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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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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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God Always Has A Purpose

TransformedBack on June 22, 2013, I wrote a blog post titled, The Problem of Evil–Habakkuk Revisited.” It opened with the following paragraph:

Where is God in the midst of injustice, suffering, and evil? That question has echoed down through the ages and is still being asked today by both skeptics and believers alike. The skeptics point to it as some sort of proof that God doesn’t really exist, and the believers ask it because they don’t understand where God is in the midst of great tragedy, injustice, and evil.

We don’t have to look very far to see that evil is exploding all over our world today, especially in the Middle East right now. However, God did not create nor does He sanction evil. In fact, He cannot look on evil nor can He be a part of it. However, it is clear that evil exists. So let’s start off by defining evil. GotQuestions?org defines evil in contrast to good as follows:

Goodness has existed as an attribute of God from all eternity. While God is perfectly holy and just, He is also perfectly good. Just as God has always existed, so too has goodness as it is a facet of God’s holy character. The same cannot be said for evil. Evil came into being with the rebellion of Satan and subsequently entered the physical universe with the fall of Adam. As Christian apologist Greg Koukl has said, “Human freedom was used in such a way as to diminish goodness in the world, and that diminution, that lack of goodness, that is what we call evil.” When God created Adam, He created him good, and He also created him free.

However, in creating Adam free, God indirectly created the possibility of evil, while not creating evil itself. When Adam chose to disobey God, he made this possibility a reality. The same scenario had previously played out when Satan fell by failing to serve and obey God. So it turns out that evil is not a direct creation of God; rather, evil is the result of persons (both angelic and human) exercising their freedom wrongly.

While evil is certainly real, it is important to recognize that evil does not have existence in and of itself. Rather, it only exists as a privation (or a parasite) on the good. It exists in the same way that a wound exists on an arm or as rust exists on a car. The rust cannot exist on its own any more than cold can exist without the existence of heat or darkness can exist without the existence of light.

Despite the horrible effects of evil on our world, the Christian believer can take comfort in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ recorded for us in the Gospel of John, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). More importantly, we look forward with great anticipation to our home in heaven where the ultimate evil, death, will finally be destroyed along with the “mourning, crying and pain” which it inevitably produces (Revelation 21:4). (Quote source and complete explanation available here.)

Dictionary.com defines evil as:

1. morally wrong or bad; immoral; wicked: evil deeds; an evil life.

2. harmful; injurious: evil laws.

3. characterized or accompanied by misfortune or suffering; unfortunate; disastrous: to be fallen on evil days.

4. due to actual or imputed bad conduct or character: an evil reputation.

5. marked by anger, irritability, irascibility, etc.: He is known for his evil disposition.

GoodVsEvilSince God created us with a free will, because of our human nature, we are all capable of doing or being evil to others. While we were created to obey, enjoy and worship God, in our free will we chose not to do so, and it has been handed down to every single generation since Adam and Eve (see Genesis 1-3). Our adversary before us (whom Eve met and succumbed to–as well as Adam did through Eve–in the Garden of Eden) had the same option to obey or disobey God (see How, why, and when did Satan fall from Heaven?” at GotQuestions?org, and for the skeptics among us who laugh as the mention of the mere existence of such a being as Satan, see Does Satan Exist?” also at GotQuestions?org). However, it is not a topic I’ll be addressing on my blog since much has already been written about our adversary and his existence in our world by many others including scholars. The same goes for the topic of “free will” (see answer to the question, Is God sovereign or do we have free will?” at GotQuestions?org).

Suffice to ask this question: “Do we have the option between doing right (e.g., good) and doing wrong (e.g., evil) in thought, word or deed at any give moment in time?”

Answer: Of course we do, and we choose to do one or the other all the time. Evil lurks in all of us.

Before I go further with this topic, let’s read what Hebrews 6:1-12 has to say regarding our ability to understand spiritual matters (which reflects on the choices that we make on a daily basis):

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

There are too many skeptics among us in the Christian world, let alone the rest of society, regarding deeper spiritual matters that clearly exist and are operating in our world. Too many people in the past several decades have said a quick and easy “Jesus prayer” in the hope of obtaining salvation without thinking anything further will be required of them beyond that point (and too many pastors and teachers nowadays don’t emphasize the need for spiritual maturity). That is not to say that salvation is gained through works (or by anything that we can do on own own). It is a free gift from God through Jesus Christ (see John 3:16-18), and we can do nothing on our own or in our own power to receive it. We must believe by faith in Jesus Christ. However, spiritual maturity and growing as a Christian is a vital part of the Christian life. Unfortunately, maturity in general has taken a hit over the past several decades in our society, not to mention in our relationship with God (for those of us who believe in Him), and it comes from our selfish desires that battle for supremacy within us, as stated in James 4:1-12:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

We have gained a rather flawed concept of what the Christian life is supposed to look like over the past several decades, and do not understand the ultimate purpose of God which has never changed since the beginning of time. He did not create us so that we can ask for and/or acquire all of the material possessions or money we can possibly get our hands on (although you wouldn’t know it by looking at our culture today). Read that passage in James 4:1-12 again (see above) if you think so or even tend to go in that direction. No . . . our selfish desires, greed, and accumulation of stuff is not God’s plan for us. That God gives us good things is one thing, but our cravings for more of them is quite another. And our greed for more of anything is truly evil at it’s very core.

God’s purpose from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22 is this:

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 (2 Peter 3:8-9).

That’s it. It’s not about what we selfishly seek after or want more of that matters. It is about God and the salvation He has provided through Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection from the dead and His free gift of eternal life (see John 3:16-18) that matters. God didn’t send His Son to this earth so that we could have “bigger, better, more, more, more” of anything that we happen to crave. He is not a genie in a lamp to do our will at our whim or bidding because of our own selfish desires. We are here to do His will. And without spiritual maturity, we will never know what His will is for us, and we will keep on seeking after our own selfish desires and what we want while asking God to put His stamp of approval on it.

We often have this inane idea in America that success as a Christian is in the outward accumulation of all that looks good and acts like “success” in our society. And we erroneously think that anyone who doesn’t fit that particular model of success can’t possibly be on the right track. My guess is that John the Baptist (see John 1) wouldn’t have been welcome in many of our churches today neither by his appearance nor in his message. And what about the example of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11 who were wealthy and ended up dead? They were a part of the early church, but their motives were selfish. Our image of “Christianity” today often fits the model of the Pharisees far more then it fits what real, genuine Christianity is all about.

