“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1
Have you forgiven yourself? Have you really forgiven yourself? We know we have forgiven ourselves if we are free from guilt and self-condemnation. Otherwise we are stuck in the crazy cycle of re-living bad decisions that are done and cannot be changed. It is impossible to continually guilt our conscience in order to make up for past mistakes.
When we do not release ourselves from previous indiscretions we try to make up for them by overcompensating in the present. Perhaps you neglected your child in their early years, and now as an older teenager you’ve tried to make up for your absence by enabling their poor decisions. Instead, they need to experience the consequences of bad behavior while they are with you, so they can learn and grow into responsible adults and citizens.
Jesus tells the story of a loving father who allowed his son to hit bottom, and as a consequence the son came to realize and take responsibility for his reality: “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you (Luke 15:17-18).
Forgiving yourself begins by embracing the truth that your heavenly Father has forgiven you. The grace of God is in abundant supply; no one is beyond its reach. The Lord loves you unconditionally, and He forgives the objects of His love. Has the grace of God seeped deep into your soul, so you know in your heart and mind that you are set free from the guilt and shame of sin? If not, forgive yourself and trust the Lord to make up for lost time.
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
When you forgive yourself, you are able to forgive others. Self-forgiveness is a key to unlocking real relationships. Authentic community with Christ and Christians comes from forgiveness from your heavenly Father, forgiveness from others, and forgiveness from yourself. What have you not released yourself from in forgiveness? Lay it at the altar of God’s grace and He will extinguish it with His eternal fire of forgiveness and love.
“This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:38-39). When you love yourself—you forgive yourself!
Prayer: How can I grow in my love and forgiveness of myself? How does God forgive me?
"Who perceives his unintentional sins? Cleanse me from my hidden faults." Psalm 19:12 (HCSB)
Our basement furnace room is not a pretty sight right now. This out-of-the-way space is a catch-all place for off-season items and assorted memorabilia. To combat clutter and keep objects organized, we've purchased shelves and large plastic totes over the years to neatly house our family's stuff.
In my perfect plan, bins are labeled, shelves are stocked tidily with homemade canned goods, and holiday decorations nestle themselves neatly in our oh-so-organized furnace storage room. And truthfully, this is how it usually goes. Well, 82% percent of the time.
However, when we are not intentional to actually walk into the room and place items in the proper bin or situate them on their assigned shelf, we tend to revert to the open, drop, and shut method of organization: open the door, drop the item just inside the room, and shut the door tightly so that the accumulating pile of clutter is not visible from the adjacent family rec room.
The result is an unattractive pile of stuff that slowly grows and messes with my plan of an orderly storage room. When this occurs, I have to stop what I'm doing and carve out time to sort and situate the items back to their proper place.
At times my heart can become a catch-all for clutter and junk too. It is not my intent to have a messed-up heart that harbors incorrect attitudes or contaminated thoughts that eventually might lead to wrong actions or even unconfessed sin. However, when I am not intentional to put those thoughts and feelings in their proper place—under the authority of Christ—they can soon breed a bunch of unwanted and sinful "stuff" in my spirit that messes with God's plan for me to behave like His Son. And although the outside world may not see it, behind the door of my heart I know the junk pile is there.
For believers to keep this spiritual clutter at bay, we must make a regular habit of asking God to show us if we are collecting such unwanted attitudes, thoughts and issues.
Are we harboring anger, bitterness, envy or ill-will? Have we accumulated spiritual laziness or a love for something that is greater than our love for God?
Without putting these away soon by confessing them to God, we might end up with an unintentional pile of spiritual junk that often can lead to sins we never set out to commit. Hidden anger in our heart toward another becomes harshly hurled words. Secret envy morphs into gossip. Behind-the-scenes bitterness begets public bad behavior.
Let's make today's key verse our heart-cleaning plea, "Who perceives his unintentional sins? Cleanse me from my hidden faults." God is the Master de-clutterer who alone can help us deal with the messes we might make.
Let's allow Him to clean out the clutter of our hearts and make our spirits whole again. This is spiritual pile-busting at its very best.
Dear Lord, teach me to bring any unconfessed sins to You early so they do not pile up making a mess of my heart. I want to daily be more like Your Son. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Reflect and Respond:
Name a time in your life when you allowed unhealthy thoughts and attitudes to pile up in your heart. What happened? How did it affect not only you but also others?
Spend some time alone with God asking Him to show you if you have any unintentional sins or hidden faults that need to be surrendered to Him. Write out what He shows you. Then, one by one, confess them to Him asking Him to clean them away and make your heart new.
1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (HCSB)
Psalm 66:17-19 "I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer." (NIV)
New wine must be poured into new wineskins. Luke 5:38
The new wine of grace grows in a life made new by Christ. The old life of self absorption cannot contain the new life of selfless service. The Spirit’s fullness leaks out of a vessel that is still suspicious to full surrender to its Savior Jesus Christ. A genuine follower of Jesus replaces old thinking with new and renewed mental categories. Heaven replaces hell. Humility replaces pride. Faith replaces fear. Truth replaces lies. Generosity replaces greed. Salvation replaces shame.
Yes, the fermentation of faith expands influence over our character. We cannot hold onto bad habits and augment them with good habits. The good totally takes the place of the bad. Christ’s covenant of grace has no peers. Indeed, the past covenant of the law cannot refrain our liberation in the Lord Jesus. This is why the joy of new believers is infectious, as they are spiritually swayed by the Spirit’s influence. In Christ we are free to be His beautiful creation of goodness.
