The Elephant In Our Spiritual Living Room

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One of the most interesting discoveries I have made doing a daily phone in Bible question and answer program is that the questions and even the objections people have concerning faith in Jesus really aren’t new and different.

And if we can prepare ourselves with a simple, accessible, Christ centered answer for those questions, our boldness and effectiveness in sharing our faith will grow by leaps and bounds.

Consider one of the most common objections to Christianity as it is once again revealed in a survey done by the Barna organization.

New research shows that the younger generation in America is less likely to view the Bible as accurate or sacred, but at the same time they are slightly more interested in gaining knowledge about the Bible than older generations.

Based on five separate studies conducted between 2006 and 2009, The Barna Group found that only two out of three Mosaics (adults between the ages of 18 and 25) view the Bible as a sacred or holy book. By comparison, 81 percent of Busters (ages 26 to 44), 89 percent of Boomers (ages 45 to 63), and 90 percent of elders (ages 64 and above) consider the Bible as sacred.

Younger adults also are significantly less likely than older adults to strongly agree that the Bible is totally accurate in all the principles it teaches. Only 30 percent of Mosaics and 39 percent of Busters strongly agree that the Bible is “totally accurate” in all the principles it teaches. The majority of Elders, however, strongly agree with the statement.

Mosaics also are more likely to hold universal religious beliefs than their elders. The majority of Mosaics believe the Bible teaches the same spiritual truths as other sacred texts while only 4 out of 10 Busters and Boomers, and one-third of Elders feel the same way.

Did you catch two key trends here?

First, the younger generation doubts that the Bible is any more sacred than other religious books.

Second, they feel that the essential message of the Bible is indistinguishable from other religious books.

And while this point of view may be popular with a new generation, it is an ages old objection to faith in Christ.

“Don’t all religions teach the same thing? And where they differ isn’t it just a question of perspective? It’s like the story of the blind men and the elephant – one of them grabbed its trunk and thought it was like a snake. The other grabbed its foot and thought it was like a tree trunk. The other grabbed its tail and thought it was like a rope. They were all partly right. They were just emphasizing different aspects of the same thing. It’s the same way with God. All religions are just emphasizing different aspects of the same thing.”

Well, not to mess with a popular illustration, but…

All religions don’t teach “the same thing.”

Even a basic survey of world religions reveals a series of unresolvable contradictions between their truth claims.

Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism  teach that God is an all-encompassing impersonal oneness – you are God, the chair is God, the stars are God, your cat is God because we are all made up of God.

Western religions like Judaism, Islam and Christianity teach that God is personal and distinct from His creation.

Even among Western religions we see unresolvable conflicts. Judaism and Islam teach that God may be reached by obeying commandments and traditions. Christianity teaches that the only way we can reach God is if God by His grace reaches us first.

But the most unresolvable conflict between world religions is the radical claim of Jesus Christ:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)

The second major problem with the blind men and the elephant analogy is assuming that all religions are the product of the limited perspective of people.

Once again, Jesus’ ultimate claim concerning Himself shatters that misconception.

“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.”
Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.”
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I
am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves. (John 14:7-11)

Jesus didn’t claim to be a way shower – He claimed to be the way.

Jesus didn’t claim to be a truth teller – He claimed to be the embodiment of truth.

Jesus didn’t claim to be a man who could tell us about God – He claimed to be God in human flesh.

And unlike the founders of other major world religions, He backed up His claim by doing things that only God could do -like rising from the dead in a moment of history.

So the next time someone starts in with the blind men and the elephant analogy, remember to respectfully, yet firmly share that all that might be true if God hadn’t come and spoken to us personally.

And wouldn’t you want to know what He has to say about what it means to know Him in a personal way?

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Everybody Must Get Nukes?

Or so goes the sage wisdom of one of the world’s longest lasting dictators, Colonel Moammar Gaddafi.

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Gaddafi: Palestinians have right to nukes

Palestinians, Egyptians, Syrians and Saudis all have the right to nuclear weapons, Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi told Sky News in an interview aired Monday.

“Even the Palestinians should have [nuclear weapons] because their counterparts, or their opponents, have nuclear capabilities,” Gaddafi said in the interview. “If we don’t want this situation… we’ll have to disarm the Israelis from their nuclear weapons capabilities.”

Israel neither confirms nor denies the existence of a nuclear arsenal.

