One of my favorite things about being on staff at a church is that I get to engage in discussions about faith and spiritual life with other men and women who are passionate not just about their relationship with God but also about helping others to deepen their relationship with Him.
Last week, I was brainstorming with our creative arts director and the student pastor at one of our campuses about improving one particular element of our services, when the student pastor remarked about how he knew people who thought of our church as light on doctrine and substance, largely because we don’t engage in activities like “altar calls.” Near the end of that part of the conversation, I remarked that Christianity in the South is more of a culture than a relationship with God.
In a now-famous quote, Flannery O’Connor once said, “I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.” She may have been more right that she realized, because the dominant Southern Christian culture concerns itself largely with seeing and being seen, with church attendance as an end to the spiritual journey rather than a beginning, and with safely sheltering families from an increasingly messy world.
Women are fixers. It should come as no surprise to anyone with an understanding of the sexes that the leading female figure on primetime television is none other than a fixer named Olivia Pope. Fifty years ago women primarily played the role of mother on screen and, in doing so, they fixed things and life was pretty darn perfect. But perfect doesn’t fly on network television any longer. Today it’s all about drama, and drama is conflict. So, we get Olivia Pope: beautiful, intelligent, who fantasizes about marrying an already married man, having his children and fixing a nice little life in the Vermont countryside for them, but is too embroiled in fixing her own life and the lives of those she loves to ever quite reach her American nirvana.
Like Israel’s matriarchs, Olivia Pope has a vision of justice, of order, of the way things should be. The wearer of the “white hat,” she wrestles between good and evil in her many attempts to manifest this divine sense that has been humanized as her “gut” instinct. Watch her and you’ll see the woman in white when she pursues truth, the woman in black when she has given over to evil, and the woman in gray when she questions everything she knows. Being a fixer is a woman’s inherent power and inevitable struggle. It isn’t that we want to “do it all” because doing it isn’t as hard as taking responsibility for it, for the lives under our care. Olivia Pope cares for everyone, wants to save everyone, wants to repair everyone and make everything all better. Her struggle, like that of the matriarchs, is in placing the sole burden of responsibility on her own shoulders. But, the greatest lesson of God-given responsibility is that you are not expected to carry it all alone.
11. A conscious awareness of God is intrinsic to human nature.
Tara Brach recently told the story of a four year old who was excited to have alone time with his new baby sister. When he finally got to the side of her crib, he asked her, “Tell me what heaven is like. I’m starting to forget.” If we didn’t have a conscious awareness of God, we wouldn’t be striving so hard to find Him in everything from houses of worship to fictional characters on the big screen. Don’t let atheists fool you; they might not believe in a God in the sky, but they’re worshiping something, nevertheless, whether its money, power, or simply themselves.
Now that the Lenten Season is upon us and the 40 day countdown to Easter has begun, this is good time to review some fascinating Bible stories that are worth knowing and pondering for their deeper meaning.
The three stories selected are personal favorites because they are filled with supernatural mystery and many unanswered questions that baffle Bible scholars to this day.
In all cases Bible quotes are italicized and taken from the widely used New International Version. (NIV)
1. Job 1: 6-12
This is what happened when God and Satan had a little chat.
Job, the main character in the Old Testament Book of Job, was wealthy and richly blessed. He had a wife, ten children, many servants and numerous flocks. The second sentence in verse 1:1 described him as: “The man was blameless and upright he feared God and shunned evil.”
Job’s celebrity status was further described in verse 1:3,
“He was the greatest man of all the people in the East.”
Unfortunately, being THAT awesome landed Job in the middle of a famous (and ultimately very painful) smack-down between God and Satan.
In verses 1: 7-8, Satan, along with other angels presented himself to God. When God asked Satan where he has came from, Satan replied, “roaming through the earth and going back and forth from it.”
Then, because Job was the equivalent of God’s “teacher’s pet,” God bragged about Job to Satan saying,
“Have you considered my servant Job?”
(God is then quoted as saying what was previously stated in verse 1:1) “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
However, Satan was not impressed because Satan thought Job’s faithfulness to God was a result of Job living the lifestyle of the rich and famous.
Thus, Satan asked God in verse 1:9, “Does Job fear God for nothing?”
Satan explained to God his theory that if Job’s good fortunes were to suddenly disappear then Job would turn away from God.
“But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has and he will surely curse you to your face.” (Job 1:11)
Satan’s words set in motion a classic conflict between good and evil, faith and non-faith. Poor Job was about to get zapped with God’s permission.
