Inspiration for Today's World

Category: Shadows (Page 1 of 6)

Lessons from the Book of Judges

The book of “Judges” is both a period of time and a book in the Bible. The time of the judges began after the death of Joshua in the early fourteenth century BC (Joshua 24:29). It continued until Saul was crowned king of Israel by the prophet Samuel in 1051 BC (1 Samuel 10:24). Think of the book of Judges as the sequel to the book of Joshua. Each is linked to each other by similar accounts of Joshua’s death (Joshua 24:29–31; Judges 2:6–9). The Old Testament book of Judges still remains important today. It documents a period in the history of the nation of Israel when they abandoned their belief in God. There were many wars and much religious turmoil that seems to cycle over and over. The people would rebel against their God through idolatry and sin. God would then provide them a judge (leader) to lead them back to God through repentance. They would cycle back to sin and more turmoil when death claimed the judge God had provided.

The book of Judges documents 12 leaders called “judges.” Some judges get several chapters and others only a paragraph. There were about 15 judges in total. The Hebrew term shofet, means “judge.” Its meaning is closer to “ruler” than the English meaning we use the word for today. The judges of the nation of Israel were more like a military leader or deliverer. The judge protected people from threats or actual defeat by their enemies. After Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, Joshua then led them into the promised land. When Joshua died along with his generation, the Israelites’ knowledge of God also died. The Israelites then copied the idolatry and moral corruption of their neighbors.

(Judges 2:10) 1 – “After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.”

This is a most critical lesson to the Christian church today. Faith, our belief in God, is always but one generation away from extinction. History shows us this. After Joshua’s generation died off, the people began to worship other gods. Because God loves His people, He would test them. God would “hand them over to their enemies” both as a punishment and as a wakeup call. Each time, God then would send a judge from one of the surrounding nations. The new judge would then bring about both deliverance and repentance. After the death of a judge, the tribes of Israel would go back to idolatry and sinful practices. Whenever Israel would rebel against God, God would discipline them. But when Israel repented, God would deliver them. For the 480 years documented by the book of Judges, there would be constant cycles of sin and deliverance.

(Judges 2:11-12) – “Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger.”

The contents of the book of Judges were not written chronologically. The final few chapters (Judges 17–21) give us an overview of the issues with morality that were described earlier in the book. It does offer us lessons about living today. Judges 17 opens with almost a comedy of idolatry. A rich man named Micah (not to be confused with Micah the prophet) and his mother use their money to make an idol. Micah then hires a Levite as his personal priest. He creates a home-grown cult.

(Judges 17:13) – “And Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest.”

By getting a religious authority to bless his idolatrous enterprise, Micah believes that he can convert God into his own ATM machine. Then God would give him the wealth and power he craves. This is exactly where the idea for the “prosperity Gospel” comes from. Micah’s actions are similar to those of many professing Christians today. Deciding that God’s written Word is outdated or constrictive, they invent a counterfeit Christianity that has “a form of godliness but denies its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). The book of Judges goes on to document sex, rape, abuse, plenty of sins to fill several Hollywood movies. The Israelites would keep forgetting the Truth from their God. They even forgot the miraculous events that brought them to their promised land and the covenant that united them to their God. God, however, never forgot them! What can we learn from the book of Judges?

  • People are hopelessly sinful. In the days of the judges, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, 21:25). This is no difference than today.
  • Once everyone defines their own morality and decadence, there will be chaos. Judges 17-21 offers us a conclusion of how bad things became. You can get a good picture of what happens when everyone made up their own rules. Add those verses to your reading list.
  • God is patient. He would keep trying to bring His people to repentance, generation after generation. Again and again, God would save His people every time they repented. Once their judge was gone, it was back to their sinful ways. This points to human sinfulness and God’s faithfulness!
  • Never underestimate the role of women in society. Judges holds a striking example of a courageous bold woman. Deborah was a judge, prophetess, and a conduit of God’s military might. Her own military leaders desired her presence at their side every time they went into battle. God can use EVERYONE for His purpose!
  • God doesn’t let sin continue unabated forever. Joshua would warn the people of Israel that, if they abandoned God, “then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you.” (Joshua 23:13). This is a warning for us as well. God is gracious, but God does not leave sin go unpunished.

The text of Judges gives us no sign of who wrote the book. Jewish tradition names the prophet Samuel as the author. The namesake of 1 and 2 Samuel, Samuel was considered the last of the judges. He was one of the special leaders whom God raised up during these times to rescue His people. The book of Judges is a tragic history of how God can be taken for granted by His children year after year, century after century. If we compare Judges to the book of Joshua, the contrast becomes clearer. Joshua writes about the blessings God bestowed on the Israelites for their obedience in conquering His land. In Judges, they were disobedient and idolatrous, leading to their many defeats. Yet God never failed to respond in love to His people whenever they repented and called upon His name.

(Judges 2:18) – “Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them.”

Through the judges of Israel, God honored His promise to Abraham to protect and bless his offspring (Genesis 12:2-3). The Israelites of old represent a perfect example of what we should never become. Instead of learning from experience that God will always punish sin, they continued to disobey and suffer God’s displeasure and discipline. Here is the question now: Is this still true today? If we are disobedient to God, are we inviting God’s discipline? Like any good parent, God does not enjoy watching us suffer. “Because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (Hebrews 12:6). The Book of Judges documents God’s faithfulness, even when we are faithless.

(2 Timothy 2:13) – “if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”

History remains one of God’s greatest gifts. Remembering the past teaches us how to live today as well as prepares us for the future. Every time the Israelites would forget their history, they would forget their God. We also see through the book of Judges the impact that a leader can have on a nation. Leaders can win wars, conquer enemies, and focus the attention of a nation on God. What Israel’s leaders failed to do, was to permanently change the hearts of people. Yet God is telling us not to let difficult circumstances damage our faith. God is not only here for us. He never gives up on us. And to help us permanently, God sent His Son to show us His Truth. This is the salvation that any nation must seek.

Contemplations

  • How does leadership within a nation affect the morality of that nation?
    • Ideas to Explore: Think about corporations, cities, states, our government, countries – How has the morality of the leaders affected those who live or work in them? Do you believe that the morality of a leader affects who they lead? Why or why not? What does history tell us?
  • How do you think we should get our nation to call on the name of God once again for help?
    • Ideas to Explore: What is the role of the churches? What should the role of families be in affecting the beliefs of a nation? How can we influence businesses to be more in keeping with God’s Word?
  • Do you believe that the people of our nation are idolatrous? Worshiping gods other than the one and only True God?
    • Ideas to Explore: What does it mean to be a consumer society? What should the role of the media, entertainment industry, sports industry, even educational institutions be in this issue?
  • Do you believe that God is punishing our nation for its lack of faith in Him?
    • Ideas to Explore: The Bible has been consistent, God punishes. God gets people’s attention, how? God restores. Have you seen any examples of God involved in our world?
  • Read Judges 17-21. Do you think that our world is similar, moving in that direction or there is no applicability?
    • Ideas to Explore: Wisdom about God requires open eyes. What can you do?

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations

Have You Heard of Esther?

