Prophets Hear What God Is Saying And They Proclaim His Message – They Are Wise Men!

As I prepare this article it is as though I am hearing more and more about the lack of good sound solid leadership in the nations of the world – where men of integrity and trust are indeed found to be reliable. Corruption appears to be a blight in these times when transparency is easily trips off too many tongues.

In the Bible there are lessons and warnings and guidance and direction in the areas of leadership and discipleship and we would be wise to start paying heed.

Many of our serious situations and circumstances could be resolved if only we would adhere to what god has said in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

When I was asked to deliver ten lessons – ten talks – seeking to cover the entire bible in ten sessions, I found it exhilarating – and highly challenging too.

In our sweeping through the Bible seeking to have an overview of these past 6,000 years, we come to the prophets. Since the days of Moses there have been prophets – but it is when we come to around the year 700 B.C. that we have various books written by the prophets.

Previously the words of the prophets are included in the content of the historical books.

The prophets were very ordinary men – but they were given a BURDEN or ORACLE or WORD – which they spoke or preached or proclaimed or shared.

The prophet not only spoke for God – but he first had to hear from God. We have to receive before we can give.

The prophets basically challenged the people of God – and occasionally confronted kings – or the priests – or false prophets.

They also comforted the people – and that is also part of New Testament prophecy.

Let me break in at this point and mention the prophetic book of ACTS – As we attempt to sweep through the Bible, and have a quick overview of the Word of God, we come now to the book of ACTS. Acts is written by Luke – this is his second volume.

It begins after the resurrection of Jesus Christ – deals with the details of the Ascension – a much forgotten aspect of the life and ministry of Jesus.

We are dealing with around the first 30 years of the Church of Jesus Christ.

We then go on to read about that mighty day of Pentecost – when the Church of Jesus Christ was birthed – launched – in the Temple in Jerusalem – with thousands present – and 120 disciples of Jesus baptised in the Holy Spirit – anointed – filled – and overflowing.

And they ALL spoke in tongues – they ALL praised God in languages they had never learned. Those who were observing thought they were drunk – and Peter explained, basing his explanation on the Scriptures – as to what God had done.

Here we are reading of how we come into the Church of Jesus Christ and how we are to behave once we come into the Church of Jesus Christ.

Luke was doctor – a scientist – a man used to being careful in observation and keeping records. He has examined the life of Jesus – now he is examining the life of the Church, and in these first 11 or 12 Chapters we have most of the basics of the Christian life.

When speaking in Uganda and Kenya at 3-day Seminars for Pastors and Leaders, I have taken these men through the first 15 Chapters of the book of ACTS.

On the Day of Pentecost, when Peter explains what has been happening, people want to do something – Acts Chapter 2 verses 37f. – and Peter is simple straightforward and clear – repent – be baptised – receive the Holy Spirit.

Then we read of the importance of teaching – and these four basic areas of life in the fellowship of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Peter and John meet that cripple man – and he is healed – and Peter and John are imprisoned. Persecution has begun – within the first few days.

But there a boldness and a courage displayed by these apostles – and a fellowship which is so strong and reliable and supportive and prayerful.

God also keeps a purity within the fellowship during the first few weeks – hypocrisy is dealt with, severely – Acts Chapter 5.

But then a grumbling arises – and people are appointed to deal with this unneeded problem.

The leaders would not be diverted from their priorities – and we read of that. Their priorities were prayer and the ministry of the Word. Priorities for leaders and leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ have never changed, or been altered, or modified.

The Gospel begins to spread out of Jerusalem – when a man goes to Samaria – but the job is not done fully – adequately – completely – and Peter and John go down to Samaria to ensure that these new believers in Jesus are born again, just as the believers back in Jerusalem. Acts Chapter 8.

Persecution increases – and we meet Saul of Tarsus who is responsible for the death of the first disciple of Jesus to die for his faith.

