Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Before the Throne


And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. (Revelation 8: 3-4 ESV)

The verse above takes place in Revelation just before the seven angels blow their trumpets, which is the beginning of the end of life on earth as we know it today.

They signal that God’s kingdom is coming and His will is going to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

I recently heard a preacher on Kinship Christian Radio note that the incense rising before the throne is mixed with the prayers of the saints—specifically, this part of the Lord’s prayer:

Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10, Luke 11:2 ESV)

The preacher’s point was that each time we pray those words, those prayers are being stored up in heaven for the day that is, inevitably, coming to pass.
Of course, none of us knows when that day will be.  Anyone who claims to know the day or the hour is, by definition, identifying themselves as a false prophet.

Oh there will be signs. They are described in many places in the Bible including Matthew 24, Luke 17, and, of course, in Revelation.  

Many, many people have been obsessed with them, studied them, conjectured, interpreted, and spent lifetimes trying to gain as much insight as possible.

As near as I can tell, there are over a million websites dedicated to the subject.

And now, all across the internet, there are claims of people hearing strange trumpet noises from the sky.

They are too many to ignore and they are coming from all over the world. 

There are many theories about the noises, including: increased solar flares, acceleration in the shift in the Earth’s magnetic field originating in our planet’s very core, tectonic plates grinding, atmospheric pressure, trains, construction projects, aliens, and a strange secret weapon the U.S. government is using for defense and/or modifying the weather.

NASA’s official explanation is that it is Earth’s “background noise.”

And of course, many have said that the noises are the trumpets announcing the apocalypse.

Since I am but a humble blog writer, I will readily confess that I do not know what these sounds are or where they are coming from.

But I do know that Jesus said this: Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:44 ESV)

Are you ready, brothers and sisters?

Are you ready?

Today’s Praise

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21: 3-4 ESV)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Back to Jerusalem


Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:17 NIV)

I recently learned of a movement called “Back to Jerusalem.”

It’s composed of Chinese Christians who intend to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to millions of people between China and Jerusalem.

It began in the 1920’s with a group of students at Northwest Bible Institute in China and slowly grew. Eventually, the Communist government clamped down on it, persecuting, torturing, and imprisoning its members. Its leader was imprisoned for 40 years.

The movement went underground, but it would not die.

Since 2003, exiled Chinese house church leader Liu Zhenying (“Brother Yun”) has been leading Back to Jerusalem in an effort to send 100,000 missionaries along the “Silk Road,” the ancient trade route from China to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Silk Road passes through the heart of “The 10/40 Window.”  It is so named because it includes the countries between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator and includes northern Africa, the Middle East, India, China and southeast Asia.

Back to Jerusalem says, “More than 90% of the unreached people groups in the world today are located within the “10/40 window” more than 5,100 tribes and ethno-linguistic groups with little or no gospel witness. Of the world’s 50 least-Christian and least-evangelized countries, all 50 are located within this region!”

Most of the people living in the “10/40 Window” are Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist. And many of the governments within this area are opposed to any king of Christian work within their borders—with penalties for “proselytizing” that can and do include death.
Approximately one-third of the earth’s population lives within this window and it is estimated the over 70% have never heard the name of Jesus.

It’s also the area of some of the greatest poverty and poorest living conditions on the planet. Over 80% of the world’s poorest people live in this region and 84% of the people living here have the world’s lowest quality of life. (As measured by life-expectancy, infant mortality, and literacy rates.)

Oh, and did I mention that the Back to Jerusalem missionaries in the field carry out their work anonymously and make no appeals for money?

As an American Christian, I am humbled by the courage and faith of these people who willingly put themselves at great risk for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Their efforts certainly make my contribution to the Kingdom of God seem pretty insignificant.

As Byron D. Klaus, President of Assemblies of God Theological Seminary wrote in his blog of the Back to Jerusalem members:

“When asked if they fear for their lives, they will respond with the observation that where they came from in China, they already faced persecution for their faith. They had suffered violent persecution, imprisonment and, at times, death. Their experience in obeying Jesus' command to take the gospel to all nations is only the latest version of their similar experience "back home in China."”

