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The last generation?

credit: david/Flickr/Creative Commons

credit: david/Flickr/Creative Commons

Jesus made a statement about the end times that has puzzled those studying eschatology for decades.

In his discussion of the signs leading to His second coming,  Jesus said:

32 “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; 33 so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. 34 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. (Matthew 24:34 NASV)

Most understood this to mean, that when the various end-time signs cited in this passage started to take place, Jesus’ return will occur within that generation.

Because they consider the fig tree as symbolic of Israel, the 1948 restoration of Israel as a nation is a key end-times marker.

So what was a generation?

Many believed that a generation was 40 years and adding that to 1948 meant Jesus would return sometime before 1988. And during the lead up to that date, there was a flurry of end-times speakers and books predicting Jesus’ eminent return.

When it didn’t happen, some speculated that Israel’s 1967 Six Day War when it took Jerusalem was the key year. This would put Christ’s return sometime before 2007.

Of course, it didn’t happen then either.

Then it was suggested a generation was 70 years and again using 1948 this would put Christ’s return sometime before 2018. This may explain why in recent years there has been an outbreak of predictions about Christ’s return.

Some like Harold Camping, then president of Family Radio, provided an exact day stating Christ would return on May 21, 2011 and when it didn’t happen, he adjusted the date to October 21, 2011. Wrong again.

For some reason people like setting exact dates, even though Jesus clearly said we would not know the day of His return:

42 Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. 43 But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. (Matthew 24:42-44 NASV)

Nevertheless, much of this discussion on Jesus’ return stems on the length of a generation? Is it 40 years or 70 years?

The answer to this question may be found in the recent announcement that at 117 years of age, Violet-Mosse Brown from Duanvale, Trelawny, Jamaica is the oldest person in the world. She was born March 10, 1900.

Brown who is also a born-again Christian credits her long life to faith in God and particularly the fifth commandment that promised a long life to those who honor their parents.

She was water baptized at age 13 and in an interview with CBN, Brown said, “I’ve done nearly everything in the church. I spent all my time in the church.”

She earned the title of the oldest person after the death of an Italian woman who died at 117 on April 15, 2017. She was the last known person born in the 1800s to still be alive.

The ages of both these women highlight a little known second curse that God made on humanity just prior to sending the flood provoked by the marriage of the sons of God to the daughters of men (Genesis 6:1).

In addition to judging the world with a flood, God said:

Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” (Genesis 6:3 NASV)

God limited how long people would live to 120 years. Prior to Noah’s flood men and women lived for hundreds of years and after the flood there was a gradual fall off and by Joseph’s day, life spans were below 120 years and would stay that way.

Does this suggest a generation is 120 years?

If so, using the restoration of Israel as the key marker, it would put Christ’s return closer to 2068.

Oddly, this somewhat fits a date given by famous scientist and Bible scholar Isaac Newton. Writing in the 1700s, Newton adamantly said that the restoration of Israel as a nation needed to take place before Christ came back.

Using Daniel 12:7 as his spring board, Newton predicted that Christ would return sometime around 2060. Again he needed a date to begin his countdown and used the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire in 800 AD as the start.

But in all these predictions there are huge ifs and more questions than answers. The only thing we know for sure is that we won’t know the date, but we will see the signs that Christ’s return is near.

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Tomb of Herod the Great discovered

Herdodium complex Credit: Eitan Yaaran/Wikipedia/Creative Commons

Herdodium complex Credit: Eitan Yaaran/Wikipedia/Creative Commons

In 2007, Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced the discovery of the tomb of Herod the Great, including his sarcophagus and mausoleum, on the Northeast slope of Mount Herodium. This confirmed the existence of a major player in early New Testament history.

Herod was part of a larger clan who ruled Palestine during its Roman occupation — his grandfather and father had ruled before him. Herod, who was declared “King of the Jews” in 40 BC by the Roman Senate, died in 4 AD.

Most Christians are familiar with Herod the Great and his role embedded in the Christmas story. Herod was the king that the Magi consulted when they came to Judea looking for the “King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:1). This news troubled Herod (v 2) and he asked the Magi to report back when they had found the new King.

When the Magi – warned in a dream – took a different route home, Herod was enraged (v 16). After consulting his advisors, Herod determined where the Jewish Messiah had been born and brutally ordered the slaughter of all Bethlehem boys — two years and younger (v 19, 20).

But an angel had earlier warned Joseph to flee to Egypt with his family and they only returned after Herod had died (Matthew 2:13, 15, 19).

History of Herod

This behavior was totally in character for Herod. He was a vicious man who was suspicious of any potential challenges to his throne. He often dressed as a commoner and circulated among his citizens trying to discover what people thought of him and to root out any potential challenges to his authority.

When Salome, Herod’s sister, became jealous of the influence of Herod’s first wife Mariamme, Salome told Herod his wife was unfaithful.

Herod married Mariamme because of her Jewish ancestry to gain support from the Jews. Despite the groundless charges, Herod ordered Mariamme killed. Herod would later kill Mariamme’s sons, who Salome accused of rebellion.

Herod was so overcome by grief by Mariamme’s death, doctors feared he would die. Some suggest, this marked a turning point in Herod’s life as he tipped into insanity.

The murder of the Bethlehem boys also took place at the end of Herod’s reign when most historians conclude Herod was mad.

Nearing death, Herod ordered the arrest of 70 elders of Israel who were to be killed when Herod died, so all Israel would mourn his passing. Ironically, after his death, the 70 were released, transforming Herod’s funeral into a day of celebration.

Herod’s construction of Herodium

While King, Herod was involved in numerous building projects. He rebuilt the Jewish temple to gain the favour of the Jewish priestly class. Construction started in 20 BC and it was known as Herod’s temple. Other projects included the building of a palace at Masada.

However, his most ambitious project involved the Herodium complex located 12 kilometers south of Jerusalem. It was one of the most elaborate “monarchial” complexes constructed during this period of Roman history.

First Herod built a large cone shaped hill that was high enough to be seen from Jerusalem.

The complex included a fortified palace on top of the mound complete with watch towers.

A second palace with elaborate gardens, stables and pools was built along the lower half of the hill.

Herod chose this site because it marked the spot in 43 BC when as governor of Palestine, he defeated the Parthians. When the Parthians had attacked Jerusalem, Herod fled the city. During his flight, the chariot containing Herod’s mother overturned.  The accident allowed the Parthians to catch the fleeing group forcing Herod to engage in battle.

Flavius Josephus’ record

First century Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, wrote in his book — The Jewish wars – a description of Herod’s funeral which he said took place in 4 AD. He stated that Herod’s body was interred in a tomb at Herodium:

Around the bier were Herod’s sons and a large group of his relations; these were followed by the guards, the Thracian contingent, Germans and Gauls, all equipped as for war. The reminder of the troops marched in front, armed and in orderly array, led by their commanders and subordinate officers; behind these came five hundred of Herod’s servants and freedmen, carrying spices. The body was thus conveyed for a distance of two hundred furlongs to Herodium, where, in accordance with the directions of the deceased, it was interred. So ended Herod’s reign.” — Jewish Wars, 1,23,9

Unfortunately, Josephus’ record as a historian has come under attack, primarily from Liberal commentators annoyed by numerous references to Jesus Christ in his writings.

Tomb discovery

However, based on Josephus’ testimony, Hebrew University Professor Ehud Netzer had been excavating the Herodium site looking for Herod’s tomb since 1972.

According to Josephus, the Romans destroyed Herodium in 71 AD during the Great Jewish Revolt (66 AD – 72 AD), when Jewish rebels used it as a base.

The Romans had completely obliterated the Jewish Temple a year earlier as part of this same campaign, an act prophesied by Jesus (Matthew 24:1-2).

Netzer finally found Herod’s mausoleum after digging at several locations on the side of the hill between Herod’s two palaces.

In a news release, Netzer described it as “one of the most startling finds in Israel in recent years.” Though largely destroyed, it still contained decorated urns used to store the ashes of cremated bodies.

They also found the remains of a large, highly decorated sarcophagus constructed of red limestone. The team concluded this was undoubtedly the sarcophagus of King Herod since it matched the size and quality of other sarcophaguses used for royalty.

Not surprisingly, Herod’s sarcophagus was purposely broken into hundreds of smaller pieces undoubtedly by the Jewish rebels who had used the palace during the rebellion:

Worthy of note is the fact that the sarcophagus was broken into hundreds of pieces, no doubt deliberately. This activity, including the destruction of the monument, apparently took place in the years 66-72 C.E. during the first Jewish revolt against the Romans, while Jewish rebels took hold of the site, according to Josephus and the archaeological evidence. The rebels were known for their hatred of Herod and all that he stood for, as a “puppet ruler” for the Romans.

The discovery of Herod’s tomb adds yet another page to growing archaeological evidence substantiating the Gospel accounts.

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Study suggests babies feel pain in the womb in first trimester

A recent study published in the journal Cell has provided evidence that babies feel pain in the womb sooner than many in the pro-abortion camp want us to believe.

In recent years, several reports mostly by specialists doing procedures on preemies or the unborn concluded that babies feel pain in the womb. For decades, most did not believe this was possible.

This most recent study published at the end of March confirmed what others are saying. But this study differed in one important way from earlier reports. It didn’t analyze a baby’s reaction to pain but rather looked at nerve development and concluded that a baby’s nervous system is fully formed by the end of the first trimester (12 weeks).

The study described the development as an “adult-like pattern of skin innervation” and added that the baby developed it earlier than previously thought.

Despite their findings, the researchers were quick to add that this did not necessarily suggest a baby feels pain in the womb.

The theory that babies did not feel pain in the womb began to unravel in 1983. Kanwaljeet Amand — who then worked at a neonatal intensive care unit at John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, England — noticed that premature babies going through surgery were coming to him with symptoms of shock. This included shallow breathing, grey skin and a weak pulse.

It often took Amand several hours to stabilize the infants.

He eventually received permission to follow these premature babies through their procedures and discovered that other than a paralytic to keep the infant still, a baby received no anesthesia for their operations that sometimes included heart surgery.

Further studies of these infants showed sharp spikes in stress hormones, a clear sign of stress and pain.

When hospitals started giving preemies anesthesia for their operations, it resulted in a significant jump in survival rates. Amand concluded that babies in the womb feel pain as early as 20 weeks.

This recent study is disturbing news for those in the pro-abortion camp because painful procedures are often used to abort babies including saline solutions and vacuums that rip the baby apart.

Pain also shows that these infants are not a conglomeration of cells called a fetus to make the baby seem less human.

According to the Daily Wire 12 states have already passed laws requiring anesthesia for babies during abortions.

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But we still speak King James

Ancient rendering of Lambeth Palace (L) and St. Mary-at-Lambeth (R) Credit: Boston Public Library/Flickr/Creative Commons

Ancient rendering of Lambeth Palace (L) and St. Mary-at-Lambeth (R) Credit: Boston Public Library/Flickr/Creative Commons

Workers doing renovations at the Garden Museum in London, England accidentally broke through the floor and discovered a large chamber.

When they lowered a mobile phone through the hole they saw 30 lead coffins, some piled on top of each other, that had been hidden from view for centuries.

The Garden Museum is located in an ancient medieval church, St. Mary-at-Lambeth, found next to the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury (Lambeth Palace) – the head of the Anglican Church.

St. Mary-at-Lambeth is considered a ‘deconsecrated’ church. This is a ceremony Anglicans perform on a church when it is no longer to be used for religious service. They essentially remove the religious blessing rendering it fit for secular purposes.

St Mary-at-Lambeth today now home to the Garden Museum Credit: kotomi_/Flickr/Creative Commons

St Mary-at-Lambeth is now home to the Garden Museum Credit: kotomi_/Flickr/Creative Commons

The Anglo Saxons constructed the first church at the site in 1062, but over the centuries it has undergone major renovations and rebuilds.

Perched on top of one of the coffins was an old gold-painted archbishop miter or crown indicating this was the burial chamber of some of the Anglican church’s long-lost archbishops.

Realizing the enormity of their discovery, the area was opened up and they discovered coffins with the nameplates labeling the final remains of Archbishop Richard Bancroft (1604-1610) and Archbishop John Moore (1783-1805).

If St Mary-at-Lambeth’s records are correct, there are probably three other archbishops down there as well.

Perhaps the most famous of the archbishops buried at the site is none other than John Bancroft, the man responsible for the publication of the King James Bible.

Though Bancroft did not actually write it, in 1604 he headed a group of 41 Hebrew and Greek scholars who would eventually create it. The first version of the King James bible would not be published until 1611, a year after Bancroft died.

Though the King James Bible is no longer widely used because of its archaic ‘thees’ and ‘thous,’ its successor the New King James Bible, that modernized the language, continues to be popular.

Though many of us stumble on the old English, many of the sayings in popular use today are taken from the King James Bible — some estimate as many as 200.

