The Vitriol of Viral Prophecy

Prophecy

Two weeks ago I published a blog post on the Ezekiel 38-39 prophecy of a coming invasion of Israel from a coalition of forces led by a northern nation, which I believe will be Russia.  I have studied prophecy for many years and so what I presented was really nothing new.  One can find many others who write about such things, one of my favorite authors of which is Joel Rosenberg.  For me, the timing of Russia’s invasion of Crimea, and move against Ukraine, put the Ezekiel 38-39 prophecy front and center in my thinking and thus a topic of conversation on this blog.

I was taken aback, quite frankly, by two unforeseen outcomes to that blog post.

1.  The near viral nature the post became.  I use the word viral loosely here.  I’m not sure exactly what makes something truly viral in terms of coverage, but from the perspective of my small world, this post garnered more attention than anything else I have ever published on this blog.  I began the current version of this blog in April of 2009.  Until two weeks ago, my blog had around 100,000 hits total over the course of its lifespan.  Within one week of publishing the post on the Ezekiel 38-39 prophecy, my blog crested the 200,000 hit mark.  Essentially, this one post garnered more attention than the whole of all my blog posts over the last five years.  So this would be viral for me.  In addition, people from over 100 countries have dialed into this particular post – amazing.

2.  The shocking vitriol expressed toward Israel and Jews was stunning.  Is there anti-Semitism in the world?  Yes.  Of course, I know this.  But, I was unprepared for the comments that came my way after publishing that post.  I moderate my comments and am glad I do so.  I would not want the general public to have to read some of the things that I chose to TRASH rather than pass through.  Frankly, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of comments in general.  If your comment did not get posted it was most likely because of the sheer volume that came to me.  I actually have a full-time job and a family and so the blogging gig is usually not a front seat deal for me.  I am grateful, however, for those who read and took time to respond.  Even, and in some cases, especially, those who disagree with me.  I have no corner on the market when it comes to prophetic interpretation.  I have my personal view, yes, but in such matters, hindsight is always 20/20 and once a prophecy is fulfilled it is easy to say, “Oh, okay, so THAT is what was going on here.”  But before hand it is extremely difficult and I always try to add qualifiers lest I be thrown in with the Harold Campings of the world (of which I was anyway by some!).  But the vile verbal puke projected toward Jews and the nation of Israel was really, as I stated, stunning.  Particularly since the post was very benign related to Jewish matters, and I was silent as it relates to Israeli politics in the Middle East.  I never even mentioned the Palestinian conflict, and I didn’t go into the land for peace discussions.  I essentially limited the discussion to what the Bible says will be a supernatural defeat of Israel’s enemies by the hand of God once this invasion begins to take place.

So what is the “take-away” for me as a blogger and as Christian?  First, people are very, VERY interested in what the Bible says about Israel and prophetic events.  We may not all agree on what the Bible is saying regarding these things, but a chord was struck.  I suspect that as the end draws nigh and biblical events begin to match news headlines, interest will continue to climb.  For the observant watcher, we will be able to see, as in the words of C.S. Lewis’ Narianian characters that, “Aslan is on the move.”

Second, the Jewish people have always been hated and they will always be hated.  It is amazing that such a small demographic of people in this world can be so reviled.  Especially in a culture that screams tolerance of all peoples.  But liberals in the West are blind to their own intolerances and the rest of the world cares nothing about tolerance at all.  So going back to the time of the Exodus, the Jewish people have been the target of persecution and elimination.  This sadly will not change.  But why are we surprised?  Once again, the Bible is proven true and trustworthy in all the things to which it speaks.

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Embracing Strangeness

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Earlier this month, Cross Church hosted the Northwest Arkansas Men’s Conference and one of the featured speakers of the event was Dr. Russell Moore.  Dr. Moore is a “rising star” in Southern Baptist life as the new president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).  The ERLC may become the most significant agency of the SBC as our culture continues its quick devolution away from a Judeo-Christian ethic.

I had never met Dr. Moore until the men’s conference, although he and I had swam in similar waters at one time and I am extremely familiar with his writings and influence.  He and I are both the same age and both graduated with our doctorates from Southern Seminary in 2002.  Dr. Moore and his wife adopted two little boys from Russia and he has been a strong advocate for adoption.  Dr. Moore has written the wonderful book, Adopted for Life, and he spearheaded the founding of the Southern Baptist Minister’s Adoption Fund.  When Julie and I were in the process of adopting our daughter from Colombia, we read and were greatly encouraged by Dr. Moore’s book and we were also able to take advantage of the Minister’s Adoption Grant.  So in many, ways I feel connected to the work of Dr. Moore and am grateful on a personal level for who he is and his influence in my family’s life.

