Thursday, April 24, 2014

There are No Losers Anymore

A recent study in England shows a majority of children less concerned about competition, winning or losing, than just playing for fun, the cultural effect of the 21st century “we’re-all-winners” philosophy! As good as it sounds, how does a life without loss prepare children for the adult world of disappointment and rejection? And what happened to the notion of building character through defeat?

Likewise, our spiritual children must have a solid doctrinal understanding of adversity, or they will lose hope and abandon their faith when hard times come. Jesus said, “whoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it… Everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property for my sake will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children, wife or property—along with persecution. And in the world to come, eternal life” (Mark 8:35; 10:29-30). In other words, in God’s economy, the biggest winners are the losers!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

“Heaven is for Real” - the Movie

Not having read the book, “Heaven is for Real,” I was quite curious to see the movie; I had lots of questions, wondering why it was generating so much interest. Author, and father of Colton, Todd Burpo said he is very satisfied that the movie portrays his book accurately and honestly. In fact, Todd claims that God is telling the story. Why, I wondered? Is the Bible incomplete? Or will Colton's story turn non-believers into believers? And then I remembered the story of Dives who, from his place in Hades, asked Abraham to send someone to warn His brothers: “If someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God.” To which Abraham replied, “They won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:30-31).

While the Bible gives few details of Heaven as a ‘place,’ it gives us a few amazing sights of the king of Heaven. Isaiah says, “I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple” (Is. 6:1). Ezekiel saw Jesus: “high above on a throne was a figure like that of a man, glowing, as if full of fire, and brilliant light surrounded him.” (Ezekiel 1:26-27). The Apostle John saw “someone like a son of man, his eyes were like blazing fire, and his face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance, and the throne He sat on was as brilliant as gemstones—like jasper and carnelian.” (Rev. 1:13-17; 4:3). Upon seeing Jesus in His glory, John and Ezekiel fell down like dead men. Isaiah felt his sinfulness: “I am a man of unclean lips” (6:5).

In contrast, the 4-year old Colton’s view of Jesus is that of a white man with blue-green eyes, curly brown hair (John tells us Jesus' hair was white, like wool), dressed in a plain white robe. And that's a problem: Colton's “Heaven” is too earthy. And believers in his heavenly visit are more taken up with natural details and knowing which of their relatives he saw in Heaven than they are about the enthroned Jesus.

One reviewer said, “'Heaven Is for Real' gently shares biblical truths in an accessible and non-preachy way—offering hope, encouragement and a strengthening of faith for both Christians and non-believers alike.” Non-preachy or otherwise, it is doubtful there is enough truth in the movie to bring a non-believer to Christ or, for that matter, to lift a believer higher because of its underlying message of "universalism." In answering who can go to Heaven, the film ends with a cross-less, Christ-less message of universal love.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Elusive Rest

When a person dies, we say he has entered his “final rest.”  But there is another death that leads to rest: being “dead to self and alive to God” (Rom. 6:11).

Unfortunately, many believers have not understood this “dying to live” principle. It is very simple: we are legally dead to sin, but as we live in this world, we must die experientially. And as we do, He gives us rest (Matt. 11:28). But for those yet alive to self, in its various hyphenated derivatives, i.e., self-importance, self-defense, self-promotion, ‘rest’ remains elusive. 

Today as you commemorate Easter morning, don't forget that after Jesus arose, “He sat down at the right hand of God,” a posture of rest: His work was done (Eph. 1:20; Heb. 12:3). And now we, having risen with Christ, are “seated in the heavenlies” with Him, entering His rest (Eph. 2:6; Heb. 4:11). But since this capacity for resting is something we grow into, I can just imagine that whenever we start to feel the restless pull of life on earth, Jesus is saying, “Please come up here and take your seat”?

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Cross is Personal

When Jesus picked up a wooden cross and died on it, He was not dying for His principles. It was personal—He died “for” you and me. And when Jesus said “pick up your cross” (Luke 9:23), He made the “cross” even more personal—that we die “with” Him. 

“Your cross” points to something individual, and personal: to give up ownership of your desires, ambitions, and plans. Not that they are sinful (some of them may be), but they now serve God's purpose. Jesus warned his cross-bearing followers that devotion to Him would mean a detachment from things on earth, even the right to one’s own life:

“You are not your own; you are bought with a price that you should no longer live for yourself, but for Him who died and rose again on your behalf” (1 Co. 6:20). Only by picking up your cross, by losing your life, will you find your life (Matt. 10:39). And you can't get any more personal than that. Have a blessed Easter!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Restless Sheep and Popularity Contests

Any high school election is just a popularity contest. Hopefully, when these teens are old enough to vote in a general election, they will also be mature enough to judge candidates on legitimate merits, not on good looks and personality.

That said, in my lifetime, I've observed an increase of popularity contests among churches, as they try harder and harder to outdo each other in attracting large crowds. Sadly, though, most churches are not increasing the flock with “new believers” but by “transfer” growth, people moving from one church to another. This is sometimes referred to, especially by the 'losing' church, as “stealing sheep.”

In the Church at Corinth, the sheep were aligning themselves with the most popular shepherds within the local church, causing divisions (1 Cor. 3). While this was condemned by Paul, he did not address any problem with “transfer” growth (after all, there was only one church). In our day, there seems to be an increase of restlessness among the sheep. Is this another sign of our times?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What's in the Bottom Drawer of Your Night Stand?

A new George Barna poll finds a sharp increase in the number of Americans who consider the Bible a book written by men rather than God. Even among self-proclaimed Christians, only twenty percent read the Bible regularly. And the number of Millennials who are skeptical of the Bible has doubled since 2011.

At the same time outside the U.S., the number who want a Bible, but don’t have one, is exploding—the Voice of Martyrs reported their Bible waiting list is 200,000. While these Bible-less believers wait, the average American Christian's Bible sits in the bottom drawer of his/her bedside table, gathering dust!

French philosopher Voltaire wrote in 1728 that in 100 years the Bible would have passed out of history as people became more enlightened. Since then, more than 5 billion Bibles were printed and sold. Voltaire is dead now, but “the Word of God is active and living” (Hebrews 4:12); and one of Voltaire's houses later became a printing and storage center—for Bibles.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The ‘Signs of the Times’ on Steroids

End-times scholar Hal Lindsey  says, “I am amazed at the speed with which events are moving today. The Bible tells us that in the last days, the ‘signs’ of the times will appear with ever-increasing frequency and intensity. In our modern lingo, maybe we could describe this phenomena as the signs of the times on steroids!”  What are these signs?

One of the most significant signs is that Israel has become the center of geopolitics—and Jerusalem the most sought after real estate on the planet. And considering Iran’s threat of nuclear attack, if Israel strikes preemptively, it would surely destabilize the world's political and financial institutions, necessitating world restructuring, most probably in the form of a one-world government made possible by new technology, and setting the stage for a messiah-like person who will promise to restore peace and order.

Of course there are other signs, most of which are too disheartening to speak of. No wonder Jesus said, “When you see these things happening, look up!” How else can we not let them get us down?

Monday, April 14, 2014

How do Muslims View the End Times?

Did you know many Muslims believe that the end times are here? According to Mideast expert and theologian J. Richardson, many jihadists have joined the conflict in Syria because they see it as an apocalyptic war. Just before the Muslim messiah, Mahdi, comes to earth, there will arise a Sufyani, an enemy of Mahdi, who will battle for control of the earth. Such are the implications of the Syrian conflict. And because of this end-time perspective, jihadists are willing to fight to the death.

In addition to being just plain fascinating, the Islamic end-time doctrine evokes thoughts of Christian themes: Armageddon, antichrist, martyrdom, and John's description of the tribulation saints who did not love their life even when faced with death (Rev. 12:11). When Jesus told his first followers to pick up their cross, they knew exactly what he meant: they had seen thousands of their countrymen crucified by the Romans. But unlike Islam, Christians don't die for a cause, but for Christ's glory! The start of Passion Week is a good time to consider the question: Have I given up everything to follow Christ (Matt. 10:28)?

