Saturday, February 25, 2012

Fred, and that bad taste in your mouth.


Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you are participating in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
1 Pete 4:12 & 13

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2 & 3


I am in such a great mood. I really am. And I am not %100 certain as to why this would be the case. It could be because that the sun is incredibly beautiful today. I am highly affected by the weather. It could also be that my mildly manic-depressive brain is in one of it's manic phases. I'm certain that these things could all be playing a roll in why I feel so good.

But I also feel that something else is at work, and it has little to do with me, per say.


If Paul is correct in Ephesians 6, where he states that a Believer doesn't fight against the "Flesh" so much, but really it is a battle with the dark & evil forces of the spirit world, then I have been in one for about two weeks now. I realized something yesterday, and gained an even fuller understanding of it today. I believe that this is what is affecting my mood.

____________________

Allow me to introduce you to Fred.


Fred is the name of whatever it is that can come over me and tempt me. Fred likes to remind me of what a loser I am. Fred likes to pile on the guilt and shame for every single stupid thing I have ever done...even going back to early childhood. Fred is also very adept at finding my weak spots and providing me with new temptations. Fred will try to feed me with negative thoughts, temptations, distractions, etc., etc. If it is true that Satan can send one of his little buddies down to attack those who follow Jesus, then Fred is the one who has been assigned to me. I know when Fred is around, yet he is amazingly fast and can ambush me in a split second. (My sister and I gave Fred his name a while ago over lunch. It seemed like an appropriate name at the time.)

Fred has been very busy these past two weeks.



As a dog returns to it's vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.
Prov. 26:11

<--- That would be me after Fred has done another con job on me and I have taken the bait.

The problem is that I don't really like the taste of vomit all that much. I can't say that it goes well with any other flavor combination. Try as I might, it just doesn't taste good. And yet there are times where I will go right back to it after I brush my teeth.


Temptation is not sin. Giving in to temptation is sin. And what is fascinating to me is that the various temptations out there are as unique as the individuals they come over. There are things that tempt me that have no impact on other people. In the same way, there are areas that other people struggle with that simply do not show up on my radar. Weird, huh?

The thing is, I know how Fred can keep a grip on me. There are areas of my life that I simply refuse to turn fully over to Jesus. And it is because I hold on to some of these things that Fred can use them against me. It's his little foot in the door.

Well, I think the reason I am in such a great mood is because YHWH has been pointing that out to me in no uncertain terms. There are things in my life, some quite obvious, others not so, that he wants me to hand over to him. He hasn't been mean or grumpy about it in the least. It's more of him standing next to me with a grin on his face asking me, "So, how's the barf tasting? I got some Listerine if you're interested."

I have an enormous guilt complex to begin with. When Fred has one of his victories, even the littlest, I end up doing most of his work for him. Even if Fred were not there to rub my face in it, I would make a very thorough job of beating up on myself.


Guilt presupposes that you, me, we could have done something to get rid of our sin. We can't. Jesus is not into guilt. He understands full well that there is nothing that we can do about our own sin. Hence the whole becoming sin for us, dying on the cross to atone for them, and then being resurrected and conquering sin & death thingy. So guilt has no place in Christ. In Christ we are something new.

Even though I will certainly struggle with various items & issues until the day that I am worm food, now that I have been hidden in Jesus I really and truly am something new. Even when I do not see it, the Father does. He doesn't see me the way I often do when Fred reminds me of my very juicy failures, limits and imperfections.

So I find myself being reminded of this simple fact over the past few days, even though Fred has been busy. And I'll let Jason Gray explain it is a song...



Take THAT, Fred!

____________________


So yesterday I met up with a friend that I hadn't seen in ages. It was great to catch up over coffee. I felt I owed him an apology because I hogged the conversation (As usual) and talked until his ears were going to fall off. (Of course, that could have been the coffee doing it's thing on my empty stomach.) At any rate, it was most excellent to see him again.

After our coffee, I drove over to a hospital to visit a friend who is in to get a tumor yanked out. I have to confess that the bandage on her head looked really cool. (Seriously!) Kind of like one of those turbans that you see a magician wearing. All it needed was a big eyeball in the center and it would have been perfect. I'm thinking I might have to purchase one for formal dinners and such.

My friend in the hospital has a terrible habit of smiling ALL the time. (Shameful!) She also has the disgusting tendency to be genuinely nice to everyone so as to try and make their day. Even when in pain, she seems to take a genuine interest in the staff, regardless of their station. (Honestly, I am certain that a hospital staffer has much better things to worry about than suffering through wounded people being genuinely kind, considerate and friendly to them. We all know that their joy is made complete in the emptying of numerous bedpans. So stop treating them like people!) All of this has the rotten side affect of the entire staff enjoying her company. My friend really needs to work on this area of her life.

Talking with my friend was interesting. Morphine can have some rather amusing impacts on both your mind and speech. I was informed that her son found it to be rather delightful to observe. Other than having a strong desire to see that put on YouTube, I will just let it be.


I should also add that I began my day with my sister. We had an early lunch together. I am surprised again and again how much God has used my sister in ways that would never have occurred to me. I am not certain if she even realizes it. In the process, the Father certainly ministers to me through her. What is it about Ikea's Swedish meatballs that is so good for the soul?


In all of this I saw something. With my sister, my friend at coffee, and my friend in the hospital and her husband, I saw something. In my struggle with Fred over these past two weeks, I also have been seeing something. I saw & see the faithfulness of Jesus.

No, not perfection on my part. Not attaining some sinless, zero-temptation, trouble free existence. No. I have been seeing that despite whatever difficulties I have, even just the frustration of having to be tempted at all, Jesus is still faithful.