A group called American Atheists is sponsoring a digital billboard near MetLife Stadium targeted at Super Bowl attendees. Six times each hour through Super Bowl Sunday the billboard will proclaim, “A ‘Hail Mary’ Only Works in Football. Enjoy the Game!”
“Prayer is superstition, plain and simple,” says American Atheists President David Silverman.
It trivializes the dedication of the players and takes away from their achievements. A third of football fans pray in hopes of helping their team. These are adults we’re talking about—people with children, people with careers, people who vote. It’s 2014; it’s time to stop believing that prayer works. Give credit where credit is due and celebrate what this is really about—coming together to cheer on hard-working athletes doing what they do best.
On Fox News’ The Five on Friday, Greg Gutfeld seemed to agree. ”If prayer actually works in a game no one would ever lose,” Gutfeld said. He added, “I don’t believe God designed the world on who’s the best pray-er.”
On the surface, Gutfeld and the atheists have a point. Several years ago when my son was playing football for a Christian school, the teams would huddle together before the games for a short prayer. As the team’s captain, Ryan was often called upon to lead the prayer, along with the captain of the opposing team. He admitted at one point that it didn’t seem right for both teams to pray to win and he thought it was especially awkward to pray for a win in the presence of the other team. They were, after all, asking God to bestow his favor upon one Christian team and not the other. How would God ever choose? Would he pick the team with the “best” Christians? The most fervent pray-ers? Or does God not bother with such trivial things as the outcomes of football games?
In the end, my son decided that he would pray for all the players to do their best and that God would protect them. He also prayed that he and the other boys would demonstrate Christ-like attitudes on the field and that they would honor God in the way they played the game. He would leave the outcome up to God and then play to win.
So does God care who wins the Super Bowl or the curling competition at the Winter Olympics or your family’s Monopoly game? Two of God’s attributes, his omniscience and his sovereignty, as described in the Bible, help to explain God’s view of matters that may seem trivial upon first glance.
Yesterday I missed being crunched in the middle of this sandwich of cars by ten seconds. I was at the front of the line waiting to turn left when the pile-up happened. I glanced into my rearview mirror before making my turn and couldn’t quite comprehend what I was seeing — a car perched almost vertically atop another. The airbag in the blue car did not engage and although he was able to climb out of it, the driver was extremely disoriented. He kept asking where he was and wondering where he had been heading. I convinced him to hand me his cell phone because his incoherent rambling was surely terrifying his wife on the other end. I explained to her what had happened as paramedics loaded him into the EMS unit. After examining him, the paramedic shouted to his partner that they needed to go — immediately.
Though I wasn’t involved in the accident myself, I realized after I got home that I was feeling a bit shaken by the ordeal. In moments like that, one gets a clear view of how fleeting life is and how quickly it can end. I don’t worry about that — as a Christian, I’m sure that the moment I die I will be “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). But the accident reminded me how seldom I’m thankful for God’s mercies that are “new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
Obviously, I’m very thankful that I wasn’t hurt in the accident. And I’m thankful my son wasn’t injured when his car slid off the road in the snowstorm on Tuesday. And I’m thankful that a dear friend left work to help the coatless boys who had also managed to lock the keys in the car.
But beyond that, I take a lot for granted. Breathing, for example. When I stop to contemplate that my lungs inflate and deflate and do their oxygenating business without me ever having to consciously think about it, I am speechless. They just go in and out and in and out day after day after day, despite the fact that I barely ever think about my breathing. By decree of the God who knows the number of hairs on my head I will draw 17,280 breaths today, even though I rarely ever thank Him for his goodness.
And my hands. I’m staring at them now as I type and I consider my fine motor skills. I can feel my yellow lab’s smooth fur when he puts his head on my lap. They were stiff and freezing at the scene of the accident as the blood vessels constricted so that blood (and oxygen) could be diverted away from my extremities to my vital organs to keep my body alive in case I was stranded out in the frigid weather for an extended period of time. Awesome (awe·some – adjective: causing feelings of fear and wonder : causing feelings of awe).
I think about my sons, those two precious little boys that I rocked and changed and cuddled just a few minutes ago. At least it seems like it was a few minutes ago. Somehow, they’ve grown into these big, hairy men celebrating No Shave November. Somehow, they survived their childhood with imperfect parents and, by God’s grace, avoided most of the mistakes we made when we were their age. What a miracle to watch them growing in their faith, despite the frailties of their parents.
Secretar of State Kerry: “We have created the time and the space in order to be able to pursue an agreement that would finish the work that President Obama began on his first day in office…blah, blah, blah…”
I can hardly stand to listen to this.
