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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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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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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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Tisha B’Av 5775 (2015)

Tisha B’Av (the 9th of Av on the Jewish calendar) falls on Saturday, July 25, 2015, on our Western calendar this year. It officially starts at sundown on Friday, July 24th; however, since it is falling on the Sabbath this year, it will be observed starting at sundown on Saturday, July 25th (when the Sabbath officially ends), and ending at sundown on Sunday, July 26th. I have written about Tisha B’ Av” (reblogging the original post) for the past three years, and I decided to repost it again today (see below). It is customary to read from the books of Lamentations and Job in the Old Testament on this day known as an “official day of mourning and fasting” due to a series of catastrophes (listed below) that occurred on this exact same day over a period of centuries including the destruction of the First Temple (Solomon’s Temple) and Second Temple in Jerusalem.

Here are a few verses from Lamentations to get us started (Lamentations 3:22-26, NIV):

Because of the Lord’s great love
we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those
whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

Photo credit here

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Below is my original blog post from 2012 (Tisha B’Av and 9/11):

Tisha B’Av and 9/11

Posted on July 29, 2012 by Sara’s Musings

tisha-bav-the-jewish-911-yeshuatyisrael-comToday is Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av on the Jewish calendar. It started at sundown yesterday and ends at nightfall tonight (which is the typical start and end of each day on the Jewish calendar). However, this particular day has powerful significance for the Jewish people and it is known as a day of mourning due to a series of severe catastrophes that occurred on this same day over a period of centuries.

Being a Gentile (non-Jewish), I haven’t given much thought to the Jewish calendar over the years in relation to our own calendar. However, in June, I stumbled upon some interesting facts regarding the Jewish calendar and came upon information about Tisha B’Av and the three weeks prior to that day–a time frame observed by religious Jews as a time of fasting, mourning and repentance that starts on the 17th day of Tammuz and leads up to the official day of mourning, the 9th of AvTisha B’Av.

So what exactly happened on Tisha B’Av? The following information is taken from Chabad.org:

The 9th of Av, Tisha b’Av, commemorates a list of catastrophes so severe it’s clearly a day specially cursed by G‑d.

Picture this: The year is 1313 BCE. The Israelites are in the desert, recently having experienced the miraculous Exodus, and are now poised to enter the Promised Land. But first they dispatch a reconnaissance mission to assist in formulating a prudent battle strategy. The spies return on the eighth day of Av and report that the land is unconquerable. That night, the 9th of Av, the people cry. They insist that they’d rather go back to Egypt than be slaughtered by the Canaanites. G‑d is highly displeased by this public demonstration of distrust in His power, and consequently that generation of Israelites never enters the Holy Land. Only their children have that privilege, after wandering in the desert for another 38 years.

The First Temple was also destroyed on the 9th of Av (423 BCE). Five centuries later (in 69 CE), as the Romans drew closer to the Second Temple, ready to torch it, the Jews were shocked to realize that their Second Temple was destroyed the same day as the first.

When the Jews rebelled against Roman rule, they believed that their leader, Simon bar Kochba, would fulfill their messianic longings. But their hopes were cruelly dashed in 133 CE as the Jewish rebels were brutally butchered in the final battle at Betar. The date of the massacre? Of course—the 9th of Av!

One year after their conquest of Betar, the Romans plowed over the Temple Mount, our nation’s holiest site.

The Jews were expelled from England in 1290 CE on, you guessed it, Tisha b’Av. In 1492, the Golden Age of Spain came to a close when Queen Isabella and her husband Ferdinand ordered that the Jews be banished from the land. The edict of expulsion was signed on March 31, 1492, and the Jews were given exactly four months to put their affairs in order and leave the country. The Hebrew date on which no Jew was allowed any longer to remain in the land where he had enjoyed welcome and prosperity? Oh, by now you know it—the 9th of Av.

Ready for just one more? World War II and the Holocaust, historians conclude, was actually the long drawn-out conclusion of World War I that began in 1914. And yes, amazingly enough, Germany declared war on Russia, effectively catapulting the First World War into motion, on the 9th of Av, Tisha b’Av.

What do you make of all this? Jews see this as another confirmation of the deeply held conviction that history isn’t haphazard; events – even terrible ones – are part of a Divine plan and have spiritual meaning. The message of time is that everything has a rational purpose, even though we don’t understand it.