Queen Esther (1879) by Edwin Long

Esther, or Hadassah in Hebrew meaning “myrtle,” is one of only two books of the Bible that does not mention God or God’s name. the other is Song of Songs. In fact, the author, who is unknown, goes out of their way to avoid using it. The Book of Esther reads like a Hollywood script. There are heroes, villains, evil plots, and divine triumphs. It is one of the only two books in the Bible named for women. The other, of course, is Ruth. Esther was an orphaned child, a Jewish slave living in exile. When Esther’s parents died, she was adopted and raised by her older cousin Mordecai. However, she would be taken from her home as a child to live in the palace of King Xerxes along with many other girls of his harem. Child trafficking is defined as “the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt” of a child for the purpose of exploitation”. Esther was clearly a victim of sex trafficking. It was the only reason why she was taken and brought to the Persian king.

The storyline is set during a time when the Jewish population suffered much racial hatred. They had been a minority in Persia for many years. The events in the book take place from 483 BC to 473 BC, during the first half of the reign of King Xerxes. This was 100 years after the Babylonian captivity under Nebuchadnezzar, and just over 50 years after Zerubbabel led the first group of exiles back to Jerusalem. Many Jews remained in Persia. They were part of the diaspora, or “scattering” of exiles among the nations. Although they were free to return to Jerusalem by the Edict of Cyrus 1, many had become established and probably did not wish to risk the dangerous journey back to their homeland. Esther and her family had been among the Jews who stayed behind in Persia.

At the beginning of the book of Esther, King Xerxes throws a banquet and asks his wife, Queen Vashti, to look beautiful for him in front of the guests. It is thought that this was his request for her to appear naked before the guests. She refused, and after consulting his counsel, Xerxes has Vashti exiled. King Xerxes then orders a search of the entire kingdom for a beautiful virgin to become his next bride. Many young women are taken into the king’s palace where they receive twelve months of beauty treatments prior to their turn to go to the king. Esther is one of those chosen as part of the king’s harem.

As all Scripture is “God Breathed,” the Book of Esther gives us a direct message on God’s sovereign control over history. God would give Esther favor over all of those in the king’s harem and she would become the Queen of Susa. Susa, also called Shushan, referred to as the citadel of Susa, was the capital of the Persian Empire. It was the location of the Royal Palace of King Xerxes. Esther would not reveal her nationality or family background as Mordecai advised her. Although Esther had little control over her life, God would do great works in and through her life.

One of Esther’s strengths was her willingness to be mentored. She sought the advice of the harem director Hegai on how to please the king which assisted her in winning his approval to be crowned queen. In addition, on multiple occasions she trusted her cousin Mordecai and acted on his recommendations. Mordecai’s wise counsel and Esther’s application of it would save the king’s life from an assassination attempt and later saved the Jewish people from a plot to destroy them. Esther was courageous and humble, and used by God to protect His people.

After Esther is made queen, Mordecai uncovers a plot to assassinate the king and tells Esther, who alerts the king giving credit to Mordecai. The men involved in the plot are hanged. Sometime later, a powerful man named Haman is promoted to be the king’s top official. The king also commands that his servants at the gate bow down to Haman. But Mordecai will not bow before anyone except God. The others at the king’s gate asked Mordecai about this, but he continues to refuse to pay homage to Haman. Mordecai also told the others he was a Jew. The others tell Haman about Mordecai’s refusal to bow, and the official becomes furious. Haman is not satisfied to just seek vengeance against Mordecai, he also wants to destroy the Jews. Haman tells the king there is a group of people living within the kingdom’s provinces with different laws whom the king should not tolerate. He asks the king to make a decree that the people be destroyed.

(Esther 3:13) 2 – “Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews–young and old, women and children–on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.”

Esther is not aware of the king’s decree until Mordecai tells her about it. Mordecai specifically asks Esther to intercede with the king on behalf of the Jewish people. However, even as queen, Esther is not allowed to see the king unless he summons her by name. He has not done so for thirty days. To go to Xerxes uninvited would be to risk being put to death. Mordecai extends a warning to Esther:

(Esther 4:13–14) – “he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

Esther agrees to approach the king without being summoned even though she could be put to death and says:

(Esther 4:16) – “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

Esther urged all the Jews to fast and pray for deliverance for three days. Then, risking her own life, a courageous young Esther approached the king with her request. She requested and arranged for a banquet, inviting Xerxes and Haman. There she revealed her Jewish heritage to the king. Esther also revealed Haman’s plot to have her, and her people killed. In a rage, the king ordered Haman to be hung on the gallows, the very same gallows Haman had built for Mordecai. Mordecai was promoted to Haman’s high position and Jews were granted protection throughout the land. The people celebrated God’s tremendous deliverance. In remembrance, the joyous festival of Purim was instituted.

You will need to read the Book of Esther 3 yourself to know the details of the entire story. Through the courage of Esther and Mordecai, the Jews living in Persia are spared. In this story, we see God’s interaction with the will of humankind, the hatred that can come from racial prejudice, God’s power to give wisdom and God’s help in times of danger. God is at work in the lives of His people. He used the circumstances in Esther’s life, as He uses the decisions and actions of all humans to providentially work out His divine plans and purposes. We can trust in God’s sovereign care over our lives. A simple child, trafficked as if she was property, was raised up to the same level as Moses, Joshua, Joseph, and many others to deliver God’s people from destruction. In the same way, through Jesus Christ, born to an unwed teenager, we are delivered from death and eternal suffering. God will save His children! And what else does the story of Esther tell us?

  • Everyone has a purpose within God’s creation, everyone
  • To follow God is never easy
  • To follow God takes submission, humility, courage, and wisdom
  • Prayer has an impact
  • God’s plans always prevail

Contemplations

  • What evidence do you see in Esther’s responses to her life’s issues that show you she was an intelligent young lady?
    • Ideas to Explore: How she handled advice and sought cousel even in difficult situations. 
  • Where did Esther show bravery?
    • Ideas to Explore: How did Esther approach the risks of going against her king’s laws. Why did she seek fasting and prayer? Why would she ask all other Jews in Persia to do the same?
  • In what ways did Esther honor her relationships?
    • Ideas to Explore: Saving the king’s life; promoting Mordecai over herself; Remaining faithful to God.
  • While it is hard to imagine her fears and experiences, what helped Esther survive?
    • Ideas to Explore: The importance of faith in God. Respect for Mordecai, her elder. Her overall honor to both a human king and God.
  • If someone is in a difficult situation, what advice might you give them from the story of Esther?
    • Ideas to Explore: Keep faith in God. Be smart, listen and work to survive. Other thoughts?

Is Justice This Simple?

To continue our journey on what is just, let’s look at how our world views the subject of justice. Our dictionary, from Merriam-Webster, defines justice “as the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.” It basically says:

  • Justice is work, a job that we all must subscribe to. It is to administer or maintain fairness.
  • Justice is to be impartial. That means the bias from politics, media, the powerful (wealthy) should not be part of the process.
  • Justice is about conflicting claims. It begins with at least two sides, both with differing views. The job of justice is to reconcile the truth, or better yet, wrestle the truth from a myriad of facts and fiction.
  • The final goal of justice is to reward the righteous and punish the wicked.

