I was recently reading an email from a friend of mine who was warning about the threat of Islam in America. It caught my attention because for many years I too warned folks about the threat of radical Islam. In fact, following an attack by a deranged Muslim in Chattanooga a few years ago, I personally organized an event that featured a prominent international expert on Islam. That event drew over 400 individuals, garnered plenty of media attention and as you can imagine, created a fair amount of controversy as well.
My friend’s email went on to warn that “the hand writing is on the wall” with regard to the Islamist incursion into America’s government. While I don’t disagree with the assessment in general, the “hand writing on the wall” took my mind to a verse I read a few days ago. Jesus was speaking with His disciples when He shared this truth:
“…You know how to interpret the weather signs of the earth and sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the present times.” Luke 12:56
It’s likely many Americans are well versed in interpreting the dozens of warning signs that have been apparent for decades now in our nation. We see the threat of radical Islam, the pending repercussions of an exploding debt, the impact of a crumbling moral decline, the results of a failing educational system, along with the too many other obvious threats to mention here. And these threats are all real, without question.
But these threats, are merely signs of a much greater storm that is brewing — an eternal one. While the aforementioned threats pose great danger to the future of a nation, and they have no doubt awakened the passion and activism of many to expose and defeat them, I question whether there are some greater signs, of eternal consequence, that we are missing or perhaps ignoring?
I don’t assume that everyone who might read these thoughts will embrace the Bible, but I would venture to guess that many do. So if this is true, I’m also reminded of the verse that asserts, “What does it profit a man if he gains the world but loses his soul?” Perhaps an amplification of this verse (which I believe is true based on numerous other passages) could be “What does it profit a man if he gains a nation, but loses the souls of his fellow citizens?”
As real as the threat of radical Islam is to our nation, the truth is that each Muslim has a soul. God loves every one of them. And God’s Son Jesus died for each Muslim. For that matter, He died for each of us. So as we may warn about the ideology of radical Islam, and its questionable history, (of which I am quite familiar), there is a greater sign that I believe Jesus was referencing when He warned His disciples. (By the way, I’m reminded of a radical Jew who went about persecuting and killing Christians, until Jesus transformed his life and he became one of the most widely read authors in the New Testament, who we know as the Apostle Paul.)
There is nothing bad about being informed about today’s highs and tonight’s lows when it comes to our weather. But the greatest value of forecasts is when a tornado or hurricane is bearing down on your home. At that point, having the most relevant info to protect against such a storm, is of great value.
Likewise, there is a spiritual storm brewing. The eternal implications vastly exceed the temporal impact of the myriad of issues, many of them good, that can distract us from one day to the next. But the truth is that the battle that is raging is for “all the marbles” and those “marbles” are the souls of men and women, not merely the future of a nation.
I do not share these thoughts to judge or convict anyone who might read this, as they are written to me as much as to anyone else. These are thoughts I have been thinking through for some time.
Someday each of us will stand before our Creator to answer for the use of our time, treasure and talent. Personally I must confess I’ve misused all three of these over the years. So I have wondered if attempts to save a nation, will be impressive to God, or will He ask me and you, a different set of questions?
What about your neighbor? Did you love him/her? Did you share My truths with him? Did you reach out to that one that you disagree with, but I died for? Did you show him the love My Son expressed towards Him? Did you love your enemies (as I instructed you to)? Did you forgive your enemies, as Stephen did when he was being stoned to death by his enemies?
Only you can weigh whether these questions are valid. Only you can evaluate what you believe to be the pressing “signs of the times” to which Jesus alluded. But as you consider these thoughts, and evaluate the signs, I would encourage you to read the entire chapter of Luke 12 so as to gain the context within which Jesus warned His disciples about the “signs of the times.” For me it was instructive to better understand just what Jesus was discussing.