I was stunned after I read that list and realized that every single horrific event listed above that occurred over several centuries happened on the exact same day–the 9th of Av, Tisha B’Av. I found a “reader” (a small collection of articles) on Tisha B’Av and the Three Weeks at Aish.com and downloaded it last night and read it this morning. As I was reading through the incredibly moving stories, the similarities that the Jewish people feel regarding the catastrophes that have happened to them on Tisha B’Av are not dissimilar to how Americans feel about what happened to us on 9/11. Tisha B’Av is primarily about mourning the loss of the Temple (twice), where God’s presence dwelt among the Jewish people in the Old Testament. It was the pulling away of God from His people and His presence in their lives. Normally, during Tisha B’Av the Book of Lamentations is read as well as other readings which “reflect the sadness of the tragedies and often relate the tragedies to rebellion of the people. However some of the Kinot [readings] reflect the hope of redemption” (Source no longer available at former website).

The following two quotes are from two articles in the reader which you can download at this site: Tisha B’Av Reader. The first quote is from an article titled, “The Heart-Rending Cry” by Keren Gottleib, pp. 4-7:

“I understood that this [the mourning mentioned in her article] was exactly how we are supposed to mourn the Temple on Tisha B’Av. We are supposed to cry over the loss of the unity and peace throughout the entire world. We are supposed to lament the disappearance of the Divine Presence and holiness from our lives in Israel. We are supposed to be pained by the destruction of our spiritual center, which served to unify the entire Jewish nation.

“We’re supposed to feel as if something very precious has been taken away from us forever. We are meant to cry, to be shocked and angry, to break down. We are supposed to  mourn over the destruction of the Temple, to cry over a magnificent era that has been uprooted from the face of the earth. The incredible closeness that we had with God–that feeling that He is truly within us–has evaporated and disappeared into thin air” (p. 7).

As I read that article I was struck by that last sentence, The incredible closeness that we had with God–that feeling that He is truly within us–has evaporated and disappeared into thin air.” After America’s own catastrophe, 9/11, we pulled together (and filled the churches) and were united once again as a nation unlike anything we had experienced in recent decades since the war in Vietnam that divided our nation; however, it didn’t take long for most Americans to get back to living their own individual lives again although every time we go through security to board an airplane it should serve to remind us of the horror of that terrorist attack instead of as an inconvenience that takes too long to navigate. And, after the initial shock of 9/11 dimmed, we put God back on the shelf, too, except maybe on Sunday morning.

The second quote is from an article titled, “On the Same Team,” by Dov Moshe Lipman, pp.7-9:

“Perhaps each time God puts us through another round of suffering, His proclamation of ‘Again,’ He is waiting for us to stop identifying ourselves as an individual Jew coming from his separate background and upbringing. ‘I’m modern Orthodox.’ ‘I’m Reform.’ ‘I’m a Hasid.’ ‘I’m secular.’ ‘I’m Conservative.’ ‘I’m yeshivishe.’

Those characterizations polarize the nation and make it impossible for us to function together as one team. As individual groups, we cannot accomplish what we can accomplish as one team. We are held back by that same baseless hatred which creeps in when we are not one unit.

“Perhaps God is waiting for all of us to proclaim in unison, ‘I am a Jew.” Plain and simple.

“Even more importantly, perhaps God is waiting for us to stop seeing others as ‘He’s modern Orthodox.’ ‘He’s Reform.’ ‘He’s a Hasid.’ ‘He’s secular.’ ‘He’s Conservative.’ ‘He’s yeshivishe.’

“Perhaps the answer to our suffering and long exile is reaching the point where we see other Jews as members of the same team and family. Jews and nothing else” (pp. 8-9).

As I read those words, it became crystal clear that we as Christians in America do the same thing. We put each other in categories–‘Baptist.’ ‘Charismatic.’ ‘Methodist.’ ‘Pentacostal.’ ‘Anglican.’ And the list goes on and on . . . . Yet we all claim to serve the same God through Jesus Christ. We fight among ourselves in a sort of “our church is better than yours” self-righteousness instead of working together, united in Jesus Christ. No wonder our nation is falling apart. We have forgotten what true repentance is and what it requires of us, and we’ve forgotten that if Jesus Christ is truly our Savior and Lord, that we are all on the same team.

