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)

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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

A “Red Letter” Preview

As it looks like we are about one week away from the “official release” of my second book, “The Red Letter Parables”…(subtitle) “Introducing Jesus As Master Storyteller,” I though you might like a “sneak peak.” So, here is the first chapter of the book…my take on 40 of the most beloved and often quoted parables of Jesus. Plus, I have organized them in such a way to be a great devotional, a great group study book, or just a good book to keep handy for something to read on lunch hour, coffee break or at bed time. What better way to get to know “the greatest storyteller the world has ever known.”

[BTW…the publisher has decided, because of the title of the book (which was a “tip of the hat” to those classic “red letter edition” Bibles, where the words of Jesus were printed in red), to release two versions of the book; a regular paperback (with a b&w interior) and a “Deluxe Red Letter Edition”…a special full-color version with color graphics and yes, the words of Jesus printed in red……it’s pretty cool!!]

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INTRODUCTION:

Stories. Who doesn’t love a great story? It doesn’t matter if you are three years old or ninety-three, stories never cease to entertain, captivate and enlighten us. And they come in all shapes and sizes. Some stories are heartfelt, some are heroic, while others are light or humorous. And the storytellers in our lives can be as varied as the stories, themselves. Great stories often come to us through parents, grandparents, teachers, pastors, friends and co-workers…not to mention the more prevalent sources of the modern age…books, television, movies and the internet. Even video games are story-based, although they’re more of an interactive type where by playing them, we can affect the outcome. But they are modern stories, nonetheless, that are greatly loved, as well.

Nowadays, when we do find a classic story in a book, a movie or on television (like “Rocky”, “Star Wars”, “Harry Potter” and many more), they become so popular that those who produce them often come up with one or more follow-ups. We have come to know them as sequels, or prequels, or a sequel to the prequel…or maybe even a prequel to the sequel (aka..the original story..lol). And why not? If we loved the first offering, why would we not be anxious to gobble up stories about what happened after the original story took place, or before it. If it works, stick with it.

One of my favorite movies to watch was called, “The NeverEnding Story”. What a concept, a story that never ends. Although they may not have thought that one through, because the title of the first one pretty much negates any justification for a sequel. But bless their hearts, they did try anyway, twice really, without much success though. The point remains, however, we humans love our stories. Always have and always will.

In the Bible, of course, stories are very much a part of that greater “neverending story.”. We have Noah and the Ark, Abraham and Isaac, David and Goliath, Daniel and the Lion’s Den and the story of Joseph. There’s Jonah and the Whale, Song of Solomon and one of my favorites, the story of a young Moabite girl named Ruth. Imagine a young woman who loses her husband, follows her mother-in-law back to her homeland of Bethlehem, goes to work in the fields for a wealthy landowner who is a relative of her mother-in-law, ends up marrying the wealthy landowner and becomes part of the bloodline that brings forth the long-promised Messiah who was to one day appear (and He did) to ultimately deliver Israel. Pretty hard to top that “rags-to riches” saga, right? Yet, the Bible does.

So far, I haven’t even mentioned the story of Jesus Christ. It has been called “The Greatest Story Ever Told”. A child who became a King. A Savior who came down from Heaven to redeem those trapped under the bondage of sin and death. Then, through His own suffering, death and resurrection, He becomes the ransom that sets the captives free so that they may live forever and never die. It has all the elements necessary to make it “a story for the ages.” There is a beautiful and hopeful beginning, followed by the usual struggles of life and, in this case, some very unusual ones to say the least. Then, it all culminates with the most powerful plot point of all, a life interrupted to soon, which is finally resolved by this interrupted life miraculously being restored victoriously and the chief antagonist paying the ultimate price for his crimes. And there you have it, a very happy ending. And, in case I forget to mention, you definitely want to keep an eye out for the sequel to this one. I have reason to believe the sequel is going to be even more incredible than the original story (that is pretty rare, I know, but in this case, I believe it’s true).

