God of the Valleys?

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in a three day Men’s Retreat based on the eye-opening book by John Eldredge called “Wild At Heart” (which is why I was unable to put up a new post last Sunday…so I apologize for that…I was busy “refilling my tank”). It was mostly about helping men to get in touch with the man that God created us to be. You probably have noticed (I know I have) that the world around us and modern society has created these false concepts of manhood and masculinity.  The results of all this societal pressure has been like a double-edged sword in a lot of ways, as so many men have not only had a hard time living up to these skewed images of manhood, but whenever they did try to fit into these more modern male images, it felt a lot like wearing a straight jacket. It probably made other folks happy to see it on…just not the one wearing it.

Needless to say, it was refreshing to hear that we don’t have to be Captain America or Captain Kangaroo….or anyone else for that matter. We just have to discover who God made us to be, as individuals, and do our best to walk in those shoes and we will be just fine. But enough about all of that. That was last week. I really wanted to talk about something a little different this week….mountains and valleys. 

Say what? Mountains and valleys? I know…but there really is a connection. Trust me.

So, every morning I take one chapter out of the Bible and I choose a portion of it and make a post on our Men’s Group Facebook page….and make a few comments about it….sort of like a casual online Bible study for the guys at our church. It has been a blast…I have really enjoyed it and I have learned so much by doing that on a daily basis….it has been amazing.

Right now, we are going through the Book of 1 Kings, which was written by the prophet Jeremiah. We were in Chapter 20, one day this week, and I came across this amazing passage. It was amazing because, at first, it did not seem to make any sense. But the more I studied it and pondered it…I began to see something that I think is pretty darn cool. Here is the passage:

At the turn of the year, Ben-hadad mustered the Arameans and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. Then a man of God came near and spoke to the king of Israel and said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because the Arameans have said, “ The Lord is a god of the mountains, but He is not a god of the valleys,” therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord .’” [1 Kings 20:26,28 NASB]

So there was this king of Aram. His name was Ben-hadad and he was going around to all the little tribes and nations around him….just “kicking butts and taking names”.  He was the “bully on the block”, you could say. And he was lookin’ to go after Israel next. He even sent a messenge to the king of Israel that they were coming to take their gold and silver, and their women and children too. And at first, it seemed that the king of Israel was going to agree to it (I’m guessing out of fear…since he saw what happened to all those other tribes and nations).  But when he took it to the council of elders, they loudly objected. So he agreed that they would fight Ben-hadad’s armies and God actually gave them the victory.

After that battle, Ben-hadad’s officers came to him and said, “Israel’s God is a god of the mountains. We cannot beat them there. We need to draw them out to the plains, away from their God. Then we will be able to defeat them.” So, they did try again and this time they were defeated even more decisively. Then, they decided to go and see if Ahab, the King of Israel, would be willing to make a peace deal with them and let King Ben-hadad live. And believe it or not, Ahab agreed and made a covenant with Ben-hadad and let him live.

What happens next is pretty bizarre (as if what has been happening up until now has been routine or normal). A prophet shows up and concocts this elaborate scheme to show Ahab the error of his ways….and Ahab walks right into it.

As it turned out, God was prepared to make Ben-hadad pay the ultimate price for saying the God of Israel was only a “god of the mountains”…and not the valleys, too.  So God was not pleased that Ahab was ready to make peace with an enemy of Israel, one that God was ready to judge for his unbelief. It turns out that Ahab, then, would be the one to be judged…and he knew it. After all, it says that Ahab did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than any of the other kings (and most of them were no peaches, either). Plus, we know Ahab was married to Jezebel…and she was no Mother Teresa, herself.

But it raised a question, at least in my mind. Why was it so important to the Lord to be recognized as both the “God of the mountains and the God of the valleys?”

Well, for starters, let’s see what King David had to say about the subject:

The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. [Psalm 24:1 NASB]

It seems pretty obvious that King David, a man who was said to be “a man after God’s own heart,” saw the Lord as much more than just a “god of the mountains.” He actually believed (and so do I) that the whole world and everything in it belongs to God, including all the creatures and all the people who have ever lived here. So, it seems that at the very least, the Arameans view that God was just a “god of the mountains” was an attempt at doing what so many still try to do today…to minimize who God is or cut him down to size and make us all, as the famous movie title suggests, “Children Of A Lesser God.”

If a person has spent anytime in church or reading the Bible, it probably did not take them long to begin to understand that God is not big on compromising who He is or “going along just to get along.” No, He is pretty firm on the whole “Lord of all or not at all” line of thinking.  But there is another facet of this whole “mountain and valley thingy” that I really want to touch on, if I may.

It has often been said that it is easy to praise God when you are on the mountaintop (when things are going good…let’s say).  But it is not always easy to do that when life drags you down into the “valley of death” (as David called it)…and it seems you are all alone in your pain and there is no end in sight.

Some have referred to this as the “dark night of the soul” and those who have experienced it might tend to agree with King Ben-hadad and the Arameans by saying, “God might exist on the top of the mountain, but He is nowhere to be found down here in the valleys of life.” Based on my experiences, interacting with God over the years, I would have to strongly disagree with that view. When I was going through the most difficult times in my life, I found that if I would quiet myself and listen, God was not only there with me, He was speaking to me quite clearly in His gentle and comforting voice. I was definitely not alone. That much I know for sure.

Another portion of Scripture from 1 Kings confirms this, as well:

So He said, “ Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord ; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.” [1 Kings 19:11-13 NASB]

You see, God was not speaking to Elijah through the strong wind, the earthquake or the fire. He spoke to Elijah through the “gentle blowing” and it says Elijah heard it and went out of the cave. God provided him with that “light at the end of the tunnel.” He did not leave him alone in his time of trouble and the Lord does not abandon us then, either.

While it is true, it may be harder to see Him or hear His voice when those strong winds are blowing or the ground is shaking beneath our feet, but He is right there working on our behalf every bit as much as when we are rejoicing on that mountaintop. I have no doubt.

Those who know me, know that I have a fondness for many of those classic, traditional hymns of days gone by.  The words and messages of those old hymns were so clear and so powerful, they never fail to touch my heart or, sometimes, even bring a tear to my eye.

One of those is a beloved song made famous by the gospel group, The McKameys, and has been sung by just about every other traditional gospel artist or group since. It is a song called “God On The Mountain.” I recently saw a documentary on this classic hymn and I was not surprised to find that the songwriter, Tracy Dartt, was in a pretty dark and deep valley in his life when God woke him up in the middle of the night and gave him the words to this amazing song in about twenty minutes, start to finish. Here are the words to the chorus of this famous hymn:

God on the mountain, is still God in the valley

When things go wrong, he’ll make them right

And the God of the good times, is still God in the bad times

The God of the day, is still God in the night

How’s that for putting a little icing on this cake. Now I can’t say for sure, but I would not be surprised to find that Tracy had been reading 1 Kings Chapter 20 around the time that these beautiful words to this hymn were penned. 

