Author: john

A 21st Century Tower of Babel

The city of Strasbourg (France) is the official seat of the European Parliament. Ever since its completion in December 1999, the main tower structure, called the “Louise Weiss” building has raised eyebrows and questions. Its promoters describe its peculiar appearance as reflective of the “unfinished nature of Europe.” It was intentionally designed to look like the Pieter Brueghel 1563 painting entitled “The Tower of Babel.” The ancient tower which theologians recognize as the unfinished work of Nimrod, who was building a tower to defy God, is an interesting source of inspiration for a modern democratic institution. 

The professed intention of Strasbourg building’s lead designer was that the EU Parliament would complete the original goals of these ancient peoples. I challenge those history buffs among you to research the proposed official poster promoting the Parliament Building. The poster was eventually banned due to protests by numerous groups, but it clearly reveals the mindset of the builders. The poster showed the people of Europe rebuilding a replica of the tower in Pieter Brueghel’s painting. At the very top of the poster were reversed pentagrams (upside down stars.) And the poster’s slogan was: “Europe: Many Tongues One Voice,” inferring that the activity of Parliament would reverse God’s punishment for the idolatry and arrogance of the people of the world. 

Even those of you who see this as a silly religious conspiracy theory must admit that the inspiration behind the Louise Weiss building oddly seems to align with the esoteric beliefs of the world elite and their fractured understanding of ancient scriptures. Just one more thing to think about in the light of recent world events.

The Focus of all human existence is Jesus Christ

Within mere moments of mankind’s fall from grace and our exile from the Garden, we received the promise of redemption and restoration. The third chapter of the Book of Beginnings guarantees that the heel of Adam’s seed would indeed crush the head of the serpent that led them astray.

And for the next four millennia, godly judges, patriarchs, prophets and kings were sent to direct the focus of every seeker of truth to the coming Messiah. Yet not every man and woman on earth elected to seek to understand and establish a relationship with their Creator. Many preferred the camp of the deceiver, and his promise to fulfill every lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life.

Even when Jesus Christ appeared at the apex of human history, putting a face on our God, many, influenced by the theologians of the time, closed their eyes and ears to His acts, words and works that proved Him to be the expected Savior. Now as time winds down, the deniars and the rejecters vastly out-number those who align themselves with the triune God of the Bible.

All this demonstrates is that for all of history, the focus of human existence has been Jesus Christ. No other Name has drawn and continues to draw such pervasive love and such vicious hate from every corner of the earth. Those who deny His and His Father’s authority, teachings, doctrine and existence go to extremes to try to destroy and denigrate those who honor and serve Him. Yet one day ALL will bend their knees to that Name which is above every name, and all on earth, under the earth and in the heavens will proclaim Jesus is Lord.

A most unusual man – the President

It’s interesting that both President Trump’s adversaries and his supporters focus on his imperfections, of which, undeniably, there are many. The former group self-righteously attacks his imperfections, launching a never-ending barrage of criticism and complaints intent on tearing him down in the public eye. In contrast, it’s the President’s imperfections that actually ingratiate his supporters toward him.

We are attracted by his often colorful and unapologetic use/misuse of the English language – something one media person refers to as our “expectation of hyperbole.” We are drawn to a stubborn-streak that leads the President to meet every detractor head-on. We admire his unquenchable pride in defending his family, his employees, his supporters, his past successes and his ongoing policies and decisions. And we align with the impatience he shows toward those who abuse or disavow the blessings they’ve been afforded as citizens/residents of the greatest nation on earth.

But what most attracts us are his personal uncompromising patriotism and his love for the people, traditions, constitution, military and capitalistic environment that define American exceptionalism. The man is fearless in taking on any and everyone who would try to tear down these institutions and beliefs. The President recognizes that it’s these specifically that have made America the envy of the world and moved her to the forefront of freedom, generosity, technological advancement, and religious tolerance.

Millennials and the Church

We’ve come a long way since President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural Address, and its most-oft-quoted phrase, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” This was not merely a clever quip for the day – it reflected the mindset of most Americans of that era, and remains so for most of us over age 65. Unfortunately that’s no longer the case for many of our post-baby-boomer generation citizens, whose attitudes tend toward the center of self. So we find even a majority of so-called Christians negotiating with pastors and priests, “If you want me to become or remain a part of your congregation, show me what’s in it for me?” And the response is more often than not a scrambling around of elder boards to present the most feel-good messages and feel-good programs presented in feel-good ways so as to fill the pews and coffers.

