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  1. “And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11). God’s Call God, speaking from a burning bush, calls Moses to bring His people Israel out of many years of Egyptian bondage. Moses, of course, makes many excuses and gives a regular response in an honor-shame culture, but God’s command stands and Moses does what he is told. Moses, though, did ask a good question: “Who am I?” At this point, he was 80 years old and had been in the desert for 40 years, tending sheep. He murdered an Egyptian 40 years earlier and ran for it! Then, in God’s timing, He called His servant to be the instrument He would use to free His people. Moses was a meek man (Numbers 12:3), meaning he had power under the control and authority of God. He knew there was nothing within him that could justify his calling from God. And this is exactly what God was looking for. Moses was humble and had a proper perspective of himself, though he had an anger problem and made excuses. Throughout the Bible, we see God calling men and women to serve Him: - Think of Noah, who had the huge task to build the Ark. - Think of Abraham, who was often indecisive. - Think of Jonah, the rebellious prophet. - Think of Kings David and Hezekiah, flawed men who were great kings. - Think of Hannah or Mary, humble women of God. - Think of Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul. - Think of Peter, who denied Jesus three times. - Think of James, the brother of Jesus, who didn’t believe in Him until after the Resurrection and became the leader in the Assembly in Jerusalem. Many more examples can be given of people of different ages, from different backgrounds, and different genders, both Jew and Gentile, whom God called to serve Him for His glory. Read Hebrews 11 for more of a glimpse of this. What does this mean for you? God Can Use You! It means that despite your imperfections, weaknesses, education or lack thereof, finances or lack thereof, cultural background, or family situation, God can call you to Himself and use you for His glory! You may ask the same question Moses did, “Who am I?” The answer is, “You are no one.” You may not like it, but it’s true. None of us are anything special. While God does not need us for anything, He calls us by His grace to salvation and service. Imagine that! The Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of the Universe gives us – His creation – an opportunity to take part in His plan of redemption foreordained before the foundation of the earth (Ephesians 2:10)! What could give you more hope and purpose than that! No matter what you struggle with, God has given you victory in Christ, and while you will sin, He will still use you. You may say, “I have nothing to offer God.” Nobody does! When you recognize that all is by God’s grace, you will become a willing servant whom God will equip, and you will fulfill the calling He has for you. Despite who and what you are or aren’t – like Moses – God can and will use you for His glory! The question is, are we willing?
  2. “Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the LORD of hosts; and ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hand? saith the LORD” (Malachi 1:13). Weary of Worshiping God In the above verse, God was speaking to the nation of Judah. About 50,000 Jews had returned from the Babylonian captivity and the Temple was rebuilt under Zerubbabel in 516 B.C. Subsequently, the sacrificial system was re-instituted under Ezra and Nehemiah in 458-445 B.C. Nehemiah returned to Persia for about nine years and the people became lazy in their offering of sacrifices to the Lord. As a result, the Lord commissioned the prophet Malachi, in about 430 B.C., to call them back to the Him. The people of Israel had become bored with their worship of the Lord and considered it “weariness.” The sacrifices of the Mosaic Law had become meaningless to them, expressed in the lame, sick, and stolen animals offered for the sacrifices. The Law demanded that the sacrifices be pure and without spot or blemish, as a picture of the coming Messiah. However, the people neglected these directives. Indifference to God While God promised the Israelites that the Redeemer was coming (2:17-3:5), He sharply rebuked them and called them to repent of their indifference. An indifference of the worship of God in Judah translated into indifference to God Himself. God would not accept unclean offerings for two reasons. First, they were unclean of themselves because they came from flawed animals. Second, the offerings were unclean because the hearts of the priests and people were unclean and unacceptable. Their God-given sacrificial system became mere ritual – “thing to do” – and was pointless and vain to them where it once held meaning. Modern-Day Correlation We see this same “worship indifference” today in many churches. We try to “hype things up” with fast-paced music, fancy lighting, “coffee houses” service, entertainment, sermonettes, skits, and other forms of compromise. We do this because we are bored with God. In fact, I not too long ago witnessed this it a church I attended. As I looked around, I saw plenty of people who were bored. And this despite the fact that the message was solid! That people could be bored when the Word of God was being admirably preached is not the fault of God or His Word, but with the hearts of people who call themselves Christians. Why are so many Christians bored with God? How did we arrive here? Lack of Love We arrived the same way Judah did. We don’t love God! We take for granted what He has given us, mock the good things from His hand, and church leadership does not take their responsibility seriously. In Judah, the priests caused the nation to stumble. I say this with a broken heart. As a teacher and pastor, I fully understand that leadership must realize that we have more accountability before God, and that He always begins with the purity of His people (James 3:1; 1 Peter 4:17). If the hearts of the leaders are not passionate for God and His glory, and if we don’t proclaim His Word for His glory, the flock suffers. How we view God determines how we live our lives! What about you? Do we take God for granted, or do you deeply love Him? Are you thankful not merely for what He has given you, but for who He is? How can we be bored with the infinite, almighty, omnipotent, and all-knowing God who has given us His Word and sent His Son to die in our place? We are bored because we do not know His character, and therefore we do not love Him. We do not seek Him because we have a low view of Him. We have a low view of Him because we do not study His word. May God bring a revival to His Church, that we may burn up the boredom and ignite our zeal and love for Him!
