THE KINGDOM

imagesOne of the first things Jesus tells us is to repent and believe in the good news because the Kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15). What is this Kingdom? How do we recognize it?

While some say the Kingdom of God is in the future, others say it is today. Some believe it is allegorical, others see it as literal. Some even see the Kingdom as fulfillment of the promises God made to the Jews, while others believe it has nothing to do with the Jews! Some believe it pertains only to heaven, and yet others believe the Kingdom has an earthly presence. Nevertheless, The Kingdom is the singular most talked about subject by Jesus in His earthly ministry. You’d think we have a clearer picture. Let’s see how the King, Himself, described it in several of His parables.

  • The Kingdom needs to be planted (Mt13:3)
  • There are outside influences that can affect the Kingdom (Mt13:5-7)
  • The Kingdom yields a crop (Mt 13:19)
  • There are enemies to the Kingdom (Mt 13:24-30)
  • The Kingdom grows in the midst of problems (Mt 13:26)
  • There is a time when the enemies of the Kingdom will be destroyed (Mt 13:30)
  • The Kingdom grows and nourishes others (Mt 13:31-32)
  • The Kingdom of God is infectious (Mt13:33)
  • The Kingdom of God is priceless (Mt 13:44-45)
  • The Kingdom of God is joyous (Mt 13:44)
  • There is a time when the fullness of the Kingdom will be revealed (Mt 13:48-50)
  • There are people who labor in the Kingdom (Mt 20:1-16)
  • There is grace and compassion in the Kingdom (Mt 20:1-16)
  • Contracts are made in the Kingdom (Mt 20:13)
  • There is generosity in the Kingdom (Mt 20:15)
  • What one does in the Kingdom is more important than what one says (Mt 21:28-31)
  • Sometimes people do not recognize the Kingdom (Mt 21:33-40)
  • There is a time for punishment in the Kingdom (Mt 21:40)
  • There is celebration in the Kingdom (Mt 22:2)
  • People are invited into the Kingdom (Mt 22:3)
  • Not all people will accept their invitation into the Kingdom (Mt 22:3-8)
  • You have to be dressed a certain way to come into the Kingdom—clothes of righteousness (Mt22:12)
  • In the end, few are really chosen to enter into the Kingdom though many are called (Mt 22:14)

The Church (the people of God) is the visible manifestation of the Kingdom of God. How are we doing? Can those outside the Kingdom recognize us as subjects of The King? You decide.

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WHO ME?

Have you asked yourself what you can do for The Kingdom of God but decided you didn’t have anything to offer? Keep the following in mind and then re-ask yourself if God can use you.

  • Noah was a drunk
  • Abraham was too old
  • Isaac was a daydreamer
  • Jacob was a liar
  • Leah was ugly
  • Joseph was abused
  • Moses stuttered
  • Gideon was afraid
  • Samson had long hair and was a womanizer
  • David had an affair and was a murderer
  • Elijah was suicidal
  • Isaiah preached naked
  • Jonah ran from God
  • Naomi was a widow
  • Job went bankrupt
  • Peter denied Christ
  • The disciples fell asleep while praying
  • Martha worried about everything
  • Zacchaeus was too short
  • Paul was too religious
  • Timothy had an ulcer
  • And, Lazarus was DEAD!

Finally, David Ring is a Christian evangelist with cerebral palsey who famously says: “I have cerebal palsy and I serve the Lord with all that is within me, what’s your excuse?”

So the answer is yes, YOU. God wants and needs you. He called you for such a time as this.