Isn’t that just like the Lord, who sometimes allows His children to go through a valley, so that they may come to know Him better and He can lead them back to the mountaintop, if they will only put their trust in Him?  I can confidently say from experience…yes..it is.

So how does this relate to the things we learned at the Men’s Retreat last weekend?  Oh yes, thanks for reminding me.

We heard from dozens of men, down there, who had spent much of their life “in the valley.” Poverty, bad neighborhoods, abusive parents (especially fathers), you name it. We heard it all. Some had spent their entire childhood there, feeling hopeless and seeing no end in sight. But God continued to love them (even if they did not know it at the time) and eventually He reached out to them and opened their eyes so they could follow Him out of the darkness and into the light.

And now that they know the truth, they have absolutely no doubt He was with them every step of the way.

They know first hand, He is certainly “God of the valleys,” every bit as much as He is “God of the mountains.”  But they had to go through the valley first, to see it.

BOB PALUMBO

Author of “Unlocking Creation” and “The Red Letter Parables”

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A Protest of Historic Proportions

Over the last fifty or sixty years or so, starting with people of my generation with the Civil Rights protests and later the Viet Nam protests, here in America we have become a nation littered with and, to some degree, paralyzed by too many protests to count. The sad part is that while we have a right to protest peacefully, to make our voices heard, many of the protests nowadays have become violent. And to me, it negates the purpose of the protest in the first place, because all anyone focuses in (after that) is the violence.

This Tuesday, October 31st, is Halloween of course. But that day also marks another very special anniversary, one from exactly 500 years ago.  On October 31st, 1517, a Catholic monk named Martin Luther (as the story goes) nailed a letter to the door of the church at the Wittenberg Castle, in Germany, containing 95 complaints against the seemingly ever-increasing power of the Pope, the use of indulgences (which are payments people would make to the Church to get special prayers…like getting loved ones out of Purgatory, for instance) and the idea that anyone other than God, Himself, can forgive sin (indulgences or not). It was these “Ninety-five Theses” (as they were called) that became known as the start of the Protestant Movement….a movement that is still going strong today, resulting in countless churches and denominations putting the emphasis back on the Bible (as the guiding doctrines) rather than church laws created by men. But what many people (myself included) have sometimes overlooked is that the word “Protestant” is derivative of the word “protest.” 

So yes…Martin Luther is considered the initiator, or father of a protest, one that became a world-changing movement that has continued for 500 years. That is pretty amazing…is it not? 

Before I continue, I do want to make it very clear that this in no way is meant to be an anti-Catholic post. My intent, here, is to focus on the boldness and bravery of a man who saw what he perceived to be injustice and the negative effects of unlimited power, even if that power was seated at the center of the most powerful religious organization in the world. Churches, not unlike people (since churches are made up of people), are never perfect. We have plenty of examples of this over the last 2000 years since Christ walked among us and I believe it is no less true today. So, this post is about those people, actually one man in particular, who have the courage and conviction to stand up and shine a light on those imperfections when they arise (as they most certainly will).

Let us, then, dig into the history and backround of this extremely pivotal figure of Christian and Church history:

Martin Luther (no middle name was given) was born on November 10th, 1483 to Margaret and Hans Luder (later it became translated as Luther) in Eiselben, Germany. Later his father, Hans, moved the family of ten to Mansfield, Germany, where he worked in the copper mines and later became a part owner and quite influential in the mining community. 

His father had big plans for Martin. He actually hoped he would become a lawyer and even sent him to a special school where he could study Latin at an early age. However fate, or as I prefer to say….God, had other plans. The following is from a great article on the life of Martin Luther that was printed in Christiantiy Today:

Then in 1505 his life took a dramatic turn. As the 21-year-old Luther fought his way through a severe thunderstorm on the road to Erfurt, a bolt of lightning struck the ground near him. “Help me, St. Anne!” Luther screamed. “I will become a monk!”

The scrupulous Luther fulfilled his vow: he gave away all his possessions and entered the monastic life. Luther was extraordinarily successful as a monk. He plunged into prayer, fasting, and ascetic practices—going without sleep, enduring bone-chilling cold without a blanket, and flagellating himself. As he later commented, “If anyone could have earned heaven by the life of a monk, it was I.”

It was that kind of laser-focused passion and discipline that lead to quotes like this one:

“At last meditating day and night, by the mercy of God, I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith. Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.”

How interesting is that? Raised in a very strict and ritualistic educational and religious environment for most of his early life, basically “doing all the right things,” it wasn’t until his journey of faith became more internalized, strengthened by a life filled with prayer and fasting and quietly seeking God directly and intimately, that as he said….he felt “entirely born again” and like he had “entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.” I don’t know if any of you have felt something like that, but the only thing I can compare it to (apart from my own “born again” experience in November of 1979) is when I first met my wife, Lauri Lee, in January of 1978. From that moment on, everything changed. All my dreams, my aspirations and priorities were still there, of course. But it was pretty clear they no longer were at the top of my “wish list.” She was.

And I suspect that is how Luther felt when those gates into God’s presence were flung open, as he said. The more time he spent in God’s presence, the more he wanted to be, I’m sure. There is nothing like it, not on this earth anyway. But, there was something else happening during this time of spiritual awakening in this young German monk’s life. The closer he got to God, with the help and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the more he began to see and understand that some were using the power and authority of the Church to manipulate the people into going along with rituals and practices that were not ordained by God, but by men for their own purposes. And I believe it was this intimate relationship with God, that God initiated through a well-timed and targeted bolt of lightning, that made it hard for Marin Luther to stand back and not, at least, address these practices. And as we know, he did not remain silent.

But the “Ninety-five Theses,” as they have come to be known, were not Luther’s resignation letter. He was not informing them that he was leaving the monastery, quite the contrary, actually. His intent was to make his concerns known, while making it clear that what he was looking for was continued discussion and hopefully some resolution on these very important matters of faith. But what happened, as you might expect, was quite the opposite. Luther was quickly dubbed, by the powers that be, as a “troublemaker” and even was called a heretic.

A year later, in November of 1918, after there was much “dust kicked up” by Luther’s assertions among the political and religious elite in Rome, he was summoned to appear, thoroughly and harshly interrogated, and subsequently determined to be in serious conflict with the teachings of the Church. His complaints had risen to the level where Pope Leo insisted that Luther be instructed to no longer speak in public about his beliefs. It is also fair to say that the instruction sounded an awful lot like a threat and Luther had good reason to believe his life and well-being was hanging in the balance, should he choose to ignore their instructions.