  3. “And Moses wrote all the words of the LORD, and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel” (Exodus 24:4). A “Jewish” Book Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Law of God. He came down to give to the people part of the Covenant, which they accepted. He wrote down what the Lord had spoken and the first five books of the Bible while Israel was in the wilderness. They had records and traditions from the time before Abraham, but Moses wrote down everything for Israel as they went to the Promised Land. Moses was Jewish and a part of the nation of Israel, which consisted of 12 tribes. The Bible, except for the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts (both written by Luke), was written by Jewish writers, and even Luke used Jewish references. Though men “wrote” the Bible, God “authored” the Bible, “inspiring” all of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16). While some Gentiles have their words recorded, as in King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel Chapter 4, a Jewish man (Daniel) recorded it. Why is this important? It is important because the Bible is a theological book, written within a historical context. It is a book about God written within the context of His work in history through the Jewish people. This means there are Hebrew phrases, figures of speech, cultural customs and traditions the Jews held to, and if we don’t understand this, we will misinterpret the Bible. Missing the Crucial Point Unfortunately, Christians are losing this Jewish-context understanding of the Bible. For example: Matthew 16:18: “… I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” These are Jesus’ words affirming Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah. “The gates of hell” won’t overcome His Church. “The gates of hell” is a Jewish phrase meaning death. There is no hidden meaning in Jesus’s words. His simple point is that death will not destroy His people. Matthew 24:36: “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” This has been taken out of context over the years. Some believe it means Jesus didn’t know when He was returning, or that His return could be at “any moment.” However, based on the Jewish context, the phrase “day and hour” is referring to the Jewish holy days of Rosh Hashanah (or the Feast of Trumpets), where the moon could be seen on one of two days, because the Jewish calendar is lunar, not solar. If we understand these Jewish feasts in their historical context, and that Jesus is referring to them, we learn this is a very Jewish phrase referring to this Feast. Mark 14:71: “But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak.” This, of course, is Peter’s denial of Jesus. Peter was taking a solemn oath that he didn’t know Jesus. This was a Jewish custom and a very severe thing to do. He wasn’t “swearing.” John 15:16: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you…” This is not a reference to salvation, but to a Rabbi or teacher choosing His disciples, whereas in the Jewish culture the disciples would choose their teacher. It’s not as complex as we make it out to be. A Challenge These are just a few examples of how important it is to read the New Testament in its Jewish context. The challenge is for us to “think Jewish” when reading, studying, and interpreting Scripture. How do we do this? We study the Old Testament, because it is where God gave the Jewish people their culture. Next, we find good resources which help us understand the historical context of Scripture, such as The World of Jesus, by William Marty, and The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times, by Ralph Gower, to name two good ones. When we learn to study the Bible in its Jewish context, we gain much more understanding, which will help Scripture fit together more sensibly. May God bless you as you seek to understand His Holy Word in the true manner in which He gave it!
  4. A “Far Away” God Every Christian will go through “desert experiences” in life. Perhaps you are going through one right now? When I speak of “desert experiences,” I am not referring to momentary discouragement or the usual ups and downs of life. These are all natural occurrences. What I am speaking of is a continuous spiritual period of time when we feel God is far away. These are the times when the Christian says, “Lord, where are you? I am facing hardships and difficulties on every side and I need you – now!” There are several reasons we go through “desert experiences.” One is sin. When we are in rebellion against God we often feel He is far away, and, in actuality, He is. Our sins separate us from God (Isaiah 59:2; Jeremiah 5:25). Another reason for a “desert experience” could be that a hope we have clung to – perhaps for a job or a relationship – has not become a reality. Or, a “desert experience” could simply be the point God has brought us to for a specific purpose; for something He wishes to accomplish in our lives. Always remember that one of God’s purposes in our lives is to teach us and to change us. He desires to bring us closer to Him that we may learn more about Him, and in the process, more about ourselves. It is in these spiritual wildernesses where everything we have thought, everything we felt, and everything we have built our lives upon is stripped away. And when everything has been stripped away, all we have left is the Lord. These can be the darkest times in our lives, times when we feel like we’re walking in circles in a dark room. But never forget: God has brought you to this place for a specific purpose! Finding the Exit It is inevitable that Christians will undergo these “desert experiences” at least once in their lives. This is a given. The question then is: How do we get out? If you find yourself trapped in a “desert experience,” here are a few things to remember: 1. There is no formula. There are no five steps and you’re out of the fire. Life doesn’t work that way, and neither does the Christian life. 2. Remember who God is. Remember what He’s done in history, and remember what He’s done in your life. He has rescued His people from the brink throughout history, and He will do so again. He has rescued you from the brink when He saved you, and He will be there again for you when you need Him most. 3. Be brutally honest with yourself by asking God: “Lord, what in my life needs to change? What is causing this ‘desert experience’ I am in? Is it something I have done? Is it sin? Have You brought me to this place for a specific purpose?” 4. If God reveals sin in your life, confess it and repent of it. If it is something else, keep praying and be open to what God wants to show or teach you. 5. Don’t go through it alone. Generally, when Christians go through “desert experiences” they don’t want to talk to anyone; rather, they tend to isolate themselves. This can be a very dangerous place in which to be. Find another believer to confide in and share your concerns with him or her. 6. Accept and embrace reality. This is often very difficult to do; but this is the very reason God has brought you to this place. You may need to grieve over the loss, which may mean that you need some time to accept what has taken place. 7. Learn about God’s amazing grace. Be open to God. Allow Him to work in your life and mold you into the man or woman of God He wants you to be. 8. And finally, pray and study God’s Word. Stay focused on God and again, never forget who He is. If you are angry, hurt, or sad, tell God – He already knows what you are going through. Cast all you cares upon God, for He deeply cares about you (1 Peter 5:7). If you find yourself in a “desert experience,” never forget that God is with you in it – even if you don’t feel His presence. And not only is He there with you, you can rest assured of something else: He will bring you through it! The challenge for you is to remain faithful while you navigate your way through this wilderness journey!