Gaddafi did not hold the same views for an Iranian right to nuclear weapons.

“If Iran were to manufacture nuclear weapons, nuclear arms, then all of us, including [Libya], will be against them,” he said. “But Iran has not said so.”

In September, Gaddafi gave an unprecedented 90-minute speech at the UN, at times rambling and reading from scribbled and ripped notes.

Libya gave up its own nuclear ambitions in 2003 after the US invasion of Iraq.

Just an aside, but every time this unstable pioneer of modern terrorism comes on the scene I have the same question running through my mind- if you have achieved despot for life status, why not bump yourself up to General?

Would the raise in salary would create tax problems?

In all seriousness, Gaddafi had taken a leave of absence from the world spot light after announcing the dismantling of his own WMD program.

But that lull before the storm was shattered recently.

A not so subtle oil agreement with Great Britain was struck by Gaddafi.

Before the ink was dry on these accords, a Scottish judge released one of the Libyan masterminds of the Pan Am Airliner bombing on “compassionate grounds.”

The terrorist, Abdelbeset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, was a member of Gaddafi’s intelligence service.

He received a hero’s welcome on his return to Libya.

The survivors of the 270 victims of the Lockerbie massacre were understandably shocked and dismayed.

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Once considered yesterday’s news as far as rogue regimes were concerned, Libya is now taking a more prominent role in stirring up controversy in the Middle East.

But Gaddafi’s “modest proposal” that the Palestinians should have nukes is more than just another run of the mill outrage.

I believe that the Colonel’s statement has a two-fold significance in terms of understanding the End Times prophecy of Ezekiel 38-39.

First, Ezekiel’s vision of a Russian led coalition of nations invading Israel in the last days has a very interesting roster of participants.

Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying,  “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him,  and say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal.  I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out, with all your army, horses, and horsemen, all splendidly clothed, a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords.  Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all its troops; the house of Togarmah from the far north and all its troops—many people are with you. (Ezekiel 38:1-6)

Prominent in this invading force is the nation of Libya.

When Gaddafi disarmed, it appeared as if Libya was making a turn toward more moderate policies and a seeking of favor with the West.

Some commentators on biblical prophecy wondered aloud how this would fit in with Libya’s predicted participation in the Magog invasion.

Well, it appears that Libya’s animosity toward Israel is back and more noxious than ever.

The second and even more intriguing aspect of Gaddafi’s statement is a foreshadowing of an argument I believe we will see come to the forefront in the coming months.

The world is agreed that Iran shouldn’t have a nuclear arsenal.

The Middle East is just too dangerous a place for those kind of weapons to be on-line.

So why should Israel be allowed to have nukes as well?

Either allow nuclear weapons f or everybody or don’t allow them for anybody in the region.

Fair is fair, right?

This line of reasoning does have one fatal flaw.

Israel, unlike many in the neighborhood, doesn’t ascribe to a theology that celebrates suicide bombing as a way of salvation.

So allowing Hamas and Hezbollah to go nuclear is a non starter.

But what about a mounting world-wide pressure campaign to see Israel sign on the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and give up her deterrent capabilities?

It appears from Ezekiel that such a scenario will come to pass in the future.

‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “On that day it shall come to pass that thoughts will arise in your mind, and you will make an evil plan: You will say, ‘I will go up against a land of unwalled villages; I will go to a peaceful people, who dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates’— to take plunder and to take booty, to stretch out your hand against the waste places that are again inhabited, and against a people gathered from the nations, who have acquired livestock and goods, who dwell in the midst of the land. (Ezekiel 38:10-12)

The Magog invasion will take place when Israel is defenseless.

How will this happen?

Daniel 9:27 speaks of a “strong covenant with many” that the Antichrist will bring about that will guarantee peace for Israel.

Isaiah adds this interesting detail:

Therefore hear the word of the LORD, you scornful men,
Who rule this people who are in Jerusalem,
Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death,
And with Sheol we are in agreement.
When the overflowing scourge passes through,
It will not come to us,
For we have made lies our refuge,
And under falsehood we have hidden ourselves.” (Isaiah 25:14-15)

Let’s face it, a people who have seen the horrors of the Holocaust first hand will not disarm themselves unless they believe they have an iron clad assurance of protection from a greater source.

But when a personality so brilliant and so effective comes on the scene that the world declares, “Who is like the Beast, and who is able to make war with him?” (Revelation 13:4), Israel will drop their guard.

