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Rise of the Ezekiel 38 alliance of nations

Anyone who has followed my blog or FaceBook posts for any period of time know of my great interest in Biblical prophesy. To understand any ancient literary work, it takes a lot of hard work, time and research. For each author wrote of peoples they lived among or learned about from others more-traveled than themselves. But kingdoms of the earth were in constant flux. Nations fell and nations rose. Over the centuries and millennia borders were realigned times innumerable as the once-dominated became the dominant force of a later time, and vice-versa.

So when the average reader happens upon futuristic predictions such as provided in the 38th chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, there’s a tendency to skip over them, ignore them or give them little credence, simply because it’s difficult to associate the prophetic utterance with the world as they know it. So in order to help you better understand these and other writings of Ezekiel in the light of current events in the region, here’s a geography translation.

6th Century BC                                    Year AD 2017

  • The lands of Gog, Magog,             *Russia
  • Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal           *Russia
  • Persia                                                       *Iran
  • Cush                                                           Ethiopia
  • Put                                                             *Libya
  • Gomer                                                       Parts of *Turkey
  • Beth-Togarmah                                    Parts of *Turkey,  Armenia & Asia Minor.
  • Syria                                                          *Syria
Is it mere coincidence that the five asterisked nations have formed a military alliance within the borders of Syria? Ostensibly this coalition is to battle radical Islamic terrorism and prop up the Assad regime. I personally find it curious that this is the first time in human history that there has been a cooperative economic and military alliance between these nations.  In fact, just a few years ago this alliance would have been considered unthinkable, because America and NATO had a strong foothold in the region. But the vacuum created by prior American administrations changed all that. Regardless of their reason for being there today, according to the prophet Ezekiel, this alliance of nations will one day mobilize with the intent to destroy the state of Israel.

One of the reasons I study prophesy is because I hate to be surprised. Perhaps it’s time for you too to read “the rest of the story.”

Another’s Shoes

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In one of my favorite parables, Jesus contrasts the humility of a corrupt tax collector who pleaded for mercy before God, with that of a self-righteousness religious leader who was so obsessed with his own virtue that he failed to recognize his own need for repentance. (Luke 18:9-14)  I have never had trouble seeing the hypocrisy of the self-righteous man in that parable, and yet I have often failed to recognize my own insensitivity to some very real trials faced by others born into or whom life’s circumstances have cast into a social and cultural maze.

The leadership of my local church often high-fives the breadth of the racial, ethnic, generational, sociological and cultural diversity displayed within our congregation. However, I’m convinced that the numbers are few, for those of us who could be fairly described as adequately prepared for, and understanding and accepting of the vast rainbow of traits and backgrounds and attitudes implicit in such a gathering of unique personalities.

God woke me to this reality during a recent men’s group meeting in which the conversation diverted from the spiritual to the social and political. In the past I’ve noted that whenever we keep the conversation to Biblical principles, we’re almost uniformly in agreement and peace reigns. But when we stray into social and political discussions, the air gets thick and the tension grows. On this particular occasion several men began to exuberantly share their personal and varied opinions and feelings – emotions and opinions and attitudes that clearly evolved from their widely diverse upbringing and skin color and associated negative experiences. As the temperature rose, a friend tried his best to defuse the situation with the phrase, “Everyone has their problems and trials;” instead it came close to triggering an explosion.

That was the moment the Lord chose to speak to my personal insensitivity. I knew I needed to repent and to ask forgiveness of my brothers. The atmosphere changed; and though the discussion continued, a calm settled over our group.

Some might insist that social and political discussions are distractions from the intent of a “prayer group.” I disagree. God is concerned and wants to be involved in every aspect of our lives. The subjects that tend to drive wedges between the races, between ethnicities, between the generations, and the social levels and the various cultural communities, all need to be addressed in a respectful way. We’ll never be able to walk in the other’s shoes; but we must try to be sensitive to the stories and histories that define our brothers’ and sisters’ uniqueness. And when we fail in this area we need to be “man-enough” to ask their forgiveness.

You can’t handle the Truth

This past Saturday I attended a luncheon where a young friend spoke. His message began with a reference to a Jack Nicholson line from the 1992 movie A Few Good Men. In response to the defense lawyer’s demand “I want the truth!” USMC Colonel Jessup shouts. “You can’t handle the truth!”

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Nearly twenty-nine centuries have passed since the Biblical events chosen as Dave’s reference point for the message, yet its veracity is in evidence every day. Men and women still have a problem with accepting truth when it doesn’t confirm their hopes and plans, doesn’t align with their personal beliefs and lifestyles and suggests an unwanted change in course.

In the 22nd chapter of 1 Kings we see the kings of Israel and Judah contemplating the wisdom of forming an alliance to retake Ramoth-Gilead from the Syrians who had conquered it a few years earlier. The evil King Ahab brings out his band of four hundred so-called prophets who he can always rely on to “foretell” exactly what he wants to hear – in this case, that the Lord would give them victory. The good King Jehoshaphat however senses something isn’t kosher and asks, “Is there not here another prophet of the Lord of whom we may inquire.”

The king of Israel grumpily responds that there is just one other man, Micaiah by name, whom he hates, because he always prophesies evil against him. In other words, the man speaks the truth – the real word of the Lord. King Jehoshaphat insists that they bring Micaiah to Samaria so he can make inquiry of him. While a messenger is sent to bring back the true prophet, the others keep speaking words of encouragement and triumph, hoping to dissuade Jehoshaphat from listening to their rival when he arrives.