  5. Thanks so much and hope it will be helpful to everyone...
  6. The Book of Psalms is beloved by many. It showcases every emotion, and often brings comfort to the hurting, struggling, or those are facing loss. Who has not heard a portion of Psalm 23 or sang some of these poetic masterpieces? While other cultures in Ancient Near East had praises and prayers written to their gods, Israel had, and has, God’s truth encapsulated in a large book, written over the course of 1,000 years, called the Book of Psalms. When most people think of the Psalms, they think of King David, because he was the “sweet Psalmist of Israel,” (2 Samuel 23:1). While he penned about half of them, Moses, Solomon, Asaph, and others, wrote the rest of the 150 Psalms, which became known as the song or hymnbook of Israel, inspired by God. The word “Psalm” comes from the Greek psalmos or, “song.” The Hebrew tehillim, meaning, “praises,” identifies the purpose for them. The Psalms are divided up into five books, based on the Hebrew manuscripts. Book 1 comprises Psalms 1-41. Book 2 includes Psalms 42-72. Book 3 includes Psalms 73-89. Book 4 is compiled of Psalms 90-106. Book 5 contains Psalms 107-150. The Psalms were written in the context of the Mosaic Covenant, which is important to keep in mind when interpreting them. They are poetic literature and should be treated as such, with figures of speech, history, other literary forms and more. Often, as in other Wisdom literature (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs), there is a contrast between the “righteous” (those who follow the Law) and “unrighteous” (those who do not follow the Law), with God’s blessing being on the obedient (the righteous) and His curses upon the disobedient (the unrighteous). Each book concludes with praise to God and Psalm 150 is totally dedicated to His praise. Though the Psalms were written over a period of 1,000 years, they were probably compiled in their final form by Ezra the priest and scribe (Nehemiah 8:9), roughly about 450 B.C. As history went on, Israel used these for specific purposes, and scholars placed the Psalms in different categories, and while these vary, they are helpful. For example, there are the Royal Psalms: Psalm 2, 20-21, and more. These focus primarily on the Davidic lineage, with some pointing to the Messiah, the perfect King. The Psalms of Ascent: Psalms 120-134. These were sung as travellers went up to Jerusalem, often for one of the Feasts. Psalms of repentance: 6, 25, and 51. These emphasize the Psalmists confession of sin. There are the Imprecatory Psalms, which called down judgment on Gods and Israel’s enemies: 69, 109, and 137. Then there are hymns of praise: 8, 93; thanksgiving: 9, 30; and the Hallel (which also means “praise”): 113-118, read during the Passover celebration. While there are other groups, the focus of this series will be the Messianic Psalms. They are specifically written about Israel’s promised Messiah. Though these Psalms were written and applicable to the times in which they were written, God superintended their writings for a greater purpose, pointing to the One who would fulfill all of what was written of Him (Matthew 5:17, Hebrews 10:7). These include: Psalms 2, 8, 16, 22 (23-24), 40, 45, 68, 69, 72, 89, 102, 109, 110, 118, and 132 to one extent or another. These Messianic Psalms encapsulate aspects of the birth, life, work, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the promised Messiah. He pointed to the Psalms about Himself in Matthew 27:46, quoting Psalm 22:1; Mark 12:9-11, quoting Psalm 118:22-23; Luke 20:39-44, quoting Psalm 110:1. New Testament writers referenced the Psalms about Jesus: Matthew 22:41-46, quoting Psalm 110:1; Mark 11:7-10, quoting Psalm 118:25-26; John 19:23-24, quoting Psalm 22:18 and more. The study of the Messianic Psalms is a blessing. These Psalms show the unity and connection of the Bible between Old and New Testament; and display the truthfulness and trustworthiness of God’s inspired Word. Each article in this series will explore one of these magnificent Psalms. The Messianic Psalms help us see the reliability and consistency of the Bible and most of all; it helps us see Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, our Lord and Savior, in the inspired, written Word of God!
