What will happen during the biblical end times? That's a question that has sparked debate over the centuries — and it's one that I directly address in my new book, "The Armageddon Code," which releases on May 3, 2016. Find out more below: --
Through a thought-provoking, journalistic voice, Billy Hallowell, faith editor for theblaze.com, provides objective one-on-one interviews with various leading voices in Christian ministry to explain what they believe the Bible teaches us about the last days.
From its easy-to-understand writing style to other helpful tools, everything about this book was created to allow you to educate yourself on what the Bible says, compare what the experts believe, and draw your own conclusions about the end times.
Learn more about "The Armageddon Code."
A discussion about the quest for knowledge continues in Proverbs 4, with Solomon imploring readers to essentially "get wisdom at any cost." The power of such wisdom is detailed in verses 5-6, which read:
"Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you."
It is, once again, made clear that the search for wisdom has profound implications, with the scriptures proclaiming that acquiring it can help people stay on the straight and narrow.
Verse 11 proclaims, "I instruct you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths," with verse 12 continuing, "When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble."
The chapter specifically reminds believers to avoid the "path of the wicked" and to look, instead, toward "the path of the righteous," appealing to the human heart as the moral centerpiece.
"Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it," verse 23 reads.
And though it all starts with the heart, the chapter goes on to tell readers to keep perverse and corrupt messages out of their mouths, and to closely consider "the paths for your feet."
Pretty powerful stuff.
The book of Proverbs is quite obviously all about the importance of obtaining and exercising wisdom, as Solomon both doles it out and explains the power that discernment can have in and over one's life. What strikes me about the third chapter of the book is its pertinence to the times in which we live today.
Of course, the world has always been chaotic and the message could apply to any and all generations, but there's something about our current cultural and moral unraveling that makes the message particularly applicable.
The well-known lines in verses 5-6 read, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight."
While these words are simple, they carry with them monumental power. We live in a world in which media and entertainment are constantly — and instantaneously — sending us messages that, many times, counter the biblical narrative. It's easy to get swept up into the mess, thus replacing God's worldview with our own acquired and not-so-biblical perspective.
Leaning not on our own understanding is becoming more and more difficult in a confused world — one in which the culture is moving further away from a mainstream embrace of biblical values.
Then, there's verse 7, which reads, "Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil." It, again, points to the need to look to God for wisdom and answers rather than to the world.
And that's certainly not the end of the lessons embedded within, as verses 13-15 proclaim, "Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her."
Just some brief thoughts for you all.
There's been a feeling for quite some time now that something, culturally speaking, isn't quite right. We're disconnected. Chaos is rampant. Relativism is at a fever pitch. A look at entertainment, alone, showcases just how far we've fallen on the moral depravity front.
The full cultural package makes it clear that more and more people — and institutions — are disconnected from the depths of the heart of both God and the gospel, trading in the wisdom that comes from the Almighty to, instead, embrace the questionable paths and perspectives that are all too often praised and heralded by the world.
I already said this in the first installment of my comments about Proverbs, but what I love about the book is its timeless ability to speak with equal power and pertinence to generations that are thousands of years apart from one another.
That in mind, while it's easy to get discouraged, the Bible — both the Old and New Testaments — guides us through the chaos, showcasing exactly why we are where we are, culturally, spiritually and societally speaking.
Proverbs 2 tackles the issue of wisdom, with Solomon writing, "Indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure,then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God."
Verse six continues by proclaiming that the "Lord gives wisdom," knowledge and understanding. This is a profound consideration, especially in a world today in which pervasive messages permeate through media and entertainment.
Those messages, many times, run completely counter to what is right, but they are framed somehow as being the "moral" stances. The issue is that these sentiments are based on peoples' proclivities, not on God's guidance.
So many of us are so distracted by what's happening in the world that we're missing — or even forgetting — the importance of seeking God's wisdom. Proverbs 2 is a reminder to seek that out, as finding Truth in God and not in the world is absolutely essential.
The text continues (verses 9-11):
Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path.
For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.
This was particularly helpful for me this week after I spent some time exploring some tough issues — issues that left me with profound confusion as to how anyone could possibly embrace what I flatly believe to be morally despicable.
In the end, the more we separate from God — the more people choose to ignore His wisdom for the world's wisdom — we can expect increased disconnection among the masses. But, God is always in control. Hope is key. And hey, at least we have guidance that explains exactly why the culture is a mess.
Stay tuned for more of my thoughts on Proverbs. This series is really just a collection of random thoughts, but I hope it's helpful for others trying to navigate our world.
The Book of Proverbs is filled with useful information and timeless life lessons. That's why I'm going to be going chapter by chapter in an effort to explore some of the key concepts in the book that I find most useful, helpful and intriguing. First and foremost, what I love most about Proverbs is that, after thousands of years, Solomon's advice still holds true.
That proves that a) it is solid guidance that is worthy of consideration and b) that human beings — at the most basic level — haven't changed all that much.
Perhaps the first truth worth noting comes in Proverbs 1:7, which reads, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." Far too many people today reject this "beginning of knowledge," but that's clearly not a new problem; it's one that Solomon felt he needed to tackle centuries before Christ arrived on the scene.
Chapter one also has some lessons about choosing our friends and associates carefully — yet another part of the human experience that hasn't changed all that much.
In the end, you are who you spend your time with; that's the central lesson worth gleaning within the text.
Proverbs 1:7, 10-19 reads:
My son, if sinful men entice you, do not give in to them. If they say, “Come along with us; let’s lie in wait for innocent blood, let’s ambush some harmless soul; let’s swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder; cast lots with us; we will all share the loot”— my son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths; for their feet rush into evil, they are swift to shed blood.
How useless to spread a net where every bird can see it! These men lie in wait for their own blood; they ambush only themselves! Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the life of those who get it.
And there you have it. We'll dive into Proverbs 2 next.
When I made a vision board in January (I know, I know — don't laugh) and added a personal goal of getting closer to God, I had no idea what, exactly, that would look like. Sure, I could read my Bible more regularly and keep up a better prayer routine, but what about digging deeper — what about understanding the very complex and historical underpinnings of the faith I subscribe to?
There are few things in life I'm fully sure of. Among those very few tidbits, I know that my faith should be my ultimate priority. And I also recognize that religion is an immensely important social and cultural issue with sweeping pertinence to billions of lives.
Christianity, in particular, is essential to the American experience and to my own faith walk and personal development. Raised in a religious home, I was exposed to biblical devotion at an early age, hearing all of the traditional Bible stories and sentiments and applying them to my life.
I would most certainly credit that dynamic as being the driving force that helped make me who I am today. The lenses through which I see many issues and my overall worldview are fueled, sustained and tied to this experience.
But I've felt for quite some time that the level to which I need to understand scripture — one that extends beyond the visceral — requires a more profound effort and a deeper-rooted study of the Bible, its contents and the history that helped shape it.
Sure, I'm a Christian. But do I really know the historical constructs, the authorship battles and the interpretive wars that rage in classrooms and seminaries across America? The simple answer: No.
But I believe it's something that I owe God, myself and my readers (and this seems to be similar sentiment espoused by conservative commentator Erick Erickson when he, too, announced back in May that he'd be going to seminary).
As the faith and culture editor of TheBlaze, I've had the pleasure to study and report on fascinating, profound, comical and breaking news stories that deal, to varying levels, with faith and religion (I've written over 6,000 stories in the past 3 and a half years, which seems unbelievable).
It is a position I have truly valued and an opportunity that has offered a wonderful platform for my writing — one I am forever grateful for (and a position I plan to continue into the future).
A few months ago, I had no immediate plans to attend seminary or to seek an advanced degree in Christian studies, though I had publicly shared my wish and interest in eventually doing so.
And when Bruce Ashford, provost of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, saw that desire, he reached out to me and blessed me with a scholarship opportunity to attend the school.
After applying and gaining admittance, I officially enrolled at the seminary for the fall in pursuit of a Master of Arts (Christian Studies) degree — and started classes two weeks ago. I'm currently attending part-time, taking one course in Old Testament studies and another with a focus on the New Testament.
Already, I'm seeing new perspectives and learning more deeply about the origins, tenets and impact of the most powerful book in human history. I'm ever-grateful to Bruce Ashford and to the seminary for both admitting me and offering up an opportunity to refine my journalistic and faith worldviews in such a wonderful way.
Just wanted to share that with readers and ask for prayer if you think of it. Truly looking forward to learning!
Oh, and I'll still be working full-time for TheBlaze as I make my way through the degree program. Feel free to post any questions over on my Facebook page.
P.S. Very big shout-outs to my wonder wife, Andrea Hallowell, and to my friends Liz Klimas, Justin Basch and Pastor Charlie Restivo for supporting me in my application process!
The U.S. State Department's "2013 International Religious Freedom Report" was released today, bringing with it some dire news about the state of free speech and religious expression around the globe. Capturing just how troubling the situation is, a State Department fact sheet said that 2013 brought with it "the largest displacement of members of religious communities in recent memory."
People around the world from a diverse set of faiths, including Muslim, Christian and Hindu, among others, were forced to leave their homes and — in many cases — their countries as a result of their faith.
"Communities are disappearing from their traditional and historic homes and dispersing across the geographic map," reads the report's executive summary. "In conflict zones, in particular, this mass displacement has become a pernicious norm."
But problems weren't only seen in areas where war and conflict are running rampant, as the report highlighted that a survey by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency found last November that some Jews in countries like Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden and United Kingdom felt anti-Semitism was of serious concern.
"The European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) survey of perceptions of anti-Semitism among Jews in eight member states … released in November, found that in some countries as many as 48 percent of the local Jewish population had considered emigrating because of anti-Semitism," it continued.
The problems clearly aren't geographically concentrated.
"North Korea again stood out for its absolute prohibition of religious organizations and harsh punishments for any unauthorized religious activities," it continues. "Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan put severe restrictions on members of religious groups that did not conform to the state-approved religion(s) while in China, Cuba, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, religious activity was only lawful if explicitly authorized by the state."
The report notes that governments around the world implemented discriminatory laws which, in turn, created other forms of repression at the hands of citizens, allowing for "broader human rights abuses."
Religious-motivated violence and discrimination, the report said, intensifies when governments fail to protect religious freedom.
Read the entire report here.
Throughout my 15 years in media, I've been passionate about a variety of issues. Among them: faith and culture. Unfortunately, there aren't enough TV shows, radio programs and podcasts tackling complex issues for 20 and 30-somethings in fun, innovative and creative ways.
I'm looking to change that.
Let's face it: We need better content that entertains, inspires and addresses the real issues today's young adults face.
That's why TheBlaze TV's Raj Nair and I launched "Freefall," a weekly audio series/podcast that offers interviews with fascinating and intriguing individuals. It's fun, simple and provides a lens into the lives and worldviews of celebrities and faith leaders alike.
Since I haven't really addressed the show yet in detail, I wanted to pen a brief blog post here to let you all know why we're doing it (you've likely seen me tweeting and Facebooking about it and some of you have voiced your curiosity).
Each episode is between 10 and 20 minutes. And so far, we've tackled some fascinating subjects: pornography, rap, negative influences in media -- and plenty more.
Below, I've embedded the first three episodes for you to check out. I will continue to post them as we go:
Our Interview With Michelle Williams of Destiny's Child
Our Chat With Former Miss America Kirsten Haglund
Rapper KB Talks About Christianity and the Music Industry
I'm always confused when I hear people flatly deny the existence of strategic and pointed efforts aimed at stripping God out of society. These naysayers, including comedian Jon Stewart, often snicker when they hear terms like "War on Christmas," seemingly dismissing claims that there is a concerted effort to diminish the holiday's pertinence and importance in the modern-era.
They argue that Christmas is alive and well and that there's no real threat to the revered holiday. Sure, that latter part may be true. At least in our current culture, the religious meaning of the day still stands for a great many Americans.
And there's certainly no immediate danger of Christmas being stripped away from the calendar -- but that has absolutely nothing to with with the validity of claims that there's an orchestrated "War on Christmas" (I only use Christmas, because it's the most obvious example).
I'm a journalist. I write daily about patterns unfolding in faith and culture and one of the most common themes and subjects I encounter is the secular movement and its grievances over perceived violations of the separation of church and state.
For better or for worse, secular activists regularly target, threaten and sue local communities over nativities, crosses and other religious elements that they say have no right on government property. This isn't an opinion; it's a fact.
These attacks are absolutely strategic -- and they are, many times, carried out by atheist groups intent on imposing their will (or stopping the will of others from being imposed) on local communities across America (they'll argue that they're protecting the rights of non-believers, but the merits of that argument depend on the scenario).
These national groups have a pointed interest and they seem to follow a specific blueprint. During the Christmas season they've been known to target religious displays and faith-based songs in public schools; during other parts of the year, prayer among high school football teams, to cite one example, seems to be the target.
Atheists often targeting the very life vein of the culture, which is why there's usually such a big reaction when opposing sides clash over the First Amendment.
Many communities are finding themselves in a tough spot. And in some cases bizarre, troublesome and questionable regulations and mandates are going into effect simply because activists would rather sue than see a nativity placed on a courthouse lawn.