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WHERE THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD

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Some days drag. Some days fly
Some days I think of the day I’ll die
Some days fill me and some days drain
And one day Jesus will call my name

One day Jesus will call my name
As days go by, I hope I don’t stay the same.
I wanna get so close to Him that it’s no big change,
On that day that Jesus calls my name

Most days I pray but some days I curse.
It’s that number of days I put myself first.
But it’s not what I do, the cross made that plain.
And one day Jesus will call my name

One day Jesus will call my name
As days go by, I hope I don’t stay the same.
I wanna get so close to Him that it’s no big change,
On that day that Jesus calls my name

 

Check out these lyrics by Lynda Randall. If this isn’t the truth, I don’t know what is. Some days drag. Indeed they do. And some days fly. For me, it’s the week-end. You say “what?” The week-ends for me mean no work, no real interaction with people, no family around. You see, I’m alone. Most Christians don’t think of people like me. And for obvious reasons. They are wrapped up in their own family and the activities and accoutrements that go with all that. I understand. However, it doesn’t make the week-ends fly even though I understand. And on those draggy, draining days, the mind begins to dwell on the thoughts that I am supposed to take captive, like when I might die.

Growing older brings those thoughts to the forefront. Can’t seem to help it. They come. But then Lynda Randall puts it all in perspective with the next sentence. “And one day Jesus will call my name.” Hallelujah. That makes it all worthwhile! Then I remember, wow, how fortunate I am. Not everyone looks forward to that day. But He called me out of darkness into His marvelous light!

Again the lyrics remind me that putting myself first, which in the US is so “normal,” are the days to curse!!! It means I have forgotten that indeed all will not be called by name by the Lord. And, I share responsibility in that because I have forgotten and/or neglected to share His love.

Oh but wait, I don’t have to beat myself up and claim unworthiness because of my selfishness. Look at that next phrase “the cross made that plain.” In other words, it’s not what I do but who I am. I am a child of God, my life is hidden in Christ. Does this give me license to do whatever I want? Indeed not. It makes me remember what price has been paid for me to have that privilege. And I am renewed just thinking and knowing that one day Jesus will indeed call my name. In the meantime, as the Apostle Paul said in 1Cor2:2: I am determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I do want to draw so close to Him and to have Him live through me so that others see Him. Sometimes it seems impossible but with God, ALL things are possible.

Check out the song, One Day by Lynda Randall on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qz58xcJHAJ4&start_radio=1&list=RDQz58xcJHAJ4.  I hope it ministers to you as much as it has to me.

GOD ON THE MOUNTAIN

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Life is easy, when you’re up on the mountain
And you’ve got peace of mind, like you’ve never known
But things change, when you’re down in the valley
Don’t lose faith, for you’re never alone
For the God on the mountain, is the God in the valley
When things go wrong, He’ll make them right
And the God of the good times
Is still God in the bad times
The God of the day is still God in the night
We talk of faith way up on the mountain
Talk comes so easy when life’s at its best
Now down in the valleys, of trials and temptations
That’s where your faith, is really put to the test
For the God on the mountain is the God in the valley
When things go wrong, He’ll make them right
And the God of the good times
Is still God in the bad times
The God of the day, is still God in the night
The God of the day, is still God in the nigh   (Lyrics as sung by Lynda Randal)

In our typical American days and weeks, being bombarded with all sorts of negativity, it is so very easy to be “down.” I don’t know what triggers you, but for me it is loneliness, lack of finances, the feeling of uselessness, and frankly growing older. The devil, being who he is, doesn’t bring these things on us one at a time in order for us to deal with them systematically; but rather, he brings them all at once! When he does, the valleys of life seem so deep and so never-ending that often times we feel despair and that God, Himself, has left us. We begin to think that we alone, abandoned.

Down in that valley is where we need to remember that God is still there with us and has given his rod (discipline) and staff (authority) to comfort us. It is there that the Word is somehow drawn out of us (assuming you put in there in the first place) and we recall that it is not God who has abandoned us but rather the accusations and trials have come from the enemy, an enemy who God said we are to condemn (Is 54:17).

As we rise up to take that authority, we realize God has been with us all along. He was still God in those bad times. And He is, as the above lyrics say, God of the day AND God of the night. When it seems like Friday, we must remember that Sunday is coming, that God has a plan for our lives, and that we have the victory. Hallelujah! Our God reigns.

