Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 5 Blog Posts of 2012 - #3

This book review was published in April of 2012 and has consistently been high on the hit list. It is especially relevant in light of the difficulties south of the border. This book is definitely worth the read.

Book Review: "The Harbinger"
theharbingerIf the author is right, this is a truly frightening book with profound implications. Jonathan Cahn, a Pastor and Messianic Jew, has written, in narrative form, a book that connects the recent crises in America (9/11; Wall Street) with Biblical prophecy.

I must admit that I tend to be somewhat of a skeptic when it comes to this type of thing. I have seen and heard more than my share of kooks and wing-nuts in my time. However, I do believe that Jonathan has seen something here that is real - the convergence of the details is far too precise to be accidental. Look up the details for yourself.

Here it is in a nutshell. "The Harbinger" is a prophetic book, written to reveal that the United States is under the judgment of God because it has turned away from its dependence upon Him, and has given itself to idolatry, carnality, selfishness and pride. It is a call to repentance for America, and it's pretty convincing.

The book is written as a novel, though with actual events, and keys around an ancient prophecy found in Isaiah 9:10 -
"The bricks have fallen,
But we will rebuild with hewn stone; 
The sycamores have been cut down, 
But we will plant cedars in their place." 
These verses refer to the response of the nation of Israel after an attack by the Assyrians. The attack was allowed by God as a warning for the nation to return to Him. Instead, their answer was that they would build again, stronger than before. They would not turn back to God but would, instead, defy their enemies in their own strength.
"The Harbinger" speaks of a number of remarkable similarities between the two, but also, a converging of the two events, applying ancient meaning to recent happenings. The word "harbinger" means warning or sign, and there are actually a number of signs that are given.
Using his understanding of Jewish culture and Biblical tradition Cahn makes a convincing case.
  • America's leaders actually quoted Isaiah 9:10 in speeches related to 9/11, not realizing that they were speaking judgment on their own nation. They did this on three separate occasions, including the day after 9/11 by the Senate majority leader. "By the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established." (Deuteronomy 19:15)
  • Some bricks that fell from the Twin Towers took down a sycamore tree on grounds adjacent to Ground Zero.
  • The roots of the tree became a memorial and a symbol of defiance.
  • A cedar tree was planted in its place.
  • A hewn stone was symbolically placed at the site of Ground Zero, accompanied by a ceremony.
  • Biblically, judgment tends to take place where the original covenant (agreement) took place.
  • When the United States began, New York City was its capital.
  • On April 30, 1789, George Washington became President and the first official government was established at Federal Hall (at Wall Street). On that day, Washington declared: "The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself hath ordained."
  • After his inauguration, Washington lead a procession of his government to a little stone church just blocks away to pray a blessing on the nation. The entire nation had received a pronouncement to attend church and pray for the country at the same time.
  • The church where they prayed was at the site of 9/11 - the only small building in close proximity that was left standing after the collapse of the towers. The sycamore tree was in the church yard. The church is now a museum of sorts.
  • At the time of the inauguration the church grounds extended through the site of the twin towers.
  • When the towers fell, the impact was felt for miles; the foundation of the old Federal Hall was cracked by the force. 
  • The Founding Fathers recognized that the United States would only be blessed and protected by God if the nation obeyed His commands.
  • God is a God of order and uses specific days to convey a message.
  • On a specific day (the 29th day of the Hebrew month Elul) every seven years the Jewish nation was commanded to release all debt, It was called "The Lord's release" or "Shemitah."
  • The greatest single stock market crash in Wall Street history, up to that time, took place on the 29th day of Elul - September 17, 2001.
  • Seven years later to the day, in the Jewish calendar (the 29th of Elul again), on September 29th, 2008 that record was beaten as the stock market plunged again. It fell 7 percent in one day. It dropped 777 points, precisely 7 years from the previous event by the Jewish calendar on the day of "Shemitah." 
"So then the two greatest Wall Street stock market crashes not only happened on the same day on the biblical calendar, and on the one day of the biblical year ordained to wipe away credit and debt, but each one fell seven years apart on the exact once in seven years occurrence of that one Hebrew day. It's beyond amazing..."     
Judgment is intended for warning. God's desire is always for people to turn back to Him, witness the case of Nineveh, the great city of the Assyrians, that repented after Jonah preached to them. This is God's desire for all of us.