Our world is very good at creating conflicting claims. Each side seeks the distribution of rewards or punishment with prejudice. How then do we set about resolving the conflicting claims of our society? God began His creation by dignifying us with free will, the power to make decisions on our own. Rather than having God or fate predetermine what we do, as a human race we are free to assess and decide what is a just course of action when faced with conflicts. 

(Genesis 1:26) 1 – Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Unlike animals, which act mainly on instinct, humans were created to resemble their Creator. This is where true justice begins. God has in His character the infinite capacity for love and fairness. Humans, created in God’s likeness, were given a similar power to rule with love. Humans were also given the power to rule over God’s world.  Like our Creator, we have the free will to impact our future. More frightening is that we have the free will to impact the future of others too.

(Deuteronomy 30:19-20) – “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Justice is always about choosing sides. Matthew tells us that free will is a precious gift from God. Because of that gift, we are each called to first love God with our “whole heart” (Matthew 22:37). Without free will, our freedom is meaningless. Yet, the many “conflicting claims,” create a constant necessity for hard choices. As examples:

  • Is it ever OK to allow violence and crime to exist under a definition of fairness?
  • How should God’s Laws and Truths affect fairness and justice?
  • Can justice ever exist without accountability for the wicked?
  • What is fair reconciliation between a victim and a law breaker?
  • Can our world force a just free will on society?

(Jeremiah 17:10) – “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”

(Psalm 33:5) – “The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.”

All justice must begin by first understanding God’s virtuous character. Society must align its own values to those of God. God tried to give us simple rules, ten to be exact. Grace, or the free gift of grace, provided humanity with three theological virtues. Theological virtues are the God-like characteristics of charity, faith and hope.  (See our comprehensive study on these and other virtues Here) A person receives the theological virtues by being “infused” through God’s grace into a new person. Charity, faith and hope cannot be forced upon the free will of any society. Without God, there can be no charity, faith, or hope. Without God, there can never be justice.

“Because they have God for their object, both in so far as by them we are properly directed to Him, and because they are infused into our souls by God alone, as also, finally, because we come to know of them only by Divine revelation in the Sacred Scriptures” – Aquinas.

The farther a society moves from God, the farther it moves from its ability to maintain or administer fair and equitable justice. This may be subtle, but God has clearly created humans NOT to respond to forced justice but, instead, to respond to the force of God’s justice. Justice is important because the act of upholding good and punishing evil is necessary for having a safe society that is dedicated to the benefit of all people (Dictionary.com). When justice is not upheld, those doing wrong will continue to do wrong, while those who are doing right will continue to suffer. Justice is important because every person will not choose what is deemed right in society. Since justice includes the punishment of the wrong and the upholding of the good, justice must be implemented to maintain what is deemed right or appropriate. Conflicting claims must always be reconciled but against whose standards and truths?

God’s Truth along with accountability are the correct foundation for any system of fair justice. Success or failure should never be determined by fate, wealth, or power. Successful justice requires hard work. Impartiality requires unbiased concern for each other. “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13).

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. How did we get here? Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, our laws have become needlessly complex. They are often clouded by politics and influenced by money. For example, in the Biblical justice system a false witness received punishment, but in the American justice system slander, defamation, and character assassination is not only NOT punished, it is often rewarded. Yet, God’s Truth has not changed since our earth was created by His command. The problem with humanity is with the heart, not the scales of justice!

(John 13:34) – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

Jesus was always clear about how to treat one another. Just look and read the parable about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Love is intended to comfort the victims of our world. Love is also intended to uphold God’s Law for those who need to be held accountable for their actions. Jesus came for all those in need of repentance, restoration. and renewal. A library of law books will never save a single soul. A virtuous population seeking God will make all the difference in this world.

Contemplations

  • What do you think about the justice system in our country?
    • Ideas to Explore: Are we too soft on criminals? Is incarceration a reasonable deterrent? What is missing from our educational system? Is punishment without repentance of any value?
  • What should society do with repeat offenders?
    • Ideas to Explore: Should there be a limit to society’s tolerance for crime? Are there crimes that are a result of societal problems?  Are there people who cannot be rehabilitated? If so, why?
  • God is missing from schools and homes. Do we need to bring Him back?
    • Ideas to Explore: How do we teach God’s Truth to a nation? How do we raise children to honor God and family?
  • Can government force people to be generous and forgiving?
    • Ideas to Explore: Can the government spend your money better than you can? How do you increase Charity, Faith, and Hope?
  • Where is society still teaching bias, bigotry and divisiveness?
    • Ideas to Explore: In the home? In schools? Our government?  Where else? How would you change it?
  • How would you remove bias from our judicial system?
    • Ideas to Explore: Media’s influence? Influence from Politics? Money, do wealthy have an advantage? Why?

 

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations

Restorative Justice

There is a new term entering into our national vocabulary. It is “Restorative Justice.” With many of the recent changes in jail bail amounts, dropping of cash bail requirements, defunding of policing, and lowering thresholds defining the severity of crimes, the debate has become whether justice for the populous is served by simply reducing the severity associated with criminal activity. This study looks at the biblical definition and support for the ideas behind restorative justice.

Restorative justice is meant to repair the harm caused by crime. It is based on a collaborative process between victims, offenders, and community members. The emphasis of restorative justice is accountability. It involves restoration of the victims’ rights, as well as those of the offenders. What restorative justice is not is the continued release of offenders without accountability. The word restore comes from the Latin word rēstaurāre to rebuild, to bring back to health, to return (something lost, stolen) to its owner or to re-introduce, re-enforce, or restore discipline.

Crime is not new in our human history. In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, we are given an immediate introduction to a horrific crime, murder. Adam and Eve’s sons, the brothers Cain and Abel, find themselves in competition for God’s favor. Cain kills his brother most likely with a stone in a fit of jealousy. We read on in Genesis that society continues to break down and God is forced to bring on the “Big Flood.” A man named Noah saves humanity and humanity gets another try. God then lays out a restorative plan for everyone. We see the roots of biblical restorative justice begin here with God’s covenant to Abraham:

(Genesis 12:1-3)[ref]NIV New International Version Translations[/ref] – “The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’”

Today, society might blame the murder of Abel on the availability of stones. Yet, to kill, to destroy life takes many forms. Weapons can be anything: a car, a hostile relationship, drugs, or simply a choice to end the life of a child rather than become a parent. Poor decisions are behind every crime. The nature of the problem with restoration lies totally in the heart (mind). Fear of imprisonment, or incentives have never worked well. For Restorative justice to be successful requires the transformation of a heart into one that seeks to please God.

God responded to human depravity, alienation, and injustice by first creating a covenant with His people. God established a set of Laws. God’s promise was to ultimately create a lasting community of peace. It is still God’s promise! Members will share the community together, peacefully, and forever. Restorative justice, therefore, begins with conforming to the Will of God. God’s justice has always been intended for the salvation of His people and the restoration of covenant relationships. God’s love is always working to set right that which has been and continues to be corrupted.