A literary preoccupation with each of the younger generations’ supposed unique needs, desires and expectations is just a symptom of the bigger problem – which extends well beyond any specific generation. Still, each of these blogs, magazine and newspaper articles analyzing millennials, iGens, Gen Z’s and Centennials help to focus the real issue. While many of these authors have an excellent insight into the mindset of each of these young people groups; their understanding of “the Church” is grossly lacking.

Most of these well-meaning writers see “the Church” as nothing more than a social, charitable or service organization created to meet individual and societal needs (be they spiritual or otherwise), much like the Fraternal Order of Elks, the Knights of Columbus, or the Red Cross. They miss the point entirely that “the Church” is a living organism with divinely appointed missions. Its founder (and present Head), Jesus described her as “the Body of Christ.” The Head and the Body are intended to have a love relationship akin to that between a husband (Christ) and a wife (the Church). And “the Church” is delegated to perform all the same things and more that Jesus performed when He walked the earth. Every member of the Body, be they leaders, millennials, or members of any other generation has a significant part in this – with no one of more or less value.

Since Christ’s love and faithfulness to the Church (and each of its individual body parts) will never end, there is no excuse for members of the Body to abandon “the Church.” Now if we’re talking about a member of the Body relocating to a more appropriate “local church family” – well, that’s a different story. For every church family has a unique personality and mission and the Holy Spirit will guide a listening and responsive individual (and his or her family) to the one that will best prepare them to serve and that will make the best use of their gifts. But any abandonment of the Body of Christ by a member, or even a relocation to another local church that is not God-directed is likely made out of an attitude of self-centeredness and rebellion.

Although it’s valuable for local churches and church denominations to periodically evaluate if they are meeting the needs of those in the communities in which they reside, and that they are using the talents of all the members of their congregations as God intended; I think it’s just as important for persons of every generation to perform some personal introspection to make sure they are putting Christ and His Body above their own selfish desires. Politicians and social engineers have a bad habit of trying to segregate people into groups, be they racially, ethnically, financially or generationally oriented – and pitting one group’s needs and interests against another; but “the Church” should do everything it can to avoid being drawn into such conflicts. We are called to be united in our service to God and to each other and in our spiritual destiny.

It’s time that members of every generation begin to recognize that they are “the Church,” the Body of Christ and stop undervaluing themselves, their destiny and their purpose to serve God and His people. Even those individuals and people groups (defined by race, generation, social status or education level) who may sometimes feel marginalized and not served by the ecclesia, need to “gut it out” if necessary – because the mission of reaching an unsaved and broken world is too important, and the time is too short.

Ministering to the Broken

The following is my response to a question raised by a Pastor friend of mine in the midst of a recent energetic back-and-forth on FB.

Challenge: John, will you acknowledge that every sexual relationship outside of marriage is sin in the eyes of God?

Response: I believe that there has to be an order in which a person (especially an unbeliever) is taught and brought into the knowledge of God and of spiritual things, including an understanding of sin and its consequences.

I believe that making a broad declaration of the mind and will of God over social media, which includes a very large audience of non-believers (i.e.: not-Holy Spirit-minded people) is unwise and will accomplish little, and may in fact build impenetrable walls between them and the doctrines and followers of Christianity.  My basis for this is found in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, where he notes that no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  1 Corinthians 2:11-14

I offer a second spiritual truth for your consideration as well. I think it’s pretty clear from the Bible that people are only accountable for the knowledge they’ve received. That’s why Jesus declared that the people of the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum would be judged harsher than the people of Sodom and Tyre and Sidon. (Luke 10:10-16)  The people of Judah and Galilee had access to the written words of Moses and the Prophets and studied the Holy Scriptures constantly and even heard Jesus preach the good news of His mission on earth, and still they rejected Him as their Messiah. Much more was expected of the Jews than was expected of the heathen nations that surrounded them; and even more is expected of every New Testament believer.

Unbelievers are judged, not for their sexual sins, but for their choosing of things above their desire for God. In fact, it was God Who “gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves.” Clearly Scripture tells us that the “non-believer” is justly punishable for his or her “exchanging the truth of God for the lie, and worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator.” For “the heavens” and “things that are made” have adequately revealed God, “even His eternal power and Godhead” to every man and woman, yet some have “suppressed the truth in unrighteousness,” so they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 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 animals and creeping things.” (Romans 1:18-25)

But back to the original question, in a one-on-one spiritual counseling session with a man, whereby I can assess his relationship with God, if any, and the roots of the problems that are going on in his life, of course I will explain the spiritual devastation that every sexual relationship outside of marriage brings upon them. When Paul stated: “Do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For ‘the two,’ He [God] says, ‘shall become one flesh,’”  (1 Corinthians 6:16-17) he was explaining to the morally bankrupt Corinthians how every sexual relationship is also a merger of spirits.  Two becoming one flesh is as much a spiritual union as it is a physical one, whether in marriage or outside of it. The spirits that each person carries, whether they be spirits of light or spirits of darkness (the latter including unclean spirits, spirits of divination, spirits of alcohol and drug addiction, spirits of fear, anger, etc.) all are brought into and attach to the ones engaged in a sexual relationship – and stay attached long after the relationship ends.

Everyone needs to be taught this, but there has to be an order in which a person is taught and brought into the knowledge of God and of spiritual things, including knowledge of the activities of the spirit realm. And I don’t believe it’s either necessary or wise to focus on an unbeliever’s sinful nature to reach him for the Kingdom of God.

  • First a person must be introduced to the Sovereign God Who created him and loves him unconditionally and the Son of God Who suffered and died that he might have eternal life.
  • Once the person is saved and has the Holy Spirit residing within him, now he is capable of understanding spiritual things, so you can proceed to explain the absolute need to forgive all those who have hurt him in the past. For unforgiveness leaves one mentally, emotionally and behaviorally imprisoned.
  • Then and only then is a person ready to truly understand sin and its power and destructive nature and the need to be set free of the consequences of sin that are destroying his life and his relationships, and the need to modify his behavior to live a morally righteous life.

“But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” 1 Corinthians 6:18-20

Time – the great equalizer or an enemy?

I have a pastor friend who insists that time is man-kind’s great equalizer. He frequently reminds his parishioners that in any given 24 hour period, each person has exactly 86,400 seconds to use wisely or to waste as they see fit. And each individual assigns value to each moment of time they are given by their Creator – and uses it accordingly.

In principle I believe this too, with some exceptions. Are not each of us to one degree or another, time-constrained by the circumstances we find ourselves in – with “time lost” often the consequence? For example, do not medical conditions, the treatment of which require anesthesia-induced unconsciousness or do not mental and emotional challenges like depression erase large chunks of time?  These through little to no fault of the sufferer capture large segments of their time – and before a person is even aware of what happened, seconds, minutes and hours have disappeared forever. I specifically exclude social, cultural and governmental constraints from this list of examples of segments of time people have little control over; for did not the eleventh son of the Patriarch Jacob as well as a number of New Testament saints prove that even prison walls cannot prevent a determined individual from making the most of his allotted time.

However, to some, time becomes an enemy; because they never seem to have enough of it to do all those things they value so highly. Yet perhaps they’ve simply chosen the wrong standard for assigning value to their use of time? I find that many of my retired friends who have worked hard all their lives, once they reach a position of relative affluence and freedom from life’s burdens and responsibilities, look inward for their standard. These focus on possessions and world travel, things that have accumulated on their bucket list over the years. Others more wisely seem more inclined to look outward for their standard to assigning value to their future time-use opportunities. They place time spent with family, friends, God, and in the healing of broken people on a higher plateau than checking things off a bucket list.

I’ve tried both approaches. For a time I tried the former; but found myself constantly comparing my personal circumstances with that of my neighbor and either flaunting or regretting our respective opportunities (or lack thereof) to enjoy God’s creation. One day I’d be envying acquaintances whose late-in-life financial affluence enabled them to spend their winters in Florida or on cruises to Alaska and the South Seas. Only to counter that the next day by pitying those who have never seen a sunset at Ayers Rock, waded through a Maui surf, meditated on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or wandered the streets of Greenwich Village during its hey-day, adventures which dot my personal memory. This elevator approach to life I found to be very frustrating and unstable.

I’m thankful that I’ve settled on the latter approach and for the blessings of adequate finances, talent and physical health to be able to assist and serve those that God has put before me. The needs of family, friends and the broken-hearted in my own backyard are sufficient to accommodate every second of time available. Besides, I’ve never been very good at searching out causes to support in foreign lands or on cruise ships.

Aging Delightfully

This senior has another birthday this month, and I feel great and hopeful of the future, both on a personal level and for the nation. But I wasn’t always this positive about life.

When my mom hit the big five-O, I too had just passed an age milestone, having transitioned from adolescence into my teens. With the sensitivity of a snail I told mom that I sure hoped I didn’t live that long – because old people like her didn’t have much more to contribute. I’m sure my negative views were reflective of the incessant physical problems I observed her endure over her lifetime. And mom didn’t even attempt to change my negative perspective on advanced aging until ma and pa passed on at 89 and 94 years-old respectively.