One of the more intriguing ones is “saved by the skin of my teeth” referring to a close call. It was taken from the book of Job as he described his suffering and how close to death he was:

20 My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth. (Job 19:20 KJV)

The phrase “drop in a bucket” referring to a thing’s unimportance comes from the Book of Isaiah as the prophet describes the insignificance of the nations compared to God:

15 Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing. (Isaiah 40:15 KJV)

The term “scapegoat” is used to describe someone being blamed for another’s transgression. On the Day of Atonement, Israel’s high priest used two goats. He sacrificed one for the sins of the nation and on the second, the scapegoat, the high priest placed Israel’s sins and then drove the goat into the wilderness.

10 But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:10 KJV)

Other phrases based on the Bible still in use today include:

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Two types of Christians, only one hears a knock

Ruins of temples used in Imperial cult worship in Laodicea, Turkey Credit: Richard Munden/Flickr/Creative Commons

Ruins of temples used in Imperial cult worship in Laodicea, Turkey   Credit: Richard Munden/Flickr/Creative Commons

I regularly receive a daily devotional from Open Doors, a Christian organization that stands with believers being persecuted around the world.

In a recent newsletter, they quoted Iranian Christian leader, Luke Yagnazar, who now lives in the US.  Having come from a country where a person can be thrown in jail or even executed for believing in Jesus, Yagnazar talked about his faith struggle in the US.

He said:

“It is more difficult to be a Christian in the USA than in Iran. There you are either a Christian or not.”

In Iran, your decision to become a Christian is not taken lightly. It is very black and white.

But in Canada, the US and many other Western countries we have developed a second tier of Christianity. Colored gray, it easily infects us all, myself included.

The Book of Revelation talks about this second tier using a slightly different analogy. Speaking to the church at Laodicea, the Apostle John writes:

15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. (Revelation 3: 15-16 NASV)

The Book of Revelation was a prophetic vision of the end times received by the Apostle John while banished on the Island of Patmos. At the beginning of his vision he had a message to seven churches that existed in his day.

However, many believe due to the prophetic nature of John’s vision, this message to the seven churches also describes issues and challenges that will face the church in the last days.

So what made the Laodicean Christians lukewarm?

The passage points to the cause:

17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, (Revelation 3:17 NASV)

Because of its textile industry, banking and location on a major trade route, Laodicea was a very wealthy city.

In her article, The Church of Laodicea in Bible and Archaeology on Bible Archaeology, Megan Sauter writes that Laodicea’s problems stemmed from a decree made by the Roman Emperor Domitian who ruled at that time.

Though the Romans treated their emperors as gods, this usually only happened after death. But Domitian declared himself a god before he died and demanded worship. Referred to as the Imperial Cult, this worship often took place inside pagan temples.

The Jews were exempt from participating and because Christians were considered Jewish, they were initially exempt as well. At its start, the early church was basically made up of Jews who embraced Jesus as the Messiah. However, when God moved on the gentiles, they began flooding in and very quickly, Jews became a small, insignificant minority.

When that happened, the Romans no longer considered Christianity as an off shoot of Judaism — meaning the church was no longer exempt from Emperor worship,

Depending on where you lived, refusing to participate in the Imperial cult, could even affect a person’s ability to buy and sell referenced in John’s vision (Revelation 13:16-17).

When faced with this choice, many wealthy Christians compromised their faith and participated in the Imperial cult worship. Yet, they still claimed to be Christian and continued to go to the church – but it was this act that God labelled as lukewarm.

But God makes one last statement to the Laodiceans:

19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. (Revelation 3: 19-20 NASV)

Yes the statement that many Christians use to encourage non believers to accept Christ was actually a message God intended for lukewarm believers.

Though early Christians faced death and the ability to buy and sell in John’s day, due to the prophetic nature of this vision, many believe Christians will face this type of persecution one more time — at the end of the age.

And for some it is already starting to happen.

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So Who is Zoroaster?

Zoroaster temple in Iran Credit: Bastian/Flickr/Creative Commons

Zoroaster temple in Iran Credit: Bastian/Flickr/Creative Commons

About three thousand years ago, probably in the times of David and Solomon in the Bible, a man named Zoroaster or Zarathustra began preaching about one God, and one great force of evil in the world.

His home was probably near Afghanistan and his teaching came to dominate all Iranian people, from northern India to Greece, in Europe. Information about times and places is mostly lost, but scholars agree that someone tried to turn people to God, in central Asia, many centuries ago.

According to Tabari, a Sunni Muslim who lived about a thousand years ago, Zoroaster the ancient prophet of Iran was from Israel and a disciple of Jeremiah, or he travelled with a Hebrew prophet. We know the Persians were often kind to Israel and their temple in Jerusalem.

Kings of Persia (Iran) ordered the rebuilding of the temple of Jerusalem:

“Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing: “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah.”” (Ezra 1:1 and 2) … [and King Darius later added] so that they may offer sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven and pray for the well-being of the king and his sons. “ (Ezra 6:10)

Daniel and his friends, and Nehemiah were senior officials close to Persian kings, and Esther was a devout Jewish woman and also the Queen of Persia.

When Jesus was born, wise men, known as Magi, travelled from the east to find the baby Jesus. In their homeland, God spoke to them and they listened and obeyed, at great personal risk and cost; and when they found Jesus, they worshipped him. Magi were followers of Zoroaster.

Later, the Persians opposed the Roman Christians, as they opposed the Romans, but they accepted eastern Christians in countries under their influence like Armenia and Georgia.

So what happened to the ancient religion of Zoroaster? It was mostly conquered by Islam and forced to assimilate. A remnant remains, mostly in Iran and India, and the community is progressive and prosperous in India, with many leading scientists and industrial leaders. Tata Group is emerging as one of the leading industrial companies in the world, based in India and founded by a Zoroastrian family.

Another branch is the Yazidis who are being persecuted by ISIS in Iraq. Also, Iranians who were converted by their Muslim conquerors mostly follow Shiite Islam and stubbornly remain different from the Sunni majority. The terrible violence in Syria and Iraq and Yemen is mostly Shiite versus Sunni.

Some Shiite groups revere Zoroaster as a prophet of God, as does the Bahai faith that emerged from Iranian Islam. Today there are reports of growing interest in Zoroaster and Christianity among Iranians and Kurds, who are ethnic Iranians. The explosive growth of Christian communities is a concern for the Islamic Republic of Iran. The seeds keep sprouting.

So who is Zoroaster? We might never know the details because his legacy has been suppressed for centuries. I am convinced that many centuries ago, someone tried to turn central Asia to God and I believe the work of God cannot be undone.

If you believe in spiritual forces, that may explain the growing restlessness in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and the region. Civil wars and millions of refugees show a great restlessness. I have met people from those regions, in my work and in Christian churches in Canada, and my impression is that they have a sense of longing, in spiritual things.

God will feed their hunger.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia … (Acts 2:1 to 9)

A strange reason to celebrate?

Sergels Square, Stockholm, Sweden Credit: Joakim Johansson/Flickr/Creative commons

Sergels Square, Stockholm, Sweden Credit: Joakim Johansson/Flickr/Creative commons

Those with an eye on the end-times took note of the technological changes taking place at a small business center in Stockholm Sweden called Epicenter.

Housing over 100 companies with an estimated 2,000 employees, Epicenter describes itself this way on its website:

“Epicenter is Stockholm’s first digital House of Innovation at the heart of the city and Sweden’s digital landscape.”

Though it is not mandatory, Epicenter offers to implant a rice-sized chip into the hands of employees of the various companies free of charge.

Inserted into the flesh between the thumb and index finger, the chip serves multiple purposes. It can be used to open sealed doors and operate the printers that need to track usage.

But the chip does more than that. Utilizing the same technology as credit cards it can also be used for purchases at the center’s food services.

According to an article in the National Post, Epicenter first offered the chip in January 2015, and so far 150 of the 2,000 people working at the center have taken up the offer. Epicenter has even turned the chip insertion into a celebration throwing parties for people who receive it.

There are also the obvious security and privacy issues as the chip allows companies to track if the person is at work, when they use the washroom and what they have purchased. And like other computer technology, the chip is prone to hacking.

But for Christians, this technology brings other concerns. In his vision of the end-times, the Apostle John saw a time when people would not be able to buy or sell without receiving either a mark on their hand or forehead:

16 And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, 17 and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. (Revelation 13:16-17 NASV)

Many studying the end-times have wondered if the ‘mark of the beast’ mentioned by John would be associated with some type of computer chip technology.

Though this chip is obviously not the ‘mark of the beast’ is it paving the way for it?

The chip will provide many genuine conveniences to people, increasing its acceptability. It will also give a higher level of security — while credit cards can be separated from a person, a computer chip in the hand can’t so easily.

But it’s also a reflection of the rapid changes taking place in society. While a prophecy in the Bible ominously warns about where this type of technology could potentially head, some look at it as a cause for celebration.

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New York Times tells remarkable story of how a Muslim Jihadist became a Christian

Istanbul, Turkey Credit: Filip Knezic/Flickr/Creative Commons

Istanbul, Turkey Credit: Filip Knezic/Flickr/Creative Commons

At the end of March, New York Time’s journalist Patrick Kingsley wrote an unusual article  on the stunning conversion of a Muslim Jihadist to Christ.

He stumbled upon the man while visiting a basement room filled with 22 Christian refugees in Istanbul, Turkey. Kingsley noted many had Muslim sounding names.

Though Kingsley noted that it is not unusual for Muslims to convert to Christ as a ruse to claim asylum in other countries, there was one man, Bashir Mohammad, 25 who did not fit that narrative.

He was a Christian, who wasn’t interested in asylum. It was also obvious he had a leading role with this group.

As Kingsley talked with Bashir, he found out more about his story. At age 15, Bashir began listening to extremist preachers calling for violence. This led him to eventually join the Nusra Front, an off shoot of Al Qaeda, that was seeking to set up a Muslim Caliphate in Syria.

Fighting with this group, Bashir witnessed prisoners being run over with bulldozers and another prisoner forced to drink litres of water and then they tied his genitalia shut with a string.

But when he saw Syrians soldiers bulldozing prisoners, just like his group had, he realized there was little difference between the two. Muslims were slaughtering Muslims.

Disgusted, Bashir returned home and fled to Istanbul along with his wife, Hevin. But he was still a fervent Muslim. Bashir’s daily prayers resulted in complaints from neighbors and he expected his wife to wear a full Hijab.

However, things changed when his wife became very ill. Bashir contacted his cousin Ahmad who now lived in Canada. But Ahmad who had invited Bashir to attend the Jihadi lectures as a teen had now become a believer in Christ.

And when Ahmad asked if Bashir would put the phone close to Hevin so the Christian group could pray for her, shocked, Bashir said no.

But as Hevin’s condition worsened, Bashir relented and within days of the prayer his wife was better. The Koran mentions Jesus several times and though it considers Christ as a prophet of Allah, it also talks about the Lord’s healing ministry. Many Muslims consider him a healing prophet.

But this healing caused Bashir to have a different perspective on Christ. He was more than just a prophet. Then both Bashir and his wife had dreams about Jesus. Hevin dreamed that Jesus parted the sea for them and Bashir had a dream that the Lord gave them food.

Ahmad gave Bashir the address of an Evangelical pastor in the area who led both Bashir and Hevin to the Lord.

This decision came at cost. Bashir knows because of his conversion to Christianity Muslim extremists would kill him without a second thought. Bashir would have done the same thing just a few months earlier.

The former Jihadist told the New York Times:

“There’s a big gap between the god I used to worship and the one I worship now. We used to worship in fear. Now everything has changed.”

This is similar to the powerful testimony of Mario Joseph, a former Muslim Imam from India who became a Christian. Mario said the Koran states that people are the slaves of Allah and he can do anything he wants with them.

What attracted Mario to Christ was the thought that God loved him and that he would become a child of God if he embraced Christ:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, (John 1:12 NASV)

God would be his heavenly father, his Daddy. Mario realized this is the type of relationship he wanted with God and left Islam to become a Christian.

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Proof of the resurrection

Doubting Thomas by Caravaggio (1571 - 1610): Wikipedia

Doubting Thomas who touched the resurrected Christ by Caravaggio (1571 – 1610): Wikipedia

Like today, the early church had its doubters and haters. After Christ rose from the dead the Jewish Sanhedrin purposefully spread rumors that it was all one big scam and the disciples had stolen Christ’s body from the tomb (Matthew 28:11-15). Year’s later this rumor still had legs and was widely circulated among the Jews.

And at times, the Apostle Paul felt  a need to point at the evidence of the resurrection, listing the people (such as Peter, the 12 disciples) the crowds (many who were still alive) and others who saw the Lord after His death (1 Corinthians 15:1-11).

But these eye-witness testimonies were not the primary evidence for the early church of Christ’s resurrection. They had something else.

During the early days of the church they were under siege from the Jewish authorities and the believers asked for courage and power:

29 And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.

33 And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.

But notice the last verse — the power to heal the sick was their testimony or evidence of the resurrection of Christ. The Greek word “marturion” translated testimony or witness is rooted in the justice system where witnesses were summoned to give evidence in a court case.

For the first Christians, the power of God displayed through miracles and the spiritual gifts was all the evidence they needed that Christ rose from dead.

