Christmas Means Nothing if Not True

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It’s that time of year again when the whole world will cease from their labors to ponder and celebrate this thing we refer to as Christmas.  It is of all days of the year, a most honored and sacred tradition, especially for those who still consider the wonder of the first Christmas and the significant history changing impact it had on a world, and individually to all who choose to believe.  Sadly, however, there are still those who refute the story and indeed the entirety of Scripture as wholly fictitious, a collection of handed down fables and legends, if you will, with no credible evidence or factual basis.  While each of us are guaranteed the right to our beliefs, or lack thereof, it is sad to consider how many are missing out on something so wonderful and life changing simply because they refuse to accept the preponderance of evidence that exists to the contrary.

This week I was privy to such opinions as expressed on social media.  The overwhelming number of original copies of Scripture and many archeological finds show sound support for many of the stories recorded in the Bible, too many to blindly disregard if one is truly being objective.  First, let’s measure the accuracy and legitimacy of the Bible based solely on literary standards accepted by scholars who define historic credibility.  Homer’s Iliad, long recognized as an accurate and accepted historic document, can only produce a little over 600 original copies, with the amount of time between the original writing and the first known copy being well over 1,000 years.  Much of the original Iliad is filled in because of missing original texts.  In contrast, there exists today over 6,300 original copies of the Bible, with the amount of time between the original writing and the first known copy being not 1,000 years, but a mere 60!  In addition, out of 31,103 original verses that make up the Bible, all but 11 are accounted for!  This then  makes the Bible 99.965% complete! So by any literary standard, secular or otherwise, the credibility of the Bible and it’s stories can not be challenged.

In addition to the staggering number of copies available, there are also non-biblical references made to the stories by early and recognized historians.  From Tacitus in the first century:

Nero fastened the guilt . . . on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of . . . Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome. .

From Pliny the Younger in 112 AD:

They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food–but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.

From Josephus’s writings, Jewish Antiquities:

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he . . . wrought surprising feats. . . . He was the Christ. When Pilate . . .condemned him to be crucified, those who had . . . come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared . . . restored to life. . . . And the tribe of Christians . . . has . . . not disappeared.

So you can see just from these three examples that Jesus and his life and movement have nonbiblical documentation by accepted historians.  There are many more such nonbiblical recordings available for review and accepted as accurate. But let’s go further and examine some key archeological finds that support Biblical stories.

In 1968 in Jerusalem contractors discovered an ossuary (bone box) containing the remains of a man aged between 24-28. A spike was discovered driven through his left heel with  piece of the olive wood cross still attached.  To date this is the only evidence found that supports the Roman crucifixion as described in the New Testament, and proof that criminals were not left to rot on the cross but buried, just as scripture indicates took place with Jesus.

In 1986 a severe drought caused the Sea of Galilee to drop to record lows, revealing the remains of a well-preserved 27′ fishing boat buried in the mud, dating back to the days of Jesus. It was discovered near Migdal, or Magdaline in ancient times, from where mary Magdaline was from. Pots and pans found next to the boat, along with radiocarbon dating confirm its age.  The boat easily holds 15 grown men, which would be enough for Jesus and his 12 disciples.

In 2004 near Hezekiah’s water tunnel near Jerusalem archeologists discovered the lost Pool of Siloam mentioned in the recording of one of the many miracles of Jesus. Coins found intact within the pool walls date the pool to years immediately before and after Christ.

In 2009 archeologists found the first and only known housing structure from the ancient city of Nazareth, a city some suggest never existed because there is so little mention of it in historic documents outside of the Christmas story.

In 2012 the Israeli Antiquities Society announced the find of a 2700 year old bulla in the city of Jerusalem.  A bulla was a clay stamp used to seal a document or container.  On this bulla was stamped the insignia for the town of Bethlehem, the first known discovery from the city of Jesus’s birth, again significant because so little is known or recorded in history about Bethlehem outside of the Bible story.