At this juncture, I want to make clear that I am not talking about money or material possessions in and of themselves as there is nothing wrong with either. Rather, it is the greed so many of us in America have allowed to take hold of our lives in striving for the accumulation of more money and material possessions at the expense of our relationship with God and others, and never being satisfied with what we have (see Hebrews 13:5). And that attitude has become pervasive in our culture over the past several decades, and it is diametrically opposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This life is not about us and what we can get from it at the expense of others and our relationship with God. There is an eternity out there at the end of this life and nobody seems to be paying attention to that very clear fact. We in the Christian community are often striving for the same accolades, accomplishments, money and material possessions as the rest of our society, and we are entirely missing the point.

A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) wrote the following in a devotion found in the book, Tozer on The Almighty God,” compiled by Ron Eggert and published in 2004:

God Always Has A Purpose

God never acts without purpose—never. People act without purpose. I feel that a great deal of what we do in the church today is purposeless. But God never acts without a purpose. Intellect is an attribute of the deity. God has intellect and this means that God thinks; and so God never does anything without an intelligent purpose. Nothing in this world is without meaning.

God put the universe together with a purpose and there isn’t a single useless thing anywhere; not any spare parts; everything fits into everything else. God made it like that. . . .

. . .He created the flowers, for instance, to be beautiful; He created birds to sing; He created the trees to bear fruit and the beasts to feed and clothe mankind. And in so saying, these people affirm what the Holy Scriptures and Moses and the prophets and the apostles and saints since the world began have all said. God made man for a purpose and that purpose is given by the catechism; the answer is, “To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” God made us to be worshipers. That was the purpose of God in bringing us in to the world. (Devotion for November 30).

God is loveGod did not create us so that we could chase after everything that we want in this life. He created us with the same purpose He had in mind when he created our first ancestors, Adam and Eve, and that purpose is “To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Read that last part again . . . “To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Unfortunately, just like our first ancestors, we want what we want when we want it, and we really don’t trust God to give us what we need, and that separates us from God.

I’ll end this post with the passage from Hebrews 13:5:

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.”

We need to start believing it, and not be filled with selfish motives like Ananias and Sapphira who ended up dead because of it. . . .

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.
~Proverbs 3:5-8

YouTube Video: “God of Wonders” sung by Third Day:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here
Photo #4 credit here

The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

With the beginning of 2015 only a few days old, the worst terrorist attack in France since 1961 took place on January 7th in Paris at Charlie Hebdo,” a French satirical newspaper, resulting in 12 deaths and at least 14 others wounded in the initial attack (source here). As of this writing (three days later) the two main suspects who were hiding in a print shop and a third suspect as well as an additional four hostages from a kosher grocery store have also died (source here). The story is still ongoing as of this writing. One of the suspects claimed allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS) and another to Al-Qaeda (source here).

An article published on November 18, 2014 in RT.com titled, Global terrorism on rise: Fivefold increase in terror-related deaths since 2000,” opens with this statement:

Almost 18,000 people were killed in terrorist attacks in 2013, a 61 percent increase from the 2012. Four terrorist groups, the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Boko Haram were responsible for two thirds of all such deaths around the globe.

Global terrorism is on the rise and there is no denying its impact mixed with both fear and resentment especially in Europe after this latest attack in Paris (see article titled, “‘Dangerous Moment’ for Europe, as Fear and Resentment Grow,” published January 7, 2015, in The New York Times). In the wake of this latest attack, “The U.S. government issued multiple new terror bulletins… in the aftermath of the Paris massacres, urging local police to watch for increased terrorism activity while cautioning American travelers abroad they are at risk of attack or kidnapping” (quote source here). While the problem of terrorism is growing around the world, the problem of evil which is at the core of terrorism has always been around.

An Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk, wrote three short chapters addressing the question most of us ask in times like these: “Where are you, God, in the midst of injustice and suffering?” I wrote a blog post back on June 22, 2013, that addressed this question and I decided to reblog it after this latest terrorist attack in Paris. The original post is at this link and is published again below.

The Problem of Evil–Habakkuk Revisited

the-problem-of-evilWhere is God in the midst of injustice, suffering, and evil? That question has echoed down through the ages and is still being asked today by both skeptics and believers alike. The skeptics point to it as some sort of proof that God doesn’t really exist, and the believers ask it because they don’t understand where God is in the midst of great tragedy, injustice, and evil.

Of the sixteen writing prophets in the Old Testament, there is one who took our side and asked that question of God from our perspective–“Where are you, God, in the midst of injustice and suffering?” His name was Habakkuk and he wrote three chapters that appear in the book with his name on it in the Old Testament. Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zephaniah and prophesied during the final days of the Assyrian Empire and the beginning of Babylonia’s world rulership (source here). Little else is known about him other than what is written in his book.

Most of us (well, the believers among us) can certainly relate to the opening lines in Habakkuk (see below). Habakkuk levels two complaints and the Lord gives His answer each time, and then Habakkuk ends with a prayer. As stated in a study of Habakkuk in Bible.org, he was wrestling with the very issues we wrestle with (in fact, his name means“embrace” or “wrestle”)–“If God is good, then why is there evil in the world? And if there has to be evil, then why do the evil prosper? What is God doing in the world?” (quote source here). The study notes a similar thought in Zephaniah 1:12 coming from the Israelites who thought that “God did not do good or evil. They thought God was not involved and so continued in their sin.” However, “Habakkuk is one of the good guys. He fears God and does what is right, but it is getting him nowhere” (quote source here).

I think most of us (e.g., the believers among us) can definitely relate to that last sentence. I know I sure can. The study in Bible.org continues with a quote from a book on Habakkuk published in 1983 titled, From Worry to Worship, by Warren Wiersbe: “While Habakkuk begins by wondering or worrying about the world around him and God’s seeming indifference, he ends by worshiping God” (p. 8). Habakkuk has a fair amount of fear after God tells him what is going to happen in answer to his first complaint which brings about his second complaint and God’s second answer. The progression of Habakkuk through three chapters takes him from a place of fear, trembling, and complaints to trusting and worshiping God (source here).

With that in mind, let’s read the three chapters in Habakkuk (NIV):

The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.

Habakkuk’s Complaint

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.

The Lord’s Answer

“Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.
I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
to seize dwellings not their own.
They are a feared and dreaded people;
they are a law to themselves
and promote their own honor.
Their horses are swifter than leopards,
fiercer than wolves at dusk.
Their cavalry gallops headlong;
their horsemen come from afar.
They fly like an eagle swooping to devour;
they all come intent on violence.
Their hordes advance like a desert wind
and gather prisoners like sand.
10 They mock kings and scoff at rulers.
They laugh at all fortified cities;
by building earthen ramps they capture them.
11 Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—
guilty people, whose own strength is their god.”

Habakkuk’s Second Complaint

12 Lord, are you not from everlasting?
My God, my Holy One, you will never die.
You, Lord, have appointed them to execute judgment;
you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.
13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?
Why are you silent while the wicked
swallow up those more righteous than themselves?
14 You have made people like the fish in the sea,
like the sea creatures that have no ruler.
15 The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks,
he catches them in his net,
he gathers them up in his dragnet;
and so he rejoices and is glad.
16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net
and burns incense to his dragnet,
for by his net he lives in luxury
and enjoys the choicest food.
17 Is he to keep on emptying his net,
destroying nations without mercy?

