when David gets word that the Philistines are plundering the people of Keilah. My first point against the pacifist argument is evil is happening all around us. You can be a totally passive person (which I feel like I am) and find yourself witnessing one person or group that is violently attacking another. I love what Dietrich Bonhoeffer says about this reality, "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act." David and his men were exposed to an evil situation, their initial reaction was not to respond because they weren't in the best position to help. David asked God a second time if this is what he was to do. God's desire was for David to proceed onward using violence to stop this evil that was already in progress. Today is no different. Evil is everywhere. Men and women everywhere are doing evil to all sorts of people. Are Christians simply not to intervene? I don't think so.

The authority of the warrior--military, cop, or individual. The clearest teaching anywhere in the Bible on this subject is found in Romans 12:9-13:4. This passage is pretty intriguing to me this week as it is very similar the Sermon on the Mount which I am preaching on through the month of May. Romans 12:9-17 has all of the verses that pacifists love to quote like: "Bless those who persecute you", "Never pay back evil for evil", etc, etc. Yes, I believe this all applies to the Christian and I take these verses literally, but a literal interpretation forces one to look at the whole context--one cannot study Scripture in isolation of the whole.

Romans 12:18-19 begins to shed some light on how we as Christians are able to do this. First, the Bible says we are to be at peace with other people if it is possible and as much as it depends on our own actions. Then it says, "leave room for the wrath of God." Okay so this is very interesting. We are not to take our own vengeance because God's wrath is more effective than our own wrath (okay, the text doesn't say why, that is my opinion). In my Bible I have drawn from "wrath of God" in Romans 12:19 down to Romans 13:4 where the thought carries through. Here the Bible essentially says that "it" (i.e. the authorities or government) "does not bear the sword for nothing" and that it is a "minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil."

I have met a number of pacifists that I respect. Concerning these verses in Romans 13 they would agree that the government is responsible to bear the sword, but would say based on Romans 12 that there is no place for the follower of Christ to function in this capacity of authority as the one bearing the sword. Biblically speaking, the wrath of the government is the wrath of God (for the record, I am not defending all government actions, time does not allow me to unpack this, but I do think God judges nations Isaiah 34-35 this will be in the book). So to say that the Christian cannot function in this capacity is in essence to say that they Christian is holier than God and this responsibility should be left the the unregenerate.

Every soldier and cop must understand the concept of being under authority. There was one such soldier who encountered Jesus in Capernaum who understood this concept and expressed it to Jesus (Luke 7:1-10). Jesus' response to this man was, "I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith." This is a pretty incredible statement if you stop and consider it for a moment. The point is that when life is taken it must be under the proper authority of God and the government and right circumstances--whether you are a soldier, cop, or individual defending yourself or others.

The Christian's response to violence. Yesterday I started preaching through Luke's account of the Sermon on the Mount (Luke 6:20-49). One verse stuck out to me (v.21), "Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh." Am I happy that Osama Bin Laden is dead? Yes and no. Yes because a man who promotes evil and destruction to many people is gone. "Relief" is probably a better word than "happy." Many of us in the West are not fully aware of the evil this man inflicted in the world. He killed many innocent people brutally. I am sad for what he represented because another will arise in due time...there are many already doing evil to the innocent even as you read this. He is dead, but many died along the way. One peer of mine calculated that some 40 SEALs have died fighting the war against terrorism. I know a few widows and children who are left behind...Osama Bin Laden's death doesn't undo this or the attacks that have been committed during his lifetime. But there is pleasure in knowing that the government is following through with God's command to bring "wrath on the one who practices evil" (Rom. 13:4).

There is so much more I could write on regarding this subject, but I am running out of steam and I would like to post this tonight. Regardless of your theological bent regarding pacifism, I think we all agree on Paul's instructions to Timothy, "First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity" (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

We should be on our knees this day praying as Paul tells us to above. I am thankful for the sacrifice of soldiers, cops, and good Samaritans who put their lives at risk in the calling of restraining evil.