Biblical archeology is fascinating and there are many finds, too many to list here, that support stories, cities, and people described within the Bible.  So, we have discussed accepted literary standards supporting scripture, nonbiblical records of its stories and tangible, hold-in-your-hands archeological finds-all evidence of the credibility of scripture and the Christmas story.  But is there more?  Only if you choose to believe.

It is hard for a believer to adequately explain to an unbeliever that undeniable sensation that wells up within the heart and soul when we see the miracles of love, of restoration, of release from the guilt of a sinful life-the joy and tears of singing a song of worship with other believers.  It’s hard to describe the peace when going through life’s most difficult moments or the true hope of all Christians of being reunited with beloved family members who have passed on.  These things require faith in things not seen, not recorded, not found in digs.  And yet, this is the magic and wonder of Christmas!  It remains a time when all the world,  regardless of religion, race, creed or nationality, feels at the same time, the charitable expressions of love, peace and goodwill, a day, if you please, when God opens up heaven to remind us all, believers or not, that he and all he stands for and represents, is real, that his Son existed and exists, and that the hope of the message of God With Us, Emmanuel, is wrapped up in this one very special, very sacred and holy day we celebrate, Christmas!

I want to wish each of my followers a very Merry and Blessed Christmas this year.  It has and will always be a pleasure writing for you and I am truly honored and humbled that you choose to follow me from literally across the globe.  My books, My Soul Cries Out and Sex Begins in the Kitchen are available on Amazon.  Christmas love to you all!

 

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Politics-“Be Not Entangled…”

2 Timothy 2:4; “a good soldier of Jesus Christ does not get entangled in the affairs of this life or he would fail to please his commander (Christ)”.

A good friend asked me earlier why I don’t get as worked up over politics as some of my other friends do.  I took it as outward evidence of my maturing, at least in this area.  I’ve posted about it many times before, the ugly partisan nature of the binary political war that so many are so passionate about.  The name-calling, the stone casting, the Unfriending sometimes necessary for peace-all a juvenile embarrassment when observed from the outside, and yet without it, there would be virtually no cable or internet news stations, and only about half of the daily social media posts or tweets .  And, dare I suggest it, far too many professed Christ believers have become “entangled” and ensnared in all the ugly behind the scenes drama that is American politics.

Let me clarify, lest I too be on the receiving end of a few cast stones-I am all for political activism as it pertains to our voting privileges and supporting candidates in elections who mirror your feelings on certain issues.  I am grateful to live in a country where we have the right to be ugly over politics-it could be much worse.  Many good men, women, blacks, whites, Americans and foreigners, paid a high price so that we might be a part of a representative form of government wherein we can choose who we want to represent us.  One can never be faulted for exercising their individual right to vote, and neither can, or should, anyone be faulted for abstaining from voting, regardless of the ridiculous arguments zealous activists will use to guilt you for abstaining.  But from the beginning until now, polling has been a highly personal and discreet process.  Hell, even on Survivor, the ballots are kept secret.  It is a sacred process that should be carried out according to true personal conviction and not popular social pressure.  But we have turned that process into a post-election feud worthy of Hatfield-McCoy status.  Why?

This is just one reason why I no longer get worked up over political banter.  In the past two thousand years of recorded history, has anything really changed?  Are people still murdered in the U.S.?  Have burglaries and theft been halted?  Do certain people still discriminate because of ethnical differences?  Are people still hungry and homeless? Is the quality of education the same for all or equal to income brackets?  With all the elevated blood pressures, nothing has really changed in 2000 years.  If you were obese and unhealthy under Clinton or Reagan, you are probably still the same under Obama or Trump.  If you were financially successful under Carter or Nixon, you are probably still successful under Bush or Ford.  The truth is, if we are to be honest, our individual lives are never really impacted due to who or what is in office.  If one relies on the government to be their only source and recourse for everything good in life, they will never be adequately cared for, and if one is self or God sufficient regardless of political affiliation, they will always be okay.  Does that make any sense?