2 I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

The Lord’s Answer

Then the Lord replied:

“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come
and will not delay.

“See, the enemy is puffed up;
his desires are not upright—
but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness—
indeed, wine betrays him;
he is arrogant and never at rest.
Because he is as greedy as the grave
and like death is never satisfied,
he gathers to himself all the nations
and takes captive all the peoples.

“Will not all of them taunt him with ridicule and scorn, saying,

“‘Woe to him who piles up stolen goods
and makes himself wealthy by extortion!
How long must this go on?’
Will not your creditors suddenly arise?
Will they not wake up and make you tremble?
Then you will become their prey.
Because you have plundered many nations,
the peoples who are left will plunder you.
For you have shed human blood;
you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.

“Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain,
setting his nest on high
to escape the clutches of ruin!
10 You have plotted the ruin of many peoples,
shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.
11 The stones of the wall will cry out,
and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.

12 “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed
and establishes a town by injustice!
13 Has not the Lord Almighty determined
that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire,
that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?
14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory
of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

15 “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors,
pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk,
so that he can gaze on their naked bodies!
16 You will be filled with shame instead of glory.
Now it is your turn! Drink and let your nakedness be exposed!
The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you,
and disgrace will cover your glory.
17 The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you,
and your destruction of animals will terrify you.
For you have shed human blood;
you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.

18 “Of what value is an idol carved by a craftsman?
Or an image that teaches lies?
For the one who makes it trusts in his own creation;
he makes idols that cannot speak.
19 Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’
Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’
Can it give guidance?
It is covered with gold and silver;
there is no breath in it.”

20 The Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.

Habakkuk’s Prayer

3 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet.

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

God came from Teman,
the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His glory covered the heavens
and his praise filled the earth.
His splendor was like the sunrise;
rays flashed from his hand,
where his power was hidden.
Plague went before him;
pestilence followed his steps.
He stood, and shook the earth;
he looked, and made the nations tremble.
The ancient mountains crumbled
and the age-old hills collapsed—
but he marches on forever.
I saw the tents of Cushan in distress,
the dwellings of Midian in anguish.

Were you angry with the rivers, Lord?
Was your wrath against the streams?
Did you rage against the sea
when you rode your horses
and your chariots to victory?
You uncovered your bow,
you called for many arrows.
You split the earth with rivers;
10 the mountains saw you and writhed.
Torrents of water swept by;
the deep roared
and lifted its waves on high.

11 Sun and moon stood still in the heavens
at the glint of your flying arrows,
at the lightning of your flashing spear.
12 In wrath you strode through the earth
and in anger you threshed the nations.
13 You came out to deliver your people,
to save your anointed one.
You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness,
you stripped him from head to foot.
14 With his own spear you pierced his head
when his warriors stormed out to scatter us,
gloating as though about to devour
the wretched who were in hiding.
15 You trampled the sea with your horses,
churning the great waters.

16 I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

(Source: Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®)

From-Fear-to-FaithIn so many of our church settings today, this is a vision of God that we don’t often hear about. As I read through the words in Habakkuk, I can understand his fear and trembling as it is my same reaction. In fact, with all the talk of “God’s favor” that is so pervasive in many segments of Christianity in our culture, it smacks of a certain “unreality” to what we are used to hearing. In fact, it’s almost like we want to do a double take to make sure we read it right. God is raising up a foreign nation (the Babylonians) to come and destroy Judah? And the Babylonians are really wicked and powerful and no one can stop them? (See Hab. 1:6-11.) While verse 11 indicates that the Babylonians will be held responsible for their wickedness, God is using them to bring about His purposes.

At this point the study on Habakkuk in Bible.org states the following:

Most of us have been praying for the evil in our society hoping for revival. What if God sent the Soviet Union [e.g., Russia] or Saddam Hussein [this study was written before his death] to conquer America, to instill communism or a dictatorship, imprison all Christians, etc. What would you think about that answer? Would you say God didn’t answer your prayer?

This points us to another principle we can learn from Habakkuk. God doesn’t always give us the answers we want or expect. We usually have it in our mind how we want God to answer our prayers. When He does it differently, how do you respond?

[Note: The Soviet Union was dissolved into 16 independent nations on December, 25, 1991 and is now referred to as Russia. Saddam Hussein, who was the President of Iraq from 1979 to 2003, was executed on December 30, 2006.]

This leads to Habakkuk’s second complaint found in Hab. 1:12-2:1. First, he acknowledges that God is everlasting. The study in Bible.org brings up God’s immutability–that God does not change. It states “the fact that God does not change is important because it means God keeps His promises and He has made promises to Israel. Habakkuk knows that God will not totally destroy Israel because of His covenant promises. That is why he says, ‘We will not die’” (quote source here).

Habakkuk also acknowledges that God is too pure to look at evil and that He cannot tolerate wrongdoing, and he asks, “Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (v. 13). Yet even though he still doesn’t understand God’s answer, he believes in and places his trust in God.

If you’re like me, at this point we are looking for something positive–anything positive. This is not good news, yet God has His reasons. So after Habakkuk levels his second complaint, the Lord answers (see Hab. 2:2-20). After reading those verses, we discover that the enemy–in this case, the Babylonians–are puffed up, arrogant, greedy, never satisfied, and “gathers to himself all the nations and takes captive all the peoples;” and they are also dishonest, violent, sensual, and full of idolatry. In other words, as the study in Bible.org states, “God’s answer is this: Don’t worry about the Babylonians. They will get theirs, too.” But let’s not overlook a very important portion of verse 4 that is for us (e.g., for those of us who believe) in the midst of all the tragedy, . . . but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness” (e.g., by faith). That is what we (e.g., believers) are called to do in the midst of any circumstances that we find ourselves in whether good, bad, or downright awful.

At the end of the Lord’s answer is this verse (Hab. 2:20): The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” God is in control. Way too often and most of the time we relegate God to our level of understanding. And in our own effort to understand God, we make Him like us, and that is a very grave error on our part. As Isaiah 55:8-9 states:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
    declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

At the start of Chapter 1 Habakkuk was low and despairing because of the evil all around him, and by the beginning of Chapter 2 he is standing watch, waiting for the Lord’s reply, which is found in Hab. 2:3:

“For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
    it speaks of the end
    and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
    it will certainly come
    and will not delay.”

