Sunday, November 26, 2017

Unlocking The Secret Of Jonah And The Whale

Of all the major Bible stories, Jonah and the whale is one of the most well known. The book of Jonah is found in the Old Testament, and is fairly short, only consisting of four chapters. 

JONAH CHAPTER ONE: Jonah is told by God to go to the Gentile city of Nineveh and preach His judgment against them because of their wickedness. However, Jonah went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord, boarding a ship to Tarshish. But the Lord hurled a great storm against the ship, and the sailors threw Jonah overboard after he admitted the storm was his fault. The sea suddenly calmed, and instead of drowning, the Lord arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. He was inside the fish for 3 days and 3 nights. 

JONAH CHAPTER TWO: Jonah prays to God earnestly from inside the fish, and God orders the fish to spit him out on dry land. 

JONAH CHAPTER THREE: In chapter three, Jonah obeys God by going into Nineveh and telling them that they will be destroyed in 40 days. However, the king of Nineveh ordered the entire city to repent and turn from their evil ways. Because of their change of heart, God changed His mind and did not carry out their destruction. Now if the book of Jonah ended right there, at the end of chapter three, it would be a great story with a perfect ending. But then there's chapter four. And in chapter four everything goes downhill. 

JONAH CHAPTER FOUR: Jonah becomes angry at God for not wiping out the people of Nineveh. He's so mad, he pouts and even says he would rather die than live! Jonah and God never reconcile their positions, and the book ends on a sour note. Why such a lousy ending?

Over the years, I've often wondered why this book ended this way. Why would Jonah have such a bad attitude? Why end the book without any resolution, without any reconciliation between Jonah and God? Well, if you look at the big picture, there is a reason. And it's an amazing one, and one you may miss by just reading it at face value. Yes, there's more than meets the eye!

THE SECRET: Now here's the secret of Jonah and the whale. Although I believe the events of Jonah actually happened, God was using Jonah's life experiences to paint a picture, a prophecy, of things to come. Without even realizing it, Jonah was playing out a drama that was symbolizing something much larger. 

You see, the entire life story of Jonah is a living illustration, a condensed story, of the Jewish nation's ultimate rejection of Jesus, the Messiah! Here's what I mean. Look at it this way - Jonah represents the nation of Israel.

Jonah running from God points to the Jewish nation in the Old Testament turning away from God and toward idols. Jonah being swallowed by the whale is a picture of the Israelites taken captivity by the Babylonians. The whale spitting out Jonah is a picture of the Israelites being freed from captivity and returning to Jerusalem (Nehemiah rebuilding the wall). And Jonah rejecting God's mercy and grace on the Ninevites symbolizes the Jews', especially the Pharisees', ultimate rejection of God's offer, through Jesus, to save the Gentiles as well as the Jews. 

So, considering the above parallels, no wonder the book of Jonah ends the way it does. The ending makes perfect sense. And not only that, the book of Jonah contains something more - a prophecy within a prophecy. Jonah's three days inside the whale is the famous prophecy that Jesus Himself recognized as pointing to His three days in the grave and His ultimate resurrection from the dead. 

There's even another interesting twist to the story. In Jonah chapter four, when Jonah is sulking in anger, he leaves Nineveh and sits outside the city. However, God raises up a leafy plant to shade Jonah from the hot sun, but soon causes the plant to die. This could be a prophecy of the coming Messiah, who would be on earth only a short time to make an offer of peace and grace by dying on the cross. 

The book of Jonah is an amazing book of prophecy. Like many other Old Testament books, it hints of God's sovereign plan from the beginning of time - that He would send His one and only begotten Son, Jesus, to come to the earth to offer salvation to everyone who believes, both Jew and non-Jew alike. Praise God!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Psalm 9 Challenge

Do you want to take the Psalm 9 Challenge? Here it is: Memorize Psalm 9:1-2 and commit to each of the four action items found in these two verses. If you do, you will become great at praising the Lord. Not only that, I’m convinced your prayer life will improve, and your relationship with God will grow closer and closer. Here is Psalm 9:1-2 (NLT).

"I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart;
    I will tell of all the marvelous things you have done.
I will be filled with joy because of you.
    I will sing praises to your name, O Most High."