She and dad had made the “love-decision” to care in our home for her elderly parents, and she wisely hid the truth of an abusive childhood from her kids – understanding that it’s unlikely that my brother and I would have been as loving and forgiving as she. For as I later learned, her incessant migraines, misaligned bone structure and numerous internal organ issues that necessitated constant medication and doctoring, were the consequence of beatings administered by her own father. She had several siblings, but mom bore the brunt of the Belgian’s perhaps-well-intentioned but brutal disciplining.

Her response to a sad upbringing was not to complain about it, but to make sure that her kids were spoiled. We weren’t wealthy, but my parents sacrificed to assure my brother and I had a safe-haven to come home to, every earthly necessity, plus a parochial education and university training. And most importantly, they taught us the importance of serving God and our fellow man. My parents taught us not only forgiveness, but the virtues of generosity and compassion and the need to lean on God in the face of life’s challenges. The wisdom they shared drove me to take advantage of most every blessing and opportunity that came my way – things that I appreciate more each additional day God lends me.

Unlike my parents at this age, I’m physically able to crawl around on the carpet and allow my grandkids to climb and bounce all over me – even play tag with them – though these days I’m “it” most of the time, because it’s getting harder to catch even the four-year-olds. My grampa rode his bike well into his nineties, and I’m counting on exceeding that by twenty years or so. I’ve truly learned what it means to age gracefully and delightfully.

Dream Big for 2017

The gathering was small for our final Saturday Men’s Prayer Meeting of 2016 – nine to be exact – but our dreams for the coming year were BIG. As you might expect, a couple of the men’s dreams were of a more personal nature – for their immediate families had experienced great challenges over the past year. But most of the men’s dreams extended well beyond their immediate circle of family and friends, to broad visions of touching in tangible ways a world that can only be reached with GOD at the helm. Some would pooh-pooh such dreams as unrealistic and overly broad – but I know these men, and each one is not only a strong believer, but a doer, a go-getter, and a never-say-it’s-impossible fighter for the Kingdom.

It’s interesting that our Pastor’s message the first Sunday of the New Year followed this same line of thought. The foremost reason I love my local church is that her leadership dreams BIG, and in the process encourages each one of us to dream BIG as well, and provides us with the tools and training to pursue and to achieve those dreams.

Those of you who aren’t afraid of BIG dreams, I invite you to join us via your prayers to bring to fruition just four of these visions.

(1) A man with a background in broadcasting, marketing and sales sees himself as the owner and producer of a Christian radio station that reaches across the nation, to provide a consistent message totally aligned with the Word of God in the power of His Spirit.

(2) A businessman who plans to retire this year sees himself engaged full time in preaching and teaching all that God has revealed and will reveal to him about grace and love.

(3) A local church leader sees he and his wife hitting the road to present the joint message of salvation and deliverance to the masses of broken people.

(4) A former businessman and current author and Bible School instructor envisions being showered upon and filled with godly compassion and love for broken and confused people, and an innate ability to reach them through every avenue of communication available now and in the future.

Don’t be afraid to dream BIG, but be selective with whom you share your dream – for not everyone will be a supporter.

Understanding an unbeliever’s unbelief

Most true followers of Christ are so confident and self-assured in their faith and trust in the message of the Gospel, that they have a difficult time understanding how another person could reject that message.

The believer looks at the complexity and beauty and majesty of the world about us and we declare the obvious, that it’s the creation of God. Then the Bible again and again affirms that conclusion, stating unambiguously that “men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” are clearly “without excuse;” because “what may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.”

We shake our heads and throw our hands up in frustration as six billion residents of this earth somehow fail to see things as clearly as we do. And we wonder why. But last week, in the midst of a sermon on the Magi’s following of the Christmas star, my Pastor stated a principle of truth, which in its simplicity, provides an explanation for every unbelievers’ unbelief. “If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you won’t know what you’re looking at.”

2000 years ago every Jewish man and woman living in the “Promised Land”, whether religious leader, political bigwig, simple carpenter, farmer, fisherman, tax collector or housewife, each Sabbath attended synagogue and should have had a good familiarity with the Scriptures that they heard recited and discussed. They all should have been looking for the foretold signals of their Messiah’s Coming. But even the “Chosen People” let their family lives, their daily needs and worries, their know-it-all attitudes of religious superiority, their desires for power, wealth, comfort or prestige distract them.