And those snickering and claiming that these strategic blueprints don't exist and that these efforts to diminish a holiday's prevalence are figments in the minds of the communities forced to waste money on frivolous lawsuits -- well, they're only kidding themselves.
That said, it's important to note that not every constitutional complaint coming from atheist activists is pointless or worthy of ignoring, as there are times in which church and state do improperly impede upon one another.
But there's a "War on Christmas" and, most certainly, a "War on Religion," though I've personally soured on using battle terminology to categorize sociopolitical debates. Logic and a good look at the facts shows that there's a calculated, funded effort to target any and all potential collisions of church and state; sometimes these efforts simply go too far.
No doubt, intimidation and the threat of expensive legal battles drives much of it.
Saying "there's no 'War on Christmas'" is intellectually dishonest. Just as strategic forces work in this country toward common goals like maintaining traditional marriage or legalizing marijuana, so do many atheist activist groups work to secure a more secular world.
Dismissing what's unfolding and laughing it off doesn't change the truth. Why not just be honest about what's actually happening?
New Year's resolutions never really go all that well. Don't get me wrong -- January is the perfect time to reboot and put together a blueprint for the year ahead, but let's face it: Most of us come up with some pretty unattainable goals and benchmarks.
We start out the gate strong, but by February 1, we're off the wagon. Maybe I'm making some assumptions here, but if you're anything like me, most of those "New Year, new you" proclamations end up dead and gone pretty quickly.
So this year I was all about coming up with a "vision" for the year ahead (life coach Valorie Burton has been to TheBlaze a few times lately and she's been giving me some excellent tips).
Taking her advice in hand, my wife and I actually mapped out a foam board (one for each of us) showing how we want the year to go.
It's totally different from crafting resolutions, as you use photos and text to lay out your goals, aspirations and intended mindsets for the year ahead.
On my vision board (I know, I sound like I've been hanging out with Oprah too much) I have plans and visions for building a better relationship with God, family commitments and what I want my professional life to look like.
It's all pretty nifty and I finished most of it over the weekend.
With all that done and ready to go, I went to bed this past Sunday satisfied and prepared to start the week off with a bang ... and around 3 a.m. Monday morning, that's exactly what I heard.
A big, loud bang.
I won't bore you with the details, but that sound ended up being a burst water pipe in the garage (apparently, new homeowners are supposed to know to empty the garage pipe, as water expands when ice forms -- and that creates some unpalatable problems like burst pipes). Lesson learned.
While I was sweeping water out of my garage in the middle of the night, arguably looking like a crazy person to any of my neighbors who were awake and watching, it dawned on me: Just as I was planning to start the year off right, all hell was breaking loose.
Rather than focusing on how to improve, I was stuck focusing on how to remove streaming water from the inside of my house. And I wasn't reacting all that well to it.
Then, today, my 16-month-old got sick, I burned food on the bottom of the oven and was forced to clean it for an hour and I experienced a bunch of other annoyances and setbacks. All minor, but cumulatively ... obnoxious.
Earlier, I was muttering about how "this is the worst week ever" and how "everything that could have gone wrong went wrong." Dramatic, I know.
But then I realized something: These incidents were all distractions -- things that held me back from focusing in on the broader aspirations for the year ahead. Just as I was ready to implement and focus on each item on that trusty vision board, my attention was diverted and it all made me pretty grumpy.
And my reaction was just making it that much worse.
Rather than continuing to complain, I realized at some point tonight the importance of praising God for all I have, even when I feel too annoyed to do so or when things aren't going well. After all, it's much easier to focus on what's broken than it is to look at the positives.
We can't live in a bubble and pretend that life is always picture perfect, but we can try to change our worldview so that we react more positively when challenges get in the way.
And, just so we're clear: I'm by no means lecturing. I won "worst complainer" (and "funniest" and "most superstitious") in my high school superlatives (I campaigned for "funniest," so we can't really count that one). I, like many, have been known to spend way too much time focusing on and voicing what's wrong in life.
But I can't imagine that's what God wants for you and me. Maybe it's time that we all make a change -- a change in our vision and worldview for the year ahead (and, obviously, in our daily interactions and tasks). And that change, as corny as it might sound, all begins with how we respond to what happens in our lives.
Consider what Charles Swindoll once said: "Words can never adequately convey the incredible impact of our attitudes toward life. The longer I live the more convinced I become that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it."
All too often I live like it's the other way around. It's time to reverse that trend. Are you with me?