With this as backdrop, it was a joy to finally meet him personally, to shake his hand, share a meal, talk culture and Christianity, and to thank him for his influence.  Dr. Moore did an outstanding job at the conference as well.  He spoke straight to men about the culture and what it is going to mean to be a Christian in the United States of America in the coming days.  There was one thing in particular Dr. Moore stated that has stuck with me post-conference.  He explained that increasingly, what we believe as Christians and who we are in Jesus Christ is going to become stranger and stranger to people in the culture around us.  He goes on to assert that this is a good thing, because never before have we as followers of Jesus Christ had such an opportunity to clearly draw a distinction between what the Bible says is good and right and pure versus what the world says is good and right and pure.

Dr. Moore is exactly right.  The strangeness of who we are in Jesus Christ to the world around us is something “new” that we are going to have to get used to…and embrace.  But not all “Christians” and churches are embracing this strangeness:

  • Some are choosing to ignore, re-interpret, or even reject what the Bible says regarding holiness and purity and the plain and simple teachings of Jesus.
  • Some are choosing to walk-away from the church altogether.
  • Both “Christians” and churches have the same goal:  Avoid strangeness and embrace conformity to this world.

But God does not give us any of these options.  In fact, we are explicitly told by the apostle Paul that we should “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)  Paul was writing to the church in Rome – yes, Rome, the seat of paganism, pluralism, and idolatry.   Christians in Rome must have seemed utterly and completely strange to the culture around them.  And yet the church flourished.  It flourished without re-interpreting or ignoring Scripture.  It flourished because what it had to offer was wholly and completely different from anything else.  And it worked.  That’s right, following Jesus works.  It leads to happy, blessed life, even in the midst of criticism and persecution.

Being strange to the world around us might be new to us as USAmericans, but it is nothing new to Christendom.  In fact, it is the expected norm.  We were just fortunate enough to live in a day and age when this experiment of democracy called the United States of America was beginning to come of age.  While we may have been founded on a Judeo-Christian ethic, it is more likely that this gave us the perception of being a Christian nation rather than the actuality of such.  With the rejection of the Judeo-Christian ethic, we are most likely allowing perception to catch up to reality.  The United States is not a Christian nation.  But we are a nation where Christians live and work and go to school and raise their families.  Christians committed to living their lives according to the teachings of Jesus Christ and committed to following him in all things.  Jesus was strange to the world around him and so, too, are we strange to the world around us.

I, for one, am eager to embrace this strangeness.

 

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Vladimir Putin: The Rise of Gog and the Prophecy of Ezekiel 38-39

Putin

We may be seeing a biblical prophecy fulfilled in front of our eyes.  Ezekiel 38-39 foretells the coming invasion of Israel from a northern land known as Magog.  The ruler of Magog is said to be Gog, a name that most biblical scholars identify as a title rather than a proper name itself.

The prophecy of Ezekiel 38-39 is fascinating because it is so specific in the way it names a coalition of nations that will come up against Israel.  The prophecy foretells this axis of evil that invades Israel will be miraculously destroyed by the hand of God and that Gog, himself, will be killed.   What is remarkable about Gog’s defeat is that the Bible declares he will be buried in Israel and not in his homeland.  This will be a sure sign as to the literal fulfillment of this prophecy.

It is no secret that Israel has her share of enemies.  The focus tends to always be on the Palestinian conflict and tensions with Israel’s immediate neighbors.  But the Ezekiel 38-39 prophecy points directly to an invasion led by Russia.  What clues in the prophecy point to modern day Russia as the biblical land of Magog?

  • Magog is referred to as the land in the north.  If you draw a line from Jerusalem all the way to the North Pole, that line will pass through…Moscow.
  • Gog is referred to as the prince of Meshech and Tubal.
  • Meschech refers to the ancient peoples who live along the Black and Caspien Seas, the Moschi, or the Moschovites.  This is the word from which Moscow is derived.
  • Tubal is a derivative of the modern word Tobolsk.  Tobolsk is the former capital of Russia and one of its most famous cities.