“Oh, Papajoe, but Romans 13 says God ordains all government!  And moreover, God puts all people in power according to his will.”  Uh, no, that’s just bad religion.  It’s funny that so many are convinced God puts US Presidents in place, but not Hitlers or Hussains or Castros, as if America is now the chosen nation.  God, because of our lack of total trust in him, instituted a human form of oversight for civil protection.  However, God would never have endorsed all the deal-making, finger-crossing, back-stabbing  entanglements that are the very nature of the political machine we have now.  In almost every aspect, this slaps in the face of everything the Gospel is all about, as do many of the current policies.  We are to obey the laws of the land as long as they do not conflict with the laws of God.  But if you are a good political soldier, you can only love your neighbor if they are not aliens.  You can demand that the government take care of the poor and hungry so you can feel you fed them vicariously through the system of taxation and no more. We can deny basic humanitarian medical aid to someone if they can’t pay or have no state-sponsored insurance.  We can profess our faith, but not in a way that would make it in any way superior to any other religion-tolerate all views as equal.  Everyone gets a participation trophy when your time comes. What we have done to religion, we have done to politics, by touting bad religion as justification.

To be blunt, whether the person at the top is black, white or orange, the importance doesn’t resonate with someone fighting through a terminal disease.  Red or Blue means little to someone who goes through life feeling like an invisible vapor due to loneliness.  Left or right, liberal, moderate or conservative, is the last thing on the mind of someone dealing with a spouse or child with addictions or that person who just can’t find a decent job, or worse, the one who has lost all hope and is having one last drink before they down a bottle of sleeping pills to put their misery to a final rest. This, my good friend, is why I am no longer a political standard bearer who loses sleep over social policy or world affairs.  Yes, I want peace, but “in as much as it is within you, live at peace with your neighbor” is my God-standard, not world summits. Yes, I want to end hunger, but “when you give to the least of these my brothers” is my policy, not entitlements.  Yes, I want to see an eventual end to hatred and bigotry, but “love they neighbor as thyself” is a God thing, not a social media thing.  It matters not to me who is in office, my daily mandates come from a much higher commander-in-chief than one who is mistakenly elevated as the appointed one we may or may not have voted for.  But when we begin to see each other and moreover, formulate unjust opinions about their character, just because of who they support politically, we have become the blind leading the blind, discarding the truth for a bit of an increase in personal mammon. There is a reason you can’t serve both!

This cruel life has way too many existing webs to navigate without getting entangled in civilian affairs we may never change.  My political apathy is a personal choice.  Your opinion of that choice is your choice.  I don’t have nightmares over childish tweets or the latest missteps of a polarizing POTUS.  I don’t dread tomorrow because of which “side” has control of Congress.  I have many issues right now with God-he knows, but regardless of how I vote or whose in charge down here, God is my constant, my boss, my CO.  I’ll do well to continue to take my direction from him and avoid the entanglements of the political arena.  That, is why I no longer get caught up in the façade of political policy.

“He Will Wipe Every Tear From Their Eyes”

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It’s a beautiful sunny afternoon.  It’s Valentine’s Day and your shift is just about over.  Your thoughts are on sharing some simple tokens commemorating the day with your family and reading the hand-made cards your kids always make for you each year. It’s one of those simple traditions that you embrace and hold dear. But then, the unthinkable-that phone call you always heard about but hoped to never receive.  There has been a shooting at your child’s school and you need to pick them up at a designated safe place as soon as possible.  You leave without even clocking out and rush to the scene while battling the invasion of images from similar events that have played out before, and praying with all your might that your child is safe and waiting for your arrival.

The first bus of students arrives at the designated rendezvous sight and you anxiously wait for your child to exit.  They aren’t on this bus but that’s ok-it’s a large school and it may take several busses to vacate them all from campus.  The second bus arrives but they aren’t on that one either.  Then the third, the fourth, and so on until all the students have been located and reunited with their families…except your child.  There must be another explanation, you tell yourself-maybe they escaped into a local neighborhood or retail store and are on their way home.  But, there is no response to your calls or texts.  Perhaps in a panic they dropped their phone-it’s ok-surely they are safe someplace and just need to be picked up.  You wait-you pace-you talk to your child’s classmates to see if they know anything.  One of them breaks into uncontrolled sobbing as they try to utter the words, “they are still in there”! Your day, your life, your entire universe just changed forever. Your child isn’t coming home today.

