Mini Review of “The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story of Cold War Espionage and Betrayal” by David E. Hoffman

billionspyI’ve attempted reading fictional spy stories over the past couple of months and given up on each of them. This book, however, has taught me a powerful lesson. While I enjoy Cold War era history, it is a subject matter that proves the truth is far more fascinating than fiction. The Billion Dollar Spy is is a detailed account of the CIA’s handling of Adolf Tolkachev. Tolkachev spied for the United States deep under cover in Soviet Moscow and provided the United States with technology secrets that gave them a definitive advantage in aerial combat.

People who are looking for a “James Bond” like thriller will find the pace of this book slow. However, the appeal of this book isn’t in the action; rather, it is in the decisions the CIA made in handling their most valuable spy. Do they meet his demands or risk making him unhappy? Should they attempt to sneak him and his family of the Soviet Union? What techiniques should they use to keep his presence secret from the Russians? I found this all very interesting!

If you are interested in the Cold War, you need to learn about Adolf Tolkachev. His story is incredible and the United States owes him a debt of gratitude for the risks he took.Mini

Personal Accountability in the Book of Amos

Bible Backgrounds: AmosThe first four chapters of Amos are gut-wrenching. Amos is a prophet delivering God’s Word to the nation of Israel. He is not happy. Nor does Amos beat around the bush; he calls Israel out in a very explicit way. He begins by preaching judgment on the nations that surround Israel. With each pronouncement he moves closer and closer to Israel like a noose tightening around their neck. Midway through Chapter 2, the full judgment of God is being preached on the nation of Israel and their sins are many.

The prophet tells Israel that their days are numbered because they are taking advantage of the needy. The Israelites  “sell the righteous for money and the needy for a pair of sandals” (2:6), “turn aside the way of the humble” (2:7) and “a man and his father resort to the same girl” (2:7). Amos paints a picture of Israel that is disturbing. It is a land that is built on the backs of the poor and is characterized by sexual immorality. What’s even more disturbing is that Amos preaches that the Israelites do these things to “profane [God’s] holy name” (2:7). 

Amos is suggesting that the Israelites take delight in their sin. They take pleasure in flaunting their sins before God and they mock Him with their disobedience. Their disobedience is not cause by ignorance; rather, they have gleefully chosen to live in sin.

What’s even more disturbing to me is that I can see this in our own culture. We live in a world that often celebrates what God has called out as sin. Our world mocks those who attempt to be loyal to God’s Word. Our world often profanes the Holy name of God.

The first four chapters of Amos are difficult to swallow because the prophet is preaching to Israel collectively. He is dealing with them on a corporate level as a nation and things appear to be hopeless. Amos preaches that “flight will perish from the swift, and the stalwart will not strengthen his power, nor the mighty man save his life. He who grasps the bow will not stand his ground, the swift of foot will not escape, nor will he who rides the horse save his life. Even the bravest among the warriors will fly naked in that day” (2:14-16).

God’s wrath is going to crush Israel. They are going to be punished for their sins.

There’s a shift in the fifth chapter of Amos. The prophet takes a break from proclaiming doom on the nation and begins speaking to individuals within the nation. He tells them repeatedly to “seek the Lord so that [they] may live” (5:6). Amos is writing a dirge for the nation of Israel (5:1), however, in the midst of the nation’s funeral he is preaching life. Amos preaches:

“Seek Good and not evil, that you may live; and thus may the LORD God of hosts be with you, Just as you have said! Hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate! Perhaps the LORD God of hosts may be gracious to the remnant of Joseph” Amos 5:14-15, NASB.

In the midst of a doomed nation, Amos offers a prescription for life. He speaks to individual hearts and tells they must swim upstream to avoid the current of their culture. They must hate evil and love good. They must seek and establish justice. They must look to God for life!

The same is true for us. Jesus stands in stark contrast to our culture. Much of what He preached seems upside down to us. He taught that the last shall be first (Matthew 20:16) and that the meek shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). He also taught that He is the only path to God, “I am the Way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6).  Jesus taught a message that is often ridiculed, distorted, and even profaned in our culture … and it is left up to the individuals within our culture to embrace Christ’s message.

