Who Are We That We Should Choose Our Way?

It all began in the councils of God in eternity past.  But a good break in point is the year 1961. It was September and colder than normal for early fall.

I had begun the three-block walk from my home to the bus stop. It was an almost daily ritual, and the scenery was familiar. I was in my second year in Bible college studying for the ministry.  I loved my classes and found myself devouring the glorious truth I was learning about God. At Bible college I met and fell in love with the girl of my dreams. She had graduated from the college to stay on and become the president’s secretary. We were engaged to be married. The briskness in my step evidenced my optimistic mood that morning.

Now at the bus stop, I watched the almost endless line of cars and trucks rushing, I thought, only God knew where. My attention returned to the matters at hand, and I wondered if I had just missed the bus. If I had, I realized it would be at least 20 minutes until the next one would come along.

The shopping center that housed my favorite Jewish delicatessen was about a half block away. The appeal of a toasted bagel and cream cheese beckoned me. Should I yield to the temptation and risk missing the bus? Caution was thrown to the wind, and I started toward the deli. I never made it on that occasion. Suddenly, inexplicably, a stronger pull tugged at my heart.  I began retracing my steps toward home. Once there, it took only a few moments to locate the object of my trek. It was a small black pocket Bible – a gift from Fannie Miller, the missionary who had, 11 years earlier, led me to the Lord.

Now, with Bible in hand, I rushed back to the bus stop. I did not want to miss the bus.  It turned out to be a dead heat. The bus got to the stop at the same time I did. The door opened long enough to let me jump on board.

I paid my fare and walked to the back. The trip to my fiance’s home would take about an hour and a half. It required transferring to an elevated subway, the route of which was partly high above ground and partly below, and it would leave me off in downtown Philadelphia. The final leg of the trip was an interstate bus that would take me into southern New Jersey.

Until this day, I do not remember the trip or how I made the transfers to the second and third vehicles. For as I went to the back on the first bus, I opened the Bible I had felt compelled to return home and retrieve. Its pages fell open to the third chapter of Exodus. It is the account of Moses on the back side of the desert; of the dramatic spectacle of a bush that burned and yet was not consumed; and of the sacredness of God speaking to Moses from out of that bush. On that day, as never before or since, I found myself fascinated by and riveted to the dialogue between the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and this former prince of Egypt, now a herdsman for his father-in-law’s sheep in the wilderness of Sinai.

God told Moses that He was sending him down to Egypt to deliver the children of Israel from bondage and to bring them into the land He had given to Abraham, and his seed after him, as a everlasting possession. Five times he resisted God’s command. His response can be summarized:

And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? (Ex. 3:11).

And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? What shall I say unto them? (Ex. 3:13).

And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice; for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee (Ex. 4:1).

And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant; but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue (Ex. 4:10).

And he said, O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send (Ex. 4:13).

Finally“the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses” (Ex. 4:14).

Somewhere in the midst of my reading during the trip I do not remember, I ceased to be a third party on the sidelines.  No longer was it a discussion between God and Moses – it had become a discussion between God and me. Of this I was certain, I did not want God’s anger kindled against me.

It was one of those legitimate mystical experiences which may enter a life a few times at crucial forks in the road. Family and friends had been counseling me that when I finished training I should go into Jewish evangelism. Others, they argued, could enter the pastorate and general missionary positions. But I, by virtue of my Jewish background and knowledge of how Jewish people think, could better reach Jewish people with the gospel.  I had steadfastly resisted that counsel. Not that I did not love my brethren according to the flesh – not that I needed to be convinced of their great spiritual need to know Christ – but Jewish missionary work was simply not for me.

During the trip on that September day, the Holy One of Israel broke my stubborn will.