What I found interesting enough to become the premise for writing this book, however, was that this Jesus, the central character of this amazingly true story, was a lover of stories, Himself. Jewish tradition has always leaned heavily on great stories. The Rabbis of old had books full of them. And those stories have been handed down through the generations and are still loved and embraced by those of the Jewish faith, today. So, there is little doubt, that Jesus grew up hearing and cherishing those same stories. In fact, He told many thought-provoking stories during His ministry, here on Earth, and now has come to be revered by many as maybe the greatest storyteller of all time. He certainly has my vote. My goal, here, is not to just come to know these stories that Jesus told better, but to really get to know our Lord and Savior as a Master Storyteller. We will be not only looking at the stories, themselves, but why and when He chose to tell them.

The stories which we will “zoom in” on here, you know them as parables (from the Greek word “parabole” and the Hebrew word “masal”). They are best defined as “side stories” or stories that “come alongside” to help illustrate or clarify a larger point or issue. Think about the movie, “Mary Poppins”. There is a very famous song from that movie called, “A Spoonful of Sugar”. The takeaway from the words of that song might say it best, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” I think that is about as clear an explanation of what a parable is as anything I can come up with. A parable is the sugar that helps us to grasp or swallow the more important truth or lesson…the medicine, if you will.

I have decided to call this book, “The Red Letter Parables” (like the red letter editions of the Bible), because it will focus on the parables that were the actual words of Jesus Christ, Himself. There were certainly other parables in the Bible, which were not uttered by Jesus. In Judges 9, we read about “trees making a king”. In 1 Kings 20, there was “the smitten prophet”.  In Isaiah 5, we hear about “wild grapes”. In Ezekiel 17, you have the story of “the great eagles and the vineyard”. And probably the most famous Old Testament parable of all, recorded in 2 Samuel 12, where Nathan the prophet confronted King David concerning his sin with the beautiful Bathsheeba by telling him a story to get his attention. So again, I am quite sure Jesus knew all of these ancient parables quite well because He grew up hearing them read in the Temple and, more importantly, He was God in the flesh. Jesus knew, very well, the power of a well-told story. So, it is not surprising that He would use this skill quite often as He walked among us.

Interestingly, in doing the research for this book, one thing stuck out to me. Most of the lists of “The Parables of Jesus” only point to the ones recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke, or what is called “the Synoptic Gospels,” They seem to overlook what I think are some pretty important ones that were only recorded in the Gospel of John. So, with your permission, I would like to include a few of them, as well. I may be stretching the traditional definition or criteria for what is considered “a parable” a bit. But, I hope you don’t mind. I think they are important to the overall storyline.

I also think the parables in all four Gospels are helpful to the bigger picture of understanding how and when Jesus used them. Not just the individual parables as separate teaching moments, themselves, but when these stories are connected (like pixels in a digital photograph), do they help to convey a super-parable, one on a larger and more eternal plane? Do they add weight to the Good News of the relationship between God and man and how He chose to redeem us to Himself forever?  I have no doubt, but it might be fun to do some digging and see for ourselves. Are you in?

I do, however, want to mention at the outset here, that there are hundreds of great books written on the Parables of Jesus, by authors with much greater expertise and insight into the Bible than I, all of whom do a wonderful job of explaining what these stories were meant to convey, not just to those who listened first hand, but to those of us who came after. But it is my view, that if Jesus is the Master Storyteller, as I believe Him to be, then the individual parables should be pretty easy to understand, all by themselves, and not require tons of deciphering. So, I do not want to spend too much time on all of that.

My goal, here, is to walk through these precious stories, arranged mostly chronologically here (I have taken a few liberties for the sake of the flow of the book), to see what can be learned from not just one parable or another, but also why Jesus grouped them together as He so often did. Most Bible experts point to “Five Main Discourses” where most of these parables were shared. The most famous one, of course, was the Sermon on the Mount where He rattled off quite a few in rapid succession. But I found He did that often, and my guess is there was a very deliberate reason why they were grouped together as they were. Also, the order in which they were told, chronologically, may prove to be revealing in its own way. It is my belief that nothing God does is happenchance or coincidental.