I have tried to put myself in the shoes of a parent living out this nightmare as yet another tragic school shooting unfolds.  I can’t comprehend the emotional trauma of losing a child to such a senseless act of cowardice and evil at the hands of a person who is less than human and has no business carrying a weapon onto a school campus.  Whenever possible I strive to use my blog to encourage others with positive words of hope as we all deal with real-life challenges and tragedies we can’t adequately explain.  But on days like today, even a writer and artist of written expression has no words that will make any sense or remove any of the thousands of tears that will be shed over the coming days.  As a resident of Las Vegas and witness to our own similar mass shooting just last October, my heart goes out to the families, the friends, the first responders and all who are and will be forever changed by yesterday’s malicious and hateful act of evil.

I’m haunted and troubled by the early reports that the unnamed gunman had been reported to authorities on more than one occasion prior to yesterday’s attack.  I’m haunted and troubled that social media posts from this person showing guns, hate symbols and red-flag signals were ignored or unreported by the usually vigilant social media police.  I’m haunted and troubled that in an age where we have already seen 18 school shootings since the beginning of 2018, not even two months, that anyone could have walked onto a school campus in any city America with an AR-15 Assault rifle, entirely unnoticed and unchallenged.  And I’m haunted and troubled by a society whose cries for tolerance and rights and political correctness are given more consideration than the cries of grieving parents or their lost children, who although born with the same rights, will never appreciate or experience their individual liberties because we adults did a poor job of protecting the defenseless.

I don’t want to use my blog for this purpose-there is enough sadness and grief in our world to have to stop and address this, but today I am compelled to lend my small voice to advocate for my grandchildren, your children and grandchildren-our kids.  We will have our moments of silence for the departed, we will offer our “thoughts and prayers” like a “God bless you” after a sneeze-we will pretend to hold special meetings behind closed doors in an appearance of real concern or policy change, but nothing – absolutely nothing will be done to protect our children.  Profit trumps controls; rights trump accountability; civil liberties trump common-sense safety measures; lobbyists trump grieving family members; fear of being labeled as a hater trumps fear of loss of life due to inaction or alerts, and the beat goes on.  If the blood-bathed bodies of dead first-graders resulted in non-action, we have become no better than the worst third-world terrorist country.  God helps us.

And yet there must be some words we can cling to in these times of senseless tragedy.  In the Biblical book of John, Jesus is called to the tomb of his departed friend Lazarus.  Jesus knows that he held the power of life and death in his divine hands and that his friend was going to miraculously live again.  And yet we are told in the passage that when Jesus saw the sorrow and the tears of friends and loved ones mourning over the death of Lazarus, he too wept with them.  Jesus was deeply moved at the brokenhearted cries of mourning that resulted from earthly death.  I am convinced that he still mourns with us and indeed is shedding tears even now as he welcomes many of these victims into paradise but sees and hears the tears of those they left behind.  There is little else we can hold onto in times like these when words and expressions are woefully inadequate and ineffective.  We are to mourn with those who mourn, and to comfort those with the same comfort we have received, and we are to fervently pray for all who are affected by this, another unexplainable tragedy.  The peace and solace that these grieving families need today and over the next few difficult weeks can only come from God, who sees our tears and mends broken hearts.  But, it’s time we force our leaders to hear our cries for radical change.  If I have to go through a metal detector to go to a club, a government building, an airport or even a local high school football game, our school campuses where our children attend each day should be no less safe and monitored.  We need to scream over the voices that would silence us so that we can look forward to and expect the safe return of our kids at the end of any school day in America.  We need to put names and faces with the victims so that they are more than just a meaningless statistic.  We need to view these victim lists as if the name of our own children are among them and act and respond accordingly.  It’s not someone else’s problem-it doesn’t happen just in Detroit or Chicago or Vegas or LA.  Please, please, stand up for our children-the lives we save may be those who share our own last names!

Father, we humbly and sorrowfully implore you today to comfort the grieving families and friends of all affected by yesterday’s events, and to compel us to take action in protecting your children.

 

Hatred and Rejection, a Love Deficiency

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As I witnessed the events of the Virginia Riots this weekend, coupled with issues I’m dealing with on a personal level, I am left with an overwhelming sorrow at the realization of a world where proactive and unconditional love are becoming as outdated as hand-written letters and leather-bound Bibles. My heart aches at the display of violence and hatred based solely on a person’s melanin or what country they were born in or who and how they worship.  Who are these people that they would hijack an entire ethnic group and claim supremacy as if they accurately represent us all?  The widespread wounds of racism will never heal because of the radical ideology of a relative few, but a few too many.

My stomach turns when I hear the term Christian Nazi or I see KKK members carrying the cross of my Savior as if He would ever endorse such hatred or twisted theology. You absolutely can not hate your neighbor, your brother, your ex, your boss, a nation or an administration and wear the sash of Christianity!  It is inconsistent with all we believe and all the words left behind by Him whose name we bear.  If you are marching for any movement claiming superiority over any other group based on skin color, gender, religion or nationality while claiming Christianity, STOP IT-you are a liar and are deceiving yourself.  And if you are endorsing such hatred, either actively or passively by non-action, then you too need to check yourself.  Christians are called to abhor all evil, hatred and injustice.  “To he who knows to do right but does it not., it’s a sin”.

Perhaps it’s hitting a bit close to home because I know the pain of rejection, when those who should love you suddenly reject and turn away from you.  Pure, unadulterated love is such a precious commodity in this age. Loving just because, loving others especially when they are somehow different, honoring vows meant for a lifetime are not stories that make headlines.  Whether you have been rejected by a spouse, a parent, someone of a different color or anyone close to you, the hole left in the heart knows no bottom. When I see these violent protests, or lonely people on the street I see a complete deficiency of love.  Love eradicates hate-love gives comfort to a lonely heart-love frees the soul held captive by evil ideology-love truly can conquer anything, if and where it exists.  Sadly, in too many situations, the perfect love that casts out fear is being crushed and compacted by the overwhelming weight of a dark heart doing the bidding of an evil ruler bent on our destruction by way of starvation and deficiency. When a person or a group of people have been beat down so many times their will to fight back eventually becomes compromised and the light of their love lamps so desperately needed is soon extinguished.  What are we doing to each other? It ought not to be this way.

I may or may not be around for any long period of time-only my Maker knows for sure. But when my time comes, I want to be remembered as someone who loved, someone in whom no hate was found or in any way manifested. I want to know I did something positive or left something behind for my kids and grandkids that showed them love still wins out and is not something to be feared but rather embraced. There will be a day, whether you choose to believe it or not, when we will have to stand before the author and the perfector of love and give an account on how we distributed the sacrifice of love He freely provided us.  Every word, deed, action of lack thereof will be recalled and an explanation will be demanded.  If you count yourself among any hate group, I fear for you on that terrible day. Scripture says that many will say “Lord, Lord” but will be turned away.  If you claim a cross but carry a Nazi flag, God have mercy on you!  If you claim the name of Christ but hide behind a sheet or a hood, Lord have mercy. If you take up space behind a pulpit but shout hate against your brother or sister, there will be a special place reserved for you.  If you claim righteousness but have hatred for anyone, you can not take part in any eternal reward or kingdom.

I wish with all I have that love always won, that love always lasted, that rejection and abandonment never existed, that differences could be celebrated and not marched against.  I wish my heart was not so heavy at the reality of hurt, of fear, of loneliness, of being isolated because you are for any reason not worthy of love. I wish I could hold all those who feel as I do just to say, “me too”.  I wish I had the power to stop hatred dead in its tracks and reverse the damage done when any one person is rejected by any other person.  But all I have are my words, this small platform, a few faithful followers who for whatever reason choose to read my musings each week. So I will use that which I have to disavow myself from any appearance of hatred on any level and I encourage you to do the same. God sees the brokenhearted and hears their cries and heals all their wounds. Let our will be to be used as a healing instrument in His hands whenever and wherever hatred is rampant.