Another anniversary of the horrific catastrophe of 9/11 will soon be here. Will we continue to be “one nation divided or “one nation united under God”? Do we want to see God’s blessing on our nation again, or will we continue on a path that brings only division and strife, and ultimately, destruction?

The choice is ours . . . 

And we need to start making it now . . . .

Music is not played during the observance of Tisha B’Av; therefore, I have not included a YouTube video on this post.

Photo credit here

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:

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

What We Need

I’ve been reflecting for the past few days on what happened eleven years ago (2001) on September 11 (see my blog post titled Eleven Years After). On September 11 this past week our American ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three of his staff members were assassinated. And the violence that started in Libya and Cairo has extended to Yemen and across the Middle East. The original attack in Libya was planned to take place on 9/11. Planned . . . and executed.

In a statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, September 12, 2012, she asked this question, “How can this happen in a country we help liberate, in a city [Benghazi] we helped save from destruction?” Clinton said that question “reflects just how complicated, and at times, how confounding the world can be” (quote source here).

 . . . how complicated . . . how confounding the world can be.” As Americans, we have a tendency to think that the world thinks like we do. When we don’t understand the ideology of those who are our enemies, we can be easily duped. What happened to us on 9/11 eleven years ago is a classic example of how blind we are to what our enemies are capable of doing to us. Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) is another example. We didn’t learn from that one in 1941, and we haven’t learned from the second attack on September 11, 2001, either.

Our enemies do not think like we think. When will we learn this lesson?

For those of us who believe in God (the God of this Universe and His Only Son, Jesus Christ), God is a great source of comfort in the midst of suffering. Horrific events such as Pearl Harbor or 9/11 are not cancelled out as a part of our existence just because we believe in God, and many examples throughout the Old and New Testaments attest to the fact that people who believe in God will go through suffering (after all, Jesus Christ is our example). This is not an easy message for Christians in America to hear after the past few decades of “me-ism” that has invaded so many of our churches across the land.

While suffering on a national level seems to fade over time (to our detriment), suffering on a personal level can last for years, even a lifetime. I read the following devotion this morning in Our Daily Bread titled, What We Need(scripture reference: 2 Corinthians 1:1-7) which brings this message home, but with a great deal of hope in the midst of suffering:

The heartbreaking stories keep coming. The friend whose grown daughter has left her husband and kids. The dads I recently met who lost their teen sons in car accidents. The pillar of the church whose retirement years have been marked by a string of bad medical news. You know the stories. You may have your own.

Where do we go for help when struggles and pain threaten to shake our faith and steal our last ounce of joy?

Second Corinthians 1:3 may be just the right destination. It is full of hope, help, and possibilities. 

Examine what that verse tells us: Paul lifts praise to God on two levels (and remember, Paul had more struggles and trouble than most of us could stand). First, he simply sends praise to God, who is not just our God but the God and Father of Jesus Himself. Think about the power and the love behind that!

Then he gives us even better news: Our heavenly Father is the God of mercy and compassion. He cares for us with an everlasting, gracious love. And there’s more—He is also the God of all comfort.

Need compassion? Need comfort? Go to God. He has an endless supply and is ready to pour it out on you in abundance. He is what we need in times of trouble!

I must have the Savior with me,
For my faith at best is weak;
He will whisper words of comfort,
That no other voice can speak. —Anon.

God’s whisper of comfort helps quiet the noise of our trials.

The following words are from the Apostle Paul, who’s life was full of struggles and trials from the time Jesus Christ made Himself known to him on the Damascus Road until his death many years later, yet he was always full of praise to the God of all comfort. These words are from 2 Corinthians 1:1-14, 24 from The Message Bible:

“I , Paul, have been sent on a special mission by the Messiah, Jesus, planned by God himself. I write this to God’s congregation in Corinth, and to believers all over Achaia province. May all the gifts and benefits that come from God our Father and the Master, Jesus Christ, be yours! Timothy, someone you know and trust, joins me in this greeting.

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too.

“When we suffer for Jesus, it works out for your healing and salvation. If we are treated well, given a helping hand and encouraging word, that also works to your benefit, spurring you on, face forward, unflinching. Your hard times are also our hard times. When we see that you’re just as willing to endure the hard times as to enjoy the good times, we know you’re going to make it, no doubt about it.