In contrast, a few men from a distant land with a yen to understand the universe about them, were drawn to investigate this new star that suddenly appeared in the heavens. I imagine when they first noticed the unusual star, it was their curiosity and thirst for knowledge that drove them to research its source and meaning and purpose. And at some point they concluded it was a sign from God that they had to pursue.

As 2016 draws to an end, signs of God’s glory are all around us; as are the coming to pass of events long ago prophesied, and the unveiling of each person’s purpose on this earth. Those who know what they are looking for, recognize what they are looking at. Whereas those who choose to turn a blind eye to the truth set before them, will never recognize the significance of what they’re looking at.

The unbeliever is in a real pickle, as he’s imprisoned within walls of unbelief that he personally constructed. The only thing that will break down those prison walls is that first humble step of acknowledgement that “I don’t know everything; I want to know the truth; show me.” And only the unbeliever can, of his own free will, take that step. Scriptures say: “Seek and you will find;” but most out of pride will neither read the Book which contains that promise nor acknowledge its Author.

Is it Faith, or is it Presumption? – When your health is at stake you’d better be sure.

    Common sense is your natural ability to make good judgments and to behave in a practical and sensible way. It‘s an ordinary sensible understanding of a situation and the use of one’s basic intelligence without which good decisions can’t be made. Compare that to one apostle’s description of faith as “the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.”  Faith is the belief (and trust) in a higher truth than what our senses reveal to us, or what our past experiences infer just isn’t reasonable.

To paraphrase a pastor friend of mine, a person of faith doesn’t deny the reality of the problem – rather he or she acknowledges that we serve a higher Authority Who is well able and willing to help us overcome each and every problem. While that is true, its application to life’s many challenges is not always simple. A number of spiritual and natural factors will impact every decision a brother and sister in the Lord makes and the path(s) they choose to proceed down. The only decision that is the wise decision is the one that aligns with God’s Word and will and which follows the Holy Spirit’s leading.

There is a fine line between trusting in God’s promises and presuming we know the way those promises will be fulfilled by God. The Holy Spirit is the “leveler” between trust and the proper path to fulfillment; whereas presumption tends to block out His “still small voice.”

With respect to God’s promise to His people for good physical health and healing when sickness or disease strikes, the only thing we can say with confidence and certainty is that God is always the healer. However, there are any number of means God may choose to use to heal. He may intervene through a Christian’s laying on of hands or an elder’s anointing with oil and praying. God may intervene via the Church’s exercise of the Spirit’s Gifts of healing, miracles or faith. He may respond to a person’s reliance on and faithful pronouncement of Biblical healing verses. But it seems that most often, whether by design or simply because His follower’s faith may be weak, God uses medical professionals and their learned expertise, technology and medications.

If presumption leads either the seeker or the minister of healing down a wrong path, he may make the challenge greater and could even endanger his own life or the life and health of the very one he (with the best intentions) is seeking to help. For this reason it’s imperative that a Christian minister (which all of us are called to be) must be in tune with the Holy Spirit.

A friend in our Saturday morning men’s prayer group for the past several weeks has been confiding that medical tests revealed blockage in some primary arteries and damage to a heart valve and that his doctor had recommended immediate surgery. Though a couple years earlier my friend came close to dying when he suffered a heart attack, and had a stent inserted as a result, he made a declaration that he was going to forego the surgery for the time-being and “give God a chance to heal him.”

Most of the men in our group encouraged my friend and one-after-the-other gave testimonies of how God had intervened miraculously on their behalf to heal their bodies. I felt a check in my spirit that it was not the wisest thing for my friend to ignore the advice of his doctor. Six years earlier I had faced a similar decision when faced with three blocked arteries. Though I hadn’t even experienced a heart attack, I chose the surgery. God gave me great peace and the surgery went well with little serious discomfort. I wanted to share this with my friend, but I held back, not wanting to be the single voice planting seeds of doubt into his faith decision.

This past weekend he had a second heart attack. As I stood praying over him in the ICU, I couldn’t help but wonder if we had all done him a disservice.

A testimony can be a faith-builder to some – but to the one with weaker faith it may well lead to a bad decision. What active Christian wants to disappoint those who see them as a spiritual giant? We need to cease spiritually ranking the multitude of routes brethren take to healing. Otherwise there is a tendency for some to assume guilt should they seek healing through a “less spiritual” route, like the medical profession.

Only the Holy Spirit knows a person’s heart and their degree of faith and trust in God’s promises. If we “push” a person into a faith stance that they are not spiritually prepared to assume, we are neither being compassionate, nor doing the true work of our Lord.