On Saturday, Kerry — and by extension, our president — shook hands with the leader of the country near the top of the list of the world’s human rights abusers. And Kerry waxed eloquent about “mutual respect.” During the press conference the reporter from Bloomberg News cheerily said, “Congratulations to you and your team.”
Without getting too deeply into the weeds of the deal with Iran, it appears that we are going to hand over billions of dollars to Iran — removing sanctions — because Iran pinky-promised to stop making nukes. Did anyone check to see if Hassan Rouhani had his fingers crossed when he shook hands with Kerry and agreed to “provide the most far-reaching insight and view of Iran’s nuclear program that the international community has ever had.” Fox New’s Judith Miller chirped on Saturday about how wonderful it is that Iran has finally come to the table, saying, “I’m stunned that we got this much!”
President Obama spoke like a man who really, truly believes that the the Iranians are going to let his inspectors come in and snoop around at will, like Michelle ferreting out hamburgers and nachos from the White House pantry.
The problem is that Iran does not have a stellar track record on the “far-reaching insight” front.
A U.N. report published in late October has criticized Iran’s recent human rights record. Compiled by Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur for human rights in the Islamic Republic, the report focuses on executions and violations of freedom of expression.
The article notes that the UN’s Special Rapporteur had to rely on interviews submitted by human rights groups because “Shaheed has not been allowed to visit Iran since his appointment as Special Rapporteur.”
Let that sink in for a moment.
If Iran has barred a UN human rights inspector from having access to the country, what makes anyone think nuclear inspectors will fare any better? It’s dangerously farcical.
My little brother — they shot him in the chest. His name was Gideon and he died at the age of ten. I saw my father bleeding seriously from the attack. He’s always kind, always telling us to read the Bible and be close to God. And that was the last time I saw him. He is not dead. Definitely one day we are going to meet again.
—Victoria, age 13
That day last year, eighteen people were shot and twelve died when Muslim extremists attacked Deeper Life Church in Gombe, Nigeria, during a church service. The Christian community in Nigeria has been under attack by Boko Haram, which has committed shootings, kidnappings, and bombings of schools and churches. Boko Haram seeks to eradicate Christians in their quest to enforce their strict version of Sharia law on Nigeria.
In September, an Afghan convert from Islam to Christianity was scalded with boiling water and acid at a refugee processing center in Norway. “If you don’t return to Islam, we will kill you,” his attackers told him.
Another Afghan Christian, Aman Ali, fled Afghanistan in 2010 after a video of his baptism was leaked to the press. “Someone had reported my activities to the secret police of Afghanistan and they were looking for evidence to arrest me, but I was so careful and had to stop my work,” Aman told International Christian Concern. “After the television showed pictures from a baptism ceremony, the Afghan government started arresting believers from different parts of Kabul… Most Afghan believers were scared… and left the country. So did me and my family.”
Ali and several others fled to India, seeking refugee status with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), but his application for status based on “well-founded fear of persecution by reason of his race, religion, nationality or political opinion” was rejected. Ali said the UNHCR did not view his conversion to Christianity as a legitimate threat to his life. Nearly a dozen other Afghans from the baptism video have been turned down by the UNHCR, including Ratimullah, who said, “I cannot return to my country because I will be arrested and executed by the Afghan government.” Ratimullah wrote in an appeal to the UNHCR, “A definite death is waiting for me in my homeland.” Most are now in hiding, fearing they will be sent back to Afghanistan. Some have fled to other countries, including Turkey, where they languish in refugee camps, often facing persecution from Muslim refugees.
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “In 2011, at least two Christians in Afghanistan were imprisoned by the Karzai administration, another was brutally beheaded by the Taliban, and nearly all Afghan Christians lived in fear of persecution. There is no evidence to suggest that the situation for Christians is improving, but every indication that it is only getting worse.”
In the Sinai Peninsula, controlled by Egypt, Bedouin Muslims abduct Christians from Africa, holding them in torture camps, demanding that their families pay ransoms of $40,000 to $50,000, which most cannot afford. “They torture them in horrible methods, like hanging upside down from the ceiling, like using electric shocks, like burning them on their bodies,” Shahar Shoham, director of Physicians for Human Rights, told CBNNews. Eritrean and Ethiopian Christians are fleeing their homelands, seeking refuge in Europe and Israel from the kidnappings and brutal torture. “They hang us the way [Jesus] was hanged and they take off their clothes. While they are naked they will hang them. And they will just hit them with big bats like all day for hours.”