LESSONS FROM BALAAM

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The story of Balaam, the soothsayer, is in the Book of Numbers, chapters 22-24 with New Testament writers warning about Balaam on three separate occasions. With that in mind, the story must contain important lessons for us.

Balaam is a strange and intriguing personality. He is a baffling combination of supernatural spiritual gifts and corrupt character. Sometimes we can see this combination in ministers and leaders today.

When the story of Balaam opens, Israel is encamped on the border of Canaan. The King of Moab, Balak, was apparently afraid of the Israelites. Balak viewed the Israelites as a threat to his kingdom, although they had done nothing to justify his fear.

Feeling unable to confront Israel in battle, Balak decided to use spiritual weapons against them. He sent some of his princes, with a fee for divination in their hands, to the Israelites. Balak called for Balaam to come and put a curse on Israel. As a soothsayer, Balaam had a reputation for uttering blessings or curses with a powerful effect for good or evil.

It is interesting to note that Balaam came from a town in Mesopotamia. He was not an Israelite, yet he had direct personal knowledge of the one true God. In Numbers 22:18 Balaam refers to God as “my God” and knew his sacred name.

When Balak’s princes arrived, God told Balaam not to go with them and not to curse Israel. Balaam obeyed. So Balak sends a larger party of more honorable princes with a promise of a much greater reward. This time God gave Balaam permission to go on one condition: “If the men come to call you” (Numbers 22:20). Interestingly enough, there is no record that the men did come to call Balaam again. Yet he went, and by his disobedience incurred the anger of the Lord, who opposed him on his journey and nearly killed him. This is a great side story of how the donkey Balaam was riding saw an angel blocking their way and even spoke to Balaam when he began to punish the donkey. Finally, however, the Lord did release Balaam to go but with the condition: “Only the word that I speak to you, that you shall speak” (Numbers 22:35).

Balak welcomed Balaam and made the most elaborate preparations for him to curse Israel. But each time the result was exactly the opposite. Altogether Balaam uttered four prophecies, which are among the most beautiful and powerful revelations in Scripture of God’s irrevocable commitment to bless Israel.

Thwarted by God in his attempt to curse Israel, Balaam proposed a different strategy against her (see Numbers 31:16). If the Moabite women could entice the Israelites into idolatry and immorality, it would not be necessary to curse them! God Himself would bring judgment upon them. Balaam’s second strategy succeeded and 24,000 Israelites perished under God’s judgment (see Numbers 25:1-9).

In all of this Balaam displayed the most amazing inconsistency. More than once he had been explicitly forbidden to curse Israel. Further, by supernatural revelation he had four times affirmed God’s unchanging purpose to bless Israel and to judge her enemies. But he stubbornly persisted in cooperating with Balak, the enemy of Israel, and in plotting Israel’s destruction. (Eventually he was executed along with the kings of Midian—Numbers 31:8.)

This story leaves us to ask ourselves: What motive could be powerful and compelling that it would cause Balaam to act in direct opposition to the revelation he had received from God—to his own ultimate destruction? Two writers of the New Testament answer this question.

Speaking of false teachers in the Church, Peter says: “They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the sone of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 2:15).

Jude likewise, speaking of false teachers, says: They…have run greedily in the error Balaam for profit: (Jude 11).

The answer is clear. Balaam was tempted to his own destruction by the love of money. For this he was willing to prostitute his marvelous spiritual gifts. Probably he was flattered too by the attention he received from King Balak and his princes. The love of money is closely associated with the desire for popularity and for power. All of these evil lusts grow out of the selfsame soil: pride. Sounds like some of our church and government leaders, doesn’t it?

What are the lessons to learn?

First, Almighty God has made an irrevocable commitment to establish the Jews as His people forever (get over it if you think otherwise). There is no power in the world, human or satanic, that can ever annul this commitment. Even Israel’s own unfaithfulness can never annul God’s faithfulness.

Speaking to Israel, Balaam says: “Blessed is he who blesses you, and cursed is he who curses you.” Individuals and nations alike determine their destiny—often without being aware of it—by their attitude toward the Jews. Those who bless are blessed and those who curse are cursed!