“We don’t want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead! And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he’ll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing. You and your prayers are part of the rescue operation—I don’t want you in the dark about that either. I can see your faces even now, lifted in praise for God’s deliverance of us, a rescue in which your prayers played such a crucial part.

“Now that the worst is over, we’re pleased we can report that we’ve come out of this with conscience and faith intact, and can face the world—and even more importantly, face you with our heads held high. But it wasn’t by any fancy footwork on our part. It was God who kept us focused on him, uncompromised. Don’t try to read between the lines or look for hidden meanings in this letter. We’re writing plain, unembellished truth, hoping that you’ll now see the whole picture as well as you’ve seen some of the details. We want you to be as proud of us as we are of you when we stand together before our Master Jesus.

“ . . . We’re not in charge of how you live out the faith, looking over your shoulders, suspiciously critical. We’re partners, working alongside you, joyfully expectant. I know that you stand by your own faith, not by ours.”

The Apostle Paul considered himself a partner with those he worked with and among throughout all of his travels. He didn’t look over anyone’s shoulder “suspiciously critical.” He clearly pointed the way of following after Jesus Christ is all of his letters to the churches, always giving praise and thanks, in good times and in bad, to the One who redeemed him.

I remember a conversation I had not long ago with a friend who was going through a hard time. This friend, a devoted Christian, made the comment that he didn’t understand why there were so many ongoing trials in his and his family’s life and said to me, rhetorically of course, “I thought God wanted me happy.” That, in a nutshell, is what so much of Americanized Christianity is all about–being happy. And that’s not it, folks. It’s not even close.

Where did we get the idea that once we accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord that our lives would get easier? I don’t find that message in the Bible anywhere. And yet we’ve been fed that message for decades–a soft, easy Christianity complete with prosperity at our fingertips and every “need” (read that “want” or “whim”) met. That’s what happens when you don’t study the Bible on your own on a daily basis and listen to all the other “voices” out there in society that state that you can have Jesus and everything else, too.

You can’t . . . . The type of love that Jesus Christ shows us is a “sacrificial” love–a love that cares more about others then about self. In the InTouch devotion for today titled A Life Worthy of Reward,” this type of love is a love that “gives sacrificially, forgives willingly, and loves extravagantly (Acts 2:45; Eph. 4:32; I Peter 1:22). Pride and selfishness have no place in this edifice.” Other points included in this devotion are applying the Word of God to our lives on a daily basis; using our gifts to glorify the Lord (and not ourselves), and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with others. As stated at the end of this devotion, “The Lord Himself has called us to this task” (Matt. 28:19).

We may never fully understand the thinking or the ideology of the fierce enemies that surround us in this world, but we are called to love them. Here’s what The Message Bible states about loving our enemies (Matt: 5:43-48):

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

If you’re like me, I tend to rail at my enemies and I just want them to leave me alone. Well, enemies seldom do that. I need to heed these words of Jesus as much as anyone, so let’s work at this together and look to that “great cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us, and to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2), blazing the way . . .

Now that’s a plan that works . . . .

YouTube Video: “All You Need is Love” (Lennon/McCartney) by The Beatles (1967):

Photo credit here

Eleven Years After

Today is the eleventh anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on American soil to date (previous to this date the worst attack was when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941). I remember the events of 9/11 as clearly as if it happened yesterday (as I’m sure many of you do, too). I was working at the University of Central Florida in Orlando at the time and I walked down the hallway to a little coffee shop in the lobby to get coffee shortly after 9:00 a.m. At the checkout counter someone had placed a tiny little black and white TV perched atop some books and as I looked at the image I saw on the screen I watched an instant replay of the first plane that hit the first tower minutes earlier. Was this real? Was it a movie? It absolutely shocked me. And, as we all know, it was all too real. Surreal actually.

A second plane hit the second tower and within a short period of time after that both towers came crashing down. Students and staff filled classrooms with TV sets to watch in horror all that unfolded that morning not only in New York City but also in a field in Pennsylvania and in Washington, D.C. Around noon the President of the campus announced that the campus was shutting down for security reasons and we were all told to go home. The security of living in “the land of the free and the home of the brave had been violated at it’s core. Nothing felt safe anymore.