  7. Since God is Good, Why… For centuries this question has been asked in various ways: “If God is good, then…” or “If God is in control, then why did… happen?” “Why does evil and suffering exist if God is loving?” These are questions skeptics’ use in an effort to discredit Christianity. Believers ask these when they go through difficulties in life, out of anger or anguish. Some ask out of a true desire to know why, while opponents ask in a way to try and demean or destroy the faith of others. Even the prophet Habakkuk asked God “why” (1:2, 13-14). One of the themes of the Book of Job is an attempt for humanity to understand the suffering of an individual, though in all of their attempts (and ours), they failed to answer the question “why.” The “problem of evil and suffering” is something the Bible never calls a “problem.” Scripture declares the reality of these things, however. They are related, but evil and suffering are in actuality two different questions. Evil usually has to do with issues of morality, such as terrorist events, murder, genocide, war, etc. Suffering often revolves around questions concerning natural disasters, sickness, death, abuse, and more. Many theologians have given thorough replies to these questions, and in light of recent events, it is good to give a summary. We will look at foundational principles and consider some reasons for evil and suffering in the world. 4 Principles to Keep in Mind First we must ask, why is someone asking this question! Many ask “why” out of pain, loss, or sadness. If this is the case, then the response should be framed differently for those who only want to cause strife. One’s reason(s) for asking should make us carefully consider how we answer their inquiries. One must also do some digging with wisdom and love to discover the assumptions one is making when asking these questions. Second, we must define our terms. What is evil? What is suffering? Evil is not a thing, but a corruption, distortion, or lack of what is good. Suffering is the result of or pain caused from something or lack of something else, due to evil. In Genesis 1-2, God created everything “very good.” There was no evil or suffering. This changed in Genesis 3 when Adam, as the primary “cause,” (Romans 5) brought sin and death into the world. Since then, we live in a fallen and cursed world full of evil, pain, and suffering. This world is decaying and “groans and labors” as Romans 8:21-22 states. “Bad” things happen as Jesus said in John 16:33a. Christians and non-Christians suffer, despite false teaching which says God promises everyone health and wealth. Third, these questions are about God’s character. Note the title – “Since God is good…” rather than, “If God is good…” Each says something different about the Lord’s character. “Since God is good,” we ask these questions. The Lord is good (1 Chronicles 16:34, Ezra 3:11, Psalm 118:29, 145:9) and more. We must start with a Biblical understanding of who He is. Fourth, another issue is purpose. Those who are or see others going through hardship wonder if there is a reason. God is sovereign or in control over all things that occur (Genesis 1, 2 Chronicles 20:6, Job 1:21, Psalm 115:3, Matthew 10:29, Acts 17:24-28 and more). This goes back to God’s character. Because He is sovereign and good, God must have a reason for everything. While we will never have all the answers, there are helpful Biblical principles. Reasons for Evil and Suffering Just because we see evil or suffering today does not mean God can’t stop it. God is good and all-powerful (Psalm 147:5, Ephesians 1:19-21, Revelation 19:6 and more). However, His ways our ways (Isaiah 55:8) and He is outside of time (2 Peter 3:8) and though this is not an exhaustive list, these few reasons may help you, or help you to help others, who are asking these questions. Some reasons for evil and suffering are: 1. To make us more like Christ – Romans 8:26-29. Paul talks about the Holy Spirit’s role in helping us pray when we don’t know what to say. It is in this context Paul says all things (including problems) work together for the good (determined by God and not us) – to make us more like Jesus! So, remember Romans 8:28 is tied to verse 29. 2. To turn our attention away from earth to heaven – Romans 8:18-19. Suffering in this life makes us focus on the next life. We are to seek the things above and not the things on the earth (Colossians 3:1). We pay bills, go to school or work, have fun and more, and should do so with an eternal perspective. God uses pain to wake us up and remind us our home is with Him (John 14:3). Our treasure is in heaven, where our heart should be (Matthew 6:21). 3. To remind us our dependence and security is not on what we have, but in God – Psalm 46:1. God is our security. We depend and submit to Him because of this (Romans 8:29-30, 35-39, Philippians 1:6, Hebrews 13:5-6, to name a few). We only find security in that which does not change. Only God’s word and character do not change (Psalm 118:29, 1 Peter 1:24-25, and Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8)! 4. To lead us to the grace of God, and the God of grace, who is sufficient – 2 Cor. 12:8-10. Paul had a “thorn” in the flesh and begged God to take it away. God said, “No, My grace is sufficient.” God gave this thorn to Paul’s to keep him humble and dependent on Him. Sometimes we wish God would take away something, but He puts or keeps them there to keep us humble and dependent on Him, His grace, and remind us that He alone is sufficient! 5. To make us repent – Amos 4:6-10. Israel rebelled often and God used evil and suffering to bring them to repentance. While we are not under the Old Covenant, the principle is the same. When we sin, He uses or brings suffering into our lives, families, churches or nations, to bring us repentance. This happened to the assembly in Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:27-32, and is seen in Job’s response in Job 42:1-6). 