It’s already week 10 in our 13 weeks series of financial recovery. This week revealed a side of me that I would prefer to keep covered — my financial underbelly. I got a good look and it’s not pretty. It is solid yellow.
I’ve never really thought of myself as a coward until now. In my first installment, “5 Rules for Lifting Your Family Out of Economic Hardship,” I explained that several years ago, we experienced our first real financial setback. A pulmonary embolism ended my husband’s career in law enforcement. Apparently those two years without income left some emotional scars that went deeper than I realized.
Last week I wrote “Financial Miracles or Happenstance? You Decide,” about the unseen hand that has held us in a firm grip of grace and provision. It’s good to remember the miracles in our lives, an exercise I try to do daily. It reminds me that our Heavenly Father really does care for our needs. However, I’m old enough to know, He cares more about my character and the state of my spiritual health than my bank account.
He also tends to reveal the parts of us that need transformation, as He did this week.
Instead of facing truth head on and setting up my budget before the first dime was spent, as I know to do — instead I hid behind an illusion of a “big pot” of money.
Let me explain.
Several years ago, while we were vacationing in Florida, our family visited a church and inadvertently wandered into what can only be described as the last rites being administered to the congregation. Instead of meeting in the sanctuary of the beautiful, historic church, members assembled in the basement — because they could not afford to pay to air condition the entire building. We awkwardly sat through an uncomfortable meeting at which the church members (the majority over 50) agreed to rent out the main part of the building on Sundays to a younger group of church members who had broken off from the main church. It appeared that neither side would compromise on the worship style and church growth philosophy. There may have been other, more substantive doctrinal differences at play — we were only privy to the final vote on what had obviously been a long, drawn-out family squabble — but the sad episode gave us insight into the dangers of a church that does not encourage or appreciate generational diversity.
Not very long after that church visit, our family found it necessary to change churches. It was an agonizing decision after nearly 20 years at the same church. We had spent the early years of our marriage immersed in the seeker-sensitive mega church culture, raising our children alongside other families in similar circumstances. Now we were suddenly learning to become — of all things — Baptists.
Believing that church should be a full-participation sport with no bench sitters, our family immediately plunged into the full range of activities at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church — youth group for the kids, Sunday school for everyone, church Sunday mornings and evenings, and midweek prayer meeting.
Those early months of midweek prayer meetings were grueling. I had been out of the habit of spending time in corporate prayer and the discipline of praying for people I didn’t know was a challenge for my media-saturated diminished attention span. At one of the first prayer meetings, though, a prayer request jolted me out of my inattention and made me realize that we had spent the last 20 years more or less in an age-segregated bubble: “I would appreciate your prayers. I have to turn my wife every two hours to keep her from getting bed sores and things are kind of hard right now.” The man, in his 80s, was caring for his bedridden wife at home and struggled to keep up with the demands. I was touched and heartbroken. I was inspired by the man’s love and dedication to his wife and saddened by his suffering.
But I was also saddened at what we had missed in our years of age-segregated church.
Much has been said recently about the social problems plaguing the inner cities — crime, out-of-wedlock birth, lack of education. We can trace the problems, to some extent, back to the breakdown of the family in those communities. But along with that is a more systemic problem of a breakdown in the churches — a failure to teach right theology and biblical truth at a time when it is most desperately needed. In particular, the “prosperity gospel” preachers have taken advantage of some of the most vulnerable in our society — the poor, the elderly, the sick — by falsely teaching that Jesus is some sort of lucky charm sitting up in heaven waiting to grant our wishes for material wealth and physical healing. They claim the only thing holding God back is our failure to send enough money to some big-haired Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN) star sitting on an ornate, fake throne.
The prosperity preachers say that all that stands between a poor (or sick) person and a huge payday (or good health) is a lack of faith and a donation to the ministry of the preacher. They perform before massive crowds, including Joe, sitting in his living room in Paducah, Kentucky, and claim that God is telling them — right at that very moment (or later if you’re DVR’ing the show)— exactly what He wants each and every member of the audience to do at that very moment. It’s preposterous, but these charlatans find easy prey in those who are in dire financial circumstances or who suffer with physical ailments. John MacArthur has said that it “is no different from the lowest human religions—a form of voodoo where God can be coerced, cajoled, manipulated, controlled, and exploited for the Christian’s own ends.” It’s no different than the way state lotteries take advantage of the poor with promises of a life of ease for the small price of a Powerball ticket — except that the preachers claim to be speaking for God, which is sobering and tragic at the same time.
Earlier this year Reformed (as in Reformed theology) rapper Shai Linne called out some of those preachers in a song called “Fal$e Teacher$“. And he names names — Benny Hinn, Paula White, Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen, TD Jakes, and others — acknowledging in the song that “today the only heresy is saying that there’s heresy.”