It is chillingly clear that the ancient land of Magog is modern day Russia.  More startling are Russia’s allies as named by Scripture.  A quick survey of Ezekiel 38:5-6 and the reader will note:

  • Persia – modern day Iran.  It is no secret the role Russia has and is playing in Iran’s nuclear program.  Iran is located to the east of Israel.
  • Cush – modern day Ethiopia.  A north African nation located to the south of Israel.
  • Put – modern day Lybia.  Another north African nation and one that has become completely hostile to the West in recent days.
  • Gomer – while a modern day equivalent here is difficult, biblical scholars agree that the people of Gomer were the Cimmerians, who lived around the Black Sea and were expelled to what is modern day Turkey.  So Gomer could be Turkey.  However, the ancient Cimmerians lived in what is now known as…Ukraine.  We should take particular notice of this as Ukraine has sprung onto the world scene as Russia is on the doorstep of invasion of this sovereign nation.  Could Gomer be Ukraine?
  • Beth-togarmah – this too is not certain but some scholars have suggested Germany as the modern day equivalent of this ancient land.
  • The uttermost parts of the north – when one looks at a map of the nations north of Israel they will certainly see Syria, among others.  Once again, the role of Russia in Syria is unavoidable.

The point is clear.  Russia, the ancient land of Magog, is on the move.  The headlines declare it so.  The pieces of its coalition are quickly falling into place.  And it is this collection of nations, led by the great bear of the north, that will at some point make a move against Israel.

Is Vladimir Putin the biblical leader, Gog?  Only time will tell.  But consider…

  • Putin is emboldened.  Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, Russia has been kept in-check by the United States.  Putin no longer feels “in check.” In fact, he is playing his own game of chess and doing his best to put the United States in “check.”
  • Just two weeks ago, Russia signed an arms agreement with Egypt, Israel’s southern most neighbor.  Egypt now gets it military arms from Russia and not the United States.
  • The world watched as President Obama, walked back from his red-line in Syria over the use of chemical weapons.  Putin was paying close attention as well.
  • The world watched as our ambassador and his team was slaughtered in Libya.  To this day our government has done nothing by way of response.  This too has been noted by Putin.
  • The world has watched as the United States has been fixated on domestic issues such as the economy, same-sex marriage, immigration, climate change regulations, the minimum wage, etc. and in turn has treated international matters as less important.
  • The world has watched as the United States has proposed defense cuts and troop reductions to pre-WWII levels.

So while the United States is gearing down, self-focused, and too timid to respond to international matters, Putin has decided to make his move.

Watch Russia.  Watch Putin.  Watch the response of the United States, or lack thereof.  And watch as biblical prophecy unfolds in tomorrow’s headlines.

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What NASCAR Taught Me About Church

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One of the greatest gifts ever given to me was by my former church upon the occasion of my fifth anniversary as their pastor.  They sent Julie and me to the 2011 Daytona 500.  I am big NASCAR fan and can become highly offended when people make fun of me for this:)  Actually, being a NASCAR fan is a lot like being a pastor, both require thick skin for multiple reasons.

The Daytona 500 is unlike any other sporting event I have ever attended and stands alone even in the world of motorsports.  The Great American Race it is called.  A 2.5 mile oval where speeds exceed 200 miles an hour.  Because of the size of Daytona and the banking in the corners, drivers mash the gas all the way to the floor and never let up.   Daytona is so fast that cars must be artificially governed with the use of a restrictor plate for safety reasons.  There’s a point, you see, where fast is just too fast and 200 mph is sort of the magic threshold.  But what happens when you restrict the performance of these 800+ horsepower engines is that all 43 cars become clumped up into a massive pack cruising around the speedway.  This is the magic of Daytona.  You find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat as the greatest drivers in the world speed just inches from one another.  You get the very real sense that disaster could strike at any moment.  And because the cars run so close together, when a driver wrecks, he usually takes out multiple cars with him.  This kind of wreck is called The Big One.

When you put it all together, the whole experience is a three+ hour adrenaline rush.

So I found myself the last couple of weeks pumped and ready for this year’s Daytona 500, which ran last week.  As I was watching Speedweek’s events, particularly the qualifying duels on the Thursday before the 500, I learned something about, of all things…church.

What I learned about church involves what in NASCAR is called the draft.  Essentially, because of the draft, two cars can go faster than one car.  Here’s how it works.  A lead car can go maybe 195 mph.  The air resistance going that speed is tremendous.  Just stick your hand out the window of your car when you’re going 70 mph on the interstate to understand what I mean.  So a second car can come up behind a lead car and tuck himself up nice and close to the bumper.  When this happens he is drafting.  This means that he is not experience air resistance like the lead car WHICH MEANS he can go faster than 195 mph.  What he will then do is “bump” the lead car and push him to go faster than he can go by himself.  This is called bump drafting.  In this way, two cars are faster than one. Got it?