I look forward to any thoughts you might share as you consider my thoughts and this verse. And may we all be like the sons of Issachar who we are told were men who “understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take.” (I Chronicles 12:32)
The election season is over. For some voters, going to the polls was merely a civic duty. For others voting was a matter of stewardship, understanding that God gives us this American privilege, and we will be held accountable for every vote we cast.
But my real focus of this article is not on voters, but rather it’s a message to the newly elected (or re-elected) officials.
God has given me the opportunity (and sobering responsibility) to meet and get to know dozens of politicians, from councilmen to several Presidential candidates. While I’m no longer active in political endeavors, many of these friends or acquaintances were elected to office this last cycle. These offices range from school board members to US Senators, and many offices in between.
So with this as a backdrop, the following verse jumped out at me this week from the book of Daniel:
“For this has been decreed by the messengers; it is commanded by the holy ones, so that everyone may know that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world. He gives them to anyone he chooses— even to the lowliest of people.” Daniel 4:17
The Instruction Manual
The book of Daniel is the instruction manual on how Christians in government should behave. Daniel also illustrates to believers how we should respond to government, particularly adversarial ones.
As we read this manual, for guidance both in civics and governance, it’s important to understand that the government officials we are introduced to in Daniel are both followers of (the one true) God, as well as pagans (followers of someone or something other than the one true God). In addition to Daniel, there are many other books and passages in the Bible that offer insights into God’s view of government officials, and their role in serving Him.
God Elevates Both Believers and Unbelievers to Government
This is the first principle that each recently elected government official should understand. Regardless of whether you believe in and follow God, or not, it is God that has given you the victory you are celebrating. It’s not the voters. It’s Him. Sure, the voters all cast a vote, some for you and some against you.
But ascribing your victory to voters is akin to thanking a courier who hands you the keys to your new car, that your rich uncle just bought for you. Your uncle deserves the acknowledgement and thanks, not the courier.
God “gives them (kingdoms) to anyone he chooses — even to the lowliest of people” affirms this principle. So whether you were elected the county dog catcher, or the President of the United States, God has lent you the office to test your stewardship. That’s not only an awesome opportunity, but it’s more importantly a sobering responsibility. You will be held accountable, not merely by the voters, but more importantly by God Almighty.
God is Testing Your Humility (or Pride)
In Daniel, we read about the story of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon and a powerful ruler of his day. But with that power, we also see a man who grew very proud. We read in Daniel 4:30 these words:
“As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.’” (Daniel 4:30)
If ever there was a man who embodied the spirit of the “self-made” man, King Nebuchadnezzar was that man. Note how his power led to pride. (And we’ll find out in our next principle, what the king’s pride led to.)
It’s a very difficult task to resist the temptation of pride. Power and pride seem to go hand and hand. So as someone is elevated to a position of power, who was a “no one” or perhaps a “lesser one” before his election, it’s so easy to become prideful in that new found position. A politician can easily look at himself as important. As special. As above others. As privileged. As deserving.
But all those attitudes are not only false, they are Pride whispering lies to us. It’s incumbent on you as an elected official to resist such temptations, and rebuke those attitudes. But if you fail this test, you will soon experience the warning from Proverbs 16:18 where we’re told:
“Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.”
How many politicians do you know that seem to struggle with pride? If we’re all honest though, this is a sin many of us have succumbed to in our own lives. So Mr/Ms Politician, resist this huge temptation that comes to all of us, but particularly those with power. If you don’t, you may find yourself experiencing the next principle.
