Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Choices, Choices

"For now I could have sent my hand and stricken you and your people with the pestilence and you would have been obliterated from the earth. However, for this I have let you endure, in order to show you My strength and so that My name may be declared throughout the world." Ex. 9:15-16 Tanach

"And now send, gather in your livestock and everything you have in the field; all the people and animals that are found in the field that are not gathered into the house - the hail shall descend upon them and they shall die." Ex. 9:19 Tanach

The landscape looked like the aftermath of a cataclysmic holocaust. Egypt was in ruins devastated by hail and falling fire (Jewish scholars consider that a miracle in itself; fire ascends not descends). Anything living, man or beast, caught outside died. Trees, plants and grasses were gone. Momentarily Pharaoh came to his senses. "This time I have sinned" Ex. 9:27 Tanach.

Nowhere does the Bible record celebrations in Goshen. Their location kept the Israelites immune from the misfortunes that fell on the Egyptians. No fist pumping in the air and high fives. Also noteworthy is God's attitude toward His adversaries.

The plague before the hail and fire was a lethal epidemic that wiped out Egyptian livestock. God told Pharaoh that this same scourge could have been extended to him personally and to all the Egyptians. Why did God spare them? He wanted them to have another opportunity to get to know Him. Wiping them out completely wouldn't have enhanced recognition of Him as a loving God throughout the world...just the opposite would have happened. Think about this, do you know any other god which went to such extraordinary measures to warn enemies of impending calamity?

Now another plague was bearing down on Egypt. God warned Pharaoh to take preventive measures to minimize the damage. Some of Pharaoh's own servants got the memo, took God's advice and were spared the hail and fire's destructive power. Those who didn't lost everything...again.

Opposed to being ready, willing and eager to crush His enemies, God took extraordinary measures to spare the Egyptians the consequences of their actions against His people. His desire to see men saved  is greater than His need to see them punished. Don't misunderstand, the plagues still came, their impact was horrible, but a way of escape had been extended.

Today, just like then, it is all about choice. God's more eager to populate Heaven than Hell but he leaves the disposition of the matter in the hands of each individual. He'll do everything short of making the decision for us. Choose wisely. He doesn't remove the consequences if one gets it wrong.

How about you? How, if at all, does this passage of Scripture change your understanding of God's interest in the welfare of those against Him? What situation and/or people oppose you and how can you extend mercy to them? When you see your enemies receive the harvest of their actions, what should your response be?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Square Peg in a Round Hole

 “But as it is, God has placed and arranged the limbs and organs in the body, each (particular one) of them, just as He wished and saw fit and with the best adaptation.
1 Cor. 12:18 (AMP emphasis mine).

God has a funny way of doing things. The master plan for building His body is a bit quirky. He produces parts and then adapts them to fit. In our era of precise technological capabilities, this seems kind of backwards don't you think?

He must laugh a lot as we fumble around outside of our comfort zones. This isn't sadism but the joy of a parent watching their offspring experience new things. Our Father recognizes the that end result might be less than perfect. He doesn't care. His children need to learn even under difficult and uncomfortable conditions. He'll chuckle at our uncoordinated actions but wisely remain on the sidelines. Intervention isn't the answer. Left alone, we will eventually adapt and succeed.

God loves to use our weaknesses for His glory. He'll turn shy introverts into speakers and teachers; extroverts into persons of intense, personal study and contemplative prayer. The seemingly ill-fitted and disqualified become successful functioning members of His body and leave the rest of us scratching our heads and wondering, “How did He do that?”

So, maybe the wise course of action is to stop resisting. God will fit square pegs into round holes, make them work and be delighted with the outcome. Our strengths, talents and abilities aren't all He has to work with. He likes weaknesses also. In that mode we know on a moment to moment basis, it isn't us at all. This reminds me a line from an old Amy Grant song, “...when it all comes down. If anything good's gonna happen tonight it's from Jesus.” When good things happen He gets all the credit.

How about you? What areas do you feel unqualified for that God seems to be leaning on you to step into? If you resist, what opportunities and adventures will you miss out on? How can God use your shortcomings to His advantage? When it “all comes down” eternity-wise do you want to be known as a good and faithful servant or one who played it safe? Are you willing to be a square peg in a round hole?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

4 Steps to Success

 So get rid of all uncleanliness and the rampant outgrowth of wickedness, and in a humble (gentle, modest) spirit receive and welcome the Word which implanted and rooted (in your hearts) contains the power to save your souls.” James 1:22-23 (AMP).

Tired of 10 and 12 Step Programs? Here's a shortcut. This has only 4! So, let's talk about gardening.