I don't think it is the case that he does not care if & when I fall on my face. I'm sure that it hurts him to see me do that. But what his faithfulness does cause me to believe is that, ultimately, he is not the least bit surprised by it. Nor does it ever stop him from doing what he desires to do. If anything, it only seems to draw him nearer to me, grab me by the shoulders and pull me forward.


"...being confident of this,
that he who began a good work in you
will carry it on to completion
until the day of Christ Jesus." Phil 1:6


I have slowly, but surely, begun a new project in my life. I am never absolutely certain as to what God's will is at any given time. But I am inclined to believe that he has me moving into something new that will open up a whole new chapter for me in my walk with him. What I find
absolutely fascinating is that the moment that I embraced this project, Fred came. Literally the moment that I said "Yes" to this new challenge I felt the full force of the enemy come at me in every direction. He is trying to hurt me through external means that I have almost no control over. He is also using the same old weak spots that I leave open because I stubbornly refuse to turn them over to Christ.

So what do I gather from all of this?

I must be moving in the right direction!!!!!!!

If I were not, then Fred would not waste his time with me.

There is little I can do about the external attacks. Satan can pit even the best of friends against each other at times. There really isn't much I can do other than to turn that over to Jesus. But the same can be said with the internal stuff. I can't complain about my lack of progress on this new project if I am the one who keeps allowing nasty footholds in my life.

So I have made up my mind today that I will turn over everything that God has been revealing to me to him. I fully admit that I do not have the strength to tackle them. Only he has the power to defeat all the various frustrations that come my way. And this is exactly what he has been pointing out to me recently.

I understood most of this in my gut well before the last few weeks. But I wouldn't act on them. Today is different. I have finally decided to act. I am guessing that this will be very difficult for me over the next week or so. I am assuming that Fred will be looking for every opportunity. But in an odd way, I am looking forward to this challenge.


I drove down to Mill's Fleet Farm this morning to buy some seeds. I was listening to the radio and some songs came on that had me smiling from ear to ear, and yet crying at the same time. One of the songs was that one by Jason Gray. The others I will post at the end of this bit.

Suffice it to say that if my mood is better, it is due to God's faithfulness. He can be incredibly gentle when he wishes to be. He can also be incredibly funny, which tends to work well with me. In my heart, I know all that I am not. But I also know that in HIM, I am all that I could ever hope to be and more.


So Fred, I know what you are up to. If I have to face frustrations, then so be it. It should cause me to lean even farther into the Father. Which is where I should be all along.

His faithfulness is amazing, and it is also beautiful. And I am having a very good day.

Thank you, Father, for the good and the bad. Thank you for EVERYTHING!


Peace

Joe

P.S. And now for the other songs I heard while driving...











P.S.S. If it is true that Believers will be the ones who judge Angels, and I am assuming both the good and rotten ones. (1 Cor. 6:3) Then when it is Fred's turn, I will ask YHWH to give me 30 minutes alone in a room with Fred and a tire iron & brass knuckles. I think that my smile shall not dissipate for a long, long time.

I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

"Even if..."


Nebuchadnezzar asked, "Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you don't respect my gods and refuse to worship the gold statue that I have set up? I'm giving you a second chance - but from now on, when the big band strikes up you must go to your knees and worship the statue I have made. If you don't worship it, you will be pitched into a roaring furnace, no questions asked. Who is the god who can rescue you from my power?"

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar, "Your threat means nothing to us. If you throw us in the fire, the God we serve can rescue us from your raoring furnace and anything else you might cook up, O King. But even if he doesn't, it wouldn't make a bit of difference, O King. We still wouldn't serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up."
Daniel 3:14-18 (Message Bible)

The king (Darius) then went back to his palace. He refused supper. He couldn't sleep. He spent the night fasting. At daybreak the king got up and hurried to the lions' den. As he approached the den, he called out anxiously, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve so loyally, saved you from the lions?"
Daniel 6:18-20 (Message Bible)


So this morning, Pastor Scott was preaching in the 18th chapter of The Story, on Daniel. He spoke about the faithfulness of folks like Daniel, Shadrach, and the other guys with impossible names. These are all great stories, and I fully believe them. But something struck me as Scott was preaching.

At this point in biblical history, the Jews had been exiled to Babylon. They had ignored YHWH, worshipped all sorts of other worthless god, and the final straw was that they didn't care about the poor and most vulnerable in their society. (Ez. 16:49 & 50) So it seems that they had gone out of their way to deserve this punishment.

Exile seems to have drawn a very clear dividing line among the people. Many completely lost their way. Yet, this exile also seems to have brought out a fresh faithfulness on the part of some. In the process YHWH demonstrated that he wasn't bound to a geographical location like all of the other gods back then, but could go where ever he wished. Maybe that was one of the points he was trying to make. YHWH wasn't like any other god. He was, is and always will be Sovereign. Also, he was, is and always will be faithful, and he would demonstrate that.


At the beginning of Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar was the King of Babylon. (His name means "Nebu is my god.") He seemed to have a substantial ego and a bit of a temper problem. The Jews had been sleeping around with other gods while the kingdom of Judah still existed. Now they were swamped in a land with gods in every direction. You couldn't swing a cat without hitting an idol. (Even if you could have missed an idol, you should still swing cats around until you hit at least 3-4 items with them. It's pretty much all they are good for.) So King Nebu decided to make some type of golden statue, most likely of himself, and to have all of his subjects bow down to it.

You probably know the story. Three of the young exiles who were being groomed for government administration refused to bow down to this image. Nebu decided that he would make an example of them and turn them into human S'mores. His threat was not an empty one, but neither was the refusal of Shadarch, Meshach & Abednego.