Pride Leads to Bad Stuff
I suppose I could have been more “sophisticated” in describing this principle, but “bad stuff” really is the result of Pride in the life of an elected official. The prophet Daniel, who was also a high government official in King Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, warned the King of what would occur if he took credit for “his” achievements versus ascribing any success to God. Note Daniel’s warning:
“You will be driven from human society, and you will live in the fields with the wild animals. You will eat grass like a cow, and you will be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses… King Nebuchadnezzar, please accept my advice. Stop sinning and do what is right. Break from your wicked past and be merciful to the poor. Perhaps then you will continue to prosper.” (Daniel 4:25, 27)
Sadly though, this is what occurred when Nebuchadnezzar refused to heed God’s warning, spoken through Daniel:
“…A voice called down from heaven, ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, this message is for you! You are no longer ruler of this kingdom. You will be driven from human society. You will live in the fields with the wild animals, and you will eat grass like a cow. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses.’” (Daniel 4:31-32)
What a great fall King Nebuchadnezzar experienced! From the height of world power, to the lowliness of an animal — simply because he allowed the spirit of pride to rule in his life.
It’s uncanny, but should not be surprising, that 600 years later, Jesus, the Son of the Voice from heaven who spoke to Nebuchadnezzar, reminded us again of the repercussions of pride in our lives:
“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)
So be sure of this elected official. Pride will tempt you, but you can resist it in your live, and as you do, and take the less travelled path of humility, God will exalt you, according to Jesus, God’s Son.
Nebuchadnezzar’s own life is a reflection of this reality for when the king finally humbled himself and acknowledged the One who had exalted him to begin with, this is what the king had to say:
“After this time had passed, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven. My sanity returned, and I praised and worshiped the Most High and honored the one who lives forever. His rule is everlasting, and his kingdom is eternal. When my sanity returned to me, so did my honor and glory and kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored as head of my kingdom, with even greater honor than before. “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of heaven. All his acts are just and true, and he is able to humble the proud.” (Daniel 4:34, 36-37)
We’ve all heard of the “servant leadership” principle. It’s a teaching that’s hip these days, and often promoted in corporate entities. But long before motivational coaches latched onto this truth, Jesus had this to say about the role servant leadership should play in all of our lives, including elected officials:
“But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave.” (Matthew 20:25-27)
Having been around elected officials for many, many years now, I have seen a spirit that is often anything but “servant leadership.” The head tables, the honored seats, and the best of everything is always reserved for politicians. And yet, the elite status most politicians enjoy is entirely at odds with their self-assigned title of “servants of the people.”
So if you were just elected and want to be different and break the political mold, what if you were to truly embrace the idea of “servant leadership” in your elected role? Perhaps one antidote against the pride that will lead to destruction and fall, is to simply commit oneself to truly being a servant in practice versus simply in words.
There are at least two reasons to do so. The first is because Jesus modeled such leadership and what better person to pattern our lives after than the Son of God? But there is another reason, and it has to do with future rewards:
“So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16)
God’s Elevating of An Individual Does NOT Suggest He Endorses That Individual
We often misunderstand God’s actions and choices, assuming that because He places certain individuals in positions of authority, that God must then endorse such an individual. This fallacy has been a huge stumbling block for Christians, particularly over the last couple years. But this could not be further from the truth, as taught throughout Scripture.
God elevates individuals to positions of authority for several reasons including 1) to achieve God’s greater Plan, 2) to test that individual, 3) to punish, test, or refine those who are under the ruler’s authority, or some other purposes. We cannot always be certain of God’s reasons, but we can know this:
“For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)
We also know that at times God will even elevate evil or immoral rulers to achieve His greater Plan. But when that Plan is achieved, God will discard the ruler, when he does not turn to God and acknowledge His sovereignty. The examples of the numerous kings of Judah and Israel in the Old Testament are an affirmation of this principle, as God used both good and evil kings to continue to advance His objectives. But as soon as God finished with an immoral ruler, God always discarded him.
So the lesson any elected official should learn from this truth, is that God’s selection of you for the office you now hold, is not necessarily an endorsement of you, your political solutions, ambitions, or even your character. Rather, He has placed you there for His purposes. So it’s incumbent on every elected official to ask these questions:
“Why did God elevate me? What does He want to achieve through me? How can I best serve God in this capacity? Am I ready to give account to Him for my actions in my current position?”