In 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 God spoke to Solomon on the occasion of the dedication of the temple and told him what the nation was to do should they fall under judgement. It's something we would all do well to heed: "When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

By the way, the fact that the book refers to judgment in no way implies that Al Qaeda was right. They are morally culpable for their actions, just as the Assyrians were who attacked ancient Israel. They simply played a part in this drama.

There is obviously much that I left out, for the sake of space, but I encourage you to read the book for yourself and make your own decision. I include here a link to a site that converts our calendar to the Jewish calendar. At the very least, this novel provides an opportunity for sober reflection.

Related Articles:
Book Review: "Why Jesus?"
Some Books Worth Reading
The Manhattan Declaration
"Truth" - by Ravi Zacharias


Top 5 Blog Posts of 2012 - #4

This article seems to have some staying power. It was actually a reprint on one first published in August of 2011. What that tells me is that all of us have baggage that needs to be dealt with properly - sounds like a good New Years resolution.

"Take Out The Trash" - The Principle of Transformation

Part 2 of 6
This series is based on the last chapter of the book Good to Great in God’s Eyes by Chip Ingram. The first subject dealt with the principle of priority – “Put God First.” We looked at the reasons why God has to be at the center of any meaningful change in our lives.

Today I'm writing about taking out the trash, or the principle of transformation. How is it that we can be changed from the person that we’ve been into the person we want to be? Is change even possible? Many people would say that it’s not. You are who you are and you’re stuck with it.

What is it that makes us what we are, anyway? Is it genes? Is it our upbringing? Is it the experiences we’ve had; the trauma we’ve endured or the examples we’ve seen? The truth is that it’s all of these things and none of these things. All of these have a bearing on the kind of people we’ve become. But I can show you people who’ve been raised in the same home, been through the same things, had the same type of upbringing and yet are radically different. So, what is it?

I believe that much of who we are is based upon what we do with what we’ve experienced, and that is dictated by the way that we think. The principle of transformation comes straight out of Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” There's a negative command in that verse that literally says to stop being conformed, or molded, to this world. Quit allowing the world system — its ideas, images, and values — to shape who you are. Get the trash out of your life.

This world and its systems have a powerful affect on the way that we think. If we’re not careful, we just gradually absorb messages over time and begin to accept them without thinking about whether or not they’re true. What are the lies that we believe? Many women believe that they have to look like Barbie; that they will never be good enough for someone to love them; or that they’re stupid, or fat and ugly; or that they are worthless or a lousy mother or wife. Many men believe that they will never amount to anything; that they’re a failure; that money or work equal love; that no matter what they do they’re not good enough.

That message might have come from the media or from a family member, from our friends or from a misguided teacher. It probably came from someone who didn’t intend to give you that message, but it’s there just the same. No matter what you do, that message that is recorded in your mind just keeps cropping up, keeping you from moving forward.

It’s not just those personal messages either, there are also truth claims that people accept, without thinking, that have a way of cluttering up our minds and confusing us. These are cultural assumptions that go unchallenged, and often leave us believing a lie. A famous Canadian example is the unimpeachable value of tolerance. Now I’m all for tolerance, by the original definition. What it used to mean was that you tolerated people who were different from you and allowed them to practice their beliefs in freedom. But what it’s grown to mean in today’s culture is quite different. Today any questioning of the truth claims of another person or religion makes you intolerant. A fall-out from that is that a great many people have lost the ability to think critically; to use reason. One of the lies I hear repeated often is that all religions are basically the same. That is not even close to being a true statement, but many accept it as fact.

So what are we to do with the messages in our minds that don’t belong; that are actually harmful? How do we change this? The first thing we need to do is to stop allowing the wrong sources to program our thinking. It’s the first rule of holes: when you’re in one – stop digging.