Now imagine 43 cars all jammed together at Daytona International Speedway, all running tucked up next to each other because the restrictor plates slow them all down to about the same speed.  What you have is a massive pack of drafting taking place.  And this is good and this is exciting because the big pack can go much faster than a single car or even a smaller pack.

What I learned about church on Thursday night watching the qualifying duels came when driver Kevin Harvick lost the draft.  Somehow, he fell to the back of the pack and allowed himself to get separated from the pack.  Then away they went.  He fell behind like a rock.

So how does this apply to church?  In this way:  I see way too many Christians today who lose the draft.

  • Sometimes they lose the draft accidentally.  They get distracted from church life with their “other” life.  A weekend at the lake.  Travel ball.  A “snow day.”  The intention may be to only miss church “just this one time,” but what so often happens is these “one time” Sundays add up and the next thing they know, they haven’t been to church in a month or longer.  They’ve lost the draft.  There are all kinds of ways that we lose the draft without meaning to.
  • Sometimes they lose the draft on purpose.  You will see this in NASCAR.  During the race, one car will pull out of line and try to make a move.  He thinks he’s got something the others don’t have to improve his position.  But what usually happens is that he starts to fall back…and fast.  Next thing you know he’s actually being lapped by the other cars!

So here is the life principle that all believers need to hear and understandYou can go faster and further in a pack than on your own.

This is why we all need a church.  Is it messy at times?  Sure.  There’s banging and rubbing, and tempers flare and sometimes there is even a crash.  But we are all in this together.  Another thing I love about NASCAR is when a driver crashes one week, he’s back behind the wheel the next.  That’s how it should be in church life.  It will not always be perfect.  But it will always be exciting!

Let me challenge you – don’t lose the draft.  And if you’ve lost it, jump back into the pack THIS Sunday at your local church.

“Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some…” Hebrews 10:24-25

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Asking Better Questions

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Recently, the Cross Church School of Ministry went to Portland, Maine, to help church planter Aaron Werner launch Cross Church Portland.  This New England city boasts more atheists per capita than any other city in the United States.  So the ground is hard but the Gospel, we know, can always penetrate.

In preparation for launch, our team distributed literature and participated in a massive blitz to invite people the weekend before.  One of our young men invited a woman to the launch and was met with a question.  This young lady, who just happened to be a divinity student at an Ivy League institution asked, “Will the pastor of this new church perform a same-sex wedding?”  So there it is…a question with the demand for an answer.

The world has questions for us Christians.  Some questions are legitimate questions seeking truth and clarity.  Some questions are “gotcha” questions trying to expose or “set us up.”  And some questions are innocent questions betraying the naiveté of a culture that just doesn’t know as much about what it means to be Christian as it thinks it does.

All questions deserve an answer.  But the type of answer we give is important.  Too many times, I believe we prematurely jump to an answer that is definitive and designed to settle the issue.  And too many times, the answer we give shuts down dialogue, closes the door, and builds a wall between us and those we are trying to reach with the good news of Jesus Christ.

I am struck in my reading of the Gospels at how Jesus answered the numerous questions that came his way.  People wanted Jesus to define himself, to explain himself, to justify his love for them, to defend his actions, etc.  And so many times, Jesus would answer the questions posed to him with…a question.

Jesus, it seems, used this technique with just about everyone who crossed his path:

  • Disciples of John the Baptist wanted to know why Jesus and his disciples did not fast.  Jesus answered, “Can the wedding guests be sad while the groom is with them?” (Matt. 9:14-15)
  • The Pharisees, who were constantly trying to catch Jesus violating Jewish law, asked why he broke with the tradition of washing hands before a meal.  Jesus questioned back, “And why do you break God’s commandment because of your tradition?” (Matt. 15:1-3)
  • When it came to the issue of trying to feed 4,000 hungry people, his own disciples asked where the food would come from.  Jesus replied with a question, “How many loaves do you have?” (Matt. 15:32-34)
  • Even in one-on-one situations Jesus employed the method.  When Peter was confronted by a tax collector and asked if Jesus would pay an entrance tax to the city, Peter replied with the straight out answer of, “Yes.”  Jesus, watching the whole exchange transpire, pulled Peter aside and asked not one, but three questions, “What do you think, Simon?  Who do earthly kings collect taxes or tariffs from?  From their sons or from strangers?” (Matt. 17:24-26)

None of this is isolated.  I have presented four examples from a section of Matthew’s Gospel, but this method of answering a question with a question is common throughout all four Gospels over and over again.  In fact, one gets the impression that this was Jesus’ preferred way of interaction with all people he encountered.