I believe that Gaddafi’s statement is a first step toward this predicted eventuality.

Check Out Line Therapy Takes Another Hit

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It’s where we catch up on Jennifer Anniston’s social life.

It’s where we check in with Nostradamus on what awaits beyond the horizon.

It’s where we find out what Big Foot and Bat Boy have been up to lately.

But, unfortunately, it’s also where many people turn to find answers for their deepest personal problems.

It is the grocery store check out line.

And if, while waiting for the person in front of you to fumble through their two for one coupons,  you have been paying attention to the messages we see on the front cover of Cosmo, Glamour and Oprah’s monthly update, you know the identity of the number one threat to the well being of the Republic –

Low self esteem.

Learn to think more highly (and even more exclusively) about your self and happiness and fulfillment are yours!

So popular and seductive is this “Let’s feel good about ourselves” message that religious television fixture Robert Schuller published a best seller called “Self Esteem: The New Reformation”.

So how is this exercise in personal self promotion working out?

Apparently not so well.

So much so, the counseling community is starting to have second thoughts.

In fact, Scott Lilenfield, professor of psychology at Emory University has just published a book with an intriguing title:

“50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology”.

Lilenfield and his collaborators take on such cherished and often unquestioned classics of pop psychology as:

“Opposites Attract” – (Perhaps initially, but sooner or later a lack of commonly held values will drive you crazy)

“We Use Only 10% of Our Brains” – (Studies show there are no dormant sections of our minds waiting to be jump started)

“Full Moons Trigger Wacky Behavior” – (We are all pretty wacky all the time, full moons offer a good excuse and/or a bench mark for remembering odd incidents)

But the most shocking myth to make Lilenfield’s list ?

Low self-esteem is a key to future psychological problems. “The self-help industry has probably persuaded people who don’t have the highest self-esteem [to believe] they can’t amount to much in life,” says Lilienfeld. It may hurt people whose confidence is at basement level, but in general, he says, the link between self-esteem and “mental adjustment” is modest at best. Nor is high self-esteem, the obvious flip side of the belief, always good. A subset of people brimming with self-esteem could be considered narcissistic and are at heightened risk, says Lilienfeld, of aggression if challenged or insulted.

I’ve got to admit all this is a bit confusing.

10 years ago, pumping up our egos was considered the healthiest form of mental exercise.

Today? Not so much.

It reminds me of back when I played football in high school when we were told “Water is for quitters!” and the best thing to do between hard work outs in stifling humidity was to wolf down 10 salt tablets.

Hey! These coaches were experts, right?

It’s a wonder they didn’t kill us all!

It makes me wonder what the experts will be saying 10 years from now – Sample headline in the check out line circa 2019:  “Low Fat Diets: America’s Number One Killer!”

But I digress.

This constant swinging of the pendulum makes me so thankful that God has given us His unchanging perspective on the key issues of life in His timeless Word, the Bible.

For instance, what is the Biblical view of the self esteem debate?

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. (Romans 12:3)

I think we would be hard pressed to find a single Biblical command to promote or exalt ourselves, even within ourselves.

But neither does the Bible tell us to beat ourselves over the head and lament how worthless we are.

Either one of these extremes still keeps the unholy trinity of me, myself and I as the focal point of life.

The Romans passage seems to indicate that the biggest danger is to have a distorted view of ourselves as the center of the universe.

The cure? Sober thinking.

The word “sober” means to think with clarity and accuracy.

How can we see ourselves with the same view that God has of us?

We need to look at ourselves through the lens of faith in Who God is and what He is doing in our lives.

A faith based perspective tells us first of all that we are created in the image and likeness of God, and as such have an intrinsic value and dignity as His creation.

It also tells us that we are  a part of a dearly loved, yet fallen and renegade race that is capable of great acts of destructive selfishness.

Further it tells us that God’s love is so great that He gave His Son to die on a cruel Roman cross to pay the just penalty for all our wrongs.

If we put our trust in what Jesus has done for us, we are reconciled to God, forgiven our sins and made a part of His forever family.

All we bring to this party is faith.

Not our talents.

Not our possessions.

Not our education.

Not what people think of us for good or for ill.

We are made glorious because we have simply trusted in what Jesus has done for us.

The strength and stability of this perspective is pretty easy to spot.