His music is startling in a hip-hop culture known for profanity and violence. Linn raps about hardcore Christian theological truths that many seasoned Christians can’t speak about intelligently — limited atonement, amillennialism, the hypostatic union.
This story from the USA Today once more proves that truth is not only weirder than fiction — if you wrote this as fiction, no one would believe it:
Emergency workers and community members in eastern Missouri are not sure what to make of a mystery priest who showed up at a critical accident scene Sunday morning and whose prayer seemed to change life-threatening events for the positive.
Even odder, the black-garbed priest does not appear in any of the nearly 70 photos of the scene of the accident in which a 19-year-old girl almost died.
Perhaps it is because I grew up reading Giovanni Guareschi’s Don Camillo stories, after watching the movies and loving them, that I can’t help but be charmed by that image. In the real world of rationality, one finds it hard to believe in the supernatural, and all sorts of explanations spring to mind about this story. But for just now I’m going to think of the Don Camillo stories, where the wall between the living and the dead is very thin indeed, the Christ over the altar speaks to the village priest (who speaks back, sometimes not very politely), and miracles happen when they are truly needed — and I’m going to let this story be, just as it is.
When we talk about “taking back the culture,” people get apprehensive and worry that we are trying to overthrow our republican form of government and form a theocracy. The reality is something a lot less ambitious. Those of us who grew up in post-1960’s America don’t always fully grasp how much we have lost since that turbulent decade because we’ve always lived in a world where radical atheists have enjoyed influence and a degree of social acceptance. We forget that it wasn’t always this way and that the scrubbing of religion — Christianity in particular — from American public life is a relatively new phenomenon.
In a recent blog post, Eric Metaxas shared the little-known story of astronaut Buzz Aldrin taking communion on the surface of the moon:
The background to the story is that Aldrin was an elder at his Presbyterian Church in Texas during this period in his life, and knowing that he would soon be doing something unprecedented in human history, he felt he should mark the occasion somehow, and he asked his pastor to help him. And so the pastor consecrated a communion wafer and a small vial of communion wine. And Buzz Aldrin took them with him out of the Earth’s orbit and on to the surface of the moon.
I am just old enough to remember our family gathered around the black and white TV, my dad adjusting the antennae, as we watched man’s first steps on the moon. An unprecedented 125 million Americans tuned in to watch the fearsome event on TV — it wasn’t a given that the men would survive outside the lunar module or that they would make it back to Earth. William Safire had prepared a speech for President Nixon to deliver in the event of a disaster and protocols were established for contacting the wives of the astronauts in case the unthinkable happened.
Even after they returned to earth, the astronauts remained in quarantine for 21 days in compliance with the recently passed Extra-Terrestrial Exposure Law.
It was a perilous mission, one for which President Nixon called Americans to pray:
Apollo 11 is on its way to the moon. It carries three brave astronauts; it also carries the hopes and prayers of hundreds of millions of people…That moment when man first sets foot on a body other than earth will stand through the centuries as one supreme in human experience…I call upon all of our people…to join in prayer for the successful conclusion of Apollo 11‘s mission.
Of course, any true Christian revival will be built upon a foundation of prayer. The Third Great Awakening began with a businessman in Manhattan who started noontime prayer meetings that eventually swelled to 10,000 people in New York City and then spread across the country. In the New Testament, James says that “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).
But does God promise to heal America if we pray?
“…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Every self-respecting, patriotic Christian can recite the verse from memory and many claim it as a direct promise of God to the United States in the year 2013 without really giving much thought to the context of the promise or to whom it was given.
In 2 Chronicles 7, we find the Israelites, led by King Solomon, dedicating the temple they just built. Solomon asks God to fulfill his promise that a descendant of David would always sit on the throne of Israel. God responds by warning Israel of the consequences of disobedience—telling them what the results will be when they turn from him (‘when’ … not ‘if’). Read it in context:
“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
This was a specific promise given to King Solomon and the physical nation of Israel.
I recently wrote about a movement calling Americans to pray, hoping for a revival in the land — a New Great Awakening — because it is becoming clear that our political systems alone cannot fix what ails our country.
Visiting the United States in the early 19th century, French historian and political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville witnessed the Second Great Awakening. In his classic work, Democracy in America, Tocqueville examined the influence that religious beliefs exerted on political life.