The Church and Politics-The Great Polarization

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Hello.  My name is Joe and I’m a former ditto-head (hello Joe).  I’ve been politically sober now for almost two years. (Applause, yada, yada).  I was a proud follower of all things Rush Limbaugh but I have since given away my personal copies of The Way Things Ought to Be and See, I Told You So.  However I still enjoy a good Arturo Fuente cigar, which Rush turned me on to.

It is that time again, you know the one, when many of the faith for whatever reason put aside all thy have learned, or should have learned about their eternal status in Christ and take up arms and soap boxes in support of their favorite candidate and make claims based on social media memes and the usual talking heads of the propaganda machine that is the American political system.  Yes, thank God for every brave man and woman who fought for or died that we might live in a country where we can openly campaign for and support the candidates of our choice-this is in no way a knock on our freedom to cast ballots and select leaders.  We are much more fortunate in that respect than most countries around the globe.  But I can’t help but feel that many of us play right into  the hands of those running for office who have little real concern for our religious affiliation or core beliefs, and why should they, when we leave them at the doors of our local balloting locations.

Yes, not long ago I was a devout ditto-head (that’s a supporter of Rush Limbaugh for those in Yorba Linda).  I couldn’t understand how my Christian brother or sister could call themselves Christian but vote for this person or that person. I dreaded what would happen to me if this person was elected or how my relationship with those of the other side of the aisle would be impacted once the elections were over.  But then an amazing thing happened at about age 52-I Grew Up!  I realized that I had lived through several Presidents that I didn’t support, but I was still the same-my personal situation had not been affected in any great means at all-amazing.  But I was so sure that the country would go to hell in a hand basket if this guy won office-what happened? I didn’t have to move to Canada, change churches or renounce my political views, and I was still here and not in a bread line-wow!

Here’s what I finally came to understand-I am a proud citizen of the USA, born in the State of Indiana.  However, my REAL citizenship as a follower of Christ is not of this world. While I need to understand and choose to take part in the political process, my fate is not held in the hands of a Republican or a Democrat, a socialist or a conservative, the red side or the blue side. I am constantly reminded through the Word that God is my protector and provider and He directs my path and dictates my future, not the Senate Majority.  Here are a few verses that we all quote but somehow disregard during campaign season:

“And My God (not the POTUS) will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus”…Philippians 4:19

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying “what shall we eat?” or “what shall we drink?” or “what shall we wear?”. (or what if so and so wins office) . our Heavenly Father knows what you need”   Matthew 6:31

If you then who are (Dems or Repubs) know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good things to those who ask him”…Matthew 7:11

“Consider the ravens; they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn and yet God feeds them.  Of how much more value are you than the birds!…Like 12:24

“I am Lord-Open your mouth wide and I will fill it”..Psalm 81:10

(parentheses mine)

And I could fill pages with such promises.  And yet there seems to be nothing that so greatly divides the church as a good political campaign during an election year.  I sit back now and read (without jumping in) the posts and heated debates that go back and forth on social media.  I hear stories about clergy surrendering their pulpits to candidates turning a worship service into a political town hall meeting. I read with my own eyes the names and sometimes visceral that comes from the posts between Christian siblings who share differing views and the worst of all, groups of clergy rallying behind the efforts and campaign of a chosen candidate and laying hands in agreement but demanding separation of church and state whenever the church tax-free status is questioned.