He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:6
You are free to be who you are in Christ. You can be yourself, because He has saved your self! In Christ you are good. In Christ you are accepted. In Christ you are a new creation. In Christ you are a child of God. In Christ you are gentle. In Christ you are secure. In Christ you are loved. In Christ you are patient. In Christ you are peaceful. In Christ you are gracious. In Christ you glorify God. In Christ you are free from sin and Satan’s control. In Christ you are free to be you!
Therefore, live your resurrected life in Christ and do not attempt to resuscitate your old man of the flesh. Your new wine of grace beautifully fills your new wineskin of salvation in Christ alone, but it bursts the old wineskin of the law. The old wine of legalism may be tasty to lazy thinkers with immature habits, but it is bitter to those who have tasted the sweet grace of God. You are a new creation in Christ, the old has passed and the new has come. You are free indeed!
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creationhas come:The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17
Prayer: Heavenly Father I am grateful for being freed by Your new wineskin of grace.
Related Readings: Isaiah 65:17; John 1:13; Romans 6:4; Galatians 6:15; Revelation 21:4
Post/Tweet today: Christ’s covenant of grace has no peers. Yes, legalism tastes bitter to the sweet taste of grace! #freedomingrace
"But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Matthew 5:44 (NIV)
Do you want to make Jesus smile today? I do.
I want to untangle the thoughts of me and mine and what I have going on and think of someone else. A friend. A neighbor. A stranger.
I want to give her the gift of my words. Words formed because I thought of her. And those thoughts culminated into a compelling reason to show love to her.
But, I'm not talking about someone who is easy to love.
I'm saying I'll give this gift to someone who has hurt me, judged me, wronged me, or flat out offended me. Yes, that's the one to whom the gift should go.
To do so, we must dare ourselves to get intentional with this command from Scripture. "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse" (Romans 12:14 NIV). And to pray.
Pray for an authentic heart while seeking to love this person. Not that we welcome that person into our inner circle and do daily life with her. But, offering love to those who hurt us, when most would scorn or ignore them, is beautiful and rare.
Dare to pray for an overwhelming sense of love. Not love for the difficult or hurtful situation that has arisen with this person, but love for the soul God created within them. She is His. He loves her. He treasures her even when He doesn't approve of her actions.
He treasures us even when He doesn't approve of our actions.
In the midst of giving what we might perceive as an undeserved gift of love to them, I wonder if our eyes might be opened to a different perspective. If we might see something we desperately need to see. About her. About ourselves. About our Jesus.
When someone says something ugly about me I need to consider the source. Wouldn't it be wonderful if a person receiving an undeserved gift of love from me, considered the source? And saw not me, but Jesus that reigns inside of me.
"When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized they were ordinary, unschooled men, they were astonished and took note that these men had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13 NIV).
Oh, let it be so noted with my life ... my words ... my love for those who love me ... and even more, my love for those who don't. I have been with Jesus. I love like He loves. Because He is the source of all love.
And I do believe He smiles about that.
Dear Lord, You are worthy to be praised! I pray today that You will give me a heart that seeks to bless others, even if they have wronged me. Help me to genuinely forgive them, for You have extended so much grace to me. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
In her New York Times best-selling book, Unglued, Lysa TerKeurst speaks very honestly about how to have better reactions and improve relationships. Click here to order your copy.
Reflect and Respond:
Who could you give the gift of love to today?
Come to the Lord in prayer and ask for an overwhelming love of that person's soul. Be prepared for a perspective change as God shows you more about your own heart in this situation.
Luke 6:27-31, "But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (NIV)
Romans 12:14, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse," (NIV)
As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice,I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. Luke 6:47-48
The foundation of a well built life is the Lord Jesus Christ. All other starting points are only shifting sands of security, but Jesus is a secure rock of salvation. So, wise life builders begin with faith in Jesus, the son of God and their Savior. Once this foundation of faith is laid, then the structure of wisdom can be erected. Yes, Almighty God is the architect of a life submitted to Him. His design is elegant and eternal. What the Lord builds no one or nothing can shake!
Furthermore, it is necessary to make sure your beliefs are genuinely built on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, the subtle chaff of false faith infiltrates some who are religious, even those who are consistent church attenders. Your name may be on a church membership directory, but is it engraved in the Lamb’s Book of Life? So, examine your life to see if your faith is real or if it is a weak substitute. Obedience follows faith.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?Can such faith save them? James 2:14
Indeed, when we put into practice Christ’s commands and integrate Biblical principles into our behavior, we could be convicted in a court of law for being a Christian. Obedience to God is a lifetime process of growing in grace, humility and love. Tests of faith will come and go, but the loving care of Jesus stands with us in our suffering. He is dependable in keeping us from becoming desperate in economic downturns. In success our Spirit filled life gives Him the glory.
So, is your life being built with the wise construction materials provided by your Master Builder, Jesus? Keep Christ as your Building Contractor so you will not be displeased with His design. Talk over with Him in prayer the very real punch list of your concerns. He will clarify His purposes that are all good. Your life is beautiful with its floors of forgiveness, walls of gratitude, windows of love and roof of grace. Your well built life will withstand shaky circumstances!
Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. Psalm 62:6
Prayer: Heavenly Father thank You for building my life on Your rock solid character.
Related Readings: Psalm 21:7; Isaiah 54:10; Luke 11:28; Acts 2:25; James 1:22-25
Joel C. Rosenberg is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels—The Last Jihad, The Last Days, The Ezekiel Option, The Copper Scroll, Dead Heat, The Twelfth Imam, and The Tehran Initiative—and five nonfiction books, Epicenter, Inside the Revolution, Implosion,Israel at War, and The Invested Life, with nearly 3 million copies sold. The Ezekiel Option received the Gold Medallion award as the "Best Novel of 2006" from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Joel is the producer of two documentary films based on his nonfiction books. He is also the founder of The Joshua Fund, a nonprofit educational and charitable organization to mobilize Christians to "bless Israel and her neighbors in the name of Jesus" with food, clothing, medical supplies, and other humanitarian relief.