Its members are at work throughout the 10/40 window, bringing Bibles to Iran and China, relief to earthquake victims in Nepal, starting a tour in the U.S. later this year called “Bless Our Enemies,” partnering with Amish and Mennonite Americans to bring the Gospel to Muslim extremists in Iraq, and taking the Gospel directly to Islamic militants in Ethiopia and Kenya.

They also intend to evangelize the ISIS terrorists in Syria, saying they are “launching a spiritual offensive.” They say they are “not armed with a sentence of death but with a message of life, and ISIS jihadists are in their crosshairs.”

Lord, help me to remember Back to Jerusalem next time I feel a little “socially uncomfortable” about witnessing for Jesus. 
Amen.

Today’s Praise
Do not tremble; do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim my purposes for you long ago? You are my witnesses--is there any other God? No! There is no other Rock--not one!"( Isaiah 44:8 NLT)


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Too Far


“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “ ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’ ” (Ezra 1: 2-4)

The passage above is astounding for a number of reasons.

When Cyrus was king of Persia (576-530 BC), his kingdom was the most powerful nation on earth. His empire, centered in what is now Iran, stretched from India to Egypt and from what is now Saudi Arabia to the Mediterranean Sea.

Among other things, he was known as the King of the Four Corners of the World.

Among his victories was the defeat of Babylon in 539 BC. You may remember that the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, had defeated Israel and Judah and taken some Jews into exile. Hence, when Cyrus overthrew Babylon, the Jewish exiles in Babylon came under his rule, as did their homeland.

Isaiah prophesied that Cyrus would set the exiles free 150 years before he did so, and even called him by name in Isaiah 45:1:

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
and to loose the belts of kings,
to open doors before him
that gates may not be closed: (ESV)

And, the amazing thing was, Cyrus did not know the LORD.

That was prophesied in Isaiah 45:4--

For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I name you, though you do not know me. (ESV)

Cyrus actively assisted the Jews in restoring the temple, even returning items Nebuchadnezzar had removed from the temple and providing funds out of the treasury. His proclamation even mandates that others are to help the Jews.

So, what would cause this incredibly powerful and rich king of the Four Corners of the World to care about the Jews? What would cause him to actively seek to accomplish the will of God when he did not even know Him?

Ezra 1:1 says it was to fulfill prophesy, and that “the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia.”

That should give us incredible hope.

If God can stir up the spirit of a rich and powerful king who is ruling what was pretty much the entire world at the time, don’t we have hope that He can stir up the spirits of your friends and neighbors who do not know Him or do His will?

While your friends or neighbors or your senator, congressman, or president may not be mentioned by name in a particular biblical prophecy, there is this:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:1-4 ESV)

With this we know that God wants, wishes, and desires that all would be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. We are urged to pray for all people from the highest stations in life to the lowest in all ways possible, knowing that the LORD our God can indeed stir up their spirits and bring them to salvation and to good and godly lives.

That gives me hope that no one has ever slipped too far and it is never too late for any person or for any nation.

Today’s Praise

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 1 Timothy 2:5-6 ESV

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Hammer


See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; Hebrews 12:15 ESV

In a book he wrote in 1966, the psychologist Abraham Maslow is generally credited with originating the phrase, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

It’s been attributed to others, including Mark Twain, but its true origin really doesn't matter. It had probably been around a long time before it ever appeared in print.

On a seemingly unrelated topic, a pastor-friend’s Facebook page will occasionally contain a Tweet from someone named, “Bitter Betty.” (No offense intended to all the wonderful people in the world who are named “Betty.”)

As near as I can tell, ‘Bitter Betty” is a fictional character who somehow has her own Facebook page. Or wall. Or whatever term the Facebook faithful use for the place where all “your” stuff is.

I’m not exactly sure about Bitter Betty’s origins or the intent of the page because she has never accepted my “Friend” request. I guess that’s not surprising, since she is, well, bitter.

