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Blogs I Follow

The Presidents Club

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The Surest Defense Against Evil

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The Triumph of Grace

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Contemplating God’s Sovereignty

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How Should We Then Live?

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Not a Timid Christianity

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Finishing the Race

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Because the Time is Near

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Revelation Song (YouTube)

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Where The Wind Blows

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Doing Great Things

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Recognizing a False Prophet

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The Power of Forgiveness

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Created for Relationships

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The Only Way I Know

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Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine

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Our True Home Address

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‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

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The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

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Cherry Picking 101

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Love Sweet Love

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So Goes The Culture

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Idols of the Heart

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Divisions Are Not Always Bad

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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All Things Are Possible with God

Possible“Visionaries are people who see the big picture and are not afraid of change. They don’t hold back by refusing to leave their comfort zones” (quote from reblogged post by “The Daily Way” below). The list of Old and New Testament visionaries is filled with all types of folks–Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Joseph, Daniel, David, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Paul, Peter, John and many others. And let’s not forget the women–Sara, Esther, Deborah (a judge), Rahab, Elizabeth, Mary and that list goes on and on, too. Of course, Jesus was the greatest visionary of them all. After all, he was and is the very Son of God (see John 3:16).

Visionaries aren’t necessary folks who always envision and pursuit big things. When Jesus told his disciples, “All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23), it was in the context of Jesus healing a young boy from an unclean spirit (a demon)–the story is found in Mark 9:14-29. When the disciples of Jesus were unable to cast out the demon, Jesus responded by saying, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me” (Mark 9:19). Verses 20-24 state: “And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’ And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” And Jesus healed the boy.

Faith is believing without seeing any of the evidence beforehand as proof, and that includes God’s timing–no matter how long it takes. Hebrews 11 is filled with stories of faith in action–“going and not knowing.” I wrote a blog post on this very topic on February 2, 2013, titled, Against All Odds (click here for link).

Let’s be a people of faith–of going and not knowing; of believing and not doubting. Of exercising that “measure of faith” (Romans 12:3) that God has given to us instead of waiting for a sign as proof, which is really no faith at all. And if our faith is shaky, let us cry out like the father in this story did by saying, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Indeed, “All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23).

Photo credit here

The Daily Way

Visionaries are people who see the big picture and are not afraid of change. They don’t hold back by refusing to leave their comfort zones.

Those who have the “show me” mentality will move only if they see proof that the change is good. They will embrace the vision if they see evidence and proof that it is the right direction. Then there are those who refuse to change or adapt at all. They often disagree simply for the sake of disagreeing.

The Israelites arrived at the edge of the land the Lord had promised to them after a long journey from Egypt. The journey was a process of learning lessons of obedience and faith. Now they were ready to enter the land.

The Lord said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one…

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Changing One’s Mind

True RepentanceIn the maze of Christian lingo exists a word that is not used very often today, yet it is foundational to the Christian faith. That word is repent.” John the Baptist, forerunner to Jesus Christ, first used the word “repent” with his listeners in preparing the way for Jesus Christ by stating (see Matthew 3:2-3):

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he [John the Baptist] who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
    make his paths straight.’”

The story of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ is found in Matthew 3-4. Matthew 3:4-17 describes the following scene:

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan,confessing their sins.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Immediately after this scene, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1) where he fasted for forty days and forty nights. The account of his dialogue with the devil at the end of the forty days is found in Matthew 4:1-11. Immediately after this time, John was arrested, and Jesus withdrew into Galilee, living in Capernaum by the sea (v. 12-16), and “from that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (v. 17).

Repentance is at the very core of Christianity. Indeed, it is essential.

U turn UpwardI was recently in the middle of an email discussion about this very topic with an old friend of mine when he wrote back asking me the following question, “What do you think the word ‘repentance’ means?” I emailed the following answer to him:

I think it [repentance] means that a person, when he or she comes to Jesus Christ, is genuinely sorry for their sins and that they tell him so and that they want him to come into their lives and change them from the inside out, and to learn to live in the ways that he taught us to live. Repent means to turn from sinful ways although nobody is perfect, but genuine repentance leads to change and I firmly believe that as I’ve seen it in my own life, especially after I let go of a spiritual life that was going nowhere and I wasn’t sure why (well, it was stagnant) when I arrived in Houston six years ago to start that job. Call it a “wake up” call, but I started taking my devotional life (don’t mean it to sound religious as it was actually a revival–well, bringing back to life–of my relationship with Jesus Christ to a depth that it had not been in in years) very seriously at that very moment of the “wake up” call and right before my first day of work at the job in Houston. And almost immediately I started to experience a revival in my own life because I was spending time (quality time, sometimes an hour or two depending on how early I got up) reading the Bible and praying. There is so much “crap” out there in the world (especially in America) that can derail Christians even in churches and not just “out there” in society. Without that vital lifeline on a very regular basis we can’t be what he wants us to be because we are too wrapped up in our own “stuff” (careers, family, friends, and everything else). It’s not that those things are not important, but his place should be #1 in our lives and he will direct all of the rest if we truly depend on him, and that requires commitment, discipline, and living (through the power of the Holy Spirit) as he wants us to live.

Can a Christian not do that (beyond repentance as that is vital) and still be saved? Yes, but my question is this why would they want that? Why would a person want to make a commitment that is basically one-sided–all give (what we want from God) and no take (what we are willing to give back). Take education, for example, while I realize after having worked in higher education for over 20 years, that there are some adult students who are just there to get the degree to get a promotion at work and if they could buy it outright without doing any of the coursework, they would in a heartbeat, but what have they learn? How has that made them grow? I’ve had other adult students who, as they took their coursework and over time completed their degree requirements that absolutely blossomed into a new person with a lot more courage and vitality that I’m sure they didn’t expect to get along the way of getting that degree. Now, did both types of adult students stay in to get their degrees? Sure they did, but who got the most out of it and allowed it to truly change their life and world and have a lot more confidence in themselves, too? The second type of student.

That’s the same in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Are there believers who don’t grow? Sure there are–unfortunately, way too many nowadays because of our “inch-deep Christianity” mentality in thinking all we need to say is a little Jesus prayer and we’re “in.” We’ve got heaven so now we can coast. But, weren’t they coasting all along before they said that prayer? So what are they really expecting? A ticket to heaven? A relationship with Jesus Christ is so much more than that, but we live in a culture with so many enticements and little in the way of solid teaching anymore on how to avoid temptation that we cave in all the time, whether it’s gossip, or eating too much, or sex outside of marriage (and many folks just laugh at that one nowadays), etc. Well, I don’t want to make a list but I’m sure you know what I mean.

Because I believed in Jesus Christ at a very young age (10), I’ve seen the church change in significant ways (as you and many others in our age bracket have experienced, too). Some changes have been good, and some not so good. I grew up in a somewhat legalistic church but I have to tell you the bent on how far it went depended on who the senior pastor happened to be. Yeah, there is a lot of legalism out there with a set of rules for everyone to follow, and of course there is the other extreme where anything goes (in the what I call the “wildly” charismatic churches, but there are also some very sound charismatic churches). Over time, I had to learn on my own that my relationship with Jesus Christ was up to me if I wanted it to grow. Sometimes that was available by way of really solid Bible teaching classes that churches have, etc, and sometimes not so much. Everybody has their quirks so what I learned from all of that was that, bottom line, it’s my responsibility to grow in my relationship with Jesus Christ. He doesn’t force that on anyone but what’s the point of having a relationship if we expect it to be all one-sided. And I’m not talking about a “works-based” relationship, either. Too many folks get that confused with salvation and it has nothing to do with that. But if we truly love someone, don’t we usually want to please them and not just ourselves? Don’t we want to give and not just take, take, take?

Have I faltered? Of course I have. I’d say most of my 30’s were spent working, finishing my bachelor’s degree and then finishing a master’s degree (while working all the time) and when I hit 40, I moved to Fort Lauderdale as I had been awarded that one-year doctoral fellowship at Nova Southeastern University. Is there anything wrong with all of that? Absolutely not, but what was wrong was that I let my relationship with Jesus Christ slide into the background. That doesn’t mean I didn’t pray and I still very much felt like I depended on him for everything, but I did very little on my side to maintain the relationship. But I wanted him to be there when I needed him. Lots of folks get into that rut and don’t even realize it’s a rut. I think there are times, if we truly belong to Him, that he gives us a “wake up” call to see if we’ll “get it.” The last time he did that for me was when I arrived in Houston six years ago to start that ill-fated job. And I have to say the timing was absolutely perfect as if I had not done that, I would not have survived as successfully as I have (day by day by day) for these past six years.