6. Humanity makes choices – Joshua 24:14-15. The debate about “free will” or the “bondage of the will” is another matter. Scripture says humans make choices with consequences. While God’s creation had the potential for evil, He did not create it and does not tempt us to do evil: James 1:13-15. There is an evil one, the devil (John 8:44, 1 Peter 5:8) and a spiritual battle that is constant (Ephesians 6:10-18). Within this, people make choices which affect others. Governments rob people because of greed. Professors teach lies to students because of agendas. A selfish husband or wife, who divorces their spouse, may use children as weapons. These are evil, because the human heart is sinful. The choices people make can hurt others! 7. God has a “greater good” for what happens – Genesis 50:20. When it comes to hurricanes, wildfires, and evil, there is a greater good. Storms distribute the earth’s heat. Wildfires put nutrients back into the ground. Remember Genesis 50:20? What Joseph’s brothers did was evil (he didn’t deny that), but God meant it for good to save many. Think of the cross! The worst human evil possible is what God used to bring salvation to those who believe in Christ. 8. It is an opportunity for the Church to make a difference – Romans 8:9-21. Christians made a difference with the unwanted children in Rome in the first century. The Church instituted hospitals, universities, and orphanages. Christians are often in the forefront of helping those who have suffered due to natural disasters. When evil and suffering take place, we should be there with help and hope, both physically and spiritually. I lived in Sendai Japan for just over two years. In March 2011, a massive earthquake and tsunami hit this and the surrounding areas. Nearly 16,000 died and many are still missing. This disaster opened the doors for Churches and ministries to help physically and spiritually. The people were open to the gospel because they saw the love Christians expressed. Some became followers of Christ because of the outreach of the Church, turning from darkness to light. 9. To challenge our assumptions – Mark 4:1-20. When we face evil and suffering, our beliefs, faith, understanding of the Bible and who we think God is, are turned upside down at times. When we are squeezed, we discover what is in us and what needs to change! It is never pleasant, but needed. In exercise, our muscles tear, form again and become stronger. It is a painful process. God strengthens our faith and challenges our assumptions through the evil and suffering we face, to turn us to Him and His Word to learn the truth and be changed by it. 10. We would not understand the answer even if God gave it to us – Job 38-41. In response to Job’s self-righteousness, God asked him some 70 questions! Job could not answer any of them! God showed Job that even if He explained “why,” he would not be able to comprehend. In fact, God never told Job why he went through everything. Often, we will not know why we or someone else faces evil or suffering. Sometimes, with Bible study, prayer, and discussion, we may be able to find out why and take appropriate action. But do not spend all of your time trying to figure out why, because you may not know this side of heaven. 11. For His glory – John 9:1-3. Life is not about us. When people do their best to do things God’s way, you hear some amazing testimonies. Think of a godly wife who loves and respects her husband, even when he is not respectful and he becomes a Christian. Think of persecuted Christians who pray for their captors, and their lives impact those who did great evil. Just as Jesus healed the blind man for His glory, He uses suffering and evil we face for His glory. 12. When we live in an area, we accept what will potentially happen. If we choose to live somewhere, we accept the possibility of suffering. Some places have crime or snowstorms; others are prone to tornadoes, droughts, floods or hurricanes. This is not comforting when everything is lost, but it is a factor we need to consider. With people having more opportunity to live in different parts of the world, the resulting potential pain and fatalities have increased. Reason for Hope One more thing to keep in mind is that every philosophy and religion needs to be asked these questions. Often only Christianity is considered when the questions about evil and suffering arise. However, everyone must answer them! Christians should ask non-Christians why they think evil and suffering exist. Only a Biblical worldview gives hope in the midst of the evil and suffering we see in this world. For Habakkuk and Job, their interaction with God yielded the same results… silence (Habakkuk. 2:20, Job 40:3-5). They were speechless before God. For Habakkuk, faith also resulted after hearing what God said (Habakkuk 3:16-19). Though he did not fully understand, the prophet took comfort in the character of God and recognized His sovereign control over all things, including what he did not understand. Perhaps Job’s faith grew after his repentance in chapter 42, because he understood who God was in a deeper way. There is evil in the world. We know this because there is a good God to compare things to. There cannot be evil unless there is a good measure to compare it with. To confess there is evil is to say there must be something or Someone outside of oneself that is ultimate good, and that is God. Suffering is the realization things are not the way they should be. Something did go wrong in Genesis 3. Sin is the cause of all problems today, but the good news is, it doesn’t end there. God, in the eternal Person of His Son, chose to come into this world and die for sinners on a cruel cross and resurrect three days later. Through faith in Him, we have forgiveness of sins and an eternal hope. Jesus died, resurrected, and will return to establish His Kingdom, wherein dwells righteousness (2 Peter 3:13), and where no sin shall ever enter (Revelation 21:27). God will make all things right! In the end, God will personally wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:1-4). This is the Christians anchor of our soul when we face the evil and suffering in God’s world. Look to God, look to the future and remember who He is. Written by Michael Weis, Bible teacher, Missionary, and Manager of Social Media at Zion’s Hope.