In the rest of Chapter 2 God describes the enemy and the end that will come to that enemy. However, what the Lord had revealed to Habakkuk about the enemy was still to take place in the future, and even though he knew what was coming was going to be awful, he also knew the ultimate end of that enemy. And Chapter 3 opens up with Habakkuk praising and worshiping the Lord with these words (Hab. 3:2):

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

As the study in Bible.org concludes, “Habakkuk now understands and offers a prayer of praise because God is in control. He pleads for mercy in the midst of the judgment (Hab. 3:1-2); he praises God’s majesty and power (Hab. 3:3-15); and he promises to wait on the Lord (Hab. 3:16-19)(quote source here).

While none of us knows what the future holds, like Habakkuk, we know Who holds the future. While injustice and evil abound all around us, that is not the end of the story. Not by a long shot, folks. And that’s the message of Habakkuk, going from fear to faith and worshiping God for who He is (through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord). And if we truly know and believe in Him, we know the ultimate end of the enemy . . .

And we know that in the end . . .

God wins . . . .

YouTube Video: “God’s Not Dead” by the Newsboys:

Photo #1 credit here (Peter Dejong @Associated Press)
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Making Our Time Count

timeAll too often we live for today and what we can get in the “here and now.” Eternity rarely ever enters our mind. We spend most of our time running after everything this world has to offer us. And it’s not even a drop in the bucket compared to eternity.

The apostle Paul has some words for us to consider in Romans 12 regarding how we should be living our lives. Let’s read those 21 verses:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

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.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good . . . Overcome evil with good.” Do we even know what that means anymore? We need to stop letting the world own us by running after everything it offers to us while still thinking (if we are Christian) that we are serving God.

Also, James 4 is very clear about the things we need to avoid. Let’s take a look at what it has to say to us:

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

Wrong motives; seeking after our own pleasures . . . . and it will destroy us in the end. We need to take seriously the words to humble ourselves before the Lord and draw near to Him so that He will draw near to us. Selfish motives kill our relationship with God.

James reminds us that we are all like a vapor that is here today and gone tomorrow. This life is fleeting for every single one of us. So who counts? Us (as in that great pursuit of everything we want) or God? As the reblogged post below by “The Daily Way” states: “Patterns of sin quickly take root and soon a stronghold for the enemy is established.” And it is those very strongholds that will eventually destroy us. Instead, as the writer states, “Make your time count for positive change in this world by embracing God’s values. Take time to study His Word and seek His wisdom” instead of being wise in our own eyes (which isn’t wisdom at all).

Proverbs 3:7 states: “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.”

‘Nough said . . . .

YouTube Video: “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” by Chicago (click link for video).

Photo credit here

The Daily Way

God has wonderful plans for our lives. However, in order to experience these, we must learn to obey Him and not be drawn off course by the enemy’s schemes. For example, not only are we to be good stewards of our money, but we also need to be good stewards of the time we spend on earth.

It is amazing how much time we waste by filling our minds with thoughts that are far from what God wants us to think. Before we know it, we can become entranced by various media—radio, television, and movies—and begin to think that these have greater moral value than the truth of God’s Word.

The world’s ways are diametrically opposed to God’s way. The world screams, “Look out for yourself!” God says, “Put others first.”

It should come as no surprise that God’s principles are in direct opposition to those of the world. Nor…

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The Surest Defense Against Evil

Good vs Evil

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~Romans 12:21

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Joseph Brodsky was “born on May 24, 1940, and was persecuted in his native Russia and was forcibly exiled in 1972. With the support of poet W.H. Auden he eventually settled in the U.S. (quote source here). Brodsky “was awarded the 1987 Nobel Prize in Literature ‘for an all-embracing authorship, imbued with clarity of thought and poetic intensity.’ He was appointed United States Poet Laureate in 1991” (quote source here). He died in New York City in 1996.

Joseph Brodsky once made the following statement:

“The surest defense against evil is extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality, even–if you will–eccentricity” (quote source here).

Evil is insidious in nature “intending to entrap or beguile; stealthily treacherous or deceitful; operating or proceeding in an inconspicuous or seemingly harmless way but actually with grave effect” (quote source here). Think Adolf Hitler, for example.

Ephesians 6:10-18 makes a very clear statement regarding the source and the all encompassing nature of evil and how, as Christians, we are to fight it:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”

I’ve written several posts on the subject of evil (see The Problem of Evil–Habakkuk Revisited,” “Standing Firm,” “Satanic Rip-Off,” “Winning the Battle,” and Regaining Our Balancethe last post listed specifically relates to the passage above–to name a few listed under the category of Spiritual Warfare). However, in this particular post, I’ll be focusing on a specific statement Jesus made to his disciples in Matthew 10:16, which states:

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Matthew 10 is not an easy chapter to read. Jesus didn’t send his twelve disciples out into the world with a set of “ten easy steps to conversion and the life you’ve always wanted” or “how to win friends and influence people.” He knew exactly what his followers would be facing and he didn’t paint a pretty picture. He told them clearly that he was sending them out like sheep among wolves, but that they were not to be afraid and he also told them why (see Matthew 10:26-31). Unfortunately, his instructions don’t exactly describe the mainstream Christian climate in America today. And we are being devoured by our culture as a result.

In an article titled, The Great Deception in the American Church,” by Bert Farias, published in Charisma Magazine on May 19, 2014, he opens his article with the following statements:

“Eighty-four percent of the inhabitants of this nation say they believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, according to Barna Group, and 45 percent claim to be born-again Christians. Other studies show it is closer to 33 percent . . . .

“Yet America has the highest percentage of single-parent families in the industrialized world, the highest abortion rate, the highest rate of sexually transmitted diseases, the highest rate of teenage birth by far, the highest rate of teenage drug use and the largest prison population per capita than any country in the world.

“Consider also the great moral decline of the last generation (50 to 60 years) and these telling statistics in America. The divorce rate has doubled, teen suicide has tripled, reported violent crime has quadrupled, the prison population has quintupled, the percentage of babies born out of wedlock has risen sixfold, couples living together out of wedlock have increased sevenfold, and gay marriage is now a legalized reality in a number of states, with many believing the end is not in sight” (quote source here).

We fail to even recognize the evil that has taken over in our own ranks let alone the culture at large (at least without pointing fingers). And those wolves are devouring us. When Jesus sent out his disciples and told them to be “shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves,” what exactly did he mean? He didn’t mean anything remotely like what is found in most of our churches today.

Martin Luther King Jr Quote - 5-23-14

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ~Edmund Burke

The definition for shrewd is “having or showing an ability to understand things and to make good judgments; mentally sharp or clever; marked by clever discerning awareness and hardheaded acumen (quote source here). Wise is another term for shrewd. It’s not a namby-pamby niceness that is so pervasive in Christian settings today or going along with the crowd. It’s very much like what Joseph Brodsky stated above–extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality, even–if you will–eccentricity.In other words, it’s not going along with the crowd but rather it is focused on what Jesus taught his disciples when he sent them out into the world. Read Matthew 10 if you think that isn’t true.