In a letter written and published today by Dr. Michael Youssef (you can read the entire contents here), he states the following in the first two paragraphs:

“Eleven years ago today, a group of Muslim terrorists deliberately calculated and executed a plan to attack and mass murder Americans on our own soil. Not only did they kill nearly three thousand of our fellow citizens; they killed in the name of their god and their religion.

“For a moment, we saw a glimmer of hope that America had been roused from her deep sleep. We saw millions of people pour into churches. Citizens were interested in addressing the issue of radical Islam. Patriotism was seen everywhere. However, the change of heart did not last very long. Soon, eyes grew heavy and many Americans hit the snooze button so they could sleep just a little bit longer. As they drifted back to sleep, they hoped someone would broker a cheap peace with an ideology they did not understand.”

For the first time since that tragedy happened, the National Cathedral has decided to scale back on it’s 9/11 services. “In past years, the cathedral hosted events that drew the attendance of presidents and other leaders. The interim dean, Rev. Dr. Francis Wade, said in a statement that he hopes the decision (e.g., to scale back) will help the country heal and move past the tragedy” [emphasis mine] (quote source here).

Will help the country heal and move past the tragedy?

Really???

Does this mean that terrorists fail to exist anymore? Does this mean it’s now okay to bury our heads in the sand and just ignore what happened and go about our “business as usual” lifestyle? As George Bernard Shaw stated, “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience” (quote source here).

Back on July 29, 2012, I wrote a blog post titled, Tisha B’Av and 911,” comparing the horrific events that occurred across centuries on the exact same day each time to the Jewish nation to the horrific event that happened to Americans on September 11, 2001. Many Jewish people still mourn those horrific events every year with prayer and fasting on Tisha B’Av (the 9th day of the Jewish month, Av) that took place centuries ago. We, instead, hit the snooze button eleven years after the horrific event that hit our nation, and are told that by doing so that it “will help the country heal and get past the tragedy.”

Really???

In an article titled, When Good Men Do Nothing (1997) by Wayne Greeson, he starts off with a quote by Edmund Burke that states, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” He continues by stating:

“So much of the history of the struggle between good and evil can be explained by Edmund Burke’s observation. Time and again those who profess to be good seem to clearly outnumber those who are evil, yet those who are evil seem to prevail far too often. Seldom is it the numbers that determine the outcome, but whether those who claim to be good men are willing to stand up and fight for what they know to be right [emphasis mine]. There are numerous examples of this sad and awful scenario being played out over and over again in the scriptures.”

Why don’t we ever learn from history? Why do we just roll over and hit the snooze button one more time?

There are people all over America who do remember 9/11 for the horrific tragedy it represents–those who lost loved ones and those who were directly impacted by this horrific tragedy. But when a nation as a whole, only eleven years after something so horrific happened to it, acts as if it’s time for the country to heal and get past the tragedy, that type of thinking is horribly myopic.

I’m reminded of the Holocaust and how in recent years groups have tried to downplay the horror that six million Jews plus many, many others experienced at the hands of Hitler and his ilk. The shear terror of it should be etched in our memories for as long as history is in the making. If one man could cause all of that horrific terror during WWII it certainly can happen again. But, as Edmund Burke stated, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

So, do we just continue to hit the snooze button and roll back over again, only concerned about our own little world that immediately affects us, or do we care about what is going on in the rest of America and around the world?

At this point you may be asking “what can I as one person possibly do to help change the course of history?” If you are Christian, you can pray–pray to the One who holds history in His hands. Evil does not come from God but He allows it (through our very powerful adversary and the evil that people do). You can read the Book of Job to get a better understanding of the role of evil in our world.

God didn’t create us as robots but as people with free will. Evil comes from our adversary and from our own evil desires (mostly desires the center on ourselves and what we want with little or no regard for anyone else). I am reminded of what the prophet Habakkuk said in Habakkuk 3:2:

“Lord, I have heard of your fame;
    I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord.
Renew them in our day,
    in our time make them known;
    in wrath remember mercy.”

God is a God of both justice and mercy. At the end of the Book of Job after the Lord spoke to Job (see chapters 38-41) reminding Job of just who He is, Job responded (chapter 42 MSG) by stating:

“I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything.
    Nothing and no one can upset your plans.
You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water,
    ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’
I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me,
    made small talk about wonders way over my head.
You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking.
    Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.’
I admit I once lived by rumors of you;
    now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears!
I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise!
    I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.”