Psalm 9:1-2

Let's look at each action item, one at a time. 

Commitment #1:  "I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart."

The above statement is a great promise to keep. Praise Him with your all, with everything you are. Mean what you say, and make sure your praise is real and authentic, and not done out of habit, using vain repetition. Of course, the only way to really praise Him with all of your heart is to be in a loving relationship with Him. The more that relationship grows, the more you will want to praise Him.

Commitment #2:  “I will tell of all the marvelous things you have done.

When you come to love your Lord, you will not only want to praise Him, you will want to boast about Him. Not only that, you will want to boast about Him everyday. You won’t be able to keep quiet about Him, and that’s not a bad thing. Remember, when you share your praise of God with others, it uplifts not only God, but it uplifts the person you share it with.

Commitment #3:  “I will be filled with joy because of you.

Commit to being glad. That’s a simple but powerful statement. Sounds like a choice, doesn’t it? Try saying out loud, “I will be glad.” When you grasp what God has done for you, you cannot help but be filled with gratitude and thanksgiving. So be glad!

Not only should we commit to being glad, we should commit to rejoicing in Him. Remember, no matter what, even when your heart is breaking, your joy is still found in the Lord. Nothing can take that joy away. It’s an inner peace, it’s an inner hope. Rejoicing in Him transcends our life circumstances. God’s love is unfailing and unchanging in every situation. Praise Him for the joy and the inner peace that is found only in Christ. 

 Commitment #4: “I will sing praises to your name, O Most High.

When you get the chance, whether alone or in corporate worship, sing praises to Him. There is something special about singing, whether you can sing or not! God doesn’t really care if you sing in tune or not. He cares about your heart, and somehow music and singing can open the avenues to your heart. One thing that makes Sunday mornings so special is that it can be a time when voices blend as one in praise and worship to God. So go and participate, and when you sing, sing with gratitude in your heart. 

So that's it - the Psalm 9 Challenge. Memorize Psalm 9:1-2, and commit to each of the 4 action items.

Are you in?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

How To Salvage A Wrecked Life

Have you ever been to a local junkyard? I have. There you will see every kind of make and model of wrecked vehicles, from all different years of manufacture. Some small, some big, some rusted, and some just worn out. 

Another name for a junkyard is a salvage yard. It's called a salvage yard because it's a place where the parts and pieces of junked cars can be bought and reused - and in a sense, given new life. Salvaging these old cars is like rescuing them, transforming them. 

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the word salvage as a verb meaning to save something valuable from damage, destruction, or loss. Salvage comes from the old French "salver", to save. 

Until just recently, I never really equated the word "salvage" with the word "salvation". Notice the similarities in spelling? Up to now, salvation was that 'churchy' word that was something really good, but sort of obscure and hard to define. But now, I see the word salvation in a much different light. And it makes so much sense. That's because God is in the salvage business!

That's right! God is in the business of salvation - saving and restoring dented, bent, rusted, and for some, totally wrecked lives, salvaging them from destruction. Some call a junkyard a boneyard - a place where old cars are doomed, waiting to be crushed and melted down in a fiery furnace. God is able to save us from the fiery furnace, and offer us new, restored life. 

Because of sin, and we all sin, our lives become junked, both spiritually and physically. But here's the good news. We can be salvaged from the junkyard - the boneyard. God offers a way out. He offers new life, new hope, by giving us an opportunity to be rescued from being forever crushed, broken, and totally melted down (both physically and spiritually). 

The way it works is that God is willing to purchase everyone from the junkyard. That’s right - He is willing to redeem us, to salvage us. Salvation! The purchase price for us was very steep. It is the sacrifice of His one and only Son, Jesus, crucified on a cross. And if we accept His offer, through faith in Jesus, and baptized in His name, the punishment for our personal sins is transferred to Jesus. We are found forgiven, and adopted as sons and daughters of the King.

And just as Jesus was resurrected from the dead, we are resurrected from the boneyard, salvaged by God, and given a new life of peace, grace, and hope.  And not only that, we are given the gift of eternal life, resurrected from even death itself.

"Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Bible's Secret Password

Years ago, a password was a secret word that you said to someone when you tried to enter into a locked door. Today, the password has become a digital entry, and has taken hold of the world. Everyone uses a password. I even have a password to get to my passwords!

Some cars have door locks that require a password instead of a key. Passwords on some phones are evolving from digital entry to fingerprint recognition. And the new iPhone will be using facial recognition as the password. 

Surely passwords have come a long way. But they have existed in one form or another for centuries. The ancients used secret codes or symbols to communicate messages. When the padlock was invented, the internal tumblers were a kind of password. Then came the combination lock, opened by a numerical password. 

In my opinion, the Bible has a password. OK, maybe not literally. Anyone with access to a Bible can freely open it, and read it. But I'm talking about a password to open, not the Bible, but one's heart. 

There's a difference between reading the Bible academically as a historical record, and reading it at a much deeper, spiritual level. The correct password unlocks it. 

What is the secret password? I'll give you a hint. It consists of 7 Letters, all caps, and one special character. No numbers.

The password is: BELIEVE!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hurricane Harvey: The Goodness Of Man

During this past year, it just seems like the world has gone crazy. I can hardly watch the news anymore. There's hate, there's violence, there's stabbings, and killings. And it's all over the globe. Sometimes I wonder if the entire human race has gone mad. Maybe it's a sign of the end times! I don't know.

Is it that things are progressively getting worse, and people are becoming more evil? Or is it that we simply hear about all the bad news more quickly than ever before because of modern communication technology? Is anger and selfishness spreading rampant? Or is just a small minority magnified by the news media?

Honestly, I haven't quite figured out the answer. But then came Hurricane Harvey. Even with all the devastation and destruction, something good is emerging. It's called compassion. What's going on in the aftermath is giving me new hope for the human race. I see images of people helping people, regardless of race, religion, or politics!

I see the common everyday person volunteering to rescue people using boats, canoes, floating devices, and any means possible, even risking their own life in the process. I hear of people all over the country sending supplies and money to those suffering in Houston.

Maybe humans aren't inherently evil after all. And when it comes right down to it, could it be that there's goodness and kindness somewhere inside each person's heart waiting to come out? I think so, and that's what I want to take away from Hurricane Harvey.

The outreach shown by all those who are helping others reminds me of a story that Jesus told. It's the story of the good Samaritan who showed mercy to a stranger who was mugged, bandaging his wounds, then providing his food and lodging, while others wouldn't help, but passed him by.

There are many, many good Samaritans on display because of Hurricane Harvey, reaching out with compassion to those in need. We can learn from their actions.

The moral of the story of the good Samaritan:  Jesus said, "Go and do the same!" (Luke 10:37)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Solar Eclipse Should Be A Reminder!

As of this writing, a total Solar Eclipse is about to happen over a portion of our continent. It's an amazing, unusual event where the mid-day sun is blocked out. It occurs because of that rare moment when the moon passes directly in front of the sun.

In ancient days, it must have caused fear and confusion. Today, it is a predicted event that draws excitement and anticipation. Although it's a purely natural astronomical incident, the eclipse should remind believers of 3 spiritual truths: 

1) That through Jesus, the heavens and the earth were created

"Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth." (Colossians 1:15-16)

The sky above, whether it's a beautiful blue, or a colorful sunset, or the sun, moon, and stars, should be a constant reminder of His magnificent, creative powers. 

2) That Jesus Died On The Cross.

When Jesus was on the cross, it shook up the natural, as well as spiritual, world. For the three hours just before His death, starting at noon, darkness fell across the land. How symbolic, considering His was taking on the sins of the world. The mid-day solar eclipse should remind us of the cross. 

"At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock." (Matthew 27:45)

3) That Jesus is Coming Back Again!

There are many prophecies about the Final Day, when Jesus returns. The darkening of the sun during the eclipse should remind us of His future arrival. 

“Immediately after the anguish of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will give no light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." (Matthew 24:30)

So, if you are fortunate enough to experience the solar eclipse, even a partial one, let it remind you of Jesus: that He was involved in the creation, that He died on the cross for us, and that He is coming back again. 

Our response should be worship and praise.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

From Riches To Rags

You've probably heard the term "from rags to riches", describing how someone started out being poor and ultimately became very wealthy. Well, I'm going to flip that commonly used phrase, and change it to say "riches to rags", and apply it to a fundamental Christian truth. 