  8. Galatians 5:1 Bondage to Freedom to Bondage Galatians 5:1 – Stand fast therefore in the liberty (freedom) by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Paul is correcting error in the Galatian church where Judaizers came in spreading lies. These individuals said you needed to follow the Old Testament Law in addition to God’s grace in order to be saved. Paul pronounces judgment on those who proclaim a false gospel in 1:8-9. Sadly, at least some of these followers of Christ (primarily Jewish) fell back under the burden of the Law, which cannot save and no one can fulfill, Acts 15:6-11. They fell into Legalism or believing one can be right with God through the Old Testament Law in addition to God’s grace. Paul urged them not to fall back into bondage, but to stand fast in the freedom Christ had bought for them. They forgot what grace was and attempted to go back to what was familiar and comfortable and binding. Yet, rather than freedom, it put them back into the bondage Jesus had freed them from. We don’t appreciate our freedom because we don’t remember our bondage. They forgot the yoke they bore under the Law and did not appreciate the freedom they had and went back to that bondage. How sad, but Paul boldly spoke and told them of what Christ had wrought at His cross. The curse of the Law is death and when we try to “do” something to “get to God” or focus on externalism, we lose hope because sooner or later we recognize we can’t measure up to the standards, not even our own. Paul uses the phrase “yoke.” No, this is not the yolk of an egg, but a large wooden piece of equipment farmers used to control oxen when they plowed the field. It was a heavy, burdensome weight the animals bore. Today, many Christians have forgotten the bondage they used to be in when it comes to sin. Yes there are specific sins, but the main thing is most don’t understand the condemnation we were under before we were saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, John 3:18-20. So many who have been freed by God’s grace go back to bondage or legalism, putting a yoke upon themselves or allowing someone else to put a yoke upon them, thinking they have to “do something” to get to God or keep in good standing with Him. This is not grace. This is not the gospel. The way to freedom is understanding God’s grace and that nothing is required to work for it or keep it. Do we have responsibility? Yes. Is grace a license to sin? Never. Legalism doesn’t mean there are not rules or boundaries, but it is an attempt to gain favor with God somehow by what man says and does in our power. Liberty is the opportunity to live in the joy God has given to us in Christ for His glory and purposes for our lives. Are we living in the grace and freedom of God’s grace in Christ? Do we recognize our utter spiritual bankruptcy, condemnation and damnation we were under because we have broken God’s Law before He in His grace reached down and saved us? Within the commandments of God there is freedom, because we obey Him out of love, because of His grace and love shed upon us out of gratitude and an understanding of what He has freed us from in Salvation. His grace frees us from bondage that we do not have to go back to bondage once again.
  9. Galatians 1:8 False Gospels Galatians 1:8 – But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you tan what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. Paul corrected problems in the Galatian Assembly. The error he dealt with was the false gospel of the Judaizers. They said Gentiles must add works of the Law, mostly circumcision to God’s grace. Biblically, this is Legalism or doing something from the Law of Moses to add to salvation. But Paul says if an angel or man preaches a different gospel, he/she/they are to be accursed. The Greek for “accursed” is “anathema” which means “eternally damned.” Harsh words indeed, but true. They were necessary, as they are today. Legalism is alive. People say you must add to God’s grace to be saved, including the Law: dietary laws, saying you must worship on a particular day, etc. Others say you must be baptized, pray the rosary, go door to door, go to Mecca or save the Earth and more to add to God’s grace. In our world of “inclusivism” where “everyone is ok as long as they are sincere,” we don’t like to hear that God says salvation is exclusive to His grace through faith in Jesus alone! Scripture says, those who proclaim these false gospels are “eternally damned.” We as the Church are quick to rightly expose cults, false religions, eastern mysticism or others for their deception and false gospels. But we forget there are those within the Church, which Paul was referring to, that proclaim false gospels, of which some have mentioned. One of the main false gospels today is the gospel of “health and wealth.” Those who teach this say God guarantees His children health and wealth. God gives health and wealth, but it is not guaranteed and many have been hurt or died because of these lies. Sometimes it is phrased as “giving you a better life” or “your best life now.” It’s also stated, “believe and achieve” or “name it and claim it” which is faith in faith. Faith is key, but this is a false gospel because it places faith in what we want, desire or can do and not God. Jesus didn’t come to make our life “better” according to what we think, but to save us from God’s wrath! Another false gospel is moralism. This is where people proclaim Jesus died to “make you a good or better person.” Jesus didn’t come to make people better, but to bring people to spiritual life. If you are a Christian, the messages are, “do better” or “try harder.” While every Christian should be ethical, holy and moral, this is not the gospel, but the life that results from believing the gospel of God’s grace, recognizing it is ALL of His grace. Moralism is self-defeating, because we realize WE can’t do it. It comes from pride leading to more pride where we look down on others who “are not like us” or are “not as moral as we are.” Liberalism is false too, where people only focus on helping the poor, widows and the sick, the external results. The Church should help the poor and more, but to separate that from salvation isn’t the gospel. The Emergent Church proclaims this false gospel, devoid of doctrinal truth, but merely moralistic and liberal. The only way to fight a lie is to know the truth and the truth is there is only 1 gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God who took on Himself flesh and died in my place, shedding His blood as the perfect sacrifice. He was buried and physically arose 3 days later and by faith in Him alone in Him, can I be saved. Do you believe His gospel or do you believe in a false gospel?