The second thing we need to do is to replace the lies with the truth. In 1 Corinthians 13:11 Paul says, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” In the Greek, it’s far more expressive. It basically says that he abolished and did away with the childish thinking.

In a modern analogy, it’s like going through all of the old files on your computer and getting rid of the unnecessary ones that you never use anymore. There are some files that just take up space and slow the system down. There are others that can actually be harmful, like viruses, and the longer you allow them to hang around, the more damage they cause you. They can sometimes make the whole system crash. GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out).

A lot of people can identify the thinking that has gotten them messed up, but don’t know how to change it. In the second part of Romans 12:2 Paul tells us how. Remember, the first part is a negative command, basically to stop allowing the world to force you into its mold.

That's followed by a positive command to allow God's Word to renew and transform you — to cause a metamorphosis, the same word used for the transfiguration of Jesus. Grammatically, this command is in the passive voice; God does it, but we allow it. We let our minds be transformed from the inside out so we can be people who prove and experience the will of God. Our lifestyle begins to demonstrate God's will — that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Chip Ingram shares a story that illustrates the reality in far too many lives: "In my first pastorate in Kaufman, Texas, an older man who looked like he'd been through a lot came to church. His shirt was dirty, he looked and smelled like he hadn't taken a bath in six months, and he was hungry. We gave him some food, and the next week he brought his wife, who was in just as bad a condition as he was. After the service, they said they needed some money for electricity and other necessities."

"The church had a fund to help people, so I offered to go out to their house and visit. Theresa and I drove out in the country and found a house that didn't look very bad at all. A couple of horses and about five or six dogs in the yard all looked pretty healthy. But when we entered the house, I almost threw up from the stench. Garbage was on the floor, a container of something that had spoiled was left open, and cans of cat food for the nineteen cats running around the kitchen were spread out everywhere. The shades were pulled down, and he, his wife, and a very elderly woman sat in near darkness. I wondered how they could tolerate such nasty conditions, but when people live around trash long enough, they get accustomed to it. It starts to seem normal. We get used to a nauseating stench if we breathe it long enough."

I find that there are a lot of people like this. The mess that they're in has become "home." They know, at least on some level, that it's not good, but they have been there for so long that the possibility of change is foreign to them. God specializes in changing lives and giving fresh starts. He's prescribed clear directions for us - "be transformed by the renewing of (our) minds."

The first step on almost anyone's list is to admit that we have a problem. Once we understand that and identify the lie that we've been believing, we need to counteract it with the truth. It was Jesus, who said in John 8:32, "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Here's a sensitive question - what is it in your life that needs to change? What are the habits, lies, and attitudes that you need to take to the curb? There may be more at stake than you realize. For some, the decisions you make can not only improve your life, but the lives of those around you. Some lies (and some sins) are generational. Someone started it, and someone needs to end it. Let that someone be you.

As J. Michael Straczynski said, “People spend too much time finding other people to blame, too much energy finding excuses for not being what they are capable of being, and not enough energy putting themselves on the line, growing out of the past, and getting on with their lives.”

Related Posts:
“Put God First” - The Principle of Priority
Developing Great Habits
Who I Am Makes A Difference
Are You Listening?

Top 5 Blog Posts of 2012 - #5

This post was published back on January 27th of 2012. It's one of my favorites. I'm glad so many felt the same way.

I've been reading a great book lately by John Ortberg called "The Me I Want To Be." John is a pastor in California and formerly a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, where I first heard of him. He's a great communicator and does a great job of making complicated issues understandable for the rest of us.

In his chapter called "Think Great Thoughts" he talks about learning how to monitor our thought patterns. For years now I've been speaking about the Biblical mandate to "be transformed by the renewing of your mind," so this was particularly enlightening to me. It's amazing how much our thought patterns control us, and also how we can deliberately reshape those patterns to make positive change. Here's a great illustration John uses:

Excerpts from a Dog's Diary
8:00 am - Dog food! My favorite thing!
9:30 am - A car ride! My favorite thing!
9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favorite thing!
10:30 am - Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!
12:00 pm - Lunch! My favorite thing!
1:00 pm - Played in the yard! My favorite thing!
3:00 pm - Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!
5:00 pm - Milk bones! My favorite thing!
7:00 pm - Got to play ball! My favorite thing!
8:00 pm - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!
11:00 pm - Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!