All these questions require one particular attitude which we referenced earlier: Humility.
In closing, I trust as you assume the new office or term, which you have been given for a brief moment, that you will ponder these truths from God’s Word. I trust you will acknowledge Whom it is that elevated you, that you will remain humble, that you will truly model servant leadership, and that you will never assume that God endorses all you do, simply because He has granted you this position of authority.
Remember what Jesus said to Pilate when He, as the Son of God, stood before the government official who had been lent the power of life or death:
“Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.” (John 19:11)
So if your authority is given to you by God Himself, then this should be your response:
“What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)
Blessings to you as you move into what has often been portrayed as “The Swamp.” But in reality, it may be your greatest opportunity and responsibility to:
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
(If you know an elected official, and agree with this message, would you forward this to him/her?)
First, let me say that I’m a big sinner. I struggle with sin. My daily battles are not engaging with some jihadi terrorists half-way around the world. But the battles I face are as real, and in some regards even more consequential. Without a doubt, our troops are engaged in many physical life and death encounters, with some really bad guys. But if you’re alive and breathing, you’ll acknowledge that you, like me, are engaged in very real spiritual battles every day… oftentimes many, many times each day. And the consequences of these battles are eternal in nature. Think about that for a minute.
The struggles you face today, tomorrow and next week, and how you respond to them, will have eternal consequences! As in forever!
When I thought about writing this article, I struggled to do so, lest anyone believe I am holding myself out as some kind of spiritual guru or example. The truth is, I’m the exact opposite. If you could spend a day or two in my shoes, you’d see why I completely identify with the Apostle Paul when he exclaimed that he was “the chief of sinners.” If you doubt me, just ask my wife.
It’s because of the reality that I struggle with sin, that in 2016 I took up the challenge to read through the Bible in a year. I have read the Bible off and on since I was a kid. Sometimes that meant reading through the Bible in a year. But typically it meant reading a few verses or chapters here and there, for a few days or weeks. But it was seldom structured or consistent, and never permanent.
But when I took up the challenge to read through the Bible in 2016, I did it with others in our church. I completed the “Bible in a Year” Plan on schedule and decided to do it again in 2017. But as I began, now two years ago, I recalled the example of my grandfather.
🔹My Grandfather’s Example
When Oscar Werner turned 50, he set a goal of reading through the Bible four times a year so that when he was 75 he would finish reading the Bible 100 times. He met his goal and continued that same schedule until he died in his 80’s. I wrote an article about his story which you can read on my blog. It’s entitled “The Wisdom of the Ages: The Example of My Grandfather“.
So as I began reading through the Bible again in 2017, I began to double or triple up my readings each day. I realized that doing so was actually quite easy. I enjoyed it and was also challenged by the increased amount of time in God’s Word.
Four and a half months into 2017, I completed reading the entire Bible. And it was such a joy to do so. With this renewed love for God’s Word, I felt I needed more. So I found a reading program via my Bible app that would take me through the Bible in 90 days. I set out to do that. In essence this was the same schedule that my grandfather had embarked on 75 years earlier.
But 44 days later, I completed reading through the Bible again. I was impacted, and inspired. When the Bible says that it is “alive and sharper than any two edged sword” I could testify to this truth. I was being convicted and challenged over and over, day after day, in such a meaningful manner. At the same time, my thoughts and philosophy on a host of matters were being changed, dramatically, as I sought to conform them to God’s Word! (That’s a whole separate story.)
So I continued on my reading program, starting on my third time through the Bible in June 2017. As the weeks ticked by, I continued to ingest God’s Word at an ever increasing rate. 18 days. 21 days. 27 days… and on and on. By the end of 2017, I completed reading through the Bible ten times, and nine of those times were in a little over seven months.
Truthfully, I was addicted… in a good way. I started 2018 with a continued fervor to devour the Word. It had become the single most important activity in my life each day and something I eagerly anticipated.