Now there are many fundamental Christian truths. Here are a few: Jesus is the Savior of the world, Jesus died for our sins on the cross, Jesus resurrected from the dead, Jesus ascended into heaven and is coming back again. 

But there is another fundamental truth of Christianity: Jesus is God in the flesh. That's right, Jesus, is Deity. He is part of the 3-fold God-head (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). When Jesus walked on earth, He was God in human form. 

If you really think about this truth, that Jesus is God, then you must conclude that Jesus existed before the creation of the world! And guess what? You would be right! 

"In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him."  (John 1:1-3)

There are many descriptive titles for Jesus in the Bible. One of my favorite titles is found in an Old Testament prophecy by Isaiah about the coming Messiah, Jesus. In this prophecy, Jesus is referred to as "the King of Glory". 

Here's the powerful realization that we can't help but conclude: The King of Glory purposely came to earth in human form with the intention of dying on the cross to pay for our sins! Jesus went from riches to rags! So that we could go from rags to riches! That truth is plainly stated in the following verse. 

"You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich." (2 Corinthians 8:9)

What this beautiful yet profound verse is saying is that Jesus, who was rich (existing in the heavenly realm), became poor for our sakes (purposely lowered Himself to a humble servant in human form), in order for us who believe in Him to become rich (acquiring His gracious gift of salvation). Wow! 

"Someone who was rich, decided to become poor,
so someone who was poor, could decide to become rich
Someone sacrificed, and gave His life away
Someone lost His life, so some may find the Way

Someone who was first, decided to become last, 
so someone who was last, could decide to become first
Someone sacrificed, and gave His life away
Someone lost His life, so some may find the Way

Someone from above, decided to come below
so someone from below, could decide to come above
Someone sacrificed, and gave His life away
Someone lost His life, so some may find the Way"

(lyrics from my original song "Rich Poor Rich")

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Five Minute Praise Break

Recently I was in Dallas, Texas, and visited "The Potter's House", the mega-church where T.D. Jakes preaches. I always wanted to go to a black church, but never had. It was their passion, excitement, singing, and inspiration that interested me. Well, I wasn't disappointed. Although T.D. Jakes wasn't preaching that Sunday, another preacher was filling in, and he was just as energetic and expressive as T.D. Jakes. And the fantastic worship music! Wow! It was truly the most inspirational worship service I've ever been to. 

What I really enjoyed was a particular moment in the middle of the preacher's sermon. He had gone on for about 30 minutes or so, and worked himself up into a frenzy. And as he was wiping the sweat off his brow, or I should say, his head, he suddenly broke his train of thought, stopped the sermon, and yelled, "I feel a 5-minute praise break coming on!" At that moment, the band broke into an upbeat instrumental, and he started dancing across the stage as the crowd went wild. After several minutes, the band stopped, and he stopped dancing, composed himself, and picked up the sermon where he had left off. 

This praise tangent that he went on was not the first of it's kind, however. It goes way, way back. In fact, the praise break was something the Apostle Paul did! That's right! The Bible records an incredible praise break by Paul himself. Now maybe his praise break wasn't in dance form, but it certainly was a praise break. It's found in the book of Romans. 

In Romans chapter 11, Paul is teaching a very important concept. He explains that because of the grace and mercy of God, salvation through Jesus Christ is offered to all, the Gentiles as well as the Jews, even though they were both disobedient. But suddenly, Paul stops his intense line of teaching and goes directly into a praise rant.  Here it is:

"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 'Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?' 'Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?' For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen." (Romans 11:33-36)

In the very next verse, which is Romans 12:1, he picks back up on his teaching about how we are to respond to the grace and mercy which he outlined in the previous chapter. The praise rant was like an interruption in his train of thought, but a great worshipful interruption at that. 

I just wonder how many times we do that. I bet not as often as God deserves. The next time you see God's hand at work around you or in your life, how about taking a moment, even if it's silently, to take a praise break. 

For example, when you see a beautiful sunset, don't just acknowledge how beautiful it is. Rather, take a moment and say a short praise rant, exclaiming how awesome God's creation is. Or when you realize one of your prayers has been answered, maybe just stop what you're doing, and repeat the words of Paul, "To him be the glory forever!"

Let's all get in the habit of taking a praise break once in a while. Even if it's just a short one. And if it's in dance form, all the better!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Tinkerer

Tinker - an interesting word, at least for me. Maybe it's because I can relate to it since I remember my father saying that word at lot, especially when he was trying to fix something. For example, if he was attempting to get an old clock working, he would say he was going to tinker with it a while. This usually meant that he didn't really expect to get it actually working, unless success happened by chance, or through perseverance of several tinkering episodes. Nonetheless, he would continue to tinker with various things. To my dad's credit, not everyone can tinker, it takes perseverance and patience, and he was a pro at it.

Another word my dad used a lot, especially when he went outside in the garage to see what he could get into, was the verb "putter around". He would say something like, "I'm going out to putter around for a while". That usually meant doing little things of little consequence. It was usually an act of randomly performing small, unplanned mediocre tasks, in no particular order.

A third word he used a lot was pretnear. Actually, it's more of a phrase. My dad would say something like, "He pretnear got the job done!" This word, I suppose, is an abbreviation for the phrase "pretty near", meaning almost.

I don't know if these words are specific to the area I grew up in (south central N.Y. state), or the time period I grew up in. But regardless, I look back at them with humor and nostalgia.

You are probably wondering how in the world those three words - (tinker - putter around - and pretnear) -  relate to anything spiritual. Well, they actually do. They apply to someone who takes the Bible, God's word, with a lackluster attitude. The word lackluster means exactly what it sounds like - lacking luster. In other words, an attitude lacking conviction or vitality. Here's how to apply those three words to Bible reading, in just one (run-on) sentence....

Don't tinker with God's Word like you don't really expect to get anything out of it, or
putter around in it with no real direction, and don't ever say, "I pretnear was persuaded to get serious about following the Way, the Truth, and the Life!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Amazing Tree Of Life

The garden was special in the sense that everything was perfect, lush, and full. And there were all kinds of trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. But there were two very unusual trees in the garden that stood out from the rest. In fact, they were supernatural trees that God had created.
One was called the Tree of Life. The other was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. 

Both trees were located right in the middle of the Garden of Eden, where God had placed Adam, the first man, to work it and take care of it. Adam was allowed to eat from any tree in the garden except one: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That's because if he ate from that tree, God had warned him that he would surely die.

God did, however, allow Adam to eat from the other supernatural tree: the Tree of Life. Actually, the Tree of Life had mysterious, extraordinary qualities, for if anyone ate from it, they would live forever! This tree not only sustained Adam's life, but sustained it eternally, as long as he continued to eat from it. 

Eventually, God created Eve, Adam's wife. You probably know the rest of the story. They both eventually disobeyed God's rule, and deceived by Satan's words, they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Everything went downhill from there. Death, and sin itself, came into a perfect world. And the effects are with each of us today. Not only is physical death the destiny of every person, but spiritual death is a real possibility because of the effects of sin. 

As a sentence, a penalty for their sin, Adam and Eve were not only kicked out of the beautiful, luscious Garden of Eden, but they were prevented from eating from the Tree of Life. God placed special angels, cherubim, along with a flaming sword that constantly flashed back and forth to guard the way to the tree. And without eating from that tree, Adam and Eve could not live forever. 

And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22-24)

Adam and Eve eventually died, never able to eat again for the Tree of Life. The life sustaining tree was gone from this earth forever. Or was it? If you think about it closely, the Tree of Life actually did return, though in a completely different form. It came back as a tree alright, but this special tree took on a new shape - the shape of a cross! The cross of Christ is our Tree of Life. 

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

That's right, God offers once again the opportunity to live forever! But it's not because we earned that right. Instead, God's offer is called grace, and it's only accessible through Jesus dying on the cross. We are no longer condemned because of our sin, instead we are offered forgiveness because Jesus paid the penalty, the price, to free us from our sins. The price was His life. 

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

Jesus' sacrifice was huge. Through the cross, He was able to reverse the consequences of Adam's sin!

"For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous." (Romans 5:19)

And because we are reconciled with God through Jesus, we will live eternally with Him in Heaven after we leave this world. And guess what? There in Heaven, everything comes full circle. We get the Tree of Life back! 

"Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever." (Revelation 22:1-5)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Dumb Ass Speaks!

The Dumb Ass Speaks!

I must say, I have debated whether or not to use "The Dumb Ass Speaks" as the title for this article. And I can't tell you how many times I have laughed hysterically over it, because I know what it may initially imply - that I'm talking about a particular person who is saying something absolutely stupid. And what's funny is that I'm not talking about a person at all, but a donkey!  

The word donkey or ass is interchangeable. The word 'ass' is actually derived from the last word in the species classification, Equus Africanus Asinus. That particular word "asinus" is where the word "asinine" comes from, which means extremely or utterly foolish. A great word if you ask me, and a truly hilarious one as well.

In our language, a male donkey is called a 'jack', thus a jack-ass. A female donkey is called a 'jennet'. A 'mule' is a cross between a jackass and a female horse. A 'hinny' is a cross between a jennet and a male horse.

I remember as a young boy, saying something foolish, and being told, "Don't be a jackass." Sometimes it was shortened it to, "Don't be an ass." When I reflect back on those words, I now laugh out loud.

Over the years, the poor donkey has gotten a notoriously bad rap for being stubborn, headstrong, and downright pigheaded. However, there's an interesting explanation for why they are sometimes that way. When a donkey perceives something as dangerous, of if they become scared, it's almost impossible to make them move towards it. It's an instinctive reaction.

Around the mid-1800's, the term 'donkey' became a more common term instead of 'ass'. The King James Version of the Bible, originally written in 1611, actually uses the word 'ass' instead of 'donkey'. And it seems to me that most people who are quoting a verse from the King James Bible containing this word, hesitate from saying it out loud, for fear that someone might chuckle. Most modern versions of the Bible substitute the word donkey instead.

There is even a Christmas carol that uses the word 'ass'. And many are too embarrassed to sing the verse that contains that word. It's found in the song, "What Child Is This", written in 1865. Verse two of the song goes like this, "Why lies He in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding? Good Christian, fear: for sinners here, the silent Word is pleading."

The word I use in the title, dumb, is not referring to stupid, but speechless - unable to talk - as in deaf and dumb. So when I say that the dumb ass speaks, what I'm saying is that a donkey, who of course can't speak, actually talks out loud. It's the miracle of a talking donkey - a dumb ass speaks. And what we only see in cartoons, or movies, actually really happened. This fascinating miracle is recorded in detail in the Bible. It's the story of Balaam and his donkey.

Here's the background for the story...... the king of the Moabites was afraid that the Israelites, God's chosen people, were going to take his land, so he sent for a man named Balaam to curse the nation of Israel. Balaam started on his journey to meet the king. Obviously, this was against God's will. So here's how God stopped Balaam. 

So the next morning Balaam got up, saddled his donkey, and started off with the Moabite officials. But God was angry that Balaam was going, so he sent the angel of the Lord to stand in the road to block his way. As Balaam and two servants were riding along, Balaam’s donkey saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road with a drawn sword in his hand. The donkey bolted off the road into a field, but Balaam beat it and turned it back onto the road. Then the angel of the Lord stood at a place where the road narrowed between two vineyard walls. When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, it tried to squeeze by and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall. So Balaam beat the donkey again. Then the angel of the Lord moved farther down the road and stood in a place too narrow for the donkey to get by at all. This time when the donkey saw the angel, it lay down under Balaam. In a fit of rage Balaam beat the animal again with his staff.

Then the Lord gave the donkey the ability to speak. “What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?” it asked Balaam. “You have made me look like a fool!” Balaam shouted. “If I had a sword with me, I would kill you!”  “But I am the same donkey you have ridden all your life,” the donkey answered. “Have I ever done anything like this before?”  “No,” Balaam admitted.

Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the roadway with a drawn sword in his hand. Balaam bowed his head and fell face down on the ground before him. “Why did you beat your donkey those three times?” the angel of the Lord demanded. “Look, I have come to block your way because you are stubbornly resisting me. Three times the donkey saw me and shied away; otherwise, I would certainly have killed you by now and spared the donkey.” (Numbers 22:21-33)

If you read the next few chapters, you will find that the Lord eventually allows Balaam to go ahead and meet the king of Maob, but his mission is totally reversed. He goes not to curse Israel, but conversely, God gives Balaam the words to deliver 7 messages that proclaim that Israel is God's chosen, blessed nation. And the messages ultimately even predict the destruction of the Moabites! 

When we look back on our lives, sometimes we can see how we once were headed in the wrong direction ourselves, maybe living against God's will. Maybe we were once ignoring God, or even living as opposed to Him. But Jesus has the power to change lives. And perhaps you are not who you used to be. And like Balaam, your mission, your purpose in life, your words and actions now proclaim God's glory, not go against it. I hope this describes you.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Has Anyone Seen God Lately?

So....have you seen God lately? I know, "It's impossible for anyone to actually see God." Well, that's true, literally, at least in this physical life. OK, so we can't literally see the ever-present, invisible God. How, then, do we "see" the One who is invisible? It's very possible, you know.

Things that are invisible are easily overlooked and ignored. I suppose that's a natural human tendency. After all, we live and function in a physical reality. However, the physical reality is not the only reality! There is a spiritual reality - one that we cannot see, but is just as real as the physical reality. Actually, the spiritual reality may be the "real" reality because it is the eternal one, the everlasting one, while the physical reality is really only temporary. 

There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that proves the invisible is real, and this evidence is all around us, every day. Just think about what's invisible, besides the spiritual. For example, everyday you probably use your cell phone. If you had special magic glasses that could see cell phone signals, you would be overwhelmed by the intensity and volume of them coming back and forth in the space all around you. The same holds true for radio waves, over-the-air television signals, and every other mode of communication that is out there. You can't see the signals, but you can be sure they exist. Just because something is invisible, it does not mean it is not real. 

How about sound itself? Sound waves are invisible, yet when they reach our ears, we hear them. Another example is wind. We can't see wind, but we sure can see the evidence of wind - trees moving, objects being blown around. We can even feel the wind - it's invisible, but it sure is real.

This idea that there is evidence of an invisible reality holds true for the spiritual realm as well. You just need to open your eyes to see Him, or at least see the evidence of Him, at work. Sometimes, in the moment, you don't realize God is actively working in your life. Sometimes He doesn't show up in the way you expect Him to. There was a time when the prophet Elijah was waiting for the Lord to show up. Well, the Lord did show up, but in a totally different way than expected. Instead of with power and force, the Lord showed up in a very subtle whisper. 

 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord. Look, the Lord is ready to pass by.” A very powerful wind went before the Lord, digging into the mountain and causing landslides, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the windstorm there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire, there was a soft whisper. (1 Kings 19:11-12)

There are times, however, when the Lord does actually show up right on the spot, in real time! Maybe it's in a moment of worship when you feel His Spirit touch you. Or maybe, it's a real-life situation when the impossible dilemma is solved in front of your eyes. Or maybe it's a close call where you've escaped danger and felt His protection. Or immediate provision when you were totally without some essential. Or immediate answered prayer. Or when you've experienced His blessings, His love, and His grace pouring down on you. Or in a moment of experiencing peace, knowing that He is with you.  

More often that not, though, reflecting back on your life is what brings out the realization that the Lord's hand was at work all along. It's the looking back in your past that prompts you to begin to see that He was with you all the time. Or that He got you through the tough times. Or that it was Him who worked things out for you  - things that seemed impossible at the time, or beyond all probability of happening. Or that He blessed you beyond what you could ever have possibly imagined or hoped for.

And what's amazing is that the more you begin to recognize the Lord's hand at work in your life, whether in real time, or reflecting back, the more clearly you begin to see Him. 

As Christ followers, we realize that we are children of God, adopted as His children. We are sons and daughters of the King of all kings, the Lord of all lords. And because of His grace, mercy, and love, He cares for us, He wants the best for us, and He wants to work things in our favor, as a loving father does for his children. One thing is for sure, if you are one of His, you can be sure that He will never leave you or forsake you. 

So what should be your response when you become aware of the Father's hand at work in your life, whether in the moment, or reflecting back? Stop what you're doing - and praise Him, and worship Him. And don't be afraid to boast to others about what you have seen Him do in your life - it gives Him glory, and encourages others in their own faith.

And as for now, keep your eyes open!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Another Bible TV Show To Drive Me Nuts!

I was flipping through the channels and came across this TV show, in progress. I could only stand 3 minutes of it, literally. My wife, in the other room, heard me repeatedly yelling out loud  phrases like, "you've got to be kidding", "this is ridiculous", "what?!!!", "give me a break", "I can't believe what I'm hearing!"

When she came into the room to see what was going on, I reversed my DVR to show her the 3 minute segment I had just watched. The show was called "Secrets Of The Bible - The Staff Of Moses", on AHCTV, originally aired 12/14/14. It was obviously a rerun, but it was the first time I saw it. I don't usually watch TV documentaries concerning the Bible because they drive me crazy on how inaccurate and misleading most of them are. Oh, they look good with nice visual effects. And they sound good with dramatic music. But don't let that fool you. They usually totally misrepresent the Bible. As far as this show, it didn't take me long to see the problem.

I'm going to give you direct quotes from the short 3-minute segment I saw. When I tuned in, the narrator was talking about the staff of Moses. Describing the staff, he said, "it becomes Moses' supernatural weapon."  Supernatural weapon? You've got to be kidding. Then right after that he said, "if we are to believe what we're told in the Old Testament, the staff of Moses became the most powerful artifact in History."  Then, talking about Moses' confrontation with Pharaoh, the narrator said, "time and time again, Moses uses his staff to threaten him." 

Do you see what is being implied here? Do you see the problem with this show's narrative? God is taken right out of the picture. It's not God performing the miracles through Moses, but this show is attributing everything to the physical staff of Moses!

I wasn't just imagining that. It wasn't because I was over critical. It really became clear in the next clip I saw. It was a brief commentary by Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulo, of the University of Exeter. Her credentials sound really impressive, don't they? Here is her direct quote, "Moses is a ritual(?) specialist. He pulls out all sorts of magical tricks to try to intimidate Pharaoh." 

What!? Magical tricks? Give me a break! The plagues aren't magical tricks - they are miracles by the power of God. Moses is not a magician. God is displaying His power and will through Moses. The truth is, for every plague, God tells Moses ahead of time exactly what He is going to do. For each miracle, God commands Moses what to do and say. It's not Moses who's in control. It's not Moses who has the power. And it's certainly not the staff that is some sort of magical wand. But that's exactly what this show's narrative implies.

Then the narrator continued, "but then Moses says, 'I can do far more with this staff'". Stop! Wait a minute! Did you catch that quote? "I can do far more with this staff." Where does he get this? Let me know if you can find this quote from Moses in the Bible. You can't! For one thing, Moses would never say that. It would be blasphemy against God - against acknowledging the sovereignty of God. And to usurp such power from God, and attribute it to himself would have dire consequences for Moses. Moses, as well as the staff, could do absolutely nothing without God. Moses would never boast those words. 

I could hardly stand it, but I let the show run another minute or so. Here's what I heard the narrator say next, "Moses unleashed plagues of hail and darkness." Let me ask you, who unleashed the plagues? Moses or God? 

About 3 minutes into the clip came the coup de gras - the grand finale - the finishing blow as far as I was concerned. I could stand it no more after I heard this statement from the narrator when he described the splitting of the Red Sea. "Once again Moses' staff comes to the rescue. It's the most amazing display of power in the Old Testament."

Hold it!!! Moses' staff comes to the rescue? Really? Wow. I'm in awe of his staff. Think of what it could do if we had this magical staff today! Think of it's power. The wizardry of Moses is amazing! Not!!!!!!!!!!

Remember, this all occurred in just a 3 minute segment!!! I wouldn't dare guess how the show went after that, but I can imagine. 

Here's my advice to you, and to the narrators of this show. Read Exodus chapters 7 through 11 for yourself!!! And see what conclusions you make about God, about Moses, and about the staff. And here's another piece of advice if you watch any of these TV Bible shows. Be skeptical of what they are portraying as truth.

I feel better now. I got this one off my chest. This show segment drove me nuts. I hope it would do the same for you too.