Saul is arrested by Jesus outside Damascus – and he is changed. Jesus sends him a friend to help him – Ananias. Saul is filled with the Holy Spirit – baptised in water – and then has something to eat. Look at his priorities. He then goes out to preach! The hunter is hunted. He has to escape.

Where will he go? Where can he go? Would anyone trust him? Was he a plant – a spy? Another man befriends him back in Jerusalem – Barnabas. Saul, now called Paul, has to be hustled off to his home city of Tarsus.

Acts now concentrates upon Peter – and he travels visiting all the needy ones.

God arranges from him to be brought north to Caesarea – where the Gentiles are opened up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Acts Chapter 10 – and this lands Peter in trouble, as the Gentiles have come to faith in Jesus Christ and are ‘born again’. Peter explains fully to the Jerusalem leadership, and when they are satisfied that this was God at work, they had ‘no further objections’.

However, there is more trouble. James is killed. Up to now we have read of Peter, James and John – now James is killed. The intention is to kill others too. Persecution was growing fast.

Acts Chapter 13 – where we come to the first great missionary movement in the Church of Jesus Christ. Note how it is birthed.

And off Paul goes on three missionary journeys – each lasting between TWO and FIVE years.

There was a real problem facing the Church in Acts Chapter 15 – where people were saying you needed more than faith in Jesus Christ to be a Christian.

Later, Paul is arrested in Jerusalem – and has to flee yet again. This man has no rest – no time off – no easy period. He is imprisoned for two years in Caesarea – and then is shipped off to Rome – where the book of Acts ends.

The details of that storm on the Mediterranean are worth checking for accuracy – the currents – the movements of the ship – the type of cargo – how did they lash a ship that was about to break up – the climatic conditions at that October time of year.

Paul remains a prisoner – and writes some of the letters while imprisoned in Rome. We have the account of Paul’s conversion 3 times in the book of ACTS and he never moved away from how he came to faith in Jesus Christ – he never grew away from how he was ‘born again’. Some do!

If we did not have the book of ACTS, we would not know how to come into the Church. Please, do take time to read or re-read the book of ACTS, as we approach another Ascension and Pentecost.

Notice there were no buildings – no official clergy – no committees – or missionary societies to support the missionaries – people were financed by their converts.

There were no H.Q.’s and denominational divisions – and we are now up to around the year 65 A.D.

There is an emphasis on The Kingdom of God – the Name of Jesus – the power of the Holy Spirit.

These need to be three main focuses within the Church of Jesus Christ today.

Jeremiah has become a nickname for doom and gloom – Jeremiah prophesied serious and sad words – all of which came true.

If someone calls you a Jeremiah, and that is true – then that is a great compliment – it means you are speaking forth the Word of God.

The people thought Jesus was Jeremiah! Matthew Chapter 16.

In the prophets we learn about GOD.

We learn that God is powerful – that HE is a GOD of miracles – that HE intervenes in history – that HE raises up men – that HE judges men and nations, even His own chosen people – that HE is a GOD who pardons and shows mercy.

The prophets indicate how personal God is – and how GOD draws near to His people – and that HE speaks to people.

Isaiah – we looked at his testimony – and we know precisely when he lived. This is one long – very long – book – and we have a scroll of this book – I have seen it in Jerusalem. It is dated around 100 B.C.

Let’s take one famous verse – Chapter 2 verse 4 – “They shall beat their swords in plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks”. That is outside the United Nations building in New York. But – look at the whole verse – “He shall judge among the nations”. This was sung at Donald Dewar’s funeral – and I remember thinking – these people have not a clue as to what these words mean.

The first part of the verse is essential before the second part of the verse can happen!

When Jesus walked onto the world’s stage, Jesus preached from Isaiah 61 – and saw the fulfilment of that prophecy in his coming into the world – Luke Chapter 4.