This I my newly enlightened approach-not saying it’s the only approach, just the process that I am comfortable with in making my ballot choice.  My number one criteria above all else-can I justify my vote before God?  I know exactly through His Word what He desires from my life, how I should live and the precepts I should espouse and support in voting.  My new motto, and unfortunately more true each election-a vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil. I can’t in good conscious cast a vote for anyone who believes anything contrary to God’s laws and desires-period!  If that means I have to write in a name not on the ballot, I will do so and not worry that it’s a “wasted” vote. Second, I don’t put much stock in what is said during a campaign-I follow the money and the voting records.  Who supports them-why-how did they vote on this issue-what bills have they sponsored on another issue?  And the big one for me, perhaps the hardest of all-I rarely comment on political posts and refrain from sharing baseless memes, unless they are too funny to ignore!!  I don’t even pray that God puts the “right” person (pun intended) in office.  Instead I ask God to help me cast the right vote for me.  I finally get it-I will be just fine if the other guy or gal wins.  My provisions, my security, my future don’t lie within the hands or policies of the current administration-I am a child of the eternal President, the supreme ruler and he is the one I need to please and rely on for my welfare, not whether the country remains red or blue for the next four-year term. Sure I will vote and encourage others to exercise the freedom to do so, a right bought with a high price. But I will no longer fret over who controls the House or Senate because neither control me, only my God.  It may not be popular, but I think I’ll stick with my new strategery! 

 

 

 

Should We Really Expect to Reverse America’s Decline?

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Birth pains-women will understand this, men, not so much.  Birth pains are the physical sign that the time is near for a woman to bear a child and that the wheels in motion for this event can not be stopped or reversed.  Jesus refers to the signs of the end times in Matthew 24 as the beginning of birth pains. This post is based on that analogy and may not rest well with many.

It would be intellectually dishonest from a spiritual perspective to deny that our great nation, the United States of America, has been on a great decline for many years now. We can still love her and prefer her over other countries, cheer for her at International events and proudly display her colors as patriots on holidays while relishing her freedoms. But we can’t deny the moral and spiritual decay she is suffering. That decay is like a spreading cancer slowly eating away at those elements which have always made America a strong and healthy nation.  As with most cancer the treatment, or response, is often worse than the disease until it becomes a matter of waiting for the inevitable.  Sounds hopeless, I know.

As I read the story this week of a beloved Pastor and University Professor who got caught up in the Ashley Madison profile leaks who decided to take his own life, it hit me just how far we have fallen.  Don’t get me totally wrong-there are saints preserving the Gospel, saints feeding the hungry, rescuing the enslaved, taking mission trips to help the helpless-all attributes of a healthy church.  Our Lord though His Spirit continues to use His people to do His work to help those with sincere and hungry hearts and real needs.  But when you step back to view the big picture, the lines are becoming blurred and the colors once brilliant are fading.

There is no better time than at election time that one can hear how bad America is, though campaign speeches should never serve as a true State of the Union gauge. In any debate we will learn that our defenses are down, our economy is bankrupt, our schools are behind internationally and we are heading to Hell in a hand basket.  Our natural and gut reaction is to climb onboard the bandwagon of the candidate we are sure is going to turn America around again and fix all our ills. And if he or she is evangelical, that’s even better.  And while we should always have hope and be proactive in making the world around us a better place, can we honestly in view of New Testament prophesy concerning the signs of the end times, expect for a sudden and miraculous reversal when all indications are that the birth pains have begun?

In the Apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy he lays out for us some signs of the last days.

“There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves (Kingdom entitlement?), lovers of money (prosperity doctrine?) boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy(lacking spiritual discipline?), without love(prayer with no works?), unforgiving, slanderous(social media gossips?), without self-control (abusive priests?), brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than God(Congress?), having a form of godliness but denying its power, swayed by evil desires, always learning but never grasping the truth.”

I’m sure you would agree that in reviewing the list above we can see all these characteristics in our society today, and sadly even in the Church. We are told in the NT that God removes His spirit from such people and lets sin run its course.  The traits mentioned above are running their course.  Granted, there will always be individual stories of rescue by grace and God’s spirit will continue to be worked out in the lives of those who seek in earnest so that “none may perish”. But again, in light of the big picture view the fig leaves are falling and the signs are apparent.