In an article titled, What Do You Mean: Wise and Harmless?” by John McClain, he states:

“To be wise means to be marked by understanding of people and situations, to have keen and unusual discernment, and a capacity for sound judgment in dealing with people and situations. Prudent would also be an appropriate synonym.

“To discern means to detect with the eyes and with senses other than vision. It also means to read character or motives. We would all do well to have this ability. In place of ‘wise,’ other translations use ‘shrewd’ and ‘wary.’ Shrewd means to be practical and to be given to an artful way of dealing with situations and people. To be wary is to use watchful prudence in detecting and escaping danger” (quote source here).

On the “harmless” (or innocent) side of Jesus’s statement in Matthew 10:16, John McClain states:

“To be harmless is to lack the capacity to injure or to be free from inflicting physical or mental damage. Other translations use ‘innocent’ or ‘inoffensive’ instead of ‘harmless’ for this verse. Innocent means to be harmless in effect or intention. Inoffensive means to be giving no provocation.

“Doves aren’t referred to as the birds of peace for nothing. Their temperament is calm and their disposition is sweet. Doves do not bite. At most they might slap you with a wing if they are guarding the nest or do not want to be picked up. Doves really are harmless” (quote source here).

Being able to do/be both at the same time (e.g., shrewd/wise and innocent/harmless) takes skill and the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit’s leading and guidance in our lives (see Jesus’ statement to his disciples shortly before his crucifixion in John 16:12-15). If we don’t spend regular, consistent time with Jesus Christ through the study of the Bible, praying also for wisdom and discernment/understanding, and developing a relationship with him, we cannot learn how to be both shrewd and innocent in our dealings with others and the circumstances that enter our lives. Indeed, we will often not spot trouble even if it is staring us in the face. If you want to learn how to recognize the Holy Spirit’s leading in your life, here’s an article titled, How Can I Recognize the Guidance of the Holy Spirit?” on the topic to get you started (click here).

One other important area that is often overlooked when dealing with evil is found in the often quoted statement by Edmund Burke (quote source here):

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  

“Looking the other way” in the face of evil is, unfortunately, commonplace. Failing to realize that evil left unattended will eventually have enormously detrimental effects at some future point in time is one of the greatest failures of mankind that has been repeated throughout history (again, see the example of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany). As Wayne Greeson states in an article titled, When Good Men Do Nothing:

“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. There are numerous examples of this sad and awful scenario being played out over and over again in the scriptures . . . .

“Too many Christians and too many churches do nothing. They are standing idly by, they are mere spectators. They sit on the sidelines instead of actively participating and working for the good. If good wins, they join in the celebration though they did nothing to produce the victory. If evil wins, they will complain long and loud though their own apathy helped produce the undesirable result” (quote source here).

This world of ours is a battleground, not a playground. At the end of the article titled, The Great Deception in the American Church,” the author makes the following statement that we all need to ask ourselves:

“Are you in touch with your true spiritual condition? Or are you allowing the pop culture around you to dictate your standards? Are you conforming to the world’s standards or to the Bible? Are you deceived? How can a nation of people among whom a large percentage claims to be born-again Christians experience the kind of degradation the above statistics reveal? Such deception is the state of America today, and the above statistics reveal the fruit of it.

“The problem has been that the real gospel has not been preached nor lived. Both the profession and the practice of many so-called Christians in this nation have not matched up. Our substandard message has produced substandard believers. Our departure from the preaching of the cross, repentance, holiness, and the real empowering grace of God has increased the level of deception in the church. How else can we explain the disparity of the above statistics in the church and the nation?” (quote source here).

The surest defense against evil in our world is a close relationship with Jesus Christ that takes the highest priority in our lives over anything or anyone else. Without it, we are defenseless and without guidance, catering to our whims and wants and our own agendas and neglecting to see and live in the world as it really is just as the Apostle Paul stated in Ephesians 6:10-18 (quoted above).

The question remaining for us to answer is this: Are we willing to stop straddling the fence or will we continue to maintain the status quo? As Edmond Burke stated so long ago . . . 

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil . . .

Is for good men to do nothing . . . .

So let’s do something instead . . . .

YouTube Video: “From the Inside Out” (2009) by Phillips, Craig and Dean:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

When Silence Is Not Golden

I’ve been weeding through several boxes of books this afternoon that I have stored under the stairway leading out of my apartment as I’ve managed to accumulate, once again in my life, too many books (it’s my only fetish–see definition #2–at least that I am aware of). They are weighing me down in more ways than one and it’s time to lighten the load (also in more ways than one).

While tossing them into three different piles (those to keep, those to get rid of, and those I’m not sure of yet), one book really caught my eye, and when I felt the need for a break, I brought it back upstairs (where it is considerably cooler then the stairwell area) and started reading it. Let’s just say there is not a person in the world who couldn’t relate to the topic which is a universal problem–overcoming betrayal and dealing with revenge.

Intrigued? I found the book on a discount table for only $3.97 last fall (and didn’t read it back then). You’ll recognize the author’s name right away–Dr. Laura Schlessinger (e.g., Dr. Laura). The title of the book caught my eye and the price made it hard to resist. It’s titled, Surviving a Shark Attack (On Land)(2011).

There is no better way to describe an initial and sudden betrayal then a shark attack. It’s brutal and it rips apart the life of the betrayed. At this point I want to quote several paragraphs from Dr. Laura’s book on pages 17-20 which describes the cast of characters in all betrayals (the betrayed, the betrayer, and the “others”):

No matter what type of person you are, there are really bad people out there who are ready to disrupt your world and well-being to a magnitude you never imagined. If you don’t know or believe that, you are dangerously naïve. If you believe that all the people out there are bad, you are dangerously paranoid. In between those two extremes is the truth of the sad nature of human beings with which we must all contend: betrayals are commonplace.

Betrayals are a breach of trust to a code or a person, including acts of dishonesty, lying, cheating, or stealing, double-crossing, deception, gossiping, duplicity, unfaithfulness, treason, leading astray, undermining, selling out . . . to name only a few faces of betrayal.

Every single human being on the face of the earth has been betrayed, back-stabbed, undermined, screwed over, or had their reputation attacked at least once in their lives. It’s a horrible experience, leaving you stunned, scared, sad, and very, very angry; and sometimes you become so cynical that it changes fundamental ways you think and react to people for a long, long time . . . .

When you are attacked, the first reaction is shock and disbelief. Next you try to shut down what is happening. When that doesn’t work, you strike back–which usually makes the situation worse. After a while you turn to others for solace, emotional support, and assistance in getting the betrayer to back off.