Excerpts from a Cat's Diary:
Day 983 of my captivity. My captors continue
to taunt me with bizarre,
little dangling objects.
The only thing that keeps me
going is my dream of escape.

Two animals, identical circumstances; totally different experiences. The point is that the focus of our thoughts has a great deal to do with our outcomes. On what do you focus?

I speak to people often whose focus is on their problems and how life has done them wrong. Their mindset filters out any of the good things that may be happening around them and, instead, picks up on, and magnifies, any real or perceived slight. Over their lifetime they have unwittingly helped to create a reality for themselves that is far worse than it needs to be.

This is now scientifically verified. As Ortberg writes, "Even twenty years ago, researchers thought the adult brain was genetically determined and structurally unchangeable. But they have since found that even into adulthood the brain is amazingly changeable - it has neuroplasticity. Which synapses remain and which ones whither away depends on your mental habits. Those that carry no traffic go out of business like bus routes with no customers. Those that get heavily trafficked get stronger and thicker. The mind shapes the brain. Neurons that wire together fire together. In other words, when you practice hope, love or joy, your mind is actually, literally, rewiring your brain!"

It stands to reason then, that Scripture would speak to this. Colossians 3:2 tells us, "Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things." One of my life verses, Philippians 4:8 says, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."

Ultimately, how we choose to think is up to us, which is why we can point to people of similar backgrounds who chose radically different paths. Your past, your circumstances, your family background doesn't need to define your future. What I have found helpful is to use God's Word as a filter through which I can interpret events. For example, Jeremiah 29:11 - "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" Or Romans 8:28 - "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

So, here's a question, where are your thought patterns taking you? Again, Ortberg writes, "As a general rule, our emotions flow out of our thoughts. Discouraged people tend to think discouraging thoughts. Worried people tend to think anxious thoughts." Conversely, positive people tend to think positive thoughts. Why not begin today to take charge in this area? Think better thoughts to start moving in a better direction.

Related Articles:
Developing Great Habits
“Put God First” - The Principle of Priority
"Take Out the Trash" - The Principle of Transformation
"Write It Down" - The Principle of Clarity
"Turn It Off!" - The Principle of Restoration
"Do It Now" - The Principle of Inertia

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Rumors of Hope

It's not only the events this week in Newtown, Connecticut that should affect us. The world is full of tragedy and suffering. Children die every day of hunger and malnourishment. If you've traveled to the third world or witnessed tragedy you've likely seen the pain on the faces of helpless parents or orphaned children and asked "why?"

Yet in the midst of all of this, we are called to care; called to love; called to serve. We're called to make a difference. That may seem like a daunting task - after all, how can we fix problems on such a grand scale? But, as Mother Teresa said, "If you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed one." I admired her so much for her attitude and her dedication. She also said, "What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family."

We who call ourselves by Christ's name cannot allow ourselves to sink into despair, which is the surrender of hope. Every day we have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the people around us. In fact, in Matthew 25, Jesus taught us this lesson in The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. He said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ "The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"

There is a light in the darkness; there is a peace in the midst of the storm. As theologian Carl F. Henry wrote about Jesus: "He planted the only durable rumor of hope amid the widespread despair of a hopeless world." Go and do likewise. 
I end with a prayer written by Max Lucado.
Dear Jesus,
It's a good thing you were born at night. This world sure seems dark. I have a good eye for silver linings. But they seem dimmer lately.

These killings, Lord. These children, Lord. Innocence violated. Raw evil demonstrated.

The whole world seems on edge. Trigger-happy. Ticked off. We hear threats of chemical weapons and nuclear bombs. Are we one button-push away from annihilation?

Your world seems a bit darker this Christmas. But you were born in the dark, right? You came at night. The shepherds were nightshift workers. The Wise Men followed a star. Your first cries were heard in the shadows. To see your face, Mary and Joseph needed a candle flame. It was dark. Dark with Herod's jealousy. Dark with Roman oppression. Dark with poverty. Dark with violence.

