Friday, December 20, 2019

Two Festivals Of Light

Christmas and Chanukah share similarities, these celebrations come at the same time of year and both are marked by either lit menorah’s in Jewish homes or lights on homes and Christmas trees. Both holidays center around historic individuals that brought deliverance to the oppressed. The Maccabees overcame the oppressors of the Jewish people by brute force and the power of their own might and gave them back their temple worship. Generations later came Jesus the Messiah, who through the power of the Spirit paid the price demanded by sin, offering himself as the ultimate sacrifice to save mankind from the oppression that comes from eternal separation from G-d and the final death. 

Here we will put both events into historical context. Both events took place during particularly turbulent phases of Jewish history.

The Land of Israel was thus sandwiched between two of the rivals and, for the next 125 years, Seleucids and Ptolemies battled for this prize. The former finally won in 198 B.C. when Antiochus III defeated the Egyptians and incorporated Judea into his empire. Initially, he continued to allow the Jews autonomy, but backed down in the face of Jewish opposition to his effort to introduce idols in their temples, but his son, Antiochus IV, who inherited the throne in 176 B.C. resumed his father's original policy without excepting the Jews. A brief Jewish rebellion only hardened his views and led him to outlaw central tenets of Judaism such as the Sabbath and circumcision, and defile the holy Temple by erecting an altar to the god Zeus, allowing the sacrifice of pigs, and opening the shrine to non-Jews.

When a Greek official tried to force a priest named Mattathias to make a sacrifice to a pagan god, the Jew murdered the man. Predictably, Antiochus began reprisals, but in 167 BCE the Jews rose up behind Mattathias and his five sons and fought for their liberation.

The family of Mattathias became known as the Maccabees, from the Hebrew word for "hammer," because they were said to strike hammer blows against their enemies. Jews refer to the Maccabees, but the family is more commonly known as the Hasmoneans. Like other rulers before him, Antiochus underestimated the will and strength of his Jewish adversaries and sent a small force to put down the rebellion. When that was annihilated, he led a more powerful army into battle only to be defeated. In 164 BCE, Jerusalem was recaptured by the Maccabees and the temple purified, an event that gave birth to the holiday of Chanukah which is known as the Festival of Lights.

The kingdom of Judaea was independent until 63BC when it was conquered by the Roman General Pompey the Great. After that the Romans made it a client state with kings who controlled domestic life in the kingdom but could not wage war or conduct any other foreign policy efforts without the consent of Rome. They also had to pay taxes and in some cases had to provide troops. In 6 AD Augustus made Judaea a Roman province after one of the kingdom’s leaders was accused of cruelty and breaking Jewish law. This came about around the time of the birth of Jesus.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government will be upon his shoulder,
and his name will be called
“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom,
to establish it, and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.   (Isaiah 9: 6-7)

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirin′i-us was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest,and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:1-20)

Saturday, December 14, 2019

God Tested Abraham

After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Mori′ah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22: 1-2)

It would be normal for one to begin to have their doubts about God or perhaps even their own sanity after hearing such a command, and yet Abraham trusted the Lord to the extent that he was duty bound to comply. Who of us could possibly even begin to understand such trust and faithfulness?

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; and he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the ass; I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. (Genesis 22: 3-6) 

Abraham’s action is a picture of a future time when the Creator himself would enter the world in the person of Jesus Christ and he himself would carry a wooden cross upon which to be sacrificed for the sins of the world. Who among us would sacrifice our own son’s life in order to save the life of another? This passage portrays the innocence of this father’s son Isaac, just as God’s son Jesus was innocent and sinless under the law. Abraham was so trusting of God that he said to his son, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” His comment reveals a supernatural faith and it is what God wants us to see in Abraham and try to emulate in our own lives.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. Then Abraham put forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” (Genesis 22: 9-12)

This was an incredible testing of Abraham’s trust and loyalty to God, which along with Abraham’s acting on God’s command gives us a shining example of what faith is in action. It’s like a stool, without three legs it would be incomplete and would not be a stool. Trust, loyalty and action are the three legs that make faith complete and valid before God. 

And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place The Lord will provide; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” (Genesis 22: 13-14)

As a response to Abraham’s show of trust and loyalty through his action the Lord provided for Abraham’s immediate need at an extremely stressful moment. We should keep that in mind and draw close to the Lord, we are living in very stressful times.