____________________

There is a strain in American christianity that believes that God wants you to be rich and perpetually healthy. If you have the right kind of faith, and speak that "Word of Faith," God will give you anything yo want. (Much like a genie in a lamp.) Even outside of those really weird types of pentecostal churches, most Americans still seem to think that God is supposed to bail you out of whatever jam you find yourself in. If he doesn't then you either didn't have enough faith, or you now have a handy excuse to blame him, and then to ignore him.


Nebuchadnezzar tells Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego (From here on, simply referred to as SM&A, because their names are too long to keep spelling fully.) that he will kill them if they do not worship what he tells them to worship. Nebu ends his threat with a question. He asks them what god could possibly come to their aid once he tosses them in the fire?

It's a fair question. But the answer is unusual. SM&A refuse to worship, but they also make an interesting response to the final rhetorical question. They point out that they believe that YHWH can rescue them. But they also say that "Even if he does not" they will still not worship that statue or any other gods.

"Even if he does not."


Belief is easy. Faith, however, is not. SM&A had FAITH. I would like to think that I could have that type of faith, but I'm not sure that I do. It's easy to believe that there is some type of God out there. It is even easy to believe that if there is a God, then it can do pretty much whatever it wants to do. It's easy to believe that this type of God could help you out in any given situation. And it's also easy to believe that this type of God might choose NOT to help you out.

What is NOT easy to believe is that a God could do all of the above, including not helping you in a particular situation, but that you would then still keep your faith in that kind of God.


SM&A had that type of faith. They knew what YHWH could do if he so desired. They knew that he could rescue them. They also knew that he might choose not to if he saw a reason for it. But they still had faith and chose to worship him alone.


I don't think I have that type of faith. I would like to believe that I do, but I know the sinfulness of my heart. I guess that is just one more area of my life that God needs to work in.

____________________


Daniel is an interesting guy. Of all of the characters in the bible, most of them have some very significant character flaws. From what is recorded, Daniel has none that were obvious or glaring. He was highly respected, and a very diligent worker. When the other government officials, who I would guess were extremely jealous of him, tried to find a way to get him into trouble, they couldn't find anything. They finally figured out that the only way to trap him would be to use his faithfulness to his God against him.

Think about that. Think about the kind of reputation that had Daniel earned.

He was very good at his job. He was an excellent administrator. He was a close & trusted friend of the Emperor Darius. He was extremely faithful to YHWH. Shame on him for being a man of such high quality!

When Darius was tricked into passing a law that could not be revoked, and would get Daniel killed, he recognized Daniel's character of faithfulness. "May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you." I don't know where Darius' faith ultimately lay, but he knew where Daniel's was. Darius seems to have placed his faith in that.


BTW: Generally speaking, it is a pretty bad idea to play legal tricks and mind games with someone more powerful than you, let alone the most powerful emperor at the time. Unless you wish to see you and your entire family turned into cat toys, I would recommend against such behavior, especially when you are trying to frame an honest man.


You know the end of this story. The bible says that King Darius was overjoyed to see Daniel alive. I can only imagine the expression on his face when he got his hands on the guys who had framed Daniel and then tossed them to the lions. My dog, Rika, gets a very proud and gleeful look when she has managed to kill a squirrel. She will prance up to me and show off her fresh kill with great delight. I would imagine that Darius had a similar expression on his face.


____________________


SM&A and Daniel had a faith that I am still hoping for. They seemed to know their God in a way that I still desire, but have yet to grasp.


We all want to have a good life. A life that has at least a few creature comforts, some fun vacations, and hopefully a happy retirement. But what would it be like to have such an understanding of the more important things, of YHWH and of eternity, that your life would be so altered that you could give it up with little concern? What would it be like to have a faith in the God of the bible so deep in your soul & bones that to lose your life meant nothing?

____________________


"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep
to gain that which he cannot lose"
Jim Elliot


For those of you who have read the book "Through Gates of Splendor," or are semi-familiar with it, you know the story of Jim Elliot and the four other missionaries down in Ecuador who were martyred for Jesus. It turns out that they were armed at the time, and could easily have saved their lives. Instead of shooting the Acua indians who were attacking them, they fired into the air...even as they were being killed.

For more on that, you can click this link. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Elliot


Anyone who knows me, knows that John Piper generally drives me crazy. He says that people like me walk with a limp because we have not fully embraced his version of Calvinism. Still, I think he is incredibly gifted and brilliant...and my christian brother. I also thought this video was very insightful. Give it a view.




Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming and Roger Youderian all had the chance to save their lives. They could have bowed down for a moment to a statue made of gold, made a diplomatic gesture to a king by ignoring their God for just a while, or shot and killed those who were intent on taking their lives. They chose to do otherwise.

They knew something about their God that I highly doubt most Believers do...and that includes myself. In some cases, YHWH comes through and rescues. Sometimes he does not...for whatever reason. None of them "knew" what the outcome would be at that time, but they did "know" who their God was. They "knew," and that gave them faith. That type of faith allowed them to say "Even if he does not."

I hope that someday I will be able to have that kind of faith.


"Even if..."





Peace

Joe

P.S. For more on the story from "Through Gates of Splendor," it's companion movie "The End of the Spear" and the families involved, watch the following videos.

Be for warned, while the first video starts kind of cheezy, both of them are very powerful and moving.






I really want that kind of faith.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Crap"-italism



When he ripped off the third seal, I heard the third animal cry, "Come out!" I looked. A black horse this time. It's rider carried a set of scales in his hand. I heard a message (It seemed to issue from the Four Animals): "A quart of of wheat for a day's wages, or three quarts of barley, but all the oil and wine you want.
Rev. 6:5 & 6

Kinda sounds like the 1%, dontcha think?