And though the pharisees opposed the growing influence of the early church when confronted with miracles they were dumbfounded and the people amazed (Acts 4:14-16).

Paul explains:

11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:11 NASV)

If we are filled with the Holy Spirit, each of us contain the evidence of Christ’s resurrection and we need to let this evidence out.

The British Broadcasting Corporation conducted a poll this year and discovered that 23% of people who identify themselves as Christian do not believe in Christ’s resurrection and among regular church attenders only 57% believe Jesus rose from the dead.

But the poll conducted by ComRes also discovered that 9% of people who don’t go to church or considered themselves religious nevertheless believed in the resurrection of Christ.

Even today, we need evidence of the resurrection and that is why there is a section on our website dedicated to healings.

Here are a couple of my favorites:

Annabel Beam and the Cotton Wood tree

In 2011, Annabel Beam was playing with her sisters in Texas when she fell 30′ down the inside of a hollowed-out Cotton Wood tree. It took rescuers a couple of hours to get her out. While lying at the bottom it appears Annabel passed out. However, when she was finally hauled out and taken to the hospital doctors could find nothing wrong with her.

But a few days later Annabel told the amazing story of what happened as she lie in the trunk of the tree. She went to heaven and saw Jesus who told Annabel that it was not her time and she would be alright. Of course, everyone thought this was the result of a concussion, though there was no evidence she had one.

Then a strange thing happened.

In 2008, doctors diagnosed Annabel with intestinal pseudo-obstruction mobility disorder. This rare and dangerous disorder hinders the body’s ability to absorb nutrients requiring extensive medications and a very restricted diet.

Within days of the fall, Annabel’s Christian parents noticed the severe symptoms she experienced were disappearing and took her back to the doctor. Testing found that she had been completely healed of this INCURABLE DISORDER.

Jocelyn healed in face of opposition

Another of my favorite stories involves the healing of Jocelyn Kwan who went from a healthy active baby to full life support within 24 hours due to an infection. Katherine Gagne who tells the story was living in Hong Kong. She and her husband Dean were leading a small home group that was part of a larger church.

The doctors told the family Jocelyn was dying and there was nothing they could do. Katherine and her husband regularly joined the Kwan family in the hospital’s hospice room to pray for their daughter.

However, in their home group was a missionary couple who didn’t believe in Divine healing. They were upset that Dean and Katherine were giving false hope to the parents.

But Katherine and Dean continued to pray with Kwans. As they were praying one night, God showed up. Jocelyn’s father fell down under the power of God and came up speaking in tongues. God had heard their prayers and the very next morning the doctors were stunned by Jocelyn’s remarkable recovery and by the end of the day had completely taken her off life support.

But there was still a problem the infection that had ravaged Jocelyn’s body had resulted in one of her lungs becoming gangrenous and it would need to be removed. Katherine and Dean continued to gather with the Kwans to pray.

Oddly, despite Jocelyn’s remarkable healing, the Gagne’s decision to pray for the lung infuriated the missionary couple even more and they became very vocal about their opposition.

As Jocelyn was being wheeled in for surgery, the surgeon decided to take one last x-ray. Not only was the gangrene gone, but there was not even any scar tissue — SURGERY CANCELLED.

Pray for the sick, Jesus has Risen!

Sources:

He makes my feet secure like hind’s feet

Credit: Chris Campbell/Flickr/Creative Commons

Credit: Chris Campbell/Flickr/Creative Commons

“He makes my feet like hinds’ feet (able to stand firmly or make progress on the dangerous heights of testing and trouble; He sets me securely upon my high places.” (Psalm 18:33 AMP)

Events beyond my control left me numb from the inside out and feeling like I was the worst person on earth.

I took it all so personally. I shouldn’t have but I did.

This traumatic event was a trigger revealing that the perception I had of myself (my identity and self-worth) was pretty much reliant on the approval and opinions of my peers.

The fear of man ruled my life.

All kinds of unresolved issues surfaced during this  time.  It was all out on the table and not a pretty sight.

I was desperate to be free of these insecurities and their wounding effect on me emotionally, physically and spiritually.

I was open and surrendered myself to the process of inner emotional healing. Over these past years, wise counsel, God’s word and sound principles brought me to a place of confidence and security within myself and in my relationship with God and those around me.

There were many verses that encouraged me to endure and persevere. I found myself identifying with one in particular:

The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make to walk (not to stand still in terror but to walk) and make (spiritual) progress upon my high places (of trouble suffering or responsibility). (Habakkuk 3:19 AMP)

It was the picture of a hart, roe (female deer) climbing her mountain. I could see her stretching out as she pushed herself over rocks and obstacles on her path, leaping over streams as she moved onward and upward on her journey to the top of the mountain.

I walked through my day with this picture in my mind.

Hesitantly, I acknowledged my fears and the deep woundings within. I became braver, stronger and more confident with every step I took over the obstacles on my path through my emotional pain.

My courage and faith grew as the Holy Spirit carried me through my leaps of faith towards forgiveness and  healing.

He has secured my footing and made me strong.

The Intersection

Credit: Marcin Bajer/Flickr/Creative Commons

Credit: Marcin Bajer/Flickr/Creative Commons

A few weeks ago at a weekly prayer meeting I had a prophetic word for a young man. After I shared the picture I had received with him, I knew I needed to remember it and apply it to my own life.

I began to pray for direction for his life and immediately God gave me this “movie” for him. I saw him in his vehicle pulling up to a stop sign at an intersection where he had two or three options for his destiny. Which direction was he to take?

Next I saw the action God wanted him to take. I saw him park at the side of the road, put on some worship tunes, and begin to worship God. He was to make declarations about who and what God is – He is Lord, He knows all, and is greater than all our circumstances. He knows what we need and how to get there.

What happened next was not what I would have expected. As the worship and declarations went up like vapor to heaven, it began to rain. The whole intersection disappeared into a dark misty cloud (things getting darkest before the dawn!). As the worship continued, the sun (son) suddenly burst through the dark clouds in one spot, pointing the way he was to go on his life’s journey.

God does not want to be our heavenly vending machine for use when we are in trouble. (We need help so we just put our “works” coins into the slot and punch in our selection by using our “faith code”, and presto – we get what we want.) How would I feel if my friends and family treated me like that? The big problem here is, no personal relationship. God is our heavenly Father, not some distant rich uncle!

A Bible character who also had to “pull over and park his chariot” was Jehoshaphat. In II Chronicles 20:1-30 Jehoshaphat’s victory over Moab, Ammon and Mount Seir is described. Many messages have been preached focusing on verses 21-23, where the king put the musicians and singers in front of the army to thank and praise God (“Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever,”) and God won the victory for them. But this was the last part of the battle, the result of what happened earlier in the chapter.

In verse 2, the king is told that a large (“great multitude”) army is on route to destroy Judah. This godly king’s response at this critical intersection sets the stage for his later victory. Verse 3 says, “And Jehoshaphat feared and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.” After worshiping God and publicly declaring God’s faithfulness (verses 5-8) the dark clouds parted and the sun shone through, by a prophetic word (verse 15-17, “…stand and see the salvation of the Lord…”).

Verse 18 shows the king’s response to God’s answer. “And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem bowed before the Lord, worshiping the Lord.”

Jehoshaphat’s ultimate victory came out of his pulling over, fasting, worshiping, and declaring God’s greatness until God answered.

A few days ago my young friend came up to me and said with a smile that things were starting to come into focus concerning his life’s direction. Through experiences like these we get our prayer answered, our faith is built up, but by far the greatest thing is the time we spend before the face of our Father in heaven. And, we start to become like those we hang out with!

Will God allow a third Jewish temple to be built?

View of the Dome of the Rock and Western Wall. Many believe the Muslim Dome of the Rock is built on the original site of the Jewish Temple destroyed in 70 AD. Credit: Boris G/Flickr/Creative Commons

A photo of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem that includes a view of the Muslim Dome of the Rock and Western Wall. Many believe the Dome sits on the original site of the Jewish Temple destroyed in 70 AD. Credit: Boris G/Flickr/Creative Commons

Many orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians are looking forward to the day when Jews build a third temple in Jerusalem, replacing the one destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD during the Bar Kokhba Jewish revolt.

Both groups believe its construction would fulfill Biblical prophecy.

And recent events in Jerusalem added to the excitement. According to Breaking Israel News (BIN), the Jewish Sanhedrin reenacted the Jewish Passover on Thursday, April 5, 2017 near the site of the original Jewish Temple.

This was the fifteenth year that they held the Passover in Jerusalem that included building an altar and the actual sacrifice of a lamb using Jewish Priests.

According to BIN, this year’s Passover was held closer to the Temple’s location than it had been in earlier years.  In order to accommodate a sacrifice this close to the Temple Mount, the Sanhedrin used the courts to get police protection.

Jewish priests performed the sacrifice with instruments, utensils and clothing provided by the Temple Institute an organization dedicated to rebuilding the Jewish Temple.

Attendance at the Passover has grown each year. This year, the group responsible wanted to hold the Passover ceremony at the Davidson Center just across from the Temple Mount. However, fearing Muslim violence, the police refused to issue a permit.

Though they moved the Passover celebration to the Jewish quarter, it was still the closest they have been to celebrating it on Jewish Mount, where it was traditionally held.

Some in Israel’s Liberal media attacked this year’s event as a purposeful intent to provoke the Muslims. However, Rabbi Wenzel stated the Passover is the most important ceremony on the Jewish calendar traditionally held at the Temple and Jews have the right to celebrate it.

The biggest hindrance to building a temple is the Muslim Dome of the Rock that most believe sits on the temple’s original location. Since the Dome wasn’t completed until 692 AD, why didn’t the Jews rebuild the Temple before this?

In fact, there was an attempt.

In 363 AD, Roman Emperor Julian ordered construction of the Jewish Temple and was even willing to pay for it from government coffers.

Though construction actually started on the new Temple, it was never completed. According to Wikipedia, a friend of the Emperor described what happened this way:

Julian thought to rebuild at an extravagant expense the proud Temple once at Jerusalem, and committed this task to Alypius of Antioch. Alypius set vigorously to work, and was seconded by the governor of the province, when fearful balls of fire, breaking out near the foundations, continued their attacks, till the workmen, after repeated scorchings, could approach no more: and he gave up the attempt. — Ammianus Marcellinus

It is uncertain what he was trying to say, but it suggests fires broke out at the site stopping the work. It is uncertain what the source of the fire was.

Others write that the earthquake that hit Galilee that same year destroyed what had been rebuilt ending any thoughts of constructing a third Temple.

Christian historians of the day described the stoppage as Divine intervention.

The Gospel writers stated that Jesus prophesied the destruction in the Temple a few times during His ministry.

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. (John 2:19-21 NASV)

Not only was God going to destroy the Temple, but according to the Apostle John God would replace it with Christ’s body, the Church.

Yet there seems to be references to a temple in the book of Ezekiel that describes a building that fits neither Solomon’s temple or Herod’s temple, suggesting a third temple (Ezekiel 40).

The Book of Revelation also mentions a Temple (Revelation 11:1-2). Though some Christians suggest these passages imply the Jews will build a third Temple, others believe they refer to a spiritual building — the Church (Ephesians 2:19-22).

Sources:

Fill my cup

Credit: Matt Fields/Flickr/Creative Commons

Credit: Matt Fields/Flickr/Creative Commons

‘’Chronically depleted’ is a term I have been running across lately describing the way women are functioning these days.

It was a wake up call for me.

I use a sleep machine at night.  I was not getting enough oxygen while sleeping and as a result I woke up many times during the night and  wasn’t even aware of it.  I would wake up in the morning fatigued.  It’s called ‘Sleep Apnea.’

My husband and I were traveling recently and I got out of the habit of using my machine. When we returned home, I continued the practice of not using it, even though it was within my reach on the dresser right beside my bed.  I just had to apply the mask to my face, place the strap around my head and press the button.

Instead, I ignored it and even though it seemed that I was sleeping, I really wasn’t. The last few weeks without the machine slowly brought me to a place of fatigue and exhaustion. I was barely functioning.

It was my sister who finally asked, “have you been using your sleep machine at night?”

At first I brushed it off, but over the past few days I chose to apply the mask and strap it around my head at night. Within three days there was a major change in my energy level. The fatigue is gone.

I shake my head! Why would I go weeks without using this machine and deprive myself of the oxygen my body needs to function well.

Raising a family and working as well does not make it easy for a woman to take care of herself. We willingly make sacrifices for our families and do not regret any of it.

Taking care of myself has not been a priority over the years and the term self-care had me spooked. I feared putting my needs before others might appear selfish and as a Christian woman I wasn’t convinced this was good theology.

But a Bible verse helped balance things out in my mind:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10:10)

I confess that I have gone overboard on the ‘denying myself and taking up my cross’ part.  It is so easy for women to sacrifice themselves to death for others.

Sometimes we are motivated by guilt  or a deep need for approval from our peers.

Whatever our reasons,  let’s remember that the thief wants to steal our life and everything that brings us happiness, fulfillment and joy.

Jesus wants us to be happy and fulfilled in our lives so that others will be drawn into the kingdom of God through us.