So, I believe we will see the same type of divine orchestration, here, as we did in my first book, “Unlocking Creation”, and I am very thankful that you have decided to come along for the ride as we now look at the “The Red Letter Parables” and get to know our Lord Jesus Christ, in a whole new way…as the Master Storyteller of all storytellers.

NOTE TO THE READER: Going back to the earlier reference to a digital photograph again, in each chapter we will be looking at a particular parable in two ways. “Zooming In” will be looking briefly at the parable, itself, as it stands alone. “Zooming Out” will then tackle the question of how it may fit into the bigger picture, to reveal the real “neverending story.” My hope, again, is that it will enhance our understanding of the true nature and character of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and reveal just how far He was willing to go to show His love for us, His children.

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FYI…..I will let you know as soon as the book is made available and tell you where and how you can get it.

As always, folks, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate all the support and encouragement I have received.

You guys have been incredible!!!!!

THANK YOU

BOB PALUMBO

Is God Judging America?

Harvey, Irma, droughts, wildfires burning out of control in our nation’s Northwest, terrorist threats, unspeakable violence in our streets (and even in our schools), divorce and sex crimes at an all-time high, authority figures (parents, teachers, police and military veterans, religious and political leaders…even the Bible and God, Himself) all being challenged and disrespected everywhere you look. Meanwhile, church attendance is down and the use of alcohol, drugs and pornography (as ways of escape) is way up. Plus, we have plenty of enemies around the world that want to wipe us off the map and even a super volcano, bubbling underneath Yellowstone that experts say could blow at any second and make the entire mid-section of our country uninhabitable. 

Oh, and how could I forget “911,” the first ever attack on our mainland by a foreign enemy? We can keep looking the other way and pretending that nothing is wrong, I guess. But sooner or later, we all need to face the reality that our nation is coming apart at the seams and no one seems to have any clue as to why or how to fix it? I don’t mean to “go all doomsday on ya,” folks, but in my sixty-three years of (as James Brown sang) “Living In America,” yes, I have seen plenty of troubles and tensions in our great nation, but nowhere near this level of intensity and frequency. Look around, my friends. It is downright scary out there.

The title of this post, “Is God Judging America,” is certainly one that might stir controversy, even in more peaceful times, but these are certainly not those. On the front end, some might ask, “What if God does not exist? How can something or someone who does not exist effect the things that do?” Great question…and one that certainly deserves an answer. But for the sake of this post, I want look at this question from the viewpoint that there is a “higher power” that has been greatly involved from the beginning in the design and creation of “all that is.” And to zoom in a little farther, I want to look more specifically at the United States of America, a nation that many believe was birthed by God (again I am assuming there is one) to be an extension of His love, grace, mercy and righteousness to the world around us. 

Now, I readily admit, that from the very first time that settlers landed on American shores, we have not always done what God would have wanted us to do. We are not perfect, by a long shot, and never were. That is impossible, anyway, if human beings are involved. But I do believe it was the intent of the Founders to create a nation that, to the best of our ability, followed the godly principles set forth in the Bible. It is common knowledge that our Founders used “Natural Law” as a blueprint, to some degree, as a foundation for the governing laws of this new nation that would hopefully become that “city set on a hill.” 

Check out the following quote from one of our Founding Fathers, before our nation found the freedom it so desperately sought:

In 1764, Massachusetts patriot James Otis defined Natural Law as “the rules of moral conduct implanted by nature in the human mind, forming the proper basis for and being superior to all written laws; the will of God revealed to man through his conscience.” (Annals of America, 2:11) 

So, it was this Natural Law, designed by the same authority that designed the laws that govern nature itself, the universe and all that is in it, that was meant to guide us in all of our endeavors as Americans (not just us..but the whole world).  