What is interesting is that while Luther reluctantly obeyed their request, many others who sided with Luther, took up the fight for reform. A fire had been started and it was not one that the Church could easily extinguish. But Martin Luther was quite different than many of the other reformers of the day. While most of them were pointing at the corruption and sin among the Church leaders, Luther was primarily focused on the doctrines and practices. His fight was not one of “personal attacks and accusations.” He only wanted get back to honoring God’s Word as the guiding principles of the faith, not the rules and laws of man (which are subject to the winds of change). The commandments of God, of course, are not.

Luther returned and remained as part of the monastery in Wittenberg for many years after the protest began and I have to say that is one of things about Martin Luther I was most impressed with. He strongly protested against the practices of the Church, but he was not intent on tearing down the walls or the people who reacted so bitterly against him (which, again, I suspect was a byproduct of that deep and intimate relationship with the Lord through the Holy Spirit). No, he continued to quietly write and work towards resolution and continued to try to go through the proper channels to voice his concerns. 

Unfortunately, the Church was not willing to change and the seeds of reformation had already taken root and spread to England, Scotland, Ireland other parts of Europe. It was these seeds of reformation that set the stage for others like John Calvin, John Knox, Huldrych Zwingli and many others to step forward over the next 100 years or so.

But, there was one other story (a good story..not a bad one) about Luther and his relationship with one of the nuns, Katherine of Bora, who also stayed in town long after many others had fled because of the controversy. But, I will let the Encyclopaedia Britannica tell the story because they did so much better than I can:

On June 13, 1525, Luther married Katherine of Bora, a former nun. Katherine had fled her convent together with eight other nuns and was staying in the house of the Wittenberg town secretary. While the other nuns soon returned to their families or married, Katherine remained without support. Luther was likewise at the time the only remaining resident in what had been the Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg; the other monks had either thrown off the habit or moved to a staunchly Catholic area. Luther’s decision to marry Katherine was the result of a number of factors. Understandably, he felt responsible for her plight, since it was his preaching that had prompted her to flee the convent. Moreover, he had repeatedly written, most significantly in 1523, that marriage is an honourable order of creation, and he regarded the Roman Catholic Church’s insistence on clerical celibacy as the work of the Devil.

Martin would go on to live another 21 years after marrying Katherine (which showed he had compassion for those who were negatively affected by his activities, I think) before passing away in 1546 and being memorialized and buried at the Wittenberg Castle, where the protest began (which is pretty incredible too). But in those remaining years he continued to write and teach others and even worked on his own translation of the New Testament in the German language, which further solidified his stance that God’s Word, the Bible, is the only reliable measuring stick for church doctrine, not rules and laws contrived by fallible men or women who may have their own well-being at heart.

Today, one only has to drive down the streets of any town or city to see the ongoing effects of Luther’s peaceful, but persistent protests. You will see Protestant churches of many different variations such as Lutheran, Presbyterian, Calvinist, Reformed and many non-denominational churches all united by one core belief…the Bible is foundation and the blueprint for our faith. 

As the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, his disciple:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” [2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV]

BOB PALUMBO

(author of “Unlocking  Creation” and “The Red Letter Parables”)

Life…”Leased” or “Owned”?

So, the other day, I stumbled upon on the phrase, “new lease on life.” Of course, I had heard it a million times before as most of us have, I’m sure. But this time, it made me stop and think, “Really? Does life come with a lease? Is not my life my own?” Good questions.

This commonly used idiom (I know it’s an “idiom” because I found it on a “list of commonly used idioms”…lol) is often used when a person discovers a “renewed zest for life” or after bouncing back from a life-threatening accident or disease and they begin to embrace life in a way they had not previously…at least in a long time. At any rate, while I had a pretty good idea what the phrase meant or implied, I was still curious why folks would use the words “new,” “lease” and “life” in the same sentence.  I mean, if I am thinking correctly, you really have no need of a “new lease” on anything unless there was an old one that has expired or is about to, right? Well, you know me, that’s all I needed to get me off and running looking for answers to these questions. 

What could one possibly have to do with the other, I thought.  The word “lease” means there is an owner of whatever is being leased and they are just agreeing to let someone else use it for a period of time, in exchange for payments usually. You might lease a car or an apartment, especially if you cannot afford to buy it outright. It is very similar to renting, actually, in that you pay for it while you are using it, but you never fully take ownership of it. It, then, must be returned to the owner, when the agreed-upon time comes.

While most of us understand the concept of renting or leasing, I’m sure we rarely have ever thought of it in regards to this human life we enjoy for a little while, here on Planet Earth. And that is what is prompting me, today, to ask the sixty-four thousand dollar question…”Is life…human life…this life we all have experienced…owned (by the one living it) or leased (from someone else).” And, of course, if it is leased from someone else, is there a cost or trade-off associated with it?

If we listen to the modern-day prophets, such as Eric Burdon or Jon Bon Jovi, you are likely to hear things like….”It’s my life and I’ll do what I want…” or “It’s my life….it’s now or never…I ain’t gonna live forever…I just wanna live while I’m alive…” Even if you listen to such revered voices as Frank Sinatra or Billy Joel , you’ll hear…”I planned each charted course…each careful step along the byway. And more, much more than this..I did it my way” or “I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life. Go ahead with your own life and leave me alone.”  My intent is not to criticize these popular singers who sing popular songs. That is all well and good. Over the years, I have sung most of these songs, myself. But you get the idea, from the lyrics, that “being the master of your own destiny” or “being true to yourself, first and foremost” are concepts that many people embrace these days.

But is that why we are here? I guess that question leads to a greater question, how did we get here, in the first place? You see, from the very beginning of time (speaking of earthly time), there was this duality of ideas regarding our origins and our allegiances. Did we just come into existence as a result of a series of random events that were not planned or designed by someone or something that may have existed long before what we call “the beginning of time?”  If so, then maybe “looking out for number one” is a logical development since we, then, would not indebted to anyone for our existence or well-being.

However, there is another train of thought that suggests there may have been a plan, a design, or intentionality to the appearance of life on Earth. King David, who penned many of the Psalms, summed it up this way:

“The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas And established it upon the rivers.” [Psalm 24:1-2 NASB]

What pops out to me, almost immediately, from this famous portion of Scripture is the idea of “ownership”.  It does not say that the Lord used to own everything, but somewhere along the line He willed it to us, His children, and now it all belongs to us to do with as we wish. No, David clearly pointed to God as the past owner, present owner and future owner of all things. He has not relinquished His ownership. Therefore, we are not owners of this world or our own lives. It all belongs to Him.