I stubbornly chose to deny myself the oxygen my body needed at night and suffered for it. I not only suffered but my family did as well because I was crabby and not easy to live with. And it was my own fault.

Why would I, a Christian woman, choose to ignore the things that give me life, keep me healthy, happy and a much better person to be around.

Along with our daily dose of God’s word and meditation, let’s not deprive ourselves of the life-giving activities (interests and hobbies) that keep us happy and fulfilled.

Those Pictures of Hitler

Hitler in Finland Credit: Wikipedia/SAkuva/Creative Commons

Adolf Hitler in Finland Credit: Wikipedia/SAkuva/Creative Commons

A few days ago I met a man who saw Hitler. He told a small group, including me, that he was four years old, in Czechoslovakia, and he remembers shiny black cars and a man in the distance. He says the memory is still clear.

If you follow news on the Internet, there are several photo albums and collections of pictures that show the ordinary life of Hitler. For some reason, this information seems to be in the news now. I don’t know why some of these pictures were kept hidden, and have emerged this year.

One example of a photo collection is a recent article with a free discussion by the readers: 50  rare photos of Adolf Hitler.

There are several other sources of these pictures of the “human” Hitler:

These pictures of an ordinary man, doing ordinary things, have generated angry debate. In the discussions, some people openly speak out as supporters of Hitler and the Nazis “Hitler did nothing wrong he was a good guy.” And “If only you fools would know anything about the Fuhrer you would know that he was a decent man with only the concern of making Germany a prosperous nation after the horrendous Versailles Treaty.”

This is not a new concept, it’s called holocaust denial, and I believe it will increase as World War 2, and the Nazis, and Hitler fade in our living memory. Very few people in the world are like my friend, eye witnesses to Hitler. Did you know he came to power in January of 1933, almost a century ago?

The other side is also represented in the debate: “Let us not humanize this man.” and “I just looked at the photos of Anne Frank, looking at these right afterwards was jarring to say the least!” But it is so easy to humanize a man who looks like someone’s uncle at a family reunion; and it will become common to deny that he did evil things in history, as living memories fade.

This growing debate is interesting, and it has a lesson for us all. Ordinary people can do very evil things, and it’s easy. And ‘ordinary people’ includes you and me. Christians are warned “Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.” (2 Peter 3:17) If you are a church- going Christian, note that this “fall” could happen to you or me.

Imagine the risk to people who don’t include God in their lives. The pictures of Hitler, the jolly German uncle show the story of Jesus, and the reason Christians exist in the world: “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the sins of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)

That pleasant little man was born as an innocent baby, and he did not grow horns after that. He simply made choices and history gave him opportunities. The world suffered, and millions died because of his decisions, including six million innocent Jews, about half the Jewish people in the world. Their number have only rebounded to the levels before Hitler, in the last few years.

I believe denial and the humanization of Hitler will grow, and possibly win the argument some day. The problem is not Hitler, it’s us. People don’t want to admit that a pleasant little man acted like an evil monster. The old pictures show that he is us, and that is not a popular truth.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:7-9)

Can horses count and does it matter?

Balaam's donkey could count. Credit: JohnBWilson/Flickr/Creative Commons

Credit: JohnBWilson/Flickr/Creative Commons

I have always wondered what is going on in my dog’s mind other than the obvious – did I leave the cupboard door open to the garbage can?

In 2008, Dr Claudia Uller from the University of Essex in Essex, England was speaking at the British Psychological Society conference in Dublin, Ireland when she announced that horses can count.

She came to this conclusion based on a study she conducted along with Jennifer Lewis on 13 horses from Colchester, England.

In the study, they had several buckets in which they placed either three apples or two apples. They only used plastic apples to eliminate the possibility that smell affected the results.

They found in their testing that 11 of the 13 horses consistently chose the buckets with the most apples.

In a second test they had buckets containing either two equally sized small apples or one large apple that was double the size of the two smaller apples, making them equal in amount.

Ten of the 12 horses consistently chose the two apple containers over the pails with just one.

These tests showed that horses understood two was greater than one and three was greater than two. Uller concluded that horses can count and they are smarter than previously thought.

This leads us to one of the more puzzling accounts in the Old Testament involving the prophet Balaam.

We don’t know much about Balaam other than he was considered a prophet by the Canaanites. We also know from the story recorded in Numbers 22, that Balaam consulted with Jehovah.

The story starts out with Balak, the King of Moab, wanting to pay Balaam to curse Israel so that Moab could defeat Israel in battle. Balaam declined when God said Israel was blessed.

But when Balak upped the ante with a bigger bribe, Balaam was tempted and though upset God allowed Balaam to go but under the condition he would only prophesy the words God gave the prophet.

With that, Balaam headed out on his donkey to rendezvous with the Moabite King.

However, God sent an angel to block the prophet’s passage. When Balaam’s donkey saw the angel, it immediately stopped. Still not seeing the angel, Balaam urged his donkey forward causing it to finally fall to her knees.

Angered by the balking, Balaam began to beat the donkey.

Then a very unusual thing happened — the donkey spoke to Balaam:

“What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times? …Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?” (Numbers 22:29a, 30a NASV)

After this happened, Balaam saw the Angel of the Lord and understood how serious God was about only prophesying God’s message over Israel.

I have always been puzzled by the words the donkey spoke. Did the donkey just speak words given by God or did God give it the ability to verbalize what it was actually thinking?

Most believe that God simply spoke through the donkey.

But notice how the donkey said Balaam had hit her “three times.”  If Uller’s study is correct, donkeys can probably count.

Sources:

A donkey speaks again, this time about King Solomon’s copper mines

Credit: Rob Fransdad/Flickr/Creative Commons

Credit: Rob Fransdad/Flickr/Creative Commons

Liberals have tried to picture King David and King Solomon as little more than tribal chieftains instead of how the Bible portrays them as leaders of a nation numbering millions of people.

Unfortunately, a donkey seems to have upset the Liberal apple cart. Archaeologists working at the site of an ancient copper mine in Israel’s Timma Valley made an unusual discovery — they found donkey dung. It wasn’t just any kind of donkey dung, when they carbon dated it, they discovered it was 3,000 years old.

This made the site older than archaeologists initially thought and the donkey’s appearance dated the mines to King David’s and King Solomon’s day.

The area being excavated not only contained numerous mines, but also several areas where it was smelted including furnaces and piles of slag. This was a major production center.

The mines explain several verses in the Old Testament that spoke of Solomon’s incredible wealth. When King David charged his son with building the temple, he listed bronze as part of the kingdom’s resources:

16 Of the gold, the silver and the bronze and the iron there is no limit. Arise and work, and may the Lord be with you.” (1 Chronicles 22:16 NASV)

While gold, silver and iron are pure metals, bronze is created with a mix  of 90%  copper with tin. It resulted in a much stronger metal, resistant to heat upwards of 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit.

Bronze was extremely valuable and was at times on par with Gold:

27 and 20 gold bowls worth 1,000 darics, and two utensils of fine shiny bronze, precious as gold. (Ezra 8:27 NASV)

Though gold was rarer it had limited decorative  value– such as jewellery for the rich and famous.

But in addition to its decorative qualities, bronze also had industrial use as weapons (2 Chronicles 12:10), equipment and utensils — including the brazen altar on which animals were sacrificed because of its resistance to heat (2 Chronicles 1:6).

Bronze was a valuable commodity that not only required a major source of copper but forges to produce it in large quantities.

The mines explain an interesting verse in Kings — an off the cuff remark, that now makes sense. As King Solomon was constructing the Temple, he ordered utensils made of both bronze and gold.

But the writer of 1 Kings adds:

47 Solomon left all the utensils unweighed, because they were too many; the weight of the bronze could not be ascertained. (1 Kings 7:47 NASV)

When it says Solomon didn’t bother keeping track of the amount of bronze used, many commentators thought this was a way of expressing Solomon’s wealth. In fact, it may suggest the opposite, because of his access to the copper mines, Solomon had so much bronze it lost its sense of value to him.

The mines were probably developed by the Edomites, but King David had defeated Edom in a number of battles and made them his servants (2 Samuel 8:14). David also conquered several Edomite forts in the process and archaeologists found several fortifications in the area around the mine.

After David defeated Edom, it gave his son Solomon access to these copper mines either through tribute or actual ownership.

The donkey’s presence at the site was not unusual. They were not only critical for transporting the metal but as well bringing in food and water as the nearest known water source was 20 kms (12 miles) away.

This donkey dung confirms what the Bible says about King David and King Solomon.

Of course, this is not the first time a donkey made a Biblical statement. We also have the story of Balaam’s donkey that spoke to the prophet when he was heading out to curse Israel on behalf of the Moabite King. God sent an angel to block Balaam’s journey, but only the donkey saw the angel and would not proceed. Balaam beat the donkey. God then had the donkey speak to Balaam (Numbers 22:22-41).

Sources:

Artists and craftsmen point the way

Queen Esther's feast where she exposes Haman by Johannes Spilberg the Younger (1619-1690) Credit: Rauantiques/Wikipedia

Queen Esther’s feast where she exposes Haman by Johannes Spilberg the Younger (1619-1690) Credit: Rauantiques/Wikipedia

Since the early stages of mankind, artists of the day have used imagery in their drawings to relate and preserve stories of their era.  In countries where Cave Drawings have been discovered they have served as confirmation to other historical documentation. Drawings of floods, famines, as well as animals fleeing from fires are just some of the images explorers have uncovered over the centuries.

Since mankind has long recognized that artistic talents could draw images to record actual events, it is not surprising that Art would be created to depict the Heavenly Creator.  Dedicated hands can take stones and create works that glorify God.

In Biblical times, the people of Israel were highly advanced in Literature, Music and Science, but were surpassed by other nations in the area of Arts.  This is likely due to God’s commandment not to “make idols for yourselves; neither a carved image nor a sacred pillar shall you rear up for yourselves; nor shall you set up an engraved stone in your land, to bow down to it;” (Leviticus 26:1).

The Apostle Paul also warned against this in Romans 1:22- 23, “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man – and birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things,”

It is quite probable that the LORD God was referring to images like the Golden Calf and Baal Gods that turned the people of Israel from true worship to that of idolatry.  This commandment even caused confusion within Israel for when the children of Reuben, Gad and half the tribe of Mannasseh built a great impressive altar “as a witness between us that the LORD is God,” the other tribes initially accused them of rebellion (Joshua 22:10-34).

Anointed with the Spirit of God

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 
And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship.
 And I, indeed I, have appointed with him Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have put wisdom in the hearts of all who are gifted artisans, that they may make all that I have commanded you” (Exodus 31: 1-6).

God’s supernatural empowerment upon Bezaleel was for the purpose of making ‘artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship.

Bezaleel received a divine impartation for architectural design and engineering execution.  God also appointed Aholiab to work alongside Bezaleel in addition to putting skill ‘in the hearts of all who are gifted artisans’.  According to this verse, what artisans eventually produced with their hands was a reflection of something greater that God had deposited in their hearts. (From “Anointed for Business” by Ed Silvoso).

The anointing up Bezaleel and the artisans in stone, colours, design, and architecture was to build the Tabernacle of Moses, a place where the LORD GOD could put His name and His glory.

This is a template of the manner in which artists are to build the Kingdom of God.  Their creative works are to be according to what the LORD has commanded and put in their hearts.  When artists submit to the LORD’S leading, they can expect to receive all kinds of creative ideas and colours to complete a design which will contain the glory and spirit of the living God.

A prophet to the craftsmen

As a prophet to the Jewish craftsmen, Ezekiel used Art to portray the LORD’s messages.  A truly gifted artist, he was a musician and singer (Ezekiel 33:32-33) who used mime and drama to act out riddles (17:2).  The LORD instructed him to build a sculpture on a clay table to depict the upcoming siege of Jerusalem (4:1-3). As a writer he supernaturally received the date of the Babylonian siege against Jerusalem (24:1-3).

Jesus was an artisan

Matthew, a disciple of Jesus, in a reference to Jesus as the carpenter’s son, uses the Greek word Tekton.  Tekton means ‘artificer, craftsman’.  Mark, another disciple, quotes a similar reference which specifically refers to Jesus as a carpenter, a Tekton.  Neither Joseph nor Jesus were simple wood-workers.  They were craftsmen, carefully making implements of wood. Jesus was an Artisan who worked with his hands.

Jesus is the Master Craftsman who as the Word of God is full of all colour and design.  As  Christian artists prayerfully seek input from the Master Craftsman they can anticipate all kinds of new and magnificent works will emerge from the work of their hands.

Above all the shield of faith to repel condemnation and fear

Replica roman shields Credit: Kim Benson/Flickr/Creative Commons

Replica roman shields Credit: Kim Benson/Flickr/Creative Commons

When the Apostle Paul outlined the spiritual armor of the believer, one of the most prominent pieces he mentioned was the shield of faith:

16 above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. (Ephesians 6:16 NKV)

The Roman shield was about 2’ by 4’ and made of light wood covered with several layers of hide or sheet metal. The soldier used it to ward off blows and to protect himself from arrows.