Amos preached that individuals needed to seek good and not evil. Jesus is the good they need to seek. Jesus says that if we know Him, we know God and if we’ve seen Him, we’ve seen God (John 14:7).

In the midst of a culture that is sinking under the weight of its own sin, Jesus is the answer. 

 

Reflections on John 13:34

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34, NASB.

Bible2This verse from the Gospel of John is one that has been resonating in my brain over the last few days. It’s not necessarily hard to understand, but it seems most of us are unwilling to put it into practice. Jesus issues this command to His disciples, “Love one another like I loved you!” It’s a practice that is supposed to go hand in hand with following Christ, in fact, it’s so necessary that Jesus goes on to say others will know we belong to Him because we do it (verse 35).

Yet so often we don’t do it. Rather, we pretend to do it. We love our fellow believers as long they don’t ruffle our feathers, hurt our feelings, disagree with us, or let us down in some way … but the first time we see their flaws, we cut bait and run. Most conflict between believers is caused because they fail to love one another as Christ first loved them, or worse, they stubbornly refused to.

When I think of how Christ loved me there’s no escaping the image of the cross. Christ loved me so much that He when to the cross in my place. Scripture teaches that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Christ died for us “while we were yet sinners”. He didn’t demand that we clean ourselves up before He went to the cross. He died for us in spite of all our flaws and imperfections. And He commands us to love one another in the same way!

Ever wonder how to respond when a fellow believer hurts your feelings or lets you down in some way? Christ tells us to respond in love … and He role-modeled that love for us on the cross. When you love your Christian brothers and sisters and remain devoted to them through thick and thin, the rest of the world will know Who it is you belong to.

John 13:34 isn’t a suggestion … it’s a command.

 

Mini Book Review: The Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman

spyThis book is the true story of Adolf Tolkachev who delivered Russian secrets to the the CIA for seven years during the Cold War. The sheer impact this one spy had on the United States military, specifically in aviation, is astounding. His secrets contributed to the United States’ air superiority throughout the world for long after the Cold War ended and helped topple the Soviet Union. It is an incredible story. As I read the account of Tolkachev, I couldn’t help but wonder how his story ties in with other known spies of the era. People like Aldrich Ames and Robert Hannsen may have contributed to the ultimate downfall of Tolkachev and it is mind-boggling to consider the interwoven web of espionage that permeated the Cold War. In a world focused technology and “wiki-leaks”, this book reinforces the necessity of human intelligence. I highly recommend it if you are interested in Cold War espionage.

Your Body is a Temple: So Why Live in Chains?

ky1w7eac5em-maarten-van-den-heuvelYour body is a temple. Everyone loves to quote this passage of Scripture. You’ll likely hear it anytime someone is encouraging you to work out or eat healthier. In it’s original context, however, Paul is talking about so much more than just exercise and diet:

12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. 14 Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! 16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” 17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. 18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

Paul begins this passage by pointing out that not all things are profitable for us and that we shouldn’t be mastered by anything. And while Paul is talking about food, specifically the levitical dietary laws of the Jewish people, he is encouraging his readers to live morally in all areas of their life. He writes that the body is not meant for immorality. This passage echoes the words of Peter that encourages us to “… be holy for He (Christ) is holy” (1 Peter 1:16). The believer is to strive for holiness in all areas of their life; including their diet and fitness.

The line that speaks to me the loudest from this passage is, “but I will not be mastered by anything” (v. 12). When it comes to food, I am easily mastered. At 368 pounds, food was my master. And I must confess that even now, it tries repeatedly to put me back in chains.

Paul is calling on all believers to glorify God in their bodies. He tells us to flee immorality and not be mastered by anything be it food or sexual sins. Why does he specifically mention these two areas of our lives? Maybe he knew these would be the two areas most of us would struggle with the most.

