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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.”

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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Profiles in Biblical Leadership: King Asa

In a seemingly ever-growing politically fractured world, strong leadership is needed now more than ever. With the U.S Presidential election just months away, I thought it would be important to study the good kings of Judah as mentioned in the Old Testament. There are eight good kings of Judah mentioned- Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Amaziah, Azariah (aka Uzziah), Jotham, Hezekiah, and Josiah. However, all of the kings of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) did wicked in the sight of God. The first king of Judah we will examine will be Asa.

Background

-Asa reigned from 910-869 AD.

-Son of the king Abijam,who did evil in God’s sight.

-Asa’s story is found in 1 Kings 15:8-24 and 2 Chronicles 14-16.

What Asa did right

– Asa did right in the sight of God (1 Kings 15:11).

-Asa removed the temple prostitutes and removed the idols his father made (1 Kings 15:12).

-Asa removed his mother, Maacah, from her position as queen mother because of idols she constructed. (1 Kings 15:13 and 2 Chronicles 15:16).

-Asa removed some of the high places (places where idols were worshiped) and the incense altars (2 Chronicles 14:5).

-Asa fortified Judah, and the nation experienced peace and prosperity

(2 Chronicles 14:6-7).

-Asa sought the Lord and won a military victory against the Ethiopians

(2 Chronicles 14:8-15).

-Asa heeded the words of the prophet Azariah and made a covenant with all of Judah to seek God with all their hearts (2 Chronicles 15:1-15).

What Asa did wrong

-Asa did not remove all of the high places (1 Kings 15:14; 2 Chronicles 15:17).

-Asa made an alliance with Benhadad, the King of Aram, without seeking the Lord. ( 1 Kings 15:16-22; 2 Chronicles 16:1-6).

-Asa rejected the rebuke of Hanani the seer and threw him into prison.

(2 Chronicles 16:7-10).

-Later in his reign, Asa suffered from a foot disease and did not seek the Lord, but the physicians. (2 Chronicles 16:12).

*Bonus fact

-Asa is a descendant of Jesus and is mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy (Matthew 1:7).

Though there are no perfect human kings, queens, or presidents, I believe the stories preserved in God’s Word can provide us with strong leadership principles. Be blessed.

Isaiah 26:20, the Coronavirus,and That Day

As the Coronavirus (Covid 19) continues to spread around the world, many local, state, federal, and world governments have issued “stay at home” orders and have encouraged people to self-quarantine or keep their social distance. As with any crisis, many are taking the orders seriously and others continue to go out or have to go out because their job is considered essential.

Of course, the Coronavirus continues to be the main story in the media and on Social Media. It appears for a time the Coronavirus will change the way we live and interact with each other.

However, I have noticed a certain passage of Scripture continuously in my Facebook feed- Isaiah 26:20, which reads:

“Come, my people, enter into your rooms and close your doors behind you; Hide for a little while until indignation has run its course.” (NASB).

While Isaiah 26:20 speaks to our current times and deals with the topics of self-isolation and God’s judgment, what is the larger context?

I’m a firm believer in studying the whole of Scripture to understand the deeper meanings. I’ve never been a believer in taking a single verse and turning it into a doctrine. I began to read Isaiah 26 in its entirety.

Isaiah 26 deals with trusting God in the midst of impending judgment on the wicked. In fact Isaiah 26:1 contains a crucial phrase:

In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: ‘We have a strong city; He sets up walls and ramparts for security.” (NASB, emphasis mine).

According to Bible Gateway.com, the phrase “In that day” appears 114 times, scattered throughout the Old and New Testaments. In the Book of Isaiah, the phrase “In that day” appears 43 times, or in 38% of the Scriptures listed.

Isaiah was a prophet whose ministry took place from 740 BC to at least 681 BC. Like many other Old Testament prophets , Isaiah spoke of current day judgments and events far off into the future or “the last days.” The judgments were directed toward Israel, Judah, Assyria, Tyre, Egypt, and others, but they can be important to our study.

I encourage you to study these on your own, but I would like to highlight a handful of verses which seem relevant to the current situation.

Economic collapse:

“In that day men will cast away to the moles and the bats their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship.” (Isaiah 2:20, NASB).