Joel's newest book, Damascus Countdown is available now and one scan of the description will put you on the edge of your seat.
All eyes are on the Middle East. Israel has successfully launched a first strike on Iran, taking out all of their nuclear sites and six of their nuclear warheads - and causing The Twelfth Imam to order a full-scale retaliation. U.S. President William Jackson threatens to support a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Jewish State for unprovoked and unwarranted acts of aggression.
Meanwhile, CIA operative David Shirazi has infiltrated the Iranian regime and intercepted information indicating that two Iranian nuclear warheads survived the attack and have been moved to a secure and undisclosed location. In danger not only from the ongoing missile strikes on Iran but also from the increasingly hostile and suspicious governments of multiple countries, David and his team are in a race against time to find the remaining nuclear warheads before disaster strikes.
With Damascus Countdown, bestselling author Joel C. Rosenberg returns with another adrenaline-charged political thriller - a gripping tale snatched from future headlines.
All that to say, it's amazing what God has brought Joel through. Certainly God has had his hand on Joel and has allowed him to make the story of Christ bigger through fictional writing.
John: Joel, I’m wondering maybe if you could give us a little bit of background information as to just who Joel Rosenberg is? I know that you were born into a family where your father is Jewish, was Jewish, and your mom was not. Is that correct?
Joel: It’s true. My father still is Jewish, he still believes in …
John: Of course.
Joel: Jesus as the Messiah, but he was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn. His parents and grandparents escaped out of Russia as Orthodox Jews in the early 1900s, when the Czar was leading the war and encouraging the pogroms--those terrible waves of anti-Semitism against the Jewish people. Their family was able to escape, and eventually got to the United States, and like any good Jewish family, they set up shop in Brooklyn, which is where my dad was born and raised.
My mom was raised in upstate New York in a little town called Rome. You might expect that it was a pretty Catholic town, being called “Rome.” My grandfather—her father—was Catholic, but her grandmother was Protestant Methodist, and unfortunately her father was a very violent, alcoholic, abusive man and eventually left the family and divorced my mother’s mother.
My mom was now an only child to a single mother in the ‘40s and that was a tough place to be. My mom was raised in the church, but she was not particularly religious. She never heard the Gospel in her particular church, and of course, my father never heard the Gospel growing up. They were both pretty much agnostics when they met and married in the mid-60s. A few years later, in 1967, I was born, and our whole family’s story began to take an interesting turn.
John: You said you were born in New York State?
Joel: Yes, I was born in Syracuse. That’s where they met. My father was an architect, working at his first job as an architect. My mom was doing graduate work at Syracuse University, and they met at a party and fell in love, and my father proposed. Though, I have to say that my Jewish grandmother was so upset at the idea that he was going to propose to a Gentile woman that she offered to buy the engagement ring back from him, at a profit to him, if he did not do this, but he went for it anyway.
John: Joel, how does Christ enter into your family?
Joel: My parents were seekers. They really were lost and it was the ‘60s. They weren’t really counter-cultural, but they were newly married in 1965. They were trying to establish a life for themselves, but they felt lost. They felt sure that there was a God; they just didn’t know who He was. When they looked back at my father’s background in Orthodox Judaism, it surfaced a lot of painful memories for him. Now, there are many wonderful, warm, loving Orthodox Jewish families and communities. My father did not live in one, however; so he didn’t think that digging into Orthodox Judaism was going to help him. My mom’s experience with her violent Catholic father left that option without any particular appeal. And since she had grown up in what was, quite honestly, a dead little Protestant church that hadn’t taught her the Gospel, she didn’t have much hope for that either.
They read the Koran. They got confused. They didn’t find it that interesting. They read the Bhagavad Gita and looked into Hinduism. They didn’t really get that either and didn’t have any draw there. They tried to read the New Testament, but they just didn’t get it, honestly, and so they’d go for long walks, talk about, “Do you know God? How are we going to find God? Does anyone know God?”
One day they happened to visit a church and they were sitting there and the pastor wasn’t there, but some visiting young couples had been asked to lead the service that day--an atypical scenario for that particular denomination. As it happened, and these couples were saying, “We were raised in the church, but honestly we never knew that we had to be born again, and that you couldn’t just go to church and then know God, you had to accept Him in your heart, you had to receive Christ by faith.”
My mom began to sit up a little, and leaned forward. She had never heard of verses like John 3:16 or John 14:6. She literally didn’t know the Good News, that Christ had died for her to forgive her, to adopt her into His family. As an orphaned kid essentially, an abandoned kid--in her min--from a broken family, the idea of God adopting her into His family was a game-changer! She just was electrified, and she thought, “How do you do that?” Well, they explained how.
They said, “Afterwards, when the service is done, if you want to come forward and ask some questions, great. If you’d like to make the decision to receive Christ, then you’ll really start to know God because He’ll be living inside of you.” Her response was, “Yes!” So she went forward, prayed to receive Christ, and assumed that my father was right next to her sharing her enthusiasm, but he wasn’t. He was finding coffee out in the lobby.