And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22: 15-18)

This will be the last of this series on Abraham. There was much to be gleaned about what it takes to have a perfect relationship with God as we looked into this incredible man’s life!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Sarah Gives Abraham A Son

This commentary was previously inadvertently posted out of sync with the Bible narrative, I removed, corrected and rewrote it as there is much to be drawn from this event. 

The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; every one who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would suckle children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
And the child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the lad and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your descendants be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. (Genesis 21: 1-14)

It may seem that Sarah was acting harshly however Abraham showed a kind heart and loyalty toward Hagar and Ishmael, there was something more at play though. Sarah knew early in life that she was barren and that Abraham wanted an heir, and although God had made it plain that Abraham would father a son through Sarah, they both showed distrust in God’s word and she gave her slave woman to Abraham, and Ishmael was born from that union. That event was devoid of faith in God’s promise and was in essence a carnal act of disobedience, not one not of faith but of the flesh as they acted on their own accord outside of the will of God. In today’s world Ishmael would be considered the bastard son and hardly fit to be the heir of God’s promise. As a result the descendants of Ishmael would be forever filled with animosity and murderous envy towards the descendants of Isaac which is in essence a repeat of Cain’s envious murder of his own brother Abel. 

Centuries later the Apostle Paul would use it as an example to instruct the first Jewish Christians who were confused about the law and whether or not they were still required to remain under and observe Jewish law, when Christ himself had paid the penalty for all mankind who have failed under the law.
“Tell me, you who desire to be under law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, the son of the free woman through promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,
‘Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in travail; for the children of the desolate one are many more than the children of her that is married.’ Now we, brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now. But what does the scripture say? ‘Cast out the slave and her son; for the son of the slave shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.’ So, brethren, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”(Galatians 4:21-5:1)

Paul referring to Mount Sinai is pointing out how God gave Moses the law that no man can follow perfectly, which is the requirement for acceptance by God. Failure under the law resulted in sin and the requirement for sin is death and eternal separation from God. He likened it to Jerusalem and living under the Law. “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

It is written: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” (James 2:10)

There is no one on earth that has ever kept the Ten Commandments perfectly let alone the infinite number of associated laws that were tacked on for the Jews by their Jewish legislators of old. In modern day society we have a vast number if civil laws that spring in essence from those original commandments and we routinely fail under them as well.

Paul goes on and refers to Sarah, a free woman whose son was heir of the promise and through whom Christ the Messiah would come and pay the penalty for the broken laws of all of mankind. He points out that we as believers have positionally cast out the slave, that is our former state, and accepted the freedom provided through Christ. We are to stand fast and not submit again to a yoke of slavery which is sin under the law. 
“But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.” Here Paul is referring to the union of believers we know as the church, and makes a distinction between the believers and unbelievers implying that the church is the bride of Christ. “For it is written,‘Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in travail; for the children of the desolate one are many more than the children of her that is married.’ Now we, brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise.”

Saturday, November 30, 2019

A Son Is Promised to Abraham and Sarah

This was an astounding event when three man show up unexpectedly in front of Abraham’s tent, most people would have been frightened and would have either shunned three total strangers or would have at least treated them with great caution. Abraham recognized the Lord and welcomed them extending great hospitality towards them.
Both Abraham and Sarah were advanced in age and her child bearing parts had long since dried up.

And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth, and said, “My lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I fetch a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds, and milk, and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate. They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” The Lord said, “I will surely return to you in the spring, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, in the spring, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.” (Genesis 18: 1-15)

This is a story that is germane to this present time, a warning for future generations.

Then the men set out from there, and they looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him? No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomor′rah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry which has come to me; and if not, I will know.” So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom; but Abraham still stood before the Lord. (Genesis 18: 16-22)

The testimony goes on of how Abraham pleaded with the Lord not to destroy the cities if even five righteous people could be found living there. With this act he displayed his willingness to stand as an advocate before God for sinners along with a great sense of compassion for others. He was in effect a shadow of the Christ that would come in a future time. The angels continued on to Sodom and Gomorrah and God remembered Abraham by removing Lot and his small family to safety before destroying the cities. 