If we go back to the creation of all things, we see as early as the second chapter of Genesis, God imparting life to us, as humans, by breathing into Adam’s nostrils causing him to “come to life.” Let’s take a quick look at the words Moses wrote, regarding the creation of the first human being:


“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” [Genesis 2:4-7 ESV]

For those who may not be Greek or Hebrew scholars (I am not either, but over the years I have learned just enough to be able to pretend I am), it is interesting that the Greek word for breath and for spirit is the same….pneuma. And it is also thought by many that the body, by itself cannot be considered “alive.” It can only “come alive” once it is indwelled by a soul or spirit which happens (at least in Adam’s case) as a result of breath entering the body. No breath. No life. 

So you can see why the telling of how God breathed into Adam’s nostrils was such an important part of the creation story. For God not only formed Adam’s body out of the dust of the earth, He breathed life into Adam’s lungs and human life began. It is why we often refer to the Lord as “the giver of life.”  He was involved in every phase of creation, not just the planning and designing of how things should work, but He formed them and breathed life into them, as well. No wonder, then , that David said, “All things are His.”  Without the Lord’s desire to create the universe and all that is in it, none of us would exist.

“All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” [John 1:3-4 NASB]

Here, John is talking about Christ being with God in the beginning and being the One through whom God created all things. Once again, we are taught that life was “in Him” and apart from Him there was no life. So once again, God is the source of life, the originator and the sustainer of life. 

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. [Romans 11:36 NASB]

Sometimes, I like to think of the life-giving power of God as an electrical circuit. Think of God as the battery or the source (apart from being connected to the source of the power, the circuit could accomplish nothing on it’s own). But as the power flows out from the source and through the circuitry, overcoming some resistance along the way…(a little electrical joke, there)…it can accomplish some amazing things. 

It seems only fitting, then, that we should get another life-giving quote from David and his psalms: 

“You are the giver of life. Your light lets us enjoy life.” [Psalm 36:9 NCV]

So, to sum up what we have talked about so far, David made a case for God as “owner” of all things, Moses relayed the story of creation and how God breathed life into Adam, portraying Him as the “source” of life itself, John taught us that life was “in Him” (Christ) and that it was the light of men. Paul added that life was not just from Him, but through Him and would eventually return “to Him,” just like the electricity in that electrical circuit we talked about. And lastly, David chimes in again by referring to the Lord as “the giver of life.” 

But like the Apostle Paul said, all things are not just from Him, but also shall eventually return to Him. They are all still His possession. It was God who chose to share the miracle of life with us, here on Earth, for a little while.  You see, not unlike a lease, life is only given to us, here, for a brief period of time. Then, it shall return to it’s rightful owner, God Almighty.

So if that is true, what was the purpose? Could it be that the Lord wanted to see what we would do with this life, before making a long term and permanent commitment to us?

Would we use our time on Earth to advance our own agendas, grab all the gusto we could for ourselves….as if there is some prize at the end for the one who dies with the most possessions? (NEWSFLASH…you can’t take it with ya!!). Lord, I hope not. may it never be.

But in closing, I would like to mention one other aspect of many lease agreements. Often, there is an option included in a lease agreement that makes it a “lease with option to buy.” That means at the end of the lease, as with my leased car, I have the option of paying off the remaining balance of a pre-determined price to buy the car. If I choose to do so, then the car would no longer be leased. I would own it. I would not have to turn the car back in to the owner. I would get to keep it.

Well, what do you know, if we look at the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it seems there may be an “option to buy” included in the lease agreement that God issues on our lives:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. [1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NASB]

But wait, it gets even better (if the words of the Apostle Paul, here, are true):

1) Yes….I believe our lives “are not our own”…it  is a lease arrangement, if you will, with God as the “lessor” and you and I as the “lessee.”

2) This lease agreement between us and a God apparently is a “lease with option to buy.”

3) The “good news” is that you and I do not have to come up with the full remaining balance to take  permanent (eternal) ownership and no longer be under the terms of the temporary lease agreement. Jesus Christ has already “paid the price…in full.” As the Apostle Paul said, we have been “bought with a price”.

4) You see, Paul also said in His letter to the Romans, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The full “payoff” for the sins of the world was allocated through the Cross of Calvary. Our part, in this transaction, is simply “believe and receive” this miraculous gift.

5) Once Christ’s blood is applied to the “lease agreement” over your soul, you no longer owe a single penny…the “buy option” has been enacted and you get to keep…wait it gets better still…God is not going to just let you keep this old body (with all the mileage, scratches, dents and rust)…when you enter His Kingdom, He will issue you a brand new one…one with zero miles and one that will never deteriorate…that you get to keep forever. There will no longer be a “lease termination date.”

Is that cool or what? No wonder we Christians get all excited and want to share the “good news” with everyone we know.

It is the best “lease agreement” the world has ever known.

And the “buyout option” is truly……..out of this world!!!

BOB PALUMBO

(author of “Unlocking Creation” and “The Red Letter Parables”)

C. S. Lewis and “The Great Trilemma”

Back in the early 1940s, world-renowned scholar, beloved author and one of the most quoted Christian apologists ever (at least of the modern age), Clive Staples Lewis gave a memorable series of BBC radio broadcasts that were later collected and formed into what has become one of the most read and revered books on the foundations of Christianity ever published. The radio messages entitled, “The Case For Christianity” (1942), “Christian Behavior” (1943), and “Beyond Personality” (1944) were originally published as three separate pamphlets, before finally being released as the book “Mere Christianity” in 1952. The book is still widely read, debated and taught today….and mostly loved as a true Christian Classic.

Three things, in my opinion, make these messages quite special:

1) They came at the height of World War II, while the world was looking for answers and, more importantly, some form of hope that would endure beyond the darkness that surrounded them at that time in their lives.

2) They came came at a time when Lewis was a highly regarded professor at Oxord University in London.  The interesting thing about Lewis’s journey was that he came to be one of the most famous Christian authors and philosophers after spending most of his life as an atheist. 

3) And so for me, the icing on the cake was that this book became the “go to book” for those who were new to the faith and those who were seeking to know more about God and the one we call our Savior, Jesus Christ. In these messages, Lewis focused on the core values and basic principles of the faith to make his case (and he did so quite convincingly), while shying away from the more controversial aspects which might only cause more confusion and skepticism.

But there is one section from this book that seems to get quoted and debated as much as any other theological quote I can think of. He proposes a line of reasoning regarding the central issue of whether Jesus Christ was actually “God in the flesh” (as it appeared He often claimed to be) or was He something else altogether. Lewis presented what he saw as three possible views of Christ’s words and by boiling the possibilties down to these three options, I’d say it was a masterstroke of genius because the reader is quickly relieved of the need to sort through a much larger basket of possibilties by focusing on just a few choices that neatly bundle all the others together, making a final choice easier to arrive at. And is that not the primary goal of these messages, to bring the reader closer to a decision that is not only spiritually wise, but logically wise, as well?