King David also gave us a pretty good reason, a thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ, to look towards this authority and creative force for reliable and reasonable guidelines we could apply in our interactions with the created world and each other, as created beings. Here is what he said:

“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]

Well, that seems pretty clear. My Dad used to say, whenever I was feeling the need to do things my way as a young man, “As long as you are living under my roof, son, you will live by my rules.” I did not know, back then, if my Dad ever read the Psalms. But, in hindsight, it seems he understood the concepts that King David was pointing to….”rank has it’s privileges”…and ownership even moreso. In other words, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

Ok…so again…I am assuming, here, that there is a God who is the creator, and according to King David, the rightful owner of this world and all that is in it. If that be true, then what happens when someone or something chooses to go against, disobey or even ignore those Natural Laws? Are there consequences? How about if we choose to honor and obey them? Are there consequences for that, as well? I would say, “Absolutely, yes,” to both scenarios.

For instance, we know that humans were designed to need a clean and constant supply of air, right? What happens if someone chooses to hold their breath or is denied breathable air for too long? Does nature excuse them and allow them to function and live without air?  Not that I know of. So that leads me to believe that there are serious ramifications when we choose to ignore or disobey the guidelines set forth by the Creator, for living well and continuing to exist.

The word we commonly use for the rewards attached to honoring God’s guidelines is “blessing.” The word we commonly use for the punishment or consequences attached to disobedience or ignoring those guidelines is “curse”. Moses wrote about these consequences, both good and bad, quite plainly many years ago:

“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today….” [Deuteronomy 11:26-28 NASB]

So we have a choice, it seems. We sing….”God bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her and guide her, thru the night with a light from above…” Do we mean that? As a nation, do we still seek God’s blessings? Or have we decided to forego God’s guideance and try to figure things out for ourselves? And if so, how is that working out? If you ask me, it sounds like the Garden of Eden all over again. God chose to abundantly bless Adam and Eve, but they chose to overrule Him and decide their own fate (with the help of a lying serpent). They disobeyed God, crossed the line and were subsequently cursed (and the rest of the human race with them). And they never did, again, recover their “blessed state of existence.” 

Could the same thing happen to America? Certainly other great empires have risen and fallen over the course of history. Let me just say before going any further, I love America and I am thankful and proud to be an American…even with all of her flaws. I still think it is the greatest nation the world has ever known. I wish her no harm. But, where might we have gone wrong, if in fact we have? Jesus was asked, one time, what the greatest commandment was. Here was his response:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” [Matthew 22:27-40 ESV]

So what do you think? How are we doing, as a nation, on the first one? Are we honoring God above all else, or have we “moved God to the back burner” (so to speak) while putting self-interest, pleasure, success and the exalting of human wisdom ahead of God’s plan for preserving and prevailing as a society, and as a world?  Let’s see, over the last one hundred years or so, we have begun to restrict the freedom of religion we were granted in the Constitution by gradually coming up with a modern interpretation of the Establisment Clause (now referred to as “the separation of church and state”) that is diametrically opposed to the original intent. It was meant to keep the government from meddling in matters of religion, not to keep religious speech, expression or even prayer out of the public domain. I believe to prohibit God from being present in our schools and government buildings is the equivalent of kicking God out of our lives, as Americans? What are the first things a communist country or dictatorship goes after, when they want to seize control? Free speech, gun ownership and free expression of religion. Sound familiar?

And once the first one is compromised, once God is removed as a legitimate reason not to do something or make it legal, what do you think happens next? Exactly right, what was once considered wrong or even unthinkable soon becomes legitimized and accepted, bringing along whatever consequences come with it. They are connected. You want one, you get the other. It’s a package deal, folks. So, if we choose to kick God to the curb and take prayer out of our schools and public places, if we choose to treat an unborn baby like credit card account or a gym membership that we can terminate if we no longer want it. If we decide to abandon the natural and long-standing understanding of the religious institution of marriage as being between a man and a woman (remember civil law stemmed from the Natural Law)…for a more modern and liberal view, then we get whatever consequences go with it. Going back to what Moses said, we have a choice and choices have consequences. We pick our own poison, many times.