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Biggest Cultural Paradigm Shift in History

Last week, after the Mozilla CEO's support of California’s Proposition 8, against gay marriage, became known, he was forced to resign his post. Was this a victory for gay rights, or a setback for free speech?

According to Dr. Albert Mohler, “endorsement of same-sex marriage has rather suddenly become nonnegotiable”—those in opposition judged to be unenlightened bigots, racists, homophobics and xenophobics. Mohler declares, “the debate is essentially over, the conclusion foregone; the legalization of same-sex marriage in every state is only a matter of time, and probably not much of it at that” (edited). Mozilla’s action reinforces the notion that intolerance of liberalism will not be tolerated.

Should we fear what this portends? Yes. Society’s rejection of traditional values has resulted in the greatest, and fastest, cultural paradigm shift in history. And in its wake, pulling in young evangelicals who question whether a ‘Christianity’ that was wrong about the Crusades, about slavery, about civil rights, about its own hypocrisy, may also be wrong about homosexuality. Is the church losing its moorings? Can a shipwreck be far off (1 Tim 1:19)?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Having "All Things" in Christ and a Flat Screen TV Too!

Yesterday I was driving through our neighborhood and saw a rooftop TV antenna, bringing to mind the days when we had little TV sets with rabbit ears and 3 channels. When we got rooftop antennas with more reception, we were ecstatic. And then, color TV. I remember feeling deprived that we still had a black-and-white when others had color. Imagine that; I thought a color TV would make me happy.

But it did not take me long to realize the fleeting pleasure of “things.” A very wealthy and wise King Solomon said, “Human desire is never satisfied” (Prov. 27:20). And who better to attest to the vanity of “things.” He had every “thing” (Eccl. 1:8). If he were alive today, no doubt he would have a humongous home theater!

Jesus warned of vainly pursuing “things” (Matt. 6:32); yet promised to give us “all things:” every “thing” we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), the spiritual, psychological, and physical resources required to accomplish the “things” He created us to do.  (Eph. 2:10; Phil. 2:12-14). But in order to take full possession of “all things,” we must let go of our “things.” And there isn't any “thing” worth more than that (Matt. 16:26)!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A “Home Invasion”

Through former CIA spy Edward Snowden’s revelations last year, U.S. citizens found out their government is secretly watching them more than they knew. Every internet search, view, and purchase (even though in the privacy of our homes), along with every phone conversation, is not only observed but is apparently being stored in cyberspace. Some might say this is a violation that is nothing short of a “home invasion.”

But if this “home invasion” makes you feel vulnerable, think about the Spirit’s “holy invasion” [see yesterday’s post] of your heart. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable” (Heb. 4:13). How would it change us, I wonder, if we had a greater revelation of the Holy Spirit’s ownership and occupation of our body and spirit which are His dwelling place: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples [homes] of the Holy Spirit who is in you… and that you are not your own?” (1 Cor. 6:19), a “home invasion” that began the instant you gave Jesus the key.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Your Own Jihad: a Holy Invasion

Most everyone knows that the Arabic word “jihad” means a holy war against the enemies of Islam. But you probably did not know the Koran also gives it a broader application: it also means an internal spiritual struggle—probably not unlike our biblical term “spiritual warfare.” And like “jihad,” our “spiritual warfare” denotes both an inner and outer battle: the latter, our battle with the “god of this world” and demons in the heavenly realm (2 Cor. 4:4, Eph. 6:12); the former, the warring of the Spirit against our unruly flesh (Gal. 5:17, Ro. 7:23) in order to bring it into subjection.

Significantly, one of the primary strategies of “Jihadists” is to secretly invade the place they plan to attack. Similarly, the Holy Spirit employs an aggressive invasion strategy—a ‘search and destroy’ mission in our hearts, to root out everything that is un-holy in us. Unlike jihad, though, it is truly a Holy Invasion, and He is a welcomed invader. “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Ps. 139:23).

Monday, April 7, 2014

What Next? Holograms?

In what seems a confirmation of the world’s technological readiness for apocalyptic events, Pope Francis will become the first pontiff to be seen globally in 3D in a Vatican ceremony on April 27 when he will perform an unprecedented double canonization of his predecessors, John Paul II and John XXIII.

The high-profile event, produced by the Vatican TV Center, will be beamed into 3D movie theaters across the planet in what is being touted as the first convergence of HD, 3D and 4K technologies.  What next?  Holographic images? 

Historically, media moguls have exercised amazing social and political influence over the masses. And with today's technologies, world leaders can control what information people receive, and ultimately, what they believe. When the antichrist comes into power, he will deploy the greatest misinformation campaign the world has ever seen, in 3D.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Civil Rights and Wrongs

Last week, Michigan became the 18th state to allow gay marriage after a U.S. District Court overturned the State's law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. When the Courts began redefining moral issues as civil rights, our culture took a moral U-turn, catching biblical conservatives off guard. As it is highly doubtful these decision will be reversed, our challenge, going forward, is to defend the integrity and authority of God’s Word despite claims that a book written eons ago is no longer relevant.

To have thoughtful, intelligent discussions about  civil rights and morality will require diligent Bible study (2 Tim 2:15) by us whose duty  it is to judge ‘modern’ issues against the ageless principles of Scripture. And not with rigid legalism, but in words seasoned with grace and love (Eph. 4:15, 29) to  express the heart of God. (Do you remember how Moses incurred God’s wrath when he struck the rock in anger?)  Our charge is to show the world that He is a God of love and grace and, yes, HOLINESS—no matter how ‘uncivil’ it may seem!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

God is Alive in Your Nearby Movie Theater

After yesterday's post on the movie “NOAH,” it's starting to look like I'm a movie critic, but I must plug “God’s Not Dead,” (Altha and I saw it Saturday). Not a perfect film, but all in all, engaging and inspiring. The story of a college freshman who is told by his philosophy professor he will fail the class unless he denies the existence of God, or can otherwise prove that God exists, provides the backdrop for the movie’s multiple characters, each of whose commitment to follow Christ is tested, at great personal cost.

The thing that impressed me most about “God’s Not Dead” is that it communicates a significant and timely message to our prosperity-prone, easy-to-believe Christian culture: to be willing to suffer the loss of all things in order to gain Christ (Phil. 3:8). With anti-Christian sentiment escalating through pluralism, we who claim to have picked up our cross to follow Jesus are sure to be tested. Will our faith translate into power and action?  “It is a trustworthy statement: if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure [suffer], we shall also reign with him; [but] if we deny him, he also will deny us” (2 Tim. 2:11-12).

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Hollywoodized “NOAH”

Controversy about the movie “NOAH” started even before the film hit the theaters.  And not just from fundamental Christians; three Muslim nations banned the film. Not to be thwarted, the movie topped $75 million at the box office.  The problem with “NOAH” is not just that Hollywood writers took creative license to turn the brief Genesis story into a 2-hour feature. They totally debased it: the act of creation is adapted to fit evolution; God is seen as condemning, not redeeming; God’s mercy to save is subverted by His desire to destroy. And rather than a “preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5), Noah is a murderous sociopath. 

Of course Hollywood's version is man-centered; the Genesis account, Christ-centered. The flood pictures the need for a Savior; the Ark personifies the Savior. The door points to Jesus, “I am the door; by Me if any one enters in, he shall be saved” (John 10:9). And did you know that the door to Noah's Ark remained open, to all, until the very end!?  They say the movie is never as good as the book. Isn't that the truth! (In fact, that is the only true thing you can say about  the movie “NOAH”!)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Fools for Christ

I googled April Fools' Day, wondering if I could find some hidden insights. Wikipedia says its practices include, among other things, sending someone on a ‘fool's errand,’ that is, trying to get people to believe ridiculous things. You can imagine this description caught my attention. According to Paul, “the preaching of the cross is foolishness [ridiculous to believe in] to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18). 

