The Third Plague

 

 

 

I refuse to complain about the gnats.

 

Granted, I have noticed them. But, after the brutality of last winter, I have resolved not to complain about these tiny insects no matter how annoying they get.

 

Let’s recap for a moment: I have a half-mile driveway (which I will grant you I knew would require some “winter maintenance” when I built the place) but I also have a 7,000-pound tractor and I still had to pay someone with a bigger tractor to open up my driveway, not once, but eight times last winter! Twice last winter I elected to spend the night in a hotel in Mankato rather than drive home in a blizzard. My wife and I were snowed in every single weekend during the month of January! And then, once it was over, when it was truly supposed to be over near the end of March, it came back for another month! So we got the joy of two brutal winters. 

 

I am from here, folks. I was born and raised in southern Minnesota and I am no stranger to layers and layers of plaid flannel, wool socks inside of more wool socks, and the life-saving attributes of a good pair of winter boots. I can go on for a half-hour on the introduction to the topic of “Winter Survival.”

 

So, no, I am not going to complain about teeny little insects that I do not have to plow in the dark of night when the wind is blowing 30 mph with temperatures so far below zero your ears will fall off if you go out there without ear flaps lined with the fur of dead animals inside your hat!

 

And as long as I am on a rant, the insects currently afflicting us are not even technically gnats. A true gnat looks like a miniature mosquito and it doesn’t even bite people. The insects we are experiencing now are called black flies. There are over 2,200 species and they typically have a life span of 1 – 3 weeks. Most require a meal of blood in order to reproduce, and (get this) they are abundant this year because of the plethora of snow we had last winter which produced an abundance of flowing water which they need to grow and mature. (So, we are back to “blame the winter.”)

 

Now, we should note at this point that the plague of gnats was one of the plagues God instructed Moses to call down on Egypt when Pharaoh would not release the children of Israel from their slavery. 

 

There are two interesting things about the plague of gnats: 1.) This was the first plague Pharaoh’s magicians could not duplicate. Turning water to blood and bringing forth a plague of frogs they could do. Gnats, no so much. 2.) Due to the way ancient Hebrew is translated, the passages could actually refer to lice, mosquitoes, or gnats. Most current scholars side with the gnats. 

 

The really interesting thing about the plagues God sent out against Egypt was that each one of them was a direct assault on one of the fake gods worshiped by the Egyptians:

Hapi, the Egyptian god of the Nile, could not prevent the Nile’s water from being turned to blood

Hecket, the god of fertility, water, and renewal had the head of a frog. She could not stop the plague of frogs that stunk up the land of Egypt with their decaying corpses.

Geb was the god of the dust of the earth. Moses struck the dust of the earth to bring forth the gnats and all the dust in Egypt turned to gnats.

Khepri, the Egyptian god of creation, movement of the sun, and rebirth had the head of a fly. He was powerless against the swarms of flies the Lord sent forth.

Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of love and protection was usually depicted with the head of a cow. She was powerless against the death of all livestock.

Isis, the Egyptian goddess of medicine and peace was powerless against the ashes that turned to boils and sores.

Nut, the Egyptian goddess of the sky could not stop the hail that rained down in the form of fire.

Seth, the Egyptian god of storms and disorder, had no dominion over the locusts sent from the sky.

Ra, the sun god, was powerless against three days of complete darkness.

And finally, Pharaoh himself, worshiped as the ultimate god over Egypt, said to be the very son of Ra himself manifest in the flesh, actually spoke that last plague of death upon his own son and all the first-born sons of Egypt.

And he was powerless to stop it. 

 

All of this reminds me that I have much to be grateful for. A few gnats (okay, black flies) really aren’t the end of the world, nor was last winter. The end of the world will come at a time that only the Father knows and it will make the gnats, last winter, and the ten plagues of Egypt look like a vacation at the beach by contrast.

 

In the meantime, Kinship Christian radio and you and I are supposed to be urging people to come to Jesus before it’s too late. While one might be able to make the case that complaining about the gnats is “weeping with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) I think it’s safe to say we will probably win more souls by being the salt and light Jesus called us to be.

 

Today’s Praise

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Philippians 4:4 (NIV)

 

(Photo by author. The pile of snow in my yard on 3/1/2019 I named “Mt. Non-Dom.” It took over a month before it finally melted.)

 

Dear Aunt LouAnne,

 

Dear Aunt LouAnne,

 

Every year, you send me a birthday card with a letter in it. You have been doing this, as far as I know, since the day I was born.

 

In my sixty years of life on this planet, I cannot remember a single year when you failed to send me that card with a letter in it.

 

Your letters often tell how your children are doing, who came to visit you recently, what’s going on in your church or lady’s club, or what the weather has been like recently.

 

And every letter you’ve ever sent me always ends with, “Write or stop by any time.”

 

Aunt LouAnne, I know every one of those letters you’ve sent me has been written in love. 

 

So, thank you, Aunt LouAnne! Thank you!

 

Even though every time I read one of your letters I think to myself, “I should write her back.” I never get around to doing it. 

 

Still, even though you’ve sent me a letter every year for half of a century or more and never gotten a reply, you faithfully keep sending them out. You are diligent, patient, and relentless in your love for me even though I don’t deserve it.

 

Well, Aunt LouAnne, I am finally writing you back to say that your undying, unconditional love for me is exactly the kind of love Jesus calls us to have for one another. I am sorry it has taken me so long, but I love you too.

 

As long as I am making confession here, I should tell you that I write a blog for Kinship Christian Radio. I do this every Monday night. Yes, I sit down and faithfully write something every week and have been doing so for a number of years, and still I could not find the time to write to you. Yes, I know I majored in writing in college and still I could not find time to write to you.

 

In fact, this letter I am writing to you now is one I intend to use as a blog post for Kinship Christian Radio, so yes, I am actually doing the “two birds with one stone” thing. 

 

You see, this is June Letter Month at Kinship Christian Radio. Listeners to the radio station are encouraged to write in and tell the staff anything they want. 

 

For example, they might write: “Dear Kinship Christian Radio, All is well here. Got the garden planted a week late, but it’s growing well and the weeds haven’t gotten the best of me yet! (Ha, Ha!) We visited Tracy’s parents last weekend. They are fine. The weather has been good, with just enough rain for the garden, but it seems we have a lot of gnats lately. We’ve been blessed with good health and our church just finished up the Wednesday night Kid’s Church so the kids can have the summer off. We listen to Kinship Christian Radio every day and really appreciate the Christian music, preaching, and sharing from the announcers. Thanks! Keep up the good work! Love in Christ, Dan Jones <><” <–(I like to put that little fish at the end. You know how I am about fish.)

 

The reason I am writing you this letter and the blog at the same time, Aunt LouAnne, is because I think a lot of people who listen to Kinship Christian radio are in the same boat as I am with you: They want to write and sincerely intend to write, but they just keep putting it off and it never gets done. The next thing you know, fifty years have gone by and that’s a LOT of regret for what remains undone. I figured I would, once and for all, just do it! 

 

I should tell you that people who write in to the radio station and include a donation are able to pick a gift for doing so. They can choose one the following CD’s: 

 

So, God Bless you, Aunt LouAnne and THANK YOU for all those letters!

 

Write or stop by any time!

 

Love, Dan

<><

 

P.S. Please do NOT send me a gift for writing to you! The $5 you send in the birthday card every year is more than enough!

 

Today’s Praise

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Philemon 1:3 (NIV)

(Paul starts every one of his letters with “grace and peace to you.”)

(Photo by author.)

Words

There’s a lot of beautiful scenery in Israel, but it is in her people that its real beauty is found.

 

Talking to and having real conversations with some of those people was one of the greatest joys of my recent trip there.

 

In those tests they give to assess one’s gifts, I’m off the charts when it comes to “communication.” My wife will tell you she has spent innumerable hours waiting for me to quit talking to someone so we can go. There are times we have driven separately to the same event because she has somewhere she has to be and does not have time to wait for me to shut up and move on.

 

Yes, words are my gift and I really wanted to get to know the people of Israel.

 

But, how does a goofy-looking guy in a Hawaiian shirt start up a conversation with complete strangers in a foreign country?

 

It took me several days to figure it out, but the answer was this blog.

 

What I eventually did was very kindly ask passers-by if they had a moment to talk to me. I then explained that I wrote a blog for a Christian radio station in the United States. I added that every Christian brother and sister I knew back home supported Israel, would pray for Israel, and we all knew that our Bibles said that those who blessed Israel would be blessed and all who cursed Israel would be cursed. I would then ask them, “If you could say one thing to the Christians in the United States, what would you say?”

 

Out of the dozens I spoke to, only two did not have time to talk to me. The responses were all gracious and positive. No one had a negative comment and there were some common themes in the responses.

 

It wasn’t uncommon for Israelis to voice support for President Trump and the current political climate between our nations. More common were words of appreciation for our support and prayers for Israel.

 

“We very much appreciate you,” said a lady named Hadar in Tiberias.

 

A beautiful young couple on the beach in Tel Aviv said, “We are happy that someone cares about us.”

 

And more than one person urged Americans to come to Israel and visit.

 

But even more common was the thought that our common humanity, not religion, ought to unite us.

 

That’s actually a very good comment that opens a door into a conversation about the difference between “religion” and “relationship.”

 

I had a particularly enjoyable conversation like that with a husband and wife I met near the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Both were intelligent, articulate, and gracious. His name was Aaron and hers was Ayelet.

 

Aaron said, “I believe the people of the United States were chosen to be the graceful people in the imminent resurrection of the third kingdom of Israel.” He said he believed the USA was a “kingdom of grace.”