Anyway, he basically said to her, “Listen honey, I know we’re on this search, but I’m Jewish. Jews do not believe in Jesus, it’s not going to happen. I’m happy for you, but I don’t believe that. No.” To his credit, he was willing to go to a small group Bible study that my mom wanted to join. There, they were going to go through the Gospel according to Luke and study it, chapter by chapter. My father thought, “Look, any good, red-blooded American ought to know the New Testament. I tried to read it; I didn’t understand it. Sure I’ll go just so I will know the basic plot, that’s fine.”
After six months of listening carefully, two things stunned him. First, he was stunned by really reading the Word of God, because he never had done that. He had never just sat and read the Word of God, certainly not in English; he read some in Hebrew, but he didn’t understand it. To read the Word of God was electrifying to him. Confusing, admittedly, but there was something about it. I guess I don’t have to tell you, your readers or your staff this, but God’s Word is powerful!
Well, it began to affect him. The second thing that was transformative was something he never knew as a Jewish person, which was that Jesus had actually claimed to be the Messiah. He knew that Christians thought He was the Messiah, but he didn’t realize that Jesus Himself had been challenged on this point and said, “Yes, that’s exactly who I am.”
When he came across verses like that in Luke, he was shocked and thought, “Wait a minute, wait just a minute. If you claim to be the Messiah and you’re not, then I can’t call you a good teacher anymore.” This has been the classic C. S. Lewis or Josh McDowell logical analysis. My father hadn’t ever heard of those two men, but he was an architect. He had an engineering mind--a logical mind--and he said to himself, “If Jesus claims to be the Messiah, which He clearly does, and He isn’t one,” which is what he thought, “then either Jesus knew He wasn’t the Messiah and was just lying to people, or He thought he was the Messiah and He’s just crazy.” But as he continued to study through Luke, he could not come to the conclusion that this person, Jesus, was a liar or a lunatic. Six months after they started in that study, he came home one day and said, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I believe that Jesus is the Messiah and I received Him by faith today on the bus coming home from work.” That was the beginning of a very serious revolution in our family, both my parents within six months of each other coming to faith in Jesus as Messiah.
[All that to say,] I was growing up in a lost, agnostic house and suddenly my parents were saying they believe in Jesus and started dragging my sister and I off to church every week. I can’t say I was a big fan of that.
John: Tell us a little bit about that journey. Obviously, if they are the ones that certainly made this decision, something was changing in the family dynamic. How did you and your sister approach this new idea?
Joel: Differently. We approached it very differently. I was a little resentful at first. I didn’t like having to go to church. I didn’t like being put in a Sunday school class where the kids seemed to already all know the Bible stories. Literally, the pastor’s son and some of the Elders’ daughters were there, and the class wasn’t that big, but everybody knew the Bible stories and I didn’t know any of them. Then they had, I don’t know if you used to force, I mean, “encourage” your kids to do sword drills?
Joel: "Hold up the Bible and say, “John 3:16,” and whoever finds it first gets a Wiffle ball and bat." That’s what they did in our class to encourage study of the Bible by, let’s say, friendly competition. I just was embarrassed because I would lose every week. They would say, “John 3:16,” and I was like, “I see a Mark, a Johnny, a Gary, a Nancy, I don’t see any John, who’s John?” I’d never read the Bible. I had never looked at the Bible. I don’t think I’d ever held a Bible.
Over the next few years, my parents got me a little pocket New Testament. It might’ve been a Gideon Bible; certainly it was along those lines. It was funny; it was one of those Bible New Testaments that have the Psalms and the Proverbs in the back. One day they said in class, “Ready? What’s the last Book of the Bible?” I looked up first and I got my hand up before everyone, and everyone was shocked because I never won. I never even played basically.
John: Yes, I know where this is going.
Joel: He said, “Oh, wow! Joel, what’s the last Book of the Bible?” and I said, “Proverbs.”
John: Oh yes, of course.
Joel: They just laughed. They said, “No, no, it’s Revelations.” I said, “Not in my Bible,” and I’m pointing it out to them: “It’s right there, black and white, give me that bat, give me that ball.” But, of course, they wouldn’t do it. I think I’m still a little bit bitter. I’m working out my angst on that one.
The bottom line is, I wasn’t a big fan. The only thing worse than Sunday school, to me was the fact that in our church we had VBS. We get to the end of the school year, and there was no Sunday school for summer. We had summer vacation, so I thought, “Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.” Then I was like, “Oh no, my parents are making me go to Vacation Bible School …” And every day too. That was a disaster. The short version of that was, I really resented that because I’m not a big fan of singing, or wasn’t at the time, and I don’t like crafts, and that’s basically all you do in Vacation Bible School. At least that’s the way it was where I was raised, in the little town of Fairport, New York. It was terrible. I did like those stories about Jesus, though, but I thought, “I can think of a lot of better ways to spend my summer morning than gluing elbow macaroni to burlap to write out ‘Jesus loves me.’”
It was through that process, and honestly, prayer--the prayers of my Sunday school teachers, the lady around the corner that had VBS in her basement, parents—and the model of seeing my parents changing that I changed too. That year, when I was eight years old, I prayed to receive Jesus into my heart as my Savior. I believe I really truly was born again at that moment, even though I didn’t understand it all, and was able to receive this as a child by faith.
It was a number of years before it began to become truly, deeply transforming to me. It had an effect early on, but it wasn’t really until high school that I had to wrestle it through more deeply and then began to take it more seriously. That’s the short version of my process, my journey.
John: Needless to say, all of the workings or the activities that your Sunday school teachers and your VBS teachers had done for you specifically, Joel, they didn’t really have much effect. It was something far…
Joel: No, I would say it did, but it wouldn’t have looked that way to them. The answer of that all, the conclusion is, they did have an effect, it’s just that I didn’t look like a kid that was responding. Their faithfulness, teaching the Word of God, praying for me and loving me, being patient with me, did open my heart. In effect, it only took a few years, so in the grand scheme of things it didn’t look so difficult.