Even the messenger himself, when he reaches Micaiah and explains the situation to him, encourages the prophet to not create waves. Because he knows neither king can handle the truth, so it would be best for the prophet to just repeat the false prophets’ words that all will go well if they attacked the Syrians. And for some strange reason Micaiah goes along with this recommendation, and the first words out of his mouth are as the messenger suggested.

But Jehoshaphat sees through the man and demands the truth, just like Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee played by Tom Cruise. At which the prophet announces that the Lord’s command is that Judah should return to its land in peace – otherwise the results will be disastrous for them all. Not only will they get their butts whipped, but King Ahab will not return from the battle alive. He also cautions that the false prophets are actually agents of a lying spirit sent to deceive and destroy Ahab.

Nevertheless, both kings ignore the truth and proceed to advance on Ramoth-Gilead. And the battle turns out exactly as prophesied; for though Ahab and Jehoshaphat trade royal garments, the Syrians let Jehoshaphat survive, but slay Ahab. His blood flows into the chariot, and when his body is returned to Samaria for burial; even “the dogs lick up his blood while the harlots bathe,” in accordance with an earlier prophesy.

So here we are, not in the 9th century BC, but in 2016 and the theme of the saga continues for all to witness across social media and in the news multiple times each day. Everyone claims they desire and are seeking the truth. Yet it’s human nature to shut one’s ears to the words of all but those who relieve the itching and who confirm that what one does and what one believes is well and good. So what such a self-deceived person claims they have is truth – is really just their own vile heart declaring their own righteousness through the words of confused and deceived friends and so-called “experts.”

The deceived turn the volume off to anyone who professes to have a word from God to help them. All too many just can’t handle the truth. When the truth demands an action that would require them to reverse course in their lifestyles and in their belief systems, they just get angry and continue to march forward toward their own demise.

It’s a sad destiny with an even unhappier eternal end. People are offered a chance to turn and walk toward God; instead they slink out of the room and head for home and their disillusioned belief that what they don’t know won’t hurt them.

Hate is a Heart Thing

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 Our society seems obsessed with hate and tries to legislate it away, with laws against hate speech, hate crimes, you name it. This tactic only fills up prisons and cemeteries, because it fails to address the root of the problem. Hate is a heart thing and the only One who can heal a hate-filled heart is the One who created that heart in the first place. God created each heart, intending that it be filled with His pure goodness; but in this messy world we have a tendency to fill it with whatever “seems right in our own eyes,” and that’s rarely goodness and right thinking.

People use a lot of excuses to justify hate: racial inequity, denial of rights, ethnic and nationalistic history of injustice, sexual, physical, verbal or emotional abuse, offensive words, unjust loss of property, position or reputation, even religious doctrine can become a justification for the hatred that creeps into or floods our hearts. But no human justification for hate will ever be validated by the One True God – for the simple reason that God sacrificed His Son and allowed His Blood to be spilled for each one of us – and He did it while we were pretty rotten individuals not worthy of His supreme sacrifice.

Some (especially “religious” people) try to cover up their hate-filled hearts with distractive behavior and deceptive appearances: like good works, false smiles, church attendance, or involvement in “causes.” But hate is such a destructive force that it cannot be covered up for very long. It will eventually show forth its serpent fangs. The Bible explains that whatever is in the heart will be displayed in our words and in our actions. It will even show forth in our eyes, which are the entrances to our soul.

Hate and Love cannot co-exist – for hate will distract from and ultimately destroy other relationships, both in the natural and spiritual realms. I see this every time I minister to a man whose marriage is struggling or whose children have abandoned him. More often than not we discover that at the core of his problem is a past hurt (be it a childhood molestation, a parental abandonment, a prior unfaithful spouse, or a physical beating by an authority figure such as a teacher or police officer) the memory of which continues to rip apart the man’s soul and every subsequent relationship.

Jesus correlated hatred with the physical act of murder and said the only cure for the hater was forgiveness of the offender. “For how can you say you love God who you do not see, when you hate your brother who you do see?” and told people to not even consider offering a gift to God until after they went to the other and reconciled with him. And it’s not just our spiritual relationship with the Almighty that suffers, but every relationship we have – until we are set free from hate.

Hate and Fear are kindred spirits. Most of the time we experience fear of a person or situation, we feel the need to either avoid or destroy the person(s) who we perceive as the source of our fear. And that’s where hate comes in. But the real source of both fear and hate is spiritual, not natural – it’s the kingdom of darkness – that simply manifests in and through a human’s bad behavior. The Word of God identifies each of these as spirits and He tells us “Your battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenlies.” Regarding fear, we’re specifically told, “There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear.” This principle applies to the spirit of hate as well.

And it’s not just our relationships that suffer – it’s everything good that we put our hands to. Hate destroys the hater physically, emotionally, attitudinally, and spiritually. Hate is counter-productive – it interferes with a person becoming the best we can be. It keeps us from producing something of value, from using our talents fully, and from accomplishing our goals and dreams.