 

These were very kind comments and I thanked Aaron for them.

 

As our conversation grew deeper, Aaron and Ayelet described themselves as “religious” and  by this I knew they meant they were practicing Jews. It was never my intent to clash with them or anyone else in Israel, so I told Aaron that I had resolved not to argue with any Jew in Israel because, “After all,” I said, “your people are the people who invented how to win an argument.”

 

(I used this phrase on more than one occasion and every time I did so, the person would smile or outright laugh, as did Aaron.)

 

I explained that I had read in my Bible how Abraham had argued with God over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and had successfully “won” that argument.

 

The three of us went on to have a wonderful, deep, and genuine conversation about morality and God and religion. When it came right down to it, we agreed that we all believed what we believed after much earnest soul-searching and prayer. All three of us were truly seeking God’s heart.

 

And, in my heart, I loved those two people. Yes, I had only met them perhaps fifteen minutes before, but I looked in their eyes and deeply longed to call them “brother” and “sister.”

 

I asked, as humbly as I could, if they would pray with me that all three of us would spend eternity in heaven praising God. 

 

They agreed, and there in the night beside the Sea of Galilee, we prayed that prayer together. I tried to remember as I prayed that practicing Jews do not speak the name of God out of reverence but instead use “Hashem” (which means “The Name”) or “Adonai.” (Which means, “the Master.”) 

 

As we all said, “Amen” together, I trusted that the Holy Spirit would work out if and how that would come to be.

 

Today’s Praise

Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,

“I have been found by those who did not seek me;
I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”

Romans 10:20 (ESV)

(Photo by Jennifer Albright, used with permission.)

 

From the Lofty Heights

 

I’ve just returned from a two-week trip to Israel and my wife says I’m somewhat “emotional” about it.

 

That is an understatement.

 

The trip reduced me to a blubbering, sobbing ball of tears on more than one occasion. I’m talking multiple facial tissues here, folks. Torn-down, torn-apart, actual weeping. 

 

It started early in the trip on a hill overlooking Jerusalem. Those with me were praying and singing praises to the LORD, but my thoughts were still scattered by jet lag. I prayed for clarity and focus and almost immediately noticed the song we were singing urged the Holy Spirit to break our hearts for what breaks His. 

 

And that was it.

 

I was in tears. My heart was broken.

 

I stood up from the circle and moved away, embarrassed by my audible sobs.  I looked out over the Mount of Olives, over the Kidron Valley, over Jordan, over the vast expanses of Israel, over Jerusalem –and all the while a single word echoed in my head. 

 

Over and over, I heard Him say,”Come.”

 

“Come,” the Lord Jesus said, and the longing I felt for His people left me without words. 

 

And with it came the implication that He was coming back soon.

 

The second time was from my hotel roof.

 

I woke up at sunrise as usual, got ready for the day to come, and walked up to the roof. It was flat with a four-foot concrete wall all along the edge. I went to the corner that had the best view of the Sea of Galilee, removed my hat, bowed my head, and asked that my sins would be forgiven. As always, He did so before I finished the sentence. I raised my arms to praise Him with the sun rising over the waters He had walked upon and was immediately filled with joy and gratitude and this indescribable, holy longing for His people.

 

And, once again, I could not stop crying. 

 

Later that day, I stood on a knee-high stone wall on the Mount of the Beatitudes on the heights above that same lake with my arms raised in praise and I was brought to my knees with those same emotions. 

 

I left a puddle of tears on that stone.

 

There are many mountains and valleys in Israel, but until you’ve been there and seen the sweeping, glorious panoramas that fill this land that is the apple of His eye, until you’ve sung “HALLELUJAH” over the beauty of this land and heard your praises resound through those valleys and echo up unto His throne, there are no words for what His infinite love does to your heart. 

 

Well, there are no words of mine.

 

Today’s Praise

Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his hosts!

Praise him, sun and moon,
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the LORD!
For he commanded and they were created.
And he established them forever and ever;
he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.

Praise the LORD from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist,
stormy wind fulfilling his word!

Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Beasts and all livestock,
creeping things and flying birds!

Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and maidens together,
old men and children!

Let them praise the name of the LORD,
for his name alone is exalted;
his majesty is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
praise for all his saints,
for the people of Israel who are near to him.
Praise the LORD!

Psalm 148 (ESV)

 

 

(Photo taken by author from the Mount of Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee.)

National Day of Prayer

In my little Bible study group, I have (at times) been known as “the love guy.”

 

Its because the more we study our Bibles, the more I find that it really all does come down to love. 

 

I see it an almost every verse and every situation in the Bible.

 

God created the universe and everything in it out of love. His unsearchable, never-ending, infinite love spoke all this into being in love for His glory because at His very essence, He IS love. 