Paul says that the shield of faith has the specific purpose of protecting Christians from the fiery darts of the enemy. These particularly fierce weapons were fabricated of either hollow canes filled with incendiary material or arrows wrapped with similar ingredients (Psalms 7:13). They were lit and fired at their enemy.

To repel this missile, the shields were made of a hardened material so the fiery darts would simply bounce off.

If the shields were not properly constructed they were vulnerable. In one particular battle, an early historian recorded how when fired upon with fiery arrows soldiers with wooden shields threw them to the ground to escape being burnt.

The shield of faith is intended to protect the Christian from the type of fiery attack that blasted  Elijah — fear and condemnation.

Shortly after  Elijah dealt with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, Queen Jezebel sent a messenger stating she intended to kill Elijah, who fled in terror (1 Kings 19: 1-3).

Almost immediately, Elijah was gripped with condemnation and became so depressed he wanted to die.

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” (I Kings 19:4 NKJV)

He felt like an utter failure — he was no better than his ancestors — suggesting the words Jezebel spoke were uniquely empowered by the demonic realm.

In Rev 12: 10, 11, Satan is depicted as making accusations against believers day and night — suggesting we are even being bombarded as we sleep. I have gone through such attacks and have woken in the middle of the night with thoughts racing through my mind.

It’s obvious from this passage that this is one of the demonic realm’s major forms of attack. And if we understand the book of Revelation to be a picture of the end times, it tells us that accusation will be one of the major weapons Satan will use against believers at this time.

In moments when we are inundated with accusation, condemnation and fear, we must cling to who we are in Christ by faith, despite how we feel about ourselves. We must believe the Bible when it says there is no longer any condemnation in Christ:

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1 NKV)

This is certainly easier said than done because we are forced to control our thought life. But we can do this with the help of the Holy Spirit.

When thoughts flood our mind of past failures or sins, we must deliberately snuff them out. If you have sinned you only need to ask God to forgive you once for the infraction. If you have asked more than once it suggests that its source is from the spiritual realm.

Or they could be voices from the past saying you would never amount to anything or you could be reliving past failures.

When that happens we must quickly grab our shield of faith, choose to believe, and quench the enemy’s attack.

Pakistani prosecutor tells 42 Christians to convert to Islam to escape murder charges

Lahore, Pakistan Credit: Usman Malik/Flickr/Creative Commons

Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan Credit: Usman Malik/Flickr/Creative Commons

After Muslim extremists blew up a Catholic church in Lahore, Pakistan in 2015 killing 14 and injuring 75, Christians took to the streets. In the mayhem that followed, the police captured two Muslim men accused of the brutal bombing and handed them over to a Christian crowd who then lynched the Muslims.

After the two Muslim men were murdered, Pakistani authorities arrested 500 Christians and kept most of them in jail for nearly 18 months under brutal treatment that included torture.

However, after finding most had nothing to do with the crime, about 450 were let go, leaving 42 men still in prison.

The British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) that is monitoring the situation and providing legal help to the those arrested was horrified by the killing of the two Muslim men, but it said that at least 30 of the men still in jail had nothing to do with the crime.

The BPCA then reported on a disturbing story published in a national Pakistani paper, The Express Tribune. The paper wrote about a bizarre exchange that took place between the chief prosecutor in the trial, Syed Anees Shah, and the jailed Christians.

Shah reportedly told the men that if they converted to Islam, all of them would be allowed to go free. One man responded that he would rather hang than become a Muslim.

This was not the first time the prosecutor had made the offer. Members of the group said they had been given the same choice privately, but none accepted.

The Tribune contacted the prosecutor to ask if he had made such an offer. At first Shah denied it, but his tone changed after the paper said it had a video recording of the exchange.

Advocate Counsel Naseeb Anjun who represents some of the accused men said:

“The fact that Christian men could be spared a death penalty by simply renouncing their Christian faith and accepting Islam is a clear indication that either extremists have infiltrated the Justice system of Pakistan, or that the nation is full of zealots that will stop at nothing to convert ‘kaffir’ (infidels).”

Pakistan has a population of 201 million people and 96% are Muslim. Muslim extremists routinely use the courts to discriminate against Christians.

In January, The Daily Mail reported a Muslim man accused a Pakistani Christian of blasphemy for desecrating the Qur’an which is subject to the death penalty.

Shabbaz Babu, 42, is accused of ripping pages out of the Qur’an and throwing them on the ground in front of a Lahore Mosque.

Police say Babu, an Evangelical Christian, had written his name on one of the pages of the Qur’an which led to the charge.

However, the British Pakistani Christian Association reports that the man who accused Babu of blasphemy is coincidentally involved in a business dispute with Babu’s family. It added that Babu is illiterate and not able to write his name.

Speaking on behalf of BPCA, William Choudry said:

“In every blasphemy case in Pakistan common-sense flies out of the window as a corrupt and incredibly inadequate police force goes about its business with prejudice and avarice.”

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What do ancient tropical forests in the Arctic and Antarctic tell us?

A view of the Transantarctic Mountain Range in summer. Credit: Hannes Grobe/Wikipedia/Creative Commons

A view of the Transantarctic Mountain Range in summer. Credit: Hannes Grobe/Wikipedia/Creative Commons

When we look at the Antarctic we think of it as one giant bed of ice with the odd penguin strutting its stuff.

But in the 1980s beneath all that ice and snow, scientists discovered the remains of a large giant forest located at the base of the Transantarctic mountain range. It’s estimated the forest covered an area of 1,300 kilometers.

Of course, where there is a forest there was also animal life, besides penguins. They have found vast quantities of dinosaur bones, including a lizard that grew to 23 feet in length. Of course predictably they say that they are million of years old, but meanwhile the wood from these ancient forests hasn’t fully petrified, it can still burn and float.

The Transantarctic Mountain range differs from other mountains in that its made up largely of sedimentary rock formed by layers of dirt and sand laid down by water.

It is not much different in the northern Arctic. A similar forest was found on Axel Heiberg Island located just 600 kilometers from the North Pole. They even found leaves, still intact.

The trees snapped off at the trunk were upwards of 35-feet long.

The size suggests trees were between 500 to 1000 years old. The fact they were knocked over caused scientists to speculate the area was hit by a massive flood.

The rings indicated that there was still a three-month winter cycle where there was basically no sun and no growth, but during the warm summer the trees grew rapidly.

Again like the antarctic, the trees were not petrified, researchers described them as mummified.

There were redwoods, spruce and hickory trees. What is even more interesting is that this was once a tropical area as they found the remains of turtles and alligators.

So what are we to conclude:

  1. The earth God created was much different from what we see today. Not only was man contaminated by man’s fall into sin, but so was creation (Romans 8:22).
  2. The flood covered the whole earth as the Bible said it did including both Arctic and Antarctic (Genesis 7:20).
  3. The earth experienced global warming and global cooling and we can’t blame SUVs. There are natural processes at work.

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Breaking off word curses

Breaking off those word curses hanging over you. Credit: Michal Jaskoslki/Flickr/Creative Commons

Breaking off those word curses hanging over you. Credit: Michal Jaskoslki/Flickr/Creative Commons

Several years ago my wife and I received a prophetic word from Keith Hazell. Keith passed away in 2013, but he was one of a handful of people who I consider to be a full-blown prophet. Our church had brought him in for a time of prophetic ministry.

He prophesied a number of things including that we would be writing. But then his prophetic word took an odd turn. He said that I had the ability to start a business. Then he added that God wasn’t saying that I should start a business, but only that I was capable of doing it.

It is amazing how words people say can haunt you for decades. They hang like a dark cloud over your head.

Years before this prophetic word, someone had told me that I was not capable of running a business. It was an off the cuff remark and I am not even sure the person meant it.

It is not that I even had a personal interest in starting a business, but those words haunted me.

They had hung over me for probably ten years before this prophetic word. I am not sure how much those words impacted me, but obviously enough that completely out of the blue God wanted to tear them down.

Because God was not necessarily calling me to start a business, but rather He wanted to deal with that lie that was hindering me in ways that I wasn’t even aware of.

The prophet Isaiah said there were two kinds of weapons:

No weapon formed against you shall prosper,
And every tongue which rises against you in judgment
You shall condemn.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,
And their righteousness is from Me,”
Says the Lord. (Isaiah 54:17 NKJV)

In this powerful declaration, God says that words are as much a weapon as a sword and spear. Words can be used to accuse and limit us.

The Hebrew word ‘rises against’ is ‘qum.’ It means to rise up, become powerful, to persist, to be fulfilled or to be proven. It means that words have power. They can control you to the point that they determine your reality.

But in God we can condemn these words. Note it is not the people we condemn, but rather the words.

God will vindicate us.

So how do you deal with word curses? You need to do two things.

First we need to recognize the word curses. Over the years, people have said hundreds of things to me — some good, some bad. Most I can’t remember, but a few, like the one I mentioned, have stuck with me.

We need to rise up and condemn these words that have restrained and limited what we can accomplish.

The second thing we need to do is forgive the person who uttered those words.

In Luke 6:28, Jesus says “ bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.”

You can’t bless someone who has cursed you unless you first forgive them. I believe forgiving is the critical first step in breaking the power of a word curse that is over you. If you find it difficult to pray for the person who said those words, then you probably haven’t completely forgiven them.

These words can come from parents, friends, coworkers, employers or teachers. I remember in high school, a teacher pointed to a group in class and said they would succeed academically and the rest of us —  and I was part of this second group — would not.

At times, they can be said in jest or in a moment of anger. The person saying it may not even mean it, but the words hit you like a brick.

God wants to condemn these words that are haunting you — words that said you would never amount to anything. He wants to break them off you. He wants to liberate you into your destiny.

Post Modernism: The Case for Rachel Dolezal

Credit: Brandon Watts/Flickr/Creative Commons

Credit: Brandon Watts/Flickr/Creative Commons

You might have heard of Rachel Dolezal, also known by her new legal name Nkechi Amare Diallo. She was once the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter in Spokane, Washington.

Her parents, who apparently had been Pentecostal Missionaries in Africa, exposed her as a white woman with Czech, German, and Scandinavian ancestors, and she was forced to resign in disgrace. Today Rachel, or Nkechi, is labeled as a liar and a fraud and life is difficult for her. She is famous enough to have her own article in Wikipedia, and you can read more about her interesting life. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rachel_Dolezal

Rachel is someone I have never met, and probably never will, but I know there are some lessons for us in her story, and Christians should be careful with their judgment.

Rachel Dolezal is an expression of a philosophy called Post Modernism. Most of us live in Modernism, with the idea that people belong to groups, them and us, and the differences between groups never change.

With that thinking, it is impossible to identify as African if your ancestors came from Europe and your skin is pale. But these ideas are philosophies, and they are not correct because we believe them.

Post Modernism is “self referential” and the truth is your truth, or my truth. It is becoming a very powerful force in society, which is why so many things are changing around us. One of the biggest controversies these days is men who identify as women and want to use female washrooms.

If I believe that I own my truth, that arrangement could make sense, and I you don’t believe, it sounds crazy.

Recently, a man who identified as a woman was transferred to a women’s prison. The authorities are starting to respect Post Modern ideas. There is a popular song “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga, and have you noticed, we are now starting to “identify this way” instead. Modernism is fading.

I worked in colleges and universities, and I learned that the liberal, leftist, progressive modernists were dangerous for my career. It was easy to lose a job or a promotion if I was too bold about being a Christian, and I have lived with the sneers of people who thought I was an antique curiosity.

There is a price to pay if you want to follow Jesus, but the Bible tells us “Do not be conformed to this world.” (Romans 12:2)

There are Post Modern Christians, usually associated with house churches and with words like “emerging church” and “missional living.” I am not one of them, I believe God made me His child when I trusted Him to care for me, and the change is eternal. I am not a Christian because I identify this way.

Based on what I have read, I have some sympathy for Rachel Dolezal. We can’t change our basic nature by identifying as something else, and the Modernist world will punish us if we try. She will pay a price for her convictions.

But I know I am a new person in Jesus, and a Christian from Africa or India, or China is my brother or sister. We identify as something new; God’s family. I will pay a price for that conviction.

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands.

Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.

And he came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have our access in one spirit to the father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household. (Ephesians 2: 11 to 19)

Does an ancient copper scroll hold clues to the secret location of the Ark of the Covenant?

The Wadi-Qumran Credit: Otto_Friedrich45/Flickr/Creative Commons

The Wadi-Qumran Credit: Otto_Friedrich45/Flickr/Creative Commons

According to Breaking Israel News (BIN), a copper scroll discovered in 1952 in caves along with the infamous Dead Sea Scrolls may actually be an ancient treasure map.

The two thousand-year old scroll, made of thin sheets of copper, sticks out from its fellow Dead Sea Scrolls made of papyrus discovered in caves found in cliffs below a large plateau a mile away from the northwestern edge of the Dead Sea.

The scroll also differs in one other significant way — while the Dead Sea Scrolls contain Biblical texts and other religious writings — the copper scroll is a map with 64 different locations marked out on it. It also lists quantities of gold and silver associated with each site along with clues and descriptions of the secret locations.