The desolation of cities:

“And it will growl over it in that day like the roaring of the sea. If one looks to the land, behold, there is darkness and distress; Even the light is darkened by its clouds.” (Isaiah 5:30, NASB).

Judgment on world leaders:

“So it will happen in that day, that the Lord will punish the host of heaven on high, and the kings of the earth on earth, they will be gathered together like prisoners in the dungeon, and will be confined in prison; And after many days they will be punished.” (Isaiah 24:21-22, NASB).

Though it is easy to get caught up in the gloom and doom of judgment, especially if you are a student of the End Times, God is merciful. Even in the midst of His judgments, God gives us the chance to turn to Him in repentance through faith in Jesus Christ.  Isaiah also gives his listeners and readers the chance to turn to God.

“In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth will be the pride and the adornment of the survivors of Israel.” (Isaiah 4:2, NASB).

“Then in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse [Jesus], who will stand as a signal for the peoples; And His resting place will be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:10, NASB).

“Then you will say on that day: ‘I will give thanks to You, O Lord; For although You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid; For the Lord God is my strength and song.” (Isaiah 12:1-2, NASB).

Brothers and Sisters, we are certainly living in unprecedented times. There probably been a virus spread this quickly since the influenza epidemic of 1918. We must live cautiously, but do not give into fear. Take care of yourselves and your families. If at all possible, try to help those who are hurting from the fallout of this illness. Show the love of Christ and kindness to those you encounter. God bless.

Proverbs and the Connection of our Spiritual, Physical, and Mental Health

If you or someone you know suffers from inflammation, whether it’s from a type of arthritis or another chronic health condition, the pain is always an issue. I know from my experience, the pain varies from day to day. However, I do my best to keep moving and stay active.

Physical sickness can also intertwine with our mental health and our spirituality. If you deal with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issue, chronic physical pain can exacerbate the problem. Chronic pain, whether we want to admit it or not, affects our way of thinking and how we view the world. In our pain, we may seek God and doctors for answers, but we can become spiritually discouraged when the pain continues.

I live in Indiana, where the summers are very humid to go along with the heat. In the past, my joints seemed to be affected by rainy patterns and cold fronts, but this was the first summer I noticed the inflammation being off the charts. I have sought medical advice for the inflammation, taken up a new regimen of self-care, and I have also studied a little Scripture about it.

Proverbs, an Old Testament wisdom book, gives practical and spiritual advice on many life matters, the link between our spiritual,mental, and physical health being no exception. I just want to share some of what I came across to encourage you today.

“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”                   (Proverbs 17:22, NASB).

“A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken.” (Proverbs 15:13, NASB).

“The spirit of a man can endure his sickness, but as for a broken spirit who can bear it?” (Proverbs 18:14, NASB).

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good word makes it glad.”                 (Proverbs 12:25, NASB).

“A tranquil heart is life to the body, but passion is rottenness to the bones.”          (Proverbs 14:30, NASB).

“Bright eyes gladden the heart; good news puts fat on the bones.”                           (Proverbs 15:30, NASB).

As you go through your day, I want you to be encouraged. I also want you to make sure to work on every aspect of your health- spiritual,mental, and physical. God bless.

The Problems of Evil, Suffering, and Belief

dry animal gift dangerous
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The problems of evil and suffering have long been used critics of The Bible to argue against the existence of an Omnipotent, or all-powerful God. In recent years, I have become very skeptical of the mental gymnastics required to ignore this problem. If we were to be intellectually honest with ourselves, I believe we would have some major doubts about our religious worldviews.

I know many times I have accepted my suffering as “part of God’s plan,” because “God has something great” for me. If no one had an explanation, then the standard responses are, “God’s ways are above our ways,” or “We’ll have all of the answers when we get to heaven.” I’m sorry, but that is no longer good enough for me. The story of Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden is not a sufficient explanation when examined logically.

Besides being Omnipotent, Christians believe God to be Omniscient,or all-knowing. If God, with one glance of his eyes can see across all history and time, then why do we have the Garden of Eden story?

*God creates the angel Lucifer knowing that he will lead a rebellion and will be cast out of heaven with one-third of the angels.

*God creates a paradise, but with the proviso of a forbidden tree, which will keep Adam and Eve in perpetual ignorance if they stay away from it.

*So if Lucifer wasn’t created and the forbidden tree wasn’t put in the garden, then the talking snake would not have convinced Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, which caused the fall of humanity.

*The all-powerful God could have dealt with sin and Satan right then and there, restored everything, hence there would have been no need for a worldwide flood, the sacrifice of Christ, or the need for a Second Coming of Christ to finally vanquish Satan and his minions.

*The idea that my suffering, your suffering, and the suffering of untold billions is due solely to the fact a talking snake convinced two people to eat a piece of fruit does not hold up upon further review. If your great-grandfather robbed a bank in 1925, decades before you were born and the police show up at your door to arrest you for your great-grandfather’s crime and throw you in prison, that would be ludicrious.

Let’s take another biblical example of innocent people suffering because of one person’s actions. If you are a reader of The Bible, no doubt you are familiar with the Exodus story of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Moses, on behalf of God, goes before Pharaoh to “Let my people go.”

However, Pharaoh refuses and God sends plagues on Egypt, which included the Nile River turning to blood, flies, boils, darkness, etc, which culminated with the death of every first born child in the land of Egypt. On the surface of the story, Pharaoh seems to be a very stubborn person who will allow innocent people to suffer over the fate of slaves. However, The Bible states in Exodus 4:21, 7:3, 9:12,11:9, and 14:8, that it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart, which brought on the plagues, which brought on the suffering of Egyptians not involved with Moses or Pharaoh. Why didn’t God just deal directly with Pharaoh? In fact the Exodus story doesn’t mention any direct punishment Pharaoh received due to his actions against God’s people, but innocent people suffered because of the stubbornness God put on Pharaoh.

Isaiah 45:7 states, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” (KJV).

Isaiah 45:7 is a verse used by theologians and apologists to describe evil as “natural evil,” such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, and the like. God can use this kind of “evil” for his purpose to bring healing to a community or country, for which the disaster can be used “for his glory.” I believe this begs the question, why does God have to use suffering in order for people to pay attention to him? Why did God allow Job to suffer so much, yet give him no explanation? It was God, after all, who put the limits on Job’s suffering. If God is all-powerful, then can’t he simply manifest himself in a definitive way?

I am not belittling anyone’s faith and I am not saying you should or shouldn’t believe in God. However, if we are to base our lives and possible eternities on beliefs laid out in ancient texts, can we still apply logic and reason to what we believe? Is it still viable in our modern world to question the advances of science and society in order to hold onto a book that insists the world was created in six days, slavery is allowed, women are to be treated as property, and genocide is encouraged? We must examine the heart of these issues and what we believe. We have been given the gifts of logic, reason, free thought, and common sense let us use them to the best of our abilities. I will leave you with a quote from the 4th/3rd Century BC Greek philosopher Epicurus:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. If he is able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

The Bible and Slavery

“Only the educated are free.”- Epictetus

I am currently reading Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, the first of three autobiographies concerning the former American slave, who escaped to freedom and became an outspoken abolitionist concerning the anti-slavery movement leading up to the American Civil War.

Douglass in heart-wrenching detail describes not only his treatment as a slave, but the horrendous treatment of African-American slaves at the hands of the white, Southern slave owners. How one human being could treat another human in such a vile and despicable manner is beyond me. Moreover, what has drawn my attention was Douglass’ comments concerning how the so-called “Christian” slave owners were much harsher in their treatment of their slaves, using their so-called righteousness as a cloak for maliciousness.

Maybe it’s me getting older or the fact I am taking a more reasoned approach to my beliefs, but I find the hypocrisy of religion to be appalling. Just as these slaveowners used The Bible to justifying owing and degrading another person, this same book has been used to persecute religious minorities, oppress women, and is the basis for the right-wing church to justify their collective homophobia. My politics take no title such as Republican, Democrat, Fundamentalist, Socialist, or anything of the sort. It is difficult for me to write this post, as I know how some will perceive it, but I cannot control your opinions or perceptions. I am not out to “convert” anyone or change your mind, I am simply putting forth what The Bible says concerning slavery. For the sake of space and time, I will list ahandful of scrptures and cite other verses concerning this subject.

The Bible states the Israelites were slaves in Egypt for over 400 years and they cried out to God to deliver them. God sent Moses and the rest, as they say, is history. With all of the harsh treatment the Israelites received at the hands of the Egyptians, one would think they would not want to treat their fellow man as such. However, God, in the Law lays out the treatment of slaves, both Hebrew and Gentile.

“If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.

“But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’then his master must take him before the judges. He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.

“If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.” (Exodus 21:2-11, NIV). Exodus also gives guidelines concerning the beating of slaves: “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.” (Exodus 21:20-21, NIV).

*See also: Exodus 21:26-27, Exodus 21:31-32, Exodus 23:12, Leviticus 19:20-22, Leviticus 25:44-46, Deuteronomy 23:15-16.

At this point, one may argue, “Well, that’s the Old Testament.”

It is an interesting fact to note that no New Testament writer, the Apostles, or even the Lord Jesus himself never in any way condemn the practice of slavery. Slaves are commanded to obey their masters as they would obey Christ:

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” (Ephesians 6:5-9, NIV).

*See also: Colossians 3:22, Colossians 4:1, 1 Timothy 6:1-2, Titus 2:9-10, 1 Peter 2:18-19.

At this point there would be some doing what Iwould call “apologetic mental gymnastics” and down play the use of the terms slave and master and apply these Scriptures to the modern day employer/employee relationship, which is not analagous to one human owning another human. Elsewhere in the New Testament, slavery is spoken of in the metaphorical sense in that we are slaves to sin, from which Christ set us free.

The purpose of this post is not to rekindle hard feelings from events that happened centuries ago. Rather, I want to examine what I call “biblical difficulties” and how a non-Christian would respond to the Bible. The Bible’s support of slavery is one of the largest and most justified criticisms of Scripture. More importantly, I want to take deeper look at the book that so many people, including myself, hold dear and find out if it is truly relevant for our day and age. Why didn’t God or Jesus just come out and ban slavery? Why didn’t the early church fathers abolish it? Why did some American churches allow for such atrocities committed against our fellow people? I believe the soul searching question we must answer is “If your faith is not helping you become a better person to all, is it a faith worth having?” If your faith spews hatred and disrespect, should you go along with it? Can you continue to justify belief in any holy book that justifies discrimination or hatred against anyone?

Book Review- Deceptions and Myths of the Bible

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I was looking through the bargin section of my favorite bookstore several years ago and came across a copy of Lloyd M. Graham’s Deceptions and Myths of the Bible. The book was only a few dollars, so I bought it on a lark because it sounded interesting. However, ended up neglected on the bookshelf until I finished reading it this week.

The book jacket states this of the author: “Lloyd M. Graham is a psuedonym. Because of his controversial writings, he does not want his identity revealed. He is a biblical scholar and student of mythology.”

Deceptions and Myths of the Bible is supposed to be an in-depth look at the origins of the Bible, Judaism, and Christianity, yet the “biblical scholar” does not list a bibliography of his sources,which puts his credibility in doubt at the start.

Graham’s basic premise is that the power hungry priestly classes cobbled together the Bible from the mythologies of ancient cultures, including India, Babylon, Persia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome and passed off this mythological stew to the widely ignorant masses as “the word of God.” In his criticsim, Graham also incorporates New Age terminology, occult symbology, misapplies the meaning of evolution and the term “involution.” What is supposed to be serious scholarship is thinly disguised venemous and vitrolic speech aimed at the Jews, the Catholic church, and religion in general.

If you have studied any type of biblical literary criticism or read the arguments that the Bible was stolen from pagan sources, you will recognize many of Graham’s arguments. For example, he points out that the story of Jesus has parallels to Osiris, Krishna, Mithra, and others. The same goes for Noah and the flood, Moses, Adam and Eve, and so on and so forth. If this is a topic that interest you, then there are much better scholars out there to explore.

Overall I did not find Graham’s case compelling. Though he does quote some people in the book, the lack of a bibliography as I said, hinders Graham’s credibility. Why did Graham not fully list his sources? Is he trying to hide something while trying to uncover something else? I believe it is healthy to examine what we believe and why we believe it, but Deceptions and Myths of the Bible would not be the place I would start.