Second, one of Satan’s strongest and most successful weapons against us is the love of money. This has been true from the earliest days of Christianity until now. A ministry accompanied buy powerful supernatural signs—especially miracles of healing—can almost always become a means of making money.

Paul contrasted his own ministry with that of many of his contemporaries with these words: “Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit” (2 Corinthians 2:17 NIV emphasis added).

Money in itself is not evil. By nature, money is neutral. It can be used however for either good or for evil. When we begin to love money, then we are caught in Satan’s snare. Look at Paul’s solemn warning to us:

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into

 many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.

 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed

from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

(1 Timothy 6:9-10)

Third, we need to understand the difference between spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit. Gifts represent ability, but fruit represents character. A gift comes through a brief impartation from God, but fruit comes through a slow process of development. Receiving a spiritual gift does not, in itself, change a person’s character. If a person was proud or unrelieable or deceitful before receiving a spiritual gift, that person will still be proud or unreliable or deceitful after receiving it. When we pass from time to eternity, we will leave our gifts behind, but our character will be with us forever.

Balaam’s clear vision of the blessed end that awaits the righteous is shown by his prayer: “Let me die the death of the righteous and let my end be like his!” (Numbers 23:10).Yet Balaam’s prayer was not granted. He was executed with the Moabites, whose money had tempted him to align himself against God.

Balaam’s story and the lessons learned from it are so current, not only in the Church but in our government as well. Each day in this election year greed among our officials and candidates for the highest offices in the land seems to be the driving force. Public service has become a means to great wealth. Certainly “service” is a misnomer these days. Not only greed but lying, cheating, and stealing, have become the norm and seemingly what the public accepts as normal.

Let’s learn from Balaam that obedience to the word of God is a means to much greater wealth than the world can offer. Character outweighs gifts. The fate of Balaam provides a graphic illustration of Jesus’ teaching given in Matthew 7:21-23:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who

does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we

not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders

 in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me,

 you who practice lawlessness.

HANUKKAH AND JESUS

imgres (Hanukkah begins December                                                                                       12, 2017 at sundown.)

Around the 4th. Century b.c.e., Alexander the Great with his Greek armies conquered the near east including what is now called Israel.  After his death, his empire split apart.  The land of Israel came under the control of the Seleucid dynasty, which ruled in the region of Syria.  In the year 167 b.c.e., King Antiochus Epiphanes decided to force all the people under his rule to Hellenize (to become like the Greeks).  The practice of Jewish rituals such as the Sabbath and circumcision was outlawed.  The worship of Greek gods and sacrifice of pigs replaced the traditional worship in the Temple.  Some Jews eagerly flocked to the gymnasium, the symbol of the Greek emphasis on the beauty and strength of the body.  Others resisted Hellenism and died as martyrs.

One day the Greeks came to the village of Modi’in and set up an altar.  They commanded the Jews to bring a pig as a sacrifice to show obedience to Antiochus.  Mattathias, an old priest, was so enraged when he saw a Jew about to kill the pig on the altar, that he killed him.  He and his five sons then fought the Greek detachment, retreated to the mountains, and began a guerrilla war against the Greeks and their Jewish allies.  Before he died of old age, Mattathias passed on the leadership of the clan to his son, Judah the Maccabee.  Judah led his forces against a series of armies sent by Antiochus; and through superior strategy and bravery he defeated them all.  Finally, he and his followers liberated Jerusalem and reclaimed the temple from its defilement by the Greeks.  They could find only one small curse of oil, enough to last one day.  But when they lit the temple Menorah (the oil lamp) with it, a miracle occurred.  The Menorah burned for eight days.

So, we celebrate Hanukkah to remember the Maccabees and their successful fight for justice and to remember the miracle of light.

There are two very special themes and symbols that pertain to Hanukkah.  They are the number eight and the theme of light.  In chapter 10:22 of the Gospel of John, Jesus went into the Temple to teach. The Gospel tells us it was the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah.