Fortunately a hate-filled heart can be healed – but only by allowing God and godly people to intervene. It’s the rare individual who is being spiritually harassed by the enemy who will seek God’s help directly. More often than not, when they finally recognize that they’re in trouble and have nowhere else to turn, they will reach out to one who they perceive is a godly person or a Christian ministry or a church for help. Hopefully the one they reach out to will recognize their authority in Christ over the power of darkness, or is wise enough to redirect them to another who does. My local church in Sterling Heights, Michigan actually prays for “the hardest cases” to find their way to us – for we know our authority and have seen many broken people set free from this heart problem we call hate.

Your Life Matters

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Everyone wants to “make a difference” in their brief time on this earth. This is true of the intensely spiritual person – but it’s also true of the one who doesn’t acknowledge any form of supernatural realm. Every person who has ever come to me for counsel has exposed that, at the root of their problem is a delusion that their life doesn’t matter. Either they’ve been told this by an insensitive parent or other authority figure, or significant circumstances in life have driven them to that conclusion.

This weekend a young man in his late twenties shared with our church the challenges in his life that nearly destroyed him. Though he grew up in a home with a praying mama, there was so much turmoil in the household and an abusive father that he concluded early in life that he didn’t matter. His friends became people who had similar low self-esteem and they introduced him to the drug culture. It eventually led to a dark night in a vacant field in Detroit where two acquaintances put ten 45 caliber shells into his body and left him to die.

For the first time in a long time Gary called out to God for help. He was somehow able to muster enough strength to crawl out of the field, where a bystander found him and called 911. In spite of losing 83% of his blood (well beyond anything medically possible for a human being to live), and enduring several operations which removed or repaired vital organs, he would survive. Yet months later after he was released, he was still home-bound and emotionally worse off than ever – since he couldn’t see how he’d ever be able to improve his lot in life.

But through the personal ministry of some church friends and an associate pastor who led Gary to forgive those who had hurt him in the past and to renounce the spiritual forces that had deceived him into believing he was worthless, he was totally set free to understand that he could make a difference within his sphere of influence. It’s been a long haul, but now this young man has part-time employment, has recently returned from a mission trip to Rwanda and is sharing his story to encourage others whom life has likewise challenged and stepped all over.

It’s interesting, because this same message was given at our People for Jesus meeting this Saturday by Dr’s Jerry and Sherill. When the Holy Spirit reinforces a message it gets my attention. God clearly wants His people to know how He values each one of us and has included us in His grand plan. But sometimes we get so self-absorbed in the circumstances of life that often don’t play fair – that we lose sight of the big picture and our part in it.

The enemy of God of course wants to keep us down and distracted with our problems. Sometimes we need each other to get us out of these doldrums. God’s power and love and mercy and grace are not restricted by anything you’ve been through, whatever discouraging words you’ve been subjected to, whatever hurts you’ve experienced. It’s important, even necessary, to forgive those who have hurt you – and forgive yourself. And renounce the bad behaviors you’ve been subjected to or have been involved in – and declare them dead to you. You may even need special ministry like Gary received, to get fully set free to do God’s bidding – so don’t be ashamed to seek it. We’re here to help each other.

Whatever your age or physical or emotional state, know that God holds you in high esteem and has a job for you. You just need to find out what it is. Until you know for sure, just serve others as the opportunities present themselves – and you’ll be surprised as other doors open for you. This is an exciting life – and we live in an exciting time in history.

Are we to understand the mind of God?

Testing Religious Truth   I have a FaceBook friend who has a large diverse following which he constantly challenges with political, social and religious issues. The other day he shared a “testimony” in which someone claimed their child was healed from autism. He simply added “I think that was nice of God.” The faith crowd of course replied with “Amens” and confirmations of the goodness of God, while the unbelievers and even some Christian brethren responded with various degrees of cynicism and sarcasm, often asking hard questions like, “If this is true, then why doesn’t God heal all autistic people?”

Such questions are hard but still valid. The hard-to-understand issues never bothered Jesus. In fact, He raised many of these issues Himself to test the religious leaders of His time. Take for example His words early in His ministry: “many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath, in the region of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

The implication of His words so enraged these men that they tried to throw Him off a cliff. Was their reaction based on a misunderstanding of why God hadn’t intervened on the part of their predecessors? No! They knew exactly what Jesus meant. He was drawing a comparison between that former rebellious time in their history and their current rejection of Jesus’ message. The inference was that “outsiders” would once again be the recipients of God’s blessings in lieu of His “chosen people” if they didn’t set down their pride and humbly turn back to Him.

But not every valid “God question” has such an obvious answer. We cannot even say that a rebellious person will never experience God’s blessings; for elsewhere the Bible says that God allows His rain to fall on the land of both the righteous and the unrighteous. If we fully understood the inner-workings of the mind of God we’d be gods ourselves, which we definitely are not. We are only called to seek out an understanding of the nature of God to the extent he has shared it with us in the Bible and in the world around us, for the purpose of relating that understanding to the ones He puts in our individual paths.

God has revealed to us His written promises, but He also has allowed us to experience His grace and mercy. That’s why He often puts those who have been set free from drugs and alcohol into the lives of those still struggling with addiction. That’s why He puts the former porn addict or prostitute in front of a person still dealing with sexual misbehaviors. That’s why God frequently puts me, who once had a strong religious spirit, into the path of another of like background; or praying for the healing of the person with spine or heart and blood issues, ailments I was once miraculously healed of.