The Apostle Paul would later speak of the similar likes of this in the following and still most timely commentary: 
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct. They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them.” (Romans 1: 19-32)

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Man Of Faith (continued)

After God had promised him an heir and would make him the father of a great nation, Abram entered into a blood covenant with Him. And God said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chalde′ans, to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a she-goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” And he brought him all these, cut them in two, and laid each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 
(Genesis 15:7-11)

Afterward God spoke to Abram in a dream giving him a view of a future time when his descendants would experience a great famine and travel to Egypt only to become slaves of the Pharaoh for four hundred years. God then promised to deliver them from their servitude. 
“As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram; and lo, a dread and great darkness fell upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know of a surety that your descendants will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be slaves there, and they will be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation which they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age.” (Genesis 15:12-15)

Remember how back in the days of Eden how Eve had not become fully invested in God’s promises and had listened to the voice of the tempter and had eaten of the forbidden fruit? Here history is repeated as Sar’ai once again circumvents God’s plan with one of her own and then blames Abram when it goes against her.

Now Sar′ai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar; and Sar′ai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my maid; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sar′ai. So, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, Sar′ai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. And Sar′ai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my maid to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” (Genesis 16:1-5)

Even in those ancient days there was contentious moments in family life. Not willing to contend with Sar’ai’s drama Abram drops it back on her and tells her to deal with it.  But Abram said to Sar′ai, “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sar′ai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her. (Genesis 16:6)

What follows has become a bone of contention down through the ages between the Jews and Arabs, especially the Islamic nations as they assume that Ishmael being Abram’s first born would rightfully become heir to God’s promise to Abram, but that was not so as God plans will not be thwarted by the will of man.

The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, maid of Sar′ai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sar′ai.” The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.” The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your descendants that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” And the angel of the Lord said to her, “Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son; you shall call his name Ish′mael;  because the Lord has given heed to your affliction. He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.” So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “Thou art a God of seeing”; for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?” Therefore the well was called Beer-la′hai-roi;  it lies between Kadesh and Bered. And Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ish′mael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ish′mael to Abram. (Genesis 16:7-16)

At the age of ninety-nine Abram had still not fathered an heir by Sar’ai as she was barren and they were well into their years, but God had chosen this couple and this faithful believer to become patriarch over a great nation from which God himself will eventually rule over the entire earth. Notice the reverence Abram has for the Lord as he falls on his face before him. I wonder how many even bow and go down on their knees in these times in which we now live.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17: 1-8)

God then established a sign of his covenant with Abraham ordering that every male child would henceforth be circumcised and He changed Sar’ai’s name to Sarah. 
Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”  (Genesis 17:17)

(To be continued)

Monday, November 11, 2019

Abraham Man Of Faith

This will be a multi-part series about a rather unassuming and yet unusual man who through his unwavering acts of faith became the patriarch of all who believe and trust in God. 

Abram was his original name, there was nothing especially unique about him. He was born in the Chaldean city of Ur in Mesopotamia, an area currently known as Iraq. Abram was a worshipper of idols until one day God appeared to him and he became a believer, that was his first act of faith. Abram took Sar’ai as his wife after the death of his father Terah. Then God commanded him to leave Mesopotamia for a new land that He promised to show him whereupon God made him a massive sevenfold promise.

God said, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” (Genesis 12: 2-3)

Abram departed Haram with his family entourage at the age of seventy five, this was the cement in the second leg of Abram’s profession of faith which always requires action as a response to the word of God to make faith valid. Who among us would pack up and leave our home of seventy five years for a distant and unknown land?
Abram was by this time a man with considerable possessions, flocks and shepherds in his employ, the prospect of moving to an unknown location must have been daunting!

Without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
True faith requires action; “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” 
(James 2:14-17)

“So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sar′ai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions which they had gathered, and the persons that they had gotten in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. Thence he removed to the mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.” (Genesis 12: 4-8)

There was a famine in Canaan, Abram took his family and went to Egypt for a time and later returned to Bethel and worshipped God. This next event is fascinating and shows what character and how selfless Abram was, perhaps something we can all hope to build on and emulate in our own lives.

“And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle. At that time the Canaanites and the Per′izzites dwelt in the land.
Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen; for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” And Lot lifted up his eyes, and saw that the Jordan valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zo′ar; this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomor′rah. So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan valley, and Lot journeyed east; thus they separated from each other. Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, while Lot dwelt among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom.” (Genesis 13: 5- 12)

Abram’s act offers insight into his selfless character. God had given all the land to him and yet he offered the best portion to Lot. God renewed his promise to give Canaan to him so Abram moved to Hebron and built an alter to God.

