Monthly Archives: March 2013

So Near, and Yet So Far

We are living in remarkable times.

No kidding. It’s like every single day we are watching the pieces of God’s prophetic puzzle fall one-by-one into place.

Sooner rather than later I think, the puzzle will be complete, the picture will be crystal-clear, and the stuff of prophecy will become the headlines of history.

And we are watching it happen!

Case in point: Just now, Air Force One ever so gently lifted off the tarmac at Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv. The first Presidential visit by Barack Obama to the Holy Land is over. (Interestingly enough, the farewell ceremonies were cut short by a blinding sandstorm. Don’t know if that has any significance.)

Now let me be clear. In and of itself, this particular presidential visit has little if any prophetic significance. History will no doubt record that little of any substance was achieved. Sure, President Obama made his obligatory visits to Jerusalem and Ramallah, where he met with the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the Palestinian Authority. Talk of peace filled the air: The need for Middle East peace. The priority of peace. The mutual benefits of peace to both parties. The threats to peace from Israel’s unstable neighbors to the North, South, and East (Syria, Egypt, and Iran respectively).

But isn’t it so ironic that even as the words Shalom (Hebrew) / Salam (Arabic) were being bandied about, two qassam rockets launched from Gaza exploded in southern Israel? Listen carefully and you might just hear the faint echo of the Prophet Jeremiah when he quotes God as saying, “All they ever offer to my deeply wounded people are empty hopes for peace… saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14).

Middle East peace: So near, and yet so far.

But here’s the thing: No one, including me, expected anything of substance to result from this heavily-reported (over 100 US journalists accompanied the President to the region) visit. Now that it’s over, the earth will keep spinning, the rockets will keep flying and exploding, and the tensions will keep flaring.

But one day, something of substance will indeed take place.

Consider this: One day, a world leader (most likely coming out of the EU or UN, not the USA) will sit down with the Israelis and Palestinians and achieve the unachievable — a treaty of peace guaranteeing the safety and security of Israel.

The whole world will stand in awe of this historic achievement. The Middle East in particular will heave a huge, collective sigh of relief.

Peace will reign supreme. Or will it?

They say that the devil’s in the details. And that little maxim certainly applies to this scenario. This world leader will pull off the illusion that he truly is a champion of peace. So much so that many in Israel will hail him as their long-awaited Messiah. But don’t be fooled.

If my sense of both prophecy and today’s realities in the region is correct, this pseudo-Messiah will negotiate a breathtaking breakthrough, the broad contours of which will look something like this: A seven-year (Daniel 9:27), two-state solution. (Interestingly enough, just two days ago both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu verbally endorsed a “two state solution” in their joint press conference. “Fully committed” was how Netanyahu put it.)

The State of Palestine will be able to claim Jerusalem as its capital (Revelation 11:2), and in return Israel will finally be allowed to build its 3rd Temple (Daniel 9:27).

That’s not much of a stretch to imagine those few conditions as the basis of a peace accord. It could have happened this week. It didn’t. But one day, it will. And at the very moment that all parties ink that deal, a seven year period of time referred to by the prophets as “the Tribulation” (Matthew 24:29) will begin. We could be that close.

I’ve got to admit, whenever world leaders sit down with Middle Eastern leaders to talk “peace,” my heart beats a wee bit faster, my sense of anticipation grows a tad bit keener, and I cannot help but wonder, “Is today the day?” No, today was not the day. But one day, Yes! It will be the day.

Sadly, this treaty will hold for only 3 1/2 years, at which time the mask will come off. This world leader, man of peace, supposed Messiah will brashly break the very treaty that he himself negotiated. He will enter the Holy of Holies (where only God can dwell), sit upon God’s throne, and proclaim himself the Almighty (Daniel 9:27).

Once his mask comes off, it will be made clear for all to see that this “champion of peace” is in reality that monster to whom the biblical prophets referred as “The Beast” (Revelation 13:1), “the Antichrist” (1 John 2:18), “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3), and other equally-disturbing names and titles. Let there be no mistake. He will not be the Holy Spirit-empowered Jesus Christ; he will be the Satan-possessed Antichrist. 

His agenda is clear: to lull Israel into a false state of security, only to betray her by proclaiming himself to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and to bring the combined military might of the world against God’s people, and against God Himself, in what is commonly called the Battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:16).

Now that is quite a story; indeed, quite an unbelievable story to some. But who would have believed that today, thousands of years after these prophecies were penned, the whole world would be watching that lovely little land called Israel, yearning for peace, peace when there is no peace?

No, nothing of much significance happened this week. But one day, sooner rather than later, the final pieces of the prophetic puzzle will fall into place, the prophetic picture will be complete, and once all the dust settles, our God will reign, the devil and his many minions will be soundly defeated and finally destroyed, and “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). Saved not by a false Messiah, but by Jesus Christ, the true Messiah.

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The Parable of the Prodigal Son

Welcome to Junior High/Middle School Camp! 