Isaiah – Jonah – Joel – Amos – Hosea – Micah – Nahum – Habakkuk – Jeremiah and Obadiah – they were all before the Exile. Consider the lessons which we can learn from these men of courage and insight – men who were called by God and who carried something of the anointing of God.

They heard from God – they heard what God was saying at that time – and they had the courage and ability to proclaim and preach what the people needed to hear – and often a great cost.

Let this not just be an article – but allow it to go spiritually deep – and produce fruit.

“Lord God Almighty, open us to the prophetic Word – open our hearts and minds to what You revealed to ordinary men, many years ago. We thank You for their boldness and courage – and for the truth and truths they delivered. We thank you for these details regarding the coming of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. At this season of Passover, when we recall what lies at the centre of our Christian Faith – O loving Father, we give thanks for the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ – and all that that means – may we never lose sight of what lies at the heart and core – we pray in Jesus Name. Amen”

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Internet Banking: Relevance in a Changing World

Surprising, but true – Internet-based activity is not the preserve of the young “digital native” generation alone. A 2008 survey says that Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1976) uses Internet banking significantly more than any other demographic segment, with two thirds of Internet users in this age group banking online.

Gen X users have also professed their preference for applications such as Facebook, to share, connect and be part of a larger community.

This is some irony in this, since online banking, as we know it today, offers minimal interactivity. Unlike in a branch, where the comfort of two way interaction facilitates the consummation of a variety of transactions, the one way street of e-banking has only managed to enable the more routine tasks, such as balance enquiry or funds transfer.

It’s not hard to put two and two together. A clear opportunity exists for banks that can transform today’s passive Internet banking offering into one that provides a more widespread and interactive customer experience.

It is therefore imperative that banks transform their online offering, such that it matches the new expectations of customers. Moreover, Internet banking must journey to popular online customer hangouts, rather than wait for customers to come to it.

There are clear indications that the shift towards a “next generation” online banking environment has already been set in motion. It is only a matter of time before these trends become the norm.

Leveraging of Social Networks

Forward thinking banks are leveraging existing social networks on external sites to increase their visibility among interested groups. They are also deploying social software technology on their own sites to engage the same communities in two way discussions. Thus, their Internet banking has assumed a more pervasive persona – customers are engaging with the bank, along with its products and services even when they’re not actually transacting online.

Heightened visibility apart, banks can gain tremendous customer insight from such unstructured, informal interactions. For example, a discussion on the uncertain financial future among a group of 18 to 25 year olds could be a signal to banks to offer long term investment products to a segment that was previously not considered a target. Going one step further, a positive buzz around a newly launched service can create valuable word-of-mouth advertising for the business.

Collaborating through Web 2.0

The collaborative aspect of Web 2.0 applications has enabled banks to draw customers inside their fold more than ever before. Traditional methods such as focus group discussions or market research suffer from the disadvantages of high cost, limited scope and potential to introduce bias. Feedback forms merely serve as a post-mortem. In contrast, Web 2.0 has the ability to carry a vast audience along right from the start, and continue to do so perpetually. Thus, an interested community of prospects and customers participate in co-creating products and services which can fulfil their expectations.

The pervasiveness of Web 2.0 enables delivery of e-banking across multiple online locations and web-based gadgets such as Yahoo!Widgets, Windows Live or the iPhone. This means next generation online banking customers will enjoy heightened access and convenience

A New York based firm of analysts found that 15% of the 70 banks tracked by them had adopted Web 2.0, a number of them having done so within the last 12 months.

Standard Chartered Bank employees connect with their colleagues through Facebook and use the platform to share knowledge, clarify questions and participate in discussions on ongoing company activities.

Bank of America, Wachovia Bank and Commonwealth Credit Union have built a presence within interactive media to create awareness and keep up a dialogue with interested communities. They have employed a variety of methods, ranging from creating YouTube communities to launching campaigns on Current TV, a channel in which viewers determine content.