You probably found that most people were sympathetic at first, and then they didn’t want to hear about it anymore. You also probably found that not too many people would step up to the plate and speak up for you. Why? Because they don’t want a bull’s-eye pasted onto their backs next. People who betray are very powerful because “good people” are more than willing to stand by and do nothing to avoid discomfort in their own lives.

That means that adding insult (no valiant supporters rushing to your side) to injury (the betrayal) becomes your personal reality. Expecting rallying support from people becomes a huge disappointment added on to the original betrayal. In fact, the whole battalion taking a step back when you ask for volunteers to help you fight your battle can be a more devastating experience than the original betrayal. You end up being not only victimized but abandoned to fight your fight alone. It makes you wonder what friends are for. It makes you also doubt the legal and social systems that appear to lean way over backward to protect the perps (perpetrators).”

“People who betray are very powerful because ‘good people’ are more than willing to stand by and do nothing to avoid discomfort in their own lives . . .” Dr. Laura goes on to describe one of her own personal stories of betrayal and how a friend, who was among the betrayers but not one of them when the verbal attack took place, just stood in silence and said nothing in her defense. Nothing at all. And he didn’t even offer any support the next day after it happened, either. He remained silent.

Dr. Laura states these “stand by” folks will try (if they try at all) to defend their inaction by minimizing the betrayal. But she adds a big “however” to the equation when she states:

You [the betrayed] are usually wise enough–especially after a night of sleeping on it–to know the difference between a glitch in communication and a frank betrayal of your trust, faith, privacy, truth, status, reputation, relationship, and so forth (p. 23). 

She goes on to state on the same page regarding folks who betray others that it is the “everyday” people (and not just sociopaths) that should worry us the most as they are capable of hurting us in the most extraordinary ways. She states the following:

It is the everyday people, in service to their own egos, social status, financial opportunities, envy, and petty meanness, you have to worry about the most, as they are likely to pop up from the most unlikely places: school, church, family, neighborhood, circle of friends, work . . . anywhere you interact with people.

Do these people know that they are “bad” or have done something “bad”? I talk to people every day who have performed the most egregious acts of hurt and betrayal, yet deny that their behaviors weren’t righteous. Righteous! They try to give examples of what was done to them (usually innocuous) and convince me that their actions were necessary or justified. These “everyday” folks often just don’t think about the humanity of their victims at all, and in fact would deny that their targets even are victims” (pp. 23-24).

Einstein quote - those how watch and do nothingThere is not a person on the planet who hasn’t hurt someone by actions or attitudes and who felt justified in doing so or denied that it was done with any intent to hurt or inflict harm on that person. We are all guilty of that, folks. And while sociopaths absolutely don’t care what anyone else thinks and they like inflicting pain on others, “everyday” folks will justify their actions of betrayal or deny them to the nth degree. And when “everyday” people keep silence in the midst of the betrayal being done to others to protect themselves or keep out of the line of fire, it is just as Edmund Burke stated, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” (quote source here). Silence is not golden.

While I haven’t read the rest of the book yet (and just in case you’re wondering), Dr. Laura never, ever encourages revenge. She does deal with the topic in a couple of chapters. Also, from a Biblical perspective, the apostle Paul states in Romans 12:17-21:

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.

My long term unemployment started from an act of betrayal that just keeps on giving after four plus years and sometimes my anger and frustration comes out (well, I spit and cuss in the confines of my apartment). But the truth is, all the spitting and cussing hasn’t changed my situation one bit. And yes, I pray daily about it (the entire situation). But this past week I ran across a portion of Scripture that really gave me pause for thought, and if you find yourself in a situation right now that seems insurmountable (like I do), maybe it will give you some encouragement, too. It’s found in I Peter 4:12-19:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

This long term trial with unemployment has been one of the hardest and is the longest trial I have ever had to endure, and after four plus years with no light at the end of the tunnel, it’s hard to understand why the Lord hasn’t allowed me to find employment yet or at least to be able to move on with my life. It’s in times like these that I have to remember that we don’t get to see or understand what is going on in the “big picture” of our circumstances except what we go through personally on a daily basis. And the big picture really is much bigger than just “us,” and it always is.

So as Peter advises in 1 Peter 5:6-11:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

And that is very good news . . . .

YouTube video: “He’s Got It All In Control” sung by Shirley Caesar and Joe Ligon:

Photo #1 credit here
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The Problem of Evil–Habakkuk Revisited

the-problem-of-evilWhere is God in the midst of injustice, suffering, and evil? That question has echoed down through the ages and is still being asked today by both skeptics and believers alike. The skeptics point to it as some sort of proof that God doesn’t really exist, and the believers ask it because they don’t understand where God is in the midst of great tragedy, injustice, and evil.

Of the sixteen writing prophets in the Old Testament, there is one who took our side and asked that question of God from our perspective–“Where are you, God, in the midst of injustice and suffering?” His name was Habakkuk and he wrote three chapters that appear in the book with his name on it in the Old Testament. Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zephaniah and prophesied during the final days of the Assyrian Empire and the beginning of Babylonia’s world rulership (source here). Little else is known about him other than what is written in his book.

Most of us (well, the believers among us) can certainly relate to the opening lines in Habakkuk (see below). Habakkuk levels two complaints and the Lord gives His answer each time, and then Habakkuk ends with a prayer. As stated in a study of Habakkuk in Bible.org, he was wrestling with the very issues we wrestle with (in fact, his name means “embrace” or “wrestle”)–“If God is good, then why is there evil in the world? And if there has to be evil, then why do the evil prosper? What is God doing in the world?” (quote source here). The study notes a similar thought in Zephaniah 1:12 coming from the Israelites who thought that “God did not do good or evil. They thought God was not involved and so continued in their sin.” However, “Habakkuk is one of the good guys. He fears God and does what is right, but it is getting him nowhere” (quote source here).

I think most of us (e.g., the believers among us) can definitely relate to that last sentence. I know I sure can. The study in Bible.org continues with a quote from a book on Habakkuk published in 1983 titled, From Worry to Worship, by Warren Wiersbe: “While Habakkuk begins by wondering or worrying about the world around him and God’s seeming indifference, he ends by worshipping God” (p. 8). Habakkuk has a fair amount of fear after God tells him what is going to happen in answer to his first complaint which brings about his second complaint and God’s second answer. The progression of Habakkuk through three chapters takes him from a place of fear, trembling, and complaints to trusting and worshiping God (source here).

With that in mind, let’s read the three chapters in Habakkuk (NIV):

The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.

Habakkuk’s Complaint

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.

The Lord’s Answer

“Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.
I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
to seize dwellings not their own.
They are a feared and dreaded people;
they are a law to themselves
and promote their own honor.
Their horses are swifter than leopards,
fiercer than wolves at dusk.
Their cavalry gallops headlong;
their horsemen come from afar.
They fly like an eagle swooping to devour;
they all come intent on violence.
Their hordes advance like a desert wind
and gather prisoners like sand.
10 They mock kings and scoff at rulers.
They laugh at all fortified cities;
by building earthen ramps they capture them.
11 Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—
guilty people, whose own strength is their god.”