The heavy lifting was God saving my parents. I’m grateful for those Sunday school teachers and that Vacation Bible School teacher. In fact, I was teaching once at a church a few years ago and I was telling that story. People were laughing and I was maybe milking it a bit, and lo and behold, who should show up in the lobby but the lady who was running the VBS class. She was like, “Wow, it was that bad?” I said, “No, yes, I guess that’s the way I felt, but you heard the end of the story, it worked! God’s Word works.” I was very grateful and was able to tell her face-to-face.
John: It’s amazing…
Joel: Thank God for all the patient Bible school teachers out there.
John: Absolutely. It’s amazing the tools that God uses to bring people to Himself.
John: Joel, so then in high school, you understood the reality of God’s grace towards you and you received Him as your Savior? At what point did you start leaning towards writing?
Joel: That same year that I was eight years old that I prayed to receive Christ, that same year I remember having a real interest in either writing and making movies or writing novels. Basically, I wanted to become a storyteller.
Looking back, perhaps it’s fair to say those two moments converged. Obviously, it took a long time to play itself out. It wasn’t until I was 17 years old that I took my faith particularly seriously and started sharing my faith in high school. I started a Bible study and tried to reach everybody in my high school with the Gospel. I really got electrified halfway through my junior year, and I’d always been interested in writing, and ended up going to film school at Syracuse University.
Years later, actually, the Lord gave me the opportunity to begin to write my first novel and who knew, it became a New York Times Bestseller. This was the book, The Last Jihad, which released in November 2002. Usually when you write your first book, you just hope that your mother can find it in a bookstore within a hundred miles of her house, not that it would become a bestseller. I couldn’t have anticipated that.
That was a long time away from my early dreams of being a writer, but, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” I think He did a lot to refine those desires and take me through some other paths and to prepare me for what was coming. My goodness, I can’t say either my wife or me anticipated that if I made a pivot in my career, from politics to writing novels, that that would be successful.
John: Joel, in writing these books, the Lord certainly has used you to open some very significant paths in conversation. You’ve had the opportunity to be on numerous television news programs, and radio as well. You’ve been on ABC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC; you’ve talked with Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and many others. When you walk into those settings and you are in an environment that is certainly different than the one that you and I are in right now, how do you go about it? What is your goal in that type of conversation? What do you hope to accomplish as they are trying to figure out what you stand for and what your books have been doing as well as what’s going on over in the Middle East? What is your goal in that process?
Joel: It’s a great question. Maybe the simplest way to answer it is to tell the story, just briefly, of what happened when the first novel was released. In other words, in terms of my novels, yes, my objective is to write geopolitical thrillers that are heart-pounding, edge of your seat, can’t put them down, stay up all night-type thrillers. I want to entertain. I want to grab people by the collar and pull them in on an adventure ride that they can’t let go of and that they finish to the end.
That’s the first objective. In that, I want my characters to show a whole range of different emotions and ideas, and I want some of them to be on a spiritual journey. Being on a spiritual journey has been a significant part of my parents’ life and my own life, and I think this is the most eternal point. Not every person who reads one of my novels is going to necessarily going to react well to some of the spiritual sub-themes; but they’re there and they’re important to me.
I think the novels stand on their own as geopolitical thrillers, but I also want them to spark some thinking on a range of issues, one of which is, “What about this? Where am I going when I die? What is my future and can I have a relationship with God that’s personal?” Those are my objectives, and so, I certainly hope when I walk into a radio interview or a TV or print interview, that those types of conversations will come up.
What’s amazing is that they do come up. Not every time, but when I first released The Last Jihad, that novel, from the first page, puts the reader inside the cockpit of a jet plane, which has been hijacked by radical Muslim terrorists and is coming in on a kamikaze attack mission into an American city. That’s how the book begins and I wrote that nine months before September 11, 2001. As The Last Jihad continues, it leads from this kamikaze attack on an American city to a war between the United States and Saddam Hussein over terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. All of that was written before 9/11.
When the book, The Last Jihad, released in November 2002, believe me, no one had ever heard of Joel Rosenberg, no one had ever heard of The Last Jihad, and honestly nobody really cared. When that book came out, people were so intrigued with the plot, not with me, not with my faith, not with my parents’ spiritual story growing up. What they were interested in was, “Wait a minute, you wrote about a kamikaze attack on the United States by Muslims nine months before it happened and about a war between the United States and Iraq and now we’re debating whether we should have that very war? How was that possible? How did you do that?” That was the conversation we were having.
I was on 160 radio and television programs in less than 60 days, from just before Thanksgiving through Christmas and early January of that year. I remember one of the interviews very early on, it might have been the second day of the media tour, someone was asking me, the radio host was asking me, and actually he was from my hometown, Rochester, New York, and he was asking me, “How could you do this? How could you write a book that seems to be true, but it’s fiction?”
We talked about that and he said, “What do you think is going to happen next, if you’re so insightful about the future?” We talked a little bit about where I thought we might be going in terms of a war with Iraq and how that might happen and why. Then he said, “I don’t understand, Joel, your name is Rosenberg?” I said, “Right.” He said, “That’s Jewish, isn’t it?” I said, “Yes, it is, on my father’s side.” He said, “But your characters, some of them in this book, are talking about Jesus, aren’t they?” I said, “Yes, they are.” He says, “What are you, an Evangelical? A born again?” He thought that was nutty. I said, “Yes, I do believe that Jesus is the Messiah, so yes.” He said, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. How can you be Jewish and believe in Jesus?”