Yeah, I know my life doesn’t look very successful right now, but that’s because our definition of success is very skewed in America. Success means great career, storybook marriage, well mannered kids, lots of money and material possessions, climbing a social latter and knowing “who’s who” and maybe even being one of them. That kind of success has nothing to due with genuine Christianity, not that it might not be a part of a Christian’s life, but it’s who or what we place in “1st place” in our lives that determines the direction of our spiritual lives. If Jesus Christ isn’t 1st, then our relationship with him will suffer in ways I can’t help but think at the end of our lives we will regret. But that notwithstanding (not trying to lay a guilt trip by saying that), if we truly love him and put him in 1st place (and NOT be fooled by all the outward trappings of society’s version of success), he will use us in whatever way he chooses to accomplish the greatest mission statement around as stated in 2 Peter 3:9and he will use us to accomplish that task in an amazing variety of ways that he gives to each one of us and that is unique to us (e.g., on an individual basis). Now that is worth living for–far more then all the temporary stuff that is here today and gone tomorrow. 

As I was thinking about the issue of repentance this morning, I decided to look in up on the internet and I found the following description at GotGuestions.org (quote source here):

Many understand the term repentance to mean “turning from sin.” This is not the biblical definition of repentance. In the Bible, the word repent means “to change one’s mind.” The Bible also tells us that true repentance will result in a change of actions (Luke 3:8-14Acts 3:19). Acts 26:20 declares, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” The full biblical definition of repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action (quote source and article here).

Repentance“Turning away from sin” is how I have always understood repentance; however, the above statement provides a fuller explanation of what it means. I like that idea of “changing one’s mind” which results in “changing one’s actions.” It is a “turning from” something (e.g. sinful behavior) and “turning to” God through Jesus Christ that will result in a change of actions. However, repentance is not works based. So many Christians get works confused with salvation; however that is a topic for another time (click here for an excellent definition of works-based salvation.”

Repentance requires action; it is a heart attitude; a “turning from” to “turning to” as explained above. It requires faith, and everyone has been given a “measure of faith” (see Romans 12:3). Martin Luther described faith as follows (source: Ligioner Ministries)

Faith is God’s work in us, that changes us and gives new birth from God. (John 1:13). It kills the Old Adam and makes us completely different people. It changes our hearts, our spirits, our thoughts and all our powers. It brings the Holy Spirit with it. Yes, it is a living, creative, active and powerful thing, this faith. Faith cannot help doing good works constantly. It doesn’t stop to ask if good works ought to be done, but before anyone asks, it already has done them and continues to do them without ceasing. Anyone who does not do good works in this manner is an unbeliever. He stumbles around and looks for faith and good works, even though he does not know what faith or good works are. Yet he gossips and chatters about faith and good works with many words.

Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith (quote source here).

Repentance is linked to faith, but it is not linked to works.” An article titled Two Errors Regarding Repentance at LoveinTruth.com states the following:

So what is repentance if we can’t do it? The answer, of course, is that it is a miracle. But it is not a miracle in which we are passive. Most of the supernatural healings of the New Testament involved the person who was sick attempting to do what was impossible in response to a command. This was the response of faith.

A good example would be the man with the withered hand who stretched it out to Jesus. Was the healing before or after he stretched it? It could not have been after, but equally could not have preceded faith. They were actually simultaneous—as he began to exercise faith by beginning the attempt to move the arm, so miraculously he was enabled to do so.

This helps us to understand how salvation works. We call on someone “dead in trespasses and sins” to repent, and the gift of faith and repentance come simultaneous with their response, giving them both the desire and the power to turn from their old lifestyle and follow Christ.

Spiritual healing works the same way as the physical. Jesus called Zacchaeus to faith, he responded immediately in repentance, “If I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold”, and Jesus’ reply was “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:8-9).

Nobody can ever claim that they can’t repent because they lack the power, because God will always supply it. He says “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and make your hearts pure, you two-minded.” (James 4:8).

So the answer is no, repentance is not a meritorious work in any sense. It is simply a turning away from our old direction as we turn to Christ. It is the other side of the coin of faith, inseparable from it. Nevertheless, just as it is true with faith, so it is equally true that repentance without works is dead (quote source here).

I’m glad my friend asked me that question about repentance that started me down that road of understanding the meaning of it this morning. As Christians, we sometimes have the mistaken idea that once we’ve turned our lives over to Jesus Christ that our lives are on “automatic pilot,” and nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we have actually entered a war zone that requires diligence on our part (see Eph. 6:10-20). There is no “coasting along” in the Christian life. Just “coasting along” will actually take us out of the running.