 

Throughout history, God’s people have gone back and forth between disobedience and repentance. From complaining about the manna, to sacrificing infants to idols, to killing His prophets, we have shown ourselves unworthy and undeserving of His love. But time and again, He has relented from His fierce and justifiable anger and saved us from ourselves out of that infinite love.

 

And the peak of that love, as you well know, was when He sent His only begotten Son to die for us on a cross and wipe away not only all our sins, but all our tears as well.

 

That’s why I think it’s so appropriate and such a good choice that’s been made by the National Day of Prayer task force for the verse that is being used for the event on May 2.

 

It’s what Jesus told his disciples right before He gave His life on the cross:

“Love one another. Just as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)

 

It’s a simple command, but so difficult to live out when life overcomes you.

 

But it’s what we are called to do. It’s how the world is to be able to know that we are His disciples, His followers. 

 

It’s the essence of this thing we call Christianity.

 

And so I urge you to participate in the National Day of Prayer by listening to Kinship Christian Radio on May 2, fasting if you choose to do so, and praying. A number of local churches and ministries will be holding events, which can be found on the Kinship Radio here: https://kinshipradio.org/home/national-day-of-prayer-2019/  You will hear Kinship Crossroads reports from some of these events throughout the day.

 

There’s also a wealth of wonderful information on the National Day of Prayer website. 

 

In the past, I have written prayers for this event, but the one on the National Day of Prayer website does not need editing or modification. Please join me in praying this prayer:

ALMIGHTY GOD, our Heavenly Father, we look to You alone for the future of America. By Your providence, You have placed each of us here at this time in history to be in this nation. Thank You for this blessing. Thank You for America.

BUT ABOVE ALL, we thank You for the gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. It is in His name, we come to You as we intercede in prayer for America.

FORGIVE US, OH LORD, for the sins we have committed against You in America. We are failing You by dishonoring one another through our harsh and bitter words about each other. We are failing You through broken relationships. We are failing You by devaluing human life from conception until death. We are failing You with the division in our nation.

LORD, WE TURN FROM these sinful actions and refuse to live this way. Please forgive us now and help us to choose love over hate, unity over division, and life over death.

WE CHOOSE to live by Jesus’ words: Love One Another. Therefore, upon the authority of Your Word in John 13:34, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you,” we pray for a future America that will choose to love willfully, sacrificially, and unconditionally just like Jesus loves us.

WE PRAY FOR THE CHURCH in America to love one another. Empower each church to be full of love for one another. Ignite a revival of love for one another. Since we are to be known by our love, help us to love one another.

WE PRAY FOR EVERY FAMILY, EVERY WORKPLACE, EVERY COMMUNITY, AND EVERY CITY IN AMERICA to choose love. We believe there is power in love. We believe love is the better way. We believe love is God’s Way. Oh Lord, change families, workplaces, communities, and cities through the power of love. Raise up a Love One Another movement across America.

WE PRAY FOR ALL ETHNICITIES AND PEOPLE IN AMERICA to love one another. Lord, tear down every wall of division and change any attitude that divides us today. Bind up our nation’s wounds and may the transforming love of God lead us to the day when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

WE PRAY FOR YOUR LOVE to surround America. We pray for Your love to surround and protect us in every public setting and private place. Protect us from harm.

WE BELIEVE ALL OF THESE THINGS, OH LORD, represent our deep need for the next great move of God across America. We ask You alone for the next Great Spiritual Awakening in America. Please, oh God, wake up Your church and revive Your people today. We ask You to begin a mighty spiritual awakening in every town, every city, and every county in America.

WE NEED AND DESIRE THIS SO MUCH, THAT BEGINNING RIGHT NOW, we are choosing love and forgiveness, love and restitution, love and healing, love and unity, and a future that will be transformed by the power of unconditional love. When we belong to You, we belong to love. We choose to Love One Another!

IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST, the only Savior and Hope in this world we pray.

AMEN!

Today’s Praise

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.  Philippians 1:9 NLT

Just as He Said

 

 

He is Risen indeed!

 

If you are a regular listener to Kinship Christian Radio, I’m sure you heard that phrase sometime last weekend.

 

It’s a common reply among Christians at Easter time, and it comes from Luke 24: 34: “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 

 

It takes place right after Jesus has walked with two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus and explained all the Scripture that told about His death, but they didn’t recognize Him until He broke the bread and blessed it.

 

It’s a wonderful, traditional Resurrection Sunday greeting and reply. In the history of the church, it is said to date back to when Mary Magdelene addressed Emperor Tiberius in Rome with the words “Christ is risen.”

 

But there’s another reply I’ve heard to “He is risen!” that goes, “Just as He said!”

 

And this one comes from the lips of an angel:

He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Matthew 28:6 (NIV)

 

It’s what the angel tells Mary Magdelene and the other Mary when they peer into the empty tomb for the first time.

 

Just as He said.