The major ritual associated with Hanukkah is the lighting of the Menorah—the purpose of which is to make known the miracle of the light.  Originally the Menorah was lit outside near the doorstep so that all passers-by could see it.  It is still customary to place the Menorah in the window so that passers-by can see the lights (this little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine!)  Jesus taught in Matthew, chapter 5:  “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, who is in heaven.”

A note about Menorahs:  usually eight candles or oil holders are placed on one level, with the “shammus” (servant) being the singled-out one that is used to light the other lights.  Wow, that speaks volumes of Jesus, doesn’t it? After all, it was Jesus who came as a servant to relight the light in mankind. Menorahs are also called Hanukiahs in Israel and on the Israeli ones it says:  a miracle happened here.  On the U.S. ones, the ones with this saying actually read “a miracle happened there.”

Traditionally, the shammus is lit and then before the other candles are lit, the following prayers are said:

“Praise are you, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has sanctified our lives through his commandments, commanding us to kindle the Hanukkah lights.  Praised are you, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who performed miracles for our ancestors, in those days, at this season.”

On the first night an added prayer is said:  “Praised are you, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and helping us to reach this moment.” Then the shamus is used to light the other candles.  The candles are lit from right to left.

These lights are sacred for all eight days of Hanukkah.  It is forbidden to make use of them, except to look at them in order to praise God for his miracles, wonders, and triumphs.

There are two customs associated with Hanukkah:  the giving of gelt (money) to children and the playing of the game dreidle.  The “gelt” is usually in the form of chocolate coins.  Dreidle is a top that is spun and on each of the four sides is the Hebrew letters: nun, gimel, heh, and shin.  This forms an acronym for the phrase “neis gadol hayah sham—or “a great miracle happened there.”  And, once again, in Israel the letter shin is replaced with a peh for the poh—so that it reads:  “a great miracle happened here.”  Another interesting fact is that each of these letters (nun, gimel, hey and shin) has a numerical equivalent that adds up to 358, the same number as the letters of the word “messiah.”  It is the Messiah who is the author of miracles!

Secondly, it is customary to eat foods fried in oil, to remind us of the miracle of the oil.  So we eat latkes—potato pancakes. Here is a popular recipe:  3 large potatoes, 1 small onion, 2 beaten eggs, ½ cup of vegetable oil and salt and pepper to taste.  These are then usually eaten with applesauce or with sour cream.

During the eight days and nights of light, the Maccabees cleaned, purified and rededicated the Temple.  In the Torah (the first five books of Moses), dedications take place on the eight day—remember the first-born animals are consecrated to God on the eighth day.  Hebrew boys are circumcised on the eighth day.  And, even today, before a sanctuary can be rededicated, it must undergo a seven-day period of purification.  Thus, the word ‘Hanukkah’ means rededication and also the number 8 signifies the same in Hebrew tradition.

The last day of Hanukkah has a special significance.  It is called “zot Hanukkah” which literally means  “this is Hanukkah.”  This is the time when the menorah is at its brightest (Psalms tells us that the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn that grows brighter and brighter until the full day).  And that is what the fully lit Menorah represents.  This number eight carries a special meaning.  It is one beyond completion.  Seven is completion.  When creation was complete, God rested.  Seven marks the limits of time and eight is beyond time.  Eight signifies the eternal.  So the eighth day is the essence of Hanukkah and a reminder of the light that is ever present in this world.

Thus, Hanukkah is the time of dedication and renewal.  The old altars that have become impure, are torn down and we rededicate ourselves and our temple to the service of God.

Since Jesus said he was the light of the world (and the Menorah represents God’s gift of light) I would like you to consider the following:  light gives of itself freely, filling all available space.  It does not seek anything in return; it asks not whether you are friend or foe.  It gives of itself and is not thereby diminished.  So, if His light is in us, are we not to do the same?

PROOF TEXTING WHAT IS IT AND WHY IS IT SO PREVALENT TODAY?