"The sin of your sister Sodom was this: She lived with her daughters in the lap of luxury - proud, gluttonous, and lazy. They ignored the oppressed and the poor. They put on airs and lived obscene lives. And you know what happened: I did away with them.
Ez. 16:49 & 50 (Both sets of passages were taken from The Message bible version)

Kinda looks like the 1%, dontcha think?



So this morning I saw a video that Shane Claiborne posted. It really caught me off guard because it was so beautiful. If you don't know who Shane is, go over to my links and click on The Simple Way, or buy his book "The Irresistible Revolution." I recommend that book very highly. (Lucky for you, I have it over in the Books I Recommend section to the right. Hint, hint.)

Anyway, a few words before you watch the video. I don't think I am alone in saying this, but most people I know are fed up with the American economic system. Don't get me wrong, I believe in the concept of Free-Enterprise. Of all the systems that are currently out there, I think it is the best at providing over-all prosperity for a nation. That having been said, I don't particularly like the one that America uses.

However, I don't think it is so much the fault of the system as it is of the culture. Americans are the most individualistic people on the planet. While treating people as unique individuals is good, the way we take it to the extreme creates nothing more than selfishness & indifference. (Which in my opinion, anyway, perfectly sums up the philosophy of Ron Paul.)

It's almost as if we think it is perfectly normal & natural to simply look out for number one, get what you can get, and ignore the others around you...unless they can give you an advantage. It doesn't matter what you do to the people below you, as long as you turn a profit you deserve that bonus...even if it is obscenely out of proportion to the wages of others.


Case in Point: The store I work at has had a wage freeze for three years now. We have to take a one-week UN-paid vacation. We get no more overtime, nor an extra buck an hour on Sundays. Yet, every manager got their bonuses.

I work with a gal who is in her late 50s. She is one of the hardest workers I have ever met in my life. She makes $8.50 an hour and has never received a raise. Nor will she unless this time around, our idiot Union bosses can actually negotiate a relatively fair contract.

Yet, as I said, every manager got their bonuses.

Excuse me if I think there is something profoundly unethical about that.

____________________


For some reason, most likely because this is what we have grown up with, Americans find this to be the normal way of operating. We think it is fine and dandy for the CEOs to make multiple millions in bonuses, while cutting the workers, wages and benefits of the people on the bottom. We just assume that this is how it's done.

Perhaps we need to start asking some questions about that.

____________________

It's no secret that other countries all have their own versions of economics and free-enterprise. Unless you want to remain in the outhouse of luxury, socialism and communism are really bad ideas to try. But, I find it interesting how the various cultures actually impact a nation's economy more than pointy-headed economic formulas.

I had heard many times that the Japanese do things differently than us. I had been told that in many of their corporations, when it comes time to make cuts, it's the folks at the top who take the hit first because they are the ones who make the most and can afford it. I have no idea if that is the norm, but it certainly seems to be the moral way to do things. (Honestly, if you are at the top of the economic food chain, and you can't afford to take a financial hit, then you really must be living wrong.)



One last thing before you watch this news clip; America generally likes to pretend that it is a "Christian" nation. This is a heaping pile of steamy dog-doo sitting in a lovely, freshly fallen snowbank. But let's stick with that nonsense for a moment. Let us contrast that idea and the way we do things over here, with the foul, heathen laden nation of Japan with it's Shinto/Buddhist culture.

Take a look. (In particular, watch Mr. Nishimatsu's expression when he is told how much American executives make in bank.)




Which Capitalist/Free-Enterprise system looks a little bit more like the principles spoken of throughout the bible? Which one do you think looks a little more Jesus-like?

Perhaps American culture needs to do some rather serious repenting.

Something to think about, anyway.


Peace

Joe

Monday, February 13, 2012

Cyrus



The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, oh God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:17

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Matt. 5:6

YHWH moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a royal proclamation throughout his realm and put it in writing:

"This is what Cyrus king of Persia says; YHWH, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you - may YHWH his God be with him, and let him go up." 2 Chron. 36:21-23


I once knew of a man. I used to teach about him in my World History class even though he was not on the regular curriculum because I found him rare & unique among men. He was not from the Chosen People of God. He was a pagan, an infidel...a Gentile. Yet the God of the bible decided to choose him anyway. Why?

This man was a very great leader of men. He was a unifier, then a conquerer, then a unifier again. Finally, he was a man of mercy & humility. Why?

When this man sent his armies to war, he forbade them to rape, loot and pillage. He would not destroy the temples, shrines and works of the people he conquered. Instead, he held them in honor. He would respect the religions and customs of the people whose lands he now held. In fact, he even guaranteed the rights of the various people now in his kingdom. Finally, he even allowed those who wished to go back to their ancient homelands, and sent them away with gifts. Why?


What does this say about the heart of this man?


God bestowed the title "Messiah/The Lord's Anointed" upon him. The very first use of that term in the bible.

______________________


This was Cyrus the Great. He founded the Persian empire back in the 500s B.C. which lasted up until 1978/79. He unified the Persian tribes and overthrew the Babylonian empire. He even decreed that the Jews in exile should be allowed to go back to Israel and rebuild the temple of YHWH.

He also looked really sharp in a bronze helmet, as you can see.

____________________


Many decades before Cyrus was born, the prophet Isaiah told of his coming. God had told Isaiah that after Judah was exiled and punished for 70 years, he would raise up Cyrus to be their liberator...this pagan.

