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Israel offers soulful, real-life experiences

You know what it’s like. Someone tells you a story.  You like it. Then you get to see that story in living color. Now you don’t just like it. You love it.

Being in Israel was like that for us today. The stories on the Bible’s pages emerged from the page. They are no longer just Holy Writ. They are Holy Real.

Touring the winding highways filled with flowers and olive trees isn’t like going to Disneyworld or visiting Yellowstone. Israel feels expansive, although it’s only about the size of New Jersey.  Modern and ancient overlap in what we’ve seen in northern Israel at this point. Urban and a rich pastoral vibe go together. As the tour leaders of Jewish Voice told us several times, our tour to Israel would be a 3-D experience.

So far, so good.

To hear the howl of the Mediterranean Sea as it roared upon the shores of Caesarea was like hearing the summons Paul may have felt when he traveled on his missionary journeys on the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. Caesarea was built by Herod the Great and the site of the headquarters of the Judaea Province that Pontius Pilate once governed. Caesarea also is where the Jewish Apostle Peter introduced the Gentile Cornelius to the Gospel. Cornelius and his whole household were saved.

The 3-D perspective of visiting Israel deepened when we stood at the summit of Mount Carmel. In Hebrew, Carmel means  “The Vineyard of God.” And it was lush like that.

The mist hung over the valley below as we stood at the monastery to gaze at the panoramic view. Elijah, the fiery prophet, is associated with this mountain. His contemporary, King Ahab of the northern kingdom of Israel, married a Phoenician woman named Jezebel. You probably heard about her.

She brought 450 priests of Baal to Israel–an open affront to the God of Israel. Baal was believed to be the controller of rain by his followers, but Elijah shut that down. He prayed for no rain and none came for three years. Then, when God told him, Elijah prayed for the rain to return.

Elijah also defied, confronted and beat Jezebel’s prophets at Mount Carmel, giving an explosive clap-back to anyone and everybody that God is God alone.

And there we were, on a rainy day, a yucky start for a tour, an agricultural blessing for Israel, and a Bible study in living color.

 

At Megiddo, we had lunch, toured King Ahab’s horse stables and walked down more than 100 steps into an ancient water system on that same ancient tel. Ancient technology is amazing!

When we finally sat down to worship and study the Word, the sky was warm and sunny with a slight, occasional wind. Rabbi Jonathan Bernis, president and CEO of Jewish Voice, delivered a compact but moving teaching about Jesus’s two comings. Jesus came first as a Lamb and He would return as a Lion.

We had powerful visuals to help us understand the Lamb and the Lion. We had seen Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, from our tour bus. And from our hotel room in Tiberias, we can view the Sea of Galilee where Jesus frequently ministered. Both locations are two examples of Jesus’ first coming.

Megiddo, however, points to the soon-coming arrival of the battle-ready Lion of God.  Megiddo, which we know as Armageddon, is the future site connected to a terrible war where Jesus will defeat those who rise up against God’s enemies.

Some scholars may say that Megiddo is only a figurative reference, but the point is, when Jesus returns, He will come with a scepter, not a manger or a net full of fish. He will come to  Earth rule and reign.

Now is the time, as Bernis said, to grow closer to Him as the gracious, forgiving and merciful Lamb of God. Being in the land God chose to call His own affirms why it’s imperative to get closer to Him with every step we take.

Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:

Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:6-7, NASB).

And today was only Day One.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Days Forum is headed to Jerusalem, the city of the Great King. We’re also making stops in Jericho, Masada, Qumran, Banias, the Sea of Galilee, Caesarea, the Dead Sea, and more.

We’re going to use this wonderful experience to interview everyone we can and prepare presentations. If you have questions, contact us.

It’s an awesome thing that we’re launching the Final Days Forum website as Israel commemorates its rebirth as a nation 70 years ago.  In May 1948, it was the first time in 2,900 years that the ancient nation stood alone as a sovereign state.

The Bible spoke of Israel’s loss of sovereignty and its rebirth. Isaiah spoke of the return of a nation in one day:

Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things?

Can a land be born in one day?

Can a nation be brought forth all at once?

As soon as Zion travailed, she also brought forth her sons. (Isaiah 66:8, NASB)

At Final Days Forum, we’re committed to learning more about God. A lot is happening in our world, but God transcends it. Through the Word of God, we can focus on God’s heavenly places so that we can more compassionate and insightful in the earthly places where He’s placed each one of us.