She posts in exclusively Tweets and appears to be a caricature of the mean, crabby old “church lady” who is prone to criticizing and critiquing everything the church does. (Absolutely, positively no offense intended to the millions upon millions of wonderful, kind, caring, compassionate, beautiful, senior ladies of the church.)

This blue-haired character is particularly hard on the “Youth Guy” (Youth Pastor.)  In one recent Tweet, she accused the “Youth Guy” of making all his decisions with a Magic 8 Ball.

She also recently Tweeted,

Youth Guy, noticed you forgot to put your summer vacation time on the calendar. And by "summer vacation" I mean "youth camp."

But it also appears that no one on the church staff is exempt from her scathing wit:

“Children's Director, I'm attending a children's conference this weekend... A critique of your ministry will be on your desk Monday.”

Or the worship band:

“In preparation for this morning's music, the worship band will be discussing the cinematography of the new Star Wars movie. “

Bitter Betty also appears to be adamantly opposed to anything in her fictional church (which is never identified) which may have changed since the demise of the steam engine. (No offense intended to… well, to anyone.)

Above a photo of some used church pews on a trailer, she posted,   

A moment of silence, if you will, for another church that has been martyred in the name of "Contemporary."

Oooo, that’s a zinger.

Sometimes, it just a joke that’s so bad it makes you laugh:

“How much does it cost for pirates to get their ears pierced? ... A buccaneer...”

Or:

“Once had a friend named Joyce who died and her husband found a second wife named Joyce... He rejoiced. . .”

But the one that really got me was:

“Amazing grace!
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like you.”

Bam! There’s the hammer.

I know this is all intended in fun, and maybe the point of whoever thought up Bitter Betty is to make it obvious just how bad we sound when we complain about the church.

If that’s the case—mission accomplished.

As one of my sisters in Christ said, “We may hold the hammer, but we know who took the nails.”

Today’s Praise

Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? Jeremiah 23:29 ESV

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Victory!


…for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.  (1 John 5:4-5 NIV)

What is victory for a Christian?

Our culture terms the victor as the one who wins, who dominates the opponent, who scored the most touchdowns, has the most money, lives in the bigger house. He who dies with the most toys wins.

The Bible turns that all upside down and backwards.

Give up everything you have and follow me. (Luke 18:22)

Whoever loves his life will lose it. (John 12:25)

Whoever gives up his life will save it. (Mark 8:35)

Be in submission to one another. (Ephesians 5:21)

Drag an instrument of suffering with you each day. (Matthew 16:24)

Put yourself last. (Luke 10:27)

Be a servant. (Philippians 2:7)

For Jesus, victory was death.

And, it wasn’t a death that flung open defiance into the face of authority and evil like a modern action movie.

No sword in hand riding on a foaming, snorting steed into the face of the enemy shouting “FREEDOM!” No thousands falling at his hand before he is eventually killed.  No piloting a light-speed space fighter, photon torpedoes blazing, into the heart of the Death Star.

No, it was a death of complete submission.

It was an unjust, sneaky, middle-of-the-night, bloody, nasty, clandestine travesty of justice specifically designed to humiliate Him and sap any hope from His followers.

And it would have… had He not risen from the grave—just like He said He would.

But, (and here’s why God is so much greater than we can think or imagine) it saved anyone and everyone who would simply believe! It made us not just children of the One True King, but heirs to the kingdom and all it holds!

The death and resurrection of Jesus does make us more than conquerors, because neither death nor life or anything can separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus. Death doesn’t matter because we will live forever with Jesus. These lives are not our own. We were bought with a price.

Christians have been killed over the centuries in numerous painful and gruesome ways, but the terror does not incapacitate the love of Jesus—it makes it grow.

Every incidence of evil in this world, instead of disabling the people of Jesus as those who dispense terror try to achieve, causes more and more of them to pray, to seek their God, to repent, and to grow closer to Him. The Holy Spirit supplies the power, the miracle of courage and conviction in the face of evil that cannot and will not deny Jesus as LORD!