Habakkuk’s Second Complaint

12 Lord, are you not from everlasting?
My God, my Holy One, you will never die.
You, Lord, have appointed them to execute judgment;
you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.
13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?
Why are you silent while the wicked
swallow up those more righteous than themselves?
14 You have made people like the fish in the sea,
like the sea creatures that have no ruler.
15 The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks,
he catches them in his net,
he gathers them up in his dragnet;
and so he rejoices and is glad.
16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net
and burns incense to his dragnet,
for by his net he lives in luxury
and enjoys the choicest food.
17 Is he to keep on emptying his net,
destroying nations without mercy?

2 I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

The Lord’s Answer

Then the Lord replied:

“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come
and will not delay.

“See, the enemy is puffed up;
his desires are not upright—
but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness—
indeed, wine betrays him;
he is arrogant and never at rest.
Because he is as greedy as the grave
and like death is never satisfied,
he gathers to himself all the nations
and takes captive all the peoples.

“Will not all of them taunt him with ridicule and scorn, saying,

“‘Woe to him who piles up stolen goods
and makes himself wealthy by extortion!
How long must this go on?’
Will not your creditors suddenly arise?
Will they not wake up and make you tremble?
Then you will become their prey.
Because you have plundered many nations,
the peoples who are left will plunder you.
For you have shed human blood;
you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.

“Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain,
setting his nest on high
to escape the clutches of ruin!
10 You have plotted the ruin of many peoples,
shaming your own house and forfeiting your life.
11 The stones of the wall will cry out,
and the beams of the woodwork will echo it.

12 “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed
and establishes a town by injustice!
13 Has not the Lord Almighty determined
that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire,
that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?
14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory
of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

15 “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors,
pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk,
so that he can gaze on their naked bodies!
16 You will be filled with shame instead of glory.
Now it is your turn! Drink and let your nakedness be exposed!
The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you,
and disgrace will cover your glory.
17 The violence you have done to Lebanon will overwhelm you,
and your destruction of animals will terrify you.
For you have shed human blood;
you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them.

18 “Of what value is an idol carved by a craftsman?
Or an image that teaches lies?
For the one who makes it trusts in his own creation;
he makes idols that cannot speak.
19 Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’
Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’
Can it give guidance?
It is covered with gold and silver;
there is no breath in it.”

20 The Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.

Habakkuk’s Prayer

3 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet.

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

God came from Teman,
the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His glory covered the heavens
and his praise filled the earth.
His splendor was like the sunrise;
rays flashed from his hand,
where his power was hidden.
Plague went before him;
pestilence followed his steps.
He stood, and shook the earth;
he looked, and made the nations tremble.
The ancient mountains crumbled
and the age-old hills collapsed—
but he marches on forever.
I saw the tents of Cushan in distress,
the dwellings of Midian in anguish.

Were you angry with the rivers, Lord?
Was your wrath against the streams?
Did you rage against the sea
when you rode your horses
and your chariots to victory?
You uncovered your bow,
you called for many arrows.
You split the earth with rivers;
10 the mountains saw you and writhed.
Torrents of water swept by;
the deep roared
and lifted its waves on high.

11 Sun and moon stood still in the heavens
at the glint of your flying arrows,
at the lightning of your flashing spear.
12 In wrath you strode through the earth
and in anger you threshed the nations.
13 You came out to deliver your people,
to save your anointed one.
You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness,
you stripped him from head to foot.
14 With his own spear you pierced his head
when his warriors stormed out to scatter us,
gloating as though about to devour
the wretched who were in hiding.
15 You trampled the sea with your horses,
churning the great waters.

16 I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

(Source: Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®)

From-Fear-to-FaithIn so many of our church settings today, this is a vision of God that we don’t often hear about. As I read through the words in Habakkuk, I can understand his fear and trembling as it is my same reaction. In fact, with all the talk of “God’s favor” that is so pervasive in many segments of Christianity in our culture, it smacks of a certain “unreality” to what we are used to hearing. In fact, it’s almost like we want to do a “double take” to make sure we read it right. God is raising up a foreign nation (the Babylonians) to come and destroy Judah? And the Babylonians are really wicked and powerful and no one can stop them? (See Hab. 1:6-11.) While verse 11 indicates that the Babylonians will be held responsible for their wickedness, God is using them to bring about His purposes.

At this point the study on Habakkuk in Bible.org states the following:

Most of us have been praying for the evil in our society hoping for revival. What if God sent the Soviet Union [e.g., Russia] or Saddam Hussein [this study was written before his death] to conquer America, to instill communism or a dictatorship, imprison all Christians, etc. What would you think about that answer? Would you say God didn’t answer your prayer?

This points us to another principle we can learn from Habakkuk. God doesn’t always give us the answers we want or expect. We usually have it in our mind how we want God to answer our prayers. When He does it differently, how do you respond?

[Note: The Soviet Union was dissolved into 16 independent nations on December, 25, 1991 and is now referred to as Russia. Saddam Hussein, who was the President of Iraq from 1979 to 2003, was executed on December 30, 2006.]

This leads to Habakkuk’s second complaint found in Hab. 1:12-2:1. First, he acknowledges that God is everlasting. The study in Bible.org brings up God’s immutability–that God does not change. It states “the fact that God does not change is important because it means God keeps His promises and He has made promises to Israel. Habakkuk knows that God will not totally destroy Israel because of His covenant promises. That is why he says, ‘We will not die'” (quote source here).

Habakkuk also acknowledges that God is too pure to look at evil and that He cannot tolerate wrongdoing, and he asks, “Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (v. 13). Yet even though he still doesn’t understand God’s answer, he believes in and places his trust in God.

If you’re like me, at this point we are looking for something positive–anything positive. This is not good news, yet God has His reasons. So after Habakkuk levels his second complaint, the Lord answers (see Hab. 2:2-20). After reading those verses, we discover that the enemy–in this case, the Babylonians–are puffed up, arrogant, greedy, never satisfied, and “gathers to himself all the nations and takes captive all the peoples;” dishonest, violent, sensual, and full of idolatry. In other words, as the study in Bible.org states, “God’s answer is this: Don’t worry about the Babylonians. They will get theirs, too.” But let’s not overlook a very important portion of verse 4 that is for us (e.g., those of us who believe) in the midst of all the tragedy, “. . . but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness” (e.g., by faith). That is what we (e.g., believers) are called to do in the midst of any circumstances that we find ourselves in whether good, bad, or downright awful.