Personalisation of Online Banking

Vanilla e-banking divides customers into very large, heterogeneous groups – typically, corporate, retail or SME, with one type of Internet banking page for each. That’s in sharp contradiction to how banking organisations would like to view their clientele. Banks are moving towards customer-specificity, almost viewing each client as a “segment of one”, across other channels, and online banking is set to follow suit. For instance, a specific home page for home loan customers and another for private banking clients could well be a possibility in future.

Interestingly, National Bank of Kuwait had the foresight to do this several years ago – they enabled customers to determine which products they would view and access, and were rewarded with a dramatic increase in online transactions.

Money Monitor from Yes Bank allows customers to choose their landing page – for example, they can set “all transactions”, “net worth” or “portfolio” as their default view. Other features include the ability to categorise transactions as per customers’ convenience and the printing of custom reports.

Empowerment Online

Beyond doubt, Internet banking has created a more informed, empowered class of customers. This is set to climb to the next level once customers are allowed to proactively participate in many more transaction-related processes. The Internet has already made it possible for customers to compare product loan offerings, simulate financial scenarios and design custom retirement portfolios. Going forward, they would be able to consummate related transactions – which means, after comparing interest rates, they could originate a loan online, and once secured, they can begin to repay it online as well.

Portalisation

The emergence of Web 2.0 technology coupled with banks’ desire to personalise their e-banking to the highest degree is likely to result in “portalisation” of Internet banking. The idea of banking customers being able to create their own spaces online, filled with all that is relevant to them, is not that far-fetched. Customers can personalise their Internet banking page to reflect the positions of multiple accounts across different banks; they could include their credit card information, subscribe to their favourite financial news, consolidate their physical assets position, share their experiences with a group and do more – all from one “place”.

Money Monitor enables customers to add multiple “accounts” (from a choice of 9,000) to their page. Accounts could be savings or loan accounts with major Indian banks, or those with utilities providers, credit card companies, brokerage firms and even frequent flyer programs. Users can customise their pages as described earlier.

As banks seek to develop their Internet banking vision for the future, in parallel, they will also need to address the key issues of security and “due defence”. While it is every marketer’s dream to have customers work as ambassadors, adequate precaution must be taken to prevent the proliferation of malicious or spurious publicity. Therefore, before an individual is allowed to participate in a networking forum, he or she must have built up a favorable track record with the bank. The individual must be a recognized customer of the bank, having used a minimum number of products over a reasonable length of time. Qualitative information about the person’s interaction with the bank’s support staff (for example frequency and type of calls made to their call centre, outcome of such interaction and so on) may be invaluable in profiling the “right” type of customer who can be recruited as a possible advocate.

Collaborative Web 2.0 applications may necessitate opening up banks’ websites to outside technology and information exchange with third party sites, raising the spectre of data and infrastructure security. A robust mechanism of checks and balances must be built to ensure that the third party sites are secure, appropriately certified and pose no threat to the home banks’ sites. Likewise, before a third party widget is allowed to be brought on to a site, it must have passed through stringent security control.

Due diligence must be exercised before permitting users to place a link to another site to guard against the possibility of inadvertent download of malicious software, which could, in the worst case, even result in phishing originating from the banks’ sites.

It is equally important for a bank to guard its customers against invasion of privacy, data theft or misuse. The concept of portalisation envisages deploying technology to bring information from other banks’ or financial service providers’ websites into the home bank’s site. The home bank must ensure that its customers’ personal or transaction related information, which may be shared with the other providers, is not susceptible to leakage or outright misuse.

Banks will do well to partner with an Internet banking solution provider which has not only the expertise to translate their vision into a cutting edge e-banking experience for the user, but also the foresight to define boundaries for safety. With security concerns adequately addressed, next generation Internet banking is full of exciting possibilities. Banks that seize the opportunity may find that Internet banking can become a means of differentiating themselves from competitors, rather than a mere cost cutting tool. Clearly, providing a more powerful and interactive e-banking experience, is the way forward.

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