Chedorlaomer was at the time King of Mesopotamia, while warring against the cities of the Plain at the Battle of Siddim, the King went to Sodom and Gomorrah to collect booty. At Sodom, amongst the spoils of war, he took Lot and his entire household captive. When Lot's uncle, Abram received news of what happened, he assembled a battle unit of three hundred and eighteen men who pursued the Elamite forces north of Damascus to Hobah where Abram and his men defeated Chedorlaomer. (Genesis 14: 11-17)

Abram’s action to save his kinfolk against great odds was the sign of a man with a shepherd’s heart. After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Elie′zer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, thou hast given me no offspring; and a slave born in my house will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; your own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15: 1-6)

It is clear then that Abram’s faithfulness was key to his relationship with God. Would that we could hear God’s voice as clearly as Abram did? Perhaps we aren’t listening and have become desensitized by the noise of the world around us and the busyness of our own lives. The only answer we have in present time and circumstances is to spend a little quality time each day in the word of God, the holy bible. God said, 
“You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13)
Know this, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3: 16-17)

By God’s word we are convicted of sin and righteousness and what we must do to change the course of our lives and become pleasing to God.“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

As we grow in the grace and knowledge of God and His Son Jesus Christ so grows our faith and our faithfulness which is the active response to the will of God as He reveals Himself to us. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old received divine approval. By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear.” (Hebrews 11:1-3)

(To be continued)

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Broken Heart Of A Man Called Ernie

I once met an Alaskan Inuit Indian named Ernie, he had been a rabid alcoholic who lived in the doorways and service alleys of a six square block area in a major American city. One of his legs was a full inch shorter than the other, he had been run over by a delivery truck as he slept under a large piece of cardboard in a service alley. It broke his leg so badly that sharp shards of bone protruding from his shin had to be removed and the ends trimmed. 

While he was in the county hospital he was told of a program at the University Health Sciences Building offering hard core alcoholics a certain amount of cash that would be paid following participation in a study. Participants would be given a number of glasses of whiskey each day laced with a radioactive iodine, and would be scanned daily to track where it goes and how it affects the organs of the human body. Ernie signed on immediately and went through the entire course. When the study was over he went to collect his money and they were astounded, the study was done on terminal alcoholics and he was the sole survivor.

Not long after that one of his siblings from Alaska who had been looking for him finally located him and told him that he needed to return to Alaska as their father was dying and wanted to see him. He was adamantly opposed and never wanted to see him again, because when Ernie’s mother passed away his father had put the children up for adoption, Ernie felt that they had been abandoned, his life went downhill and he was unable to forgive his father remaining estranged for many years. He knew in his heart that it was time to make amends and he returned to Alaska only to find that his father had passed away.

Ernie had been sober for several months, he had given his heart to Jesus Christ as he had been fearful of reverting back to his previous lifestyle and wanted his life to change. He sought out a Catholic priest who had been working with alcoholics and told him the story of his life, of his hatred for his father and yet how badly he felt at not being able to be reconciled to his father before his passing. The wise old priest told him to write a letter to his deceased father telling him that he forgives him for abandoning him and how he had lived his life in filth and squalor as a miserable alcoholic and then to bring the letter to him. Ernie wrote a heartfelt letter and brought it to the priest who was sitting in a chair, he had Ernie kneel beside him and read the letter to him. As tears ran down Ernie’s cheeks the priest placed his hand on his head and said, "Ernie, I forgive you in the name of your father."

The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

As Ernie related this story to me he stood there clean and sober, shaved with a beautiful head of grey hair. He was wearing an expensive three piece suit. He had gotten his life together and was now the CEO of a very successful drug and alcohol treatment center for Native Americans. His own story was similar to the story of the Prodigal Son. (Luke 15:11-32)

He is not alone, there are many prodigal sons and daughters in the world and all need a change of heart and cleansing of the soul that only a confession and a relationship with Jesus Christ will bring.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

You Have Everything You Need

There are times when I find something inspiring to share, this article was Written by 
Dr. David Jeremiah

People often ask me, “Pastor, what’s going on in the world today? What’s the biggest issue we face?” I have many answers, and each contains the same overarching word, pressure. Family pressure. Time pressure. Financial pressure. Unprecedented pressure to compete and succeed by society’s standards at work, in school, in our communities, and maybe even in our churches. As Christians, we’re encountering pressures in our society we’ve never faced before. We’re living in unprecedented times, which brings unparalleled tension.