We can’t fall into self-depreciation, saying we are worthless or nothing, because God Himself knows us and loves us. That makes us special.

We can’t fall into ego inflated big headed-ness, because we can’t add a single thing to what God has done for us. All we can do is accept it and enjoy it.

What is the basis of your sense of self worth?

Self esteem will sooner or later leave us either deceived or in despair.

But Savior- esteem will keep our sense of worth in perfect balance.

Consider the impact this perspective had upon the life of the Apostle Paul.

For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (I Corinthians 15:9-10)

No self-exaltation, but no self-depreciation – Just heartfelt appreciation for what God has done.

That is a self concept that is worth having.

Never Forget vs. Never Offend

American philosopher George Santayana once observed, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

If you have ever taken a trip to Israel, you know that the Jewish people take this adage seriously.

In fact, one of the must see sites in any tour of Jerusalem is Yad Vashem – the museum complex dedicated to preserving the memory of those who lost their lives in Hitler’s Holocaust.

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“And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (a “yad vashem”)… that shall not be cut off.”

(Isaiah, chapter 56, verse 5)

As the Jewish people’s living memorial to the Holocaust, Yad Vashem safeguards the memory of the past and imparts its meaning for future generations. Established in 1953, as the world center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem is today a dynamic and vital place of intergenerational and international encounter.

The murder of 6 million of their people has inspired a slogan in Israel – “Never forget!”

But, shocking as it may seem, there are those who would prefer that the world forget.

And no, we are not talking about crackpot Neo-Nazis out for a fun day of disturbing the peace in Skokie, Illinois.

You see, we live in a day of political correctness.

And as such, there are those who devote their every waking moment to the goal of making sure that each and every day the delicate sensibilities of selected pressure groups are not offended.

And if avoiding offense is the ultimate goal, well, certain things must be sacrificed along the way to achieve it.

Consider what has now been placed on the academic chopping block in Great Britain.

No lessons on the Holocaust

Freed prisoners at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland after the Second World War

Ignored by schools: freed prisoners at the Auschwitz concentration camp

Schools are dropping controversial subjects from history lessons – such as the Holocaust and the Crusades – because teachers do not want to cause offence, Government research has discovered.
Some teachers dropped the Holocaust completely from lessons because of fears that Muslim pupils might express anti-semitic reactions. One school avoided teaching the Crusades because its “balanced” handling of the topic would directly contradict what was taught in local mosques.

The report, funded by the Department for Education and Skills, said: “Teachers and schools avoid emotive and controversial history for a variety of reasons, some of which are well-intentioned.

“Staff may wish to avoid causing offence or appearing insensitive to individuals or groups in their classes.

“In particular settings, teachers of history are unwilling to challenge highly contentious or charged versions of history in which pupils are steeped at home, in their community or in a place of worship.”

The researchers gave the example of one history department in a secondary school in a northern city which decided not to teach the Holocaust as a topic for GCSE coursework.

The report said teachers feared confronting “anti-semitic sentiment and Holocaust denial among some Muslim pupils”. Christian parents at another school complained about the way the Arab-Israeli conflict was taught.

“In another department, the Holocaust was taught despite anti-semitic sentiment among some pupils, but the same department deliberately avoided teaching the Crusades at Key Stage 3 (for 11- to 14-year-olds) because their balanced treatment of the topic would have directly challenged what was taught in some local mosques.”

The study said too many teachers “play safe”.

Personally, I find it ironic that educators are so concerned with offending sensibilities, especially on subjects that touch on spiritual themes.

When I was in college, one of the first lectures that greeted me was in a Psych 101 class where the professor announced, “If you are one of those born again Christian types, you might as well transfer out of here because I hate you people.”

But I soon learned an important aspect of the academic culture.

There was an amazing intolerance for Christianity in the class room.

But there was also an equally amazing tolerance of any other spiritual perspective but Christianity in the class room.

If you believed in worshiping citrus fruit, or that the key to eternal life was a personal relationship with Cosmic Muffin, that was considered deep and sacred.

Let slip that you believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and be prepared to be greeted with rolling eyes, disapproving sighs, an obscenity laden lecture from the campus Marxist and a general consensus that whoever let a Philistine like you into this fine institution should be sent to a re-education camp.

Why?

Because Jesus, taken seriously, is offensive.

That is, if you believe that all religious rivers flow to the same ocean.