I was in Atlanta last week for training to become a Walk Thru the Bible instructor. So while I was away from my beloved Safe Haven family, I posted this bonus podcast, recorded last summer at Hartland Christian Camp. 

My goal in this message was to paint a portrait for these precious students of just how much God loves them… AND YOU! 

To do so, I chose one of the most beloved of all of the parables that Jesus taught. Care to make a guess? 

I will dare to make this bold prediction: If you listen in to this podcast, you will come away with a whole new and fresh appreciation for what it truly means to be loved unconditionally. 

To be loved by a God who does not love you if… Or love you when… Or love you because… You will hear what it means to be loved by your God who loves you, period. No qualifications. No caveats. No conditions. He just loves you!

Which is exactly what it means to be loved unconditionally. 

As you can probably tell, I am THRILLED that you are joining us for this podcast discussion. You can listen in by clicking HERE.

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God Loves You for No Good Reason.

OK, I’ll be the first to admit it. The phrase, “God’s unconditional love,” leaves me a little cold.

Sure, it makes for a wonderful Christian cliché. But it is a mighty difficult concept to wrap our minds around. My mind, anyway.

Yet once we do, it will change our lives. Forever.

I’ll venture to say that we have such difficulty actually believing that God’s love is unconditional – that He does indeed love us for no good reason – because the only love we have ever experienced on a human level is undeniably conditional. That once the “good reason” is gone, the love is gone.

Or to put it another way, I rather suspect that it’s downright difficult, if not impossible, to hear someone say to us, “I love you,” without expecting him or her to qualify it in some way…

I love you when…

I love you if…

I love you because…

I love you unless…

Fact is, I love you when… is not unconditional love.

I love you if… is not unconditional love.

I love you because… is not unconditional love.

I love you unless… is not unconditional love.

To put a more personal point on this discussion, I would dare to ask you this pointed and personal question: Can you think of anyone in your life in whose love you rest absolutely secure with no fear whatsoever that you can or will do anything — anything — that will cause his or her love for you to diminish in any way? 

A love that includes no deal-breakers. A love in which anything and everything is forgivable. A love that fully accepts you just the way you are. A love that makes no demands on you in order for you to continue to be loved. A love that imposes upon you no expectations in order for you to continue to be loved. 

A truly, fully, unqualified unconditional love.

Do you have anyone in your life who loves you that way?

I suppose the safe answer — the clichéd answer — is God. He loves us that way. His love is unconditional.

But even with God, it’s more a matter of my knowing it intellectually, theologically, theoretically, than feeling it and resting in it safely and securely. I cannot escape the thought forever lurking in the deepest darkest recesses of my often-restless mind that even though some in my life profess their unconditional love to me, there must be buried in their sweet sentiment some hidden deal-breaker. That their love is a fragile thing, too easily broken.

Despite their assurances, I cannot help but fear that I could one day potentially do something or say something that will diminish their love for me. That things between us might begin to cool, if not freeze-over completely. That our relationship might never be the same.

Which is to say that I sometimes feel as though I am drowning in a sea of insecurity.

I’ll take it one step further. I’m not sure that as a fallen human being I (or anyone else for that matter) is capable of loving another person unconditionally. Try as I might to love someone that way, the qualifiers “when,” “if,” “because,” and “unless” invariably seem to get in the way.

Not so with God.

He knows no such limitations to His love.

He takes great delight in declaring that “Christ died for us at a time when we were helpless and sinful… But God showed how much he loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinful” (Romans 5:6-8).

“When we were helpless and sinful” are the operative words in that passage. God doesn’t love us when… God doesn’t love us if… God doesn’t love us because… God doesn’t love us unless we clean up our lives or do certain things worthy of His love. He doesn’t love us for any good reason. He loves us for NO good reason.

We need NEVER fear His rejection because God said, “Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice” (Psalm 5:17). We need NEVER fear His refusal because Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). We need NEVER fear that His love for us will EVER change — He can never love us any more than He does, and He certainly will never love us any less than He does — because as He said to Israel, so He says to you and to me, “I have never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love, and more love!” (Jeremiah 31:3).

If you still have any doubts about that, just ask Peter who, in Jesus’ darkest hour, denied Him – “A servant girl came over and said to him, ‘You were one of those with Jesus…’ But Peter denied it in front of everyone. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about” (Matthew 26:69-70) – and disowned Him – “Peter swore, ‘A curse on me if I’m lying – I don’t know the man!’” (Matthew 26:74). Yet Jesus never, ever denied or disowned Peter, even in and especially in Peter’s darkest hour. 

And He will never, ever deny or disown you.

You will NEVER, EVER hear Him say…

I love you when…

I love you if…

I love you because…

I love you unless…

You’ll only ever hear Him say, I. LOVE. YOU. PERIOD.

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Two, Four, Six, Eight — Who Do We Appreciate?

Words have power.