(Ephesians 2:12-13) – “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

The emphasis of God’s covenant is on God’s purposes, not ours. Think of our earth as a classroom. It is here, where we can learn about God’s community and God’s plan of service others. The goal of humanity’s justice, however, begins with the relationships we have with each other. God is usually excluded from the equation. Biblical teaching emphasizes the poor and needy, their oppression, and their exclusion from community life. We are taught that if we don’t help each other, the community is destroyed. Everyone is harmed. For there to be peace in our world, justice and righteousness must both be present. Justice and righteousness are clearly associated with the presence of God. History reminds us that evil calls bad things good and gains its power and wealth at the expense of the poor and weak. Instead of justice, our world gives us turmoil, crime, and war.

Biblical “Justice” is by its very nature, restorative. The Bible’s God is “just” especially in that God seeks to bring about healing in relationships, transform communities, restore offenders into God’s family, and bless all the families of the earth. This cannot be done unless we cooperate God, and this cannot be done without repentance. Repentance begins by the personal discovery of sin. It is accompanied by the deep understanding that we are sinful and then followed by a resolution to change ourselves. The change brought about by a repentive heart is not a superficial change. It is a deep and practical change in our fundamental beliefs. For Restorative Justice to prevail, there must always be a turn from sin toward righteousness. This requires an understanding that sin is offensive to God! For Restorative Justice to prevail within our world, our world must believe that God’s existence is True and that God is worthy of our obedience. Eliminating God from society is not the answer!

(1 John 3:1-3) – “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”

The path to successful Restorative Justice is through the Cross of Jesus Christ! The Cross first forgives, then transforms the heart.

(Romans 5:9-10) – Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

Contemplations

  • Prison ministries are not new. Why do you think we do not hear more about their success?
    • Ideas to Explore: Hatred of God? Biased media? Disbelief? Fear?
  • Have you seen examples of Restorative Justice that worked?
    • Ideas to Explore: Youth programs and camps? Testimonies?
  • We live in a world that rewords sinful actions – How do you restore one’s heart and change their beliefs?
    • Ideas to Explore: Does accountability help? Where do prisons fail the offenders?
  • What would you do to help someone who has led a life of crime, been in prison many times, has no skills, no family except the street?
    • Ideas to Explore: Incarceration protects society. However, what should be doing to help those offenders after they are released?

Ready for Next Year?

It is the night before a new year begins. People are gathering, ready to celebrate. Tradition brings us to the task of making resolutions for the coming year. Where did that tradition come from? History says that the first New Year’s resolutions date back over 4,000 years ago to ancient Babylon. The Babylonians are said to have started the tradition during Akitu, a 12-day annual celebration. During the Akitu festival, the ancient Babylonians would plant crops, crown a new king (or pledge their loyalty to the reigning king), and make promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any borrowed items. They believed that if they kept their word, the gods would look favorably on them for the year ahead. If the Babylonians broke their promises, they would fall on the bad side of their gods. 1

The custom of setting “New Year’s Resolutions” as we know them began in Rome two millennia ago, moving the tradition to January. The month of January gets its name from Janus, the two-faced god who looks backward into the old year and forwards into the new year. Janus was also the patron and protector of arches, transitions, bridges, time, gates, doors, doorways, endings, and beginnings. When the Roman Empire took Christianity as its official state religion in the 4th century, the pagan rituals of pledging moral intentions were replaced by prayers and fasting. However, there is something valuable in the old tradition of looking back into the old year and then forward into the new year. Self-reflection, an honest audit of sorts, can be a good thing for planning one’s future.

(Jeremiah 17:10) 2 – “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”

Jeremiah quotes God! God cares about past behavior. Accountability is paramount with God. There will come a moment of truth, sometime in the future, which no one can escape. In that day of judgment, every person: black or white; male or female; rich or poor; young or old; bond or free must render to God a personal accounting of their life. God sees all things. Nothing is hidden from God!

(Matthew 12:36-37) – “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

What might be a good New Year’s Resolution for the people of our land? Most people will choose to lose weight or exercise. Maybe eat healthy. After reflection on the last year we have had, here are some Bible verses to prompt further creativity. God is interested more in how our country is run than the waistlines of its citizens. Our land could use a few more good leaders, leaders who understand that they have been given a holy task to lead our nation to God, not away from God!

(1 Peter 2:9) – “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Our land could use more leaders who lead by example, rather than by decree!

(1 Peter 5:3) – “not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”

Our land desperately needs leaders again who are trustworthy!

(1 Timothy 3:1-7) – “Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”

At the founding of our nation when the people wanted to know the character of their future leaders, they usually went to their local church and listened to ministers who taught them what the Bible had to say on the subject. Churches are now politically silent. We allowed this to happen when our leaders’ passed regulations that prohibited such commentary:

A church, as a tax-exempt organization under Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) § 501(c)(3), is absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating or intervening in any political campaign in support or opposition to any candidate for elective public office. See Treasury Regulation §1.501(c)(3)—1(c)(3)(iii).

The deficit in our county’s leadership today is reaching frightening levels. In our new year, we will be again challenged with more political turmoil. Divisiveness is bound to rein supreme. Even our basic freedoms are under attack. Satan could not have written a better script. The good news is that at least at the present, our government does not regulate what is taught in the home and what is saved in the heart. For this coming new year, consider adding one important New Year’s Resolution to your list: Take the time to search out God’s Truths on all matters. Then get to recognize and support Godly leaders. Take a good look at your children and grandchildren. Their future and the nation they will live in depends on you!

Stay safe, stay prayerful, stay hopeful. God always wins in the end you know!

Happy New Year from Lostpine.com.

Contemplations

  • If you are not happy with last year, what would you change?
    • Ideas to Explore: Job, generosity, time spent with God in prayer?
  • Do you think that God will hold you accountable for the leaders you support?
    • Ideas to Explore: God asks us to live in the world but not be corrupted by it. What is your plan?
  • How do you personally research the heart of someone seeking to represent you?
    • Ideas to Explore: Ask people you trust, pray, do research in unbiased sources?
  • How do you think your church should respond to the pressures of remaining out of politics?
    • Ideas to Explore: What would you like to see different? Have you expressed your views?
  • Are you concerned that government curriculums within our schools may not be teaching Godly values?
    • Ideas to Explore: What do you do to find out what is being taught? Do you have a desire to remain vigilant?

 

Notes:

  1. https://www.trafalgar.com/real-word/history-new-years-resolutions/
  2. NIV New International Version Translations

What were the “Last Words of Advice from God!”

It is almost Christmas. We are all ready to begin our story of hope all over again. A Savior is born unto a virgin, God walks among us. Yes, we all love this time of year. We even know the rest of the story! Angels, Wisemen, Shepherds, this is the story that brings us hope for peace on earth! This year, let us take a look through a different perspective. We all know the story but how did our God close the Book? What is it that God wants us to understand about Christmas?