What is also interesting about this “three-pronged theory”, or “The Great Trilemma” (as it has come to be known), is that Lewis was not the first to offer up these three options as a way of helping us to zero in on the truth. Around 1860, a Scottish preacher named John Duncan formulated what he called “the trilemma.” His three choices were “a fraud, self-deceived or Divine.” Then, in 1936, famous Chinese preacher and author Watchman Nee (in his book “Normal Christian Faith”) gave us three similar choices…”madman or lunatic, liar or God.”

But what makes Lewis’s version so memorable and endearing, I believe, is his frank and relatable way of writing (or speaking, in this case since these were originally radio messages). There was way in which he made his thoughts clearly understandable to the common man (pretty amazing for a man of his intellect and stature, I think), while sharing some pretty deep thoughts in the same breath. Here is his version for you, in case you never heard or read the whole thought process before. It is pretty entertaining, if you ask me:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [that is, Christ]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse…. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” [C. S. Lewis from “Mere Christianity” 1952]

So, I thought it would be fun to do a deep dive on these three possibilties and see not only what we can make of them, but what the people of Jesus’s time thought about Him, as well.

1) Jesus was a lunatic, a madman or just plain crazy.

Well, in the days when Christ walked the earth, there were all kinds of fanatics spreading all kinds of “belief systems”. Not just the Jews, of course, but many others as well. And many of them were not thought to be “playing with a full deck,” if you know what I mean. There were spiritualists, conjurers, magicians and makers of potions…all claiming to have some inside track on revelations regarding God and how we were to relate to Him.

There had been golden cows, graven images, goddesses, false prophets and just plain old “false dieties” that could be found and worshipped in the days leading up to and during the time of Christ. So I guess we could not really blame some of the people and the Pharisees for trying to pass him off as just another “flavor of the month.” But, many of them sure hoped He was.

Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. [Luke 11:14-16 ESV]

So, if nothing else, they were trying their darnedest to “cut this guy down to size” (as many still are today), because if His claims of being God in the flesh started to get traction with the people, their traditions, their feasts and the religious stranglehold that the Jewish hierarchy had over them would all loose their power. The gravy train would be over and they were not about to let that happen.

2) Jesus was a liar, both intentional and flagrant.

The word they used back then for misrepresenting God, for claiming to be sent from God (when you were not) or especially claiming to be God in the flesh, without valid proof of such claims was “blasphemy.” It was a charge that was punishable by death and, in fact, it was the charge that the Jewish leaders used to turn Jesus over to the Romans to be put to death.

You see, when He said things like “I am He” to the Samaritan woman at the well or “Before Abraham was, I am” as He did in John Chapter 8, plenty of eyebrows were raised by people saying, “Who does this man think he is? God?” Keep in mind, in the Old Testament, the words “I AM” (short for “I AM WHO I AM”) were known as the name of God, the name God revealed to Moses [Exodus 3:14]. So yeah, people did not say “I AM” loosely (at least in references to God) for fear of being charged with blasphemy. If, in fact, you did not have evidence to back up your claim, you did not want to go there. And Jesus knew this, of course, but He also knew the truth and He was well aware of his fate. He had a mission to complete and nothing on Earth or in Heaven was going to keep Him from accomplishing that which He was sent to do. But none of that, of course, kept the people or the Jewish and Roman leaders from doubting His words.

3) Jesus is who He claimed to be, Lord and God (“Immanuel..God with us” from Matthew 1:23).

The people who walked among Christ in those days certainly had a daunting task ahead of them. Could they afford to quickly write him off as a liar or a lunatic? Afterall, their eternal fate depended on their decision? And for that matter, so does ours, today. What about all the miracles, the healings and raising people from the dead? What about the power and authority that seemed to accompany His words of wisdom to those who heard Him speak (and for us..when we read them even today)? What if He was God? Refusing to believe Him would probably not end well, in the long run.

This was and is, in fact, a great trilemma….and the stakes could not be higher. Our place for all of eternity depends on which answer we choose to believe. 

If nothing else, I would think a close and thorough look at all the facts is merited.

You certainly would not want to find yourself before the judgement seat of God saying, “Yeah, you are right, God. I should have probably looked into it all a little deeper. My bad.”

C. S. Lewis closed out this famous quote with a pretty convincing final point, if you ask me:

“But let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher (or just a liar or a lunatic). He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

No…if you look at the whole Gospel message and consider the complete body of work of Jesus Christ, the first two options seem verily flimsy with very little evidence to back them up.

The third option, though, that Jesus is indeed Lord and God seems extremely credible. His divine words and His miraculous works, not to mention the fact that He walked through this world without committing a single sin or dishonoring His Father even once…makes it all pretty hard to just toss aside. I am fully convinced that the evidence bears Him out. 

And if, in fact, He is who He claimed to be…..what choice do we have but to “fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God?”

I see no other choice. And after thirty-eight years of contemplating this “great trilemma,” the choice has only become clearer and clearer over time…to the praise of His glorious name.

I believe it with all my heart.

BOB PALUMBO

(Author of “Unlocking Creation” and “The Red Letter Parables”)

Prayers and Thoughts…Insufficient?

First, I want to say, my heart is deeply saddened by not only the horrific events in Las Vegas recently, but also the overall trend over the last 18 years or so (since the massacre at Columbine High School) to more and more…and seemingly worse and worse mass shootings in this nation. It truly breaks my heart to see the United States of America, that “shining city on a hill” and “beacon of hope and freedom” to so many, deteriorate to the point where human life has become so devalued, as a society, that it has now become a political bargaining chip or something that can be “snuffed out” to make an exclamation point to any statement some radical or nut job wants to make. This is especially painful when we realize that our nation was founded on the principle of making “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” the core values of our society. Oh, how far we have fallen. And it does not seem, right now, that there is any light at the end of the tunnel….does it?

But, I did not want to make this post another commentary on the tragedy in Vegas. I wanted to try to look beyond it…hopefully to something more positive. So let me try.

There was one thing that stuck out to me in all the opinions and talking points that erupted, as they always do, after such a tragedy. It seemed that many, especially the late night talk show hosts, wanted to sarcastically (almost mockingly) make light of the fact that so many, including President Trump, were offering their “prayers and thoughts” for the victims, the families and others who were impacted so powerfully and permanently by these senseless shootings. It was almost like they were suggesting that when someone offers “thoughts and prayers,” they seem willing to offer empty words that change nothing, but were unwilling to help in any real way. I know their concern and outrage is real, as it was with all of us, but I couldn’t help but notice the common theme of minimizing the power of real and reverent prayer to God. Let’s take a look at a few of their comments.