That’s what I love about what I do. I am a painter. But my paints are not oils or watercolors. My paints are words. And words have power.

Case in point: I am about to introduce you to eight words. Eight words which, when grouped together in the following order, contain within them enormous power. The power to save a church. Or, if neglected or ignored, the power to destroy a church.

We’ll get to these eight words in a moment.

But first, the backstory. This past week, I have been in contact with three pastors — more specifically, two former pastors, and one current pastor.

Each of these godly, supremely and supernaturally gifted men was (in two cases) and is (in one case) a God-given gift to the churches they led or lead.

Each is broken. Broken by the trials and tribulations that tragically confront every pastor. Broken to the point where two left pastoral ministry never to return (or so they say today), and one is teetering ever so precariously upon that precipice — admitting even as recently as two days ago his desire to walk away and never to look back.

My heart aches for these men. 

Trust me, I am uniquely positioned in their lives to ache with good cause, because each is a dear and precious friend of mine. Each has opened his heart to me. Each was or is in a church with which I am totally familiar. And each did or does indeed have good reason to relinquish the reins of leadership with feelings of soul-crushing defeat.

The common thread that links these three together? Congregations that include a small but vocal minority who have rejected the principle expressed by eight simple, but oh-so-powerful words.

What are these words? Well, let me put it this way: If I was given a platform from which to address these three churches, I would implore the people in regards to their pastors to do this one thing… Are you ready? Eight words:

“Just love him, and be thankful he’s here.”

For the life of me, I don’t know what gets into people. But I know for a fact, witnessed by my own eyes, heard by my own ears, that there are people — God-loving, Jesus-following people — who, for whatever reason, gripe and complain about their pastors.

“He preaches too long.” “I’m not getting fed.” “His wife walked right past me and didn’t stop to talk.” “He didn’t come to the hospital until the third day I was there.” “He didn’t remember my birthday.” “He’s not the friendliest person I know.” “We really could use someone younger.” “We really could use someone older, with more experience.” “He’s boring.” “He’s not very funny.” “Look at his daughter’s haircut.” “He’s not working hard enough to grow our church.” “He’s too political for the pulpit.” “He never takes a stand on anything political.” “He ______________” “He ______________” “He ______________” (You fill in the blanks.)

(If you could hear me, your ears would have tingled with the breathy sounds of my letting out a prolonged and exasperated sighhhhhhhhhhhhh. Why? Because it’s so not that complicated.)

It is as simple as this: People, please, please, PLEASE…

“Just love him, and be thankful he’s here.”

Most every pastor I know — including these three — are grossly overworked, grotesquely underpaid, stressed out beyond belief, carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders as far as their congregants are concerned, weeping with those who weep, laughing much too little with those who laugh much too rarely, enduring what is for so many pastors the burden of their calling, doing their dead-level best to serve God and the precious people whom He has committed to their care… And doing all of that, and so much more, with so little thanks that it makes me cry just to think about it.

And just like me, and just like you, they so desperately need to feel APPRECIATED.

Yet, even though it takes so little for you and me to express our appreciation — a kind word, a smile, a hug, a note, a $5 gift card for coffee or frozen yogurt, an occasional text message that takes approximately 14 seconds to type and send — pastors are dying out there because of the constant drone of never-ending, nitpicking criticisms.

“Just love him, and be thankful he’s here.”

Well, in two out of the three encounters I had this week, the pastors finally gave up and resigned. As the saying goes, “abuse it, and lose it.” Well, there were those who, through their incessant criticisms, abused their pastors and — surprise, surprise — lost their pastors. And now, these two churches are literally struggling to survive. In both cases, serious thought has been given to closing the doors. All for want of eight simple but powerful words:

“Just love him, and be thankful he’s here.”

The third church is, by all outward appearances, doing just fine, thank you. As is so often the case, the overwhelming majority of people are blissfully unaware of the termites that are slowing but steadily eating away at the foundations of their beloved church. Unaware that these termites weekly take good-sized bites out of their pastor. And that their criticisms are so unnecessary, so petty, yet so deadly.

Look, I’ll happily stipulate the fact that no pastor is perfect. Every single one of them has room for improvement. For crying out loud, the Apostle Paul was up to his hips in alligators who criticized him relentlessly. Yes, it’s true: the celebrated apostle was not good enough for many, if not most, of our churches. And I don’t even need to bring Jesus into this discussion. Good Heavens, the religious establishment killed Him.

So maybe, just maybe, your pastor deserves a break.

“Just love him, and be thankful he’s here.”

When I try to imagine what these three churches would look like today, I want to cry because it would take so very little to change the temperature of each of these congregations. Not to mention the fact that three pastors I know would be thriving in their ministries today. If only the individuals in these three churches would, to a person, embrace just 8 little words.

Eight simple, but oh-so-powerful, words. Words written in reference to the pastors of these three churches. Words that would transform every church if every person in these churches would hear and heed and take these words to heart:

“Just love him, and be thankful he’s here.”

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