So back to the question asked by our young divinity student, “Will the pastor of this new church perform a same-sex wedding?”  Undoubtedly what this inquiring mind was seeking was a “yes” or “no” answer.   And the answer she got was going to determine whether she engaged further or walked away.  And no doubt our inclination is to automatically give a “yes” or “no” answer.  I mean, it’s pretty straightforward, isn’t it?  Well, not really.  In fact, most good questions aren’t straightforward.  Behind most questions is a lot of baggage:  preconceptions, prejudices, preferences, whatever you want to call it.   What amazes me about Jesus and his brilliant technique of answering a question with a question is that he was able to take the topic at hand and go further with it.  To go deeper to the root behind the question.  And in so doing he sucked people in to a much richer exchange.  Sometimes this infuriated people who he exposed with his answering question.  Other times, he kept an audience that would have turned around and walked away from a simple straightforward answer.  But always, always, he pulled back a layer of masking from those with whom he was interacting.

I am left wondering how Jesus would answer the question of our Ivy Leaguer.  I have no doubt how he would not have answered her.  And then I am pressed.  What the Church is desperate for today are believers who know how to ask better questions.  We are being confronted today by all manner of inquiry.  Our pat answers are a turn-off and I am convinced Jesus would never have answered these good questions the way we do today.  This requires us to think in ways we are not used to thinking.  It requires the “mind of Christ.”  And it is this mind that intrigues the saved and the lost yet today.

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Nine Months with Marcela – More Lessons In Adoption

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In just a few days we will have had our precious Marcela in our lives for nine months.  The many months leading up to our adoption of Marcela from Colombia were its own journey.  And the post-adoption journey is awesome, wonderful, frustrating, scary and so much more in and of itself.  So nine months in here is what I have discovered…

  • Marcela was made for our family.  She fits like a glove and it is obvious to Julie and I that God prepared her uniquely to be a Crawford.
  • Kids are kids.  Marcela is NO different than any other nine-year-old girl.  She laughs, she cries, she argues (boy her this little Latino can let it rip at times), she plays tricks on us, she loves movies, and donuts, she asks lots of questions, etc.  She is basically just like any other kid I know, which is amazing to me.  It just reminds me that in the same way that kids are kids, people are people, no matter the language, culture, or background.
  • My wife is amazing.  I knew she was a good mother, but man has she taken her game to a whole new level.  She leads the way in language learning, math skills (we were behind in this area), therapy sessions, and really just the constant attention that a new child to the family needs.  It’s been all consuming and my wife, Julie, has shined.
  • The paper work never ends.  Well, at least it seems that way.  Post-placement visits, re-finalization of the adoption, applying for a Social Security card, creating health records, enrolling in school, and the unique issues of adoption as it relates to the IRS and taxes.  It all equals paperwork!
  • It is really interesting being a multi-racial family at times.  Between each of us, in La Familia de Crawford, there is no color.  I have to really stop and make myself think about it to remember that I am white and she is brown.  But when we travel around town it’s not always that way.  I can see it on the looks of people’s faces.  We will be out eating pizza as a family and I will find myself wondering, “Why is that couple over there staring at us?”  Then I remember!  And people often times give away their position on the matter.  I’ve seen admiration in the eyes of people, happiness, confusion (they just can’t figure out what’s going on), and yes, even prejudice.  Marcela is clueless in regard to the latter, but Julie and I get it, and what rises up in us is nothing short of instinctual parental protection for our child.
  • I get, more than ever, the love of God for us as adopted children.  Can you love an adopted child as much as you love a biological child?  The question now just makes me laugh.  That it even is a question seems silly to me now.  I am the proud father of four children.  Four children that God brought to me, not all in the same way, but brought to me none the less.

And that is how I love my children, no matter how they came to me….none the less.

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The Great Debate: Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham

Important and excellent debate on February 4, 2014. The debate between Creation and Evolution too many times has degenerated into inflammatory rhetoric and intellectual dishonesty. The spirit of this particular debate rose above much of this.

It’s a 150 minute commitment to watch but well worth it.

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February 5, 2014 · 7:06 pm