So why doesn’t God reverse the effects of autism throughout the world? Why doesn’t He do the same for every case of childhood cancer? I could hypothesize an answer based on scripture and verse – but I’d be wrong more times than not. And those few times I reasoned correctly, I’d still be stoned (metaphorically) by a large segment of the religious and non-religious world around me.

There are some things I don’t think we’re meant to know – because God alone is sovereign. We’re just to believe His promises, execute the action plan He’s set before us and trust that all things will ultimately work together for the good of those who love Him and who are called by Him.

It’s never too late to be Holy

HighPurityMarkets_400x400pxIn this so-called “age of tolerance” it’s amazing that “holy” and “pure” are two of the most vilified words in the English language. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s a well-intentioned teenager or an all-pro quarterback and his celebrity fiancé who make a commitment to a lifetime of purity including sexual abstinence until they enter a Biblical marriage relationship, the few who try to adhere to traditional concepts of purity and holiness are ridiculed and scorned. Articles are even written in progressive media describing the harm such pledges cause.

 “In the interest of love” has become the catch phrase to justify society’s attacks on this most-despised characteristic of our God. The phrase was invoked recently by a Supreme Court judge to justify the majority position on gay marriage, and it has been repeated often by the American President, politicians of both parties, the news media, and even religious leaders to stifle discussion on a broad spectrum of moral issues.

The Church in the declared interest of casting a broad net over nonbelievers to expand its “circle of love” often finds itself echoing the language of the world. The call to their congregations to love and respect every man and woman whether or not they agree with the others lifestyles are of course legitimate and well intentioned. But the definitions of love and the motivations behind the call to “love” for the Church are significantly different than for society in general. For those whose hearts are in the world, “love” implies freedom to exercise one’s prurient interests, constrained only by socially accepted customs and norms. While for the true follower of Christ, “love” is defined by the character of God, unconditional and selfless; for God is Love and Christians are admonished to be known by our love.

There’s no question that the only people we can ever truly influence to the betterment of their lives are those that fall within our “circle of love.” This is a point that I’ve focused on in a number of recent blogs. However, I wonder if the Church (and I include myself as one of its minor representatives) has put too much emphasis on love to the downplaying of other important characteristics of our Lord. Scripture commands that we are to emulate His holiness in our day-to-day lives. The Apostle Peter among a hosts of prophets and disciples of Christ removes all ambiguity when he says in his first letter: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”

Still, even though the words “holy” and “holiness” appear over 600 times in the Bible, and even though “unclean spirits,” the adversaries of holiness are referenced another 36 times, we don’t speak about either very much in public. Some would justify avoiding language that the world finds uncomfortable actually opens doors that would otherwise be slammed in our faces. Others insist that we use that as an excuse because of an anticipated fear of being persecuted for adhering to strict standards of morality. Regardless, there’s no question that the words “holy” and “pure” and “undefiled” as related to sexual conduct and attitude most separate the Christian character from the character of the world. Holiness has become a characteristic of derision to our modern culture, because we live in a hedonistic society where life is devoted to the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification.

Is a Holy and Pure Life even Possible?

Nearly every human being has tripped and fallen into the slime of immoral conduct – so it’s only natural to question: Is a pure and holy life even possible, and worth seeking? I am convinced that anyone whose conscience has not yet been seared by unconstrained immorality understands the value of all that is good and pure, and even longs for a life that is better than what they have known in the past. Those who scorn those who would try to seek that life are convinced that such a life has passed them by and they have no hope of ever attaining it. So vilification of its proponents is a protective mechanism.

It’s no wonder that so many feel so lost with no way out of a self-indulgent lifestyle. With perversion all around us, made to seem normal and good, one is told that purity and holiness are impossible. And it is, if we’re left to our own devices. Proverbs 13 tells us that “Lust indulged starves the soul.” King Solomon who wrote those words knew what he was talking about, for he lived the epitome of self-indulgence with hundreds of wives and concubines. He had the knowledge, but he sure didn’t know how to control his passions. And the prophet Isaiah had his own struggles with holiness as he saw the Lord’s holiness and threw his hands up in frustration declaring: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” God, the creator of the universe, is unlike any created being.  He alone is perfectly holy.

God’s holiness shed upon one of His followers is perfect freedom

God’s holiness shed upon one of His followers is perfect freedom from evil. It’s only through the act of Christ’s redemption that we are able to overcome the draw of fleshly behavior. But we have the promise that the Lord will make us holy if we thirst for holiness.

Every person needs to hear the encouraging message that regardless of what they’ve been through and into in the past, God is the One who purifies and makes holy. Think of those who Jesus ministered to. Nearly everyone was a walking mess before He entered their lives: Mary Magdalene carried seven demons, an adulteress was caught in the very act, a Samaritan woman who had been married five times and who was now living with a man not her husband, Saul the murderer of Christians, Paul’s converts in Corinth who formerly practiced every form of sexual perversion, and the list goes on and on. After they met Jesus and made Him their Lord, every past blemish was washed away and they were able to go forward in life as if they were virgins in Christ. Though new temptations would come along, believers have the promise that God will provide sufficient grace to overcome each one – and forgiveness and a renewed cleansing if and when we fall.

Personal holiness can only happen through the saving work of Jesus Christ and the sanctification of the Holy Spirit.  (Sanctification is the process of being made or becoming holy.) Being “set apart” is how this process begins, and this is the key to living with sexual integrity. So, let’s bring this truth home to the next generation.