Perhaps someone reading this post has felt much like I did when I landed in Houston six years ago–like my spiritual life was on hold or stagnant and I didn’t know why. God is still very much there, and maybe he’s trying to get your attention, like he did with me. He can do it right now, and here’s the key . . .

Repent . . .

For the kingdom of heaven is at hand . . . .

YouTube Video: “I Repent” by Steve Green:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Unjustified Criticism

CriticsUnjustified criticism . . . don’t you just hate it? And who knows why it starts, where it comes from (well, it’s usually not hard to figure out where it’s coming from or where it started) and why it continues (and the real kicker is that often those folks doing the criticizing are relentless). It can come from close family members and/or close friends and/or coworkers and/or a boss or, well, just about anyone who wants to criticize us for a variety of reasons and motives.

Unfortunately, those folks doing the criticizing never seem to wear the shoes of the one who they are chronically blasting. And, depending on the motive(s) behind the criticism it can get down right vicious. And, it can destroy careers, reputations, relationships, and trickle down into a host of other areas in one’s life as those folks try their best to make our lives unbearable. But then, perhaps, that was part of the reason in the first place.

The reblogged post below titled, Unjust Criticism,” by The Daily Way addresses the issues of unjust criticism using the example of Moses. In his case the unjustified criticism came from his siblings and was motivated by envy and jealousy. Moses’ response was to intercede for them to the Lord and leave it in His hands. That’s a good remind for us if we are encountering a slew of criticism and refuse to be buried under its weight. As the reblogged post below states:

Maybe you are experiencing unjust criticism. Are you quietly doing what the Lord has called you to do, but keep getting ridiculed from those who know you best? Don’t despair or give in.

The Lord knows. He will be your source of strength and determination. Allow Him to take care of criticism and the critics by keeping your eyes focused on Christ.

God knows–and he knows everything. And he knows how the story will end, too. So don’t cave in, and look to the Lord for our help, strength, and determination. And keep a clean slate with him, too (it’s called repentence).

And don’t forget to love those who are criticizing you, no matter how hot the criticism gets, as it is love that covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:18).

YouTube Video: “Let Them See You” by JJ Weeks Band (click here for video).

Photo credit here

The Daily Way

Have you ever worked as diligently as you know how, only to have somebody criticize you for something irrelevant to what you have accomplished? People who are critical often focus on unimportant things. They are motivated by envy and jealousy. Miriam and Aaron were jealous of their brother, Moses. They were envious of his godly anointing and the leadership role he had among God’s chosen people. However, instead of expressing their true feelings, they criticized Moses for marrying a non-Israelite.

Personal criticism, even when justified, is painful. Unjust and irrelevant criticism hurts deeply, especially when it comes from someone you love and trust. The criticism Moses was getting from his siblings was unjustified. Moses had interceded for them to the Lord for their idolatry, immorality, and continual murmuring. Miriam and Aaron knew that Moses was not motivated by personal gain. Numbers 12:3 states, “Now Moses was a very humble man…

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Recognizing a False Prophet

Wolf in sheep's clothingThe topic of false prophets is a subject that I don’t personally write about on my blog but it is a topic that is very important to the Church-at-Large especially here in America. Many Christians in America are sorely lacking in spiritual discernment and that goes side-by-side with the whole issue of Biblical illiteracy that is so prevalent among Christians today. We tend to leave our own “learning” to others and that leaves us wide open and gullible to deadly “doctrines.”

I have reblogged a post (see below) by Anna Diehl titled, How to Recognize a False Prophet,” and it is very informative and gives several clear signs to watch for–like sitting under a preacher/teacher who is always saying what people want to hear (which is a dead giveaway but many people tend to flock to those preachers/teachers for that very reason).

The article is a good reality check that we need to heed . . . .

Photo credit here

Carrying Each Other’s Burdens

One AnotherAs I’ve gotten older and especially during these past five and a half years of long-term unemployment, I’ve discovered a sad fact in the Christian community. We don’t often carry one another’s burdens. We do give a fair amount of lip service to others carrying burdens by saying thing like “I’m praying for you,” or “I’m sure God will come through in some way,” and often accompanied by a look on our face that says we really don’t care all that much. But to offer meaningful help?

Not so much . . .