At the end of the Lord’s answer is this verse (Hab. 2:20): “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” God is in control. Way too often and most of the time we relegate God to our level of understanding. And in our own effort to understand God, we make Him like us, and that is a very grave error on our part. As Isaiah 55:8-9 states:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
    declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

At the start of Chapter 1 Habakkuk was low and despairing because of the evil all around him, and by the beginning of Chapter 2 he is standing watch, waiting for the Lord’s reply, which is found in Hab. 2:3:

“For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
    it speaks of the end
    and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
    it will certainly come
    and will not delay.”

In the rest of Chapter 2 God describes the enemy and the end that will come to that enemy. However, what the Lord had revealed to Habakkuk about the enemy was still to take place in the future, and even though he knew what was coming was going to be awful, he also knew the ultimate end of that enemy. And Chapter 3 opens up with Habakkuk praising and worshiping the Lord with these words (Hab. 3:2):

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

As the study in Bible.org concludes, “Habakkuk now understands and offers a prayer of praise because God is in control. He pleads for mercy in the midst of the judgment (Hab. 3:1-2); he praises God’s majesty and power (Hab. 3:3-15); and he promises to wait on the Lord (Hab. 3:16-19)(quote source here).

While none of us knows what the future holds, like Habakkuk, we know Who holds the future. While injustice and evil abound all around us, that is not the end of the story. Not by a long shot, folks. And that’s the message of Habakkuk, going from fear to faith and worshiping God for who He is (through Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord). And if we truly know and believe in Him, we know the ultimate end of the enemy, and we know that in the end . . .

God wins . . . .

YouTube Video: “Through the Fire” by the Crabb Family:

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Photo #2 credit here

 

Eye In The Sky

Big Brother is watching you.” Of course, Big Brother is a fictional character in George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four (published in 1949) and “he is the enigmatic dictator of Oceania, a totalitarian state taken to its utmost logical consequence – where the ruling Party wields total power for its own sake over the inhabitants” (source: Wikipedia.com). 

“In the society that Orwell describes, everyone is under complete surveillance by the authorities, mainly by telescreens. The people are constantly reminded of this by the phrase ‘Big Brother is watching you’, which is the core ‘truth’ of the propaganda system in this state. Since the publication of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four,’ the term ‘Big Brother’ has entered the lexicon as a synonym for abuse of government power, particularly in respect to civil liberties, often specifically related to mass surveillance (quote source here).

In 1949 when Orwell’s book was first published, this story-line most likely made for great science-fiction reading; however in today’s world, not so much . . . .

Do you own a cell phone? A GPS system? Any other type of electronic device such as a computer or laptop, iPad, etc.? If so, your every conversation can be recorded, your every communication via technology can be traced, and your every move can be trackedAnd even if you don’t own any of these devices, you can still be tracked without knowing it. In fact, “a new type of speed cameras which can use satellites to measure average speed over long distances are being tested in Britain” to track a network of streets or an entire residential area (quote source here). Also, “The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) requires that all U.S. telecommunications companies modify their equipment to allow easy wiretapping of telephone, VoIP, and broadband internet traffic . . . . The Total Information Awareness program, of the Information Awareness Office, designed numerous technologies to be used to perform mass surveillance” (source: Wikipedia.com).

Now, granted, the average person walking the streets is not necessarily in fear of constant surveillance, but the technology is there to do so. All it takes is someone with evil intent and a fair amount of money to do it. Private investigators did this (and probably still do) before the proliferation of technology and satellites and other types of surveillance devices blanketed the earth. Now your own computer, iPad, cell phone, GPS system, etc., can be used to record and track you.

I say all of this not to scare you, but to make you aware of the world around us. And even with all of this 24/7 “tracking” that is available to private individuals, corporations, governments, military, etc., for not altogether altruistic reasons, there is still One who keeps track of even them (as well as all of us, too).

I read a devotion this morning that got me thinking about this topic of surveillance in the first place. It’s from Our Daily Bread and is the devotion for today, November 17, 2012, titled Eye In The Sky:

Eye In The Sky

Psalm 139:1-10

“The Lord will guide you continually . . .” ~Isaiah 58:11a

Creating a system by which an “eye in the sky” can help guide cars and planes and boats all the time is complicated. For instance, the Global Positioning System (GPS) that most people are familiar with works because there are always 24 to 32 satellites orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 12,500 miles. These satellites must maintain a constant speed and altitude if the guidance they provide is to be accurate.

Today’s complicated GPS is just a tiny analogy of what God can do. God promised the nation of Israel: “The Lord will guide you continually” (Isa. 58:11). The psalmist was aware that there was no place he could go without God knowing where he was (Ps. 139:7-8). Long before GPS, God sat “above the circle of the earth” (Isa. 40:22) and saw everything.

The knowledge that there is someone who tracks you wherever you are can bring fear to those who are trying to get away. But for the Christian, this brings great joy and assurance. No matter where he was, the psalmist was confident that God’s hand would lead him (Ps. 139:10).

God has promised to guide and lead you today. He’s the best Guide you could have, and He wants to lead you along the right paths. ~ C.P. Hia

We need God’s guidance from above;
And as we trust Him for direction,
His daily leading and His love,
He’ll give to us His full protection. ~Fitzhugh

To avoid going wrong, follow God’s leading.

One of the most encouraging passages of Scripture in the entire Bible is Psalm 139. Here are the first sixteen verses of that psalm from The Message Bible:

“God, investigate my life;
    get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
    even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
    I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
    before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
    then up ahead and you’re there, too—
    your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
    I can’t take it all in!

“Is there any place I can go to avoid your Spirit?
    to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
    If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
    to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
    you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
    At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
    night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.

“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
    you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
    Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
    I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
    you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
    how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
    all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.”
~Psalm 139:1-16 MSG

I find those last three lines enormously encouraging: “Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.” In a world where personal privacy and individual rights are being replaced at an ever increasing rate by “Big Brother” no matter how you define it, to know that God has prepared every single one of our days on this earth before we even lived one day of them is mind boggling. And even “Big Brother” can’t hold a candle to that kind of tracking!

I personally find Psalm 139 of great comfort right now as God is fully aware of these past three and a half years of unemployment, and He knows exactly where He is taking me. Read those verses in Psalm 139 above once more and really think about their implications.

. . . He knows everything we are going to say before we even say it
. . . He’s always been there in every circumstance–in the past, right now, and up ahead
. . . And He’s always present — always . . .

I don’t know about you but such knowledge is almost more than the human mind can comprehend . . . “The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day” (v. 16).

WOW . . . .

And think of it . . . not even the latest technology and tracking devices available today can keep up with God’s tracking system. None of them! That should give us great confidence no matter what the future holds for us and this old world of ours.

God is in ultimate control, not man.
And He gets the last say, not us.

“And the Lord will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.”
~Isaiah 58:11 NKJV

YouTube Video: “Hail to the King” (2007) by Shannon Wexelberg (from the “Faithful God” CD):

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