I was not prepared for that question. It’s a nice question to be asked, and I’ll own that question, but I did not imagine it would be asked on day two of this Last Jihad book tour. I was a little flummoxed, honestly. Perhaps I was not always prepared to give an answer for the reason of the hope that was in me, which is not good, but nevertheless I was just caught off-guard.
I said, “Sir, it’s an interesting story, but I am sure that we don’t have time for me to explain it to you on your radio show.” He said, “Are you kidding?” He said, “It’s one thing to have a guy on my show who writes fiction that seems to come true. It’s another thing to meet a Jew who believes in Jesus. I’ve never heard of such a thing. I’m going to have you on after the break and you can tell your story.”
That began what has continued for 10 years now, not on every show, not on every interview, but with a lot of them, where people ask about the spiritual themes or the biblical themes or about my own personal life. Somehow they ask, they get interested, and I love to answer those questions, much like when Jesus was hanging on the cross and one of the thieves said, “Remember me.” It was the thief who started that spiritual conversation. I love to start a spiritual conversation if I can, but sometimes they get started by other people and I have an opportunity to respond.
John: Joel, I love that story. It’s amazing to me to think how often God has put you into these very, and perhaps sometimes precarious, situations for an amazing task. What a splendid opportunity that God has called you to be a part of. Joel, I’m wondering, oftentimes, I don’t want to say that it’s specific to the Evangelical community, but obviously that’s what we live in, so that’s what we’re going to talk about, oftentimes, within the Evangelical community, people will take a book and apply it to their own life, as if it is the Word of God itself. In other words, they might take a book and not necessarily claim that it has the same authority as the Word of God, but they will hold almost very close to it.
Within Christian fiction writing on occasion, various books have had that type of approach. People have looked at books such as yours in a biblical or prophetical fictional writings and said, “This is how things are going to pan out.” How do you, as a follower of Jesus, how do you approach someone with that type of thought behind them?
Joel: That’s a good question. I can’t say that I have met a lot of people, in person anyway, that have taken my books and thought that my novels were the way it was going to be. That could be happening. They’re not writing to me and I’m not meeting them.
One of the things that fiction allows me to do is play out a scenario of what could happen, and therefore be able to raise a concept, an idea, a scenario in the minds of readers that they may not have thought about. For example, one of my novels, The Ezekiel Option, which was released in 2005, is about a Russian dictator rising to power and forming an alliance with Iran and a group of other Middle Eastern countries. Then they try to attack Israel. That novel is based on a prophecy, the prophecies of Ezekiel 38 and 39, which is what Bible scholars call the War of Gog and Magog.
What really has fascinated me personally is Bible prophecy, and when I started studying the War of Gog and Magog, I was intrigued. One, because I’m from a Russian background, my family escaped out of Russia. Two, I had an opportunity to work for Benjamin Netanyahu, who, of course, is the current Prime Minister of Israel. Three, I’m a follower of Jesus Christ and a student of the Scriptures, and all of those things are elements in Ezekiel 38 and 39, Russia, Israel, the Word of God.
I wrote a novel that said, “Listen, I was thinking to myself, I don’t know exactly how that prophecy is going to happen, and I can’t say that that prophecy is going to come true in my lifetime, but what if it did? What a novel allows me to do is ask what if, and in this case, what if this prophecy comes true in our lifetime, and what if it happens this particular way? Not to say that it will, but what if it did? What would that look like? What would that feel like? What might happen? What might be the implications, personally and then nationally and internationally, if those prophecies came true in our lifetime?”
That totally intrigued me, and I think it’s intrigued a lot of people. We’re almost at three million copies of these books sold, so I think it’s reasonable to say people are also interested in those questions, “What if?”
I think any good novel, certainly a political thriller, for example, the genre I’m working in, ought to start with a very compelling “What if?” scenario and if it’s compelling enough, people will read it, not because they think, “That’s the way it’s going to happen,” but they think, “Gosh, what if it did?” It gets a ball rolling to have people asking themselves, in this case, “Is Russia forming an alliance with Iran? Is there any evidence of that? Does that prophecy say that? What does that prophecy say? What do other people think about that prophecy? What do I think about that prophecy? What does that prophecy mean to me?”
It’s a prophecy most people have never spent any time thinking about. In fact, Tyndale (publisher) didn’t even want to call it The Ezekiel Option, because they thought the word Ezekiel just sounds boring. It’s supposed to be a thriller. I found it thrilling and they were ultimately persuaded.
I hope that’s helpful, at least in my perspective, on how I hope readers are looking at my novels, as thought-inducers. I can see that some people might be out there, “That’s the way it’s going to happen,” but I’m trying to… I don’t buy into that. I don’t accept that, and that’s not the goal.
Middle East Expert Joel Rosenberg Analyzes Israel/Gaza/Iran Tensions on FOX News
Published on Mar 21, 2013
John: Joel, you don’t want to give anything away here and I completely understand. Real quick here, we’re getting close to the end of time, or at least our time…
Joel: That’s true in the…
John: In the big scheme of things, that’s very true.
Joel: Who knows exactly when that ends? No one knows that day or hour, but you in your case, yes, okay, we know that.
John: Yes. Joel, you are much more than an author and a speaker. You have also been doing some unique things with the country that your father would hold dear with Israel as well. Do you want to explain a little bit about the Epicenter Conference that you did?