And it was at this point that God restored Job by accepting his prayer.

May we never, ever forget the horrific tragedy of what happened on American soil eleven years ago today. May we never forget that evil is a powerful force in our world and among us and, yes, even within us. But also and most importantly may we never forget that if we turn back to God and stop hitting the snooze button and humble ourselves before Him He can heal our nation as stated in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

And to all of those who have been tragically affected by the events of 9/11, my heart and prayers go out to you on this national day of mourning.

May we never forget . . . .

YouTube Video: “Change the World” by Eric Clapton:

Photo credit here

Tisha B’Av and 9/11

Today is Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of the month of Av on the Jewish calendar. It started at sundown yesterday and ends at nightfall tonight (which is the typical start and end of each day on the Jewish calendar). However, this particular day has powerful significance for the Jewish people and it is known as a day of mourning due to a series of severe catastrophes that occurred on this same day over a period of centuries.

Being a Gentile (non-Jewish), I haven’t given much thought to the Jewish calendar over the years in relation to our own calendar. However, in June, I stumbled upon some interesting facts regarding the Jewish calendar and came upon information about Tisha B’Av and the three weeks prior to that day–a time frame observed by religious Jews as a time of fasting, mourning and repentance that starts on the 17th day of Tammuz and leads up to the official day of mourning, the 9th of AvTisha B’Av.

So what exactly happened on Tisha B’Av? The following information is taken from Chabad.org:

The 9th of Av, Tisha b’Av, commemorates a list of catastrophes so severe it’s clearly a day specially cursed by G‑d.

Picture this: The year is 1313 BCE. The Israelites are in the desert, recently having experienced the miraculous Exodus, and are now poised to enter the Promised Land. But first they dispatch a reconnaissance mission to assist in formulating a prudent battle strategy. The spies return on the eighth day of Av and report that the land is unconquerable. That night, the 9th of Av, the people cry. They insist that they’d rather go back to Egypt than be slaughtered by the Canaanites. G‑d is highly displeased by this public demonstration of distrust in His power, and consequently that generation of Israelites never enters the Holy Land. Only their children have that privilege, after wandering in the desert for another 38 years.

The First Temple was also destroyed on the 9th of Av (423 BCE). Five centuries later (in 69 CE), as the Romans drew closer to the Second Temple, ready to torch it, the Jews were shocked to realize that their Second Temple was destroyed the same day as the first.

When the Jews rebelled against Roman rule, they believed that their leader, Simon bar Kochba, would fulfill their messianic longings. But their hopes were cruelly dashed in 133 CE as the Jewish rebels were brutally butchered in the final battle at Betar. The date of the massacre? Of course—the 9th of Av!

One year after their conquest of Betar, the Romans plowed over the Temple Mount, our nation’s holiest site.

The Jews were expelled from England in 1290 CE on, you guessed it, Tisha b’Av. In 1492, the Golden Age of Spain came to a close when Queen Isabella and her husband Ferdinand ordered that the Jews be banished from the land. The edict of expulsion was signed on March 31, 1492, and the Jews were given exactly four months to put their affairs in order and leave the country. The Hebrew date on which no Jew was allowed any longer to remain in the land where he had enjoyed welcome and prosperity? Oh, by now you know it—the 9th of Av.

Ready for just one more? World War II and the Holocaust, historians conclude, was actually the long drawn-out conclusion of World War I that began in 1914. And yes, amazingly enough, Germany declared war on Russia, effectively catapulting the First World War into motion, on the 9th of Av, Tisha b’Av.

What do you make of all this? Jews see this as another confirmation of the deeply held conviction that history isn’t haphazard; events – even terrible ones – are part of a Divine plan and have spiritual meaning. The message of time is that everything has a rational purpose, even though we don’t understand it.

