Sunday, January 29, 2012

On the Brink of War?

It appears that today's blog is going to read more like a commentary on world affairs than my usual offerings, but as is often the case, events tend to dictate what we discuss. This week seemed to produce many signs that might indicate both the closeness and certainty of the conflict in the Middle East that everyone seems to be holding their breath over. I read numerous commentaries this past week in which the authors stated with no reservations that Israel is preparing to take action against Iran and it's nuclear ambitions.

Now a rule I attempt to follow is to never try to predict a specific date where something is going to happen. It's sort of like the old joke where a young turkey asks the old turkey how he got to be so old? His answer was he never sticks his neck out. I'm sort of the same in that regard, yet so much is happening right now in the Middle East that it seems almost impossible things can get any worse without the lid blowing off. If you have followed my blog for any length of time I'm sure you understand my feeling is that the next conflict between Israel and it's enemies will result in the fulfillment of the Isaiah 17 prophecy about the destruction of Damascus. That in turn will set the wheels in motion for the next prophetic event which is the Ezekiel 38-39 prophecy of the Gog Magog War.

What I want to share with you today are some links to stories that surfaced this past week which seem to strongly point to the possibility of an imminent conflict in the Middle East. Along with them I will offer my opinion of just what they might mean from a biblical eye towards prophetic fulfillment.

Netanyahu: World Silent on Threats to Destroy Israel

Edelstein: World Cannot be Silent about Iranian Threat

Most of us are very familiar with the events of World War 2 and the Holocaust where millions of Jews were killed. After the establishment of the Jewish nation in 1948, a phrase that has become a part of Israel's foreign policy is “never again”. Simply explained, with an eye towards the past and the attempt to exterminate the Jewish people, Israel has vowed to never let it happen again. This past Tuesday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and it was on this occasion Israel seemed to make it clear that they feel threatened once again, and served notice to the world that they will respond with force to any attempt to attack the Jewish nation.

US aircraft carriers to deliver 'direct message to Iran'

Iran threatens to hit U.S. targets over Strait of Hormuz as Europe joins oil import ban

Something I have heard taught about conflicts between nations recorded in the Bible is that whenever there is a list of nations involved, the second nation listed is always the instigator. If you look at the list of nations given concerning the coming Ezekiel 38 conflict you will find Persia listed second. Persia is, of course, modern day Iran. Does that really surprise anyone? Right now every situation in the Middle East such as regime change in Egypt and Libya, revolt in Syria, the Palestinian question, all take a back seat to the focus on Iran and it's threats. Iran also has it's hands in just about every other situation we just listed so it's fair to say Iran certainly fills the role of instigator. The question is, just where is the red line they cannot cross where other nations will respond with military aggression?

Netanyahu: Israel must prevent the elimination of the Jewish people

‘Israel to Give Obama 12 Hours Notice on Attacking Iran’

Many would agree Israel has acted with infinite patience towards Iran and it's threats, while allowing other nations of the world to attempt to stop Iran from achieving their goal of nuclear weapons. Yet when those efforts fail, and many feel they have, because Iran has many times stated they are committed to the destruction of Israel it should come as no surprise that Israel will take matters into it's own hands. My feeling is that the increase in talk about Israel attacking Iran is a sure sign that Israel is trying to prepare the world for what they have already decided to do.

Iran moving closer to stage where it will be too late to destroy nuclear facilities, Israel warns

Iranian regime ‘frightens me,’ Harper says

Although I believe most nations would understand a preemptive strike by Israel on Iran, it is Iran's response that might prove to be a concern. Why? Because if Iran uses assets in Syria to respond by attacking Israel, and possibly targeting Israel's nuclear sites in kind, the nature of those weapons will most likely produce the destruction of Damascus we read about in Isaiah 17. The assets in Syria are biological in nature which by international law are considered to be weapons of mass destruction. If they choose to use those, Israel has a green light to use their own WMD's, which would be nuclear in nature.

But what would the world's response be to the use of nuclear weapons justified or not? I think Ezekiel 38 makes it perfectly clear they use it as an excuse to attack Israel. Magog has long been identified as referring to Russia. It is, however, a long way to go from Russia to Israel. Certainly the movement of that many troops would be a sure warning of what was to come, unless of course, for some reason they were already very close.

Russia to use Caucasus drills to prepare for international conflicts

Are we seeing the preparation for the final conflicts the Bible tells us so much about? I personally believe that is exactly what we are seeing in the news today. God's Word has given us a detailed account of the future of Israel and the conflict it will have with it's neighbors, and if you compare what the Bible tells us with what we see in the news today there really is only one conclusion we can reach.

My question to you though is this; “are you ready for the end of days”? You see, God makes it perfectly clear that every man has a choice to make about his eternal future. He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on a cross for our sins so that we might have a way to spend eternity with Him. He has provided the way, but we must make the choice to accept that sacrifice and ask Him to come into our lives and forgive us of our sins. If you have never prayed to God and asked Him to forgive your sins and to come into your life and help you live for Him. Time is running out and there is no guarantee we will be here tomorrow. Don't put it off until it's too late. If you feel you want to accept Jesus into your heart you can right now by praying this prayer;

Jesus I know I am a sinner. I have sinned against you, but I know you loved me enough to send your Son, Jesus Christ to die for my sins and then rise from the dead so that I may live forever with You. Lord forgive me of my sins and come into my life and help me to begin to live for You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
John 3:16 NKJV

Keep watching.

Israel will have to strike,7340,L-4181668,00.html

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Check Your Attitudes

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: "Blessed [are] the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:1-3 NKJV

Over the course of my life, there have been many occasions where I was required to attend training seminars of one type or another in order to further my professional education. Im sure most of you have experienced something similar be it school or job related. Something they all have in common is that generally speaking, there is usually an outline either verbal or written that is presented at the very beginning in order for all to understand what it is all about and what is expected of you.

I find it interesting then to see that when Jesus begins His ministry on earth, He does the very same thing in this portion of scripture which we call the Beatitudes. I also found it very interesting that the subject He wants to discuss with us is not what we are expected to do, but rather what we are expected to be. If you look closely at what Jesus teaches here you will find that the very first thing He requires from us is the proper “attitudes” in order to “be” a follower of Christ. In other words, He lists for us the “Be-attitudes”.

Now in case you ever wondered, I'm the sort of person that always asks the question “why”? Although I know there is always a reason for something, I have always wanted to know what it was in order to better understand. I'm sure many of us as believers can think back to when we first decided we wanted to serve Christ and do whatever we could to be a witness for Him. I'm also fairly certain that at that point we were all thinking about service, or the “doing” part of ministry. Yet here Jesus tells us that the very first thing we need to concern ourselves with is our character. Why? I believe what He is trying to tell us is that conduct is a result of our character, and not the other way around.

Considering these are the very first words Jesus shares with us as He begins His ministry, I think we should take a much closer look at them than we may have done in the past.

Blessed is the Greek word makario, which simply means happy. When I saw this my first thought was “how appropriate”. If you took a poll and asked the question “what do you want most in this life”, how many people do you think would answer “happiness”? We all want to be happy in this life and the first thing Jesus addresses is how to achieve that.

He who heeds the word wisely will find good, And whoever trusts in the LORD, happy [is] he.
Proverbs 16:20 NKJV

Poor in spirit. These two words used together give the idea of someone who is completely destitute spiritually. In other words, this phrase describes someone who recognizes their spiritual deficiencies, understands that by their own efforts they can accomplish nothing, and is willing to admit they need the spiritual assets that only God can provide.

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but [how] to perform what is good I do not find.
Romans 7:18 NKJV

Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. To me, this is the most exciting part of this verse, and that is because of the promise it makes. Often this is understood to be simply a promise of salvation, yet if you examine it in light of the context, what we are being promised here is much more than that. This is a promise from Jesus that if we believe and are “poor in spirit” we will be “blessed” with all that is available to us in this life which comes from the kingdom of Heaven. As believers we have access to things from the kingdom provided to us from God not only for our benefit, but to help us serve Him in sharing the message of the Kingdom of God with an unbelieving world.

And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:19 NKJV

The first thing Jesus teaches us is that our attitudes will determine what we do. As believers our character must conform to the example we have been given by the life of the Son of God. The character of a believer is what determines their conduct, and our conduct is the biggest witness we have for Jesus. Do you have the attitude that you have much that you can bring to the table? According to this verse, acknowledging how spiritually poor we are is the first step to happiness, and having access to all that is available from God. Have you checked your “be-attitudes” lately?

Keep watching.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Looking In the Mirror

Examine yourselves [as to] whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you are disqualified.
2 Corinthians 13:5 NKJV

When someone makes the decision to embark on a fitness plan, it is usually a result of arriving at the conclusion that they are unhappy with the way they look. There may be many different reasons for someone to look the way they do, but most everyone who decides a change is necessary makes that decision based on the same method of evaluation; they look in the mirror.

We live in a society which places all too much emphasis on physical appearance, and there are stories in the news all the time of the dangers we face when those concerns become an obsession. Yet there is certainly a benefit to each of us to be concerned with our physical health, and it is important for each of us to be aware of what we need to do in order to optimize our health.

There is something, however, that I have found over the years to be true in many believers lives, and that is the unwillingness to honestly examine one's spiritual fitness. It would seem that in a world where physical fitness and appearance is so highly regarded, you would think believers would understand where spiritual fitness and appearance should be even more important, yet many have no idea what is expected of them or what their goals should be.

I have said before that Paul's letters are some of my most favorite books of the Bible for the simple fact that he very often describes the life we are to live in terms of physical efforts. Words such as running, race, struggle, lifting, carrying, etc. are found in each of his letters. As far as knowing what our goal should be as believers, the book of Romans is a great study in understanding where God wants us to go.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to [His] purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined [to be] conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Romans 8:28-29 NKJV

This is one of those verses that is often misunderstood and misused to try and explain the question of election. In truth, it has nothing to do with that subject at all. Paul deals with that in the next chapter but here, what Paul is telling us is really very simple. Paul is saying that God knew before the world began that people would choose to follow Him. (foreknew) God then determined that the goal of those who made that choice would be to conform to the character of Christ. (predestined) Now that we know what God expects of us, the question becomes; “do you look in the mirror of your life to see if you reflect the character of Christ?”

I rather doubt there is anyone who does not look at themselves in the mirror at least once a day. Truth be told, I imagine there are quite a few who look in the mirror a lot more than once a day. So how often in a day do you look in the spiritual mirror to see if you are reflecting the character of Christ? Honestly, I'm embarassed to see the answer to that question in my own life. I have a feeling we all have a checklist of things we do about our appearance before we leave the house every morning, and looking in the mirror is quite possibly the last thing you do before you leave.

Do you have a spiritual checklist? Each of us should look in the mirror and make a list of how we can best reflect the character of Christ in our own lives each and every day. Let me share mine with you in the hope you will find something there to help you with your own.

Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' "This is [the] first and great commandment. "And [the] second [is] like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
Matthew 22:37-39 NKJV

As we discussed last week, the very first thing we should do as we awaken every day is pray. I have made it a habit to roll out of bed and onto my knees in order to thank the Lord for another day and to tell Him how much I love Him. I then ask for help to show my love for Him by loving others in such a way as to give Him the glory.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV

Do you look in your spiritual mirror? If so, these are the things you should see in your reflection. If we are allowing God to control our hearts and minds, these are the things that the world should see when they look at us. We should all make a habit to examine our thoughts and actions all day long in light of this list of the fruits of the Spirit.

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Romans 12:2 NKJV

The idea behind the word conform is to fashion yourself, or pattern yourself after someone else. As believers, our desire should be to pattern or imitate the life of Jesus. We are told this is accomplished by the renewing of our minds, and the word for renewing describes a complete change from what we previously were. When you look in the mirror do you see a total and complete change from what you used to be or are you still the same person you always have been? Do your actions bring glory to God? Does your language reflect God's image or the worlds? Slow to anger, letting no unwholesome word come out of your mouth? Do you have the courage to look in the mirror and be honest with yourself about what you see?

When you decide to start a physical fitness program you first look in the mirror and set goals for how you want to transform your physical appearance. As believers, our desire should be to look in the mirror and be honest about our spiritual appearance and identify our shortcomings. We should then go about the business of transforming ourselves into the image of our Savior, so that the world will see His reflection when they look at us. As believers we should all look in the spiritual mirror constantly to be sure we are conforming to His image, and not the image of the world.

Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but [that] we may receive a full reward.
2 John 1:8 NKJV

Keep watching.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Start Early

And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the [son] of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will.
Acts 13:22 NKJV

I have often written about the similarities between physical fitness and spiritual fitness, and many of the rules which can apply to both. As we start the New Year I'm sure many are thinking about making some new resolutions to try and keep as we make our way through this coming year. It is also possible that many will try to make resolutions regarding their relationship with God, and the time that they spend in the Word. If that is the case with some of you, may I take a little time to share some thoughts on how you might go about that?

Have you ever heard the saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? I'm sure many of you have, and many have probably spent some time considering the best way to implement that idea by thinking about what is the most nutritious food to eat and the best time to eat it so you don't forget. Let me ask you this though; have you given as much thought as to how important eating your spiritual food is, and when the best time to eat it is?

Over the years I find myself returning over and over again to the life of David, whom God described as “a man after mine own heart”. If you spend any amount of time studying David's life, it is instructive and enlightening to make a list of all of the characteristics you find about him which might have prompted God to say that. When I first began to commit myself to spending quality time with God by prayer and study of His Word, I found that it was a lot like breakfast. The best time to do it was first thing in the morning when I was rested, and before I began to let the issues of my day interfere and distract me. How interesting it was then to discover the following passage from Psalms;

To the Chief Musician. With flutes. A Psalm of David. Give ear to my words, O LORD, Consider my meditation. Give heed to the voice of my cry, My King and my God, For to You I will pray. My voice You shall hear in the morning, O LORD; In the morning I will direct [it] to You, And I will look up.
Psalm 5:1-3 NKJV

I really think what we find here is a suggestion from David that he found the best way to start the day is to spend time with God. Now not only does he tell us when, but he also tells us how he chose to do that and it was by meditation and prayer. Now I'm sure you would agree with me that if your desire was to receive some benefit from exercise, it probably wouldn't happen if you only spent 2 or 3 minutes working out. The results you get from exercise are directly proportional to the amount of time and effort you spend trying to achieve them. Spiritual fitness is no different and I believe this is one of the most overlooked principles of spiritual growth. So ask yourself the following question; “how long do I actually meditate and pray every day?”

The Hebrew word for meditate is hagiyg, which is translated as whisper, musing, or murmuring, but it also comes from the root word hagah which means fervour of mind. The idea here is not just “thinking” about God's Word, but using all your effort to grasp the understanding of what God is trying to show you, and then considering how it applies and how you can best use it. David seems to be telling us here that his routine was to get up early in the morning and spend time studying and meditating.

David also tells us that there is a second part to his routine and that is prayer. Interestingly, he uses the word cry to describe his prayer, which made me want to know why? The Hebrew word for cry is sheva` which is translated to mean a cry for help. Now I don't know about you, but the more I study the more I realize my need for help not only in understanding, but application as well so I can certainly relate to what David is saying here. It would seem David is telling us that his study and meditation caused him to cry out to God because he realized he needed the help and encouragement only God could provide.

My personal physical fitness routine happens every afternoon at the gym. I have a program using the weight machines that I like, and I spend a good 20-30 minutes doing circuit training. If I need help, there are trainers there who can give me the advice and encouragement to accomplish my goals. It has worked well for me, and it is a routine that I am not only comfortable with, but enjoy as well.

My spiritual fitness routine begins first thing every morning. Many years ago I found that by getting up a little earlier and starting my day by spending time studying and praying, it had a profound effect on my life. My mind is uncluttered by the normal distractions that will eventually occur during the day and I am free to not only study and meditate, but listen to the Spirit speak as well. It's a routine that I enjoy to the point that I look forward to it every day, and wouldn't think of missing.

David was a man who held a special place in God's heart, and I'm sure that his devotion to his spiritual fitness was a large part of that. Do you, like David, have a commitment to spend time every day in meditation and prayer with God? Like a personal trainer, God is there to help us grow stronger in our faith. All that is required of us is to show up every day to “workout” by spending time in His Word and asking Him for the help and encouragement we need to grow stronger as children of God.

Keep watching.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Resolution That Works

Today I thought I would share a lesson from a couple of years ago which is one of my favorites. The reason I like it so much is that to put it simply, it works! As we start the New Year my prayer is that it will help you as much as it has helped me.

With Christmas now behind us, most will now set their sights on the upcoming New Year with more than a few considering what has become a tradition we call New Years Resolutions. For many the start of a New Year signifies a time where we evaluate our past, and resolve to do things differently in the future. We talked last week about the feeling we get when we receive a gift far more costly than the one we gave in return, and the knowledge that God's gift to us was the most expensive one He could give. If the thought that the gift you gave in return, your life, is less than it could be, I have good news. The Bible tells us just how we can improve that gift in order to increase it's worth, and to make it even more pleasing to God. Consider what Paul had to say in the following passage.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, [which is] your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Romans 12:1-2 KJV

So we choose to give our bodies to God as a gift, and as Paul tells us, it needs to be holy and acceptable. But just how do we accomplish that? Well according to Paul, it is by transforming. The Greek word for "transformed" used here is metamorphoĊ, from where we get the word metamorphosis, which means to change into another form, to transform, to transfigure. Now since the New Year is where many choose to make a resolution to change their physical appearance by going on a diet or committing to an exercise program, I thought we might look at how transforming our spiritual bodies could follow some of the same principles as the physical.

One of my favorite memories of raising daughters was the time one of them looked at some pictures of me taken when I was an athlete in college. Rather than saying how good I looked or what a fine example of physical fitness I was, her comment was; "why don't you look like that anymore?" So it was at that tender moment I decided maybe I should pay a little more attention to exercise and fitness. Of course, at the same time I was busy teaching about Paul's advice to new believers and as I began to lay out a fitness program, I couldn't help but notice that the rules I came up with for physical fitness were very applicable for spiritual fitness. So let me share with you my three steps to getting in shape, spiritually first of course but then the physical as well.

Desire. Now I know this might seem to be at first glance a simple, if not entirely logical first step, but I would like to make the point that it depends entirely on how you define desire. I rather like the biblical definition myself.

As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:
1 Peter 2:2 KJV

The word used here for "desire" is epipotheo' which is translated to long for, or to pursue with love. Most importantly, however, is the fact that it is a verb. Now I would be the first to admit I have forgotten most of what I learned in English class, but I do remember what a verb is. It means action, doing something. To desire something in the biblical sense is not to just sit on the couch and wish for it, but to act upon that desire and pursue it. You have to make the effort. This is our first step to spiritual fitness; to desire to transform ourselves. What do we desire? Paul says "milk of the word", which to us as believers is knowledge of the scriptures, the word of God. This brings us to the second step.

Acquire. In order to begin to grow spiritually, we need the raw material which will make us strong. Our spiritual muscles need the protein we get from the word of God.

Wisdom [is] the principal thing; [therefore] get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding
Proverbs 4:7 KJV

Solomon tells us that as believers we need to "acquire" wisdom and "understanding". The Hebrew word used here for "get" is the verb qanah, which means to get, acquire, obtain. Anyone who has ever tried to get in better physical shape understands the need to carefully monitor what we take in for nutrition. Certain things will help us grow the way we want, just as certain foods will help us grow as we don't want. The Bible makes it clear that in order to get in spiritual shape we need to acquire the knowledge and wisdom to be found in the word of God in order to become stronger believers.
Taking in the right food, though, won't help us without the third, and most important part of our program.

Perspire. I know this is the part most people fail at when trying to transform their appearance. It starts out with exercise every day, then three days a week, then one, then "I just don't have the time". Exercise is an absolute when trying to get in shape, and it is no different when it comes to spiritual fitness.

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
Phillipians 2:12 KJV

So here you wonder just how hard I had to look to find the words "work" and "out" together in the Bible? Not to mention they are two words and not one? Well, actually it is one word translated as two and it is the Greek word katergazomai, which means to work out i.e. to do that from which something results. When Paul tells the Phillipians they need to "workout" their salvation, he is simply telling them that as believers, it is time for them to stop relying on his (Paul's) help since he has left them, and to begin to rely on God's help through the power of the Holy Spirit to live their lives in such a way as to glorify God. And, as you should have expected by now, the word workout in the Greek is also a verb.

In order to transform our lives into a gift to God which He will find pleasing, we must embrace the concept of action. It is a life of doing, not wishing. Desire, acquire, perspire. Three verbs, three steps to becoming the believer God expects us to be. If you feel the need to make a New Years resolution, may it be to become the child of God He wants you to be. But don't wait too long, who knows how long we have left to get in shape?

Keep watching.