 

Scripture records a number of times when Jesus prophesied his own death.

 

The first occurred early in his ministry, some three years before they actually killed him. In John 2:18-22, Jesus tells the Jewish religious leaders of the day that the temple would be destroyed, but in three days he would raise it up again. Verses 21 and 22 read: But he was speaking of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he said this; and they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken.

 

Another instance occurs once again when Jesus is speaking to the Jewish religious leaders. They demand a sign of his power and he replies: “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12: 39&40 NIV)

 

Very shortly after that, Jesus and Peter have a conversation in which Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. And Scripture says, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Matthew 16:21 NIV)

 

It happens again, and Jesus is once again speaking to the Pharisees. He tells them he is the Good Shepherd, willing to lay down his life for the sheep, and then he says, The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:17&18 NIV)

 

Many of the instances are somewhat veiled and we know that the disciples didn’t fully understand what he was saying even when he said it very clearly.

 

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record  Jesus very plainly telling his disciples exactly what was about to happen as they walked into Jerusalem: Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” (Luke 18:31-33 NIV)

 

But Luke also records: The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.(Luke 18:34 NIV)

 

But just one day after He was crucified, while he was still in the grave, there were those who did remember: “The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ (Matthew 27: 62&63 NIV)

 

It’s why they posted guards at the tomb.

 

But it did them no good.

 

He had said it. He said he would rise again, and that’s exactly what happened because everything God speaks is a promise. Everything God says is true. It all comes to pass.

 

It is always just as he said.

 

Today’s Praise

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. 2 Corinthians 1:20 (NIV)

 

Victory!

 

One of the things I was taught in big-time professional writer’s school was that including things like smells in one’s writing makes it more real and “alive” to the reader.

 

That came back to me recently as I was reading John 11 where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. 

 

At verse 39, Martha tells Jesus that Lazarus has been dead for four days and by now he stinks.

 

As I looked into the verse in various translations of the Bible, I found that there were quite a few different words used to describe the odor. The most common translation was “stinks,” but there were quite a few other options. I found “an odor,” ” bad odor,” “a bad smell,” “a stench,” “decaying,” “terrible,” and “a foul smell.” The most politically correct description was in the Webster English Bible which uses, “his body is offensive” and the most graphic description was in the Aramaic Bible in Plain English which terms the smell “putrid.”  Not unexpectedly at all was the KJV which used “stinketh.” (Thanks to Bible Hub here for quickly and easily displaying 28 translations of the same verse at one time.)

 

But the point here is that Jesus did not just raise a dead man from the grave. He raised a rotten, stinking, putrid corpse back to life. 

 

And He did it in a very public, dramatic manner.

 

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” John 11:41&42 (NIV)

 

His detractors had heckled him before he said this and I can hear the derision, the mocking, in their voices as they said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (Verse 37)

 

So, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in front of God and everybody (Yes, I literally mean that.) his detractors ran and told the Pharisees about the whole incident like toddlers tattling to their mommies.

 

The Pharisees responded by calling a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

 

Yes, they called a meeting.

 

The Pharisees were still smarting from that whole incident where they kicked the blind man who had his sight restored out of the synagogue and Jesus told them they were the ones who were blind. (John 9: 30 – 40.)

 

How could they deny Jesus’ power now? Verse 48 says,

“If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” 

 

And there we have it. They were afraid everyone would believe in him now. It wasn’t about the truth.

 

It was about their power, their status, their prestige.

 

It was about their pride.

 

It’s always about pride. It always comes back to that first sin. 

 

The Pharisees had become accustomed to being not just God’s representatives, but (to some extent) gods themselves.

 

They called the shots. They decided what God thought and who God was. 

 

In raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus had virtually signed his own death warrant. 

 

They were fuming mad. They resolved that Jesus and Lazarus himself had to die. (John 12: 10&11)

 

And then, just days later, Jesus rides into Jerusalem with crowds shouting his praises and laying palm branches and their coats in the road in front of him. 

 

We all remember how the Pharisees told Jesus to silence the crowd and he told them if the crowd was silent “the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40) but let’s not forget that there were actually two crowds in this scene.

 

Crowd number one is coming out of Jerusalem to meet Jesus because they had heard of Lazarus being raised from the dead and crowd number two were the people who saw Lazarus resurrected. (John 12:17&18)

 

And Lazarus was in that crowd! 

 

So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (John 12:19)

 

The whole world.

 

And, to my way of thinking, that’s the closest they got to being right. They were getting nowhere because God had a plan. God had orchestrated and planned every facet of this.

 

They would be successful in killing Jesus, and they even had some idea that he had said he would rise from the grave because they took great pains to have guards posted so his body could not be removed from the tomb, but they had no idea that their opposition to Jesus was part of God’s plan for victory.

 

When Jesus begged the Father, in his very first words from the cross, to forgive them for they did not know what they were doing, that in itself was the beginning of the victory.