Walking. Waiting in line. Traveling on a plane. Riding in a car (using the audio option). Hiking in Nepal under the shadows of the Himalayas. Whenever I had time where I was not engaged with someone or something else, I found myself continuously opening my Bible app and getting some more “time in the Word.” It replaced my love for music and talk radio.
So as I write this, a few days before Christmas 2018, I just completed my 17th time through God’s Word in 2018 — 27 times in 2 years.
Perhaps the most exciting thing for me though has been to see my wife become consumed with this same passion, as she also completed reading both the entire Bible as well as the New Testament multiple times in 2018, and has now started the 90 Day Plan.
🔹My Challenge to You
Again, I want to reiterate that I don’t share this to bring any focus to me. The fact is I’ve had this article written for months and have hesitated to share it lest it be misunderstood.
Truthfully, I share this for one reason. It’s the same reason I believe that my grandfather allowed his family to know about the goal he had set: to inspire and challenge others to do the same… to get into God’s Word. Oscar Werner knew that if his family would follow his example, we would find the answers to life’s deepest questions, and most difficult struggles.
So like my grandfather inspired me, I want to inspire you to get into the Bible.
No, I’m not suggesting that you read 2-3 hours a day, although some day I hope you will. Rather, I want to challenge you to simply begin reading consistently through the Bible, every day, in a structured manner. Never miss it. Set a reminder if you must.
Every significant habit, begins with a simple decision.
When a person is suffering from a debilitating disease, oftentimes the only cure might be a blood transfusion. Their own diseased blood must be replaced with new, fresh, pure blood. Likewise, we as humans are diseased. Our nature is sinful. Our thoughts are impure. And our hearts are unrighteous. And only through a daily transfusion of God’s Word, can we ever hope to live a life of humility, repentance and victory through Christ’s strength.
So I challenge you to get into the Word. Start today. And if you do, or are already doing so, I’d love to know that you do. In fact, let’s do it together!
Finally, as a result of my time in the Word over the last couple years, the following verse summarizes this season in my life:
💡 “Let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully…” Ezekiel 3:10
I hope you will allow God’s Words to sink deep into your own heart as well.
Let’s make 2019 the Year of the Bible. Will you do so?
💡 “When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies.” Jeremiah 15:16
Here are my reading suggestions, but they are simply what work for me:
Find “Read Through the Bible” Plan (It’s a one year plan)
Click “Start Plan”
My favorite version is the New Living Translation (NLT). Not only is it in modern vocabulary, but it has a great Audio option.
I both read (with eyes) and listen (with my ears) via the Bible App. Even when I’m reading with my eyes, I have the audio playing, so I can see and hear simultaneously. It helps me to better understand and retain what I’m reading.
Regarding the “Audio” option, it’s pretty much all I listen to anymore when I’m driving, walking/exercising, etc. It connects well with any Bluetooth device. Also, the NLT audio is by far the most pleasant to listen to, in my opinion. It also includes dramatization where various voices are used to “act out” the stories in the Gospels and Acts.
I recommend you Register with “You Version” so you can track your Bible reading, interact with friends and so much more. If you do, please send me a friend request so we can encourage each other via the app.
If you start on this journey, and have any questions whatsoever, please reach out to me. There’s nothing more important to me than encouraging others to read the Bible. So if I can help in any way, including questions or problems with the Bible app, please let me know.
As I was reading the story of Noah recently, a few verses jumped out at me as to why God used Noah to build the ark. Note what God had to say about this man, who would build the most famous boat ever, one that was much larger and more capable than the Titanic:
“This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God.” Genesis 6:9
Imagine having the above said about you. But wait. There’s more:
“So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him.” Genesis 6:22
When God saw all the evil that filled the earth, He gave Noah very specific instructions on what he should do to save his life, his family, and a remnant of God’s animal creation. Noah’s obedience was critical if they were all to be protected from the impending flood that would soon cover the entire earth.