God seemed to have a special place in his heart for Cyrus, and I've always wondered why that was the case. I mean, it's not too many people that God refers to with the title Messiah. (Only one other, near as I can tell.) The only hint I can get as to why God would look with such favor on Cyrus, is because of the position of his heart. And maybe that is WHY.



Back in the day, when a king would conquer a city, the invading army would use it as an excuse to make a frat house party look rather tame. Almost nothing was off-limits to the sword & torch. Never mind what would often happen to any women they could get their hands on. But not so with the armies of Cyrus.

He was an anomaly as far as ancient kings were concerned. He wouldn't let his armies leave a wake of destruction. He absolutely forbade such behavior! He also had the odd habit of heading into the local temples and worshipping there. I have no idea if he actually believed in any of the various gods of all these various temples he went in to, but it certainly won him the appreciation of the local people. But more than that, I think it showed that he was looking for something....something MORE.

_____________________


Is it possible that someone who has never heard of the God of the Bible could still search for this God? Is it possible that someone who has never had the chance to hear the Gospel might still feel a dissatisfaction in their heart that makes them hungry for that which is missing? Is it possible that a person with this type of dissatisfied, hungry heart could still find this God described in Scripture, who is the only one to fill that dissatisfied hole?


Allow me to be bold and say that the answer is "Yes!"

And I strongly believe that the bible implies just such a scenario.

"I am not ashamed of the power of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from the first to the last, just as it is written; "The righteous will live by faith."...Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."
Romans 1:16 & 17, 19 & 20



My Dad & I always end up in deep conversations when we are out fishing. Naturally, the bible and various theological topics always seem to pop up. We often talk about the people who do not know Jesus for various reasons. It's one thing to reject Jesus in our American culture. Often the gospel is presented as a bat for "Religious" people to hit others with. Often, you will see highly "Religious" people holding signs and screaming at people. Often, you will see some greedy preacher on the TV hawking his 7 steps to success. Often, I will want to reject that Jesus, and I generally do. Often, I think that Jesus throws up in his mouth when he watches all of this, and rejects it too.

But that is still not a legitimate reason for rejecting the gospel. (Just turn your TV off.) Instead, keep seeking the real one.


But what about people in other cultures who have never even had the chance to hear a faint whisper of the gospel? Is God so powerless that he cannot speak to these people?

I think Paul, writing in his letter to the tiny church body in Rome at the time, answered that perfectly.

I think that it comes down to the heart. What is it's position? Where have you, I, or another, placed it?

As sinful as it is, the human heart can still long for more. Generally, we will set our hearts on lesser things to fill the void we find there. But sometimes, some times...that heart can grow hungry & thirsty for more than creature comforts and base pleasures.

I am inclined to believe that this was the position of Cyrus' heart.


Jesus said that those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness...in other words, thirsty for MORE, would be filled. When I look at the life of Cyrus, it strongly appears to me that he was searching for MORE. And I believe that he found it. He had the whole world at his feet, yet I can't find any evidence that he grew arrogant or prideful. If anything, it only seemed to make him more hungry for things deep in the soul. He had all of the comforts that a man could want...except for an Ipod, but he seemed to be searching for God. (Why else would he spend so much time poking around shrines and temples?)

____________________


The Psalmist says that a broken & contrite heart is the one thing that God will not despise. Another way of looking at that is to simply admit that you really aren't going to impress the God of the bible with all of yourself or your "Stuff," nor should you waste your time in the attempt.

You: "Check it out YHWH, I just souped up my Hummer with spoilers and gold rims!"

YHWH: "That's great, kid. Have you seen my Merkavah/Chariot? It goes from zero to infinity in half a second, and the 4 living creatures that pull it are all self-cleaning."

If you want to try and impress this God, then turn your heart over to him...and make sure it's all messy so he can go to work on it. (God has a scrubbing fetish.)



It appears to me that somewhere along the line, this is exactly what Cyrus did. This gentile pagan, who knew very little of the God of the Jews still had a hungry heart. Before he was born, God in his foreknowledge must have recognized this attribute. (I'm never sure how all of that foreknowledge & predestination stuff works, so I just let God do his thing and not get all worked up over it.) God honored Cyrus if for no other reason than the position of his heart. He called him his "Anointed one," his Messiah, and God did beautiful & glorious things through Cyrus.

Cyrus recognized this, he admitted it. That says a great deal about his heart. And his heart set the tone for his reign & rule. He not only allowed all of the exiled Jews who wished to, to go back to their homeland under his protection. Cyrus told them that YHWH wanted them to rebuild the temple, and he even returned all of the temple's gold and trappings that the Babylonians had stolen.

___________________


Upon his death, Cyrus had ordered a small tomb to be built for him. It was pretty much the polar opposite of the massive & ostentatious tombs that kings & emperors would have built for themselves back in the day. It says a great deal about how Cyrus saw himself in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps his heart was very contrite after all.


<--- The tomb is still there in modern Iran. Someday I would like to visit it.

Upon the tomb are written these words; "Oh man, who ever you are, from where ever you have come, for I know you will come, I am Cyrus who founded the empire of the Persians. Do not begrudge me this little earth that covers my body." (Personally, I think the wording of that implies a bit of a joke on the part of Cyrus.)


I am of the opinion that in his lifetime, Cyrus had his heart filled. He understood his circumstances. Despite all that he had, he was still searching for more. His conclusion was that he was not worthy by his power, wealth, fame and so on, so he offered the only thing he could... his broken & contrite heart, in faith to a God that he barely understood. I believe that the evidence shows that YHWH honored that offering. This Gentile infidel found the God of the universe and was finally filled. And both were very, very happy to embrace.