The Greek name for the book of Revelation, (apocalypse), means “Uncovering” or “Disclosure.” It is, in a sense, the last advice written for mankind from God. The book uncovers things that had been hidden from us and then discloses events that will happen in our future. The Apostle John wrote Revelation at the age of 92 while exiled as a prisoner of Rome on the remote Isle of Patmos. Both John’s Gospel and Revelations carry unique characteristics. At the time of the writing of both the Gospel of John and Revelation, John may have been the last of the Apostles still alive. John was probably the last living apostle who saw the resurrected Christ after His death. He was, therefore, the best, and perhaps only person available to put a book end on the Bible itself. The Apostle John had watched humanity respond to the Gospel’s message for many years.  John was in the unique position to offer his discerning opinion so that we would understand what the world was misunderstanding about our Savior, Christ. His birth, His life, His death, and His resurrection all could benefit from clarity. John had watched and lived it all!

One of the topics in Revelation that John chose to write about were seven churches established in Asia Minor (now Turkey). Revelations, therefore, stands to offer Christians examples to learn from. To find these specific stories, we need to go to chapters two and three of Revelations. John presents them as individual letters:

Ephesus had abandoned the love it had at first. They lost their first love for Christ, which in turn affected the love they had for others.

(Revelations 2:4) 1 – “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.”

Smyrna was warned that it was about to face persecution. Christ encouraged them to be faithful even unto death and He would give them the crown of life, eternal life.

(Revelation 2:10) – “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you; the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give your life as your victor’s crown.”

Pergamum was told to repent. The church had fallen prey to a cult called the Nicolaitans. Nicolaitans were considered heretics who taught that since their bodies were evil, only the human spirit was good. This led the church into sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols. Christ encouraged Pergamum by saying those who conquered such temptations would receive “hidden manna” and a “white stone,” both symbols of special blessings.

(Revelation 2:16) – “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”

Thyatira had a false prophetess who was leading people astray. Christ promised to give Himself (the morning star) to those who resisted her evil ways.

(Revelation 2:20) – “Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.”

Sardis had the reputation of being a dead church, or asleep at the wheel as we might say today. Jesus told them to wake up and repent. Those who would follow His instructions would receive white garments, have their name listed in the book of life, and would be proclaimed before God the Father.

(Revelation 3:2) – “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.”

The congregation in Philadelphia had endured patiently. Jesus pledged to stand with them in any future trials, even granting special honors to them in heaven, the New Jerusalem. They were called to preserver.

(Revelation 3:10) – “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.”

And the seventh church was Laodicea. Laodicea had lukewarm faith. Its members had grown complacent because of the riches of the city. To those who returned to their former zeal, Jesus vowed to share His ruling authority. You can find a detailed Bible Study on Laodicea HERE.

(Revelation 3:16) – “So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

Even though John wrote these letters nearly 2,000 years ago, his words still apply to Christian churches today. While Christ remains the head of the worldwide Church, many modern churches have wandered from biblical truth. This can happen when denominations or local congregations selectively remove parts of God’s Truth to tailor the Gospel’s message for more inclusiveness. To understand the seven churches better, here are some points to consider.

  • In Scripture, the number seven carries the meaning of wholeness. This number suggests that these seven churches are to be representative of all churches and all professing Christians throughout the world. The messages are meant to be a full message, with applicability to every church.
  • John is careful to identify each church. These were real churches that existed at the time of the writing of Revelations. The seven letters were based on facts.
  • John is not the source of the message, but it is always Christ. Remember, these are Christ’s churches whom He loves.
  • For each church, Christ provides specific commendations, rebukes, or both.
  • The good news is that Christ is not giving a final judgement on any of the churches. He provides a course of action to be taken by each to emerge victoriously. The theme, repentance, and perseverance.
  • Christ ends each commentary with His personal promise: to those who “overcome” or who emerge “victorious” will receive Christ’s Kingdom as their reward.

It is not a coincidence that Christ draws repentance and persecution into each of His messages. Persecution will flush a true church out because false Christians do not stick around long. It is always easier to find another church who agrees with you or is accommodating to our world rather than to endure persecution or seek repentance. While the Nicolaitans are gone now and so is the church of Pergamum, there are still millions of Christians being tempted by a sinful world. The false prophetess of Thyatira has been replaced by TV preachers who avoid talking about Christ’s atoning death for sin. It is often replaced with the “Prosperity Gospel.” Countless believers have turned from their love of Christ to idolizing material possessions. As in ancient times, reading these short letters to the seven churches in Revelation serves as a meaningful reminder. In a society flooded with temptation, they bring us back to the One and Only True God who is the only One worthy of our worship this Christmas.

Yes, Christmas is around the corner. What will you do with it? Decorate, shop, cook and bake, have friends and family over. Go to worship, listen to the Christmas music, gather in hope for a better world! But how will you celebrate the Incarnation of God into a human who came to us as our Savior? Christmas should not the beginning of hope or even a hopeful reminder. Christ-mas should be the roadmap to “Hope.” As the Apostle John wrote his closing arguments of our Bible, he did not to forget about “repentance and perseverance.”  Don’t forget about Christ either! Wouldn’t these three make beautiful gifts for everyone’s tree this year!

(Isaiah 9:6) – “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Merry Christmas from Lostpine.com

Contemplations

  • How do you put Christ into Christ-mas?
    • Ideas to Explore: Family traditions, church traditions, special decorations of the nativity, etc.
  • What is the world doing to chip away at your traditions?
    • Ideas to Explore: Cancel culture, war on religion, removing God from schools, etc.
  • What can you personally do this Christmas season to remember Christ, repent, and assure that you can persevere with Christ?
    • Ideas to Explore: As you celebrate this holiday, make Christ first!

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations

Just a Baby?

As we approach the Birth of Jesus, it might be time for a quick review. The Gospel of John begins with:

(John 1:1-2) 1 – “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God”

Yes, Jesus is the “Word of God.” But why did humanity need a Christmas? Why didn’t Jesus show up as an adult with His message of hope? Why in the world would God send our Redeemer as a child? This child must have been REALLY SPECIAL! His job was to save humankind.

The reason for Jesus’ birth is stated in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The arrival of Jesus in human form was the first step of God’s redemptive plan for humanity. It is easy to lose this important significance in Jesus’ birth. We were lost and needed to be redeemed! The world needed to know God and His Truth. To convince a skeptic world, God would begin with a child, a gifted child. And what were the child Jesus’ special gifts?

  • His verbal ability was far beyond his age.
  • Jesus had an unusual capacity for processing information.
  • He had a high curiosity level and would dive into subjects with a passion not seen in most children of his age.
  • His human memory retention allowed Him to retain information faster and for longer periods of time. He could process information faster too.
  • The child Jesus approached learning with intensity. This also provided Him with the ability to show compassion to others at a much deeper level. As a child, Jesus never lost sight of the “Big Picture.”
  • The child Jesus had a sense of justice. His moral compass made Him an effective leader, even as a child.
  • We would have very few parables had it not been for Jesus’ strong imagination. As a child, Jesus was an independent thinker. He could creatively conceptualize stories that had power, power to change people.
  • The child Jesus came with an attention to detail. He could solve problems quickly.

God chose to send us a truly exceptional child. It is easy to lose sight of who Jesus the child was and the reason for Christmas. There is so much pomp and circumstance that surrounds the holiday today. It is a media frenzy. Hundreds of ships all stuck offshore loaded with “Christmas.” Oh, what will the people do? Not to worry, our world will just rename the holiday to something else, like a festive winter holiday with holiday trees. Don’t forget to buy your “Seasons Greetings” cards. But where is the birth story of a child Savior? Do we honor this “Gifted Child first?