And, when we pray that the LORD our God would bless and not curse our enemies, the love grows and once again we see that the very gates of hell will not prevail against His church.

Truly, we can say, “Death where is your sting?” For if we live, we are witnesses to His love, and if we die in His name we go to be with Him-- so there is no fear in life nor in death.

And, in that moment when we realize that it’s not just death that has been conquered, but with it also fear, we have been set free by the Son and we are truly free indeed!

We sing Hallelujah! The Lamb has overcome!

Today’s Praise
For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. (Romans 14:7-8 ESV)








Wednesday, April 22, 2015

When God is Not Subtle


When we look at the current state of affairs in regard to Christianity and see how bad they look, what is really going on?

One of my good friends recently posted this verse on the internet:

But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. (Exodus 1:12 NIV)

Let’s wrap some “context’ around that.

The background on that verse is that, after Joseph died, a new king who knew nothing of Joseph came to reign over Egypt. He saw the Israelites growing in number and worried that they would side with Egypt’s enemies and overthrow the country should war break out. So, the Israelites were enslaved and put to hard labor.

But, still their numbers grew.

So, the king mandated that all male Hebrew babies be killed. But that didn't work either.

It was out of that murderous mandate that Moses was hidden in the reeds of the Nile and eventually was chosen by God to oppose Pharaoh and set the Israelites free. (Exodus 2.)

God specifically tells Moses that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that when God stretches out His mighty hand against Pharaoh, the Egyptians will know He is the LORD.

In other words, God purposefully made it as difficult as He possibly could for everybody involved.

Since He is God, couldn't He have just softened Pharaoh’s heart? The Couldn't God have made it so that Moses says to Pharaoh, “The LORD God says, "Let my people go!’”

And Pharaoh replies, “Okay.”

No multiple plagues with snakes and frogs and locusts and gnats and flies and hail and boils and the Nile turning to blood, ending with the first-born male children of Egypt dying in an ironic God-like twist.

No chasing across the desert, no parting the Red Sea at the last minute…

Surely, the movie wouldn’t have been nearly as big at the box office.

But that’s not what happened.

So, why all the drama?

Moses himself spends an inordinate amount of time in Exodus 3 and 4 coming up with excuses to God as to why God’s own plan won’t work:

“I don’t know your name.”

“I don’t speak very well.”

“What if they don’t believe me?”

At one point, God is ready to kill Moses. (Exodus 4:24) 

I can’t say I blame Him. Any boss knows you can teach skills, but you cannot teach attitude.  Surely He could have done better than this guy. I mean, here’s GOD, burning and smoking from the mountain top and commanding (not suggesting) that Moses go and set an entire race of people free from the most powerful nation on earth at the time.

And Moses’ response is the equivalent of, “Well, I dunno…”

No wonder He was burning and smoking! God’s answer to Moses is: 
(Take your shoes off and fall on your face.)

“I am the LORD!”

“I AM WHO I AM!”

Yes, all caps, Even though no translation of the Bible I've seen has those words bold, italic and underlined, they most certainly are in my mind. 

THE LORD. The one and only God of the universe. Creator of everything and everybody. Not some golden calf or stone statue-- GOD!

So, by the time Moses gets to Pharaoh, it is abundantly clear that He is not messing around. Their is no vagueness, no subtlety involved here. When all is said and done, there will be no doubt at all as to exactly who is responsible for what has taken place.

And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.” (Exodus 7:5 NIV)

The way I look at it, we human beings are a little dense.

I know I am.

Even when I think I “get it” I’m actually pretty clueless. It takes a lot for the light bulb to finally come on.

So, maybe what’s going on in the world today is that God is up to something… big.

Maybe He had this planned all along and we are supposed to be paying attention.

Today’s Praise
The LORD is a warrior;
the LORD is his name.
(Exodus 15:3 NIV)





Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What if...


What if you are the answer to someone’s prayer?

We exist in the here and now, but God…

God exists in the past, the present, and the future—all at once.

What if He accomplishes multiple things on multiple levels in ways that are beyond our comprehension?

He is God, after all.