Paul was not afraid of appearing foolish. When he said, “We are fools for Christ, but you are wise” (1 Cor. 4:10), he was scorning the Corinthians for priding themselves on their astute and eloquent preaching. (They were too smart to go on a ‘fool's errand!’)

I think April 1 should serve as a reminder to all cross-bearing believers that we are called to be “Fools for Christ.” And what better maxim for the day than Jim Elliot’s truly astute and eloquent declaration: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Healthiness of Forgetting

For years, I've kept a daily journal. I love looking back to recall what God was teaching me through certain events. But, frankly, some things need to be forgotten! Therapists and pastors often help people forget that which might keep them from sound mental/spiritual health. Paul said it was the “one thing” he did to ensure his progress: “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Phil. 3:14).

forgetting (like forgiveness) is a process that begins with a choice. Jesus said, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).  Looking back signifies recalling the past, whether with happiness or regret, in a way that hinders our commitment and/or progress.

Of course forgetting is not so easy. Our brains are hard-wired with memories—we cannot erase them like a data file. But what we can do is “not call to mind—choosing to not think about— former things” (Is. 43:18). I am so grateful we have a God who forgets: “I will remember their sins no more” (Is. 43:25).  
Happy are those who ‘forgive.’ Happier still are those who ‘forget.’

Friday, March 28, 2014

Feeling Disconnected in the Age of Hyper Connectivity

Digital devices may be wireless, but their users are hard-wired. From phone to tablet to television, the hyper-linked are showing no sign of slowing down. 

The Millennials are the first generation to grow up so hyper-connected.  In a George Barna survey, they identified technology as that which distinguishes them most. But when asked what they feel is lacking in their lives, they identified “meaningful” relationships. It would seem that so-called hyper-connections are starting to fray around the edges—texters and tweeters are feeling under-connected in ways that matter to them!

Three thousand years ago, David discovered the ultimate connection: “face time.” “When you said, Seek my face; my heart said unto you, your face, LORD, will I seek… there is none on earth that I desire beside you” (Ps. 27:8; 73:25). Whatever generation we are, and whatever high-tech toys we enjoy, we must be careful not to get so distracted that we deprive ourselves of our most hyper connection.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Is Too Much Stress making You Sick?

A sign of our times is the volume of people seeking therapy because they are over-stressed by too much change. You might be surprised to know that this malady was first diagnosed in the 1800's (by a Dr. Miller Beard), when industrialization and urbanization were causing people symptoms of fatigue, anxiety, depression, and restlessness. The ailment was labeled “neurasthenia,” an over-taxing of the nervous system. Sound familiar?

But take hope; there is a cure. In fact, the cure has been around for a long time. To the over-stressed and restless throngs, Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are  weary and burdened, and I will cause you to rest” (Matt. 11:28). To the Jewish believers who  had been expelled from Jerusalem and were facing martyrdom, Paul simply said, “Be diligent to enter His Rest” (Heb. 4:11). And centuries later, Augustine rightly said, “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.” The greater our stress, the more we will need the times of refreshing that come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Who Needs a Church?

When pollster George Barna asked Americans what would help them grow in their faith, they answered 'prayer, family, friends, and reading the Bible.' But 'belonging to a church' didn’t even make the top-10. Over half said church attendance was not important.

Combine that with a recent poll asking Americans to identify their purpose in life. A majority said “enjoyment and personal fulfillment,” which may explain why so many are leaving smaller congregations (who rely on member participation) for big ones that have plenty of parking, stadium-style seating, rock-concert lights and sound systems, and a winsome, charismatic preacher. These mammoths offer almost everything and require nearly nothing.