Noah obeyed God. Period. But Noah’s obedience wasn’t just for a few weeks, or a year or two. Rather Noah’s obedience was for many decades, as Noah and his sons labored to build the vessel that would save their lives… and ultimately yours and mine. (Think about that for a minute. Aren’t you glad Noah was obedient?)
So you may be wondering, where does the rowboat come in to Noah’s story?
Well, God gave Noah an ark-sized mission, because the “master ship builder” had proven to God over time that he could be trusted, that he was “righteous and blameless.”
But what about you and me? Or maybe I should just say, what about me?
Is there a reason my mission hasn’t risen to the size of an ark, or even a yacht? Is it possible that God is still waiting for me to complete the mission of simply constructing a rowboat? I believe this may be true for many of us. Until we’ve proven ourselves as ready, reliable, or consistently obedient in the little things, we can only dream about building an ark.
God needs faithful servants first and foremost. And only then will He elevate the mission He has for us. The parable of the three servants that Jesus relays in the Gospels affirms the concept that connects increasing opportunities to faithful stewardship. The servant who proved he was capable to handle greater resources was given even more. Meanwhile, the servant who was unreliable was given less, and even had those resources eventually taken away altogether.
So, if you and I want to build an ark for God, we must first prove we can build the rowboat He’s asking us to tackle. And the only way we can build the rowboat is by simply obeying the Truth God has already revealed to us. When we do so, we will be given more.
So let’s go build a rowboat today. Who knows, maybe God will use our rowboat to simply save some folks who are struggling to keep from drowning in the lake of life. And if so, we will have served an eternal purpose for God.
“The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities.’” Matthew 25:23
We’ve all heard the saying, “the truth will set you free.” It’s possible we’ve even quoted it. But have you ever asked yourself, “what truth?”
In this age of relativism, it’s also often said, “truth is whatever you believe it to be.”
But how can both of these statements be true? For if you or I want to be free, and truth is whatever we believe it to be, then can just anything you or I believe give us the freedom we seek or long for?
Of course not. Believing such absurdity can easily be disproved. Consider this example. If the one struggling to free himself of his addiction to meth, also believes the cursed chemical frees him from his struggles, then the second “truth” will never lead the addict to the freedom he desires.
So it’s incumbent for us to define and limit truth to its absolute claims, in order for truth to set us free.
When Jesus stood before Pilate, just moments prior to His crucifixion, Pilate asked Jesus a question every human must ask, “What is Truth?”
It’s ironic that Pilate asked this question of the One who had earlier claimed, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…” (John 14:6)
This would be akin to asking Elon Musk the question, “What is an electric car?” or Ronald Reagan, “What is a conservative?” They were both authorities in their fields so they were equipped to answer their respective question.
Jesus had spent His entire earthly ministry living and explaining Truth. His teachings revealed Truth. And His life was a living example of Truth. So when the Authority on Truth shared the secret to being set free by the Truth, we should consider His words:
“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
Did you catch that? There is only one way to know the Truth, and that is: 1) to know the teachings of Jesus, and 2) to remain faithful to those teachings.
His teachings are both. But the teachings of Jesus are also profound. If you want to truly know those teachings, they will not be learned solely in a class, a YouTube video, or sitting in church (although these may all be helpful).
Rather, the teachings of Jesus will be learned as we spend time daily in the book of Jesus’ teachings (the Bible). They will be learned as we “pray without ceasing” (meaning live our lives in a constant state of prayer). His teachings will be learned as we try them, stumble, get back up, and try them again. They will be learned as God’s Spirit reveals them to us, and empowers us, as we earnestly seek God. And His teachings will be learned as we meditate on them, and share them with others.
Ultimately, we will be “faithful to Jesus’ teachings” as they become the Truth that literally consumes and dominates our lives. As we faithfully do this, “the truth will set us free.”
Are you ready to be set free from whatever entraps you?
“So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” (John 8:36)