Archaeologists believe the map probably outlines where Jews hid money during the Jewish revolt that led to the Romans destroying the Jewish temple in 70 AD.

But one of the sites also mentions something else — Jewish vestments — suggesting the Jews may have hidden some of the utensils from the Jewish temple before the Romans sacked it.

Or it could mark the location of something even more mysterious, because this wasn’t the first time Jews hid treasure from invading armies.

When King Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem in 586 BC, the Book of Jeremiah lists the furniture and utensils the Babylonians stole from the temple (Jeremiah 52:17-23). One item not included in Jeremiah’s list was the gold-plated Ark of the Covenant — on which the very Presence of God sat.

Since the ark was the most important piece of furniture in the Temple, its omission was not an oversight as other lists describing the Babylonian plunder also do not include the ark (2 Kings 24:13, 2 Kings 25: 13-1).

This suggests the Jews hid the Ark of the Covenant sometime before Jerusalem fell.

BIN reports that in 2006 American Jim Barfield, a former criminal investigator, decided to use his skills to see if he could discover the locations from the clues provided in the scroll.

Barfield along with others who have worked on the map believe most of the sites are in an area called the Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. This makes it politically complicated because it is in the West Bank — Palestinian territory.

Using the map, Barfield believes he discovered a location that mentions steps that were 20 meters (60 feet) long that ended at a pool of the same length. After finding steps and the pool that perfectly fit this description, in 2007 Barfield shared news of his discovery with the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA).

IAA was convinced enough to send in an archaeologist to dig at the site. However, Barfield says on the very day they started exploratory work, it was closed down with no explanation given.

Barfield believes they were near the spot mentioned in the second book of Maccabees that described how a group of men led by the prophet Jeremiah hid the Ark of the Covenant in a cave before the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem. They then sealed the cave to hide its location:

Jeremiah came and found a cave-dwelling, and he brought there the tent and the ark and the altar of incense; then he sealed up the entrance. (2 Maccabees 2:5).

Though the book of Jeremiah does not mention the prophet smuggling the Ark of the Covenant out of Jerusalem, it seems many Jews suspected he did. Obviously, if Jeremiah did hide the Ark, it would not be something he would broadcast in his writings.

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Muslim woman hated Christians, but Jesus spoke to her in a dream

Young Turkish women in traditional head scarves. Credit: Ozgur Mulazimoglu/Flickr/Creative Commons

Young Muslim Turkish women in traditional head scarves. Credit: Ozgur Mulazimoglu/Flickr/Creative Commons

A story on Christian Aid about the conversion of a young Muslim women living along the coast of the Black Sea in Turkey tells us not to underestimate the work we are doing for God.

Matte, name not fully disclosed for security reasons, pastors a church in Turkey. He faithfully puts his sermons online, but often wondered if they were having any affect as he was seeing no results.

“I sometimes wonder how many people watch the videos, and what is the result? Many are watching the videos, but why do they not believe?, ” he told Christian Aid.

But his opinion changed after a young Muslim women wearing a traditional Muslim scarf showed up at church because of a dream.

She had started watching the pastor’s videos online because she “hated the Christians” and wanted to make fun of his messages. But the sermons slowly started having an impact as they addressed deep needs in her life.

She eventually decided to become a Christian, but did not go to church because of her strict Muslim upbringing.

But then Jesus appeared to her in a dream. The woman told the pastor:

“In my dream, Jesus led me to the church telling me, ‘What are you still waiting for? Follow my way.’ And I saw all of you there waiting for me, smiling at me. Before I met you, I saw you in my dream. Thanks to God.”

After talking to the woman, Pastor Matte looked her up on Facebook and found that she was already actively sharing her Christian faith with hundreds of her friends.

The Pastor actually cautioned the young woman who attends university in Turkey to tone it down a bit, because such statements would undoubtedly cause a reaction, sometime severe, among her Muslim family and friends.

With a population of 80 million, Turkey is 96% Muslim. Open Door USA ranks it as the 37th most dangerous country in the world for Christians.  Though churches are allowed to function in Turkey, they often have armed guards during services because of the growing ISIS influence in the country.

Pastor Matte even has his own police guard that provides personal protection.

But it is an encouraging story to never underestimate the work you are doing in the Kingdom of God. Many of us have no idea what is going on behind the scenes as we tend to judge our efforts by only what we see.

Paul wrote about the different stages that people play in the conversion process:

I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6 NASV)

If you are the one planting the seeds, you have no idea if they rooted and grew. They may lay dormant, sometime for years, until another believer shows up and begins to water it.

Our responsibility is only to plant and water, realizing God causes the growth.

I live in a very cold climate and love to grow roses. However, because of our severe winters, it is difficult to grow the beautiful fancy roses. You can do it, but you have to plant the rose deep into the ground.

The knot where the branches and leaves sprout out of the root is traditionally above ground, but for fancy roses to survive our winters, that knot needs to be one to two feet underground.

So every spring I patiently wait to see if they made it through another brutal Canadian winter. Every year it looks like they didn’t, but deep beneath the ground, where I can’t see them, the shoots are slowly working their way to the surface.

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What do the remains of two dead dogs tell us?

Credit: Ezio Melotti/Flickr/Creative Commons (Modified)

Credit: Ezio Melotti/Flickr/Creative Commons (Modified)

There is a verse in the book of Nehemiah that I have always found a bit odd.

After Persia conquered the Babylonian Empire in 539 BC, it basically assimilated the Israelis who were in exile under the Babylonians.

The Book of Nehemiah records how the Persians allowd Nehemiah — a cupbearer for the Persian king Artaxerxes I (also known as Longimanus 465-424 BC) — to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city.

Three days after he arrived in Jerusalem, Nehemiah decided to inspect the walls. Because of the various political factions in the city, he did it under the cover of darkness to hide what he was doing.

Then we read this puzzling verse:

“And I arose in the night, I and a few good men with me. I did not tell anyone what my God was putting in my mind to do for Jerusalem and there was no animal with me except the animal which I was riding. (Nehemiah 2:12-15)

Nehemiah rode a horse, but then specifically adds he took no other animals with him. It always puzzled me why he mentioned taking no other animals. What was he referring to and why was it so significant that he included it in the text?

The answer to this question may have been discovered 22 years ago.

Despite resistance from a several factions in the city, Nehemiah rebuilt Jerusalem, including the wall.

On November 8, 2007 at a conference held on archaeology at Bar Ilan University, Tel Aviv, Dr. Eilat Mazar —  a top Israeli archaeologist — stunned the crowd when she announced finding a remnant of Nehemiah’s wall.

Two years earlier, Dr. Mazar had uncovered the remains of King David’s palace. Near the wall of the palace was the remains of an old stone tower. Built on a slope, Mazar’s team noticed it was starting to slide indicating imminent collapse. This forced the group to restore the tower resulting in an exciting six-week dig.

Mazar said:

“Under the tower we found the bones of two large dogs — and under those a rich assemblage of pottery and finds from the Persian period [6th and 5th century.]”

The pottery

According to Mazar the discovery of this much older Persian pottery shows the tower was constructed much earlier than previously thought — 500-400 AD — during the time Nehemiah served in Artaxerxes’ court.

Archaeologist Todd Bolen reported on his blog that one piece of pottery had a Persian seal imprinted on it from the fifth century. Seals were traditionally used by Royalty, those in government or with wealth to signify ownership.

Nehemiah returned to Israel with a large contingent of people from the Persian captivity. They undoubtedly brought Persian pottery with them and since Nehemiah worked for Artaxerxes, this included items from the Royal Persian household.

Mazar added “no later finds from that period were found under the tower.”  She said to hold the view the tower was built later — say in the second or first century — would leave a chronological discrepancy of 400 to 500 years.

The dogs

Perhaps just as significant as the pottery was the discovery of the remains of two dogs.

The Persians had a tradition of burying dogs. A cemetery consisting of the remains of 800 dogs was found in a Persian cemetery in the city of Ashkelon used between 500 BC and 400 BC coinciding with the time of Nehemiah. The Persians buried the hunting dogs in shallow graves and all seemed to have died of natural causes. According to archaeologist L. E. Stager, the burial of the hunting dogs may have had a cultic or religious significance for the Persians.

The discovery of dog bones at the site of the old wall suggests a similar tradition corresponding with the Persian practice common in Nehemiah’s day.

We know from the Biblical record that Nehemiah had a Persian military escort when he made the journey (Nehemiah 2:9). The hunting dogs were undoubtedly part of this group serving as both hunters and watch dogs or they may even have been owned by Nehemiah and his family.

If you were doing a secretive midnight inspection of a wall, and wanted no one to find out about it, the last thing you would do is take along dogs. We have owned dogs for years and if my experience with the animals is any indication, at night they would be barking at everything real or imagined announcing your presence to everyone in the city.

The graves of these two dogs tell us a man with Persian connections built this wall.

The tower

Prior to this discovery of the Persian artifacts beneath the tower, archaeologists generally believed it dated somewhere between 142 to 37 BC. However, Mazar’s discovery puts the tower or at least its base clearly in Nehemiah’s day.

After his arrival, Nehemiah focused his attention on rebuilding the walls and repairing the gates. Nehemiah also specifically mentions working on various towers including the Tower of Furnaces (3:11), the angle and tower (3:25), water gate tower (3:26), the great projecting tower and the Ophel wall (3:27) and the tower of Hananeel (12:39).

Towers were necessary to protect the gates which were the most vulnerable areas of attack. It’s probable this tower was one of those mentioned in Nehemiah.

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An act worthy of repentance?

Near Apache, Arizona Credit: Scott Sanford/Flickr/Creative Commons

Near Apache, Arizona Credit: Scott Sanford/Flickr/Creative Commons

It was early in the morning on January 12, 2017 when Arizona state trooper Ed Andersson responded to calls a man was shooting a gun at cars on a highway near Tonopah, Arizona.

After arriving and exiting his vehicle, Andersson was immediately hit with a freak shot in his right shoulder — a little to the left the bullet would have struck his bullet proof vest and an inch and a half to the right, it would have missed him completely.

But it didn’t.

Instead the bullet partially paralyzed Andersson’s right shoulder making him unable to draw his gun.

Fortunately, Leonard Penuelas-Escobar, 37, the man who allegedly fired at Andersson had run out of bullets. Penuelas-Escobar attacked the officer trying to grab his gun, but Andersson fought off the attempt with his good left hand.

Penuelas-Escobar pushed Andersson to the ground, got on top of him and repeatedly smashed his fists into the officer’s head. When Andersson tried to resist, Penuelas-Escobar started slamming the trooper’s head into the ground.

Minutes after the shooting took place, Thomas Yoxall, 43, arrived at the scene. At first he thought it was a police stop until he saw the brutal fight on the ground.

Yoxall got out of his car and yelled at the Penuelas-Escobar to stop, but he ignored him.

Yoxall told CNN, “The look in his eye [was] evil if I had to put a word on it.”

When the man continued beating the officer, Yoxall took his registered gun and shot the Penuelas-Escobar killing him.

Andersson said there was no doubt in his mind he would be dead if Yoxall had not shown up when he did.

Yoxall responded telling CNN:

“God chose to put me in that place at that particular moment. I just can’t see an evil like that being perpetuated, without intervening.”

But saving a police man’s life marked a major turn around for Yoxall. In 2000, police  charged Yoxall with theft, but he experienced a remarkable transformation after accepting Christ shortly after this.

A few years later, Yoxall, an avid  hunter, was able to have the charge reduced and after petitioning a judge, Yoxall received permission to use a gun.

Though he believed God had placed him there to save the trooper’s life, Yoxall still struggled with the thought of taking another person’s life. He became depressed and even contemplated suicide, but was finally able to pull out of it after counseling from his pastor.

When John the Baptist showed up in Judea preparing the ground for Christ’s ministry, he preached a message of repentance.

John told the Jews if they repented in their heart they would show fruit worthy of their repentance.

Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, (Matthew 3:8 New King James)

The Greek word translated worthy is ‘axios’ and means to be of equivalent measure or weight. The word is often translated corresponding, equal, or fitting.

In Luke 10:7, ‘axios’ is used to describe a laborer who deserves or is worthy of his wages. He exchanged work for an equivalent amount of money.

Essentially, John was saying if they were truly repentant, it would show up in equal measure through their actions.

As with many criminals, Yoxall would have had an instinctive distrust, even hatred of police and he moved from that to saving a police officer’s life — an action ‘worthy’ of repentance.

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‘Poiema’

Amsterdam, Holland Credit: Werner Kunz/Flickr/Creative Commons

Amsterdam, Holland Credit: Werner Kunz/Flickr/Creative Commons

Sometimes I like to write poetry or prose. It is my way of expressing myself and connecting to God. It’s often easier for me to write down what I’m feeling than to speak about it.

I suppose one could say this is how God made me, and so writing has remained a fairly constant thread throughout my life.

Interestingly, I found out last week the Greek word for poem is ‘poiema’. Well this was new to me!