The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; And with all your acquiring, get understanding. (Proverbs 4:7)

 

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Get Used to It; People Will Abuse Grace


lapija, originally uploaded by pkmk.

Part of our impoverished view of God is that we worry why he doesn’t do more about those people who abuse the gift of goodness. We know this theologically and recite Paul’s words — “by grace we have been saved” — with the arrogance of a know-it-all seminarian. If we really understand God’s plenty of grace, why are we so stingy about giving it?

We’re triggered when people abuse grace. We’re disturbed by the person who cheats on his taxes and gets away with it. We’re miffed by the person who gets to say whatever she wishes publicly and be forgiven with no problem. We’re even bothered by the possibility of grace abuse: we cringe at the homeless person on the street because we fear if we give, our money will be abused. We may know nothing about this person, but we assume they will waste our precious cash. We worry that people will abuse our philanthropy, so we feel reassured when our money goes toward “the most deserving.” We praise self-sufficiency and deplore anything that smacks of negligence or laziness.

Avoiding scams at all costs is poetry for political campaigns, but poison for ministry. When you review Jesus’ earthly ministry, it’s clear that he identified the scam artist when he or she first drew breath. He knew the disposition of some people to follow him for the fish and bread while ignoring his message about God’s salvation and eternal kingdom. He knew that people would love their money more than sacrificing for God, and his heart ached for the rich young ruler.  Jesus operated from abundance. He understood that his resources of grace are constant and infinite. Jesus also operated from ultimate power. He did not fear being duped or abused because he knew who he was.

But if we rely on our own version of grace, sporting the same smugness of the religious classes who challenged Jesus, is it any surprise that we are exhausted? And disappointed?

Listening to a Superior Voice

After the Summer of Rage, incivility continues to simmer throughout the U.S. — on vociferous talk radio, cable news, websites, tell-all books and even in some pulpits. Unfortunately, the nation can't collectively make an appointment with Dr. Phil to explore what ails it, but as individuals we can seek help.

In the film, "Madea Goes to Jail,"  Tyler Perry's Madea resists anger management when she verbally jousts with Dr. Phil and behaves as if her fury is his fault.  The exchange between the two is dead-on because many of us behave with the same ghetto-fabulousness when we wear irritation like exposed skin…And it doesn't matter what neighborhood you come from for this term to apply.

We can roll our eyes and justify our raving, but in the end, anger obscures truth and barricades peace. Think back: hasn't this been true? We sought to hear God amid the crashing noise of of our circumstances, fumed at him as the mountains of life quaked about us, but when does he most often answer us? In the stillness. The prophet Elijah learned this and was privileged to witness how God is no less magnificent when his voice is still and small.

If we want to live like children of God, does that include changing our perspective on anger? Without learning to deal with anger daily, without learning that a quieter voice repels wrath, we will look as ridiculous as the prophets of Baal in Elijah's day. They screamed, hollered, cut themselves bloody and called out to a god who never answered.

Judy Howard Ellis

Is Your Church a Good Neighbor?

Welcome, originally uploaded by alborzshawn.

Let’s say your church has been in a certain neighborhood for five, 10 or 15 years. Maybe it’s been there for much longer and boasts stained glass windows where long-dead members donated to forgotten building programs. Whatever the age of your church, it has become a fixture in the community, a landmark people can identify.

Your church ministry today may have a popular radio program, TV broadcast or website, but have you studied the impact of your congregation on the surrounding neighborhood? Have you met the people in the houses you rush by when you’re late for Bible study? Do you wonder how many neighbors come to your nationally advertised conferences featuring well-known ministry leaders?

Like never before, the tangible impact of the local church is critical. Effective local influence ripples outward to bring national change. The Great Recession has plagued many families and their communities, but has your church worked on the front lines? Have you unwittingly settled for a tepid ministry that lacks transformational power?