Tocqueville said that Americans from many different sects (predominantly Protestant) worshiped the same Creator and preached a common morality. He discovered that religion had a profound influence on American life:
America is…the place in the world where the Christian religion has most persevered genuine powers over souls; and nothing shows better how useful and natural to man it is in our day, since the country in which it exercises the greatest empire is at the same time the most enlightened and most free.
Tocqueville went on to describe the audacious, innovative spirits and logical minds of Americans, bound only by religion’s accepted moral boundaries:
So, therefore, at the same time that the law permits the American people to do everything, religion prevents them from conceiving everything and forbids them to dare everything.”
There was no need for a massive federal or state bureaucracy; government was limited because Christian piety was the prevailing, unwritten law of the land. Americans were largely able to self-govern without the jackboot of government on their necks.
“I think there’s another revolution coming. I’m not sure what it’s going to look like but I think it’s going to be very interesting and it’s going to unfold over the next ten years. And I think it needs to be a spiritual revolution because I think that our systems are broken. I don’t think our political system will ever work. No matter how great a man, if you cloned JFK and Abraham Lincoln and made them president it wouldn’t matter. Our system is just too corrupt and too broken.” Rainn Wilson
Wilson goes on to say that he expects to see wild pendulum swings between Left and Right in the coming years. The only answer he sees is a spiritual revolution among the young — “like they did in the ’60s.”
Because the ’60s brand of teen revolution that jettisoned God and authority and traditional values worked out so well the first time around? By all means, let’s try that again! Oy.
Wilson concludes: “It’s gonna have to go to that or we’re all going to destroy each other.”
Are those our only two options?
Wilson is right that our systems are broken — or at least many of them are. Every day it seems we discover a new reason to be concerned about the government infringing on our liberties or we see a sign that our society is in a state of moral decay. Who ever imagined an America where a government agency would demand to know the contents of a group’s prayers? President Obama recently told grads at The Ohio State University to beware of the voices doing their best to “gum up the works.” The sad reality is that “the works” have been gummed up for decades and, despite the best efforts of a generation of good Americans, the gears refuse to budge. Many are frustrated with both parties and are beginning to understand, perhaps for the first time, that our nation’s problems are too immense to be solved with political — or even human — solutions alone.
My daughter just got back from Moore, Oklahoma. Along with a team from our church, she spent the last few days helping families sift through the rubble that was once their homes. They spent hours searching for the smallest pieces of their lives.
When I asked her what struck her the hardest, she told me,
Watching the families look at the debris, or the crosses in memory of the children that died. The blank look of disbelief on their faces — they’re not in there. Then when you hug them, they just drop into your arms and cry. I remember that feeling. I remembered when that was us.
So do I.
In the midst of tornado sirens five summers ago, we were summoned to a small room in the basement of a hospital. Behind closed doors, two strangers, doing their best to be kind, said to us the most horrific words I ever heard. They told us our youngest son died at the scene.
What I once knew as my home, my family, and my children — even myself — all changed. There was no going back.
An June 2008 entry from my journal:
It is as though my life has exploded into thousands of little pieces. Daily I strive to carefully pick up another piece. What I am finding is that each piece is part of a puzzle. And I have to ask God where each piece fits.
To my surprise, the picture of my life that the pieces are forming is a much different picture than the one I knew before.
You can’t stop the storms of life from rolling in. You can, however, allow them to deepen your relationships rather than destroy them.
Last week on PJ Lifestyle I read with great interest a piece by P. David Hornik titled “What Near-Death Experiences Tell Us.” With “great interest” refers to my long-time fascination with near-death experiences (NDEs), which began in 1994 after a friend gifted me the book Embraced By The Light by Betty J. Eadie.
The book, according to my friend, was a “must read.” As proof, she claimed it was still on the New York Times best seller list after an entire year. (For the record, Embraced By The Light was #1 on the New York Times list in September 1993 and in the top ten for 78 weeks. Subsequently, it became the fifth bestselling book of the 1990s.)
Embraced By The Light, published in 1992, was Eadie’s personal account of her near-death experience after an operation gone awry in 1973.
Then, for more than a decade, Eadie was hesitant to write or speak about her NDE out of fear that people (including family members) would think she was totally nuts, or would not believe her story.
What makes Eadie’s NDE so controversial and intriguing is the title of the book itself. Because, immediately upon reaching heaven, Betty was “embraced by the light,” and that light was Jesus Christ and he made himself known to her.
Betty is then taken on an unforgettable tour of heaven which she describes in great detail. Throughout the book, Jesus teaches Betty His message of eternal and unconditional love. But despite her pleas to stay in heaven, Jesus sends her back to earth because it was “not yet her time.” The book concludes with Jesus’ final message to Betty, “Above all else, love one another.”
Like millions of other readers around the world (the book was published in 130 countries, translated into 38 languages, and to this date has sold over 20 million copies), I was totally captivated by Embraced. This captivation stemmed from my belief in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. But Betty’s NDE account, the first one I had ever read, only served as sweet confirmation that the “benign deity” (the phrase used by Hornik in his piece) not only exists, but that we will meet Him face to face “when it is our time.”
Here’s a video of Eadie on the Oprah Winfrey Show in the ’90s, when Embraced was a best-selling book:
Anyone on a faith walk will eventually ask the question, “How do I pray?”
Except for the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, there is no easy answer, for prayer is a very personal and personalized pursuit.
And, as with all pursuits, practice is the key to success and prayer is no different.
You will soon discover the more you pray, the more you will find answers to difficult questions, along with mental or physical healing from various maladies, protection for you or your loved ones and comfort from any number of storms that happen to be raging in your life.
Whatever the current state of your prayer life, even if you do not have one, or practice no faith at all, here is a powerful “prayer exercise” that you should find very beneficial.
Back in 1990 I first experienced this exercise in a group while attending a prayer seminar at my church. During the course of the exercise, the answer to a personal spiritual question that had been plaguing me for 15 years was instantly revealed.
Thus, I immediately became a huge believer in this prayer exercise and since have shared it with many others over the years. You too might find some answers but only if you are truly honest and unafraid to ask or face the most difficult questions or issues in your past or present circumstances.
So without further ado, here is the exercise.
Jesus is visiting your neighborhood. He is going house to house and will be at your door in five minutes.
Will you let him in?
What will you say to Him when he appears at your door?
What is He going to ask you?
What questions are you going to ask Him?
Are there any rooms in your home that you do not want him to see?
Any closets, drawers, photos, or computer files that you want to hide from Him?
Pray about these questions for five minutes.
(Five minutes passes)
Knock, knock Jesus has arrived.
Greet Him at the door or ask Him to go away.
If you invite Him in, visualize actually letting him in the door of your home or apartment as you would any guest.
You may even offer Him something to drink or eat.
Just let the visit unfold.
Perhaps you might want to take him on a tour of your home. Or ask him to sit down as you begin chatting in your most comfortable space.
Remember to discuss the questions or issues you identified in the first part of the exercise.
His visit can last as long as you want because, as the Bible says: I will never leave you nor forsake you.
However, in my group prayer seminar His visit lasted about 10 minutes.
After that time, the prayer leader asked our group if anyone was willing to share their experience of “Jesus’ visit.” Many did, but I was still in shock from His most perfect answer to my question, so I remained uncharacteristically silent.
This exercise is effective in a group setting or when one is alone. Adults, teenagers or even children can be enthralled by this 15 minute “visit with Jesus,” if participants take it seriously and deal with sometimes difficult personal issues honestly.
For a different twist, you could even visualize Jesus walking around your office building for five minutes visiting others before He shows up at YOUR office.
Even though it has been 23 years since I was first introduced to this prayer exercise, my experience was so enlightening it was imprinted on my heart and soul forever.
Do not be surprised if you have similar results. This exercise is extremely powerful because it presents Jesus as someone who you can communicate with in a two-way conversation.
And, after all isn’t that what prayer is anyway, a conversation with God?
Finally, this week on a country music station I heard the song, If I Could Have A Beer With Jesus for the first time. This song by Thomas Rhett reminded me of my 1990 prayer seminar experience and that is the reason why you just read what you read.
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On Christmas Eve, gather up your loved ones and to listen to Amy Grant sing Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song).
This is my favorite modern Christmas song and one I cannot listen to without tearing up.
The song takes you inside the mind and heart of the person who would become the world’s most revered Jewish teenage mother as she is about to give birth, in the most difficult of circumstances, to a baby she was chosen to bear — the One who will impact the world like no other.
Merry Christmas to all and especially those who truly love this mother and Baby.
With over 40 million views, this video captures the essence of the article you are about to read.
A funny thing happened “on the way” as I was contemplating writing this piece. While listening to a Christian radio station the announcer said, “Jesus is the reason for the season.”
At that moment this very familiar phrase hit me like a thunderbolt. For not only is “Jesus the reason for the season,” but Jesus is the reason our world, nation, history, culture and society are the way they are.
So regardless of whether you believe in Jesus, practice another faith, or are devoid of faith, Jesus has impacted you by virtue of the fact that you are alive.
For no person has affected mankind – past, present and future –more than this Jewish teacher who lived over 2000 years ago, whose birth we will celebrate with great fanfare.