Herod went on a rampage, killing babies. Joseph took you and your mom into Egypt. You were an immigrant before you were a Nazarene.

Oh, Lord Jesus, you entered the dark world of your day. Won't you enter ours? We are weary of bloodshed. We, like the wise men, are looking for a star. We, like the shepherds, are kneeling at a manger.

This Christmas, we ask you, heal us, help us, be born anew in us.

Your Children
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Friday, December 14, 2012

Where Is God When You Need Him?

This is a reprint of a post originally written in July, 2012. It seemed appropriate in light of the tragic shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. May God bring peace to all affected by this horrible tragedy.

It's a question I've heard a lot. It comes in different forms but it's basically the same sentiment being expressed: why did this happen to me? If God is so good, then why...? If God can do anything, why didn't He stop my brother, mother, father, son or daughter from dying? Where is God when I needed Him?

It's not a new question. It's been asked from the dawn of time. It was asked by Job - in the oldest book in the Bible. It was asked by King David, a "man after God's own heart." It was asked by Jeremiah, and it's being asked by many today.

The reason that the question is asked is because we're human, and we don't like pain. It's asked of Christians because we believe that what the Bible says is true: that evil is evil; that God is all good; and that God is all-powerful. The argument from some is that one of those statements must be false. Either there's no such thing as evil, as some Eastern religions would teach (evil is an illusion), or God is not all good, or God is not all-powerful. It's called the trilemma.

But when we actually look a little deeper in the Bible we find the answers revealed in the story of mankind. The Bible teaches us that evil is evil, but it doesn't belong here. The world was not created with evil; we were placed in a world without evil, but rebelled and chose our own way. The Bible teaches that God is all good - and He created each of us with freedom of choice. That freedom comes at a cost - sometimes we choose poorly and a price must be paid, often by innocent others. The Bible also teaches that God is all-powerful, but, for a time, allows us to face the consequences of our choices and to, perhaps, change course and find our way home.

So, the Biblical response to the question can be answered with three statements.

  • All is not as it should be. We live in a fallen world - a world at war. The Biblical view begins with a protest: "This is not right!" We see this as Jesus Christ, the Son of God, stood before the tomb of His friend, Lazarus and wept (John 11). Many find this an odd verse, seeing that Jesus was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. But I believe He wasn't weeping for Lazarus. I believe He was weeping for Mary and Martha, the grieving sisters of Lazarus, and for each of us who suffer pain and abuse. He wept because this was not the way that the world was intended to be. When we weep, we echo the sentiments of Jesus at this moment - this is not the way it was meant to be.
  • We are not abandoned. Part of the beauty of Christianity is that it reveals a God of compassion who enters into our suffering and becomes one of us. Jesus is a suffering Savior first. As has been said by others, Christianity has the only God with scars. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. Like David wrote in his beautiful Psalm 23, "though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me." It wasn't just words either. Jesus Christ willingly went to the cross accomplishing redemption for lost humanity. The cross also brought about healing to broken and wounded humanity. It was and is a message of hope in a sometimes dark world.
  • He will make all things right. It sounds trite, but it is true that our perspective is limited, and God sees things much differently than we do. The world is a hard place; sometimes bad things happen to good people, but that doesn't mean that God doesn't care. He has promised that one day all will be made right. Jesus declared, "I make all things new." We long for justice - and justice will be done. We long for what the Jews call "Shalom" - the peace of God. It is the coming of the Kingdom of God into our world. There is a sense in which this Kingdom is to come - some day, heaven. But there is also a sense in which it comes now, in the victories that we can gain right here, right now.       
God calls us to live our lives in light of two very different realities. One is that we live in this fallen, messed up world, and we're to make of it the very best that we can. The second is that we recognize that we are made for eternity, and the way that we live can affect eternity. So to make the most of our lives is to help others become all that they were created to be. St. Francis of Assisi had it right when he wrote these famous words:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen 
Where is God when you need Him? He's right there with you. No matter what you're going through, He is there. The greater question for most of us is where are we when God calls us to make a difference?

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