Or that truth is merely a matter of perspective.

Or that morality is what feels good and best to you at a particular moment.

Or that Jesus is just one of many equally valid religious teachers.

As Jesus Himself put it:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)

“Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:9)

“If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.” (John 15:22)

Former ABC anchorman Ted Koppel was once quoted as saying, “Truth is not a polite tap on the shoulder. It is a howling reproach. What Moses brought down from Mount Sinai aren’t the 10 Suggestions.”

But if your goal is to avoid offending anyone, at any cost, truth is the first casualty.

And so these days we face a challenge and a choice.

Do we follow the lead of the British educational system and cry out, “Never offend!”?

Or do we take a walk through the solemn halls of Yad Vashem and cry out, “Never forget!”?

The Challenge of Atheism: Why or Why Bother?

Have you ever had the experience of engaging in a spiritual discussion with an atheist?

As with any conversation with an adherent of an extreme position, you can count on a few sparks flying.

And if you let slip that you actually believe in God, get ready to get peppered with a number of questions served shotgun style.

Inevitably, when the dust clears, I have discovered that the challenge of atheism can be summed up in one question – “Why?”

As in, “If there is a God, why are there natural disasters in this world?”

Or , “If there is a God, how could an event like the Holocaust take place?”

Or, “If there is a God, why do innocent children suffer and die?”

The essence of their argument goes something like this –

Evil and suffering happen in this world.

If God was good He would want to do something about it.

If God was good and all powerful (as the Bible insists) He would be able to do something about it.

Since evil and suffering continue, either:

-God isn’t good (as Christopher Hitchens would say)

-Or God isn’t all powerful (as Rabbi Harold Kushner would say)

– Or God simply is a delusion (as Richard Dawkins would say)

(If you want to explore the Biblical response to this challenge, I’d encourage you to read Scott Richards Live guest Phillip Yancey’s  excellent and thought provoking book “Disappointment With God” – or Lee Strobel’s “The Case For Faith”.)

But for our purpose today, I’d like to call to your attention the underlying foundation that under girds the atheist’s challenge.

Absolute morality.

Now most atheists would turn pale at the suggestion that they were advocating an ethical standard that was binding on all people, in all times and in all circumstances.

But the moment an atheist uses the terms good or evil, they are assuming that we are talking about something self evident.

Feeding starving children in the slums of Calcutta = good.

Declaring Jews to be sub human and dedicating your entire nation’s resources to their eradication = bad.

But here is where the one who denies the existence of God, who believes that all of reality is the result of a purposeless accident gets “hoist by their own petard”.

Why?

The atheist believes that man is ultimately the measure of all things and that nothing in and of itself is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

So how does an atheist respond when men differ in their views of good and evil?

Generally speaking, the average American wolfing down Cheetos while watching a commercial appeal for the starving in India thinks that helping such unfortunates is a good thing.

But a committed Hindu in India believes that such people suffer because of misdeeds in a past life. To help these children would doom them to return in the next life and go through the same experience again.

If good is only in the eye of the beholder, who is right?

Nowadays most of us believe that racism is wrong. But 70 years ago the notion that certain races were more advanced in their evolutionary development was not only taught in most universities, but was the driving force behind Hitler’s vision of a “Master Race”.

Who was right? Who was wrong?

If there are no absolute truths that exist above and beyond the realm of human opinion, then the prevailing morality is only the result of power games.

And the only difference between our morality and Nazi-ism is that Hitler lost a war.

I saw a story in this morning’s New York Times about an upcoming ad campaign by a group of atheists.

Subways in the Big Apple will carry this poster beginning next week.

An atheist ad will run in dozen subway stations in Manhattan for a month starting on Oct. 26.
A few questions for what bills itself as “The Coalition of Reason” that sponsors the ad:
What do you mean when you use the word “good”?
What gives you the authority to suggest your definition of goodness would be a good thing for anyone else?
And if what you believe is true –
that we are all a big cosmic accident
an accidental co-location of atoms
that ultimately no heroism,
no altruism,
no passion
can prevent everything we have,
everything we have learned,
everything we have achieved
and everything we are
to end up in a dark and lifeless junk heap of a universe that is devoid of energy and life –
Here is the ultimate question every atheist must ask –
“Why bother?”
But there is an alternative to this recipe for confusion and despair.
A man named Asaph who lived nearly 1,000 years before Christ faced a crisis of faith.
Oppressive and immoral people were not only not being punished, but actually turning a profit in their lifestyle.
Asaph wrote:

And they say, “How does God know?
And is there knowledge in the Most High?”
Behold, these are the ungodly,
Who are always at ease;
They increase in riches.
Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain,
And washed my hands in innocence.
For all day long I have been plagued,
And chastened every morning.