The entry of Jesus into the world as a child reveals the true nature of God Himself. In Jesus the child, we have God revealed to us in a more perfect and glorious manner than any previous revelation. Where else in our Bible do you see God as a child? How else do we learn about the parental love of our Father?

(John 1:18) – “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

Jesus came as the Divine Interpreter of God the Father. He said:

(John 14:9) – “Jesus answered: ’“Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?’”

The birth of Jesus makes it possible for all to know God, even as children. For humanity to relate to God, God had to become one of us. What better way to teach humanity than to become part of the human story? We now study the life of Jesus to know our God. Without Jesus, God would remain just a mysterious omni-present power to fear. Jesus, the child, shows us the True Grace of our God. Jesus the adult shows us the redemptive path to salvation.

(John 1:16-17) – “Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

The child Jesus reveals God’s grace as full of tenderness, gentleness, compassion, and is attractive enough to want people to draw close to Him. God calls us through the CHILD to love and live a life committed to God our Father. The only way we achieve this relationship is by surrendering our lives to the CHILD because the child Jesus has direct access to God. “For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:18). The birth of Jesus reveals to us what is True about God. Jesus came as a child into our world, revealing God’s nature as tenderhearted, longsuffering, and forgiving. Jesus is our Hope and our “Truth.

(John 14:6) – “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

As we celebrate the coming of Jesus again this year, most of our world could care less about a Savior, let alone a gifted child. People have abandon God for the holiday rituals and submitted to the power of a sinful world. In sadness, our world has become very good at abandoning its children.  Abortions, drugs, trafficking, broken homes and/or race bating in our world are a few of the risks of being a child now. Is the next cure for all viruses affecting humanity lost forever because a gifted child will be abandoned by the world? How many future scientists, doctors, teachers, engineers, will not survive the onslaught of a sinful world against them? Jesus the child came to make a difference in our world and in everyone’s lives. Jesus the child showed us the way to our God. For this season, let’s be thankful that Jesus was not born to us in our time. Our world today would have not only encouraged an unwed teenager to have an abortion but would have applauded her decision. Would the world today have abandoned Jesus before He could save us from ourselves?

Contemplations

  • How do you celebrate the “child side of Christmas?”
    • Ideas to Explore: Nativity scenes, decorating around the story of Jesus’ birth. Unique family traditions?
  • Have you ever celebrated Christmas with a birthday cake?
    • Ideas to Explore: Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. Have you done specific things to emphasize that point?
  • How do you remember those who do not have the resources to celebrate a robust Christmas?
    • Ideas to Explore: Food drives, donating presents to organizations like “Toys for Tots.”
  • What risks do you see for children in our society today?
    • Ideas to Explore: Educational bias? Influence of social media? Economic risks such as national debt? Legalization of drugs?
  • How do we protect the sanctity of childhood?
    • Ideas to Explore: Give this some thought: What will you personally do to protect the children of the world?

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations

Who was Jonah?

The Old Testament contains several prophetic books, including a group of 12 named after the so-called ”minor prophets.” One of the stranger books and prophets is Jonah. Jonah or Jonas, son of Amittai, is also found in the Quran. He lived in about 8 BC and came from Gath-hepher of the northern kingdom of Israel. Jonah is the central figure of the Book of Jonah, which details his reluctance in delivering God’s judgement on the city of Nineveh. There is no question that Jonah was a historical person. He is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25, which suggests he was one of the more nationalistic and militaristic prophets.

The story starts with God giving Jonah a mission, to pass a message to the people of Nineveh that they need to repent and change their attitudes toward each other from hatred to love. Jonah does not like the mission and runs away by boarding a ship  to Tarshish, a city in southern Spain that lay geographically in the opposite direction from Nineveh. His getaway is interrupted by a storm. The sailors on the ship eventually figure out that Jonah is the cause of the storm because God is displeased with him. They throw Jonah overboard.  While in the ocean, Jonah is swallowed by a great fish (most probably describing a whale), spends three days and three nights in its belly, and afterward gets regurgitated onto land. Now convinced that God is serious, Jonah heads to Nineveh to complete his mission.

How you respond to stories like the Book of Jonah can impact your personal beliefs on the entire Bible. It is not good enough to pick and choose the parts of the Bible you want to believe. While the story of survival in the belly of a whale is problematic, our Bible is filled with similar stories. Miracles, raising of the dead, walking on water, feeding 5,000, or Jesus’ own resurrection can all be difficult to understand. How then are we to take this story of Jonah and glean from it the Godly lessons we need to learn? There are arguments that support the theory of a human being able to survive inside a whale. We will not discuss those here. The most common interpretation held today is that the story of the prophet being swallowed and then disgorged by a “great fish” is fiction, intended to teach, a religious point. Think of the story like a super-sized parable. Many of Jesus’ parables were similar in structure, fictional stories of real moral issues. Many other stories were very real. What then are its lessons for us in the Book of Jonah?

(2 Timothy 3:16) 1 – “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,”

Jonah’s desire to escape from the mission God gave him describes our own mission given to us by Jesus Himself. We are clearly called to share the Gospel’s message with a sinful, Godless world. If we assume that formal religion’s appeal is shrinking in our society (according to studies), we can see a simile, people’s desire to escape from the job of uniting humanity around Christ. Like Jonah, we all have been given an inescapable mission. It is the same mission today as it was in ancient Babylon when Abraham united the Jewish people as a nation. The foundation of God’s mission to His people is based on “love your neighbor as yourself.” We are called to become a positive example of what a connected community looks like, “a light unto the nations.”

The wrong way to look at Jonah is to try to prove it true or false. For example, the word for “belly” in Hebrew is imprecise and does not only mean “stomach.” Jonah may have been in the oral cavity of a large-mouthed whale. A whale, being a mammal, is a warm-blooded air breather that resurfaces for air, so would have provided Jonah with oxygen, while its body heat would have prevented hypothermia. However, the story of being swallowed by a “great fish” is too far-fetched to be believable. A great fish/large whale would not have been found in the eastern Mediterranean. Some even look to Jesus’ reference to Jonah in Matthew 12:39-41 to say that the Book of Jonah was historical. Yet Jesus used many parables meant to teach godly lessons that were fictional stories.

As a parable, what does the Book of Jonah teach?

  • The story of Jonah explains that we need to place the benefit of others ahead of our own. 
  • When people accept Jesus as their Savior, they also accept His mission: Teach the world to love their friends and neighbors as themselves.
  • Jonah did not concern himself with the well-being of the sailors. Furthermore, he was so reluctant to share God’s mercy with the “evil” Ninevites that he ran from God’s mission. He was not the “good guy” in this story but a normal, flawed human being who only did what he was told as a matter of duty, after being given a second chance.
  • We finally find that in the Book of Jonah, God’s grace is available equally and freely to all.

In Jonah’s story, everyone gets a second chance.  You might even call it a story about second chances. Jonah was a legalistic, judgmental Jew, and the lost pagans in Nineveh needed to be reminded of their sins. The happy ending everyone wants can be found here too. Both the sailors and Ninevites not only recognized God but also turned to Him as their Lord.