As you start your week, how about praying about these questions regarding your church and its influence in the larger community:

  1. Does your church offer language courses so that you can interact with people in the surrounding neighborhood?
  2. Do you seek opportunities to share pulpits with congregations that are smaller or larger than yours?
  3. Is your church building open 24/7 or is it limited to scheduled “ministry” programs?
  4. Have you surveyed the surrounding neighborhood to learn how they view your church as a neighbor?
  5. Have you used social networking tools to reach untapped populations in your community?
  6. Has your church used its grounds for a community garden that helps people buy produce locally and more cheaply?
  7. Has your church offered literacy-related activities for youth?
  8. Have you offered free leadership and career reinvention training for the unemployed and struggling businesses?
  9. Has your church encouraged members to sacrifice one Sunday meal at a restaurant and use that cash to fund a local reputable nonprofit which helps people pay utility bills or locate housing in your area?
  10. Does your prayer team pray as a group about local environmental issues that affect your neighbors?
  11. Who would feel uncomfortable coming to your church and why?
  12. Is your church recognized for its affiliation with specific political views or for its tirelessness in carrying out the mandate of God’s kingdom?

What questions would you add?

My North Oak Cliff Grocery Store Angst

Already frustrated by the national health-care debate and its connection to the food-delivery system — so much so I wrote about it on PoliticsDaily.com — the last thing I wanted to notice in my  North Oak Cliff neighborhood grocery store were fleas flying over tomatoes in the produce bin and a bug crawling on the conveyor belt in the check-out line.

After days of hearing about shouting matches at town hall meetings
anchored in misplaced fear about government-run health care and in
selfishness that if a broken system works for a few, that's OK — I'm convinced that meaningful health care reform must start from the community up.

Lobbyists are pouring into Washington, D.C. while the debate rages throughout the country. Will enlightened observers address the connection between quality food delivery and preventative health care? Do national grocers like the one in my neighborhood wonder why the look of their store varies from one section of Dallas to another? If the national chain I visited offers one kind of food delivery in Plano (where I used to live) and another one in North Oak Cliff,  don't they have a problem with that? If they have more organic offerings in Plano than in North Oak Cliff, are grocery chains searching for ways to remedy this?

While I wait for that, I'll keep getting adjusted to my new neighborhood and hoping that today was just an aberration in customer service (it wasn't that way on an earlier visit). But I still intend to send a note to the grocery manager. Excellent service should not be limited to a few.

The White House issues an apology, but will Cambridge police?

What should have happened first in Cambridge happened instead at
the White House.

President Obama, whose words were taken out of context and infused with a life of their own, apologized today for his statements regarding an incident
between Sgt. James Crowley and Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. In that July 16 incident, Crowley came to the professor's Cambridge, Mass. home to investigate a report of burglary.

The president’s remarks at a news conference earlier this week should have been viewed on the
periphery, but a media-crowded world that specializes in sound bytes and
incremental coverage made Obama’s words center stage, distracting from the knottier, persistent issues of race and law enforcement…and not just those in Cambridge.

While Crowley and the Cambridge Police Department so far
have found it unnecessary to apologize to Gates for how he was treated in his home, the president did find it necessary to respond to the police and cleared the air on his end. Obama offered a mea culpa to the Cambridge police after they expressed how offended they were by the president's remarks.

What's wrong with this picture?

Like the president, I wasn’t on Gates’ porch the night of July 16.
Hopefully, the forthcoming investigation will offer more details. Nevertheless,
regardless of how Crowley may state that an angry Gates “provoked”  the incident, Crowley
was there to uphold the laws of Cambridge. That’s it. Once he learned that no burglary had occurred, that Gates was trying to enter his own house, Crowley should have left.

As an officer who was trained in diversity,
wouldn't Crowley have known about Robert C. Maynard's famous "fault lines" and how gender, race, geography, generation and class play a role in effective human engagement? Wouldn't Crowley have known the tense history between police and African Americans and been taught to avoid mistakes other officers have made? Finally, wouldn't Crowley understand that true authority is best translated by taking the
high road because an impasse (or a violent encounter) is never the end-goal?

By making an immediate and
courteous apology to a citizen, Crowley would have deftly exposed Gates'
alleged belligerence, if that behavior actually occurred. He would have quickly diffused a heated moment and his even-tempered response would have won the
admiration of countless blacks who know too well how it feels to be treated unjustly by a small-minded officer.

Crowley also would have set a gold standard for caring and thoughtful police law enforcement.

 

 

The Seven Gates of the Kingdom

I've finally posted the first chapters of a book project that
fascinates
me. Genesis is one of my favorite books in the Bible. I'm especially
intrigued by Chapter Six. Who were the sons of God? Who were their
offspring? How did the people of antiquity deal with them?