Listening to trite answers from folks who call themselves Christian who are supposed to be helpful in meaningful ways is absolutely worthless (and so are the ulterior motives that are sometimes behind those trite answers). I’m certainly not implying that all folks who call themselves Christians are that way, but in the past 5 1/2 years, it’s been discouraging to see just how many have been and seem to be. Unfortunately, we are really good at judging others we don’t know or understand and gossiping about them behind their backs (and, again, watch out for those ulterior motives) instead of helping them in their time of need. And even if we can’t help, we should at the very least be genuinely concerned. Fake is easily discerned. So is a total lack of empathy.

So, how about we step up to the plate and be what Jesus Christ told us to be if we truly follow after him (see Luke 6:27-36). Loving our neighbors and our enemies and anybody else we don’t happen to like is not an option, not if we call ourselves Christian. And if we can help someone with something other than trite answers and cutesy Christian catch phrases that we rarely follow through on (like the infamous one–“I’m praying for you”–while exiting the conversation as quickly as possible), we should be doing it. If we don’t, who will? When was the last time we actually put ourselves in someone else’s shoes even for a few moments to try to understand their plight instead of only caring about our own. And I’m not talking about those folks we hang with or like. I’m talking about strangers in our midst, too.

’Nough said. See the reblogged post below from The Daily Way titled, Carry Each Other’s Burdens.” Nobody wants to fight a battle alone, but we let them do it far too often and make way too many excuses for doing it, too. We need to stop judging and gossiping about others, especially those we don’t know or understand, and help them instead of given them trite answers that mean nothing.

It’s time to stop . . .

And if we genuinely don’t care . . .

It’s time to stop calling ourselves Christian.

YouTube video, “One Day” — Kindness Boomerang, available at this link.

Photo credit here

The Daily Way

Moses sent Joshua to fight against the Amalekites. Then he, along with Aaron and Hur, went to stand on top of a hill overlooking the battlefield. As long as Moses prayed with his hands held up, the Israelites would gain ground and win. However, whenever he lowered his hands, they began to lose.

Have you ever stood with your hands lifted up for any extended time? It is tiring. Your arms become heavy and your hands begin to feel tingly. Imagine Moses standing with his hands held high and then lowering them as he struggled under their weight. He couldn’t do it. He needed help, so Aaron and Hur placed a stone for Moses to sit on. Then they held up his hands—holding them steady until the sun set and God granted the nation of Israel victory.

How many times have you tried to fight a battle by yourself? You…

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Never Forget

We Remember 9-11-01Today is the 13th anniversary of 9/11–the day that America was attacked on its own soil by terrorists. It was also the day Americans lost our sense of national security. Two years ago I wrote two blog posts regarding 9/11, and those posts are: “Eleven Years After,” written on September 11, 2012, the 11th anniversary of 9/11; and What We Need,” written four days later on September 15, 2012, regarding the attack on our American Consulate in Benghazi in Libya on the 11th anniversary of 9/11 (September 11, 2012) that resulted in the deaths of American ambassador Christopher Stevens and three of his staff.

On September 20, 2001, nine day after the 9/11 attack, in a speech to the joint sessions of Congress, President George W. Bush used the words War on Terror for the first time (transcript of the entire speech is available at this link). In his speech he made the following statement:

On September 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country. Americans have known wars, but for the past 136 years, they have been wars on foreign soil, except for one Sunday in 1941. Americans have known the casualties of war, but not at the center of a great city on a peaceful morning. Americans have known surprise attacks but never before on thousands of civilians. All of this was brought upon us in a single day, and night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack (quote source here).

Terrorism has not abated since that day although it has not landed on our shores again on a national level, but it has landed elsewhere, most notably in Syria and Iraq at this present time. While the 9/11 attack was lead by a terrorist organization known as Al Qaeda, it has morphed into something even worse, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS/ISIL.

In a speech given by President Barack Obama last night regarding the ongoing fight with terrorists–this time with ISIS (ISIL) attacking in Iraq and Syria–he made the following statement (transcript of the entire speech is available at www.whitehouse.gov at this link; video is available at this link):

We will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists. Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense. Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven (quote source here).

In his speech last night President Obama made a clear statement on the differentiation we need to keep in mind regarding the religion of Islam and the ISIS/ISIL:

Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents. And the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor by the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.

In a region that has known so much bloodshed, these terrorists are unique in their brutality. They execute captured prisoners. They kill children. They enslave, rape, and force women into marriage. They threatened a religious minority with genocide. And in acts of barbarism, they took the lives of two American journalists–Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff.

So ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East–including American citizens, personnel and facilities. If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our Intelligence Community believes that thousands of foreigners-–including Europeans and some Americans–-have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle-hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks (quote source here).

worldtradetowersTerrorism is “violence that is committed by a person, group, or government in order to frighten people and achieve a political goal” (quote source here) and “a systematic use of terror as a means of coercion” (quote source here). Terrorism is not a religion though it may claim religious roots. Violence and terror have never been a part of true religion. True religion is defined as follows in James 1:27:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

The verses just prior to James 1:27 state how we should be living under true religion:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1:19-27).

We live in a world that has become increasingly violent. That world was brought to our very shores at a national level on September 11, 2001, and it continues to spread its terror in other countries on our planet. At the core of terrorism is a political goal and domination, and it uses fear to control people.

In the Bible there are two types of fear mentioned. Those two types of fear are as follows (quote source from an article at GotQuestions?org):

The first type is beneficial and is to be encouraged. The second type is a detriment and is to be overcome. The first type of fear is fear of the Lord. This type of fear does not necessarily mean to be afraid of something. Rather, it is a reverential awe of God; a reverence for His power and glory. However, it is also a proper respect for His wrath and anger. In other words, the fear of the Lord is a total acknowledgement of all that God is, which comes through knowing Him and His attributes. . . .

However, the second type of fear mentioned in the Bible is not beneficial at all. This is the “spirit of fear” mentioned in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (NKJV). A spirit of fearfulness and timidity does not come from God.

However, sometimes we are afraid, sometimes this “spirit of fear” overcomes us, and to overcome it we need to trust in and love God completely. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). No one is perfect, and God knows this. That is why He has liberally sprinkled encouragement against fear throughout the Bible. Beginning in the book of Genesis and continuing throughout the book of Revelation, God reminds us to “Fear not” (full article is available at this link). 

One of the issues that has come up since the initial attack of 9/11 is the growing attitude of complacency on the part of the American public (I wrote about it two years ago in my blog post titled, Eleven Years After). After the initial shock had worn off from the 9/11 attack, it wasn’t long before we were back living normal lives in our own little world and letting down our guard towards terrorism, assuming that our government had it under control with the establishment of the Office of Homeland Security. And over time this complacency has increased and we have been lulled to sleep once again, only to be disturbed by the current crisis involving ISIS/ISIL. And that disturbance has brought back a sense of fear, yet not enough to drive us from our own complacency.

Last night I ran into an article written by Lloyd Pulley, pastor at Calvary Chapel Old Bridges, titled We Will Never Forget 9/11,” (published in MyCentralJersey on September 10, 2014) in which he asked the question, “Has America grown complacent and apathetic 13 years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001?” The article is short and well worth reading, and it is available at this link. Here are a couple of paragraphs from his article:

Today we are a culture that builds back decks instead of community-gathering front porches. We have opted for our perceived privacy and our Facebook “friends” worldwide, instead of being a part of a local community and knowing our neighbors.

And with this preoccupation, do we have a false sense of security as we did prior to 9/11? After all, thankfully, we have enjoyed more than a decade, during which no other macro-level attacks have occurred. We catch glimpses of ISIS beheadings in Iraq and perhaps half listen to the warnings of their activities in Syria. Yet we cannot bring ourselves to face the reality that ISIS has well-prepared militants who have infiltrated our porous borders and are ready to act.

In President Obama’s speech last night he outlined how America would be involved in the current crisis with ISIS/ISIL. We need to remember to pray for him and our leaders and military personnel involved in this intervention on a regular basis. He ended his speech with the following words:

Tonight, I ask for your support in carrying that leadership forward. I do so as a Commander-in-Chief who could not be prouder of our men and women in uniform–-pilots who bravely fly in the face of danger above the Middle East, and service members who support our partners on the ground.

When we helped prevent the massacre of civilians trapped on a distant mountain, here’s what one of them said: “We owe our American friends our lives. Our children will always remember that there was someone who felt our struggle and made a long journey to protect innocent people.”

That is the difference we make in the world. And our own safety, our own security, depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation and uphold the values that we stand for–-timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth.

May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America (quote source here).

The cross of 9-11(2)This is not a time for the American public to remain complacent or myopic. For those of us who believe in the power of prayer, we need to remember to pray for everyone involved in this crisis including our leaders, our military, and the victims and the horrific crimes being committed against them. Terrorism knows no boundaries.

For those of us who call ourselves Christian, we need to remember who we are here to serve, and it’s not ourselves. I’m reminded of a time in Daniel’s life when God gave him the answer he needed to give to King Nebuchadnezzar concerning a dream the King had (the story is found in Daniel 2). Once the interpretation of the dream had been given to Daniel, he responded with these words in Daniel 2:19-23:

Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
    wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons;
    he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to the discerning.
He reveals deep and hidden things;
    he knows what lies in darkness,
    and light dwells with him.
I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
    You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
    you have made known to us the dream of the king.

Let us never forget that our prayers have power behind them. Personally, I admit that I often forget to pray for our leaders, but even more now then ever we need to remember to pray for them that God will give them wisdom and guide the decisions they make especially in these times of increasing terrorism.

The fate of all nations is, ultimately, in God’s hands. Nations and empires have come and gone, but God’s mission has always been the same since the beginning of time, and that mission is found in 2 Peter 3:8-10:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

God’s desire is that everyone would come to repentance, and that repentance is only found in Jesus Christ:

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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son (John 3:16-18).

As we commemorate this 13th anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11, let us humble ourselves before God, repenting of our self-centered ways and our complacency, and thanking him for all he has done for us. And let us pray for our leaders, our nation, and the victims of the horrific terrorism that is still so very rampant in our world today.

May we never forget . . . .

YouTube Video: “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning” by Alan Jackson:

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A Matter of Justice

A person’s reputation is a very fragile thing. What has taken a person a lifetime to build can be destroyed in very short order, especially with today’s social media and internet access. It can be destroyed by something the person has actually done or by those wishing to destroy that person for personal gain–as in monetary gain or a career advantage, self-protection, or any number of other reasons to include jealousy, hatred, or rage. Often it can be a combination of both (something the person has actually done and the exploitation of it by others) by taking a person’s vulnerabilities (and we all have skeletons in our closets) and exploiting them in an attempt to totally destroy that person’s credibility and life.

It’s called character assassination (see definition below):

Character assassination is a deliberate and sustained process that aims to destroy the credibility and reputation of a person, institution, social group, or nation. Agents of character assassinations employ a mix of open and covert methods to achieve their goals, such as raising false accusations, planting and fostering rumors, and manipulating information.

Character assassination is an attempt to tarnish a person’s reputation. It may involve exaggeration, misleading half-truths, or manipulation of facts to present an untrue picture of the targeted person. It is a form of defamation and can be a form of ad hominem argument.

For living individuals targeted by character assassination attempts, this may result in being rejected by their community, family, or members of their living or work environment. Such acts are often difficult to reverse or rectify, and the process is likened to a literal assassination of a human life. The damage sustained can last a lifetime or, for historical figures, for many centuries after their death (quote source here).

A legal definition of character assassination from USLegal.com is as follows:

Character assassination refers to the slandering or vicious personal verbal attack on a person with the intention of destroying or damaging that person’s reputation or confidence. In other words it is malicious verbal assaults designed to damage or tarnish the reputation of a person. Once done, these acts are often difficult to reverse or rectify. Therefore it is likened to a literal assassination of a human life. The damage sustained can last a lifetime or, for historical figures and important personalities, for many centuries after their death.

It involves a deliberate attempt to destroy a person’s reputation, especially by criticizing them in an unfair and dishonest way when they are not present. It can also involve exaggeration or manipulation of facts to present an untrue picture of the targeted person, double speak, spreading of rumors, innuendo or deliberate misinformation on topics relating to the subject’s morals, integrity, and reputation. It is a form of defamation (quote source here).

“Defamation” is defined as “Any intentional false communication, either written or spoken, that harms a person’s reputation; decreases the respect, regard, or confidence in which a person is held; or induces disparaging, hostile, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against a person” (quote source here). It is, in fact, a deliberate attempt by others to destroy a person’s reputation and life.

There are a host of Bible characters whose reputations and lives were tarnished by others and sometimes by their own actions, too, yet God never took his hand off of them and used them in a mighty way for his own purposes. Hebrews 11 is filled with the names of people who never lost their faith in God, and it was obvious by their actions (and not by their flaws). Some of those named are Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Samson, David, and others mentioned without names in that chapter.

CharacterAssassinationAs much as we want to maintain and hang on to a good reputation, we cannot stop what others, especially those more powerful or with more connections, can do to us. I’m reminded of what happened to a woman doctor I saw back in August 2011 in a town I used to live in who was essentially “run out of town” and put out of business through a number of truly horrible things that people did to her through no fault of her own (see Dinsmore Defense at this link).

Dr. Dinsmore was recommended to me by an agency that helped those without financial resources but in need of medical assistance in the town where I lived and where Dr. Dinsmore’s office was located (which was a few miles north of where the hospital is located where she had privileges). I wrote about what happened to me three years ago in two back-to-back blog posts titled, From Ripped-Off to Renewal (dated August 25, 2011), and A Very Good Ending to a Very Bad Week (dated August 26, 2011), when I needed medical assistance for an infection I received from a medication I had been given at another “nationwide” clinic but that clinic would not help me. I also sought help at several other clinics in town; however, for one reason or another, they could not help me and I got shuffled around. That is when I decided to go to Dr. Dinsmore’s office.

As it turned out, Dr. Dinsmore was a Godsend to me. After a truly horrible week of trying to find anyone to help me with this infection (caused by a medication given to me at another clinic) she and her staff were the brightest spot in it. She was gracious and kind and only charged me $20 plus lab fees and gave me a prescription for what I needed with four refills. Of course, I had no idea when I saw her of the horror story that she was going through in her own life at that time.

The people involved in destroying her reputation and medical practice were able to literally take away her hospital privileges which effectively shut down her practice (her specialty was/is OB/GYN), and forced her to leave that town where she had practiced for several years. And the main motivation for closing her practice down was money (her story is available at this link). It took her over a year and relocating to the Midwest to reestablish her career and her reputation. And in November 2012, she was exonerated of any wrongdoing by the Governor’s office (see link) but not after substantial financial loss to her and her family which forced her to leave the community and destroyed her reputation as a doctor in that community.

It wasn’t until a year ago in August 2013 when I needed another prescription for this same medication (I rarely ever needed it but for some reason the infection was reoccurring while I lived in that town–I used to joke that it had to be something in the water there) that I went back to her office (two years later), which was surrounded by other businesses, and I discovered it was closed down. When I inquired at a nearby business what happened to her medical practice they said they didn’t know but that she had been closed down for a while. When I got back home I did an internet search for her and, of course, was shocked when I found the website above and how she was literally run out of town all because of greed/money (although after reading the entire website I can see there were other reasons but money was the main one).

Dr. Dinsmore absolutely did not deserve what happened to her. This goes to show that no matter how much we try to keep or preserve a good reputation, others with ill intent and ulterior motives can, quite effectively, destroy a person and their reputation, including their ability to earn an income. Fortunately, in Dr. Dinsmore’s case, she was eventually exonerated by the Governor’s office of any wrongdoing and is still able to practice her profession. Unfortunately, she had to go through hell to get there not to mention substantial financial loss to her and her family as well as her reputation. And all because of vicious people with power who loved money.

We like to say (and it is true) that God is a God of love, but he is also a God of justice. I’m reminded of what the apostle Paul had to say to the Christians in Rome in Romans 2:11–e.g., that God does not show favoritism. Let’s read that passage in context (Romans 2:1-11):

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.

Amos 5v24 logoWe cannot guard our reputation from the ill intent of others who only want to harm us in order to receive gain for themselves in come way (often but not always monetary). And we often cannot protect ourselves from the harm that they have caused us, but we can trust ourselves to God who is not only a God of great love, kindness, and mercy, but a God of justice. And it helps to remember the advice and instructions given to us by the apostle Paul in Romans 12:17-21, especially when others have tried or keep trying to destroy us in some way:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

I can more than imagine what Dr. Dinsmore went through while she was going through it. And I am grateful that in the midst of all of her losses, she was able to get reestablished again in her profession and move on. And I am grateful that the Governor’s office exonerated her from all the wrongdoing that she was accused of doing that destroyed her reputation and her livelihood in that community, and her accusers did it all for the sake of their own monetary gain.

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (I Timothy 6:10). So why don’t we believe this, especially here in America? Greed blinds people. And destroying someone else to get what we want is never God’s way. Never. . . .

Our dependence upon God is far more valuable than our reputation with man. So the question we need to ask ourselves is this: Are we willing to being faithful to God and let him have control of our lives? “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6). In other words . . . 

Do we care more about our own personal gain and how to get it . . . 

Or do we care more about God who is our rewarder . . .

The answer is quite revealing . . . .

YouTube Video: “Your Love Oh Lord” by Third Day:

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