A day closer to the return of Christ can be nothing short of Good News for the believer.  We should be able to with hope and confidence view the events around us and look up with eager anticipation knowing that however many days, weeks, months, years or decades, we are getting closer to that day. That is not to say we should become oblivious to the world around us or throw our hands up in surrender opposed to being active and making a difference when and where we can.  God defines true religion as loving Him, loving our neighbor, and taking care of the less fortunate.  There things carry on regardless of the surrounding circumstances.  Love good, hate evil, love everybody.  All Souls Matter! But in doing so we must be cognizant that birth pains don’t stop and that the process the pains represent is in full motion. We may never again see the America we love and remember.  We are certainly in a post-Christian America and I don’t see us going back. Scripture spells out what lies ahead for us.  There will be suffering, persecution, a falling away from the Church, false teachers and weak followers getting their ears tickled each week. But to those who see and understand the grand plan and correlate these times to the script left for us to follow, we will become less geographically oriented and more Kingdom oriented as we await the return of Christ in the midst of falling fig leaves as Summer comes to an end. .

 

Meekness-It’s Not for Wimps

wave-break

We just returned from our favorite spot on Earth-the Pacific Coast of Southern California.  Each year my wife and I make a point of vacationing and beach hopping from Huntington Beach to Newport to Laguna to Dana Point. When it comes time to plan our trip we weigh and consider our vacation options and always choose to go back to what we love most.  If Heaven is no better than our beaches, we will be most content with our reward!

The waves in Huntington Beach are particularly powerful.  It is called Surf City for good reason; the US Open of Surfing is held there each year because the area produces some of the best scoring waves for competitive surfing.  It is not unusual for my 6’4″ 200+ pound frame to be standing in two feet of surf and be taken down by a powerful wave that seemingly developed from nowhere.  The best total body workout I could come up with would be to stand or walk against the power of these small waves as they pound the shoreline.  After my first day back on the beach I could barely walk that evening.

People visit the beach for various reasons and each one takes away something different from their experience.  For me, I feel close to God when I see the force of these waves and hear the thunder of their voices as they break on the beach.  But this year I took something a little different away from my visit.  I was impressed with the concept of meekness.  One may have a hard time understanding the meekness of a wave that can knock a 300 pounder off their feet, but that is because we have a misconception sometimes of that word.  Meekness is often defined or understood as being lowly, humble, subservient or gentle in spirit-all attributes perhaps.  But a better understanding of this term is to control or restrain one’s own power or strength. When I see how the waves that have historically capsized ocean liners and large sailing vessels lay themselves down under restraint and submission as they reach the shorelines comprised of tiny insignificant grains of sand and curtail their strength as they reach the toes of a toddler enjoying their first beach experience, I see for myself the full living definition of meekness and I am in awe!

All of us have a spirit of pride within us that is not always healthy and which constantly wages war against our spirit. Social media has made all of us experts on everything and we constantly look for ways to prove our debate skills and intellect on matters that, well, don’t really matter. I write this blog each week with the sincere desire of speaking words that offer advice and give glory to Christ, but I often find myself checking to see how many likes or shares it gets or how many different countries it reaches with each new post-a result of a prideful spirit, and certainly not the essence of meekness.  In Matthew 5 Jesus speaks to those assembled to hear Him and tells them “Blessed are the meek For they will inherit the earth”.  Other versions say Blessed are the humbled or those content with who they are, no more and no less. These aren’t hapless individuals who are the walking mats of society He is referring to. On the contrary, these are those who get slapped in the face and can stand tall like a grizzly, flex their muscles  but take another blow.  Jesus showed all of us who pay attention what meekness looks like when they came to arrest Him and when asked if He was Jesus, his response of “I AM” knocked everyone off of their feet-just the words from his mouth-restrained power-submissive strength-displayed superiority, meekness defined.

The author of Philippians describes meekness by citing the example of Christ for us:

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[b] being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord-MEEKNESS!!!

This is how I want to live my life.  I want to be a meek gentle giant, strong enough to defend, meek enough to submit and wise enough to know my strength comes from God who has much larger muscles to flex than I do. Yes, that’s what I received from my visit this year to the beach-that and a nice Summer tan.