“So, with all due respect: Your thoughts and your prayers are insufficient (Mr. President)…and lately, it feels like someone opened a window into hell.” Jimmy Kimmel  (“Jimmy Kimmel Live”)

“If it’s going to be ‘thoughts and prayers’ from here on out,” Meyers said, “the least you can do is be honest.” Seth Meyers (“Late Night With Seth Meyers”)

“To the people of Las Vegas, I can’t give you thoughts and prayers. I can only say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry we live in a world where people will put a gun before your lives,” Trevor Noah (“The Daily Show”)

“The sounds of those automatic weapons last night are grotesquely out of place in a civilized society. It makes no sense to me as a reasonable human being and a father,” he continued. “Something needs to change.” Conan O’Brien (“Conan”)

I know, primarily, these statements were pointed towards the President and Congress for doing nothing, in their opinion, to stop gun violence in our country. But it hit a nerve with me regarding something I have thought about over the last few months, even pointing a probing finger towards myself.  I believe in the power of prayer, very much so, yet when I hear of someone I know passing away or enduring hardship, how many times have I flippantly said, “Prayers and thoughts for you and the family.” Sure, I am truly concerned for them, but I quickly offer these words almost as if to say, “There, I have done my part.” Sometimes, I have even thought back about it afterwards and realized….”Oh, my goodness, I told them I would pray for them and I never did.” Of course, it wasn’t intentional, but I felt like I made a promise and didn’t keep it. That is just not acceptable, if you ask me, and I have certainly been guilty of that. I believe true prayer helps and, in those situation, real prayers are needed and appreciated, no doubt. 

But, if that is the kind of prayer those TV personalities were talking about, the kind of prayer that is not prayer at all, but more like unkept promises to pray or just nice-sounding words of consolation, then I agree with them. That type of prayer is insufficient…or maybe it would be better to say…nonexistent. It solves nothing.

But maybe we should talk a little bit about what prayer really is. Of course, different faiths approach prayer differently, but I want to talk about the kind of prayer that it talks about in the Bible. Conversational prayer…talking to God honestly and sincerely, from your heart. Let’s take a look at some quotes from Scripture to help clarify what biblical prayer looks like.

“Hear me as I pray, O Lord. Be merciful and answer me! My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me.’ And my heart responds, ‘Lord, I am coming.’” [Psalm 27:7-8 NLT]

This psalm was written by King David (a musician and songwriter, too, works for me). He describes the “give and take” of prayer beautifully. First David asks God to hear him when he prays. God answers (not some underling or angel)…”Come and talk me.” David responds from his heart, “Lord, I am coming.” It appears God Almighty, then, has an “open door policy” and even more importantly, “open ears” towards His children. He implores us to “come and talk.”

“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 4:5-7 ESV]

This was the Apostle Paul, again, telling us to “be anxious for nothing, but…let your requests be made known to God.” When we are concerned or sad…or even anxious about something, we are taught to tell God what we are feeling, to be honest and make our requests known to Him. He is a “Good, Good Father” (as the song says) and He wants us to come to Him and share our hearts.  Now, just like the title of the 60s TV show “Father Knows Best” suggests, He may not always give us what we want because our ways are not always His ways. But He will always give us what we need at the appropriate time. That much I know from experience.

Jesus actually talked quite a bit about prayer in His famous Sermon On The Mount:

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father…do not heap up empty phrases (as some do) for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” [Matthew 6:6-8 ESV]

When we talk about this stuff, we should always remember that “God looks at the heart.” Jesus was fully aware of this, too, which is why He basically said, “It is not what comes out of your mouth that matters, but what’s in your heart. And God already knows what is in your heart before you say it.” So, sprucing it up with a bunch of pretty-sounding words and religiosity might tickle peoples’ ears, but it will not increase the likelihood of God answering those prayers. He has already decided how to respond to your requests. What God is after is our participation. When we talk to Him and make our requests know, we become part of the solution. We are agreeing with Him and inviting Him to be involved. He wants to be, but He is not inclined to show up without an invitation. Jesus went on, in the next chapter, to clarify a little further:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? If you then, who are evil (sinners) know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” [Matthew 7:7-9, 11 ESV]

Again, it seems what God wants is our partnership, our participation. He wants to give good things and do good things for His children, but do we truly want Him to? Or would we rather take matters into our own hands and do things our way? It is an important question. I have heard some people say, “I’m just afraid if I turn this over to God in prayer, I might not like the answer.” Good point. Praying means you want God to have His way in the matter, trusting His way is best. Do you? 

If so…pray away. Pray with confidence that He is listening, because He is and His answer is already on the way. But, remember, God is not Amazon Prime. He does not guarantee two-day delivery. Some patience and persistence may be required, Ok?

So, back to the original question…is prayer insufficient, or powerless, or maybe just nice, but empty words meant to make someone feel good…a thoughtful gesture, but not much more than that? I would point to the Apostle James, the half-brother of Jesus, and see what he had to say on the subject.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” [James 5:16 NASB]

It makes me think that if a person is sincere and honest and doing their best to seek God with their whole heart (none of us are perfect, obviously, and we all fall short at times), I believe He will not only hear those prayers, but answer them according to His will.

I would agree, to a point, with those talk show hosts about one thing. God’s Word is clear that what the Lord desires from us is not just our prayers, but our participation in spreading God’s love and grace to others, as well. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Faith without works is dead,” which means that having faith or praying for others is not an excuse to stand back and not get involved in God’s work. So yeah, if we are only willing to pray, but not willing to be an active part of trying to solve the problem or meet the need, your prayers will likely not accomplish much, as James suggested.

But we should never underestimate the power of prayer…real prayer, that is.

However, it is not up to me (or anyone else) to decide if your prayers are sincere or honest. That is between you and God. Only He knows what is in your heart. I sure don’t.

But this much I do believe, God wants His children to talk to Him, as you might talk to your earthly father, mother or a friend. And He wants to talk with us. 

I consider that a great honor, one that I am thrilled to take part in every chance I get.

I would hope, and yes, pray that you would consider it an honor and privilege, as well, because I believe that once a person truly encounters God’s mercy and His grace, they would have no doubt about the power of prayer. They would have experienced it, first hand, in their own lives.

And trust me, these days, this world and our nation needs a lot of prayer.

We could use your help.

BOB PALUMBO

Author of the new book, “The Red Letter Parables” (coming soon)

OFFENDED??

As I look at the news in America these days, I cannot help but notice that something has drastically changed in our society. Sure there has always been bitter disagreements and challenges. Heck, it took the Founders almost three years (2 years, 11 months and 17 days…total…they had 11 sessions adding up to 165 of actually meeting) to agree on the what should be in the Constitution. And yes, many of the same “hot button issues” we are battling over today, were on the table and hotly contested in Philadelphia back in 1787. There were arguments over free speech, religious freedom, states rights vs a strong central government, government funding, permission for war, not to mention the proper role of government and yes, of course, slavery and matters of race. So, none of these problems are new. But, I think the way we are dealing with them, nowadays, is quite different, sadly.