But I’ve been encouraged recently by learning about a certain little fish. The Mariana snailfish lives in the deepest caverns of the ocean, where the pressure is a thousand times greater than on the surface. The temperature there is near freezing, and there’s no light at those depths. But God created those fish, which are about the size of a human hand, to thrive in extreme conditions. How do they do it? This snailfish possesses special features such as flexible skulls and bones. They also produce distinct chemicals that stabilize their constitution, so the pressure inside them is greater than the pressure outside of them. 

God has given these strange creatures everything they need for where they are and for what He intends for them. He’s given them everything they need not just to survive but to thrive. Could that be true for you too?
Absolutely! There’s a particular passage of Scripture I’ve studied all my life. I’ve known it and taught it for years. But in recent days when I, like you, have been under great pressure, it’s entered my bloodstream like a transfusion.

“His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:3–8).

God has devised an ingenious way of conveying His power right into the center of your soul through the live wires of His biblical promises, or as Peter called them, His great and precious promises. These promises energize you and enable you to share His divine nature, having escaped the corruption of the world.

After a remarkable three years with Jesus, as recounted in the Gospels, Peter went on to help establish the early church, chronicled in the book of Acts. In spite of the constant threat of persecution, he devoted the rest of his life to extending the kingdom of God. He spent his last days in prison awaiting execution, yet even then the joy within him was greater than the fear around him. He had everything he needed to maintain his faith, optimism and effectiveness for Jesus, until the very moment he entered heaven. This passage was written by someone who knew all about fish. Simon Peter’s last letter was written to “those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours” 
(2 Peter 1:1).

What does that mean? It means your experience with Jesus can be as precious to you as Peter’s was to him. That’s remarkable to consider. Jesus has given you everything you need to develop a godly life, just as he did for the disciples who walked alongside him. And that’s just the beginning. God has also devised an ingenious way of conveying His power right into the center of your soul through the live wires of His biblical promises, or as Peter called them, “His great and precious promises.” These promises energize you and enable you to share His divine nature, having escaped the corruption of the world.

Peter wrote, “If these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:8).
This is one of God’s great understatements! If these virtues are yours and if they abound in your life, meaning if you embrace them and fill your heart with them, there’s no limit to what you can achieve. And there’s no pressure you can’t withstand.

It’s time to unpack all God has given you and commit to cultivating the strength of character you’ll need to face the pressures in your world. Once you master these precious verses of the Bible, or rather, once they master you, you’ll realize you have everything you need and you’ll find Jesus is everything you need.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Interfering In The Affairs Of Men

From the temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden until this very day Satan and his minions have been fully invested in destroying individual lives and entire nations through nefarious machinations.

“Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world, he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” (Revelation 12: 7-9) He is a deceiver.

Jesus speaking to an unbelieving Pharisee; “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But, because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.” (John 8:43-45) He is a murderer and a liar.

Christians and Jews who believe and put their trust in their Creator and loving God constitute those most likely to suffer persecution and even death for their beliefs at the hands of Muslims who are in diametric opposition to the very existence of Jews and Christians who they refer to as “The people of the book!” They are joined by all manner of God hating Leftist Progressives, Marxists and Atheists in their loathing hatred for God and His beloved.

Bible scripture differentiates between the good and evil in the following verses: 
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (Proverbs 9:10) 
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none that does good. (Psalm14:1)
A wise man’s heart inclines him toward the right, but a fool’s heart toward the left.  
(Ecclesiastes 10:2)

The world is undergoing a massive division by the demon influenced forces of the Left that is in diametric opposition to the Right. The Left struggling violently at times and with cunning deception, attempting to wrest control of the world’s population for Satan the usurper. This can be clearly seen in political events and violent clashes by mobs in the public squares in various places throughout the world. The formerly trustworthy news media has given it’s voice over to the dark side with vile lies and distortions of the truth. Women are murdering their own unborn children in the millions and are clamoring for a legal right to kill their newborn. Murders of police, authorities and citizens abound. One might ask, where does this come from? The answer is evident, it emanates from Satan Prince of Darkness.

“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” (2 Timothy 3: 1 - 4)

The Lord uses sheep and goats analogous to the people in these two opposing groups. Sheep tend to be compliant and follow the voice of their shepherd and trust him to lead them to food, water and safety. A goat on the other hand, doesn’t follow anyone. They are willful and contentious head butting animals. A herd of goats goes where it wants, and the goatherd follows behind.