The second commandment Jesus mentioned had to do with how we treat other people. Look around, these days. How are we treating our fellow man? Are we putting them ahead of ourself? Are we caring for those who are hurting or sick among us? When it comes to those who may think differently than us, are we understanding, tolerant or even forgiving, if need be? How about our authorites? Do we respect and honor them, even though we may not agree with them or like them, personally? Tough question, I know. But the Bible says, “All authority is from God,” so if we are rejecting those in authority over us, in the earthly sense, we are really rejecting God and that usually does not end well.

All I am saying is this, folks, if we push God out of the way in our homes, our schools, our cities, states and federal government, His hands of blessing and protection go with Him. We should not, then, be surprised when our feelings of safety and security in America become a thing of the past. So, I do not think it is so much a question of “Is God Judging America?” I think it is more a matter of whether we have rejected God’s direction and help, and He has respectfully (afterall, He did gives us “free will”) bowed out to let us do things our own way. How’s that working, so far? 

For a historical comparison, we have to look no further than the nation of Israel. Founded and favored by God, time and time again they rejected His ways and chose their own. Numerous times, they were removed from their homeland and taken captive by their enemies because of their rebellion. The most memorable time, of course, was just forty years after failing to recognize God’s own Son, Jesus, as their Messiah. Jerusalem and their Temple was destroyed (just as Jesus warned) and the Jewish people were exiled again for 2000 years. In fact, they just were finally able to return home in 1948 (another major Bible prophecy fulfilled). So could destruction come to the great and mighty United States of America? Just ask the Romans. Of course it could. God raised us up. He most certainly could let us fall. God is not just a God of individuals, He is also a God of nations, the Bible says.

So, what then are we as a nation to do, if in fact, the Lord has taken the hint and politely stepped back, out of the way, and is letting us choose for ourselves. What should we do, when we finally admit that things are spinning out of our control and there seems to be no help available?

Well, here is what God told King Solomon, regarding the nation of Israel:

“…if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to prayer made in this place.” [2 Chronicles 7:14-15 NKJV]

So yes, God’s eyes and ears are open, and He is willing to help. But redemption can only begin where it always begins, by first recognizing and admitting that we have gone astray. And secondly, by repenting and turning from our sin and asking God to forgive us. 

The Apostle John explained it this way:

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” [1 John 8-9 NKJV]

As I see it, America, we got into this situation by choosing to “turn away from God” and it will only change if we, as a society, choose to “turn back to God” and put His ways above our own. 

If we do not, we only have ourselves to blame, not God, if things continue to get worse.

Meant To Be?

Recently, following the final round of a PGA tournament, they interviewed the runner-up (who lost on the final hole). The reporter asked him what he was thinking at the moment (I always shake my head when they ask a question like that, in those situations). If they asked me, I might be tempted to be honest and say, “I am wondering how you might react if I threw your mike in that pond over there.” Ok…that was the old me…(most of the time). But, he just smiled politely and said, “You know, I had a pretty good round, hit the ball well. Guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”  

How many times have you heard someone say that, when things don’t work out as they hoped? How many times have you used that line? Me, far too many to count. Guilty as charged. But I often find myself wondering, when I hear folks say that (in a condescending way as if I never have), “Meant by whom? Or what?” Who is out there, beyond the air we breathe somewhere, pulling strings to make things work out great for winner and not so well for the runner-up. And is he, or it, just having tons of fun, messing with people’s lives. I do admit, it might be fun to be the one in control of it all, like with a video game or something, deciding the outcomes of all kinds of situations for millions of people. It certainly wouldn’t be boring, would it?

As I mentioned in a earlier post, I recently did a two week free trial with Ancestry.  I was curious, as many of us are, about who my ancestors were. I got all the way back to the 1500s on my mother’s side and found some incredible stuff, like some of my ancestors were among the early Quakers who came over from England with William Penn and settled what we now call Pennsylvania, to escape the persecutions of the Church of England. And there was Rowland Taylor, an early “reformer” who was “burned at the stake” on the orders of Queen Mary in 1555. No wonder they were fleeing. Some of my ancestors died on the way over on the boat. Some died at the hands of the Native Americans. And some just died from braving the elements trying to establish a new homeland. They were all simply seeking a place to live where they could safely and peacefully raise a family and worship their God, freely, as they saw fit. America became that place…..thank you Lord.