The problem (one of them anyway) as I see it, today, is everyone is “offended” by someone or something. Therefore, in their eyes, everyone else is selfish, intolerant, mean, bigoted or OK..I’ll say it…Unamerican (don’t you just love it when one American calls another American…Unamerican?).  There is a popular saying that one of my African American co-workers used to say all the time, when we got on this subject (and trust me, we used to get on it a lot…lol). He would say, “I don’t need anyone to tell me what I should or should not be offended by, thank you very much. That is for me, alone, to decide.”  My response was always, “You are right, my friend. You can waste your time on whatever you like. I’d rather be all about ‘finding solutions.’ Getting all offended over what someone else says or does? It solves nothing.”

 If what I believe to be true is actually true, that our nation and the government was founded upon the principles of God, as layed out in the Bible, then maybe we should take a moment and see what the Bible says on this subject. Let’s take a look at what this really “wise guy” named Solomon wrote about three thousand years ago:

Proverbs 18:19 A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city and contentions are like the bars of a castle. [Proverbs 18:19 NKJV]

If our opening stance on matters of disagreement is “I’m offended” (which is very different than “I disagree” or “I object”) and the one who offended me needs to change, if we are ever to get along,” then there is not much hope of reconciliation. And, if both sides are offended and fully believe the other party is totally at fault, the problem becomes twice as hard to fix. The problem, then, is not just figuring out how to “win a strong city” (as King Solomon talked about) and bring them around to our way of thinking. No, at this point, the situation has gotten to the point where both sides have gone MAD (the acronym for what the military calls “mutually assured destruction”), which is the strategy for nuclear war where “no one wins and everyone loses.” It is the point where both sides think it is better to be totally destroyed, than to work towards finding “a path to peace” with the opposition. 

In 2017, in the United States Of America, I believe that as a society, we are there. We have decided that peace and harmony is not an option (both sides would probably tell you they do not even want to get along, at this point). Basically, we have gone MAD, way past the point of wanting to work it out and so now we’re totally focused on destroying the other side, even if it means we destroy ourselves in the process.

It doesn’t matter what you choose to talk about, white vs black, Republican vs Democrat, rich vs poor, those who choose to believe in God vs those who choose not to, or Trump vs just about everyone else…let’s say. If you are on one side of any of the above issues, most folks seem to think there is no way to reach a place of agreement and compromise…so blow it all up. If I can’t have it my way, your not either. It’s like the spoiled kid who is at the beach, building a sand castle with his sister. She adds a section that he doesn’t like, so he just kicks the whole thing down. MAD. Both he and his sister lose. It fixed nothing.

We may have forgotten about the power of forgiveness and what happens when, instead, we choose to hold a grudge against someone. We really only hurt ourselves, don’t we?

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” [Matthew6:14-15 NLT]

A very wise Christian brother once told me, “It is never wrong to forgive, but it is always wrong not to.” Pretty powerful….chew on that one for awhile.

Marriage counsellors would tell you that, nowadays, trying to find a path to reconciliation between two embittered and deeply offended spouses is pretty much the same. Both sides are so intent on winning and “gaining the upper hand” over the other one, that it is just easier to blow it all up, leaving dreams, children and finances in utter ruin…than to do the hard work needed to make the relationship successful. Besides, that would take compromise. They would have to give up some ground to the other person and no way are they willing to do that. They are often heard saying, “Why should I? He (or she) is the one who offended me. When they change, when they admit they were wrong, I’ll think about it. But until then, my answer is no. Blow it up, see if I care.” That is where we are at, as a nation, folks.

A few years ago, my wife and I did a marriage study, it was a workbook called “He Wins, She Wins” by Dr. Willard F.Harley Jr. The author proposed an alternative to the “winner take all” approach to marriage that seems to be so prevalent these days. His approach might also be useful as an alternative to MAD (mutually assured destruction). I am going to apply my own acronym here, let’s call it MEA…or “mutually enthusiastic agreement.” Notice that Dr. Harley does not just stop at “mutual agreement.” No, what he is after is “enthusiastic” agreement. And he even goes a step further by saying, “If at first you do not agree. That is fine. Keep talking. Keep asking questions. Keep trying to better understand your partner. Because until you do, it is pretty hard to reach a compromise. And, if you begrudgingly agree without coming to “enthusiastic agreement” on both sides, the peace will likely not last because it is not really an agreement, it’s “caving in.” That usually does not end well.

So, I ask you, what if we applied Dr. Harley’s “mutually enthusiastic agreement” system to our societal differences? What if we agreed to continue talking, to keep respecting each other, to keep trying to better understand why the other side feels the way they do (instead of overreacting to sound bytes from a media that loves to “fan the flames of controversy,” because it is good for their bottom line…..profits)…what if we did that, for a change?

What if our first instinct was to pursue understanding (to truly come to grips with why our opposition thinks the way they do), rather than pursuing revenge or retribution? Jesus said it this way:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” [Matthew 7:1,3,5 ESV]

Here is something I know for certain…I am not perfect. None of us are. So what right would I have to judge you or anyone else? I have absolutely no right to do so. God is the only one worthy of judging us. That is why this concept of both parties agreeing to do absolutely nothing until there is “mutually enthusiastic agreement” is so brilliant. It forces you to get to know the reasons behind the opinions, instead of “shooting from the hip” and asking questions later. Dead people don’t answer questions very well, anyway.

There is a man who was a professional hockey player from Canada (a “person of color” himself…incidentally), who now has become a well-known “street preacher” and evangelist…his name is Todd White. He has a really great outlook on the whole concept of being “offended.”  He says (I’m paraphrasing here), “What right do I have to be offended by anything? I, myself, have done many despicable things. I have been selfish, I have been deceitful and mean and I have hurt others, even those I love dearly. In the eyes of God, I am a sinner, no better or worse than anyone else. Yet, He chooses to love me. So much so, He sent His own Son to die for me, to take the punishment I deserve upon Himself so that I might be spared, forgiven and live forever with Him in a very special place He has prepared for those who love Him. Knowing that He, who had never sinned, was willing to stand in my place and forgive me and love me with a love purer than mankind has ever known, how could I ever be justified in being offended by anything or anyone? Rather, I believe it is my duty to ‘Pay it for forward…to be willing to show mercy to others, as I have been shown mercy…to forgive as I have been forgiven. Mercy triumphs over judgement, the Bible says.'”  WOW…could you imagine what a different world it would be, if more people took that approach?

Yes, I understand that people have been hurt, wronged, oppressed and even killed unjustly. And yes, the oppressors should have to pay a price for the pain and anguish they have caused. I believe that, ultimately, they will. God promises us that all evil will be punished and I believe that God always keeps His promises.

The question remains, however, what should my response be to evil, when it affects me or those who I love? The Bible is pretty clear on this, actually:

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” [1 Peter 3:9 NIV]

Ok…so if it is not our place to repay…how will it ever be dealt with?