When I wrote this my garden was in full bloom. Winter rains kept plants hydrated and ready to blossom at the first hint of warm temperatures. New arrivals added in last fall needed to be monitored. Their immature root systems left them more vulnerable than their well-established counterparts. So, you wonder, what does this have to do with the 4 Step Program? Everything.

My heart is God's garden and residence of The Word, Jesus Christ. Want Him to feel at home there? Here are the 4 steps to successfully make this happen:
1. receive;
2. welcome;
3. implant;
4. root.

How would you feel if I invited you to my home, let you in and then promptly disappeared only to pop in on occasion to check up on you? You were received, but you definitely weren't welcomed. Any argument I'd present to the contrary would be drowned out by my gross lack of hospitality.

Christianity and a relationship with God is often condensed to, “Come to Jesus, He has a wonderful plan for your life.” To receive Him, however, is only the tiny first step. He must be welcomed, implanted and allowed to take root.

Gardeners have a saying about new plants. “First year they sleep. Second year they creep. Third year they leap.” Good, strong, healthy root systems take time to develop. When weeding, offenders can be stubborn and hard to dislodge. Often their roots encapsulate a large portion of good soil that needs to be discarded in order to prevent further contamination of the bed. This is a perfect picture of the Word in our heart. It should be so pervasive that any attempt to remove Him would rip it out.

The Word, Jesus, needs to be received, welcomed, implanted and rooted in our hearts. This takes time just like establishing new plants does naturally. Jesus applied the three year rule to his disciples and they became unstoppable.

How about you? What is the condition of the Word in your heart? If you've gone past Step One – receiving – how's your progress toward Step Four? If you've not received Him yet, can you think of a good reason why not? Is there any reason why God's Four Steps to Success Program won't work for you?

FYI. For those of you who read my post Burn Baby Burn and remember the reference to a Dead Cat bounce, if you look at a daily chart of the S&P for the past few weeks you will see sharp downdrafts followed by snapback rallies and subsequent movement back to the downside. Those are dead cat bounces. Remember, no felines were harmed in this market action.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

My Two Cents

"In the Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property" Lev. 25:13

I'm taking a break from my normal routine. My blogs are written several months in advance and any correlation between subject matter and current events is a Divine set-up. This week I decided to weigh in on this matter before and not after the fact.

The hot topics in some of the Church are The Shemitah Cycle and the Blood Moons which are creating a good deal of fear and for a few, positive cash flow. For the  most part, I've kept my opinions to myself and chose not to join in the fear mongering. As we approach the final blood moon and the end of the Shemitah cycle for 2015 I'm going to add my two cents into the mix.

First, the Shemitah cycle and the Year of Jubilee were given to Israel and the purpose was two-fold. It allowed for the land to have regular periods of rest from production in order to keep nutrients and minerals from being depleted. Doing this helped ensure healthy crops and abundant harvests. Even today it is great gardening and farming advice.

Second, these laws provided a system whereby people who had lost their ancestral lands could be restored to them. In theory, it was a great idea. Unfortunately Israel never consistently followed these practices and paid the price.

So, what does the Shemitah cycle have to do with the U.S. stock and financial markets movement? Scripturally speaking - nothing. These laws applied to Israel alone and there is no biblical evidence that any other nations ever received those mandates or were punished for a failure to comply with them. Although I actively day traded the markets for about five years, I don't classify myself as an expert. I have, however, learned a great deal about market cyclicality and what makes them move in either direction.

If we want to give kudos to someone who understands these things the award goes to Tom McClelland. Tom is a market timer and the offspring of the originators of the McClelland Oscillator, a tool used to forecast market movement. McClelland correctly called August, 24th ahead of time as the day the market would turn down and it did. As far as I know his call wasn't based on either of the two popular Christian premises making the rounds but on solid technical and fundamental information and analysis. And he got it right.

Anyone can predict that our stock market will take a downturn in the fall of the year and have a good chance of being correct. There are several things that go on "under the hood" that contribute to this. Here are just a few.

Managers of large portfolios re-allocate resources. If they've hit their benchmarks for the year they sell out early in order to bank the profits and keep customers happy. If they're on the losing side, for tax purposes, they need to slowly liquidate their holdings of millions of shares in an orderly manner to avoid panic selling. What this means is that the market can continue to rise higher but on reduced volume. That is what happened in our markets over the past few months.