If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
Behold, I would have been untrue to the generation of Your children.
When I thought how to understand this,
It was too painful for me—
Until I went into the sanctuary of God;
Then I understood their end.

Surely You set them in slippery places;
You cast them down to destruction.
Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment!
They are utterly consumed with terrors.
As a dream when one awakes,
So, Lord, when You awake,
You shall despise their image.

Thus my heart was grieved,
And I was vexed in my mind.
I was so foolish and ignorant;
I was like a beast before You.
Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
You will guide me with Your counsel,
And afterward receive me to glory.

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish;
You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry.
But it is good for me to draw near to God;
I have put my trust in the Lord GOD,
That I may declare all Your works. (Psalm 73:11-28)

Those who know God have a reason not to cave in and join the ranks of the cynical or the self deluded.

Why do what’s right?

Because God is watching.

And sooner than we can imagine, the One Who defines goodness will balance the books.

At the End of the Day, “Whatever” Rules

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Have you ever gone to a meeting of the Toastmasters?

The Toastmasters specialize in providing an opportunity for people to engage in what has been consistently reported to be the most frightening experience known to man –

And no, it’s not hang gliding.

Or taking a dip in a great white shark resistant cage.

Or braving 40 foot breakers while crab fishing in the Bering Sea.

It’s much more intimidating than any of that.

It’s public speaking.

And if the thought of giving a speech sends chills down your spine, imagine this:

At a Toastmasters’ meeting you would not only receive blunt and immediate feedback on your skills as a speaker, but every time you utter an “um” or a “ah” or a “y’know”, a designated member of the group will ring a bell!

Where do I sign up for that shark dive, again?

The point of this practice is easy to spot.

There are few things more annoying than having to listen to a speaker that fills their allotted time with 40% fluff.

And after a few rounds of this form of shock therapy, there is an amazing drop off on filler words and conversation crutches.

I couldn’t help but think of the Toastmasters when I saw the results of a very enlightening survey this week.

“Whatever” Reigns As Most Annoying Phrase

Nearly 50 Percent of Country Say “Whatever” Irks Them; Other

Choices: “You Know” and “It Is What It Is”

If you find yourself irked when someone gives you the “whatever” treatment, you’re not alone.

According to a Marist poll, almost half of Americans – 47 percent – said there’s no phrase more annoying than “whatever.”

Other candidates for most irritating phrases: “you know” netted 25 percent of the vote; “it is what it is” got 11 percent; “anyway” got 7 percent; and “at the end of the day” ended the day with 2 percent.

Some geographic tendencies also emerged. “Whatever,” for example, is more loathed in the Midwest – where it annoys 55 percent of respondents – than it is in the Northeast, where it bothers 35 percent.

It is hardly a news flash that the majority of people don’t enjoy a conversation loaded with meaningless buzz phrases.

But would it surprise you to learn that God feels the same way?

Consider thee following insight Jesus gives us on the subject of prayer:

And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.
“Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:7-8)

“Oh, come on Scott! You don’t mean that God finds the way we talk to Him as annoying as we find the way we talk to each other?”

Yup.

When Jesus speaks of “vain repetitions, He isn’t just warning against speaking words without the slightest consideration of the meaning behind them – although that is a good place to start.

Have you ever sat through a service where it seemed like people were competing to see who could sound most like an auctioneer when reciting the Lord’s Prayer?

Whatever is going on at that moment, it isn’t about communication – it’s more about obligation.

How would you like it if someone felt the best way to build a relationship with you was talking as fast as they could?

But even when we do take the time to slow down and express ourselves to God in a public setting, how quickly our statements get peppered with words that are pretty much an accepted form of Christian cliche?

Try this experiment. The next time you gather with other believers to pray, count the times people use the word “just” in their prayers.

As in, “Lord we just love you. And we are just so thankful that You just hear our prayers and that You just love us so much.”

I have heard the word “just” used so often in public prayer that I am beginning to wonder if most of us would be rendered speechless without it!

