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The Angel Among the Myrtle Trees

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The Old Testament book of Zechariah contains perhaps the most Messianic prophecies among the Minor Prophets (minor in terms of amount written, not importance). The first eight chapters of Zechariah contain visions concerning such topics as the restoration of post-exile Israel, the restoration of the priesthood, and the coming of the Messiah, to name a few. I will attempt to study Zechariah’s vision found in Zechariah 1:8-17.

If we were to place a date on Zechariah’s ministry, he received his call during the reign of Darius (Zechariah 1:1), around November 520 B.C. The first of Zechariah’s eight visions came three months later (Zechariah 1:7).

“I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom; and behind him were there red horses, speckled, and white.” (Zechariah 1:8, KJV).

The color red throughout the Bible represents blood, as in bloodshed, whether through war or Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. The Book of Revelation portrays Christ on a white horse, symbolozing purity and victory. Thus, the man on the red horse is a preincarnate Christ, who will conquer sin and the nations, and ultimately bring peace to Israel, as our text later explains.

The myrtle trees are also significant, as the myrtle tree is an evergreen/bush, which gives off a fragrant aroma. The fact that the myrtle trees are in a bottom (valley or hollow), symbolizes beauty and restoration coming out of a low, valley experience (Israel’s seventy year exile to Babylon).

Zechariah then asked for clarification of his vision: “Then said I, O my lord, what are these? And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will show thee what these be. And the man that stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, These are they whom the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth.” (Zechariah 1:9-10, KJV).

This group of men are angels sent by God to patrol the earth. The angel of the Lord who stood among the myrtle trees was the commanding officer so to speak, and gave their report.

“And they answered the angel of the Lord that stood among the myrtle trees, and said, We have walked to and fro through the earth, and, behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest.” (Zechariah 1:11, KJV).

The world, or the world’s system is at rest, while Israel seeks to restore their nation to its previous state. The angel of the Lord intercedes for Israel: “Then the angel of the Lord answered and said, O Lord of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these threescore and ten years?”(Zechariah 1:12, KJV).

The term “Lord of hosts” is a military term and always refers to God. The threescore and ten years is 70 years (a score is 20 years), or the length of the Exile. If you look at how the other angels spoke with the angel who stood among the myrtle trees and how that same angel interceded for God’s people, we can state that the angel is the preincarnate Christ, who is praying to God the Father on behalf of His people. (See also Romans 8:34).

“And the LORD answered the angel that talked with me with good words and comfortable words.”(Zechariah 1:13, KJV).

Next, the preincarnate Christ gives Zechariah a prophetic message for the people:

“So the angel that communed with me said unto me, Cry thou, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy. And I am very sore displeased with the heathen that are at ease: for I was but a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction.” (Zechariah 1:14-15, KJV).

God used the nations to execute judgment on Israel’s unrepentant sin, but now God will punish the nations, who are at ease and peace in their sins. This I believe is comprable to the world system of today and how the world has grown at ease with sin and wickedness, yet the Lord’s judgment is coming.

God promises the restoration of Jerusalem, the temple, and prosperity: “Therefore thus saith the Lord, I am returned to Jerusalem with mercies: my house shall be built in it, saith the Lord of hosts, and a line shall be stretched forth upon Jerusalem. Cry yet, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; My cities though prosperity shall yet be spread abroad; and the Lord shall yet comfort Zion, and shall yet choose Jerusalem.” (Zechariah 1:16-17, KJV).

No matter the valleys or exiles we face in our own lives, we can take comfort in God’s Word. God will restore us when we repent of our sins. When we turn to the Lord, he will replace the stench of death and sin, with beauty and the fragrant aroma of our salvation.

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The Reprobate Mind

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“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27, KJV.

Absolute truth is under attack in Western culture. Truth has now become subjective, as the phrase “my truth” has entered the cultural vernacular. Also, there are many people who refuse to let the facts get in the way of their narrative or ideology. Our society has become so immorally accommodating, that many people, Christians included, are afraid to speak God’s truth for fear of offending someone. I believe the Bible is the Holy Word of God and what God declared still stands as absolute truth, the standard by which all morality must be judged.

However, we are all sinners and have fallen short of God’s standard of perfection (Romans 3:23). Yet, God in His mercy gives us all the opportunity to receive salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ, who redeemed us from our sins by dying for us. Yet, there are many who like Pharoah in the story of Exodus, will harden their hearts and refuse the Gospel, God’s free gift of salvation. When people reject the Gospel, there are certain phrases you will hear:

“God would never send anybody to hell.”

“I’m a good person; I’m not Hitler or anything.”

“Judge not lest you be judged.”

Well, first, God does not send anyone to hell, but our sins separate us from God. Rejection of the Gospel leads to eternal damnation. Secondly, comparing yourself to the worst person in history or even your next door neighbor does not make you any less of a sinner. Third, I’m not judging you, I’m telling you the truth in love. There are numerous other excuses people give for not following Christ, but time doesn’t permit me to get into them.

Is it possible for a person to become so hardened in their hearts, so entrenched in their sins,that God will reject them? The answer is yes. The theological term is reprobation.

Reprobation “is derived from the Latin reprobatus, past participle of the verb reprobare, “to reprove,” and refers to the fact that God has condemned the nonelect to eternal punishment for their sins.”1

To unpack that statement, reprobation is God’s rejection of those who refuse to hear or accept the Gospel. God will give people over to their sins and eternal punishment is the penalty for our sins. The concept of people being reprobates is found in both the Old and New Testaments.

We must understand that God is patient and wants all to come to Christ, but there will be those who reject God. In the Old Testament, God would send prophets to Israel and later Judah to repent of their sins, or judgment would be coming. The judgment often came in the form of an invading nation, a plague, a famine, or a drought. When Israel and Judah repented of their sins, God’s judgment was lifted.

Jeremiah pronounced God’s judgment on Judah:

“O daughter of my people, gird thee with sackcloth, and wallow thyself in ashes: make thee mourning, as for an only son, most bitter lamentation: for the spoiler shall suddenly come upon us. I have set thee for a tower and a fortress among my people, that thou mayest know and try their way. They are all grievous revolters, walking with slanders: they are brass and iron; they are all corrupters. The bellows are burned, the lead is consumed of the fire; the founder melteth in vain: for the wicked are not plucked away. Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the Lord hath rejected them.” (Jeremiah 6:26-30, KJV).

God is using a metal refining metaphor to describe Judah’s sin. When a metal such as gold or silver are refined, they are melted in a fire to remove the impurities in the metals. If the metal is not pure, it’s rejected and thrown back into the fire. The Hebrew word for reprobate is Ma’ac (Strong’s #3988), which means to reject, refuse, or despise. So, God is rejecting Judah because of their impurities (sin), which they refuse to remove from themselves. Even with the harshest of God’s punishments on Israel and Judah, God gave them time to repent of their sins. God is patient with us when He allows us to live to see a new day.

Characteristics of a Reprobate Mind

The New Testament, Paul’s Epistles in particular, discuss the issue and characteristics of a reprobate mind.

“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy,murder, debate, deceit,malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud boasters, inventors of evil things,disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death,not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” (Romans 1:28-32, KJV).

Paul writes a similar list in 2 Timothy, verses 1-9. Scripture makes it clear that someone with a reprobate mind is not someone who commits one sin, one time, but someone who is living in open rebellion to God. These people may know the seriousness of what they’re doing and the consequences, but they still go ahead and do the wicked things they do. Once someone begins to indulge a reprobate mind, their conscience can become hardened toward God’s Holy Spirt (1 Timothy 4:2).

The Greek word for reprobate, Adokimos (Strong’s 3988), means not standing the test, rejected.

Reprobates and False Teachers

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus and the apostles dedicate a lot of teaching to warning believers about false teachers. 1 John 2 discusses false teachers within the church and Paul discussed false teachers among the Jews, who tried to place stumbling blocks along the path a Jews who came to Christ.

“Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him,being abominable, and disobedient, and unto everygoodwork reprobate.”(Titus 1:15-16, KJV).

We must examine ourselves

Once we are made aware of our sins, we have the choice to receive God’s mercy or reject His mercy. If we ask for God’s forgiveness and turn away from our sins, our consciences can be clear in Christ. However, if we make the choice to reject mercy, we will be out of fellowship with God, which could lead to rejection. We must make a concious effort to examine our spirits everyday. We must choose the right path and reject the wrong path, which leads only to destruction. We must do as Paul instructed the Church at Corinth:

“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates.” (2 Corinthians 13:5, KJV).

As we go forward in our walk with God, may we examine our thoughts and our ways, to make sure we are in proper standing with Christ. If we have veered off track, Christ can place back onto the path. You are not so far away that God cannot save you. While we have today, let us reach out for the free gift of grace. God bless.

1Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Ed. Edited by Walter A. Ewell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001: 1012 “Reprobation.”

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But God

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But. A three letter word that means, “Ignore everything I just said.”

“You’re a great guy and all, but I think of you more as a friend.”

“Your resume and qualifications are impressive, but we have decided to go in a different direction.”

“Dinner was great, but it could have used more seasoning.”

We don’t like to hear “but,” because we know rejection or a backhanded compliment is soon to follow. However, there are times when hearing but can be a good thing. The world will judge you by your past, appearance, mistakes, and anything else their crooked, pointy fingers can find, but when we place our faith in Christ, God accepts us as we are. “But God” is a beautiful phrase found in Scripture.

“But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah”

(Psalm 49:15, KJV).

“My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.”

(Psalm 73:26,KJV).

“But God raised him [Jesus] from the dead.” (Acts 13:30, KJV).

“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, KJV).

“But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart thatform of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” (Romans 6:17, KJV).

“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is commonto man: but Godis faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, KJV).

“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).” (Ephesians 2:4-5, KJV).

As you go about your days, be blessed and may the Lord keep you.

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The Missing NIV Verses-Mark

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This post is the second in a series comparing the King James Version (KJV) and the missing or altered verses in the New International Version (NIV). I will place the verses side-by-side and describe what has been left out and why it is so important.

Mark 6:11 (KJV) “11 And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city.

Mark 6:11 (NIV) “11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

The context of Mark 6:11 details Jesus sending out His disciples to preach the Gospel. Jesus is warning His disciples that not everyone will receive or accept the message of Christ. Jesus is reminding the disciples that God’s judgment will fall on anyone who has rejected the Gospel. Jesus is using Sodom and Gomorrah to illustrate the severity of God’s judgment for those who reject Him. The only way we can escape God’s judgment is by placing our faith in Christ.

Mark 7:15-16 (KJV) “15 There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come out of him, those are they that defile the man. 16 If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.

Mark 7:15 (NIV) “15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, there are many words God and the inspired writers use to emphasize their points. In Mark 7:16, Jesus says “If any man have ears to hear; let him hear,” as a way to get the audience to focus in on His words. In context, Jesus is speaking against outward, religious shows of piety- dressing a certain way, eating or not eating specific foods, saying all of the right things, following rituals and not working on the inner person. We can do and say all of the right things on the outside, but it will never change us from within our spirits. If we focus inwardly- on our hearts, our thoughts, our behaviors, then we will make the necessary changes. Jesus doesn’t want rituals, He wants us to have a dynamic spiritual life.

Mark 9:43-46 (KJV) “43 And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: 44 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. 45 And if thy footoffend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched. 46 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”

Verses 44 and 46 are quotations from Isaiah 66:24, which discusses the punishment of the wicked. The full quote in context is: “And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die; neither shall their fire be quenched ;and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:24, KJV).

Mark 9:43, 45 (NIV) “43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell,where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.”

Once again, the NIV is downplaying the reality and severity of hell and God’s judgment.

Mark 11:24-26 (KJV) “24 Therefore I say unto you, what things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. 25 And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.”

Mark 11:24-25 (NIV) “24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believed that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Jesus in verse 26 of the King James text is describing the end consequence of unforgiveness- that God will not forgive our trespasses if we don’t forgive others. If we live our lives with continual hate and unforgiveness, our Christian walk, our prayer life, and our effectiveness for the kingdom will be hampered. The NIV explains that we need to forgive others, but by eliminating verse 26, the why, i.e. the end consequence is omitted, which could deeply affect someone’s relationship with God.

Mark 15:27-28 (KJV) “27 And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left. 28 And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.”

Mark 15:27 (NIV) “27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left.”

Once again, the NIV text has eliminated a prophecy from Isaiah, this time it’s Isaiah 53:12: “Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (KJV).

These Last Days present challenges for all believers and we must remain strong in our faith. We must stand for truth and be discerning for false teachings and doctrines which creep into our Bibles and pulpits. Please remain alert and vigilant. God bless.

Walking the Ancient Path

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“The Road Not Taken” is perhaps the most famous poem written by the American poet Robert Frost. In the poem,a traveler in the woods comes across two paths- one path was well worn from frequent travel and the other looked much newer, less traveled. The traveler chose the road less traveled and it made all the difference in his life.

It’s human nature to do things our way- we want make our own path in life. The younger generations will always discount the wisdom of the older generations. However, if we were to take the time to listen to our elders, there is much wisdom to be gained. No matter what we have gone through in life,the older generations have gone through the same things we have and possibly harder times. So why would we spend a lifetime making our own mistakes when we can learn from the lessons and mistakes of others?

What if we were to take the road well travelled? I believe we would probably encounter less obstacles because of the witness of those who have gone before. I see the same issues occuring in the modern American church.

I set foot inside of a Baptist church this past Sunday, the first time I’ve set foot in one since college. This church was in a non-descript building, off of a major road. There was no fancy band- just the pastor on an acoustic guitar and another gentleman playing a stand-up bass. The lyrics to the songs were not on a large projection screen, but in the hymn book located on the wooden pews. The message was not part of a four part series with four points, but a fiery sermon preached out of the King James Bible. There were not hundreds or thousands of people in the services, but possibly 75 people. Just a simple country church with the pure Gospel and a warning of hell for those who didn’t believe. Of course not the most seeker-friendly message, but a powerful word the Church needs to preach in the U.S. and around the world.

I had to look up the exact verse, but Jeremiah came to mind- Jeremiah 6:16 from the King James says, “Thus saith the Lord, stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, we will not walk therein.”

If the church is to survive, we must get back to the old paths- we must preach the true Gospel,no matter how offensive it may be to modern oversensitive ears. Your church might have plenty of seats filled, but how many of them are getting saved?

Scripture gives us plenty of examples of what happened when the Israelites wandered off the path. I’m just going to list a few examples, but I encourage you to study this further. All verses are from the King James version.

Jeremiah 7:23-24: “But this thing commanded I them, saying, obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people: and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you. But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.”

Isaiah 59:7-8: “ Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are the thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths. The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace.”

I believe God is warning our current generation about the evil,death, and destruction in our current day. It’s time for the church to quit being a self-help center and preach the word in this season!

Jesus has paved the way for us and He will guide us along the path, as God has promised in Scripture

Isaiah 42:16: “And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and make crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.”

Just as the wisdom of the elders is avaliable to everyone who has an older parent, grandparent, or family member, so is God’s wisdom and direction to walk the ancient paths available to us. It’s in His word. All we have to do is ask and seek. As David put so wonderfully in the Psalms.

Psalm 25:4-5: Show me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me:for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.”

Psalm 23:3: “He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”

We will see God’s guidance along our path as Proverbs states.

Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart;and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” Some other translations may say “make your paths straight.

Proverbs 4:10-11: Hear, O my son,and receivemy sayings; and the years of thy life shall be many. I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in the right paths.

In order for us to get back on the ancient paths, we have to start lifting and walking.I’m not talking about joining a gym, but strengthening our spirits,as the writer of Hebrews puts it:

Hebrews 12:12-13: “Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; butlet it rather be healed.”

In these last days, we must work out our salvation, because the time is short. If you have wandered off the path, get back on it. Take the well worn path and you will find the Lord. If you don’t know the Lord, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, believe you’re a sinner,confess your sins to God and allow Christ in your life. You will be on the greatest path of all- the path to heaven.

Moses’ Call to Obedience

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The Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy serves as a transitional piece of literature. On one hand, Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell to the Israelites while on the other hand, Deuteronomy sees the Israelites’ final preparation to enter the Promise Land.

Moses, because of a disobedient act (Numbers 20:8), was unable to lead the Israelites into the Promise Land. Moses was preparing to die and addressed the Israelites three times in Deuteronomy- 1:1-4:43, 4:44-28:68, and 29:1-30:20. I’ll be discussing elements from the first farewell address, specifically, Deuteronomy chapter four. While yes, the Israelites are the intended audience, and by extension, the Jewish people, I believe there are principles in this passage which also apply to modern day Christians.

Moses reminds them of their uniqueness as God’s people

“See I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear all about these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to Him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-8, NIV).

Christianity is also unique among the world’s faiths. In other religions, the focus is solely on trying to do good deeds and hoping that your good deeds will outweigh the bad deeds. Maybe the other religions find themselves tripped up with rituals and man’s traditions. In essence, you have to work for your god’s approval. However, in Christianity, God provided a way for us to come to Him, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We must acknowledge our sins and accept Christ and we enter into a relationship with God; it’s really that simple. Just as Israel’s obedience to God’s laws made them unique among the nations, so too should our devotion to Christ make Christians stand out from the world around us.

We must always remember and share God’s teachings

“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (Deuteronomy 4:9, NIV).

We must keep ourselves from idols

During biblical times, an idol was something worshipped as a god. These idols, of course were manmade and were shaped as people, animals, gods, etc. Idolatry is forbidden in both the Old and New Testaments. The reason idolatry is forbidden is we are not worshipping the One True God. We are worshipping an idol of a bird as opposed to the Creator of said bird. Idol worship still occurs today, although in different forms as biblical times. Have you ever though about the things you put before your relationship with God? Money, your electronic devices, the pursuit of fame, sports, material possessions are all examples of objects we can turn into an idol. We must be careful to put God first in our lives.

“Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that He made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deuteronomy 4:23-24, NIV).

God is open to receive us when we stray

Throughout the Old Testament, Israel and later Judah, would stray from God and worship the gods of other nations. God would bring judgment on His people, they would repent, God would forgive, and the cycle would start over in time. Israel was the embodiment of the Prodigal Son parable as Jesus spoke of in Luke 15. There have been times in my twenty plus years of being a Christian that I have wondered from God’s ways. However, our God is a forgiving God who has welcomed me and countless others into the fold. God warned the Israelites of the consequences for their continued disobedience, but He also said He would be there when they came to their senses.

“But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey Him. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; He will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which He confirmed to them by oath.” (Deuteronomy 4:29-31, NIV).

Obedience to God is acknowledging Him and His Word

If we stay in right relationship with God and obey His teachings, we will experience more joy and less frustration in this life. Putting things together is always easier when we read the instructions.

“Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. Keep His decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time.” (Deuteronomy 4:39-40, NIV).

As we go about our days, even in the midst of turbulent times, let us remember the Word and commands of the Lord. God’s truth is still truth, even if the world tries to define its own truth. Be blessed.

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Choose Life, Choose Christ

By Michael W. Raley

What if we could extend God’s grace to those around us?

What if we could embody love in a time of anger and hate?

In a time of hedonistic pleasure,

The call for a return to virtue goes almost unheeded.

People choose to live by their own truths

Instead of the universal truths of God.

There are those who call out their own virtue

Without understanding the true nature of justice, righteousness, and love,

Bringing shame and humiliation to anyone who may disagree.

Brothers and sisters, this ought not be so.

Though we may have different skin tones and languages,

We bleed the same red blood.

However, the time has come for us

To stop shedding the innocent blood,

To stop the hate, the violence, the ridicule

And the mob mentality.

For our Lord is calling us to a time with Him,

A quiet time of prayer and reflection.

Perhaps it is a time of listening to the Lord

From His holy hill, allowing Him to transform us

Into who we should be,

Not what the world wants us to be.

The Lord is calling us to a spiritual paradox-

We must separate ourselves from the darkness

While being a light in that same darkness.

Choose this day whom you will serve-

The day or the night?

The darkness or the light?

Death or life?

Virtue or sin?

Choose Christ and choose freedom.

2 Thessalonians and the Lawless Times

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The United States is experiencing a time of lawlessness, the extent of which I have not witnessed in my lifetime. The politicizing of the Coronavirus, protests for social justice, and the rioters who have taken advantage of said protests have created a tinderbox of lawlessness.

In major cities all across the country, mayors have ordered police departments to stand down as these cities have been burned and destroyed, which give them the appearance of a war zone. There are increasing calls to defund police departments and there is certainly no respect for the government or the president. I’m not going to inject my personal politics into this discussion, but I want to use this unruly time to draw a biblical parallel.

In the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, he takes the time to clarify the End Times timeline. From the text, it appears that someone either inside or outside the Church of Thessalonica has spread the message that Jesus’ return (the day of the Lord) has already past. This news, of course, has upset many members of the church. However, Paul takes the time to reassure the believers of the sequence of events.

“Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2, NASB).

Imagine the feeling that you missed Jesus’ return or you missed the rapture. The Thessalonian Church members must have felt devastated and hopeless. Paul goes on:

“Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.  Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-6, NASB).

First we will see people fall away from Church teaching and people will began to live their lives as they see fit (1 Timothy 4:1-2 and 2 Timothy 3:1-7; 4:2-4). We can definitely draw a parallel to our times and Paul’s teaching to the Thessalonians.

Out of this chaos, a leader is going to rise, who of course will be the Antichrist. An interesting side note, the term anarchist means “without a ruler,” thus someone who doesn’t want to live by the rules, especially God’s rules. So under the guise of this false freedom, the Antichrist will demand worship. Paul’s reminder of his previous teaching is also a reminder for us to turn back to God’s teachings.

The current state of the world is nothing new, as there has always been rebellion against authority and God. The seeds of this rebellion go far beyond current headlines.

“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.  Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders,  and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.  For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false,  in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-12, NASB).

What then, should be the Christian response to the current state of affairs? I believe we should hold onto the teachings of Christ. I believe we must exercise great discernment before we jump on any political bandwagon. In the age of the Internet and Social Media,movements go viral and gain steam before anyone really takes the time to learn about said movement. I also believe Christians need to look after our brothers and sisters during this time. These uncertain times have created a time of social and physical isolation, as many could not attend church services in person. I believe this is a time for the Church to find ways to draw closer to God and each other.

Paul concludes this section with encouraging words:

“But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.  It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:12-17, NASB).

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

Review- American Gospel: Christ Alone

Image copyright of Netflix

I was scrolling through the “Recently Added” section of Netflix when I came across the 2018 documentary American Gospel: Christ Alone. Directed and written by Brandon Kimber, American Gospel provides an in-depth look at the heretical teaching known as the Prosperity Gospel.

I have to say that Kimber’s research and passion for the project comes across in the documentary. The first thirty or so minutes of American Gospel relies on interviews with theologians, pastors, authors, apologists, and church historians to lay a firm foundation for the presentation of the true Gospel. The case presented is solid doctrine and a great reminder for all Christians to study the Word of God for themselves.

Once the foundation is set, American Gospel presents an examination the false doctrine of the prosperity message and its prominent teachers such as Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Todd White, Bill Johnson, and Joel Osteen to name a few. The documentary traces the roots of the prosperity message back to Kenneth Hagin, who in fact plagiarized from the works of E.W. Kenyon. As a lawyer would systematically breakdown an argument in court, strong biblical teaching and the experts refute the doctrine and merits of the prosperity message until it is revealed to be the heresy and deception that it is.

American Gospel is not simply an academic or theological debate, but also provides personal stories from people whose lives were affected negatively by the prosperity teachers. One of these people is Costi Hinn, the nephew of Benny Hinn who has renounced the false teachings and is now warning believers about the prosperity message. I related with the heartbreaking stories of the everyday people who fell in with this dangerous message. As a young believer, I lacked discernment and was part of a word-faith type of church for a number of years, which taught that God always heals, God wants to bless, and placed the onus on our works and not the finished work of Christ.

No matter if you are a new believer or one who has been in church for decades, I highly encourage you to watch American Gospel: Christ Alone. I rate it five stars out of five stars. The documentary is available on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Dangerous Doctrines and Pandemics

“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, NASB).

As I write this post on April 24, 2020, there are 2.73 million cases of Coronavirus (Covid-19), with 890,000 confirmed cases in the United States where I live. As of this moment, 192,000 worldwide have died from the virus, with 50,372 deaths in the United States. Not in my lifetime have I lived through such a pandemic. Life has ground to a halt and the world economy is on the verge of collapse. However, as with Coronavirus and other catastrophes, there are people who will seize upon the situation politically, financially, and unfortunately, spiritually.

I know that many churches and charitable organizations are struggling during these times. I know these organizations are doing the best they can to serve their respective communities and be a light in this darkness. I pray these groups get the resources they need in these times. My beef, however, is with the so-called “prosperity teachers.”

The prosperity gospel, aka “the health and wealth” gospel teaches that God will bless His followers with material wealth and physical health if they are faithful with their giving. The prosperity message is not new, as this heresy dates back to at least the 1940s and 50s, with the teachings of Kenneth Hagin and Oral Roberts. The playbook  is exactly the same for today’s prosperity teachers, which include Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Benny Hinn, Paula White (President Trump’s spiritual adviser), Joel Osteen, Jesse DuPlantis, and Creflo Dollar to name a few.

One of the reasons the prosperity gospel is so successful is that it appeals to the greed which lies in the human spirit. Who wouldn’t want to get a fortune from making a simple donation, or “planting seed,” as the prosperity teachers say? These false teachers take Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9, 13:18-23) out of context. Jesus clearly states the seed represents the Word of God, but the false teachers claim seed is money, which is where they promise a thirty, sixty, or hundredfold return on your investment into their ministry. However, if you look at the net worth of these so-called teachers, it looks they are the ones prospering from those spiritually and financially vulnerable.

During this Coronavirus pandemic, Kenneth Copeland has been out front and center, blowing “the wind of God” on the virus and telling followers to keep tithing, even though they may be out of work. Here is a video which summarizes Copeland’s antics. I don’t own the rights to the video.

These kind of teachings are dangerous because they take advantage of people in their weakest mental, financial, and spiritual states. Early in my faith, I fell victim to doctrines such as these, which were reinforced by the church I was attending at the time. However, as I began to study deeper into Scripture and hear what was really being taught, I turned away from this false doctrine and I pray you do as well if you are caught up in this false doctrine.

These heretics are exactly what Scripture warns us about:

“But the Spirit explicitly says that in the latter times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons…” (1 Timothy 4:1, NASB).

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4, NASB).

Brothers and sisters, it is time we expose these heretics, these clouds without rain, these false teachers for who they are. Read the Bible for yourself. Exercise discernment and throw these snake oil peddlers off to the wayside. Don’t give these people your money, instead, donate it to your local church or a food bank. Above all, let us put aside greed and seek to be a blessing to those around us in these troubled times.God bless you.