Corporations begin reporting earnings in October but it isn't unusual for some to give guidance ahead of time. If they do the markets can move sharply based on this news. When earnings are announced often companies will give forward guidance; where they see things going in the future. This type of information can also have a serious impact on the market, up or down. Since the financial crisis of 07-08 companies have become leaner and more efficient. This helps the bottom line but only for so long. Unless sales are generated revenues shrink and profitability falters. Many corporations based projections for growth on China's seemingly robust economy to balance out losses in the U.S. and Europe. Now that China has slowed there's no one else to pick up the slack.

For years our government poured obscene amounts of money into the equity markets and raised stock prices to artificial highs. People felt better when they saw their 401k's and investment portfolios regain the losses and go in the black. With interest rates at record lows, bank accounts were no longer a place to park money. People were forced into the stock market to receive any type of return on an investment. These aren't long term investors. This week the Fed will announce if it will raise rates and there is some speculation that they will. This type of policy change or one whiff of bad news could have short-term investors headed for the exits.

The market's bull run has been built on shaky financial underpinnings. Sooner or later it will reverse, it always does, and the results could be ugly. When that happens it will likely be the result of poor economic and financial policies, short-term investors cashing out, national and international events that can't be predicted and not on God, Shemitah cycles and blood moons.

About blood moons, Peter was very bold to declare that the events of Acts 2 were the direct fulfillment of Joel's prophecy concerning these signs in the heavens. Rather than a time of doom, this event was an unprecedented outpouring of the Spirit of God on Jews and Gentiles alike. Prophecy, dreams and visions also expanded. One of my favorite ministers gave this advice concerning blood moons. Based on what Peter said he recommends that one put oneself in a position to receive dreams and visions from God. I like that idea.

Jesus repeatedly spoke out against fear in every way, shape, form and manner. Unfortunately in the Church, fear sells even in direct opposition of the Lord's teachings. Why would unbelievers want what we claim to have when some of us are acting more frightened and pessimistic than they are?

How about you? Are you fulfilling Jesus' command to occupy until He comes or are you hunkered down and hoping for The Great Escape? Has the plethora of gloom and doom promulgated by ministers and ministries caused you to be overcome with fear and dread for the future? If so, is that the type of abundant life Jesus died to give us? The bible tells us over and over that there will be difficult and hard times, challenges to overcome but through Christ we are victorious over them all. Be an overcomer.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Fresh Vision

Hashem said to Moses, 'See I have made you a master over Pharaoh...You shall speak everything that I command you.'”
Ex. 7:1-2 Tanach (emphasis mine.)

“A master over Pharaoh? Could have fooled me! From my vantage point it looks like he's got the upper hand and is calling the shots!” That was the problem. Moses needed a fresh vision.

To be fair, being God's designated deliverer was no small task. From the beginning Moses struggled with God's plan to free His people. There had to be someone more qualified.

His first attempt failed. Misunderstood by the Israelites and in trouble with Pharaoh, Moses left Egypt in a hurry. Now, back in town and on the job, he failed again. This time the result was more oppression for the already overworked slaves. He'd reminded God more than once that he wasn't the right person for this and now he had proof.

Moses needed help and God had the solution. “See I have made you a master over Pharaoh.” Moses' vision required an adjustment. He had to look at the situation through God's eyes. God saw Moses as Pharaoh's superior although neither one of the men recognized this – yet. To God, Moses was so far above Pharaoh in status that he didn't need to lower himself in order to speak to Egypt's ruler. He was to say out loud whatever God told him and then Aaron, his brother and spokesman, would deliver the message. That must have raised a few eyebrows in the royal court. God saw Pharaoh in a subservient position to Moses and it was critical that Moses capture this vision of himself. He did.

Going forward there was a shift. Despite the wily actions of Pharaoh, Moses kept up the pressure. Plague after plague wreaked havoc on the Egyptians, their land, possessions and theological belief system. Pharaoh would flip flop on his word and Moses would counter with even stronger measures. From our perspective Pharaoh's behavior seems foolish. Why allow your country to be decimated?

Bottom line, it was all about power. Pharaoh was considered a god so this was primarily a spiritual battle. The plagues targeted Egypt's pantheon of gods and defined them as helpless. The final one, the death of every first born ran from the lowest hovel right up to the palace. What kind of a god can't protect his own child?

The key to this divine reversal was fresh vision and it is the same for us today. We must see our situation through God's eyes to get the real picture. The words He gives us have to be spoken out loud and their creative power released. Opposition and obstacles may not fall immediately but with persistent faith, they will.

How about you? What has God entrusted to you that is in neutral or even reverse? How will fresh vision change your mindset toward this situation? Like Moses, how can you harness the power of God-given vision and words to strengthen your resolve to see the task through to completion?