Someday I will meet Cyrus and will want to hear his story. If Ezekiel is correct that there will be fishing in the new heaven & earth (Ez. 47:6-12), then I will borrow a boat from YHWH and take Cyrus out for Walleye. I love good stories, so I will hopefully be there for a long, long time...and maybe even write about it. I will listen to his stories for as long as he wants to talk, because in one way or the other, it is about the Good News of the Gospel...so it is glorious.

I will also see if I can trade one of my ball caps for his bronze helmet. It will be glorious.



Peace

Joe

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Blog Headaches




<--- That would be ME, except that I would be a male dolly...and with blond hair that is not quite so long & flowing...and I rarely wear purple gowns...except for that time I was a stunt double in the Miss Walleye & Sweet Corn contest.

ANYWAY...

So Tuesday I swung by my friend, Andy's, house. (Yes, I have friends. I give them a dollar every week.) Andy is helping me to revamp my blog. I rarely have any idea what to do with this technology stuff. I can get my Ipod to work properly if I hit it against a wall enough, but other than that...

Andy is a Tech Geek. He can figure this stuff out as I sit in the corner eating a cookie while drooling happily onto my bib. Andy shows me stuff on here that must look like 2+2 to him. I just scratch my head in awe.


Unfortunately, somewhere along the way he/we/I accidently deleted the links to all the other blogs I glance at. ("Oops," to quote Rick Perry.) At first I thought it was just a part of the blog rearranging itself, but now I know better. So last night and this morning I am trying to recover all of the links that I had. The trouble is, I don't remember all of them, and those that I do I can't quite remember the exact names for the internet addresses.

Gaaaaaaaaaah!

On the bright side, I was planning on deleting a few anyway.

BTW: If YOU have one that you think might be a decent fit for my links, be it your own or some other, feel free to show me. You never know.


So yeah, the blog is going through some changes. I've had friends ask me to include little thingies that you can click on to make it easy to tweet to friends or post on Facebook. I think we did that, but I'm never really sure. I was also shown how to see which posts get the most views. I have no idea how some of them got the most hits. Honestly, I think my best writing was not included in the "Popular" area. Which is sort of the story of my life.

Also, I have decided that it was time to put some ads on here. I highly doubt I'll make more than a few bucks a month, but "Baby desperately needs a new pair of shoes...and to pay the bills...and eat...so..."

As I write this post, the ads are still under review. I got an e-mail from google saying that they would review the blog to see which ads would fit the best for the various posts. (I guess they do it individually.) When I think about the stuff I write about I begin to feel a twinge of sorrow for the unfortunate person/persons who must suffer through this task. I mean most of my stuff has to do with my own fitful journey with Jesus. Usually I am observing what is going on in the church and culture. Heck, my last post was very serious and perhaps even offensive to some. But then I'll write about a completely secular subject or even a particular band that I like at the moment. Or maybe I'll just do a complete spoof of some subject. PLUS, I always try to find a song & video that will illustrate what ever it is that I wrote about. How do you make advertising fit something like that?

Anyway, the ads apparently will take a few days to come online. Of course, they could be up by the time I finish this post. I doubt it, but who knows? Do me a favor though, if you are one of the few semi-faithful or regular readers of this blog, every time you come here please click those ads a couple hundred times. (It should only take an hour or two, maximum.) I would certainly appreciate it.


I dunno. All of this is an adventure to me. I have a massive streak of curiosity in me. That has gotten me into trouble in the past, but hopefully it will serve me well on here. We'll see what happens. Currently, it's a bit of a headache.



Peace

Joe

Sunday, February 5, 2012

An inconvenient FACT!


"But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then even Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are found to be false witnesses about God...And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men."
1 Corinthians 15:12-18


I remember that it was around 5AM. I had walked from my school in Jerusalem down to the main road to wait for a taxi to take me to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv for my flight back to the U.S.

It was still dark out. I sat on my suitcase waiting for the taxi. I remember thinking that it was quite cold. (Desert climates may have hot days, but the nights can really get down there.) I was looking at the walls of the Old City, and at the skyline of West Jerusalem in the moonlight and stars, thinking about home much I would miss Israel and the Middle East.

I sat there in the silence, just thinking. And then I began to hear voices. It was the sound of singing. At first It wafted through the valley that surrounds the old biblical city of Jerusalem. But then I heard it coming over the walls. Soon, I was aware of it everywhere. It was very beautiful. It is a memory that I cherish because it was so powerful.

This is what I heard...



I have only faint memories of me being driven down to Tel Aviv, other than the smell of orange blossoms in orchards, and my ride home on the plane. But I remember hearing THAT song...that "First Call to Prayer" for the Muslims that lived in and around Jerusalem. A devout muslim will pray that prayer 5 times a day.

I grew to be very curious about Islam while living in Israel. I find Islamic history to be very interesting. Islam came into being in the early 7th century C.E., and in a very short time the civilization grew to be incredibly advanced. They invented algebra (Which for a guy like me who sucks at math, it's a mixed blessing at best.), and both the modern compass and the numerical system that we use. Even our concept of writing checks can be traced to Islam. In fact, while my ancestors in Europe were under the impression that a good bleeding would cure what ails you, and that a woman who could float was obviously a witch, those guys were doing cataract surgery. The history and culture are very fascinating, indeed.


And now is where I get to the uncomfortable part...


I have deep respect for muslims, have muslim friends and live next door to a muslim family. I decry the idiotic, anti-muslim rhetoric that I often hear many cheap & greedy politicians and pastors use in public. I also welcome the mosque that is only a mile from my house.

That having been said, I also grieve for the followers of Islam because I fully and completely believe with all my heart that the entire faith is built on a falsehood. The Islamic view of Jesus is wrong.

Completely & Absolutely WRONG!


I don't say that with any glee or malice. I take no pleasure at all in stating this. In fact, I say it with a great deal of grief. But the argument is NOT with me. The argument is with the bible, and the eye-witnesses who tell the stories in the four gospels.

________________________________


About two weeks ago, this video went viral over the internet.



There were many responses to this spoken word performance. Many people loved it, some people hated it. (I even saw a catholic response to it...which was weird.) I thought the most comprehensive response was this piece written by Zack Hunt at The American Jesus. http://theamericanjesus.net/?p=4970

However, the most unusual response was from the muslim community.


A friend of mine named Mike Morrel http://www.mikemorrell.org/ posted this next video on his Face Book page a few days ago. (No, that is NOT Mike in the video, nor is he a muslim. He is one of those crazy, emergent heretics that give hyper-Calvinists and Dispensationalists fits of the spleen. This makes Mike cool in my book.) Other than being a delightful thorn in the side of Fundamentalists, Mikey also has an awesome beard...but he doesn't wear an islamic skull cap.

Anyway, give this video a gander.



I think that this video gives an excellent overview of Islam in general, but specifically their view of Jesus.

Before I go on I'll include this link to the Islamic view of Jesus/Isa as provided by Wikipedia.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_in_Islam I have an English language version of the Quran which I have not fully read cover to cover. But if you do not have that available, that link does an excellent summary.

For orthodox muslims, the Quran is to be read in classical Arabic because that was the language that Gabriel/Jibril revealed it to the Prophet Muhammed in. So my english version is necessary, but not considered kosher...or "Halal," in this case. (I had always assumed that the language of heaven was Swedish. What do I know?)


Islam treats Jesus with amazing respect, and shares much of what traditional Christianity does. However, there is one central problem. Other than the fact that they do not view Jesus as the visible image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), in other words that Jesus IS God...which IS what Jesus claimed about himself (John 8:58 & 10:30-33), they also do not believe in either the crucifixion nor the resurrection.

And with that we have a very serious problem.


I am all for tolerance and co-existence. But unfortunately, most Americans tend to interpret Tolerance with Endorsement & Agreement. In fact, it seems that when you talk to most folks they will lump all religions and faiths together as if there is no difference, and that ultimately they are all the same. Personally, if I were a Hindu, I would find it rather insulting to be told that my faith is no different than Judaism. There are major & significant differences that should be acknowledged, respected...and understood!


The fact of the matter is that Christianity rises or falls on the crucifixion and bodily resurrection of Jesus. The Scripture verses I placed at the top of the post prove that. If Islam is correct in that Jesus was never crucified nor resurrected, then as Paul said it is all a lie. In fact, I would go further and say that if none of that is true, then Christianity is idiotic and christians should be mocked for their absolute stupidity.

But if it's true...



The Quran was codified in roughly 633 C.E. In other words, it was revealed to Muhammed roughly 600 years AFTER the eye witness accounts that make up the four Gospels. They clearly contradict each other, and only ONE of them can be right! You cannot have it both ways. "There can be only one!" (Who knew that the Highlander movies would comment on this?)

The fact of the matter is that no one can truly prove to everyone's satisfaction which one is right. Ultimately it comes down to a matter of faith...like virtually everything in life. But let us not kid ourselves that they are the same, or that these differences do not matter.



When I was younger, I looked into other faiths. I was curious. I also sometimes wondered about converting. (I really like much of what I see in Islam and Buddhism. But ultimately if I did I would probably choose the pagan Norse gods of my ancestors because they really knew how to party.) But what finally hit me was the testimony of the Gospels. I couldn't get past the fact that these eye witnesses were willing to die, as many, many, many of them did, to testify to what they saw. They gave their lives saying that Jesus WAS crucified, he WAS resurrected, and that he IS Lord...and not just another prophet. They placed their faith in the Jesus of the Gospels that testify that he is God, and they willingly went to their deaths for that.

How could I possibly ignore that historical fact????



I know that making these statements are not the most politically correct things to say. I know that I may offend and hurt the feelings of many who may read this. As I stated earlier, I say none of this with glee or malice. It makes me sick to my stomach when I see some rejoice at those who are lost.

I say ALL of this because I am convinced and have staked my life & salvation on the truth of the Jesus of the bible. I reject the false Jesus that is presented in the fraudulent bible of the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Book of Mormon AND the Quran.

I believe with all my heart and agree fully with Peter when he spoke before the Sanhedrin and said; "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)

THAT is MY Jesus! And it is my greatest desire that all humanity would give their lives over to him NOW! Because someday, some day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ IS Lord...and then it will be too late.

And that inconvenient FACT absolutely breaks my heart.


Peace

Joe

Saturday, February 4, 2012

This IS where I am.





I heard a song on the way home from work tonight. It hit me pretty hard.

I know that it has nothing what so ever to do with Jesus...per say. But it still made me think about my VERY wanton relationship with my savior.

Give it a listen...

You can probably figure out who I wish Graham & Johnny to be.


I always seem to be falling behind, but I want this type of passion so much!









A song by First Aid Kit, out of Sweden. What is it about those gals from Scandinavia...?

Peace

Joe

P.S. In case you were interested...





Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Ga-Gospel


"I wanna love you,
but something's pulling me away from you.
Jesus is my virtue,
and Judas is the demon I cling to."
Judas, by Lady Gaga


"I am a whore, I do confess.
But I put you on like a wedding dress,
and I run down the aisle,
and I run down the aisle.

I'm a prodigal with no way home.
But I put you on just like a ring of gold,
and I run down the aisle
to you."
Wedding Dress, by Derek Webb

Which set of those lyrics sounds more offensive?



So this past Sunday I was talking with some friends at Living Waters before the service. I have no idea how the subject came up, but for some reason we started talking about Lady Gaga. (Guess that means we're heretics.) One of my friends did not much care for Lady Gaga and finds her rather offensive. This is perfectly understandable. Let's face it, she is one "Out There" kinda singer. (Great at marketing herself, though.) Much of her subject matter is not exactly the most Jesus-honoring material. However...


I have a friend named Zach who was in on this conversation. Zach is rather awesome even though he is a red-head. He is a combat veteran, which is good for me to know in case I ever need someone "Punished." ($5 and a Pepsi, and he's good to go.) Zach is also a new daddy to the cutest giggling prune EVER!


So anyway, Zach speaks up in defense of Lady Gaga over a particular song of hers. I only know a couple of Gaga songs that I have on my Ipod for gym music. So I was unfamiliar with the song, Judas, that Zach defended. He explained some of the lyrics to me and said that he could identify with them. He said that this is far too often the way his walk with Jesus is. He said that he loves Jesus, but betrays him all of the time. Zach said that he IS Judas more than he would wish to be.


That is Zach.
It is also us.
And it is very much me.



Zach's explanation made me recall a song by Derek Webb called "Wedding Dress." Derek is a Christian artist, and I got to see him perform this song a little over a year ago. I had never heard the song before, but I do recall that I wept throughout the entire performance. I found myself very much in those lines of his that I posted up at the top. I find myself in them for much of my conscious hours.

I once heard Dan Allender preach in Matthew chapter 5, the portion of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus speaks of murder & adultery. Dan said that in our hearts, all humans are killers & whores. (I find it so refreshing when a speaker can be so blunt in a church.) I tend not to emphasize this truth all that much. I tend to emphasize the area of God's amazing grace and love that he extends and offers to all humanity. But the truth remains that my nature is very sinful, capable of very creative & spectacular evil, and that in my heart I am an unfaithful whore. I am. (Which might go along way in explaining why I am so awed by God's grace & mercy.)

In fact, I have grown more comfortable over time in admitting this fact about my sinful heart, because it certainly does magnify my understanding of how great God's love is for someone as sinful as me.


So I find myself identifying with the song, Wedding Dress, by Derek Webb. Zach can find the same identification in the song, Judas, by Lady Gaga. Both songs convict us. Should any of this come as a surprise? If you say "Yes," then think about why that might be the case.



I suppose I should allow you to see both songs, shouldn't I?



It's pretty obvious with the imagery she is using that she is trying to make a point. Perhaps she didn't realize how profound this point might become to certain people. (It did cause me to get this song stuck in my head all night at work.)


What do you want to bet that when she is not on stage or in public, Lady Gaga prefers to sit around her house just doing some knitting or embroidery, while sipping tea and eating poptarts? Hhhhmmm...


Anyway, now for Derek.



Odds are, you probably wont hear that song on your local "Christian" FM station. Which, frankly, is a pity to me.



Music has an amazing ability to transport a person to someplace else. I am not one who believes that music should be easily categorized with labels marking them "Christian" or Secular. For starters, the labels never fit very well. I am convinced that one aspect of being made in the image of God means that all people have some type of creative streak in them. In a way it is God testifying about himself through that person's creativity. So, this is why I can hear God when I listen to a piece of music by Beethoven, or Mozart, even though neither of them followed Jesus.

Secondly, just because something has the label "Christian" on it, does not make it God-honoring. I have seen some so-called Art by Christians that gave me the dry heaves. I have also heard some music by Christians that I am fairly convinced makes God's ears bleed. So labels are not for me. Too many Christians in America already live in a self-imposed ghetto, I see no reason to encourage that in other areas. I am not afraid of the secular world's culture. Nor do I worry all that much when the sacred and secular overlap. Instead, I view these occurrences as opportunities to simply be salt & light.

BTW: I will fully agree that there is plenty of music in the "Secular" world that one should avoid for a variety of reasons. I have a fairly high tolerance for controversy, and I am not easily offended. However, I simply cannot listen to much of the misogynistic lyrics of so much gansta rap and hip-hop, the overt perversion & sexual hedonism of certain artists, or the acute dullness of Garth Brooks. I just can't do it.

Still, I believe that the God of the bible is rather creative, and can use whatever he sees fit to in his attempts to connect to folks. (I also am inclined to believe that he really knows how to use a whammy bar.) Who am I to say to YHWH; "Sorry big fella, we can't have you running about using Techno & Bluegrass to display your glory and kingdom." (Seriously, that would be quite the combo.)

If he wants to use a Lady Gaga song to touch Zach's heart and conscience, who am I to tell him he can't? Oddly enough, every time I hear Neil Young's song "Like a Hurricane," I always think of God. I seriously do. I mean, I know Neil wrote it about his wife, but the lines "You are like a Hurricane. There's calm in your eyes." I always identify those with YHWH. So...


Look, you're dealing with the God of the bible. He really has a terrible time being reduced in size so that he fits into the boxes you want him to. He's just plain odd and extremely complicated in the best sense of those terms. If you want a God who easily makes sense to you, go check out Islam and it's fatalistic approach to everything...or become a hyper-Calvinist. (Then you can do away with thinking all together.)

In the mean time, please stand aside so that I may get my groove on.

Peace

Joe

Appendix: For more on the song "Wedding Dress," watch this video. Derek explains where this song and it's blunt lyrics comes from. It might make you a little nervous. If so, that is because he might just be hitting close to home for you.



Finally, here are some other thoughts of Derek that speak to how Believers ought to engage the culture that we live in. I enjoyed it very much.