Let’s face it—megachurches are fun and stimulating. But they must not be very “salty” if half of all Americans don't think they can help them grow in their faith. Will someone please pass them the salt! (Matt. 5:13)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Brain Implants: Doing the Unimaginable

Would you like to have a memory chip implanted in your brain giving you perfect recall? Or would connect your brain directly to the Internet? Scientists say brain implants may be as common as laser eye surgery in 10 years. Neuroprosthetics will become part of us, enhancing performance, changing how we perceive the world, and opening up possibilities heretofore unimaginable.

I couldn’t help but see the spiritual analogy. You and I already have an implant—the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:15). And although we ‘have’ His mind, we are responsible for employing it: “let the mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:15). That is, think as Jesus does, with “your mind on things above, where He is” (Col. 3:2). Just like those neuroprosthetics, the mind of Christ becomes part of us, changing the way we perceive the world, doing things heretofore thought unimaginable (1 Cor. 2:9).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Westboro's Fred Phelps is Dead; the Love of Jesus Lives

The Rev. Fred Phelps, the founder of Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, died last week.  You may know of him for his hate-filled protests at the funerals of U.S. soldiers, claiming their deaths were God’s revenge for America’s tolerance of homosexuality. His animus disgraced the Gospel with his unadulterated message “God hates gays.”

How unlike our Lord Jesus who came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Are you not troubled when you hear so-called fundamentalist Christians speak hatefully against sinners, and even more venomously against those who struggle with sexual identity? Our culture has given rise to numbers of believers who are engaged in this battle. Yes, God hates sin, but “God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Jesus not only loves the lost, He loves His lost sheep who have gone astray (Luke 15:4).

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Rumors of War in Ukraine

It now appears that the Mideast civil wars were a warm-up for a cold front in Europe. When Ukrainians rejected Russian-leaning policies and arrested their president for murdering their citizens, Putin retaliated with the annexation of Crimea. Russian troops move to the Ukrainian border, as a nervous international community watches helplessly. 

John Kerry said: “It can get ugly fast if the wrong choices are made.” Indeed, the conflict is now rapidly escalating. The Pentagon announced it is sending troops to Poland. In response, Russian allies in Belarus are asking for more warplanes. Things are as tense as they have been at any time since WWII. What does it mean for us? What does this portend?

“And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom… But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come” (Matt. 24:6-8). More to come is right. Keep alert!

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Vanished Plane and The Rapture

Two weeks ago, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing. Without a word of distress, it vanished—its unexplained disappearance captivating the world, and triggering a massive search across the Indian Ocean.

If the world is so confounded by one missing aircraft, imagine its reaction to the Rapture, when a thousand planes disappear into the seas and remote places, due to vanishing pilots (and passengers). Will astonished air traffic controllers and frustrated inspectors think the explanation will be found in 'black boxes?' How long will it take before they begin searching for answers in the 'black book,' and find Paul's words:

For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the trump of God, and we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with Him in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.(1 Thess. 4:16-18 edited). Perhaps they will read this post after we're gone!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What pictures hang on the walls of your imagination?

In the past few months, I’ve gained perspective on being God’s dwelling place. But it has  also sobered me on keeping a clean house. Solomon said, “Keep your hearts [house] with all diligence” (Prov. 4:23). 

Each of the Apostles had a way of expressing housekeeping: “Keep yourself in the love of God (Jude 1:21); “Keep a good conscience” (1 Pet. 3:1); “Keep yourself from free from sin (1 Tim 5:22); “Keep yourselves from idols” (1 Jn. 5:21). And Jesus' all-encompassing  command, “Keep My Word” (Jn. 14:23).

If your heart was a ‘house of thoughts,’ would kind of residence would it be for the Holy Spirit? Oswald Sanders asks, “How uncomfortable would you be if others saw all the pictures that hang on the walls of your imagination.” If we are to keep a clean house, we must be daily washing in the Word, and confessing our sins to be cleansed from all unrighteousness.(Eph. 5:26; 1 John 1:9).