The beautiful young woman who would soon become my wife was waiting for me as I disembarked from the bus. Seeing the tears in my eyes, she inquired, “Honey, is anything wrong?”  I assured her that everything was fine, that I thought I had just talked with God. But I added some commentary of my own. “If you marry me, darling, we may one day wind up in a ministry of Jewish evangelism.” She assured me that she only wanted God’s perfect will for our lives. I remember the song that we chose to be sung at our wedding a month later: “Not what we wish to be, not where we wish to go. For who are we that we should choose our way. The Lord will choose for us, ‘tis better far we know, so let Him bid us go or stay.”

I finished my study at Bible college and then attended seminary for two years. While there, an invitation was extended to my wife and me to pastor a small church in southern New Jersey.  We accepted the call and began our pastoral ministry. The people had a mind to work, and we watched the church grow as the Holy Spirit of God worked in and among us.  Souls were saved – others were restored to fellowship – missionaries were supported – young people began to prepare for ministry – and facilities were continuously added to accommodate the rapidly expanding ministry. They were days of excitement, challenge, and blessing we shall never forget.  We simply trusted God and watched Him work.  We were convinced that nothing was too hard for Him to accomplish. We loved the pastorate and people God has entrusted to our care.

Then one day Dr. Victor Buksbazen contacted me.  He and his wife Lydia were friends of my mother.  For 32 years he had directed The Friends of Israel, a ministry he undertook after reaching the shores of America during the Second World War. He would never forget that his family, not nearly so fortunate as he, had all perished in Poland under the Nazis.  Dr. Buksbazen was a scholar, Christian gentleman, gifted author, and Bible lecturer.  I wondered why he had summoned me that day.  The answer was not long in coming.  “Marvin,” he said, “I am getting up in years, I have prayed about it, and I believe that God would have you succeed me as director of The Friends of Israel.” I was honored, grateful that he would consider me for such a  position – but not interested. I loved the pastorate and my congregation and had no desire to leave.

About a month later some of the board members of The Friends of Israel requested that I meet with them. They too believed that I was God’s man to replace Dr. Buksbazen. Once again I was flattered, appreciative, but not interested. I was certain that the matter was settled. But several months later the board asked me to meet with them once again.  Once again they extended the same invitation, and once again I declined. This time, however, they asked me if I had prayed about it. I had not.  The matter had been summarily dismissed from any serious consideration. This time, however, because of their persistence, I agreed to make their invitation to direct The Friends of Israel a matter of prayer. My wife and I began to pray fervently for the Lord’s direction. As we did, one scene began to crowd in on my thoughts. It consumed my waking hours and invaded my nights as well.  It was as though the Spirit of God would not allow me to dismiss it from my thoughts. I refer to the encounter with God on the bus many years earlier – and my eventual willingness to minister to the Jewish people if God so directed.  When I told my wife of my growing conviction, she smiled and said. “I feel that God is leading us to The Friends of Israel.”

Leaving our flock at the church was one of the more difficult things I have been called upon to do. It was cushioned by the love relationship that existed between us and the assurance that this was God’s will.

It was agreed that Dr. Buksbazen would stay on for a year of transition. I was young, immature, and there were so many things to learn. Although in poor health, Dr. Buksbazen felt it imperative that he personally introduce me to our missionaries in the field; that they know I was his personal choice. He was desirous that they faithfully support me as they had him. He now needed oxygen, and we had to carry a special sleeping apparatus.  But still we visited Mission workings in Argentina, India, West Germany, Israel, England, and throughout the United States and Canada.  In the office he exposed me to administrative matters and encouraged me in my first attempts to write for Israel My Glory.  He would leave at the end of the year.  And one year later – almost to the day – God would call him home.

During these past sixteen and a half years I have been privileged to build on a solid foundation that others laid. Like all service for the King, those works will one day be tried by fire.  They will be examined to see if they are wood, hay, and stubble – perishable materials – or gold, silver, and precious stones – imperishable materials (1Cor, 3:12-13). During those years I was strengthened by a board that gave both leadership and encouragement in the ministry, and administrators who were gifted and dedicated.  Because of this, the Mission has experienced qualitative, dramatic growth with a resultant significant evangelistic outreach to the world God so loves.  Not only have we been privileged to evangelize the lost—Jew and Gentile—but to minister to God’s redeemed children throughout the world through our missionaries, literature, cassettes, evangelistic functions, and Israel My Glory, the Mission publication. The latter is now read by an estimated million people each issue.