 

The Pharisees knew precisely what they were doing in having Jesus killed, but they did not know that he was indeed the very Son of God himself. They had convinced themselves that he was not. Their hearts had been hardened in an echo of Pharaoh’s hard heart thousands of years before this. 

 

And Jesus forgave the hardness of their hearts from that cross. 

 

But here’s the deal: We love to hate on the Pharisees and look down our noses at them, but not one of us are any better than any of them. The Pharisees arranged and plotted his crucifixion, but it was the crowd before Pilate that shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” (John 19: 15a) It was the crowd that chose a convicted killer and rebel over Jesus. It was the crowd that shouted, “Let his blood be upon us and our children!” (Matthew 27:25) 

 

There’s plenty of guilt to go around but the curse that crowd spoke over Jesus was actually the cure.

 

His blood spilled that day was and is our redemption. What we intended for evil, God intended for good because it is that blood that cleanses us and raises our dead, stinking, rotten corpses from the grave. It is the love of God in Jesus Christ that melts our cold, hardened hearts and gives us real, true life in him. 

 

Two thousand years later, Jesus is still who he said he was and he is still changing the world.

 

He IS the resurrection and the life! He DID step out of the grave on that glorious Sunday morning! Despite all the anger and the hatred and the mocking and the utter injustice and horror of what resides in our very souls, he rose in victory over all the evil that resides in each and every one of us.

 

HE IS RISEN INDEED!

 

Today’s Praise

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. Romans 8:11 (NLT)

 

But God

The Kinship Christian Radio Women’s Conference was last Saturday with over 700 women in attendance listening to featured speaker Liz Curtis Higgs, attending various mini-sessions, worshiping with Jillian Jones, enjoying delicious food, and generally being pampered and appreciated in many various ways.

 

I did not attend the entire event, but I was privy to approximately 100% of the process, planning, and logistics leading up to the event. My current level of research indicates the event was “fabulous as usual.”

 

So, certainly all involved in this mammoth undertaking deserve heartfelt thanks and appreciation. 

 

Liz Curtis Higgs is a renowned speaker, so I made a point of ducking out of folding chairs and tables to catch some of what she had to say.

 

I noted that, on more than one occasion, she referred to the twelve guys who followed Jesus around throughout his ministry as “The Duh-sciples.” 

 

Now, you might think I was offended by this as I very well could have been triggered by this obviously stereotypical  characterization of male intelligence (and at some point I may get around to that) but right now I’m still looking for a booth selling the Duh-sciple T-shirts.

 

If I can’t find the T-shirts, I may have to get a Duh-sciple tat instead.

 

It’s all good.

 

Anyway, She was indeed marvelous, brilliant, encouraging, thoughtful, and thought-provoking. 

 

When she talked about Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with a whole bottle of spikenard ($30,000 by today’s value and, yes, most translations simply call it “nard” but I’m in agreement with Liz here in that a perfume this rare and costly and expensive should not be called by a word that rhymes so closely with “lard.”) and how Mary used her hair to wipe His feet, she talked about how women in that place at that time just did not do that.

 

It was unheard of. It was not something “respectable” women did. It was scandalous. 

 

And she talked about how women think and act about their hair –that a woman’s hair is, well, personal.

 

And every woman (and every man) in the place knew what she was talking about.

 

And then she took off her wig to reveal how her own hair is thin and just recovering, just coming back, from cancer treatments.

 

Liz Curtis Higgs has survived cancer. Her oncologist says she has “No Evidence of Disease” in her anymore. 

 

She related how that is indeed glorious and God is to be praised, but when she first heard the doctor say that, she probably looked a little conflicted as a little piece of her said, “Oh, I guess I’m staying here instead of going to be with Jesus. Okay, Lord, I’ll stay here. I’ll stay here and do what you’ve given me to do.”

 

And Higgs said that when Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with that perfume, John writes that the fragrance of it filled the whole house. She said that it probably could have been smelled from a half-mile away.

 

Jesus himself said what Mary had done was intended for his burial and I remember reading somewhere that the aroma of such a generous outpouring of a beautiful scent like this probably was indeed still filling the air for many days afterward.

 

Beauty has a way of doing that.

 

Today’s Praise

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2: 4-7 (ESV)

 

The Amazing, Astounding … GOD!

(The Amazing Gary and Lame-O the Gring-O.)

While on a recent mission trip to Guatemala, one of the things I most enjoyed was a Saturday afternoon of fun, games, entertainment, and some Bible teaching  for the young ladies at Prince of Peace Home for Girls.

 

As I wrote last week, there are 43 girls at the orphanage and they very much loved and appreciated all we were able to share with them. 

 

One of our team members was a retired US Airborne Master Sargent. Gary had brought several magic tricks with him to amaze and astound the young ladies and he asked me to do something to get the girls warmed up for the magic show before he began.

 

Hence and therefore, I invented a stage persona for myself I called “Lame-O the Gring-O.” 

 

I reasoned that if I could mildly amuse the girls with some, shall we say, “less-than-perfect magic” prior to the “The Amazing Gary” it might just make him look a little better by comparison.

 

Now, the tricks Gary brought with him were actual magic tricks like the one where a ring is placed in a handkerchief and magically transports itself to inside a locked box and another one where a coin disappeared from a hanky and reappeared all the way across the room. (Come to think of it now, magicians do seem strangely fond of handkerchiefs.)

 

Anyway, I’m not sure if Lame-O the Gring-O accomplished his objective or just came off as pathetic, but I will let you decide:

For one of my tricks, I announced that I would demonstrate my psychic abilities. I called a girl out of the audience whom I knew to be very shy and reserved. As she stood next to me in front of the crowd, I bent down and asked her what her name was. When she replied, I loudly proclaimed, 

“YOU ARE EXACTLY CORRECT!”

 

I applauded myself and took a deep bow, while removing my hat to reveal a large letter “L” written in the center of my forehead.

 

I then asked her how old she was and, when she replied, I once again shouted,

“CORRECTO! THAT IS INDEED YOUR EXACT AGE!”

 

I then took another deep bow while shouting, “AMAZING! ASTOUNDING!! HOW DOES HE DO IT FOLKS?”

 

Then I said, “And now, young lady, I am about to read your mind without asking you to say a single word!”

 

She looked at me with no small dose of skepticism.

 

I began rubbing my temples, making it appear as if I were concentrating deeply. I may have added some low groaning noises for effect at this point.

 

“YES!! LAME-O is getting a message from your mind! Yes! I see it now…it’s becoming clearer, much clearer…..AH-HA! I HAVE IT!!” I then bent down beside the young lady and said,

“LAME-O sees that you are very, very uncomfortable, that you do not want to be up here right now, and … that you find LAME-O very, very strange indeed!!” IS THIS CORRECT YOUNG LADY?”

 

Of course it was. 

 

I believe there may have been an actual smattering of applause.

 

Gary went on to put on a superb magic show, which really did amaze and confound the girls. He turned his hanky into a magic wand, made a different hanky disappear, made a stack of nickels disappear, made another stack of nickels turn into teeny-tiny nickels, made coins disappear and reappear, made things magically change color, caused a ring to magically transport itself from inside a hanky to inside a locked wooden box, and made a coin magically disappear and reappear under a stack of dishes on the other side of the room.

 

He followed this with a heartfelt testimony of how Jesus had rescued him from a life of bitterness and pain and outright anguish. Jesus had healed Gary’s heart when he had every reason by human understanding to have turned out to be a very, very angry and wounded person.

 

And when Gary was done giving his testimony, we all knew God was the amazing, astounding One.

 

We all know that there’s some sleight-of-hand trickery involved in all “human” magic. Our skepticism of human magic is totally justifiable and reasonable because there is always something hidden, some element of deception. (I and all the guys in the men’s sleeping quarters knew this well because Gary had shown us the “secret” of each trick the night before.)

 

But we also know that salvation is not “magic.” We all know that the peace that passes all understanding that comes from knowing Jesus is not hidden in secret compartments or sewn into the corner of a trick hanky. We know that, even though our salvation is indeed supernatural, it was bought with a price and we are not our own. 

 

We know that our salvation comes from truth and justice and the Light of the World. Gary’s heart had been healed, not by any human magic, but by the supernatural love of Jesus Christ.

 

It’s the same supernatural power we hear on Kinship Christian Radio every day. Jesus is alive in the music, in the teaching, in all that goes out over the air, and in Him we have life.

 

Jesus is Lord!

 

HALLELUJAH!

 

Today’s Praise

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. James 1: 16-18 (NIV)

(Photo used by permission.)

 

 

 

 

 

Haunted

 

I’ve just returned from a week at Prince of Peace Home for Girls in Guatemala and I am haunted.

 

There is a spirit following me around and it won’t leave me alone.

 

Perhaps I should explain more fully:  Prince of Peace is an orphanage where 43 girls and young ladies reside.  I went there with 13 other people on a short-term mission trip sponsored by Bethany Global University. 

 

The mission team consisted of five students from BGU who are in various stage of being trained to be career missionaries, four members of Hope Community Church in Tennessee, Kenny Ortiz who teaches at Bethany and his friend James, our team leader Jim Levine and his wife Cherie, and one stray Dan Jones just because they let me go with them.

 

Truth be told, I had been to this same orphanage last year and I did not hesitate to go again when asked. Prince of Peace ministers to girls who have had horrific things happen in their lives. But love resides in this place and it is the pure, glorious love of Jesus Christ. All of the girls in this home have been sent there by the Guatemalan government, which speaks to what they have gone through. At one point, we learned that 97% of sexual assault cases go unreported in Guatemala, which mean that things have to go horribly, horribly wrong before a judge decrees that a girl or a young lady would be removed from her family. 

 

There are no foster homes in Guatemala and government-run orphanages are the stuff of absolute nightmares, so Prince of Peace is a remarkable blessing for those girls they are able to accept.

 

We spent some time painting interior and exterior parts of the orphanage, but our primary mission was simply to love them. After what these girls had been through, seeing and experiencing true, genuine love was something intensely valuable to them. What that looked like often involved things like ping pong balls, crayons, jump ropes, bubbles, aerosol string, balloons, and just plain fun.

 

Sometimes it was listening to them and praying with them. 

 

Sometimes it was just a simple, heart-felt hug. 

 

The hugs were not difficult to provide.

 

During the day, while the girls were off at school, we also had the opportunity to share the love of Jesus in another way.

 

Affiliated with Prince of Peace is the Church of the Fresh Presence, which meets on Wednesdays and Sundays in the orphanage’s “salon.” (I believe most Americans would call it “the lunch room.”) The church helps support the orphanage, and it also operates a ministry called PROVEE (from the Spanish word for “to provide”) which brings nutritious meals to children in schools. 

 

We were told that, for many of the children we would be feeding, the meal we would provide would be the only one they would receive all day long. We typically gave them bread, black beans, eggs, and fruit. 

 

To say that they were grateful is an understatement.

 

Even so, they typically waited patiently until all had been served and a prayer said before they began eating. 

 

The staff of the schools welcomed us and PROVEE because they have seen test scores, learning, and health improve since the children have gained better access to adequate nutrition. 

 

We were also allowed to share the Gospel in the public schools as the government of Guatemala, despite its flaws, does not fear Jesus Christ as ours does. 

 

Usually PROVEE provides breakfast, but one afternoon we took 280 sandwiches to a public school late in the afternoon. I was assigned to a classroom with what I seem to remember were second-graders and we shared the story of Noah and the flood with them. 

 

One little boy in the front row knew all the answers and boldly read all the Bible verses out loud. He also seemed to be the class clown. As he and I were laughing at one of his jokes, I could see some of his front teeth were broken off. I discreetly asked our Guatemalan interpreter about this and she explained that it was most probably one of the symptoms of malnutrition. On his desk was a large envelope with his name, “Daniel,” written on it.

 

My little namesake worked diligently on the word search activity we gave him. Some of his classmates came to him for help finding the words they could not find.  Later, they enjoyed their sandwiches very much. And I think they prayed with more gratitude over those sandwiches than many of us are able to muster over our best Thanksgiving dinners.

 

Daniel will probably never know that you read this and felt pity for him. He is not living a life of pity. People who love him are bringing him food and the love of Jesus Christ. There are people who are trying to make his life and the lives of many other children better one sandwich at a time. He is as enthusiastic and joyfully about being a seven year-old boy as any seven year-old boy I have ever met.

 

The people who are helping and blessing Daniel and the girls at Prince of Peace are not growing weary in this. They are not overcome by the evil around them and they know that the darkness can never extinguish the light that is Jesus Christ.

 

One night, we gathered together to talk over all that had taken place over the course of our day. As we sat around plastic tables sitting on plastic chairs in the Guatemalan night, Kenny told us he hoped, he prayed, that we would go home haunted by the Holy Spirit. He prayed that we would be forever changed by what we had seen and experienced. 

 

And then he told us that 42% of the world has never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He told us that the average American spends over $1100 per year on coffee while the average amount each American spends to bring that Gospel to unreached people is less than $30. We spend almost three times as much money every year on Halloween costumes for our pets than we do on telling people in other countries that all who believe in Jesus Christ will have eternal life.

 

And then Kenny said that he hoped we went home nauseated, nauseated, by the thought of acquiring more and more stuff to achieve the American dream knowing what we know and seeing what we have seen.

 

And so, yes, I am haunted. 

 

I am haunted by the Holy Spirit knowing that every song and every teaching I hear on Kinship Christian Radio about this incredible, glorious, life-changing, amazing love of Jesus Christ that puts a sandwich in the hand of little Daniel and rescues orphans from unspeakable evil is something that over three billion people have never heard about. 

 

And I would not be surprised to find that, one day when I am standing in heaven, I am introduced to a girl who was an orphan or a little boy with bad teeth named Daniel who took the Gospel to China or Afghanistan or North Korea. 

 

And I pray with all my heart, please Lord, grant that I was not sitting in my recliner with a TV remote in my hand eating junk food while they did it. 

 

Today’s Praise

Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? James 2:5 (NLT)

 

(Photo by Kelly Mills Davis. The child pictured attends a school where approximately half of the students have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. He’s been provided with a breakfast of a hard-boiled egg, bread, black beans, plantains, and an orange. His name is withheld for his own protection.)