I was stunned after I read that list and realized that every single horrific event listed above that occurred over several centuries happened on the exact same day–the 9th of Av, Tisha B’Av. I found a “reader” (a small collection of articles) on Tisha B’Av and the Three Weeks at Aish.com and downloaded it last night and read it this morning. As I was reading through the incredibly moving stories, the similarities that the Jewish people feel regarding the catastrophes that have happened to them on Tisha B’Av are not dissimilar to how Americans feel about what happened to us on 9/11. Tisha B’Av is primarily about mourning the loss of the Temple (twice), where God’s presence dwelt among the Jewish people in the Old Testament. It was the pulling away of God from His people and His presence in their lives. Normally, during Tisha B’Av the Book of Lamentations is read as well as other readings which “reflect the sadness of the tragedies and often relate the tragedies to rebellion of the people. However some of the Kinot [readings] reflect the hope of redemption” (Source no longer available at former website).

The following two quotes are from two articles in the reader which you can download at this site: Tisha B’Av Reader.

The first quote is from an article titled, “The Heart-Rending Cry” by Keren Gottleib, pp. 4-7: “I understood that this (the mourning mentioned in her article) was exactly how we are supposed to mourn the Temple on Tisha B’Av. We are supposed to cry over the loss of the unity and peace throughout the entire world. We are supposed to lament the disappearance of the Divine Presence and holiness from our lives in Israel. We are supposed to be pained by the destruction of our spiritual center, which served to unify the entire Jewish nation.

“We’re supposed to feel as if something very precious has been taken away from us forever. We are meant to cry, to be shocked and angry, to break down. We are supposed to  mourn over the destruction of the Temple, to cry over a magnificent era that has been uprooted from the face of the earth. The incredible closeness that we had with God–that feeling that He is truly within us–has evaporated and disappeared into thin air” (p. 7).

As I read that article I was struck by that last sentence, “The incredible closeness that we had with God–that feeling that He is truly within us–has evaporated and disappeared into thin air.” After America’s own catastrophe, 9/11, we pulled together (and filled the churches) and were united once again as a nation unlike anything we had experienced in recent decades since the war in Vietnam that divided our nation; however, it didn’t take long for most Americans to get back to living their own individual lives again although every time we go through security to board an airplane it should serve to remind us of the horror of that terrorist attack instead of as an inconvenience that takes too long to navigate. And, after the initial shock of 9/11 dimmed, we put God back on the shelf, too, except maybe on Sunday morning.

The second quote is from an article titled, “On the Same Team,” by Dov Moshe Lipman, pp.7-9: “Perhaps each time God puts us through another round of suffering, His proclamation of ‘Again,’ He is waiting for us to stop identifying ourselves as an individual Jew coming from his separate background and upbringing. ‘I’m modern Orthodox.’ ‘I’m Reform.’ ‘I’m a Hasid.’ ‘I’m secular.’ ‘I’m Conservative.’ ‘I’m yeshivishe.’

Those characterizations polarize the nation and make it impossible for us to function together as one team. As individual groups, we cannot accomplish what we can accomplish as one team. We are held back by that same baseless hatred which creeps in when we are not one unit.

“Perhaps God is waiting for all of us to proclaim in unison, ‘I am a Jew.” Plain and simple.

“Even more importantly, perhaps God is waiting for us to stop seeing others as ‘He’s modern Orthodox.’ ‘He’s Reform.’ ‘He’s a Hasid.’ ‘He’s secular.’ ‘He’s Conservative.’ ‘He’s yeshivishe.’

“Perhaps the answer to our suffering and long exile is reaching the point where we see other Jews as members of the same team and family. Jews and nothing else” (pp. 8-9).

As I read those words, it became crystal clear that we as Christians in America do the same thing. We put each other in categories–‘Baptist.’ ‘Charismatic.’ ‘Methodist.’ ‘Pentacostal.’ ‘Anglican.’ And the list goes on and on . . . . Yet we all claim to serve the same God through Jesus Christ. We fight among ourselves in a sort of “our church is better than yours” self-righteousness instead of working together, united in Jesus Christ. No wonder our nation is falling apart. We have forgotten what true repentance is and what it requires of us, and we’ve forgotten that if Jesus Christ is truly our Savior and Lord, that we are all on the same team.

Another anniversary of the horrific catastrophe of 9/11 will soon be here. Will we continue to be “one nation divided or “one nation united under God”? Do we want to see God’s blessing on our nation again, or will we continue on a path that brings only division and strife, and ultimately, destruction?

The choice is ours, and we need to start making it now . . . .

Music is not played during the observance of Tisha B’Av; therefore, I have not included a YouTube video on this post.  

Photo credit here

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