We live in a world where we are constantly tempted toward sexual and dietary immorality. When you’re watching tv tonight, count the number of commercials that appeal to your desire for food, sex, or both. In our culture, you can’t watch a prime-time sitcom without seeing commercials featuring bikini-clad models eating bacon cheeseburgers. The world wants us to trip up and wants to place us in chains.

Paul writes, “I will not be mastered by anything.”

We need to embrace the notion that our bodies truly are temples of the Holy Spirit.  If God has called us to be holy in all aspects of our lives than what we eat and what we think about matters to Him. I’m not saying we’ll go to hell for eating pizza and cheeseburgers, but I am saying we need to foster a healthy relationship with the foods we eat.

If God has called us to be holy, we have a higher calling in diet and fitness than just looking good and feeling good. We are honoring Him when we eat healthy and exercise. 

I’m still striving for holiness when it comes to my diet. I’m thankful I’ve lost some weight, but I’m aware that I’m not there yet. I’m trying to embrace moderation in diet and regularity in my exercise. Why? Because I’ve been bought with a price and I want to glorify God in my body.

If your Body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, why live in chains!

Take Responsibility for Your Spiritual Growth: A Devotional

gfgm2hcq92s-aaron-burden“… but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18, NASB)

In 2 Peter 3:17, Peter warns believers not to “… lose [their] footing and get swept off [their] feet by these lawless and loose-talking teachers” (2 Peter 3:17, Message). Not only are believers prone to stumble on their journey with Christ, there are those who would intentionally trip us up if given the chance. There are false teachers who would lead us astray in our walk … this is why it’s crucial we stay faithful to the gospel as it has been passed down to us (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Because of all the pitfalls that confront us in our walk, it is important that we take a proactive stance when it comes to our spiritual growth.

Too often, we treat spiritual growth as something that just “happens” to us. We go to church, hang out with other Christians, and listen to Christian music in the hope that we will grow through some sort of ‘spiritual osmosis’ – and we will, to an extent. However, we will grow the most when we actively contribute to the growth process. When Peter admonishes believers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior,” we must understand he is encouraging us to actively participate in the process.

Do you want to know the secret to avoiding pitfalls in your spiritual walk? Take responsibility for your own spiritual growth. In the power of the Holy Spirit, commit yourself to growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. When your feet hit the floor in the morning make it your daily goal to study God’s Word and put it into practice in your life. Don’t wait for Sunday morning to soak up some spirituality, rather, make spiritual growth a priority in your life every day of the week! Peter has warned us there are people who will lead us astray … we can avoid their traps if we know what we know what we know! Scripture equates this process with a baby who gets off of milk and begins to eat solid food (Hebrews 5:12, 1 Cor 3:2).

Take command of your spiritual life and take responsibility for it. Never be satisfied with just milk. It is time we all begin eating solid food!

Food is a Cheap Replacement for God

g6g93jtu1ve-aaron-burden“Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ (John 6:35, NIV).

Certainly, Jesus is speaking about spiritual matters when He calls Himself “the Bread of Life.” Jesus is declaring that those who believe in Him will never hunger or thirst spiritually. However, I don’t think it’s a coincidence He speaks in terms of food.

Too often, we look at food and drink to find satisfaction. In this way, a glutton is much like a drunkard. We have a deep longing for something, and we are looking for it in the foods we consume and the beverages we drink.

There is a quote that is often attributed to Pascal that says we all have a God-shaped void or vacuum in our hearts. I believe this is true. When we face adversity, loss, anger, suffering, and trials we become even more aware of that void in our spirit. It’s at this precise moment we should seek God.

Too often, however, we try to fill that God-shaped void in our hearts with food.

Food shouldn’t replace God. We shouldn’t look to food for comfort. When we do, we are in essence making food our God. Why is it so easy to make that mistake? Perhaps it’s because we do find temporary comfort and solace in the foods we eat. For a moment, we do feel better. But that temporary satisfaction is always followed by regret, weight gain, and remorse. The temporary satisfaction we find in food is a cheap replacement for the eternal satisfaction that can only be found in Jesus Christ.

Jesus said whoever comes to Him will never go hungry again. We need to let our food be food and our God be God!