On my father’s side, I was not so fortunate. I was only able to go back two generations, to my great-grandfather, Guglielmo Palumbo (I learned Guglielmo is how the Italians said William..and my Dad’s oldest brother was named William, so all the pieces were fitting quite nicely). But in doing so, I discovered my grandmother’s marriage certificate, the actual document, and I stumbled on to something incredible that no family member had ever mentioned (I am thinking no one really knew). On the marriage license, it asked if the bride was ever married before. Shockingly, the answer was “Yes.” At that point I almost fell out of my chair, needless to say.

You probably need a few more details, to understand why I was so shocked. She, according to the marriage license, was only nineteen years old at the time. Plus, it said she was widowed and her first husband had died only a month or two before the date of this marriage. How could that be, I wondered. Only nineteen years old, already a widow, and a month later, she is marrying her second husband. What in the world was going on here?

Well, I never did find out the whole story, but it occured to me that, in days gone by, if a brother or a good friend died leaving behind a widow, sometimes they would step up out of respect for the one who unexpectedly passed, and marry the bride so as not to leave her alone. As best as I can figure, that is what happened here. And, if the facts are correct, my grandfather, Pasquale (Patsy) Palumbo, was an honorable man. Truthfully, I never have heard anyone say otherwise, so yeah, again all the dots seemed to be lining up quite nicely. I never got to meet him. He died a year before I was born.

But I have to tell you, after discovering all this, I found myself being a little more sympathetic for that runner-up at that golf tournament, because if this is all true, then, if her first husband had not tragically died so young, I might have been hanging around wherever it is humans hang around before they are conceived (speaking metaphorically, here, not literally) saying, “Well, it just wasn’t meant to be I guess.” Not only me, mind you, but my siblings and all of my Dad’s siblings (he was #9 out of 10 kids) and all of their children and grandchildren and ours too, for that matter. That is probably like fifty or sixty people who never would have been born, so far, if that one tragic death had not occurred. It really is mind-boggling to think about, actually. You and I are here, doing whatever it is we do, enjoying the blessings of this life, unaware of how one little detail over a hundred years ago could have changed everything.

But that leads me right back to my original question, “If our lives were meant to be, meaning there was some plan or intentionality to it, who or what desired it to be so?

And as I look back on my life, that is not the only pivotal point in how I got here. Both my parents moved here (to Cleveland, Ohio), as kids, from Pennsylvania, but from two different parts. My Mom’s family came here from Nanty Glo (near Johnstown) and my Dad was born in Star Junction (near Uniontown). But they did not meet until they got here and we’re living a few blocks from one another. My Mom’s first pregnancy was a miscarriage, but, here I am alive and well and typing out this blog post. So, who flipped the coin on that one? How about how I got started in music at age seven or how I met my wife, when I was playing in a band sixteen years later? That is just a few of the forks in the road that got me here. But how, and more importantly, why?

I know this has been “all about Bob,” so far and I apologize for that. But I am sure each of you can point to similar pivotal moments in your life (or as Pastor Larry Tomczak liked to call them, “divine appointments”). So I guess we have all won the lottery, so to speak. We have been blessed with miracle of life and if nothing else, we should be thankful for that. That is a great place to start, in general, I believe….with gratitude in our hearts. But, I still want to dig a little bit deeper.

Obviously, those of you who know me, you know the first place I am going to look for answers to difficult questions like these is the Bible (I can hear some of you saying, “Darn, we almost made it through a whole blog post without him dumping a bunch of Bible verses on us.” Well, this time, I just saved the best part of the story until the end.

So when people say, “It was meant to be,” or that it wasn’t, who or what do they believe is behind it? I have no idea. You will have to ask them. But when I say it, I mean God Almighty, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator of all things.

Here is what Jesus said, not long before He was arrested and crucified:

“You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” [John 15:16 NASB]

So the process starts with “choosing” and for that to occur, someone or something had to be in the place of  “the chooser.” Jesus told us that He, Himself, not only chose us, but appointed us for a specific purpose, that we might bear fruit in Him.