But raw statistics that tell of thousands of people nudged Heavenward each year and tens of thousands of people instructed, encouraged, and strengthened in the midst of the trials of life’s journey really do not tell the whole story.

But raw statistics that tell of thousands of people nudged Heavenward each year and tens of thousands of people instructed, encouraged, and strengthened in the midst of the trials of life’s journey really do not tell the whole story.  They don’t focus in and give a close-up of the searching people, the lonely people, the hungry people, the scared people, the elderly people, the sick people, the young people, the imprisoned people, the behind-the-Iron-Curtain people, the suicide-contemplating people who, through the ministry of The Friends of Israel, were introduced to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn, 1:29). We at The Friends of Israel have sometimes felt like we have laid hold of a cyclone, and we simply hold on as the Spirit of God does His work.

It is precisely because of the evident blessing of God upon this ministry that what I must now write is particularly difficult for me to annunciate.

About three years ago. As a result of some questions posed to me by a friend, I felt compelled to reexamine my view concerning the timing of the Rapture of the Church. I had been a staunch defender of Pretribulation Rapturism for more than thirty years and was certain my renewed study would serve to reinforce my existing, strong conviction.  The theological schools I attended, my colleagues in the ministry, and the Christian leaders whose preaching and writing  influenced me most were all Pretribulational – that is, they believed that Christ would return for the Church before the “Tribulation Period” begins. I had earnestly believed that and preached it in many of the major prophecy conferences throughout North America.

As a result of my study, and with an attendant growing body of facts, a new conviction began to emerge in my heart and mind. I still believed the major facet of Pretribulationism, that the Church will be raptured Prewrath. The debate is over when that wrath begins. Sensing the potential problem for the Mission, which has an official Pretribulational position which I initiated more than ten years ago, I notified the Board of Trustees. They graciously permitted me to pursue my study with the understanding that the manuscript I was working on to validate the view could be evaluated by them and a number of scholars before publication.

We all agreed that under no circumstances could the view I was espousing become the position of the Mission. That would be unfair to the entire Mission staff. What would be considered was whether the board could, in good conscience, broaden the statement to permit my signing the doctrinal statement and remain with the Mission. At least three factors had to be taken into consideration: (1) the biblical justification for the view; (2) the perceived attitude and convictions of the office and field staff; and (3) the constituency. The matter weighed heavy upon the board for almost a year.

On May 10 the majority of the board felt they could not broaden the statement on the timing of the Rapture. In practical terms, that means that my wife and I will not be permitted to remain with the Mission. Our last day of service will be July 7.  It was our privilege to be able to serve the Lord at the Mission for these past years, and we now take this as His leading toward a new sphere of service.

Of far greater significance is the ongoing of the Lord’s work through The Friends of Israel.  There has been far too much polarization within Bible-believing Christendom in recent years, and the effect has been catastrophic to the cause of Christ. My grief would be deep and wide if my departure caused that kind of problem for the Mission. Those who are my friends and respect me should know that my fervent prayer is that they continue to enthusiastically support The Friends of Israel in every way–it is God’s work and His alone. The Mission has competent leadership and godly and dedicated missionaries and evangelists. May God be pleased that its greatest days of ministry lie ahead.

Was it General Douglas MacArthur who quipped, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away”?  I’m not that old yet, and I have no intention of fading away.  If God wills it, I will continue in my Bible conference and writing ministry. And perhaps my manuscript will find its way into print one day.

As this will be my concluding article as director of the The Friends of Israel and editor of Israel My Glory, I take this opportunity to thank you. Your friendship, encouragement, prayers, and support have sustained me more than earth’s corridors will ever tell. May God be pleased by your continued support for my successor.

Of this you can be absolutely certain: Jesus is coming again!

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