Many will be convicted of the life of holiness that they see before them – which they deep down desire for themselves. But that doesn’t mean they’ll compliment you on it. More likely, at least for a time they’ll try to ridicule you into abandoning what their conscience is telling them is right and proper, but what their flesh and the devil try to get them to see as an impossible goal.

This is nothing new as the history of mankind well knows. Read for example how the Apostle Paul urged and exhorted the 1st Century Thessalonian converts to (1) walk and to please God, (2) based on Jesus’ commandments, and for the will of God and their sanctification, (3) to abstain from sexual immorality, (4) that each should know how to possess his own body in sanctification and honor, (5) not in passion of lust, like those who do not know God, (6) nor draw others back into this lifestyle, (7) for God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness and  (8) that whoever rejects this commandment does not reject man, but God.

Called to live holiness and purity, not flaunt it

The Lord commanded us to be holy as He is holy, to be holy in every aspect of our conduct. Holiness is the very character of God and our heavenly Father wants His children to act and look like Him. We are called to be a “holy nation” and the Lord is coming back a final time for a holy Church, “holy and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort.” And we’re told that “without holiness we cannot see God.”

I agree with American theologian, author and pastor Dr. R.C. Sproul when he insists that “The holiness of God affects every aspect of our lives—economics, politics, athletics, romance—everything with which we are involved.” When you commit to personal holiness, you infuse your character with all that it takes to be successful and significant with your life. But one struggling with the temptations of life doesn’t need to be belittled or made to feel condemned by either your words or your attitude. It’s enough to just live that life that is pleasing to our Lord and Savior and reflective of Him.

However, while we may “tolerate” (i.e.: not judge) perversion in unbelievers, “for they know not what they do,” and in the interest of compassion and reaching the lost; we must be cautious to never accept it in the Church body, and certainly not in ourselves.

Six reasons to seek to be holy and pure

  1. The cross earned holiness for us. There are two conditions for sanctification (the process of being made or becoming holy). First, you must have faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Second, you must be willing to change, hungering to become all you have the potential to be. It’s kind of a worn phrase, but true regardless: God accepts you the way you are, but He doesn’t want you to stay that way.
  1. Without holiness we are driven away from Christ’s nature. When you live a sinful life, then the sin takes away your attention and allegiance from God, and so your relationship with Him suffers. Most people fall into sin because they are not seeking first the Kingdom of God. If we are to be conformed to the image of Jesus, then we must become like Him in character. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” Ephesians 1:4
  1. Holiness gives us confidence when confronting demonic forces in our lives and the lives of others. We cannot act like the devil (i.e.: think and behave grossly) and expect to defeat him. He knows who we represent both by our words and our behavior.
  1. Holiness improves intimacy – with God and with those closest to us. Holiness is two-fold: it is separation from the world in order to be joined to the Lord. The picture is of a marriage. In a marriage, a wife and husband “forsake all others and cleave unto each other.” A couple is not really joined if all they do is abstain from seeing other people, but never intimate with each other. Holiness has unfortunately been associated with separation from the world and sin, but not being joined to the Lord in intimacy. Intimacy makes holiness enjoyable. If you are always concentrating on what you cannot do, then you will be unhappy with holiness. It is like a married couple that does not cheat, but neither do they sleep with each other.
  1. Holiness enables you to see spiritually. Without holiness no one will see the Lord. He could have said no one will be “saved”, but instead he chose the word “see”, because this word implies a relationship, not just trying to please God so you can be saved. Holiness will open your eyes to see how great God is and how awful worldliness is. Sin will blind you to several important truths, yet holiness will enable you to see several things. We will see the precious grace of God, see the defilement of bitterness, see the high cost of sexual immorality and see the benefit of faith.
  1. Holiness prepares us for Heaven – where all is holy.

Abrasive or Persuasive – do you want your words and actions to be effective or not?

Debate  Almost from the date of their authoring over 2 Millennia ago, most of the Old and New Testament books of the Bible have been under attack. Governments have feared their power and influence and individuals have been offended by their intrusion into behavioral choices. Yet in spite of the vicious attacks and wholesale attempts to destroy the divine writings, God preserved them in unique ways through His faithful followers who often suffered persecution and martyrdom for their efforts.

Still, one method that was never chosen by our Christian ancestors to preserve Judeo-Christian tenets was a technique many of our modern church leaders seemed to have opted for: namely rewriting and/or reinterpreting sections that ever-changing cultural and societal norms deem unpopular.  When Jesus proclaimed early on in His ministry that He was the One whom Isaiah prophesied was to be sent “to bind up the brokenhearted and to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners,” He wasn’t inferring that sinners should be made to feel OK about their corrupt nature and that they had no need to repent and change course. Yet that’s what many would have us believe.

On the other side of the coin, many “Word people” think that merely adhering to scriptural truth makes anything they say justifiable. But even quoting scriptural truth can be hurtful and destructive, if not laced with care and compassion.

There are good, well-intentioned people on both sides of this issue, and I have no doubt that most, whether they’re ministering to the hurting and needy or they’re simply giving everyday advice to their friends and acquaintances, have pure motives and a sincere desire that their words and their actions be effective. But to be most effective, there has to be a balance between invoking of scriptural truth and a demonstration of God’s grace and unconditional love.

So how does one mold the presentation of the message to attract persons who are naturally skeptical of Christianity, and still not alter the message itself?

Whenever we have a difficult issue like this to deal with, the obvious course is to ask, “What did Jesus do?” and imitate Him.

No one can ever accuse Jesus of being wishy-washy about dealing with sin. Nor can one accuse Him of wearing rose colored glasses, blind to the fact that many in the crowd rejected His message and ministry. At one point in His ministry, Jesus began to teach almost exclusively using parables and only providing an explanation of their meaning to His disciples. When they asked why, He explained that the hearts of the people had grown dull, their ears hard of hearing, and their eyes kept closed. In other words, those who continually rejected His message were to be left behind in their spiritual deficiencies.

Nevertheless, Jesus showed respect to each person he crossed paths with regardless of their standing in the community, their moral behavior, or their acceptance or non-acceptance of Him personally or His message. People will usually listen to and receive from those who treat them with respect; whereas they will reject those that dishonor them. This is a lesson we all could learn from: to be persuasive, we must not be abrasive.

While Jesus never shied away from controversial discussions of the Law and sin, His harshest words were (a) for those who laid claim to spiritual superiority, (b) for those who led the weak down a crooked path and (c) for those who harmed or took advantage of the innocent. On the other hand Jesus went out of His way to help anyone who acknowledged their weaknesses and shortfalls as lost sheep in need of a shepherd to set them free and bring them the truth. This attitude drew all kinds of people into His circle of love: sinners, those possessed by evil spirits, those whose manner and place of worship were contrary to God’s Law, and even idol worshipers who brought their children to Him for healing and deliverance.

Are we as tolerant of people who are “different” than us?

Most of us have a tendency to rank-order sin based on what we personally regard as disgusting and evil behavior. In contrast, to Jesus, to the leaders of the 1st century Church, and to the Bible in general, all forms of rebelliousness are sin and all manner of sin will separate a man from God’s best.

In His “Sermon on the Mount” Jesus spoke of sins of lust in the heart as being equivalent to adultery and of unjustified anger and unforgiveness as being equivalent to murder. Paul, whose letter to the Romans is often quoted for his warnings regarding the risks homosexuality poses to one’s eternal salvation, in another letter lists thieves, the covetous, drunkards, revilers, and extortioners as being equally in danger of not inheriting the kingdom of God as those who practice acts of sexual perversion. While Genesis 18 & 19 focus on the sexual immorality prevalent in Sodom just prior to its destruction, Ezekiel 16 explains that “Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door.” And when King Solomon listed the seven things God considers as an abomination, he included: “a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.” Is sexual perversion anywhere to be found in the list? Perhaps, if you read it into the words, “feet that are swift in running to evil.” But that’s a stretch!

Could it be that we’re not on the same page with the Lord

when classifying and dealing with sin and sinners?

Consider for example the situation when a woman caught in the very act of adultery was dragged before Jesus to test His obedience to the Law which commanded that she be stoned to death. How did He handle that situation?

First He challenged the religious leaders – “OK. Then let the one who has never sinned cast the first stone.” This statement accomplished two things: (a) it equated adultery with other sins and (b) it let the leaders recognize their own hypocrisy of condemning the woman, while they were sinners themselves. While the leaders were thinking about what Jesus said, He began to write something on the ground. He let the religious leader’s own consciences convict them and drive them from the scene. And once Jesus and the woman were alone, He elected to not use the Law (which said stone her) against the woman. The grace of God took precedence over the Law. “Neither do I condemn you.” Jesus established a compassionate relationship with her (i.e.: He drew her into His circle of love and trust.) So when He commanded her “Go and sin no more,” she was able to receive it.

Our early Church leaders imitated Christ’s attitude toward sin and sinners

The apostle Paul is a perfect demonstration that the early Church leaders “got it.” He paradoxically considered himself “free from all” groups, yet a “slave to all.” In order to win over the peoples whose Roman, Greek, or Persian cultures were much different than the Judaic, Paul used the folkways and customs of each culture. He molded his presentation of Jesus to eliminate any nonessential barriers that would hinder his proclamation of the gospel, but did not adapt the latest public novelty or get caught up in their cultural extravagances. The apostle’s method was uncompromised preaching, whether he was in a synagogue, in a home church or on Mars Hill. And he preached just one message, Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Paul once posed the following question to his converts in Corinth: “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” He recognized that each human being acts and thinks and responds based on a lot of variables in their life – most of which only they and God understand. Unlike Paul, many of us think we’ve got it all together – especially if we’re “into the Word,” and we think that merits us a special “long black robe” of morality and a seat behind the bench in God’s courtroom. But who amongst us really has it “all together?” We may not have the same bad behaviors that we witness in others (and may even be disgusted by); but each of us is capable of being where they’re at, given a different set of life circumstances and if we let our sin nature dominate us. In truth, each of us once occupied the defendant’s seat ourselves. Therefore, mindful of the grace that changed the course we were on, we should be sitting at the defense table next to them, encouraging them to accept Jesus’ offer to act as their attorney just like He stepped in to advocate for us.

When I was much, much younger, it used to bug me when a senior citizen would corner me with advice. It was as if they regarded the mere fact of years of existence on the planet as giving them some market on wisdom. Oh, I listened politely; but 95% of what I heard ended up on the shelf, and only occasionally got drawn down from. It’s interesting that after accumulating a few decades of my own I often see myself as a sage, volunteering unasked for guidance on any number of issues that my acquaintances face; likely irritating many of them the same way I was once bugged by my elders. I don’t think I’m that much different from a lot of others with a few years and several experiences under their belt.

But what really qualifies any human being to give advice – especially when it comes to another’s personal or relational problems? Certainly maturity, formal training, book knowledge, prior experience, hands-on familiarity with the specific type of situation all contribute something to an advisor’s qualifications.

In truth, the only one who can rightly offer unfettered guidance is the One who can read and judge the heart of a man. The natural man can judge an action, but neither the natural man nor the spiritual man can ever judge any heart but our own. Many use Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 2 regarding the fact that as believers, “we have the mind of Christ” and that “he who is spiritual rightly judges all things,” as rationale for judging and condemning another person’s behavior if it seems to deviate from Biblical norms. But that takes Paul’s words totally out of context. For the Apostle made it abundantly clear that the purpose of spiritual knowledge was “that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” In other words, this knowledge is to uplift others and show them a better way; never to judge and condemn their heart.

After all, of what relevance is my or any “expert’s” opinion of another person’s behavior and their life choices? Very little actually! The only “opinion” of value is God’s. So before I offer to express what I believe is God’s position on a behavior I witness or presume, I’d better be pretty sure I do so in the proper Biblical context and with a godly motive, method and heart.



mom-dad Riccardi

Mom was born Wilma Bell McCune on November 11, 1920 in Missouri. Her grandfather was a traveling preacher. Her parents were Jewell and Cray (a disabled 1st World War veteran). They gave mom her Cherokee and Irish heritage and temperament. She had a younger sister Lita who predeceased her.

Just before the 2nd World War at the age of eighteen Wilma, with the help of her mother bought a little restaurant. Financially it wasn’t a money-maker, but it affected her entire life; because it was there she met her future husband. Orlando Joseph Riccardi’s father had emigrated from Rome to Detroit a number of years earlier. One day the young soldier visited that restaurant with a few of his Italian-American buddies. That first day his friends put money in the juke box and danced with Wilma and another girl that worked at the restaurant, but all Joe wanted to do was eat and talk. And he came back often to do both. They married a short time after that. While Joe was in the service Wilma attended nursing school; but when Joe was released and wanted to move back to Detroit she gave up that potential career also to bear and raise his children. Her sister, Lita later married a contractor from California and moved to Bakersfield.

      Joe and Wilma had five children: Danny, Paul, Sandra, Linda and Ricci. Theirs was not an easy life, but mom always provided for her children. Sometimes that meant humbly notifying the Goodwill they didn’t have money to buy Christmas presents; other times it meant driving the kids to Missouri to stay with her parents for a time until they got back on their feet. Joe’s older sister Dora was a Pentecostal Pastor and Wilma saw that her children attended her little church until the church relocated out West, first to California, then to Oregon. But it was there that mom gave her heart to Jesus, as did some of her children. Thereafter, she encouraged her kids to continue and mature their relationship with the Lord.

Her husband was a mechanic and truck driver and his boys all loved cars and could do amazing things with engines. So mom always had to put up with several vehicles in various conditions of repair in the backyard of each of the many homes they rented over the years. After the kids got older and began living on their own, Wilma and Joe traveled a lot by automobile. Almost always they headed out west. At first it was to visit her parents who had re-located by this time to her sister’s neighborhood in Bakersfield, California. Later it broadened to the Portland Oregon area where her sons Danny and Paul had moved with their families, not far from some of dad’s siblings; and eventually down south where Linda and family moved. So mom’s focus remained on her children even as she aged. On their return from such a vacation they would have literally hundreds of snapshots of mountains and plains which they took, often out of the window of their moving car – because dad didn’t like to stop until he got to his destination.

Mom loved animals – all kinds of animals. So when you visited them, it wasn’t unusual to find various farm animals in their fenced-in yard: ducks, chickens or even a pig. In later years she confined her pets to dogs and cats. And until recently she put in a garden every Spring – a very large garden – which had so much overflow that she gave most of it away to family and neighbors.

Mom cared for family and close friends. After her husband’s death at the age of 67, her youngest son Ricci experienced financial challenges and physical difficulties, so he moved back home where he lived for a few years until he passed away at the age of forty-one while awaiting heart-transplant surgery. A short time later she took in another person fifteen-years-her-junior who was legally blind and who suffered from a number of other maladies. She drove that person all over Macomb County to doctors and hospitals, and provided home care – something mom continued to do up to within the last ten days of her life.

Mom loved all her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren – and the ones who knew her loved her. My three kids loved to visit with their grandma and hear her talk about the old days. And my daughter’s three children not only enjoyed seeing her but talked to her on the phone a few times a week. Early in the day before she passed, mom was laboring a lot in the hospital, but she kept asking about “the kids.” Jean brought the three over that afternoon to visit, and her spirits just lifted up. She sat in a chair beside the hospital bed and three-year-old Leah, sitting on her lap, sang to her “Jesus loves me”. Leah’s twin Lawson and her older brother Nick hugged her and told her how they missed her. The next morning, after she was ushered into her eternal reward, three different nurses came in to tell Sandy and I how much that one simple visit had changed mom’s spirit, and how she just jabbered and talked about it to her hospital sitter all night long, before she gently and peacefully faded away.