And He is not limited.

At all … in any way.

We are flesh and blood.

But He is The Way. He is truth and spirit and light and love.

All at once.

And He created each of us for a reason-- with wants and needs and desires and all that complicated stuff that is swirling within the realm of “free will,”

…so that we could love.

Yes, so that we could love. 

So that we could love aunts and uncles and cousins and friends and brothers and sisters and all sorts of people.

Yes, even the weird guy next door.

So that we could love coworkers, and relatives, and the homeless guy you have never met but you sent a check to a ministry that fed him.

Or the lady lying in her bed who can’t sleep because she’s so worried all she can do is pray and the radio is on in the background and, in the middle or her prayer, while she is crying, a line from that song tells her no matter how high the waters will rise or how fiercely the storms will rage…

He will never forsake her or leave her.

And she is given the peace to rest and recharge and go out the next day 
and love.

And His kingdom grows.

Today’s Praise

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior.
  –lyrics from “Oceans” (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United.



Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Easter Bunny


[WARNING: This has the potential to be the most controversial blog I have written to date. If you are a young child, please stop reading immediately. Thank you.]

I have a problem with the Easter Bunny.

Yes, you read that correctly. I have a problem with the Easter Bunny.

Before you begin formulating your angry response in the “comments” section, please hear me out.

To see where I’m coming from, let’s recap the events of Holy Week:

Jesus comes into Jerusalem riding on the colt of a donkey with a crowd worshiping Him and praising Him, but within a matter of days, that same crowd will turn against Him and shout, “Crucify! Crucify!”

After three sham trials that violate every rule of justice at the time, Pilate will attempt to release Him, but the crowd will shout, “His blood be on us and our children!” (Matthew 27:25 ESV)

Jesus will be cruelly beaten, mocked, flogged, spit on, and the flesh ripped from His back. A crown of thorns will be jammed on His head. He will be punched with fists and hit with sticks. He will be paraded through the streets dragging the cross—the hideous instrument of torture and death. He will be mocked and spit on even more during this process.

And, they will drive nails through His hands and feet to hold His bloody, bleeding body to that cross.

They will jam that cross into the crest of a hill called “The Place of the Skull” and they will continue to mock Him. Everyone from the religious leaders to a criminal crucified beside Him will mock Him.

And He will look down on them and His first words from that cross will be to plead with God to forgive the very people who put Him there.

While He is up there, beaten and humiliated as a criminal and a charlatan, something odd will happen.

The sky will go black for three hours in the middle of the day and, as He breathes His last, a great earthquake will take place. Rocks will split in half, the curtain of the temple that separates God from man will split in two, tombs will be opened and the dead will rise.

All of human history will be changed forever at the crossroads marked by that cross on that hill of death.

Nothing will ever be the same.

And, on the third day after we unjustly and mercilessly murdered Him, just as He said it would happen, He will rise from the dead!

The tomb is empty! We need not seek the living among the dead!

He will show the wounds from His crucifixion to him who doubts. He will walk and talk and eat with many. As Tim Stoner writes about the effect of all this on those who followed Him in Crucify! Why the Crowd Killed Jesus: “They are certain now of what they did not know then—the one who died on the cross was no mere man. He was the Messiah, but much more significantly, He was the literal Son of God. And nothing will be able to shake the certainty of this conviction, not exile or prison, flame or saws, wild beasts or nine-inch nails.”

And all of this will change human history forever. It will change our very relationship with God in ways we could have never imagined.

Millions will come before God cleansed of all their sins by faith in that Jesus. 

Their sins will be forgiven and washed away by the blood shed by Jesus on that day. His blood will pay an eternal ransom we could never afford to pay ourselves.

And so, while I have no desire to steal any joy from children, nor do I want to come across as one of those bitter “church people” who finds something to complain about with anything and everything, it seems to me that a cute little white bunny bringing colored eggs to children falls far, far short of Jesus’ incredible earth-shattering and world-changing eternal triumph over sin, death and the devil.

Today’s Praise

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:36-38 ESV)