Joel: Sure. A few years ago, we noticed that there was so much interest in the books that people wanted to talk about these issues and talk, not about the fictional side only, but also what’s really happening. “Joel, you did work for a Prime Minister of Israel, for a Deputy Prime Minister of Israel, Natan Sharansky, and for others, you interact with generals and intelligence officers and so forth, what do you see really happening in the Middle East? What is coming? What are the timelines?”
We put together a conference called the Epicenter Conference. People can learn about it at epicenterconference.com. We’re having another one, for example, this summer in Jerusalem. Sometimes we have them in Israel and sometimes we have them in the United States. Most of the videos of the speakers from the last number of years are online at epicenterconference.com, so people can watch them for free.
The short version is, they give us an opportunity to look at some of the key issues, the geopolitical issues, some of the economic issues, but also the spiritual issues, “What is God doing? We see what the enemies of the Bible are doing in the Middle East, building weapons, terrorism, and so forth, but what is God doing?” We’ve interviewed Jewish believers, Iranian believers, Arab believers, former terrorists. It’s given us a forum to talk about what is really happening in that part of the world, not just from a geopolitical angle or an economic angle, but also through what I call the third lens of Scripture.
That’s now tied together, these conferences, with the ministry that my wife and I started seven years ago, called The Joshua Fund, which is a ministry to mobilize Christians to bless Israel and her neighbors in the name of Jesus. We educate people around the world, mostly Christians, about what’s happening in Israel and the Middle East, and what God’s plan and purpose is for the people of that region, but we also then do practical work. We provide food and clothing and medical supplies and other humanitarian relief to the poor and needy. We do that mostly through local believers, though we also are connected to government, mayors, and welfare agencies and so forth.
The idea is to help Christians understand what’s happening, but then give them a chance to make a difference. We also teach the word of God. We do pastors' training, trying to strengthen the local believers to be a light in the darkness. The bottom line of that, John, is that I don’t want to just write novels about what might happen or what will happen but we don’t know exactly will happen. I don’t want to just write fiction. These things are real. People are really in the midst of war and suffering. I want to try, as best I can to, mobilize people to make a difference, to be a blessing, to be a witness for the Lord in the place where He’s going to come back to anyway. That is an important element of what I do.
Fortunately we’ve got a great team that God has helped us build, and so I don’t have to do all that myself. It’s been exciting to help build that team and lead it, even as I try to keep my focus primarily on the writing of these novels.
John: Joel, thank you so much for taking the time to talk.
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV)
Hide it! This was my first instinct. I was certain if my husband found out, he would leave me. So I rushed home at lunch every day to remove another credit card statement from our mailbox. My payments were late; fees were stacking up. I was sinking deeper and deeper into a financial and emotional abyss.
My husband was clueless about my debt ... now our debt. He never would have condoned my spending habits, as he is wiser with finances. So the spending was my secret.
Soon, it wasn't just letters in the mail, the phone calls began. I was either going to have to fess up or continue to try and hide it. But at that point, hiding was next to impossible.
I wondered things like, if I tell him, will he divorce me? Will he ever trust me again? Things are already bad, will this make them worse? They are just credit cards, right?
The regrets are many as I look back at this time. We pay high interest rates because of my choices. But even more, I regret violating my husband's trust. I created trust issues in our marriage that run deep and have required much time, effort, and grace to mend. What started out as just small pieces of plastic, ended up creating a gigantic rift in our marriage.
Trust issues in marriage can come in one form or another. There are the things that can knock us down quickly such as lying, committing adultery, and falling captive to an addiction such as alcohol or pornography. And then there are the things that chip away at trust over time like constantly showing up late, paying more attention to a phone or electronic device, cancelling date night repetitively, and refusing intimacy more often than not.
Most of us experience some combination of both major and minor trust-violating incidents unique to our marriage, resulting in trust gaps, and ultimately feelings of abandonment, anger, and rejection.
So how do we mend trust in a relationship as delicate as a marriage? Especially when we are the offender? A great place to start is looking at Philippians 2:3-4. In these verses, Christ calls us to imitate His humility. To do nothing out of selfishness, but value others above ourselves.
Imagine how your marriage would change if you and your spouse both chose to follow these principles. And even if your spouse is not on board, imagine how your life would change if you decided to consider his needs above your own?
This certainly is not a suggestion to be a doormat or endure an abusive situation. Healthy boundaries should be set if there is abuse of any kind. But what I am condoning is healthy humble behavior. Be cognizant of the words you speak to and the tone you use with your spouse. Do not disrespect him verbally. Encourage him every chance you get. Choose to consult him regarding the decisions you make, even the small ones.
Marriage is a partnership. Communicate the value and importance of your husband's opinions. The miracle of humility and respect is when we present it to others, it tends to come back to us in greater amounts.
My marriage is on the mend. I have submitted our finances to my husband. Not because he is a dictator or longs to be in control, but because he is wise in this area and leads in a way of spending and saving that looks out for the interests of our family.
Moving forward, let's choose to test our actions against Philippians 2:3-4 and try to look out for the interests of our husband, not just ourselves. A great first step is to ask for forgiveness from the Lord, be honest with our husband, and move forward together, learning from each other's trust-violating habits. Trust in a marriage is a beautiful, and attainable, thing.
Dear Lord, forgive me for hiding in the dark what should be in the light. Please prepare my husband's heart to hear what I need to confess, and give us the wisdom on how to move forward, together ... with You are our guide. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
For over 17 years, Proverbs 31 Ministries has been a trusted friend, offering biblical perspective on marriage, parenting, friendships and more. This wisdom has been recorded in 366 devotions that unpack Scripture and are interspersed in the new NIV Real-Life Devotional Bible for Women. Click here for your copy!
Reflect and Respond:
Are you violating the trust in your marriage right now? If so, make a plan to tell you husband. If you are nervous, pray about having a third party there to help mediate.
Ephesians 5:21, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." (NIV)
This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God. Luke 12:21
It is easy to justify larger savings accounts for the sake of security. However, for the heart hungry for God, security is in Christ, not a bank balance. Future uncertainties are submissive to faith, not finances. Yes, to be rich toward God is to be rich in faith that exhibits generosity. True riches are trust in Jesus that leads to charity in Jesus' name. To build excessively bigger bank accounts builds on ego and fear, but a life rich toward the Lord wisely gives away as the world wonders.
Fools lose what they only prepare for themselves, but those who give away their extra gain more. How is your degree of richness toward God? Are you overly cautious or aggressively generous? Perhaps you defer a major expenditure, so you can give away some of your excess to those who hunger to hear the gospel. Professionals and poor alike need regular reminders of the love, forgiveness and justice of Jesus. Your intentional investment in the Kingdom bears big fruit.
Though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them. Psalm 62:10
It’s our inheritance in heaven, not on earth, that captures the heart of focused followers of Christ. Fortunes fade away, but treasures sent ahead to heaven are never lost, only compounding in value. Yes, the development and deployment of spiritual resources are the most strategic use of wealth. Human accolades over our earthly accomplishments are hollow compared to our Heavenly Father’s smile and affirmation over our richness toward Him. We can’t out give God!
Perhaps you draft a manifesto of generosity before you experience abundance, so you predetermine aggressive giving. Preplanning protects you from the temptation to trust in stuff over your Savior Jesus. The best remedy for greed is radical generosity. Hoarding feeds a life of ease, but significant eternal investments enhance a life engaged in the Almighty’s agenda. Be rich toward your Heavenly Father, since He has already given you His riches in Christ Jesus!
He [Moses] regarded disgrace for the sake of Christas of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. Hebrews 11:26
Prayer: Heavenly Father thank You for Your riches that qualify me to be rich toward You.
Related Readings: Job 20:20, 31:24; Jeremiah 17:11; Psalm 39:6, 49:10; Luke 12:33
Post/Tweet today: To build excessively bigger bank accounts builds on ego and fear, but a life rich toward God aggressively gives away. #generous
"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Romans 12:2 (NIV)
It's usually very subtle. I'll think about something I want to do or sense God calling me to, and a feeling of uncertainty comes over me. Doubt whispers You can't do that. You're not good enough. Out of the blue, I'll get that awful, insecure feeling.
Too many times in the past I've gone along. Without realizing it, I agreed with my insecurities.
For years, I didn't tell anyone about my doubts. I figured if they knew the reasons I doubted myself, they'd notice flaws I had worked hard to hide. Honestly, I thought I was the only one who struggled with doubt.
However, I didn't call it doubt. Maybe you don't either. Sometimes I called it worry—worry that I was going to disappoint someone, worry that I might make a mistake and get criticized for it, worry that I might start something but not be able to finish.
Other times I'd call it fear—fear of not measuring up, fear of rejection, fear of looking prideful by thinking I could do something special for God.
What I've realized over the years is that these feelings may end up as fear or worry, but their source is self-doubt. Looking back, I see there was a pattern in my thinking that led to the pattern of my doubting.
As a child I thought I wasn't worth keeping. My insecurity kept me from riding the carousel at an amusement park because I doubted my dad would wait for me. In school, I thought I wasn't smart enough. I avoided great opportunities because they came with the risk of failure.
Even as a young bride, I doubted my worth in my husband's eyes. Although he gave me no reason to fear, our newlywed memories include many arguments about trust.
The apostle Paul challenges us in Romans 12:2 to not let our minds be conformed by the patterns of this world. This means we need to take our patterns of thought into consideration because they affect what we believe about ourselves and what we believe about God's view of us and others.
The world's patterns of thought tell us our worth is measured by our weight or bank account, our job or spouse, by the number of our friends, or if we are able to have children. And if we do have children, the world tells us we're only good parents if our children behave 'just so.'
Have any of these thoughts ever convinced you you're not enough or don't have what it takes to do all God's calling you to do?
Just this week, doubt tried to convince me I couldn't handle my life. I had a sick teenager, a huge deadline to meet, several therapy appointments for my daughter and very concerning health problems with my mom.
Remembering the wisdom in today's key verse, I paused to consider the pattern of my thoughts and knew they didn't line up with God's thoughts. For instance, in Philippians 4:13 God tells me, "... I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength" (NLT).
I claimed God's promise by weaving it into my thoughts, knowing I could do it all if I depended on the strength God promises to give. And when I did, God transformed my heart by renewing my mind with His peace and confidence.
It takes time to replace our patterns of thought with God's thoughts. The ways of the world—fear and worry—are powerful forces. But God's Word trumps them, always. Today, let's be intentional to lay down self-doubts and replace them with truth, remembering "... he who began a good work in [us] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil. 1:16 ESV).
Lord, I want to have a confident heart in Christ and persevere in Your truth so that when I have done Your will, I will receive what You have promised. When doubt tells me I can't do something, I'll remember all things are possible to her who believes. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Reflect and Respond:
What motivates you the most to be free from self-doubt?
What would you do differently if you were free from worry and fear, and fully trusted God? Let go of unforgiveness? Volunteer more? Travel? Start a new hobby or look for a new job? Ask the Lord to help you replace self-doubt with His confidence and what your first step of freedom should be.
Isaiah 26:3, "You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!" (NLT)
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