Angels carried her spirit and soul to heaven the morning of May 12th.

Unlocking Biblical Treasures

 This past July 4th weekend, I and a dozen other men stood helplessly outside our local church, unable to get in for our weekly Saturday morning prayer meeting.  Each of us had ten or so keys on our respective key rings, but not one available key did us any good.  For only a specific key would open the church doors, and only a specific security code would turn off the alarm, should we once get entrance – and none of the appointed church “gatekeepers” were among those of us in attendance.  For one reason or another, each was either out of town, or couldn’t make the meeting this week.

 Not to be dissuaded by the circumstances, we began our meeting standing outside the doors in the open air.  We had a good time of sharing, until, about 45 minutes later someone showed up with the proper key and security code.  Interestingly, it brought to mind the words of Jesus to His disciples concerning the keys of the Kingdom.

 Jesus had been ministering on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  After He healed many and fed the multitudes, the Jewish leaders came by and began to demand a sign that what He was doing was of God.  He refused to give them a sign “except the sign of Jonah.”  Jesus and His disciples left their antagonists and crossed over to the other side of the Sea.  When they arrived Jesus warned His disciples about the “leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” and then asked them about their personal belief concerning Him. “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”  So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.  And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  Matthew 16:13-19

 These latter words are very similar to those spoken in Isaiah 22:15-25.  In that earlier instance, Shebna, the “treasurer over the house” (meaning comptroller or governor of the palace) in the reign of king Hezekiah of Judah was removed by God because of his reliance on Egypt to protect Israel from an Assyria invasion, rather than the Lord.  He was replaced by Eliakim. “Then it shall be in that day, that I will call My servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah; I will clothe him with your robe and strengthen him with your belt; I will commit your responsibility into his hand. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.  The key of the house of David I will lay on his shoulder; so he shall open, and no one shall shut; and he shall shut, and no one shall open.  I will fasten him as a peg in a secure place, and he will become a glorious throne to his father’s house.”

 The original “gatekeepers” in charge of watching over and protecting the physical and the spiritual treasures of God, as well as the hearts of His people, had once been personally selected by King David and the prophet Samuel.  And their charges were specific: … they and their children were in charge of the gates of the house of the Lord, the house of the tabernacle, by assignment.  The gatekeepers were assigned to the four directions: the east, west, north, and south.  And their brethren in their villages had to come with them from time to time for seven days.  For in this trusted office were four chief gatekeepers; they were Levites. And they had charge over the chambers and treasuries of the house of God.  And they lodged all around the house of God because they had the responsibility, and they were in charge of opening it every morning. (1 Chronicles 9)  Yet, these “gatekeepers” had failed in their duties and were replaced by others who recognized to Whom they were truly accountable.

 I began to wonder about locks and keys in ancient Israel.  Did these have the same function and meaning that they do today?  Are binding and loosing and shutting and opening synonymous Biblical terms?  They apparently both are accomplished using spiritual keys.  But why would the Bible refer to laying the key on the new treasurer’s shoulder?  This terminology all seemed very strange.

 My research turned up that in ancient Israel (as in most areas of the Middle East), the doors of palaces, temples, granaries and domestic dwellings were secured with a wooden bolt and tumbler lock mounted on the inside of the door.  The prophet Isaiah alluded to a large wooden key when he said, “I will place the key of the house of David on his shoulder.”  I found out that these large keys are still used in tumbler locks in the Middle East, where they are known as “Egyptian locks.”  And the keys are actually carried over the shoulder, because of the weight of the iron or brass.  Some are 9 to 18 inches long and are bent near the end where the teeth are fixed.  They look like large toothbrushes.  A wooden box containing loose pins was attached to the inside of the door above the wooden bolt, or lock case, in which the pins dropped when the bar was moved to lock position.  When the key was withdrawn the bolt could be secured by sliding it horizontally into a position in which the pins dropped from the box into the slots of the bolt. To make the tumbler locks more difficult to pick, they were mounted on the inside of the door and reached by passing one’s hand and key through a hole in the door.

ancient lock and key

ancient lock and key 2

 The imagery of this type of lock and key system is much more vivid than that of our modern day mechanisms.  The reference material indicated that as key systems became more intricate, in the Middle Ages and beyond, wealthy people would often carry their keys on a chain around their necks, as a sign of the treasures they controlled.  But in ancient Israel, the burden of lugging a key on the shoulder was more akin to a duty performed by a servant – and would be a constant reminder of the humble task the “gatekeeper” performed for his Lord.

 Even the requirement to have to reach through the door slot to insert the key seemed to me much more clarifying of the active participation required of the one delegated to open and shut, to bind and loose Kingdom treasures.   While the treasures are readily available from the Throne room of God, we have to actively reach out and seek them ourselves – before we can open them up to others.

 Under the New Covenant, every follower of Christ is a “gatekeeper” with access to the treasures of the Kingdom.  And those treasures are many: the souls of the people to whom the Lord is sending us to preach the Gospel; the revelation knowledge of the Word of God; the gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit; the multitude of blessings that overflow from God to His people; and many more.

 This simple research on ancient locks and keys demonstrates how rich the Word of God is.  But often we need to put ourselves into the sandals of the writers in order to get the most out of each passage.  It takes extra effort – but the reward is great.

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