Here is what God spoke to the prophet Jeremiah, when He called him into his service:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you…” [Jeremiah 1:5 NASB]

This implies that God chose us and had a plan for our lives before we were even born. How incredible is that? So, did God decide before they were born, which golfer would win the tournament and which one would fall a tad short? Here is what the Apostle Paul had to say about it:

Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? [Romans 9:21 ESV]

Yes, God is the potter and we are the clay. We are all made for a purpose and that is where things get a little dicey. It might seem that God is, ahead of time, picking “winners and losers” and we have no say in it all. But the truth is, God would hope that all of us would desire to ultimately be “vessels of honor,” but in His goodness, he gave us all “free will.” That means we are not robots, pre-programmed to do His will or not. We get to choose to accept His gracious invitation of love and mercy, through Christ, or reject it. And being “all-knowing,” He knew in advance who would accept and who would not. But, the same salvation is offered to all. He does not play favorites.

But Paul also explained that, because He knew all of our decisions from the beginning, God was able to cause things in this world to unfold in such a way to bring about His desired result, a people who are ready, willing and worthy to be joined to Him for all eternity.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…and these whom He predestined, He also called.” [Romans 8:28-30 NASB]

So, in closing, I believe my original questions were answered. Yes, we were meant to be, each and everyone of us. And it was God, Himself, through Christ who chose to give us life.

The only question that remains is, “What will you do with the invitation?” Once we realize we were “meant to be,” wouldn’t that likely lead you to ask “Why? For what purpose was I created?” A creator does not design and make something so it can do whatever it wants to do, apart from the one who made it, right? 

I believe God has a specific purpose in mind for your life and mine. Wouldn’t you like to know what that is? There is only one way to find out. Get to know the Creator. Only He can reveal His plans for you. 

Will you accept God’s gift of mercy and love, by accepting His Son, Jesus Christ, as your Lord and Savior? Or, will you ultimately choose not to?

God already knows the answer. He is just patiently waiting for you to declare it.

BOB PALUMBO

Gettin’ Outta Dodge

First of all, special thanks to my friend and brother, Pastor Ken Roberts, for his excellent message, last Sunday, filling in for Pastor Jim Mindling. He really did confirm for me what the topic of this post would be. After my post, last Sunday, I was leaning in this direction as a follow-up. Pastor Ken clinched it for me. So, saddle up folks. Here we go again.

Last week, I used the upcoming astronomical event in September as a springboard to a discussion about just how fleeting human life can be, whether an “extinction level event” like a giant meteor hitting the earth happens or not. Sooner or later, in the blink of an eye, our “number is going to get called” and we will instantly pass from this earthly existence to whatever lies beyond. We all try to avoid it for as long as we can (diet, exercise, clean living…I’ll leave it up to you to check the boxes, if they apply). But like the Doors lead singer, Jim Morrison, once famously said, “No one here gets out alive.”

So, quoting Michael J. Fox, I think all of our priorities should ultimately be in line with making preparations to “Get outta Dodge.” Of course, Michael was having a little fun with the famous line from “Gunsmoke,” where Marshall Dillon suggested that “It’s time to got out of Dodge,” meaning Dodge City. So for the sake of this post, I am going to have a little fun with this reference to Dodge City by using it as a metaphor for “life on Planet Earth,” or our physical lives in the “here and now,” if you will.


Although, in our hearts, we all realize our time here is short when compared with the concept of eternity, the way we live our lives seems to imply that we may be fooling ourselves into thinking that there is “no end in sight.” The Apostle James, who was the half-brother of Jesus, says it this way:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. [James 4:13-14 NASB]

It’s true. We love to make plans for our future (not that it’s a totally bad idea)…as if nothing can get in their way. Even older folks (I would include myself in that statement) like to make plans or commitments, as if by doing so, we are delaying the inevitable. I really like what country legend Little Jimmy Dickens said, not long before his passing at age 95, “I am so old, I don’t even buy green bananas.” He wasn’t making any long-term plans, good for him!!

And of course, this is really not a new problem, a poem written by Robert Burns back in 1785, gave us the following often-quoted phrase regarding the futility of making plans:

But Mouse, you are not alone, in proving foresight may be vain

The best laid schemes of mice and men, go often askew (or astray)

And leave us nothing but grief and pain for (instead of) promised joy!

So once again, no man (or woman) is promised tomorrow, which is why we are so shocked and saddened when someone, especially a child, dies “before their time.” It’s not that our sadness or grief is a bad thing (it is an expression of our love for them), but it does raise the question, “What is the right time, or age, for us to die?” Sounds to me, again, that to some degree we are victims of our own false expectations, ignoring the harsh realities of life.

Let me toss out a question, for you, in the form of story. Let’s say, that if from the time we were children, we were taught that if we did certain things in certain ways, like maybe showing kindness to others or resisting the temptations to be mean or selfish, each time we did so, a gold coin worth $100 was deposited into an account that we could use, when we were older, to buy a house, pay for our children’s education or whatever we like. Do you think the world would be a kinder or more peaceful place? I do. Hey, if people were being paid to be nice, why not, right?

What if Jesus, Himself, implied to us that it does sort of work like that in a heavenly sense, with a spiritual bank account that will reward us in the afterlife. Well, during His most famous sermon, the Sermon On The Mount, He pretty much did just that:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” [Matthew 6:19-21 NASB]

The truth is, this life is but a drop in the bucket, compared to what comes after (be it good or bad). So, wouldn’t it make sense to work towards a better eternity, instead of putting all our efforts into enriching ourselves in this life. Especially, if the reality is we could be gone tomorrow and everything would be left for someone else to enjoy, as King Solomon wrote about in his Book Of Proverbs (and he was pretty rich, so I think he knew what he was talking about).

But, what if you have already spent most of your days doing the opposite, “looking out for number one,” maybe even to the point of hurting others to protect or increase what you worked so hard to provide for yourself?  At what point have we gone so far in the wrong direction, that you have passed the point where “changing your ways” is going to make any difference in the “big picture” of life and how the scales might be tipped regarding whatever comes next. Some people believe it is like “the Scale of Justice,” where if the good outweighs the bad, you’re all set.

Well, here is what the Apostle Paul had to say about this subject. And keep in mind, he spent a great deal of time, in his life, as a zealous Jewish leader who was responsible for the deaths of many who were showing support for this troublemaker known as Jesus of Nazareth. If anyone had stepped over the line or reached the point of no return, because of things he had done in his past, he might be the “poster child” for that. He said….

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. [Colossians 3:2 NASB]. 

That would seem to indicate that Paul believed that making a major change in right direction (which is the definition of the word “repent”) at any age or point in one’s life is a good idea. In other words, it’s never too late (at least not while we’re are still living and breathing). If Paul thought it was worthwhile for him to change in the latter years of his life, after all the terrible things he had done, what would be our excuse?

The main point I am trying to make, here, is that while there is nothing wrong with working hard or having goals to do your best to provide for yourself and your family, or even to realize a lifelong dream or pursue something you are passionate about (you may have been gifted by God to do just that). We should always keep in mind that our time here is just like what Jerry Glanville, former coach of the Houston Oilers, said  about the letters NFL. He said the letters meant “not for long” (if the refs kept making bad calls that cost him his job). Our time here on Earth, too, is “not for long” when compared to what God is preparing for those who love Him.

So like Jesus taught us, isn’t it better to store up treasure for what lies beyond the grave, than to put all our efforts into storing up things we will lose when we are put in the grave? You get the picture, I’m sure.

In closing, I’d like to include words from a recent hit record by Carrie Underwood. The song is called, “Temporary Home.” I think it ties this discussion up quite nicely.

This is my temporary home….It’s not where I belong

Windows in rooms…..that I’m passin’ through

This is just a stop, on the way to where I’m going

I’m not afraid because I know this is my….temporary home

BOB PALUMBO