Upon further digging, I also discovered this is the exact word Paul chose to use in Ephesians 2:10 when he said:

“For we are His workmanship (poiema), created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (NKJV)

To think that we are God’s poem, His work of creativity, really highlights this scripture for me.

The New Living Translation says, ‘we are His masterpiece’, which brings across how unique He made us all. We are created in His image (Genesis 1:27) and we are His work of art. All we are and all our gifts are freely given so we can walk them out in our lives.

It is His workmanship enabling us to do the good works He prepared long ago. This is truly ‘poeima’, a thing of beauty for me and for you.

Will you complete the transformation?

Credit: Ron de Boom/Flickr/Creative Commons

Credit: Ron de Boom/Flickr/Creative Commons

In Romans 12:1,2, the Apostle Paul makes a life-changing statement that believers are “transformed by the renewing of our mind.”  Though we are saved by faith, the transformation for the Christian takes place as we change the way we think.

That word transformed is the Greek word ‘metamorphou’ from which we get the English word metamorphosis that describes the transformation that takes place when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly.

This transformation is a gradual process for a caterpillar.

First it spins a cocoon and then in the safety of this container, the insect dissolves and the mixture of enzymes reform into a new creature – a butterfly.

The two insects are so different they can no longer eat the same thing because its digestive system has completely changed — one chews on leaves and the other sucks nectar.

Paul says the Christian must undergo a similar transformation. Unfortunately, we can’t spend a few days in a cocoon to complete this change. We are forced to learn on the job.

Further, Paul tells us that this radical transformation takes place as our mind is ‘renewed.’ This happens as we choose to believe what God says about us in His Word, instead of the way we have thought about ourselves for years.

For years, I hated myself. I called myself an idiot and often said it out loud when I did something dumb or stupid.

But is this how God thinks of us?

No.

God says we are his adopted children (Romans 8:15), a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) and the righteous child of God (Philippians 3:9).

Consequently, we must willfully change the way we think by choosing to believe our new identity in Christ.

It may be one of the most difficult challenges you ever face.

So often, the feelings we have about ourselves are crutches that we have used for years to define our identity. Sometimes, this former way of thinking is so deeply embedded in us that it feels good when we do it.

I vividly remember the deep struggle that I went through to change my thinking process. One incident, in particular, stands out.

At the time I was working on a magazine, and one particular issue ended up with a typo on the cover. You can put up with a typo just about anywhere else but there.

When someone pointed out the mistake, as it had so often in the past, an overwhelming feeling began to build inside me to call myself stupid and an idiot.

Yes, I had made a dumb mistake, but that didn’t make me stupid.

However, that wasn’t good enough. I was quickly overwhelmed by an urge to punish myself for what I had done. I wanted to say out loud how stupid I was — it was something I had habitually done for years.

At that moment I faced one of the greatest struggles in my life. As these urges welled up inside me, the Holy Spirit came along side me and urged me to instead confess who I was in Christ.

I remember sitting in my car in the parking lot at work, wrestling with these hateful thoughts flooding my mind. Finally after what seemed like hours, I refused to punish myself and instead I believed and confessed who I really was in Christ.

It was the first step in my transformation.

About Jerusalem

A woman prays near the Tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Credit: Jelle Drok/Flickr/Creative Commons

A woman prays near the Tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Credit: Jelle Drok/Flickr/Creative Commons

In recent years, I have been blessed to spend several weeks in the eternal city of Jerusalem. This is the only city on the earth which the LORD God of Israel declared, “In Jerusalem, I will put my name forever” (2 Kings 21:4-7).

During my time in Israel, Psalm 122:6 was constantly before my eyes;  “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May they prosper who love you.” Jerusalem is the most prayed for city in the universe.  At every meal, Jews pray the blessing, “Blessed are you, O LORD, who will build up Jerusalem in mercy.”

Every Monday the Jews recite Psalm 48 from their Prayer Book; “Walk about Zion and go all around her” (verse 12). Jerusalem is a spiritual city (not sinless), set apart for a Holy God.

Many days I spent just walking around Jerusalem and was constantly reminded of the  blessings connected with Israel that can only come from the true LORD God.  Indeed the peace of Jesus Christ is evident in the streets and there are places where one can experience “open heavens.”

A special place is the Garden Tomb, one of two supposed sites where Jesus was buried.  On each visit to that place, I experienced the deep things of God.  Walking through the gate the first time, I immediately sensed His resurrection spirit.

The second visit, I was healed from my grief over the death of a sister. The third time, I recognized it as a place where the LORD has chosen to put His name.  It is a place of remembrance, like coming back to an altar.

On my fourth visit, I sat between an Argentina group who sang a praise chorus in Spanish, while on the opposite side, an American group sang the same song in English. What a prophetic picture of the message of the Resurrected Christ being the Saviour of all mankind.

Another sacred place is the remaining portion of the Western (Wailing) Wall of the Temple where Jews gather all day long to offer up intercession.  The Western Wall is a place where Christians can freely pray along side the Jews.  To me, this is a prophetic picture of the coming together of the Jew and Gentile as “one new man” (Ephesians 2:11-18).

At the same time, Jerusalem is also the seat of Satan. With the world’s three main religions claiming Jerusalem as their Holy City, one encounters many different religious and evil spirits.  This is the city where Jesus was falsely accused, given a mock trial and was killed.

While Christians believe Jesus has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, the pallor of Jesus’ crucifixion from centuries past still haunts the city.  Many residents live with oppression and lack of joy but once outside Jerusalem’s city limits that oppression lifts.

With so many voices pleading for attention, one’s spirit is constantly trying to discern the will of the Father.  On my last night in Israel, I asked our LORD to help me hear His true word.  The next morning I awoke with this scripture in my heart, “for he who touches you (Israel) touches the apple (pupil) of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8).

The apple of the eye is the pupil, and the pupil is the instrument through which one sees.  He who touches Israel touches the center of God’s eyesight.  To have an accurate prophetic perception of God’s purposes on the earth today, we must have God’s vision for Jerusalem and Israel.

This is not a race or ethnic issue but it is about a promise-keeping God who is faithful to fulfill  His plan.  Since Israel is at the center of God’s vision, we need to see through the lens of Israel’s destiny if we are to be true prophetic people.

Has the church lost its message?

Message in a bottle Credit: Kev Lewis/Flickr/Creative Commons

Message in a bottle Credit: Kev Lewis/Flickr/Creative Commons

I was on a Christian website reading an article on Disney’s recent release of Beauty and the Beast that portrayed overtly homosexual scenes in a movie intended for children.  One person commented deriding and mocking the church’s failure to boycott the movie that was a box office success.

Baited, several Christians responded some with vulgar comments condemning the person. One used the term “bum holer,” a comment that was later removed.

To be honest, I felt a similar resentment towards this pro-gay commenter.

I have been a Christians for years but a verse from the Gospel of John cited in a devotional I received recently caught my attention. I wondered if someone had just added this verse to the Bible in the last couple of years, because it seems so contrary to current Christian practice.

17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn (Greek krino) the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17 NIV)

The Greek word ‘krino’ means to judge as the NASV translated it or to condemn as the NIV translated it.

God did not send Jesus to judge or condemn the world, but rather to save it.

So if Jesus was not sent to condemn the world, are Christians now supposed to take up that call? Are we called to condemn and judge or are we called to save it.

I am beginning to wonder in this rapidly changing world if the church has lost its message. I don’t think it’s wrong to oppose evil, but many Christians have veered into condemnation and judgement.

It seems to have become our primary focus. It is so easy to be caught up condemning sin because it is everywhere. Instead, does God want us to lift up Jesus (John 12:32)?

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, or perhaps God timed the recent discovery of the palace of the Assyrian King Sennacherib beneath the traditional site of Jonah’s tomb in Mosul, Iraq for such a time as this. The remains of Nineveh, the ancient capital of Assyria, are found on the outskirts of Mosul.

After ISIS ransacked Jonah’s tomb in search of antiquities, they dug caves beneath the tomb and stumbled upon the palace of Sennacherib. After Mosul was retaken by Iraqi forces earlier this year, they discovered this palace that confirmed the Biblical record.

But more importantly, it’s also a reminder of the message of the book of Jonah.

God wanted Jonah to call Nineveh to repentance, but he initially refused because the prophet was concerned its citizens might respond and escape God’s judgement.

People have no idea of how brutal the Assyrians were. In his article the Grisly Assyrian Record of Torture and Death, Erika Belibtreu briefly outlines their wickedness.

He didn’t get this information from how others described them, but from the Assyrians themselves who gloated about their exploits on obelisks and walls.

This culture reveled in evil.

The following descriptions are from the Assyrians own records.

Such as skinning their captives alive:

“I flayed as many nobles as had rebelled against me [and] draped their skins over the pile [of corpses]; some I spread out within the pile, some I erected on stakes upon the pile … I flayed many right through my land [and] draped their skins over the walls.”

Burning children alive:

“I felled 50 of their fighting men with the sword, burnt 200 captives from them, [and] defeated in a battle on the plain 332 troops. … With their blood I dyed the mountain red like red wool, [and] the rest of them the ravines [and] torrents of the mountain swallowed. I carried off captives [and] possessions from them. I cut off the heads of their fighters [and] built [therewith] a tower before their city. I burnt their adolescent boys [and] girls.”

Cutting off people’s arms, legs, noses, ears and genitalia while they were still alive:

“In strife and conflict I besieged [and] conquered the city. I felled 3,000 of their fighting men with the sword … I captured many troops alive: I cut off of some their arms [and] hands; I cut off of others their noses, ears, [and] extremities. I gouged out the eyes of many troops. I made one pile of the living [and] one of heads. I hung their heads on trees around the city.” †

Many of the drawings show hundreds of decapitated heads littering the ground or displayed on stakes as decorations in the city.

For those spared, they cut holes into their lips and cheeks, linked them together with ropes and marched them off into brutal captivity as slaves and where the Assyrians forced some to live in cages no bigger than a dog kennel.

This was one of the most brutal cultures the world has ever seen, but God loved them, and when Jonah finally showed up:

Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. (Jonah 3: 5  NASV)

And God forgave them just as Jesus wants us to do today.

Sources:

From porn star to Christian to pastor

Crystal Bassette and her husband Credit: YouTube capture -- This Morning show

Crystal Bassette and her husband Credit: YouTube capture — This Morning show

It’s a story that is sure to turn some heads.

When she was 21 years old, Crystal Bassette performed in her first porn video. According to the British Newspaper, The Sun, after the shoot she sat in her shower and cried for two hours.

She was supporting a son after becoming pregnant at age 16 and was working in a California bar with dreams of becoming an actress.

And though initially uncertain about continuing, the draw of a monthly salary of $25,000 proved too much and a month later she did her second porn shoot. Over the next several years, she would make over 100 porn movies.

With the money the lifestyle provided, she lived in a mansion complete with a maid, a gardener and seven cars, but to cope Bassette turned to alcohol and drugs.

But that all changed in 2014 when she had a serious car accident where police charged her with impaired driving. After the crash, Bassette attended her sister’s church on Easter Sunday and became a Christian after the pastor preached a sermon aimed directly at her — or so she felt.

But even after becoming a Christian, contractual obligations required her to do two more porn shoots before she was able to completely break free.

As she read the Bible, Crystal believed the Spirit of Jezebel had been the force manipulating her into the porn industry.

Crystal pushed through, met her husband, attended a pastoral training school and today they pastor New Beginnings Christian Life in Fulton, New York.

Down through the centuries many Christians have thought Mary Magellan came from a similar background working as a prostitute.

However, there is no conclusive evidence she was. What we do know is that Jesus delivered her from seven demons, a fact attested by both Luke and Mark (Luke 8:1-3; Mark 16:9).

Luke says that Mary, along with other women, were providing financial support to Jesus’ disciples and because of this some linked her to the unnamed prostitute who poured expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet in Luke 7:36-50.

But despite any clear connection, Pope Gregory I named her as this prostitute in a sermon preached in 591 AD and the reputation stuck.

Whether she is or isn’t, Mary plays a very prominent role in Jesus ministry and the Gospel writers mention her more times than many of the lesser apostles.

She is mentioned by name as being a witness to Christ’s crucifixion (Mark 15:40; Matthew 27:56). She was also involved in Christ’s burial where she along with Mary the mother of Jesus and Salome anointed Jesus’ body with spices in the tomb (Mark 16:1). Again through this act some see a connection with the unnamed prostitute who anointed Jesus’ feet.

She is also mentioned as one of the first to witness the empty tomb (John 20:1) and was the first person to see the resurrected Christ (John 20:16; Mark 16:9).

And curiously, it was Easter Sunday, that Crystal’s journey from porn star to Christian first started.

Sources:

Is Pope Francis paving the way for a second exodus from the Catholic church — Reformation Part II?

Pope Francis Credit: Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston/George Martell/Pilot News Media/Flickr/Creative Commons

Pope Francis Credit: Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston/George Martell/Pilot News Media/Flickr/Creative Commons

When Martin Luther, a Catholic seminary professor and priest, pounded his 95 thesis on the door of a Roman Catholic church in Wittenburg Germany on October 31, 1517, he was not setting out to start a new church, he was trying to reform the Catholic church.

He was responding to the efforts of Johann Tetzel, a Dominican monk, who arrived in the area selling indulgences to help build a new cathedral in Rome. The indulgences allowed people to buy their way into heaven.

Martin Luther said people are saved by faith, not by money. The Roman Catholic church reacted to Luther’s call for reform birthing the protestant church. Now on the 500th anniversary of this reformation is a second one brewing?

I have been reading comments on a number of conservative Catholic sites of grave concerns about Pope Francis.

Pope Francis who campaigned and won the papacy in 2013 as a conservative Catholic is anything but. Conservative Catholics call Francis a Marxist and a liberal.

In 2015, Eugenio Scalfari, publisher of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, sent a series of questions to Pope Francis one them asked about salvation for atheists. Conservative Catholics were outraged when Pope Francis answered that an atheist did not have to believe in God to be saved, he only had to live according to his conscience.

Even secular papers are noticing a growing rift in the Catholic church. In a recent article, the Washington Post said that Conservative Catholics are “filled with dread’ about the direction Pope Francis is taking the church. The paper noted in 2014, Francis had 72% approval rating among Conservative Catholics and by 2015 that had fallen sharply to 45%.

LifeSiteNews is a prominent Canadian conservative Catholic website. With upwards of 30 million visitors each year, it has influence around the world. It is strongly pro-life and I have watched with interest as it expresses its concerns about Pope Francis.

It started off a recent article stating:

ROME, January 3, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – 2016 marked a dramatic turning point in the pontificate of Pope Francis. It may be called the year of the great awakening, as more and more faithful Catholics and prelates, Cardinals included, came to a frightening understanding that there is a major problem with the current Pope.

Then it lists a number of things Pope Francis did in 2016 that concerns them. Now to be fair some things Francis challenged are traditions in the Catholic church that are not necessarily Biblical, but others clearly are.

In May, Pope Francis derided Jesus’ exhortation to preach the gospel to the whole world when he compared Catholic evangelism to radical Islam saying: “It is true the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam. However, it is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus sends his disciples to all nations, in terms of the same idea of conquest.”

In February, he described one of Italy’s “foremost abortion promoter as one of  the nation’s ‘forgotten greats.'”

Lifesitenews then points out that Francis has been actively appointing Liberals as Cardinals. Liberal not only in terms of Catholic church traditions but liberal also in their views on scripture.

One of the goals of Pope Francis is to break down the barriers between Catholicism and Protestants and some suggest he is pushing for a one world church.  What is curious is that many evangelicals are warming to Pope Francis due in part because of his rejection of some Catholic extra-Biblical traditions.

However, speaking at the Ligonier National Conference held in Florida this year commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant reformation, Italian Evangelical pastor Leonardo De Chirico warned attendees:

“Francis has little time for non-negotiable truths and gives more attention to the variety of people’s consciences. He’s more interested in warmth than light, in empathy than judgment.

“He focuses on attitude rather than identity and on embracing rather than teaching. He underlines the relational over the doctrinal. For him, human proximity is more important than theological integrity. Belonging, for him, has priority over believing.”

So where does this leave Conservative Catholics? Now I may not agree with everything Conservative Catholics believe, but I have met Charismatic Catholics who would fall into this category and they are definitely Christian.

So if this trend continues some may quit going to church or join evangelical fellowships.  Others may break off and form their own independent Catholic churches and according to one writer this may already be starting to happen.

Sources:

Christian pastor finds one of world’s largest diamonds

Rural village in Sierra Leone Credit: martagiqs/Flickr/Creative Commons

Rural village in Sierra Leone Credit: martagiqs/Flickr/Creative Commons

Emmanuel Momoh pastors an evangelical church in the village of Yakadu in the Kono region of Sierra Leone, a small country located along the Western coast of Africa. Found in the eastern part of the country, the province of Kono is famous for its diamonds.

When he isn’t serving as a pastor, Momoh also works a small artisan mine where he recently found the 706-carat diamond, slightly smaller than a hockey puck. According to experts, it is very unusual for diamonds of any significant quality to be found in these smaller mines, much less one of this size.

Yet to be fully evaluated, it is expected the diamond is worth upwards of $50 million — a 813-carat diamond recently sold for $63 million. There is hint of a possible flaw in the diamond that could affect its value.

If its size holds true, it could potentially be the tenth largest diamond ever found in the world.

Sierra Leone has a strong Christian community. Sign outside a home. Credit: Babak Fahamzadeh/Flickr/Creative Commons Sierra Leone has a strong Christian community. Sign outside a home. Credit: Babak Fahamzadeh/Flickr/Creative Commons

Though a predominantly Muslim country (78%) Sierra Leone has a strong Christian community (21%) that is largely Evangelical. Sign outside a Sierra Leone home. Credit: Babak Fahamzadeh/Flickr/Creative Commons

Perhaps the most stunning part of the story is Pastor Momoh’s decision to turn it over  to the government instead of trying to smuggle it out of the country. Shortly after handing it over, he expressed his hope money from the sale of the diamond would be used to benefit the people of Sierra Leone.

In the past, Sierra Leone was rocked by ‘blood stone’ diamonds being illicitly sold to fund the country’s bloody civil war.

After receiving the diamond, President Ernest Bai Koroma issued a news release thanking “the chief and his people for not smuggling the diamond out of the country.” In an interview with AP, Koroma called the diamond “a gift from God.”

Though Sierra Leone is nearly 80% Muslim, Koroma and his wife are Christians.

The president added that Pastor Momoh and the area will be properly rewarded and the whole country would benefit from the discovery.

With a population of seven million people, Sierra Leone was bludgeoned by a bloody civil war during the 90s. Funded by ‘blood diamonds’ rebels destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure including schools.

Since his election in 2007, President Koroma has instituted a number of legitimate reforms to rebuild the country including a crack down on corruption that resulted in the prosecution of ministers in his government found guilty of corruption.

The president has promised transparency on the sale of the diamond.

36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36 NASV)

Sources:

Being centered: A personal struggle to belong

Credit: mar is sea Y/Flickr/Creative Commons

Credit: mar is sea Y/Flickr/Creative Commons

Joseph is one of my favorite Bible characters. After studying his life for the past year, I have developed a love/hate relationship with this Old Testament hero, both for the same reasons. He stood faithful in God, no matter what happened.

No matter who lied or betrayed him, no matter how far down in the pit life pushed him, he kept serving and looking to God. He stayed centered on God when most of us would have given up on God and our dreams.

But I want to look at one aspect of Joseph’s life that is often not discussed but is both encouraging and challenging.

Most people agree that Joseph came from a very dysfunctional home: 9 older jealous brothers, 3 step-moms, and a doting father who was clued-out as to the effect that his favoritism was having on his family.

After studying Joseph’s life, what I see is a loner. He was a loner but never alone. He was too Egyptian for his family and too Jewish for the Egyptians. At the end of Genesis when Jacob dies, his brothers are still living in fear of Joseph, and have never really accepted him. Before Joseph dies his wish is to be buried with his ancestors and not as an Egyptian hero.

He was a loner to the end who I believe really never belonged anywhere except with God.

It makes Joseph’s story all the more amazing that he was able to stay centered on God without the benefit of church groups, men’s ministry, or any support network. He stood centered on God with little help from his “brethren”, and he made it, big time.

I am not advocating pulling back from fellowship, living in a cave with Jesus and not going to church. Joseph had no choice. We all need to be part of one another; we all need fellowship. But there are those of us who, like Joseph, just don’t seem to fit. I can personally relate, which is why I am so intrigued by Joseph’s life.

My Personal Struggle to Belong

In many ways I identify with Joseph. Like others who find themselves struggling to fit, I tried the usual things – impress others by getting more education, being better at sports, making more money – but the outside stuff won’t heal the inside.

It is exhausting to continually try to fit and belong in the kingdom, yet always feeling like an outsider, wondering if the feeling of being part of “the team” will ever happen. The defense mechanisms that go along with this are like band aids – they may seem to protect – they may try to hide a nasty wound, but they don’t actually heal.

On the other hand, I’m not suggesting that the answer is to do the “lone ranger” thing either. What I am saying is that our hope is in being centered on God.

God has been showing me so clearly that I need to be focused on Him. My kudos, my value, my worth, my identity is all in Him and Him alone. To often those of us who struggle with belonging set ourselves up for failure because we either try too hard to fit and people react, or we expect to fail, and end up annoying people by our attitudes, and then walk away confirming our rejection.

The Lesson of a Dog

I received an epiphany on how to deal with this from our family dog. It came to me as I was walking and praying about this whole issue one day. God kept saying the same words to me as my wife says to our dog: “Look at me!”

To explain, our mutt was a pound puppy who came to us with a lot of fears and reactions – came from what you might call a dysfunctional background! He had been at the shelter for his fifth, sixth and seventh months of life, and we adopted him literally the day before he was to be put down. He was quite wild and crazy, and “needing a home with people who were willing to work with him”.

My wonderful wife worked with him until he now almost seems normal. One of the keys to training him are the phrases, “Look at me”, and “What do I have?” My wife has become our dog’s focal point, the calm in the midst of the storm.

She is the source of all that is good for our dog – treats, praise, pets, love, and again, treats! When squirrels and cats are line dancing on our front lawn and our dog is losing control, those few words change his whole crazy world.

I yell and the dog hears nothing; my wife calmly gets a treat and says in a normal voice, “Look at me,” and everything else fades for our dog as he centers on my wife’s face, tail wagging, sitting obediently, licking his chops and centered on the one person who can make sense of a crazy world.

God’s Lesson to Me

When I cried out, “God, what am I to do?” the answer came back from my heavenly Father, “Look at Me.” When the cats of life are driving me squirrely, and I don’t seem to know where I fit or belong, the answer is, “Look at Me.”

Remember this heart cry of our loving Father to all of us, even if we feel like outsiders or lepers. As we respond by being centered on His face, all the other “stuff” just fades into oblivion, and He will make sense of our world.

Stay Centered!

UFOs and Christians

Credit: Domiriel/Flickr/Creative Commons

Credit: Domiriel/Flickr/Creative Commons

Do you remember movies like ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind? The concept of aliens from other planets has been entertaining us for years. And sometimes the belief in flying saucers with strange passengers, and alien abductions becomes like a religious cult with true believers. Also, life on other planets is a mainstream scientific theory. One of the hottest things in modern astronomy is the search for Earth like planets.

When I was a boy, probably about eight years old, my big brother found a new hobby. He became a UFOlogist. He found a source of cheaply printed books with blurry pictures of weird things in the sky, and he let me read them. For a little boy, that was the best hobby ever. I still remember those stories about visitations and abductions, and things in the sky that the Air Force denied.

Eventually our mother learned about this and she was not happy. The tension was broken one Sunday, in church. The pastor said something about UFOs, in his sermon, and I sat up and listened carefully. I was hoping he would set our mother straight, but instead he told us those things were wrong and Christians should never believe in them. I remember how our mother scowled at us and nodded.

I realize now that she probably phoned the pastor and told him that her boys were going astray, and he set us straight from the pulpit. At the time I accepted my defeat, and looked for other hobbies.

Many years later, I was traveling in Arizona with some other people, and we drove into New Mexico and found the small city of Roswell. If you don’t know, about seventy years ago, a rancher found some debris on his land, near Roswell, and the military didn’t want to talk about it.

Now Roswell is a pilgrimage center for true believers. Shops that should be empty on main street have information centers and museums full of tourists. If you don’t believe in UFOs, it’s a lot of fun and the city needs the economy. I had a great afternoon.

New Mexico is east of Arizona, but if you travel north instead, to Las Vegas Nevada, you can drive north of that city into some wild country with a semi-secret airbase; Area 51. This is the other UFO pilgrimage site, with bus tours from Vegas. You can drive on Nevada State Route 375, the “Extraterrestrial Highway” in the desert, and watch the other tourists searching for mysterious things. I think that road would have almost no traffic if UFOlogists didn’t write about it.

Christians can know two things about UFOs and beings that are not from this world; people really are seeing something, and life does exist in other places. Reports of strange lights in the sky and flying objects that we can’t explain come from every part of the world. I don’t know what people are seeing, possibly there is an explanation, but people are seeing something.

Also, life does exist out there. I don’t know if Heaven is a planet and I don’t know what an angel looks like, but the Bible describes “hosts” of beings that are not from this Earth.

I think UFOlogy started when people stopped believing in God. If we don’t have angels, we can have intelligent beings in flying saucers instead. If we don’t believe in Heaven, we can search for planets that might support life. Christians worship Jesus, a being who came to this planet from somewhere else, and we communicate with Him when we pray. Skeptics and deniers might laugh, but then they wrap religion in pseudo-science and believe the same things.

We all know there is something out there.

Do you know these mysterious words from the first chapter of Job?

One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

We don’t know the story behind this scene, but we can know that this God loves us, and his message will make us better people.

And in the Christmas story:

And there were shepherds residing in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Just then, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! For behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the City of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord! And this will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a great multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:8 to 15).

UFOs indeed. Someone is sending us a message.

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