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Observing LENT: Has anyone ever died from fasting?

Two weeks ago, Ash Wednesday began the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter. The idea behind Lent fasting is to identify with the sufferings of Christ.  According to a Barna survey, 30% of Lent observers fast food or drink, 28% fast meat, 28% sugar.

Although I can appreciate the intent of Lent fasting, I am not an observer.  Someone will have to convince me that suffering the loss of sugar for 5 ½ weeks is tantamount to the travail of Jesus. Admittedly, it is easier to skip a meal every day for a month than “pick up your cross daily! Our highest call, according to Paul, is to be conformed to Christ's death (Phil 3:10; 1 Pet. 4:1). 

The true disciple's fast is not seasonal—but a lifetime of daily self-denial. Fasting one’s self is Jesus' mandated method for attaining more of His life and vitality. Has anyone ever died from this fast? Yes. Paul did: I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me (Gal. 2:20). But, listen to this: if we die with Him, we shall live like kings with Him (2 Tim 2:11-12, edited). 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Are Obama and Putin playing “Chicken?”

The U.S. and Russian governments are polarized on the future of Ukraine, and the annexation of Crimea. The outcome will affect Euro/Russo/U.S. relations for years to come. If Obama concedes, he'll look like he's kowtowing to Putin, who is unlikely to abandon plans to enlarge Russia's sphere. Is this an international game of “chicken?” 

This is not the first game of “chicken” between these two. Last year Obama surrendered control to Putin over the issue of disposing chemical weapons in Syria. And since drawing a red line with Iran, Obama has been resisted by Putin in stopping, or even slowing down, Iran's Russian-backed nuclear development program.

Why does this matter to us?  Most theologians believe Bible prophecy excludes any U.S. role in the end times. Is it too implausible to think that the influence of the world's only superpower could be waning? Could these failed “chicken” games be, as Joel Rosenberg would say, a harbinger of things to come? Is it not incumbent on us to discern the times, and to pay attention to these things?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Shall we Impeach Joel Osteen?

Last week $600,000 was stolen from Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church. Some of Joel’s antagonists have already begun to turn this into another opportunity to impeach his character. While his teachings may be dangerously vacuous, slandering him is not an option: “Let all wrath and anger and slander be put away from you, along with all malice” (Eph. 4:31).

As troubled as I am by Joel's teachings, I believe he is a brother who is greatly deceived. John says, “How can you say you love God, if you hate your brother?” (1 John 4:20). Even to those who are disobedient to the Word, Paul counsels: “Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (2 Thess. 3:15). Any censure of Joel Osteen will have to follow this biblical rule of ‘etiquette.’

So let us pray for Joel as we would a brother, that he will realize the opportunities afforded him, and the consequent responsibility to “accurately handle the Word” (2 Tim. 2:15)—to fulfill the mandate of every teacher, to “present every man and woman complete (mature) in Christ” (Col 1:28).  

Friday, March 14, 2014

Are You Listening for the Last Trumpet Call?

When I was in grade school, my parents bought me a clarinet, and I joined the school orchestra. Now I’m wishing I had learned to play the trumpet. There will be trumpets in Heaven. (I’m not sure about clarinets.) In the book of Revelation, John speaks of 7 trumpets, sounded by 7 angels (chapters 8 – 11).

Trumpets were used in ancient Israel for many occasions. One of the most significant was the trumpeting of the watchmen from the ramparts that the enemy was near. Trumpeting was also a metaphor for trying to warn of spiritual danger: “I set my watchmen over you, saying, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not listen’ (Jer. 6:17).

God repeatedly warned the Israelites to pay attention to His signs. It is the same today. Through global financial insecurity, is God not warning us against trusting in wealth? And are the signs of our times not calling us to a state of alert? The last trumpet will be the one that anounces the Rapture (1 Thess. 4:16). In the meantime, 21st century watchmen are trumpeting to get us ready. But believers are so dulled by the passing of time and false alarms that the watchmen might as well being playing clarinets.