When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:31-34 &41)

Now is the time, choose God’s salvation and draw near to Him before it’s too late.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29: 11-13) 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Acknowledging The Great Provider

Over the years when dealing with the struggles of having a home, raising a family and making ends meet financially, there has always been a sense of never really being alone, trusting that somehow for some unbeknownst reason that things would fall together. Now in the finale years of life looking back, it has become clear in retrospect that the Lord always sets various stepping stones before us for greater opportunities to provide for home and family. We have to start the days with a sense of awareness that the Lord is with us.

In earlier times never being as cognizant of God’s provision in life recalling in some of the darkest hours and greatest trials crying out, “Jesus please help!” He did, though my prayers were never eloquent and occasionally muttered through my tears. I often failed to thank Him and acknowledge His providence in my life. In that, I am sure that I’m not alone as it is common to all of us to take it all for granted, even congratulating ourselves for our success.

Eventually drawing closer to the Lord through the written word in the Holy Bible I came to realize that; “The steps of a man are from the Lord, and he establishes him in whose way he delights; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord is the stay of his hand.” 
(Psalm 37: 23-24)

Beginning each day with a quiet time of prayer to the Lord and meditation on His word is most beneficial because it establishes a mutual relationship, deeper trust and daily walk with one’s own Creator and it honors Him who in turn honors us, overshadowing us with His great presence as we go about the daily routine.

The Lord will always walk with you
Along life's dusty trails,
His footprints there beside your own,
He promises without fail.
Two sets of footprints, side by side,
From dawn to setting sun,
Yet there may come a day,
When you'll see only one.
Do not think the Lord has left you 
Nothing could be more wrong.
It's just that he has picked you up
And carried you along.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. (Psalm 119:105)

Monday, September 9, 2019

How Then Shall We Pray?

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old received divine approval. (Hebrews 11:1-2)

Prayer is essential for a true believer, it’s an outward act of faith, a line of communication that is initiated by man and is honoring to God and establishes our trust and dependence on Him for everything, even the air we breathe. Failure to engage in regular prayer changes that dynamic and reliance on God eventually becomes reliance on self whereby we supplant ourselves as center of our universe rather than the Creator. It is an affront to the Almighty in which one can hardly expect His blessings and provision to continue unabated, we have the power to change the eventual outcome because prayer is a personal choice of either continuing the relationship or abandoning it altogether and facing the eventual consequences. 

“When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew6:5-9)

Praying to Mary and other dead saints is not biblical and praying to anyone other than God is idolatry. To bow down before a statue or painting and pray to it is evil and it is forbidden in Scripture. Nowhere in Scripture does it say pray to dead saints. Nowhere in Scripture does it say ask dead saints to pray for you.Nowhere does it say that people in Heaven will pray for people on earth. Alive Christians on earth can pray for you, but dead people will not pray to God for you and there isn't any passage in scripture to justify this. 

Jesus said, “Pray then like this: Our Father who is in heaven, holy is your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (Matthew 6: 10-13)

Jesus gives an example of how to pray, it is a conversation between man and God and is not, and never should be a mindless repetition or mantra of the same prayer repeated multiple times over, which to anyone who is a father hearing the same request from his child rattled over and over continuously would become an onerous and exasperating experience to contend with.

Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. (James 5:13-16)

“And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (Matthew 21:22)

I prayed for my younger brother for years. He was a raging alcoholic, I prayed in tears that God would deliver him from the grip of that demon. Finally the day came when he decided he had enough and sought treatment, whereupon he spent the fifteen remaining years of his life clean and sober. I came to understand that from the time I began to pray for him that God heard my prayers, but that His answer was contingent on my brother finally coming to the point where he knew how futile his own arrogance and attempts to quit on his own was. God’s answer to our prayers comes in His timing not our own, so we should remain steadfast and trust that God hears us and will act when the time is right.

And finally we have this admonition from the Apostle John speaking to the church; “My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” (1John 2:1-3)

We are told to go directly to God through Christ who is the only intermediary between us and the Father given in scripture and not through a third party clergyman as some religious institutions would have it. They have taken the following verse out of context, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16) which means that we are to go to those we have wronged with a contrite heart and make amends to them just as the Lord has commanded.

John acknowledges the fact that believers still living in a corrupt world can occasionally lapse into sin, but that Jesus who himself died for the sins of man, stands as the believer’s advocate (attorney) before His own Father who will judge the living and dead and all who claim Him as Lord and Savior will be exonerated. By this we will be sure that we know Him and He will know us, if we keep his commandments which are to love Him and acknowledge Him through prayer and to love one another. Keep also in mind that: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6: 14-15)