  10. Exodus 3:11 God can use You for His Glory Exodus 3:11 – But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” God called Moses out of a burning bush to bring His people out of Egyptian bondage after 400 years. Moses, of course, gives many excuses, but God’s command stood and Moses went. Moses asked a good question though, “Who am I?” At this time, he was 80 years old and had been in the desert for 40 years, tending sheep. He murdered an Egyptian 40 years prior to this and ran for his life. Then in God’s time, He called His servant to be the instrument He would use to free His people. Moses was a meek man, Numbers 12:3, meaning he had power under the control and authority of God. He knew there was nothing in him that would want God to call him. In other words, Moses was humble and had a proper perspective of himself, though he had an anger problem and gave excuses. The last part sounds like me! All throughout the Bible, we see God calling men and women to serve Him and say things or do things or go somewhere. Think of Noah who built the Ark. Think of Abraham, whom God called. Think of Jonah, the rebellious prophet. Think of David or Hezekiah, the Kings. Think of Hannah or Mary, humble women of God. Think of Saul of Tarsus who became Paul. Think of Peter, who denied Jesus 3 times. Think of James, the brother of Jesus who didn’t believe in Him until after the resurrection and became the leader in the Church in Jerusalem. Many more examples could be given of people of different ages, from different backgrounds, different genders, both Jew and Gentile whom God called to do things for His glory. Read Hebrews 11 to get more of a glimpse of this. So what does this mean for us? This means that despite our fallacies, weaknesses, education and money or lack thereof, cultural background, family situation and much more, that who God first calls to Himself, and He can use for His glory. We often ask the same question Moses did, “Who am I?” The answer is no one. You may not like it, but that’s true. I’m no one special. While God does not need us for anything, He, by His grace calls us to salvation and service. Imagine that! The Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of the Universe gives us, His creation an opportunity to take part in His plan of Redemption foreordained before the foundation of the earth! What could give more hope, more purpose and more wonder than that! It will be expressed differently in and through people’s lives in different vocations and places. No matter what we struggle with, God has given us victory in Christ and while we will sin, and say and do sinful things, He can use us and wants to. Don’t get me wrong, we should repent when we sin because it hinders us and affects others, though it doesn’t imperil God. You may say, “I have nothing to offer God.” Neither do I! Welcome to the Church! “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” When we recognize that all is by God’s grace, we will be willing and begin to be equipped to fulfill the calling God has in our lives, whatever that may be. This is because, despite who and what we are and just like Moses, God can use you for His glory!
  11. Ephesians 4:31-32 Forgiveness Ephesians 4:32 – Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor (loud quarreling), and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. One of the most difficult things anyone can do is forgive. We do not forgive for many reasons: 1) We think the other person should take initiative. 2) They hurt me. 3) They don’t deserve it. 4) We like our bitterness. 5) We “can’t” forgive. 6) They haven’t apologized, so why should I do anything? 7) I want to hurt them like they hurt me. 8) I need to prove I’m “stronger” and many more. One way to describe forgiveness is “release.” When we forgive, we release ourselves from the desire to “get back” at someone for hurting us. I won’t get into the numerous ways people “hurt” us or offend us. That’s not my point. My point is what we do with what is done to us. Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus what a Christian “looks like” in their character. Paul mentions bitterness, anger or malice, or things we do naturally when we get hurt, offended or if an expectation is not met. We want to lash out, hold a grudge and hurt who has hurt us. That is our sinful nature and it is evil! This means forgiveness is supernatural. Those who know how much they have been forgiven are more willing and able to forgive because they understand God’s grace and want to reflect that through the power of the Holy Spirit. While some may forgive, for those who don’t know Christ, they can’t truly forgive because the capacity to do so is not there. In Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus tells a parable about how many times we are to forgive our brothers and the answer is 70 times 7, a Jewish way of saying, every time. When we forgive, it is not that we deny or forget what is done, but we don’t hold it against them. One who does not forgive does not hurt someone else as much as he/she hurts oneself. Unforgiveness is a poison that seeps into every area of life and affects those we care about most. Every time we don’t obey God and forgive, we add a “weight” to our life. As these weights add up, the baggage damages us more as time goes on. Though we forgive, it doesn’t mean things don’t need to change, nor does it mean we overlook sin or injustice. Those who sin need to repent (Luke 17:3), as that is part of the process. However, we should have the attitude of forgiveness and give them and the situation to God, rather than let bitterness arise in our hearts. But because we forgive or release someone doesn’t mean there will always be reconciliation. Reconciliation comes when someone repents and 2 people, groups, etc. come back together in fellowship. Think of how powerful this is for a married couple. If each forgives, their marriage will be very strong and able to get through any tough times. How do I know if I have forgiven someone? One of my mentors said the way we know is if we can serve them with joy. In many ways, forgiveness isn’t “releasing” someone else from what was done to us, but releasing ourselves from the bitterness and sin in our heart and giving everything to the Lord. Sometimes it’s a process but it is ALWAYS a choice. It’s not that we “can’t” forgive, but we won’t forgive. How much have you been forgiven of? Have we put away the things that are the foundation of unforgiveness Paul mentions: evil, wrath, slander and more? Only when we understand God’s grace and forgiveness will we truly understand how to forgive.