(Jonah 3:6-9) – ”When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.’”

Jonah, however, had not repented. His heart still needed turning. The prophet did the right things, just as the sailors and Ninevites did, but he did not love the Lord by the end of his book. Jonah got a second chance at recognizing his own depth of depravity, his deep need for mercy. However, he might have squandered it after all. We are missing the rest of his story.

(Jonah 4:1-3) – “But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah struggled with God’s kindness towards depraved people he believed were unworthy of mercy. He acted like the Pharisees, shocked that Jesus would hang out with sinners. Maybe Jonah thought the evil Ninevites would return to their wickedness and make a fool of the Lord after he left them? Jonah was courageous, loving, and obedient to the Lord. But God rebuked Jonah: “And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh” (Jonah 4:11). Jonah wanted to see God enact justice against non-Jews. But he was blind to the reality that the Ninevites were also God’s children. God had created works, more valuable than the shade plant pitied by Jonah.

(Jonah 4:10) – ” But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight.”

God’s power was already famous. He didn’t need Jonah to spread the good news. Jonah acknowledged as much: “you are a gracious and compassionate God” (Jonah 4:2). Jonah, meanwhile, refused to treat the pagans as human beings created in the image of God. Jonah had enjoyed direct guidance from God, something many of us crave, and yet he rejected it. In summary, the Book of Jonah has very little to do with fish or whales. The story is not about impossible miracles. Jonah’s story is about sharing God with a world filled with depravity, denial, even doubt and about not being judgmental against those who do not share our faith.

Contemplations

  • Who do you put into a group that you would call less deserving of God’s grace?
    • Ideas to Explore: Who are the people you avoid? What groups do you dislike? Are there people whose faith or even lack of faith you dislike?
  • What would be the most effective strategies to reaching people like those in Nineveh?
    • Ideas to Explore: What exactly would a mission trip to Nineveh look like? What are the effective ways to share the Gospel with someone you do not like or trust?
  • Yes, we are called to believe that our God can do the impossible, even keep someone in the belly of a whale alive for three days – But what do you do to sort out the “Story” into history, parable or fiction?
    • Ideas to Explore: Do you first search for science to explain away the miracle? (e.g., Tides divided the Red Sea for Moses in the Book of Exodus) When you cannot rationalize an event based on your own knowledge of the world, where do you go to find peace with your answers? 
  • What does the term “God-Breathed” mean to you when describing the Bible?
    • Ideas to Explore: Can you see the history, the fable, the parable, the Law and command, the advice in God’s Words? All are present. How do you think we should respond to each category?
  • What did you get out of the Book of Jonah?
    • Ideas to Explore: Is the story so strange that it has no meaning? Can you sort out a lesson from God? How would you teach this story to children?
  • Faith is the cornerstone of belief – How does your faith handle the immaculate conception of Mary or the Incarnation of God becoming human?
    • Ideas to Explore: The world uses many tricks to destroy faith. What ones have you seen? How do you keep from becoming a doubtful person?

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations

Who’s In Charge Anyway?

Hubble Photo entitled “Eye of God”

We are living in troubled times. Pandemics, divisive government, crime, economic instability, make the list and the list goes on and on and on. It is very easy to feel picked on by the world! It makes one wonder who’s the blame for all of this chaos? Yet our God gave us His Word to find comfort and to use for advice on how to live in this world. To find the answers, let’s go to the master of troubled times, Job. We can look to see what our God told him when everything around him was in chaos.

The Book of Job is appropriate because it is a story about God and Satan. Job’s story reminds us that Satan cannot bring financial and physical destruction on anyone without the permission of God. It does remind us that Satan exists in our world. Yet, God holds the power over what Satan can and cannot do. It is beyond our human ability to understand why there is suffering and chaos in the world. Yes, we are assured that the wicked will receive their just dues someday. But it is hard to grasp the concept that suffering may sometimes be allowed in our lives by God for a purpose to purify, test, teach, or strengthen our souls.

(Job 36:17-23) 1– “But now you are laden with the judgment due the wicked; judgment and justice have taken hold of you. Be careful that no one entices you by riches; do not let a large bribe turn you aside. Would your wealth or even all your mighty efforts sustain you so you would not be in distress? Do not long for the night, to drag people away from their homes. Beware of turning to evil, which you seem to prefer to affliction. ‘God is exalted in his power. Who is a teacher like him? Who has prescribed his ways for him, or said to him, ‘You have done wrong’?”

Job was a righteous person. He lived in obedience to God’s Laws. Job’s problems began with his health, an immune deficiency called Scables. The disease produced widespread pain, confusion, skin eruptions, probably a lung infection and bilious vomiting. He then lost just about everything; his sheep, his oxen, his camels, his servants, his home and all of his sons and daughters but remarkably he did not lose his faith in God. God had taken away all he had except his wife and his wife was busy telling him to “curse God and die.” Job’s response was to bless the name of the Lord. Job’s friends try to help. His comfort came from four people: Zophar, Eliphaz, and Bildad, Job’s three main comforters, and from Elihu. Elihu’s insights differed from Job’s other three advisors. In all of his troubles, Job held the position that he had not sinned or blamed God! He blessed God’s name, he worshiped God, and he did not sin. Rather than going along with the idea that his suffering was a punishment for his sinful actions, Elihu concentrated on Job’s reaction to his undeserved suffering. Job’s justification had turned into self-righteousness and that was his sin before God. Job had become judgmental. Self-righteous judgment, Job’s opinion of himself, had placed Job above God’s own authority over the world.  

(James 4:11-12) – “Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister[a] or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?”

Elihu thought Job needed to be cautioned about his judgmental attitude because he has chosen to gratify his own pride. Job was taking up his opinion directly with God. By questioning the justice and purpose of God’s ways, Job was demonstrating a perverse kind of pride. Elihu told Job that he should recognize his suffering as “charitable discipline” that would lead to his reconciliation with God. Elihu showed Job that he was the cause of his continued trouble. Elihu cautioned Job not to persist in his stubborn and headstrong position with God. Elihu reminded Job that even good men need to be kept in line by remembering to fear God’s wrath. And how did God finally respond to Job?

(Job 38:2-4) – “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.”

Elihu extended his caution to the concept of bribery (a ransom). No amount of wealth was going to place Job equal to or above God. For us today, even the payment made by Jesus of remove our sin, reconciling us with God still requires more: the humility of repentance on our part. There is no room for sin including the sin of a prideful heart. If you want the protections of Jesus then leading a humble and repentant life is a requirement. Human pride can blind us from the power of our God. Yet God is the best teacher because He is the builder too. Pride casts dispersions on the very ability and reasoning of our God. 