Although Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were the impetus behind His followers’ establishing Christianity, the world’s largest religion itself is only the starting point for the influence Jesus spawned in countless non-religious venues as people over the centuries were moved and motivated by Him to express themselves in a multitude of ways that we continue to see played out everyday across the planet.
With so many examples of Jesus Christ’s effect on mankind it is impossible to even mention them all in this short piece — the purpose of which is to not only enhance your celebration of “the reason for the season” but to also increase your awareness of just how much Jesus impacts the world around you every day of the year.
If after reading this piece you are moved to delve deeper into this topic, I recommend a book published in 1994 that has since become a “modern classic,” What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?, co-authored by the late Dr. D. James Kennedy and the still very much alive Jerry Newcombe.
This book had a profound influence on me as it oriented my thinking about Jesus in ways that I had never contemplated.
So here in alphabetical order is only a short, incomplete list of the most obvious “non-religious” aspects of how Jesus Christ has impacted the world.
While chatting with a close friend who is currently on location filming a mega-budget Hollywood movie, he mentioned, as a “good Jew,” he was planning on attending a Yom Kippur service today in a beautiful historic temple.
Yom Kippur, for those who are unfamiliar, is the Day of Atonement, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.
Playfully, I asked him if the rabbi would let loose a scapegoat in the temple but my friend did not understand why I had even asked such a question.
That is when I told him about the Yom Kippur scapegoat, an integral part of the Old Testament account of The Day of Atonement.
Since my friend was unfamiliar with the Yom Kippur scapegoat I thought perhaps others might be as well. So if you are attending temple today and familiar this Jewish Bible story, you are dismissed.
If not, keep reading because this ancient tale is not only interesting, but the word “scapegoat” is derived from it.
Now class, please open your Bibles to Leviticus, the third book of the Old Testament, after Genesis and Exodus. Those first three books, along with the next two, Numbers and Deuteronomy comprise what is known as The Torah.
Leviticus chapter 16 is aptly named The Day of Atonement. It is a short chapter comprised of only 34 verses which I recommend reading if this piece piques your interest.
Here is the basic story.
While the Children of Israel were wandering in the desert during their 40 year odyssey between leaving Egypt and entering the Holy Land of Israel, God commanded Moses to make an annual atonement for their “uncleanness and rebellion” and “whatever their sins had been.” God then directed Moses to have his brother Aaron, the High Priest, obtain two goats for an atonement ceremony.
The first goat was designated as a “sin offering” and slaughtered for his blood. Then, the goat’s blood was to be sprinkled around the “Most Holy Place” which was inside the “Tent of Meeting” that housed the Ark of the Covenant.
Now, the second goat fared slightly better for it was to be the “goat of removal.” In Hebrew, it was known as the Azazel goat, and later translated to mean scapegoat in the English Bible’s King James Version.
Rather than me paraphrase the fate of the second goat, I will defer to GOD as HE gives Moses specific instructions for brother Aaron to carry out in Leviticus 16: 21- 22. The Bible translation is from the popular New International Version.
He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites –all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.
There you have it, the scapegoat as the central figure of Yom Kippur.
The scapegoat’s original meaning was escape goat because unlike the first goat, the second was allowed to escape with its life, though heavily laden with the collective sin of the Israelites.
As you know, the modern meaning of scapegoat is some entity or person who is unfairly blamed or punished for the actions of others, but I would wager that most people are unaware this term is from the Old Testament.
So for those of the Jewish faith attending temple today, you might pause to remember that little goat, released into the desert bearing the sin burden of all your ancient relatives.
Furthermore, click here if you are interested in knowing the Biblical origin of other common phrases like Good Samaritan, a drop in the bucket, a broken heart, a peace offering, or a sign of the times, to only name a few.
The Bible is still the best selling book of all time and continues to be an amazing resource for faith, history, morality and language.
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An update today, posted this morning at his blog:
i’m about to undergo an operation to attempt to drain the fluid from my lungs by inserting a tube. this will take 3-5 days and i will be in hospital. it is possible i will not be able to communicate during this time. they will then try to seal the lungs which if it succeeds will help me. we will then begin chemo and other therapies. the operation is said not be dangerous. please expect no correspondence or articles from me during this period. it is hoped that by next week i will be pretty normal and undergoing care. i have wonderful doctors. i hope and believe we will be together again in future. with all my gratitude for your being good readers and interested in my thoughts. i hope i have been helpful to you. please keep up the fight for what’s good and decent and right even when it costs us in personal and professional terms.