Could you imagine if God sent an angel and had him ring a Toastmasters-like bell every time we uttered one of our patented phrases that sound spiritual, but are sadly lacking in meaning?

Now, don’t get me wrong.

God loves it when we pray.

And we don’t have to deliver a flawless oratory to please Him.

As Jesus pointed out, He already knows what we need and like any loving Father He is glad when we pour out our hearts to Him.

But try another experiment.

Next time you are in a place to publically pray – slow it down. God isn’t in a hurry.

Think through what you are about to express, and remember you are talking to the Lord, not delivering a speech before people.

Bathe every word you speak in the knowledge that Jesus died to make this moment of communion with the Father possible.

And at the end of the day, you won’t find yourself with a whatever kind of prayer life.

The Real Peace Prize

This has been one bizarre day in the news.

The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded and no one is more surprised than the recipient?

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When I heard the news in brief, I assumed Barack Obama was given this honor to commemorate his place in history as out first black president.

I was all set to post an article on the biblical underpinnings of the Civil Rights Movement, especially as scriptural principle was presented in Dr. Martin Luther King’s immortal “I Have a Dream” speech.

My point was going to be how far our nation had come in the realm of race relations, and how far even we as Christians still had to go to live out the color blind conclusion of Galatians 3:26-28:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

But before I hit “publish” I discovered the official stated reason why Barack Obama was selected as this year’s Nobel Laureate for Peace:

Thorbjorn Jagland, the chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and a former prime minister of Norway, said the president had already contributed enough to world diplomacy and international understanding to earn the award.

“We are not awarding the prize for what may happen in the future, but for what he has done in the previous year,” Mr. Jagland said. “We would hope this will enhance what he is trying to do.”

So the new standard for a Nobel Peace Prize is not tangible results like negotiating a treaty, or bringing long warring factions to the table, or actually causing the horrors of war to cease – it is good intentions.

Does that mean that every Miss America contestant who hoped her winning the crown would bring world peace is now under consideration for what used to be a significant honor?

But back in the realm of reality, things aren’t looking so rosy.

In response to the word slipping out that the US is fast tracking high tech, high yield bunker busting bombs, Mahmoud and the Mad Mullahs (now wouldn’t that be a name for a rock band?) have issued a predictable soothing response.

‘Iran will blow up the heart of Israel’

Iran will “blow up the heart of Israel” if the United States or the Jewish state attacked it first, a top official with Iran’s most powerful military force, the Revolutionary Guard, warned Friday.

Cleric Mojtaba Zolnour, who is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative in the Guard, said that if a US or Israeli missile lands in Iran, Iranian missiles will hit Israel in retaliation.

“Should a single American or Zionist missile land in our country, before the dust settles, Iranian missiles will blow up the heart of Israel,” Zolnour was quoted as saying by the state IRNA news agency.

In March, Iran’s deputy army chief made similar remarks, warning that his country will eliminate Israel if it attacks the Islamic republic.

“Should Israel take any action against Iran, we will eliminate Israel from the scene of the universe,” Gen. Muhammad Reza Ashtiani said at the time in Teheran.

Ashtiani claimed Israel was “very vulnerable” and dismissed allegations that Iran was worried about Israeli maneuvers.

“Due to its special conditions, Israel is very vulnerable in the region,” he said. “The aggressors will face a crushing response.”

It appears that Iran has been paying close attention to Western media, especially the ABC News report concerning the fast forward request for four state of the art bunker busting bombs.

It is no surprise that Iran would threaten to hit Israel, no matter who initiates the attack on their nuclear development sites.

But has Iran committed an over reach here?

It still seems likely that Israel would defer to a US strike, thereby reducing the risk of a regional war.

The bet seems to be that having Israel fight a proxy war with Hamas and Hezbollah in a two front version of the recent missile attacks  from Lebanon would be the best of a series of increasingly bad situations.

But any scenario would be preferable to the havoc caused when a suicide embracing cult gets not only atomic weapons but also the means to deliver them.

These are days of difficult choices and unforeseen consequences.

No matter what your political persuasion might be, we all need to take seriously this timely instruction:

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men,  for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.  For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (I Timothy 2:1-4)

If you haven’t before, now would be a good time to pray for wisdom for Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu and perhaps even the salvation of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollah Khameni.

Real peace in this world may depend on it.