Proof texting is a method by which a person appeals to a Biblical text to prove or justify their theological position or belief without regard for the context of the passage they are citing. While proof texting is often used in the theological realm, today we are seeing it surface in just about every area of life.

When we study the Bible there are many forms of “criticism” that must be used. For instance there is Text Criticism that aims to determine the process by which a Hebrew text has been transmitted and comes to exist in its various forms. It also tries to establish the original wording of the text and consequently what is the best form for the modern reader.

Another form of criticism is Historical Criticism which is concerned with the context of the passage or writing. Some questions asked would be: what specific historical situation is described, what was the cultural situation or event that is being dealt with, and why was the passage written in the first place.

Then there is Grammatical and Literary Criticism. These focus on the composition, structure, and mood of the text. Also what themes are in the text, what is the style of the text, and are there breaks in the continuity of thought of the passage or text. Is an acrostic feature being used? Or a chiasm used for parallels or comparisons?

Another form of criticism is Form Criticism which is concerned with not only form but also genre and the “Sitz im Leben” (situation in life) of the unit or passage. So, is it oracle; and if so, what form does it take? What genre are we dealing with: a psalm of lament or thanksgiving, a hymn, a narrative, an apocalypse? What is the situation in life: was it composed, used, read in the home, around the campfire, at the royal court, at the city gate, on the steps of the Temple? Asking all of these questions can help us more fully understand what is being said.

How is tradition involved? Tradition Criticism looks at how the story “grew” over long periods of time. How has the author adapted the tradition; has he or she added to or subtracted from the tradition.

Finally, there is Redaction Criticism that looks at the final form and author of a passage or manuscript. What changes have been made? Has something been added to the text? Is there a final interpretation that is different from the original author?

Anyone who wants to study the Bible has to be aware of these techniques in order to fully understand the Bible’s message and meaning. Yet so few take the time to be critical in their thinking (not only regarding the Bible but other writings and philosophies on life as well) or to study and delve into meaning. Yet, that is our responsibility, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, we live in a world of “snippets” today: Twitter, Face Book, the News, headlines. In fact, we don’t even know who the authors are most times. Pseudonyms are hidden behind to mask the fear of “being found out.”  Take a short snippet, put it on your Face Book page or Twitter time line to prove your point all the while knowing your “followers” won’t read the source; but rather, will applaud you for your insight. And why not, that is exactly what the media does. News stories in thirty seconds because the public doesn’t seem to want any more. Reporters who put forth their opinion as fact are the norm today. This is proof texting and it is in all areas of life.

But where does the responsibility lie? Even though we don’t like to admit it, it lies with us. We need to demand more of ourselves and others; but we don’t. Knocking, seeking, asking are no longer to be desired. Just give me a short sermon (no more than fifteen minutes) entertain me with song, tell me I’m good so that I can feel good about myself, and send me home till the next week. Repeat. And please whatever you do, don’t ask me to think or reason, I just want to relax and “do my thing.”

Today the common expression is “I get my news on the internet.” I needn’t tell you how dangerous that is do I? Read an analysis? I haven’t the time. I am busy cramming myself with food, drink, drugs, and meaningless activities. I have no time to just “be” and think and read. Just tell me what to think. Our schools are like this—“teach” the kids to pass the test. Tell them the questions, and then tell them the answers!

I saw a short “snippet” today used to disparage an author and his beliefs. The quote used was taken completely out of context; yet the person writing it didn’t seem to care. In fact the “quote” was really a re-quote, cut, pasted, and photoshopped. So who really knows what the original author said and in what context it was being said. Yet none of this seems to matter today. I found it very disturbing and indicative of our society. It is a sad commentary and unfortunately the dumbing of our society continues. Sadder still is that our leadership (in the Church, government, wherever) exploits this. They seem to know we are ignorant and apathetic, and use it to their advantage; not only taking our money but our minds as well. As a society, we must return to critical thinking if we are to survive. If not, we will be led to slaughter and it will be our own doing.