  12. It was a January evening in 1947 when a few boys were looking after sheep in the area of the Dead Sea. One boy, Juma, decided to throw a rock into one of the thousands of caves in the cliffs, and to his surprise heard a crack of something breaking. The boys had to leave, but Muhammad, Juma’s cousin, the next morning returned to explore what they hoped was a vast treasure of money. To his disappointment, the “only” things discovered were seven old manuscripts contained in many jars within that cave. Four of these scrolls ended up in Jerusalem’s St. Mark’s Monastery where scholars from the American School of Oriental Research examined them in great detail. The other three were sold to an archaeologist at the Hebrew University. The word spread, and in 1949 many expeditions to the area were formed to search for more scrolls. This led to the discovery of 10 more caves, all containing scrolls. Scholars at that time (though additional research continues) studied the ruins of Qumran and those who lived there ––– possibly a sect called “Essenes” – establishing the origin of the scrolls at roughly 125 B.C. to A.D. 68 (though some are dated into the later second century). The manuscripts appear to have been hastily stored in jars, probably because of the coming Roman army which stopped the Jewish revolts between A.D. 66-70. Archaeologists also discovered much about the lifestyle of these Jewish ascetics (those who separated themselves from society), along with a scriptorium where most of the scrolls were copied. There are two types of scrolls – Biblical and non-Biblical, or “sectarian,” which describe the lives of those who lived there. In February 1955, the seven original scrolls were placed into the Shrine of the Book – a special museum created to house these magnificent discoveries in Israel – at the Hebrew University. These include: a full copy of Isaiah; a partial copy of Isaiah; commentary on the first two chapters of Habakkuk; the Manual of Discipline; Thanksgiving Hymns; an Aramaic paraphrase of Genesis; and the Rule of War. This discovery is known today as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The impact of this find cannot be overstated. Before this discovery, the manuscripts used to translate the Bible were called the Masoretic Texts, which date to roughly around A.D. 900. With the Dead Sea Scrolls, scholars could compare the manuscripts to see how accurately they were transmitted more than 1,000 years prior to the Masoretic Texts. Thousands of fragments and more than 600 scrolls have been found in these 11 Qumran caves. Every book of the Old Testament, with the exception of Esther, has been found, with additional scrolls as well. Much to the scholars’ surprise, the similarity of these two sets of manuscripts was astonishing, with only minor variations such as style and spelling. This is just one of the evidences that God has preserved His word down through the centuries. We can trust His word and we can trust Him!
  13. Acts 19:19-20 Are Christians Called to Change Culture? Acts 19:19-20 – Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed. God did the miraculous through Paul in Ephesus like healing the sick and casting out demons. Some Jewish exorcists wanted to try the same thing by using the Name of Jesus, with no faith, Acts 19:11-14. The demons said they didn’t know these exorcists and the possessed man jumped on them and ripped off their clothing and injured them. This became known and many believed and the Name of Christ was magnified, 19:15-18. One of the results of believing was the burning of the occultic books, totaling 50,000 days wages! That’s astounding! They burned them because of their faith in Christ. Culture was changed because the hearts of the people were changed! We do not find in Scripture that Christians are called to change culture or society. It’s not in there, despite the attempts, books and messages by some who say we are to do so. Christians should address social and moral issues like abortion, homosexuality, poverty, marriage and more because those are Biblical issues. We should vote and be involved in the legal process and praise God we live in a country that allows us to do this, for now. But, some are too focused on “changing culture” and make plans, strategies and have ministries honed in on this. God’s plan is different because some focus on changing society, they forget the people who live in that society. God has not called us to change culture, but proclaim the Gospel, through which God changes lives, Romans 1:16 and make disciples, Matthew 28:18-20. By doing this, people are changed and when people are changed, culture or society will change! Culture or society is made up of individuals who believe certain things and have specific practices. These individuals make up families, who in turn, grow up to work in the various vocations: education, government, entertainment, business, medicine and more. This is what makes up any culture or society. People cannot be dissected from living within that culture. Yes, the past and “tradition” affects people and cultures as they hold on to certain practices common to them, which can be good or bad. For example, many cultures have their own holidays. America has Thanksgiving, which others do not have. But don’t forget, that it is people who celebrate this day, not a culture separated from people. The ONLY way to change culture is for people to change. By the way, people don’t lose their “culture” when they become a Christian. Jewish people who believe do not cease to be Jewish nor does an Asian believer cease to be Asian and each has their “traditions,” though some need to change. However, when their heart is changed, their response to sin and the wrong traditions within their culture will change. Rome changed from the inside out as Christians lived the Christian life in the first few centuries after Christ. One example is at Ephesus. These individuals, who focus on the Lord, His ways and His truth and proclaim and live that truth in love, will be the means God uses to change people by His grace thus changing the culture. The same goes for us today.
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