Being judgmental is an essential trait to human survival. People need to distinguish between good and bad; right and wrong; and what is true and false. Judgment is part of everyday living. However, the business of judgment can be taken too far when we choose to take up our argument directly with God. When humans become preoccupied with being the judge and jury, they attempt to usurp God’s role over our world. Elihu’s advice to Job, let the unjust, the judgmental, continue their quarrels with God. Job’s task was to never think so favorably of sin, or indulge in any of it. The sin of pride is a slippery slope as the Apostle Paul so eloquently stated in Romans:

(Romans 1:18-25) – “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”

Isn’t it absurd for people to try to tell God what right behavior looks like? Worse yet, argue with God about anything? God is the Master Creator of Light, Matter, Truth, Knowledge, and Life itself! And how did God do all these things? As the Master Builder, He commanded our world into existence through His Words. Even today, God directs us through the Bible. Do God’s Words have power? God spoke the world into existence, and He is up to the task to take care of it. God’s Word, best book ever written, also teaches us the way through life by getting to know His Son, Jesus. With supplication, we then are armed with the strength and courage to suffer and wait while we ask for relief. If we’re truly humble, we will ask in faith and continue to believe even when life doesn’t turn out like we had hoped (James 1:5-8). When we’re humble before God, we can acknowledge our sinful condition as well as God’s holiness.  Who’s in charge anyway? God’s in charge and we shouldn’t presume to understand God’s overarching plans.

Contemplations

  • Where do you see examples in our world today of people trying to negotiate with God?
    • Ideas to Explore: The definition of sin, the definition of life, what God must be like?
  • Where do you see examples of self-righteousness at work in our world?
    • Ideas to Explore: Business? Politics? Media? Sports? Etc.
  • When things are not going well, how should we guard against becoming judgmental?
    • Ideas to Explore: Testing against God’s Truth? Seeking God’s wisdom through prayer? Using the Bible?
  • What is the difference between being judgmental and judging against God’s Truth?
    • Ideas to Explore: To know God’s Truth requires one to remove all personal opinion, bias, preconceived notions, and then search for the Truth. How do we do that?
  • Judgement is against another person, reflection and repentance are personal. How do these differ?
    • Ideas to Explore: Doesn’t being judgmental eventually find something wrong with everyone but you? Isn’t that why we need God to sort out His Truth?
  • Introspection, the ability to make an honest appraisal of a situation requires humility. What are the ways you can protect yourself from believing you know more than God?
    • Ideas to Explore: If God has placed you in a hard position, how will you learn from it? How often do you search God’s Word for answers? Is prayer an active part of your daily life?

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations

Divida et Impera

Divide and Rule Divida et Impera) said Julius Caesar. Caesar, however, was not the first emperor to use this strategy. Some 1200 years before Caesar’s birth, the Assyrian nation effectively divided and conquered the nations of Babylon, Syria, Palestine, Armenia, and Mesopotamia. Their greatest conquest was the division of the 12 tribes of Israel. Our Old Testament documents how the Jewish people were divided and conquered, their temple destroyed and then exiled to Babylonia. Imagine, the nation of Israel destroyed from within by its own divisiveness.

Divide and conquer is still an effective strategy today. Not in war but in politics. Media commentators, politicians, promote the differences between right and left political systems. Society becomes more divisive, and hatred between sides grows. The strategy is just as effective today in American politics as it was for Caesar’s war plans. Whether political division is just a smokescreen for maintaining economic unrest, or the result of more sinister forces at work, our nation is being subjected to “Divida et Impera.” Turn people against each other and nations collapse. Who is driving this strategy? How do we defend ourselves against it? Who is trying to divide us and rule us?

To begin with, God hates anger. Anger injures and alienates people. It hinders relationships between people and keeps us from loving our neighbors.

(Ephesians 4:26-32) 1 – “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.”

The Apostle Paul tells us to get rid of our anger because anger is destructive to personal relationships. Failure to get rid of anger prevents unity, only creates dysfunction, and prohibits the growth of Christ’s body. Anger destroys God’s church. Anger destroys the entire concept of “a loving family.” Perhaps no single Bible verse makes this point more forcefully:

(Luke 15:28) – “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.” (From the Parable of the Lost Son)

Relational anger has become all too common among friends, marriage partners, parents, and children. Children raised in these dysfunctional environments only learn how to be dysfunctional! God calls us to live as His children:

(Ephesians 4:1-6) – “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Another reason to manage and/or control anger is that it is bad for our health. Long before the advent of modern medicine, the Bible described the mind’s connection between sin and sickness, and between righteousness and health. Proverbs 14:29‑30 declares:

(Proverbs 14:29-30) – “Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly. A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.”

Anger is often based on envy, a perceived inequality, driven by one’s perception of inferiority or some injustice. When envy goes unchecked, it becomes anger and can physically damage the body. Our God tells us over and over that we find good health in patience and peace. Most doctors would tell you that unchecked anger affects one’s blood and can result in disease, even death. There is an observed correlation between anger and physical illness, including hypertension and stroke, heart disease, gastric ulcers, and bowel diseases.

The most convincing reason not to be angry, however, is that anger is offensive to our God. The worst consequence of anger is not getting colitis or even a divorce but a grieving God Himself! We are called to get rid of all forms of anger because they invite God’s wrath against the ungodly and because they are incompatible with the new life God has given us.

(Colossians 3:5-11) – “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”

We must avoid anger to avoid God’s displeasure and bring to Him honor and delight.

(James 1:19-20) – “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”

Now back to our opening questions: Who is driving this “Divida et Impera” strategy? How do we defend ourselves against it? The Apostle Jude gives us some clues:

(Jude 1:19) – “These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.”

Jude says it is ungodly people, people who have no connection with God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit. This should make sense because Satan has been teaching our world for a long time about division and its effectiveness. Just think how easily hatred can destroy a family or a country! To defend ourselves, we must defend our faith and our God together! Paul sums it up very well:

(Romans 16:17) – “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.”

In Caesar’s version of the term, he does not use the word Conquer. He uses a more subtle word, Rule. God conquers, Satan rules! In a more contemporary bit of wisdom, here is a quote from Thomas Paine to ponder:

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.” 

~ From “The Crisis” December 23, 1776 by Thomas Paine

Contemplations

  • What are the sources of your anger?
    • Ideas to Explore: Family relationships, employment, bosses, politicians, the news media, etc.
  • Now for the list you just created in your mind, answer why for each one?
    • Ideas to Explore: What exactly is the source of the anger? Is it based on a difference of opinion? What about an injustice? Is there a past experience that brings up an emotion? Be honest here too, is there an envy, a jealousy at work?
  • Ideas to Explore: For each of the items that stirs up an anger in you, exactly who, what, when and how does that anger manifest itself?
    • Ideas to Explore: Listening to news. Listening to a political speech. Dealing with someone who is not honest with you. Dealing with someone who is judgmental. Please add more!
  • Now consider for a moment, the motives of the sources that is invoking your anger? 
    • Ideas to Explore: Are the motives of those causing anger in you for your benefit, for their benefit, for the benefit of others?
  • Does your anger interfere with your ability to make godly decisions?
    • Ideas to Explore: The dislike (hatred) of one person can result in you supporting another person who is an ungodly person. Is prayer included in your process to understand your anger?
  • Is there anything that you can think of that anger accomplishes that is good?
    • Ideas to Explore: In support of godly values. To uphold God’s justice. What are God’s Truths that are exposed by anger? What are God’s Truths that are exposed by peace and good will?

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
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