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” [Romans 12:19, 21 ESV]

Seems pretty clear to me. Remember when you were young and someone did something mean to you and you wanted your Dad to go over there and settle the matter (I know I did…my Dad was not someone you wanted to mess with….trust me)?

Turns out…..that is a pretty wise response.

Let your Father in Heaven settle the score.

Only He is truly worthy of executing judgement (we are not).

And His ways are always best (yeah..ours…not so much).

Our only part, in this process,  is truly to trust Him.

He is willing and able to fight our battles.

And He sees every tear that we cry.

Remember this song? 

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so….Little ones to Him belong….We are weak, but He is strong.”

It’s so true…even for us….as adults.

Are we not still His children?

BOB PALUMBO

Aftersigns: What’s Next?

So here I sit on Sunday, September 24th, 2017….the day after the so-called “great sign in the heavens” which stirred up so much interest and controversy with some saying “the world is going to end,” others said “Jesus is coming back to rapture His church,” and yet others were predicting nuclear war or a collision with the mysterious Planet X. None of them happened on the 23rd….but I believe one day this world will end (at least as we know it) and Jesus will come back for His redeemed ones. However Jesus said, “No man knows the day or hour…only the Father knows.” So predicting those types of things, on this day or that day, is just generally a bad idea. But people still do it, don’t ask me why.

But that does not mean we should scoff or laugh off the possibility that God may be sending us warnings through various signs and wonders (and tragedies..for that matter). Both the Old and New Testaments are full of examples of God warning His people (and His enemies, too) through various signs and wonders. In fact, in the very first chapter of the Bible, Moses recorded words that God promised to do just that.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. [Genesis 1:14-15 ESV]

But let me make one thing clear. A sign does not, necessarily, bring catastrophic events with them….by themself. No…a sign is just a sign….a warning that bad things might happen IF the sign is ignored. A stop sign is a warning, but it does not cause bad things to happen. However, if you ignore it’s warning and don’t stop…you have no one else to blame for what happens next. You were warned, right?

Also, sometimes the Lord will send a message to those who oppose Him in response to the humble prayers of believers that God may show His power and who He is. Such an event took place when Joshua called on God to show His power:

At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.” And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel. [Joshua 10:12-14 ESV]

Joshua prayed and God answered. The Israelites  were reluctant to heed God’s call to go out and defeat the enemies He said He would give into their hands. Maybe they thought it was just Joshua flexing muscles, that it was not really God who had called them into battle. So Joshua asked God to give a sign of endorsement to the plan….and He did. Pretty cool!!

You know, people of faith all over America have been praying for years (as this great nation has gradually slipped, over the last 100 years or so, into moral decay) that God would show Himself to help bring the people to repentance that He might respond and heal our land (God knows we need healing..physically, emotionally and spiritually..do we not?). You might ask, “Did Jesus talk about signs in the heavens coming at a time when a nation falls into moral decay?” Ummm….yes. Yes, I believe He did…numerous times actually:

And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. [Matthew 16:1-4 ESV]

That’s one. Here He is saying, basically, “If you can look at the sky and  forecast the weather, should you not, also, be able to interpret the signs of the time?” Look around folks. Does it look like peace, safety and security lies ahead? If we, as a nation, were passing laws and doing what pleases the Lord, do you think sudden destruction (from natural disasters and physical enemies who threaten us) would seem to be closing in on us from all sides? I do not. Jesus did not seem to mince any words, in Matthew 24:

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” [Matthew 24:29-30 ESV]

“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” [Matthew 24:36-39 ESV]

In this chapter, the disciples asked Jesus what signs they should be looking for, that would let them know his return would be coming soon. He responded by talking about signs in the heavens and pointing to Noah and how all the people scoffed at his warnings… thinking their “good times” and selfish ways would be able to go on indefinitely. How did that work out for them? Not so well…only Noah and his family were saved. OUCH!! 

Jesus also talked about the sign of Jonah….maybe we should refresh our memories. He is the guy who supposedly got swallowed by a whale, and survived in it’s belly for three days then was vomited out, right? Yeah, but there is a little more to this story, and you may find it interesting, especially considering what happened here in the US about a month ago.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God….The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth…(and he said)…”Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. [Jonah 3:1-6, 8-10 ESV]

Now we know Jonah was reluctant to go and preach to Nineveh (which, interesting, was what we now call Mosul…in Iraq), so God sent the hungry whale to coax him a bit. So, yes, Jonah went and preached and Nineveh repented and God relented. But did you know that God also caused a solar eclipse to appear over them….right around the same time? Check out what Tom Hobson discovered and wrote about on August 7th, two weeks before our recent solar eclipse. So it seems God sent a sign in the heavens to put his endorsement on the preaching of Jonah, just as he did with Joshua. Are we beginning to see a trend, here?

“As we await the eclipse of 2017 AD, this post examines the possibility that the dramatic repentance of Nineveh in Jonah 3:1-10 may have been galvanized by a total solar eclipse there that dates to June 15, 763 BCE, during the probable lifetime of Jonah. All sorts of details kick in to make this possibility highly plausible.” (Tom Hobson Aug. 7, 2017)

God sends his messengers like Noah, Joshua, Jonah, Jesus and these days, His people…the church….to not only preach the Good News of Jesus Christ…but to pray for revival in the land, as well. And as He said He would do, He sends “accompanying signs in the heavens” to show His involvement and endorsement of the message of repentance.

Did we not, in 2014-15, have four blood moons within 18 months (all of which fell precisely on Jewish feast days……coincidence? I think not)?

Did we not have a solar eclipse in August, that appeared in the sky mostly over the mainland of the United States, all the way from one coast to the other? Hello?

And now we have this sign of the stars forming the woman in Revelation 12, with the crown of twelve stars around her head who appears to be with child and ready to give birth.

So how long has it been since the first blood moon in 2014 until now? Ummm….three and a half years. How long did Daniel say the first half of the tribulation period would last before the AntiChrist would be revealed and the really bad stuff would start? Oh, wait, three and half years? Hmmm..interesting.

So, am I saying definitively, we are halfway through the tribulation period and the AntiChrist is about to be revealed? I am not….but you would have to be blind (spiritually, at least) to not see the “end time signs” happening all around us.

So if we say….”Well, it is Sunday, September 24th and nothing happened…party on Wayne…party on Garth!!!”…would that be wise? I do not think so.

Remember…if a stop sign is ignored…that is when you get in trouble.

I believe God sends His messengers to bring us His message of redemption and hope, not because He wants to destroy us….no…He wants to redeem us.

And He sends signs to show He is involved and endorsing the message.

Ignoring the message and the accompanying signs?

Probably not a good idea.

Go ahead. Blow right through those stop signs….if you feel lucky…that is.
BOB PALUMBO