My curiosity has become a Web-based novel called The Seven Gates of the Kingdom.
It
is based on several ancient cultures and references biblical
information regarding giants, or the nephilim. Seven Gates is about
righteous people who follow God in a
world riddled with superhuman beings who want to rule without God…
and without men and women.

This project is written as a fantasy
fiction book that will be updated regularly for you to read, argue
about, critique and, hopefully, enjoy.

Judy Howard Ellis

Memo from the ‘Man In The Mirror’

Today I am heartbroken to learn about Michael Jackson's death. I'm not a rabid celebrity tracker, but  I remember the boy with the earth-stomping voice who made me giggle and squeal as a girl. (And often as a grown woman too!)

The man Michael Jackson confounded me at times, but his musical artistry was always there, a potent, unmistakable gift. But Michael's unexpected death sends a sober message: What God gives as a gift, release it and work it for the kingdom.

I feel like there was more for Michael to give to the world, despite the disturbing allegations of child abuse and the reports of his unorthodox behavior. But he's gone now, and his life, which will be examined for years to come, will continue to remind me of the explosive and influential  nature of God's gifts.

"You Are Not Alone," "Got To Be There" and "Man In The Mirror" may have hit the pop charts and made my dancing toes curl, but these songs reflect bits of the expansive love God has for us. It may not fit a religious paradigm to say that, but yes, God's love song can be discerned in the lyrics and melodies of Billboard hits. God just has it like that!

But like any public figure with an exceptional gift, we, too, can be thwarted from fulfilling our life purpose. Our personal issues can block us. We can be unforgiving, we can live for years estranged from family and friends, we can clothe ourselves with grudges, we can choose victimization instead of recovery from setbacks, we can be more at ease with our past accomplishments than in the courageous pursuit of new ones, we can wither away in the spirit of complaint, and we can look for God in all of the wrong places.

Ah, but if we would live life with the end in view! Death's touch is sudden and irreversible. Didn't you feel the pain of that today? The King of Pop's voice is silent and we will not hear him deliver that "Michael-whoop" or watch him dreamily moonwalk again.

As people around Texas and the country gather to memorialize Michael's trail-blazing music, may we remember that God's passion for us is not that we finish a life and earn a public postscript. The One who made us for himself  and not for ourselves wants us to finish well — and that means doing all he created us to be.

Judy Howard Ellis

Will the recession steal your creativity?

This recession is sneaky.

Not content to rob the country financially, this recession aims to nab our creativity. The gift of our ingenuity is the real prize this recession season seeks. The media reports about the lingering misery of the nation's financial loss, but the news shrouds the most lethal weapon — the underlying lie that we can't get beyond this recession.

Chaos always attempts to trample the resilient order within human beings, that part of us that says: "Wait a minute! The last time I faced this, it actually turned out OK…" or "Whoa! Remember how I actually achieved more after I lost so much?"

When we give up, when we freeze in place because of chronic problems and overwhelming odds, chaos wins.

If you're out of work, you have time to think. If you want to quit a job you're clinging to because it keeps the lights on and that's about it, take time to think. Great minds seize the freedom to A_solzhenitsin conceive dreams and visions and hopes even when their lives are constrained.  Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich  about a Soviet labor camp touched me when I read it in high school because of the gritty survival it depicted. And I'm still amazed by Paul, who wrote inspired words to his friends in Philippi while under what traditional scholarship says was captivity in Rome.

I have not faced a Soviet labor camp or house arrest, but stories like these and the recession itself have taught me this: Chaos may limit circumstances, but chaos can't capture my spirit unless I submit to it.

Because of this recession, much has been lost, but much more is to be gained. The American Express card may be gone, but because of creative thinking during this
recession, you may reach the Dave Ramsey sweet spot where you resist all plastic. The house may be gone, but its loss may drive you to build a business that builds you a new one, not to mention houses for others.

What we do now, what we create when
we fight worry with work, what we reinvent ourselves to be despite the financial ashes — will determine how luminously we emerge
when this sly recession passes.

Judy Howard Ellis

Photo: Russian writer and Nobel prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn looks out
from a train, in Vladivostok, summer 1994, before departing on a
journey across Russia. Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia after nearly 20
years in exile. Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev